Real Stories
09 August 2022

Carol's Story

The power of talking to someone following the sudden loss of a loved one

Carol and J Ohn slide
Real Stories
09 August 2022

“She was like my life raft. Every time I felt like I was sinking, she was the one that got me back afloat.”

Losing a loved one can unleash a powerful wave of grief that can seem impossible to come to terms with. For some, working through their emotions with a counsellor, in a confidential “safe space”, can help them through the grieving process and enable them to move forward with their lives.

Carol and John Shaw were an incredibly close couple. They married in 2003 but had been together for 25 years in total after first meeting in an Ulverston pub. They had a shared love of horses and poured endless hours into a barn conversion project at their farmhouse in the countryside near Askam-in Furness.

Sadly, John was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer in October 2020. A fit and healthy man, the news came as a huge shock to them both.

“It came completely out of the blue as John worked as a builder and was as fit as a fiddle. He had been having trouble swallowing but we never really thought anything of it because he was so fit - I don’t think he ever had a day off sick in all the time we were together. He wasn’t one for going to the doctor but when he began to lose weight, he made an appointment which was when we were told it was cancer,” said Carol

Sadly, John’s condition was beyond treatment, and he was offered palliative chemotherapy to enable he and Carol more precious time together. However, the speed of John’s diagnosis, and her sudden new role as his carer, saw Carol begin to struggle.

“I couldn’t believe what was happening. The terminal diagnosis came so quickly that I had no time to adjust. Even though John was being really brave, and always had a positive outlook it was an incredibly difficult time,” said Carol.

Following complications with his treatment, John sadly passed away at home six months after his initial diagnosis. The sudden loss of John left Carol bereft and in need of some professional support.

“I absolutely crumbled. I had been running on pure adrenalin while John was ill and, afterwards, I found I couldn’t even go to the shops without having a meltdown,” said Carol.

One of John’s nurses put Carol in touch with Cancer Care and, due to the covid pandemic, she was referred for telephone counselling with Jacqueline Knight, one of the counsellors based at our centre on Duke Street in Barrow.

Over time, their sessions began to have an enormously positive effect on Carol’s well-being.

“She was like my life raft. Every time I felt like I was sinking, she was the one that got me back afloat. She helped me make sense of what I was feeling and why. So crucial when your world is falling apart around you. I am quite a private person and didn’t like burdening my sister and friends further, I felt that they had all been through enough and didn't want to add any more pressure on them, but with Jacqueline I always felt I could speak openly and say exactly how I was feeling,” said Carol

Carol is having her last counselling session this week and, while she is back on an even keel, her memories of the last two years are still raw.

“I am slowly getting back on my feet and Jacqueline has played a huge part in that. When you are looking after someone it’s easy to forget about yourself and she has given me tools I can use to help me get through the bad times, such as emphasising the need to be kind to myself and even some meditation techniques,” she added.

To find out more about CancerCare’s services for bereaved people, click here

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