My dogs kept me going after my husband’s death

Lesley and Jeremy created a lifetime of happy memories together before he died of liver cancer in 2011. Here she remembers the good times, and explains how Sid and Poppy, their two Shetland sheepdogs, are keeping a smile on her face. 

"Just before Jeremy died, we got a puppy. When we got the diagnosis I contacted the breeder to say we couldn’t look after him anymore. But she told me not to worry – that she’d look after him until I was ready to have him back.

After Jeremy's funeral I went to get our puppy. He'd become very attached to a little female cousin, so I ended up bringing them both home. Sid and Poppy – they’re Shetland sheepdogs.

They kept me sane in the months after Jeremy died. Walking them, looking after them, and getting out of the house. I’ve met so many other dog walkers and made new friends. Sid and Poppy have really kept me going. We continue to enjoy life together.

Happy times

Jeremy was a shy, quiet person – more or less my opposite – but we got on very easily and happily. He worked in computing and I was a teacher but we shared many enthusiasms: cooking (he was better at it than me), gardening, and travel. Most summers we went to a Greek Island and were content to read and eat, and relax on the beach. We went on city breaks too and went walking in the UK. We had plans for plenty of travel but because Jeremy died at 52 those couldn't happen.

We didn't meet until quite late in life and were only together for slightly less than twenty years. I wish it could have been longer, but I count myself very lucky to have had such good times together.

Real comfort

He was 52 when he died in 2011. He’d had a vaguely upset tummy and was treated for a stomach ulcer. By the time it was diagnosed as liver cancer – it was too late.

When we knew he was dying, I asked if he could come home. It was what he really wanted. The hospital staff were very helpful and arranged it very quickly.

I was wondering how I was going to cope.  The Marie Curie Nurse came in four or five nights a week. It was good to know Jeremy was being looked after, so I could spend time with him and still get some sleep.

Just how we wanted it                           

It was a real comfort to be with Jeremy when he died. My in-laws had just gone back to their B&B and I was doing the washing up when the Marie Curie Nurse called me to say he thought Jeremy was very near the end. The nurse washed his body and I helped. We dressed him in a fresh pair of pyjamas. It meant a lot. I’m not sure what I’d have done without the nurse’s calm presence.

A bereavement counsellor talked about the difference between complicated and uncomplicated grief. ‘Uncomplicated by guilt and regret’ is what I think she meant. I think Marie Curie Nurses helped me to feel like that. At the end of his life, Jeremy was able to come home and be comfortable and well cared for.

I was distraught when he was diagnosed with cancer and died so quickly, but I can look back and know that I did everything I could for him in those last weeks. He died peacefully and calmly and Marie Curie helped me to ensure that happened.

How am I coping? I’d retired the year before. It was an enormous change to cope with alongside the grief of losing Jeremy. We had no children, but I have a very dear and supportive brother and some wonderful friends. I think it helps that I’m naturally gregarious and optimistic."