The death of someone you love is never easy. But when that person is your life partner the loss can be devastating. But now a Derry woman has set up a group to support young widows and widowers. Caroline Smyth-Kenyon’s group meets monthly in St Columb’s Park House
The death of her husband Mark in 2012 left Caroline Smyth-Kenyon and her two children devastated, and the course of their lives changed forever,
The future they had planned for their children and their plans for growing older together weren’t going to happen any more.
So Caroline made a decision to bring her two children back to Derry from Australia to be surrounded by their family.
Since she has returned, Caroline has reached out to other young widows and set up a new group ‘Walk with me’ to help others who have lost their life partner.
“Finding myself alone at 38 wasn’t in the life plan,” explained Caroline. “Mark and I had planned out our future with the kids and our retirement.
“We had moved to Australia in 2007 when Mark got a job with the Australian army.
“But in 2012 he was diagnosed with cancer, After three months intensive chemotherapy he was given the all clear. However he passed away suddenly and unexpectedly from a secondary cancer. He died almost six months to the day he was diagnosed.”
Caroline decided to stay in Australia following her husband’s death.
“I wanted to carry on with the dreams we had and send our children to the schools we had planned,” she said.
“But it was just too far from family. My kids needed to grow up surrounded by grandparents, cousins and aunts and uncles.
“I had grown up with an extended family in the Waterside and I knew we needed the unconditional love and support that only family can give you.
“Our children are very resilient. They had been back to the city every year since they were born so I think it felt like coming home for them. I always told them that doesn’t matter where we live as long as we are together.”
Before leaving Australia Caroline had attended a group called ‘Tall Poppies’ formed to support young widows and their families,
“It was a fantastic support for us,” said Caroline. “We got involved in monthly meetings and family get-togethers.
“It was absolutely amazing that first day because there was an instant connection made with the women in the room.
“I had no idea what their second names were, what they did for a living or where they lived but there was an immediate bond.
“I felt quite happy to express the frustrations and concerns that I had probably been hiding from my friends and family because I didn’t want them to worry about me or think that I wasn’t coping.
“By and large I was coping but obviously things come up which may seem trivial to others but significant to you. Such as the first time you buy something new for your house that you know your partner has never used. Then there were the life changing events such as the children starting school - it was a day of excitement but also a day of immense sadness.”
Caroline has never regretted the decision to come back to Derry even though she says Australia will always be special to her and the kids.
But when she arrived in Derry she tried to find a group such as Tall Poppies which supports young men and women who find themselves bereaved at a young age.
“I knocked on the doors of so many groups to find out if there was a group. I was told no but was told I’d be supported if a group was set up.”
The group had a trial meeting in November and was attended by women from across the North West as far as Buncrana and Limavady.
“The feedback was so positive,” said Caroline. “That encouraged me to move forward and take the new step of formalising the group and giving it a name, a vision, a mission statement and objective.
“The next step was finding a venue where we could meet. Sarah Quilty, chairperson of St Columb’s Park house was very supportive and happy to offer accommodation on the days we would need to meet.”
The first official meeting was on Monday, January 12 when ten people attended.
“I’ve since had three women contact me to say this is the kind of group they’ve been looking for.”
Caroline is keen to stress this is a social group.
“There are no referrals and it is not therapy,” she said. “What we are offering is a networking support group where people can meet. And all are welcome, men and women.
“Sometimes the hardest part is making that first step through the door. This time last year I was one of the people who would have found it hard to join a group like this. Everyone is at a different point in their grief journey and we understand that.
“It is not compulsory to turn up on a regular basis and people can drop in and drop out as they feel. Some people may come for six months and then feel they are strong enough to carry on with their own friends. While others may meet friends in the group and carry on that friendship.
The next meeting will take place on Monday, February 2 at 7.30pm which will be a pamper night with massage therapy at St Columb’s park House.
The March meeting will be a movie and dinner night.
The website and facebook pages for ‘Walk with me’ are currently under construction. However if you want to get involved with the group please contact Caroline on firstname.lastname@example.org or ring 07921478461.