Caroline Winter wishes an organisation like First Light existed when her husband died in 2013. But almost a decade on, the journalist is giving back to the next generation of young widowed people, joining the organisation’s advisory board to ensure everyone gets the support and help they need.
Caroline looks up and says “sorry Richard” as she reflects on the infrequency with which her husband used to go to the doctor. The pair had been married for four-and-a-half years and together for 10 when he started to feel unwell.
He went to the doctor, who prescribed some valium and said he was likely just stressed. Eight weeks later Richard was ticking an item off his bucket list – driving a rally car with a friend – when he suffered a massive heart attack and died.
Caroline had no idea what was about to unfold when she was greeted by police officers as she arrived at the track to watch the end of the race.
“In my head I thought to myself, ‘Richard has told the cops to look out for me, because that’s the sort of thing he would have done’,” she says. “What happened next was like a scene in a movie.
“I remember taking my sunglasses off and turning to the passenger seat and putting them down, and I just remember thinking, ‘everything’s about to change’.”
Almost 10 years on, Caroline wishes First Light and its community had existed in 2013.
“It would have been everything really,” she says. “I was 37 and to be widowed at that age is such a foreign concept.
“There was just nothing for me, so I couldn’t be happier that First Light is now available for other young widowed people.”
It’s a cause she’s so passionate about, Caroline has joined First Light’s advisory board, where she is working to increase awareness about the organisation.
“I’m absolutely delighted to be a part of this,” she says, before speaking to the life-changing nature of its community Facebook group. “To think there’s this amazing resource that when you are in the middle of the night at two o’clock in the morning, wide awake on your own – or if you’ve got kids the kids might be asleep – and your whole world has been turned upside down, that you can go to where other people know what you’re going through, is just incredible.
“It’s a crappy club and nobody should have to join it. But if you’re going to have to be in it, it’s really good to know that there are others alongside you that understand.”
Caroline is also passionate about educating others about how they can best support young widowed people.
“It’s not that there’s a list of right things to say, it’s about teaching people what they need in a practical and an emotional sense,” she says. “It’s also about knowing how your role might change for that person through their grief, and how you can best be there for them.”
Despite the time that has passed since Richard’s death, Caroline says some days it still feels like it was only yesterday that it happened.
“That’s a really strange thing to juggle. But I think I’m happier than I’ve ever been and that’s hard to say, because he’s not here. I feel that he is with me though and so maybe that enhances the happiness that I have, because I don’t feel like he’s disappeared altogether.”
Caroline and Richard on their wedding night.