When his beloved wife Lauren was diagnosed with terminal cancer, Sam Robinson realised he would face the challenge of raising his young daughter Molly alone.
Now, driven by Lauren’s faith in him, he is hoping to inspire others who are "making lemonade with life's lemons", as he tells reporter Rhys Griffiths...
“I have come to learn this is not something you get over, and that’s something that I have definitely come to agree with.
“The size of your grief never changes, but what happens is you grow around it, you learn to not trip over it so much.
“So I have kind of created an analogy for that, given that I have a bit of a sweet tooth, I use one about a biscuit jar.”
Conversation with Sam Robinson is a thought-provoking experience. He is a young man - still only 33 - but how he talks about losing his beloved wife, Lauren, to cancer last year reveals a growing wisdom beyond his years.
Left to raise daughter Molly alone, he has been forced to confront the deep sorrow of bereavement while at the same time providing the strength and resilience their four-year-old needs from her father now that her mother is no longer with them.
The pain of this loss has required Sam to develop new ways of coping with a life he had never imagined for himself and his daughter.
And that’s where the biscuit jar comes in.
“When you suffer a bereavement or a loss the only thing that fills your biscuit jar entirely is the biggest, nastiest tasting grief biscuit going,” he explains.
“Every time you reach in to grab a biscuit all you can pull out is a grief biscuit.
“Over time you just get bigger jars, and that gives you more room to put nicer biscuits in. So in the future you can reach in the jar, and sometimes you will still get that grief biscuit, you’ll still find ways to be triggered and tripped over, but actually there’s other stuff in there that you have created since your bereavement that gives you a bit more of a positive feel.
“That’s definitely something that I am discovering, and over time - rather than it being that grief heals - you just get better at adapting to life post-bereavement.
“The acknowledgement of that has helped me to be better at dealing with my emotions and the things that crop up as a part of being bereaved and widowed at 32 years old.”
The Robinsons, who live in Brooks Drive, Ryarsh, set out with the same aspirations as any young family. Maybe a brother or sister for Molly, family holidays making treasured memories, perhaps a move to a bigger home as the family grew.
Then, within the space of one week last summer, they were hit with two terrible blows. Sam was made redundant, and Lauren was told her terminal cancer was no longer responsive to treatment, meaning she now had little time left.
She died a month later in August, but throughout her final days Sam recalls how she only thought of others - even buying gifts for her family, mementoes they would always have to remember her by.
And then, just days after her death, a package arrived for Sam and inside was a pen. Inscribed on it: ‘Love Always’.
“I do know that her desire to make arrangements for things like that - it wasn’t just me, she’d arranged gifts for her parents and others around us - increased, almost like her sense of the time running out. She was entirely selfless throughout for our whole journey with cancer, she was always seemingly more concerned about how it would impact those around her than how it would impact herself.
“We had conversations, she would often try to talk to me about what life would be like when she died, and quite often I would be quite dismissive of them because I did not want to think about that at the time, I’m quite a present-minded person and I wanted to make the most of the time that we had rather than think about a time when we didn’t have each other.
“She was not worried about Molly because she trusted my ability as a father and she knew I will always put Molly before anything else.
“She was worried about me because she knows that I would de-prioritise my own needs to put Molly at the front of the queue. She almost gave me permission to keep moving forward, she spoke about making sure that I threw myself into my work, she suggested that I should throw myself into my hobbies.
“And then the last thing she talked about - it would always be started with the the phrase ‘as painful as it is for me to say this to you, I want you to know that should you ever feel like you want to it would be OK for you to find love again, to move on, to be in another relationship’.”
Knowing that Lauren’s diagnosis was terminal, the family set about fundraising to help now they had no source of income following Sam’s job loss.
Interest in their story spread beyond friends and family, and it became clear Sam’s candid writing about their experiences was helping others going through similar grief.
“I found that writing was a good outlet for me,” he said.
“I had always been pretty stereotypically male, in the sense that I wasn’t particularly good at being vulnerable or sharing about emotions and the way that I felt, but writing about our story and Lauren’s journey and what we were trying to achieve as a family actually provided a really good relief for me through some quite stressful times.
“I was getting lots of feedback from people saying about how interested they were in continuing to hear about our story, and it kind of felt natural that it was a good outlet for me and people were interested, and I started to share a bit more.
“It’s something that’s such a big part of everybody’s lives, but actually as a topic it’s really quite taboo, people don’t really like talking about death and loss and bereavement and grief, and you are never really prepared for what it’s going to feel like to lose people.
“So I felt normalising conversations around grief, normalising conversations around widowhood and bereavement, talking about solo parenting and the adjustments to my life as a solo dad, and also the mental health issues that have arisen for me, the anxiety and stress that I’ve developed since Lauren’s passing, and talking about that, it’s given me a sense of purpose that I felt as though I had lost when Lauren died.”
Readers of Sam’s blog - Making Lemonade - will be aware of a word he has coined to explain the feeling of tackling life after loss: ‘surjoying’.
“We went on holiday to Cyprus back in October, the first one without Lauren, I sat by the swimming pool at our villa every morning crying, really emotional about the fact that she wasn’t there, but I still had a lovely holiday.
“Molly and I shared some great times in Cyprus, we created some fantastic memories for the two of us, and being able to acknowledge the fact those things are hard but still enjoy them was a big eye-opener for me.
“Actually the anticipation of those things was often worse than the actual event itself.”
“‘Surjoying’ is you survive those moments because they are difficult but you find ways of enjoying them as well and when we talk about normalising conversations about grief, what needs to be altered is this view that grief is just inconsolable sadness. Grief is more than just crying all the time, grief is feeling emotionally heavy, feeling anxiety, feeling stress and worry. Or grief is feeling positive, remembering something about a person that you love and triggering happy emotions.
“If we improve our conversations around grief, if we have more people talking about the way that grief feels, then people’s view generally is going to change.
“They’ll be more open to the idea that people are still grieving, but they’re trying to make lemonade out of lemons, right?”