To mark Grief Awareness Week (2-8 December), Bernadette has kindly agreed to share her story.

Bernadette’s husband Johnston died in Strathcarron Hospice in May, earlier this year.


“Johnston was my best pal and one true love.” Our friends referred to us as a true Love Story.   Johnston always said ‘I was his angel that fell down from heaven’.

He asked me to marry him within 2 weeks of our first meeting and we were together for 15 years. We had a wonderful life together. Suddenly the devastating news of his cancer changed how we would continue to live our lives with his terminal illness.

Johnston got obsessed about planning his funeral. We regularly had to visit his burial plot. He also spent most of his waking hours composing piano music for the service, as well as writing his own eulogy. I found this very difficult and my emotional resilience was getting weaker by the day!

We lived with cancer for three years and neither of us was remotely ready for him to die. Johnston described it as ‘the descent into hell’ and I agreed! We lived through incredibly tough times and reached what I now refer to as the ‘Crisis Point’ of our journey. The treatments weren’t working, so hope was now in short supply.

The level of trauma at this time was immeasurable.

As Johnston’s wife, it became overwhelming to watch his deterioration in the last months of his life. It was torturous and damaging! It was at this time that our GP referred us to Strathcarron Hospice. Their nursing, social work, bereavement and care teams supported Johnston and I emotionally and physically. They were there for us on every level, at the worst time in our lives.

Johnston was admitted to the ward for the first time in March 2021 for a review of his medication. He was in Strathcarron Hospice for a week. This also provided me with much needed respite.

Johnston died on 21 May at twenty minutes to one in 2021.

No one tells you this, but one of the hardest moments is when you come home and the house is empty. Johnston was noisy, musical, energetic, charismatic beyond belief, generous, caring and above all a real gentleman. He had a huge vocal presence! He was also very complex which is also why I loved him.

Some people say time drags…but I don’t know where it has gone. It still feels like he died yesterday.

People say ‘keep busy’, but I don’t agree with that!

In my view, you need to be busy for a purpose; if you aimlessly busy yourself, eventually, you just end up anesthetising your feelings.

You need time for reflection, and resting your mind and body. I’ve read that if you busy yourself too much you are more likely to suffer depression in the long term, so it’s important to be kind to yourself during the grieving process.

David Hall, Patient and Family Support Manager at Strathcarron was a significant support, both when John was alive and now, in my grief. He managed very successfully to calm Johnston, talking to him and listening to what he had to say with a great deal of understanding and empathy. This was invaluable to us both, so why didn’t we get support quicker from the hospice? This was because we thought we‘ could endure the trauma’ but we were undoubtedly wrong!

David has supported, listened and challenged me. He has made me realise that I have to be the architect of my own health and trust the next chapter in my life because I am now the author of that. He has given me ‘hope’ which includes setting myself small realistic goals, achieving the goals and therefore ultimately becoming able to have self belief again, which had been utterly destroyed during the ‘crisis’.  Last week I cooked my own dinner, the first time since Johnston died.

I also aim to get back into the pool and swim 100 lengths, as I used to do that regularly.

Christmas will also be extremely hard.

I have not played any of Johnston’s music since he died, so I am going to listen to his music on Christmas Eve. I need to do it for him as he worked so hard on it.

For me, the perception of a Hospice was all about going there to die. We hadn’t realised how hospices had evolved, nobody informed us how the facility functioned.  I know now that Strathcarron Hospice is all about living; providing you with access to so many wonderful professional support services.

Going to Strathcarron Hospice was absolutely the best thing to do.

One of my regrets is that I wish we had linked into Strathcarron much sooner. Ideally at the point of his diagnosis. I think I would have coped in a different way. I sometimes ask myself if there would have been the same level of crisis or trauma if we did. I certainly don’t think so.

I am not saying our ‘Crisis Point’ wouldn’t have happened, but with the help and support of the teams in Strathcarron, it would’ve been shaped in a different way”.


Johnston started to write ‘our journey’ about his cancer and Bernadette is currently drafting the final chapters. We hope to share excerpts once the journal is published.

We would like to sincerely thank Bernadette for sharing her story.