Knitting hearts healed mine
Mum Clare Young was devastated when her husband died aged 47, but a hobby helped her find happiness again…
I’d never have dreamed that something as simple as knitting could heal me. In fact, when my grief counsellor advised it after my beloved husband, Ken, died, I was sceptical.
But the soothing click of my needles and the creations I completed proved to be the perfect, simple distraction I needed from the heartbreak that threatened to consume me – and it brought me love.
In 2004, I was a single mum to four children – Henry, then 13, Polly, 11, Flora, 10, and Oscar, eight. Then I stepped right out of my comfort zone – I joined the Friends Reunited Dating site. As soon as Ken’s profile came up, I knew he was The One.
We spent months emailing and talking. Ken, then 35, had two daughters and a wicked sense of humour. When we finally met in person, at a pub between my Gloucester home and his house in Cardiff, it was confirmed.
‘I’ve fallen in love,’ I told my parents that night. We agreed to take things slowly and stay in our respective homes until our kids finished their education, but that only made our weekly meetings more exciting.
On Christmas Day 2007, Ken proposed to me with a beautiful diamond ring.
‘I did it to avoid buying you two presents!’ he joked.
We were in no rush to marry, but just being engaged made our future together more certain.
Well, for a while. But, in 2011, Ken started losing weight. It took two years of scans and tests but, in November 2013, doctors broke the devastating news.
‘ You have advanced bowel cancer,’ the doctor said. ‘ We can only offer palliative care.’ The cancer was too advanced for surgery. Ken was offered chemo and radiotherapy to prolong his life.
‘I’m here for you,’ I vowed, quitting my receptionist job to take him to every appointment. He’d recover at my house before heading home to his kids.
We got a therapy dog, Maggie, who Ken would walk when he was feeling strong enough. Despite his dire situation, we never stopped laughing.
In April 2014, we married in front of 50 of our closest friends and family in an emotional ceremony. Ken was still in the middle of treatment, but we managed a two-day honeymoon in Dartmouth.
In December, Ken finally moved in with me. We loved being together permanently.
But, not long afterwards, Ken was referred for a 12-week day programme at the Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice.
I was terrified of what it meant, but the hospice was calm and welcoming. Ken attended art classes and we hung his original ‘Kenoirs’ on the walls. It turned out he was extremely talented.
‘Typical that I’ve just found out now,’ he joked.
Then, in August 2015, after a haemorrhage, Ken was admitted to the hospice. Every day, I spent 12 hours by his side. With nurses on call, I could relax and be his wife, not the carer I’d become.
Three weeks later, I got a call at 5am. I was already awake. Maybe, subconsciously, I knew what was happening.
‘ You need to come now,’ they said. I called Ken’s family, then dashed to the hospice to hold his hand as he took his final breath. It was the most traumatic moment of my life.
Afterwards, I felt numb – I’d never experienced death before, and I had nightmarish flashbacks. After Ken’s funeral, a Sue Ryder bereavement counsellor contacted me. It was exactly what I needed, especially as Oscar, my youngest, had left home for university that same week.
I felt lost. I was referred to a psychologist who diagnosed PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), anxiety and depression. I tried various treatments before my therapist asked if I knitted.
‘Only for the children, when they were little,’ I replied, confused. She explained that it would be good for me to have something productive to focus on. So, that night, I dug out my needles – and didn’t put them down.
I made dolls and angels, which I sold to raise money for the Sue Ryder hospice. Then, in June 2016, with a team of 25 helpers, we anonymously ‘yarn bombed’ a tree in the hospice grounds with knitted flowers and animals, which caused a social media storm. I met so many other knitters because of it. After feeling so lonely, I finally felt part of something.
Then, 10 months later, a friend asked if I could knit a garden installation for the 2018 RHS Malvern Spring Festival. It was a huge project, but I was determined.
‘If there’s one thing I’ve learned’ ‘Grief is an awful thing. It’s good to let other people help you… and to find a hobby!’
I settled on a tranquil hospice scene with a bed, plus hundreds of hearts and flowers.
Local knitting groups got involved and I was inundated with letters of loss and support – along with a staggering 52,000 knitted hearts from around the world. It was utterly overwhelming.
I even ended up on TV to ask for help. A man named Ian Knight saw the interview and got in touch. He’d lost his wife, Jane, to diabetes-related complications in 2016.
Jane had loved crocheting and knitting. ‘I’ve hundreds of balls of wool you can have,’ he said. We arranged to meet and I promised to knit a potted plant in memory of his wife. He’d called Jane his ‘eternal sunshine’, so we agreed a sunflower was fitting.
Opening up about grief is a hard – and brave – thing to do, but with Ian, now 55, it seemed natural. So, a week later, we met for lunch and talked and talked.
As we kept meeting and kept talking, I realised that, without even knowing or expecting it, I’d fallen for Ian. I couldn’t believe how lucky I was, despite my pain.
In May this year, the installation was set up and it was beautiful, full of love and hope. I was so proud of everybody’s hard work.
So far, I’ve raised £25,000 for Sue Ryder Leckhampton Court Hospice. I hope to double that and I won’t give up trying.
Now, at 51, I’ve been blessed to find true love twice. Knitting really helped heal my broken heart. l For more info, see justgiving.com/fundraising/ workofheartgarden
The first photo of Ken and Clare together Ken was already ill when they married in 2014
The Work Of Heart knitted garden project Her hobby led her to new love, Ian Creating the garden gave Clare’s life new meaning