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Peter and Sue – New beginnings in the Safe Haven Bereavement Group

We are honoured to share the story of Peter and Sue, who met by chance in our Safe Haven Bereavement Group in Spring 2022. Peter’s wife, Brenda, sadly died during Covid in 2020, and Sue’s husband, John, died in our old Hospice in Chichester. More recently, Tony, Sue’s partner of five years, died at our Hospice in Bosham. We talk to Peter and Sue about how they met and ask about their experience of Safe Haven, our Hospice Bereavement Group.

Sue: On the day I met Peter I had come to the Hospice to speak to one of the doctors who had cared for Tony whilst he was a patient and I was also due to attend my first Safe Haven group. I was a little early for the group so I went along to the café where I was introduced to Peter. He told me a bit about the group, as he had been attending for a few weeks. We also discovered we had a common interest in Eriba caravans as Peter had previously owned one as did I and my husband. Unfortunately, after the first session I did not attend for several weeks as I was ill.

Peter: Yes, for a period of about six weeks we were like ships passing in the night. I actually remember sitting on the other side of the café that first day, and when Sue walked in I thought “She seems like a nice lady”.

Sue: To get to the bereavement group from my home in Selsey, volunteer hospice drivers were kindly picking me up and taking me home. Peter had previously offered to give me a lift if there ever was an occasion that the volunteers were not available and had given me his telephone number.

A couple of weeks later, there was a time when the drivers were able to pick me up, but they couldn’t take me home. So I wondered whether or not to ask Peter. I wasn’t sure, but as he had offered and I really wanted to go to the group, I thought that I might as well! So I texted him and asked, and he came back to me straight away saying yes. Soon after that, Peter offered to collect me and take me home each week and despite my feeling that it would be out of his way, he insisted and our weekly travels to Safe
Haven together began.

I think it was the second time he took me home when I invited him in for a cup of tea thinking at the time “was this the right thing to do as he might think I was too forward”. However he accepted, and one cup of tea turned into several and we chatted non-stop until he left at 6pm. The next time Peter dropped me off, I invited him in again for a cup of tea. When it got to about 6pm, Peter was going to leave, but turned around and asked me what I was having for my dinner. I said “oh probably just another microwave meal”, and he then asked if I fancied fish and chips! Anyway, we ended up having a Chinese takeaway and he didn’t leave until around 10pm.

Peter: Soon after that, I was going to the South Coast Music Festival in Bognor at the Alexandra Theatre. Myself and Sue had been texting each other throughout the event, and I asked her if she liked the band Lindisfarne, a band from 1968 who were performing at the festival. I invited Sue to the festival, but unfortunately, she was looking after her grandchildren so I asked her for Sunday lunch instead to which she agreed. Subsequently, we booked to see the group at a later date in Somerset.

It was so nice to have this friendship. I was in a vulnerable situation at the time, and I had been in a bad relationship, I think we could both say that we had reached a stage where we would not wish to form another relationship with anyone and that we would now remain single. However, we were very wrong weren’t we?

Sue: It hasn’t been easy, it’s actually been really tough. Guilt has a big part to play. In Safe Haven, you hear people who say “I could never ever go through that again”, and I always said that too. When I met Tony, he had also lost his wife just two weeks after my husband died and we had agreed that if one of us became terminally ill, we would
walk away from the relationship.

Obviously, that did not happen and I remained caring for Tony with the help of the Hospice. It has been lovely that Peter and I have been able to talk to each other quite openly about our past situations and we have been able to support each other through the difficult times when we start to feel a little guilty. You get to an age where it’s lovely to have that company again. We’ve done quite a lot together now and our families are fine with our relationship, and we have told the Safe Haven group. I was worried about what people would think of me. Tony had been in the Hospice for a month and I was with him every day, so I got to know the staff well and some of them remembered my husband which was nice. A part of me worries about what other people think of me, but we talk about it, and well, does it matter really?

Peter: It doesn’t matter one bit about what other people think. You can’t try to please other people, and why should you? When my wife, Brenda, was diagnosed as terminally ill, she and I discussed it at length and she told me that when she had gone I was to go on and lead my life. Both my daughters support me in this. However, you still have to work through the guilt process.

I have this life motto of “if you don’t, you won’t”. You’ve got to give everything a whirl otherwise you just won’t do it. I think what some people don’t quite get is that you will never forget your partner of 49 years. Nothing will ever change that. However, life goes on. Everybody needs somebody, for support, for friendship. Never say never. We did actually leave the Safe Haven group for a period of time. We both felt a little wary of the fact that here we are in a bereavement group, which is a group for bereaved people, and here we are as a couple. We left out of respect for the rest of the group but have actually rejoined as
we missed the people and felt that we still needed the support. We are really enjoying being a part of it again and feel that, because of our experiences, we can offer a new perspective to the group. Safe Haven has been really so good for me, not just because I have met Sue, but it’s been a place to talk, a place for support, and because people know exactly what you are talking about. They know how it really feels to lose a partner to terminal illness. Joe who leads the group is fantastic too!

Sue: Yes, Joe is brilliant. For me it was also good to talk about my daughter, Amanda, who died five years before my husband. Losing her was almost worse than losing my husband and Tony, and being able to talk about my grief at losing all three of my loved ones has enabled me to clear my head and look to the future with a more positive attitude. I was concerned that the group would be all doom and gloom, but it wasn’t! I was really surprised with how lively and happy it was. I was also surprised at the amount of people as well, there was about 16 or 17 of us. I was also surprised at how many men were in the group, it was really nice to hear them talk about how they were feeling.

Peter: It has given us the opportunity to meet people we would have never met. We’ve made some wonderful friends and the one thing you can be sure of is they know how you are feeling, there’s no stigma and you can talk about anything you like.

Sue: For myself and Peter, it’s lovely that we are able to talk to each other outside of the group. We both talk about our experiences, and there’s no restriction in conversation.

Even when we are with our families and children, they will talk about their mum and mine will talk about their dad and Tony.

Peter: Which again really echoes that you don’t forget. You don’t just compartmentalise, put it in a drawer and close it. You can’t possibly do that. We have both said you never know where life is going to take you, either one of us could die tomorrow. I would say to anyone that two things are guaranteed you are born and you die, under what circumstances nobody knows and if you are in a partnership one of you will be left on your own. Therefore make the most of every day, grab it while you can, and live your life to the full. Remember – if you don’t you won’t.

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