Chris Davies used to be a communications officer for his local county council in Dorset, but that all changed when he saw a job advertised for a web manager at the Weldmar Hospicecare Trust – the hospice that had cared for his wife Jo during her battle with a brain tumour.
“A perfect job combining what I already did with an organisation I already supported,” says Chris, who lives in Weymouth with his eight year old son Harvey.
Although the job was ‘meant to be’, Chris says he doesn’t plan ahead. “I plan school holidays for Harvey, but I’ve never planned a career or anything else,” he says. He knows what he’s doing for the next few weeks, but any further ahead is an unknown quantity.
Bringing up Harvey
Jo died in June 2007, after six months of being cared for at home following a diagnosis four years earlier. Since then, Chris has brought up Harvey on his own, but has been lucky enough to have lots of help from friends, his mother-in-law, mother and stepmother.
Chris says his main priority has always been to maintain some sort of consistency for Harvey. A teacher at Harvey’s school gave him the name of a childminder that her daughter used and Harvey has been going there ever since and has become best friends with the childminder’s son.
“It gives him somewhere else that’s consistent and with a female presence,” Chris says. “She sometimes babysits for me as well and won’t take any money – she just wants a big pack of peanut M&Ms and that’s all she’ll take. Occasionally my mother-in-law also babysits or Harvey stays over with her from time to time.”
“Most of Jo’s friends that she grew up with are teachers and have been fantastic about looking after Harvey during school holidays. They still do after two years,” explains Chris. “Jo’s best friend from the age of nine has two girls who have always said that Harvey’s their brother and just part of the family.”
Despite the love and support Chris has had from friends and family, it hasn’t all been plain sailing and there are times when he has found being a single dad a real challenge: “once the children are in bed we are locked in the house.” Being an avid internet user was a lifeline to him.
When Jo was ill, he set up and ran a blog, partly to let everyone know what was going on without having to speak to everyone individually, and partly to raise money through a sponsored walk (the Jo-Rassic Challenge) for the hospice, which raised over £11,000.
A lifeline for the family
After Jo’s death, Chris joined an organisation called The Widowed and Young Foundation (WAY), which helps young widows and widowers who have children connect with other families in similar situations. “The chatroom and messages boards were a lifeline. I probably became a bit obsessive,” he admits, “and would stay up until one or two in the morning.”
Online chat eventually moved into meetings, not just for Chris, but for Harvey too, who could talk to other children in similar situations. Chris also began using Facebook, MSN and emailing a number of the friends he had made.
One of these friends has turned into something more and they have now been in a relationship for quite a while. “Hers was almost exactly the same story as mine,” he says. “Her husband died of a brain tumour. She was from the north and had moved south, so didn’t have any family back-up down here.”
The pair try to meet up at least every other weekend, but the logistics are not always easy as the journey between them takes three hours and involves a drive and a ferry. The children get on well and Chris is keeping his fingers crossed for the future.
Chris still uses social networks to keep in contact with his friends and for support in the long hours when he is tied to the house. For him, new technology has provided a lifeline to help him cope.
For detailed step-by-step advice read our guide to bereavement.