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Georgia Elms lost her husband Jon very suddenly seven years ago. He went to bed with suspected tonsillitis and woke up at 4.00 am feeling much worse and was rushed to hospital. By 9.38 am Georgia was signing a form to allow his life support machine to be switched off. Jon, who was just 38, died of meningitis.
The day after he died Georgia found out she was pregnant with the couple’s second child.
Georgia had just gone back to her senior sales job after maternity leave with her first daughter and had found it so difficult going back full time that she had negotiated a career break. It was due to start two days after Jon died.
One of Georgia’s immediate concerns after Jon’s death could have been finances. However, one of Jon’s friends worked for HMRC and found out about all the benefits she was entitled to. One of these was the Widowed Parent’s Allowance.
“In those days there were not so many bereavement helplines as there are now. I hadn’t heard of the allowance before I started getting it,” she says.
The taxable allowance, which is based on the deceased partner’s National Insurance contributions, included a £2,000 lump sum to help with funeral costs and then £469 a month until her youngest child leaves full time education. Although the allowance is not available to people who were not married at the time of their partner’s death, it stops if they move in with another partner at any point and you never get it back.
The Government, however, is proposing to cut the time limit for the allowance to just one year as part of its pensions bill. Georgia says: “The Government says it wants to encourage parents to get back to work and to find a new partner. That’s insulting.”
She feels one year is not nearly enough. “People will not cope if it is limited to a year. It takes much longer than that to get sorted. It should be there for as long as it is needed,” she says. “It takes around two years just to comprehend what has happened. My children did not understand because they were young, although they are starting to get upset at things like Fathers Day at school. You need to be around for the children a lot more.”
Georgia is chair of WAY – Widowed & Young, which provides peer-to-peer support and a chance for those widowed young to meet others in the same situation. “I know that things can be very difficult with older children. Many of the people I speak to say their children are having real problems at school and refuse to go,” she says.
In fact, Georgia’s own situation illustrates the long-term impact of losing a partner at a young age. Although her employer reversed her career break decision when they heard of Jon’s death and put her on compassionate leave until her maternity leave, she was made redundant after that. That meant she had to look for a job that she could do around the children. There weren’t many part time professional jobs in her hometown of Market Harborough at the time. She tried lots of things, including a full time job. She found a job on Workingmums.co.uk which she did for a while and worked part time in a cafe for two years until recently and is now doing freelance marketing projects.
“The reason I had been going to take a career break when Jon died was because we didn’t want our children to be in childcare all the time. Jon had also had a year off [he was a self-employed marketing consultant] because he wanted to spend more time with Daisy. He couldn’t believe how he felt and just wanted to be with her,” says Georgia.
“When your partner dies you want to try and keep everything else the same. I didn’t want to leave the children. They are the only reason I am still here. Besides I wasn’t capable, after Jon died, of thinking straight or doing a job,” she states, adding that her parents moved in with her for the year after Jon’s death.
Even seven years on and with a new partner, Georgia says she finds it hard to come to terms with what has happened. “People think you should be over it after a certain time, but Jon is still my children’s father. Every anniversary is difficult. Things like school reports, which we’ve just had, are hard. People used to say at least you have the new baby, but I felt I should have Jon too. He never knew Scarlett. He didn’t even know she existed.”
Georgia’s work with WAY has helped her a lot by putting her in touch with people in a similar position to her. It has an online forum where she could talk to other people who understood what she was going through. The organisation also arranges holidays together and monthly events where people can meet up. Georgia is keen to reach more families going through bereavement. She says: “It is thought there are 100,000 people who have a partner who has died under 51. We have 1,500 members so many people are missing out on what we can offer.”
More information: http://www.widowedandyoung.org.uk