Jo Smith-Hooker lost not only her world as she knew it, but also her future plans and dreams when her husband Daniel died unexpectedly in September 2013, aged 37.
Along with her two daughters (aged 8 and 11 at the time), Jo was thrown into a nightmare she could never have prepared for.
Now, three-and-a-half years on, Jo has joined First Light as a gold member to help other widowed people who are also walking this road and we are incredibly grateful for her support, her wisdom and her compassion. In her own words, Jo shares her story.
There was a shift in my world the day we found out that my husband Daniel had Non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. Being the strong, fit and (seemingly) healthy 36-year-old he was, it was difficult to process the reality of it.
A week of blurred activity and tests, a husband who remained upbeat and a specialist who was confident “maybe a little bit of radiation,” left me incredibly unprepared when we were finally delivered the “unfortunately.”
Daniel was diagnosed Stage 4. The speed with which everything happened left me with little time to think. He was admitted to hospital that night and commenced his first round of chemotherapy the next morning.
Through it all Daniel was my rock. He picked me up when I fell. He kept me looking forward. He insisted only positive thoughts were allowed. At the time it was the most emotional and heartbreaking event of my life and I didn’t think it could get any harder.
Daniel lived his life well, but after we were told he was in remission he made some changes. He simplified and did more of the things important to him. He started doing the things he’d always wanted but never quite got around to. He encouraged and reminded others to do the same. He loved harder. He lived harder.
Through it all he smiled, stayed cheeky and showed relentless determination and mental strength. Little did I know that during this time I was in fact the student, learning true strength for the journey that lay ahead of me.
We were approaching 17 months in remission, when a knock at our front door shattered our hearts and our lives as they stood only moments before.
It was five days into Spring of 2013. The season of new beginnings. Daniel, my husband of more than 14 years, my best friend and biggest cheerleader in life, the father of our daughters, the one who could hug me and make the world right again, and the man I have loved since I was 17 years old, had died instantly in a motorbike accident.
Earlier that afternoon, the girls and I had jumped in the car and watched Daniel and his cheeky grin as we reversed out of our driveway. In the space of two-and-a-half hours he had finished packing the car for our camping trip the following morning and he dropped in at work as planned. What was unplanned was the ride he took on his motorbike. Unplanned, so there was no kiss on the helmet and the words “be careful” were never spoken.
More than three-and-a-half years later and it is still an incredibly difficult journey for the girls and I, as we do our best to fit all the pieces that remain back together. There’s a gaping hole. One that consists of a man who constantly challenged us. Who was the biggest kid in our house. Who was always there. Who made us laugh. Who showed us how to live. Who loved us like there was no tomorrow.
I didn’t think I could live my life without Daniel. I wasn’t sure how I could ever do more than survive. It seemed impossible to think I could one day smile and it be genuine. But somehow you find the strength to do just that.
Every day, you show up and you do the best you can. Every day I make sure I find the beauty, because it’s always there. I’ve learnt to appreciate the very small things in life.
One of the things I miss most is the sound of Daniel in the kitchen in the very early morning. Something so small, but hugely missed. I’m learning who I am without the man I planned to grow old with. I’m a massive work in progress and I think I always will be.
Grieving the death of my husband is something I could never have been prepared for. The emotions, heartache, confusion, loneliness, craziness, and the power of the emotional and physical ache cannot completely be portrayed in writing, even when I try. I once had another widow say to me “I just wish someone had told me that this is how it would feel.” Without even thinking my reply was “you would never have believed them.” It’s true.
Sometimes there are just no words to describe the emotion or the feeling. It is what it is. That’s were connecting with others widowed has helped. Grief is as unique as you are. We all walk this journey in our own individual way, but we share a common experience. It’s an amazing and soul calming moment to sit with someone who just gets it – no explanation necessary.
They say it’s the club you don’t want to belong to and it’s true – you really don’t. But it’s also the club that’s introduced me to some of the strongest and most incredible people I know.