‘A few days before, life was perfect and the next thing I was planning his funeral’
When Lisa Coulhoun’s husband Christopher died suddenly aged 33, her grief was compounded by the platitudes of well-meaning people
Lisa Coulhoun with her daughters Beth and Grace.
Nothing could have prepared teacher, mother of two and blogger Lisa Coulhoun for the sudden loss of her husband Christopher following flu complications. He was just 33.
“Christopher was unique. You never met anybody like him. He was just so full of life. He was energetic, hardworking and he was just so passionate about me and the girls,” Lisa says.
The couple’s daughters, Beth and Grace, were six months and 18 months old when Christopher died – the same day Lisa was supposed to return to work following her maternity leave. “It was supposed to be a new chapter in our lives. A few days before, life was perfect and the next thing I was planning his funeral.”
“My family took over,” Lisa explains. “The girls were so young and so dependent. I -- physically, emotionally and mentally -- wasn’t fit to be the mummy that I needed to be. My sister moved in with me. It literally took me months upon months upon months to start to live.”
At the suggestion of her aunt, Lisa ran the Belfast marathon to raise some money in memory of Christopher. They raised £60,000 for the school where Christopher had been vice-principal. “I ran the full Belfast marathon, which is completely crazy when I look back,” Lisa says. “I wasn’t eating and I wasn’t sleeping. It was pure adrenaline. That got me through the first few months, seeing how much people wanted to help and keeping Christopher’s memory alive.”
Lisa was open from the beginning with her daughters. “Children that age don’t feel the hurt and the pain that we feel. They didn’t understand and there was no big explanation that had to be given. I was very open and honest at the start, regardless of whether they knew or not. In prayers at night we talked about daddy in heaven.
‘Can my daddy come home?’
“As Grace has got older, she has asked more questions, especially with starting playgroup. She has started to ask, ‘can my daddy come home?’ and ‘but where is he and why can’t he come home’ and I’m starting to see the frustration that it brings her and she cries sometimes.”
Knowing how much Christopher wanted for his daughters keeps Lisa going, she says, even though “it’s incredibly hard”.
“It’s my motivation to do the best that I can for the girls. We’re 20 months on and some days I feel like it’s just happened. Other days I get the strength from Christopher.”
She finds platitudes unhelpful. “The whole ‘you’ll move on with your life, you’re still young and you’ll find someone else’. That’s not helpful. It’s your life for the rest of your life and it can never be fixed. You can’t bring a person back.”
Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) – a talking therapy used to treat a range of emotional and psychological difficulties – has helped Lisa hugely, particularly the acknowledgement of her feeling that she was “living a nightmare”.
“My counsellor said, ‘but you are living a nightmare’ and I thought well thank you for saying that because everybody else is just like ‘Lisa what about such and such down the road, haven’t they got a harder time’.
“People try to fix things and say what you could have instead. But you don’t want that instead. That’s not the life you had planned. You want the life that you were living and life you had chosen.”