A WIDOWER at the age of 50 with two teenage daughters to bring up single-handedly, Nathan Glassbrook’s life took the type of turn last year that you just don’t see coming.

When his wife Avril was diagnosed with an aggressive form of cancer, it came sharply and swiftly out of nowhere, like a slap in the face, he said.

“Just before Avril died, in February 2017, I had to tell our children that their precious mum was dying. It was the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

“Going into the hospital with them and knowing that this could be the last time they might see her alive is indescribable. There are no words that sum up what that felt like.”

Next week, Nathan and the couple’s two teenage daughters will be among the bereaved families attending Tynedale Hospice at Home’s annual Light up a Life remembrance services at Hexham, Prudhoe and Ponteland.

Just as intended, the services will give them time to pause, to remember with love and to take solace from the other people around them equally trying to come to terms with terrible loss.

“It’s still tough, there’s no doubt about that,” he said.

“Every day brings new challenges: of doing things alone, taking decisions that we would have decided together, choosing food that we would have eaten together, keeping strong for the girls when we would have shared their worries. The list goes on.”

He first met Avril 35 years ago in the Lake District and they finally got married in 2002. He said: “She was quite simply a lovely lady. Nothing fazed her really, she was easy going and kind and she never lost her temper.

“She never wanted to burden people with her worries, but she was always happy to listen to others. She was selfless.”

And that was how it had been after her diagnosis. She didn’t talk about the cancer, one, Nathan later realised, because she didn’t want her family to know how ill she really was and, two, because talking about it would somehow make it a reality.

“But it was a reality,” he said. “Her final few days in hospital were surreal though. The time went by in such a blur that I can’t remember much about it.

“Bizarrely, one of the things I do remember clearly was rubbing her feet to keep them warm and her wanting me to bring in extra thick socks because her feet were so cold.

“In the days after she died I was in shock. We all were. I really can’t remember much about what I was thinking or feeling except having to do the mundane stuff like the supermarket shop.

“It seems incredible to think about it now, that our lives had changed so irrevocably, but the usual routines still carried on.

“How could the wheels still be turning when our lives had been devastated?”

He was angry too, he says. How could the love of his life have died at just 47? She had so much more to live for, so much more to do and two beautiful girls to see make their own way in the world.

The decision to seek the help of Tynedale Hospice at Home’s counselling services only came about, though, because youngest daughter Mae wanted to talk to someone. A friend pointed him in the right direction and he picked up the phone.

They both ended up receiving counselling and Nathan, for one, was surprised at how much better he felt.

When Mae began seeing Emma, from the hospice’s Rainbow service for young people, Nathan decided to sign himself up for adult counselling sessions with Val.

“It was the beginning of my recovery,” he said. “The moment I started talking, it was like a huge weight was lifted off my shoulders.

“It was such a relief to open up and share how I was feeling - I wasn’t used to talking.

“Like a lot of people of my generation and sex, it doesn’t come easily.”

Just having the space, peace and time to talk did wonders. Each session gave him a better understanding of his emotions.

He learnt that you’re not going to get the answers from anyone else - that understanding comes from within - and that healing takes times. So take time, for yourself.

The grief hasn’t gone away, but he does feel stronger. The counselling has given him the capacity to be the dad he wants to be

“I feel lighter now, like some of the crippling pain of my grief is lessening,” he said. “Before I was carrying it around like a heavy weight.

“I am learning to focus on the positive memories and how to move forward.”

Christmas is going to be very different for Barry Glendinning and his sister Brenda too, following the death of their mum Betty in July.

Betty, who lived in Hexham all her life, was diagnosed with lung cancer in May 2017. In her final days, she was cared for by Tynedale Hospice at Home’s nursing care team, enabling her to die at home as she wished.

She was diagnosed with cancer after having a fall that resulted in her being sent for an x-ray. A tumour was found in one lung.

Barry said: “Towards the end of mum’s illness, things were getting very hard. She was hardly eating and she was very frail.

“Brenda and I were taking it in turns to be with her day and night, but it was physically and emotionally very exhausting.

“Mum had always said she wanted to be at home right up to the end and we were determined to fulfil her wishes.”

He equated the visits from the hospice’s nursing team with the arrival of the cavalry. “It really was! It was such a relief to able to share her care with people who knew exactly what to do.”

Barry and Brenda will be attending the Light up a Life service at Hexham Abbey not only in memory of Betty, but also their dad Billy, who died in 2014, and brother Brian, who died in 2005.

“Although the pain of losing someone special never goes away, it’s an opportunity to take some time out and have a quiet moment to reflect,” he said.

“It sounds strange, but I think in some ways it will feel like we are all together again, just for that moment.”

The Light up a Life remembrance services will take place at Hexham Abbey on Saturday, December 1, at 3pm, at Prudhoe Methodist Church on Tuesday, December 4, at 6pm and at St Mary’s Church in Ponteland on Saturday, December 8, at 3pm.