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GORDON WALKER: My wife got one thing wrong – it’s been five years and I’ve still not accepted her death

Gordon Walker's wife Seuna once told him it takes five years to accept the death of a spouse. Then she died in 2017. And he's still trying.

Seuna Walker sitting on steps on holiday with her two young daughters.
The death of his wife Seuna changed everything for Gordon and their daughters.

Five years: The timeframe when you’re meant to have accepted the death of your spouse. My wife told me this, and I have now reached this time. She died five years ago.

We both knew she might die; that she would not make ‘old bones’, as she was wont to say in maudlin moments (of which there were comparatively few given the circumstances).

But, despite the cancer that had first visited her four years earlier, I genuinely did not know she was going to die well before ‘her time’ until the morning of her death.

What I was left with was the residue of my life. The house we lived in, the business we shared. My memories. Our children.

But can a world that has been flipped on its head really be restored to an even keel in five years?

Can it ever?

The writer Gordon Walker next to a quote: "There are days when I think I am doing well and then it all suddenly falls apart. But tears turn to laughter more quickly than they used to."

First, let me tell you about Seuna. She was feisty and fun, beautiful and brave.

The latter quality really kicked in during the cancer years: courage beyond anything else I have witnessed.

The only thing that terrified her was that her children would not remember her as they grew into young women.

She was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in October, 2013. It was at Stage 3C – the penultimate stage.

Some people diagnosed with stage 4 cancers do survive against the odds.

And although ovarian is not ‘a good one’ – none are – there were stories of cures and remissions, and this was our aim for the next four years.

Seuna Walker sitting at a pavement cafe on holiday.
Seuna was diagnosed with ovarian cancer,

Our ‘journey’ took us to Latvia and Germany and involved many Facetime consultations with ‘experts’ and some quacks.

There were numerous diets and alternative treatments as well as initial debulking surgery and two rounds of chemotherapy.

She lived, in the main, a normal life during this time.

And, because of the extraordinary life force she possessed, I was certain she would upset the odds and pull through.

Wife’s death came out of the blue

She had been in hospital for a back complaint that I was told was ‘not cancer-related’.

Then, on the morning of November 7 2017, she suffered multiple seizures and was lapsing in and out of consciousness.

Gordon and Seuna Walker on sun loungers on holiday.
Gordon and Seuna on holiday in Spain.

The consultants decided it was cancer, which had spread to her spine and brain.

We never got to say goodbye.

My initial feeling was shock as I tried to function the best I could.

We were partners in a media company, so the death of my wife meant I was suddenly partnerless in life and business.

And there was the small matter of raising two young girls, aged 14 and 11 when they lost their mum.

You try to get on with things ‘as normal’, but normality is suddenly flung out of the window.

“Don’t worry about the children too much – children are so resilient”, people said.

Oh yeah?

Seuna Walker and her daughters in a sunny shopping arcade on holiday.
Seuna and the couple’s two daughters.

If resilience means never being the same again and always missing your mum, that might be true.

But it doesn’t. And those people were well-meaning, but wrong.

‘Our’ songs hit differently since the death of my wife

Would I have done anything differently in the past five years?

I genuinely don’t know.

The one thing I did (I had to do) was write a book about her journey – naming it Way Down Inside – after a line in a song by Led Zeppelin, Seuna’s favourite band.

I guess that was one significant step forward on the grief road.

The rest? It was incremental. Small steps.

front cover of Gordon Walker's book, showing a photo of Seuna and the title 'Way Down Inside: The drive to beat ovarian cancer'.
Gordon wrote a book following the death of his wife Seuna.

Our favourite song (and album) was Pink Floyd’s Wish You Were Here.

It was played at her funeral and in the year after her death I went with my son (her stepson) to see Roger Waters (the band’s former leader) perform it live.

Seuna and I had seen him perform The Wall in Dublin and then Düsseldorf – the final concert we went to before her cancer diagnosis.

It’s only recently that I have been able to play Wish You Were Here again; that and Led Zeppelin’s Thank You, which encapsulated everything that we were about:

“If the sun refused to shine, I would still be loving you.

“If the mountains crumbled to the seas, there would still be you and me.”

Gordon and Seuna Walker looking tanned and happy in an Italian cafe at night.
Gordon and Seuna on holiday in Italy.

They are no longer songs we loved from our time together.

Now they are the soundtrack to the tableau of the saddest day of my life.

I’m not ready for ‘closure’ and maybe Seuna wouldn’t mind

Some things are irrefutable. My children are motherless, and I am a widower.

Labels yes, but they change the way you are perceived and how you come to view yourself.

My daughters talk about their friends’ mothers in a matter-of-fact way. But I can feel their loss even in the most seemingly anodyne statements.

Close-up of Seuna Walker smiling for the camera.
It’s been just over five years since Seuna died.

I think they question why they have been unfortunate enough to be in this position.

And no amount of placating them, no amount of telling them how lucky they were to have had Seuna as a mother, will help them swallow this bitterest of pills.

Am I in a better place emotionally now than I was? Yes.

Do things get better with time? Yes.

Do I miss her less with every passing day?

That’s difficult to answer, but if I am being honest, probably yes. Although I almost don’t want to admit it, lest it somehow diminishes what we had.

Five years have passed since the death of my wife, but I’m not ready for the ‘closure’ that some suggest you should aim for.

There are days when I think I am doing well and then it all suddenly falls apart. But tears turn to laughter more quickly than they used to.

I suppose this is ‘progress’, if you like, but my wife’s five years’ acceptance theory doesn’t square with where I am at this time.

This is probably the price we pay for love.

And I know – being the possessive woman that she was – that somewhere she is probably secretly pleased that she was wrong.

Gordon Walker is a former journalist from Crieff, who is now a writer and marketer.