Cobie Lee and her husband Joseph were joyfully awaiting the birth of their third child in 2013 when her life was turned upside down following his sudden and tragic death in an accident. Feeling lost and alone in her grief, she ventured online for help. It was here that she met the people that would go on to found First Light, an organisation that provided support and comfort to her over the years, and one she remains passionate about giving back to, to hold space for and help other widowed people who have come after her.
Cobie met First Light co-founder Rebecca Adams back in 2014, before the organisation had been founded.
“I joined a Facebook group for widowed people and went along to a get together in Sydney,” she says.
“I was incredibly nervous and wasn’t sure how it was going to go. I didn’t want to be in this situation and felt very much out of my comfort zone.”
But as it turned out, it was one of the best decisions Cobie made in the years following her husband Joseph’s death in 2013. She made lifelong friends and was able to process her grief with others who truly understood.
When First Light was established a few years later, she was one of the early fundraisers, training for and competing in a half marathon for the first time in her life.
“I was never a runner before that,” she says.
“But it was good to be part of a team and do it for a reason that was bigger than me.
“I was thinking of Joseph during that run. I had a feeling that I was strong and that I was helping others by raising money for First Light. It was an emotional run but also such a wonderful achievement.”
Supporting widowed people through First Light is something Cobie has remained passionate about since those early days of the organisation, regularly fundraising and attending its flagship Camp Widow events.
“I wouldn’t go back to those early days if you paid me,” she says.
“But I made it through, when I didn’t actually feel like I could survive and make it to the other side.
“If I can provide hope and support or even just sit with somebody so I can be there and hold that heaviness with them, I think that’s important and something that is lacking in our culture.”
The mother-of-three has been to every Camp Widow, and while she has moved forward in her life and remarried, she still gets a lot out of attending.
“Being around people who can relate is hugely healing as it helps you to feel like you’re not so alone, you’re not the odd one out,” she says.
“In 2022 Camp Widow fell on Joseph’s anniversary. It was a hard day but being there meant I didn’t have to pretend. I could say “You know what, today sucks,” and everyone around me understood it.”
Cobie says one of the reasons First Light is so important for young widowed people is because it provides a safe and understanding community for members to share their true feelings.
“A lot of young widowed people get the ‘you’re so strong’ comment, but what other choice do we have?” she says.
“When you’re around other widowed people, you don’t have to be strong and you can talk about all of the different elements of what it means to be widowed.
“It helps to be able to laugh about the stupid comments people make, and to talk about the parts of your life that are troubling at that point in time is great – it can be a bit like going to a psychologist but one who actually can relate and understands! Sharing your story and journey with others is very therapeutic.
“When Joseph died, I had to move house due to finances and needing support with my young family. I lost my person but I also lost my work and my work friends, which gave me a sense of purpose.
“If you’re a young widowed person and no one else around you who is widowed is the same age, they don’t get it. Your friends and family don’t actually know what you’re going through.”
Cobie says she has no doubt that First Light saves lives.
“When people are in that awful place and feeling so alone and lost, that can lead to depression,” she says.
“It’s critical that we try to support people and normalise what they’re going through.
“I felt like I wasn’t normal, but this isn’t something that only happens to certain people.
“It can happen to anybody and we need organisations like First Light to both support our young widows but also educate our society on how best to talk about death and grief.
“These topics should not be avoided or swept under the rug. By remembering the person who has passed, we can help those grieving.”