Knit­ting hearts healed mine

Mum Clare Young was dev­as­tated when her hus­band died aged 47, but a hobby helped her find hap­pi­ness again…

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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

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