‘It was such a shock, totally unexpected’: NI men Norman and Tom on how they coped after the death of their beloved wives

As The Queen comes to terms with the death of the Duke of Edinburgh, two local men speak about losing their partners after decades together

Saturday, 24th April 2021, 7:00 am
Pastor Norman Christie and his late wife Doreen

The Duke of Edinburgh had been at the Queen’s side since their marriage in 1947, and despite their contrasting personalities – the Queen is largely seen as more passive and conventional, while the Duke was more an outspoken, tempestuous type – the couple forged a successful relationship that produced four children, as well as a slew of grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

The pair reached their platinum wedding anniversary in November 2017 – an impressive achievement for any couple, royal or not. And as with any long marriage or partnership, no one will feel Prince Philip’s loss at the age of 99, more than his devoted wife.

Pastor Norman Christie knows the pain of losing a beloved life-long partner, after his wife of 50 years, Doreen, died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage on holiday in Spain in 2016.

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Tom McCurley and his late wife Pat

“It was such a shock and totally unexpected. As well as dealing with officialdom in Spain, I then had to phone home and tell the children I was coming home alone. That was about the worst thing I had to do.”

Norman, 81, a former Pastor at Lisburn Elim, recently released a book entitled, ‘A Live Lived with Love’, full of reflections and poems on how God took him on a journey through bereavement.

The Dromore man recalls how he met Doreen, ‘the girl of his dreams’, when they were both just 18 years old.

“I was at my friend’s party. I immediately saw her in a group of girls coming in and I said to myself ‘that’s the girl for me’.

“She had a wonderful smile and for a lad who wasn’t very confident at that stage of life, to have a young lady greet you with a warm smile, that to me was amazing.”

Norman and Doreen got married in 1964 and went on to have four children and nine grandchildren.

“The grandchildren were very attached to Doreen, because she was very sociable. As far as I was concerned she was the ideal pastor’s wife, reaching out to people everywhere, regardless of their background.”

Norman said he found bereavement devastatingly painful, but instead of grieving, he learnt to celebrate Doreen’s life and found his faith “fundamental to recovery”.

“It certainly was a shock, but I am thankful to say I didn’t go into shock. I was able to handle the situation, by the grace of God.

“I had a certain amount of peace, which I would relate to my Christian faith. When one has Christian faith at a time like that, you have an anchor for the soul, you feel reassured in the storms of life having the assurance that one day we’ll meet again, by the grace of God, so it’s not so much ‘goodbye’ as ‘cheerio’.”

Anger is often cited as the first emotion experienced by the bereaved, but Norman said he was determined he wasn’t going to get angry or bitter.

“I knew that would destroy me and also badly affect my family. Instead, I determined to be grateful to the Almighty for the big number of years we had had together and I am quite sure that Her Majesty is grateful for the very long time she had with her beloved husband. What I found was that in adopting an attitude of gratitude, it delivered me from anger and resentment and bad moods.”

Of course, without the presence of his wife, Norman understandably experienced times of loneliness.

“Writing poems gave me emotional relief when I was feeling lonely or upset. First of all I would write the negative thoughts I was feeling at the time and try to end with a positive thought in the last verse.”

“I’m finding this book is helping a lot of people who are breaking their hearts with bereavement. It gives me a lot of satisfaction that people are being helped. It’s really a ‘road to recovery’ book.

Prominent Freemason, Tom McCurley lost his wife Pat of 46 years to cancer 22 months ago and has lived alone during the repeated lockdowns of the past 13 months.

Despite his bereavement, Tom said he has managed to stay positive by following three simple rules: “Don’t run and hide from time on your own - reflection is a great therapy; life is for living, take the chance, try something new; care for others - it can help to heal you too.”

A Freemason since the age of 21, Tom, from Lisburn, will be turning 70 this year and says he has a lot to be thankful for.

“My wife Pat and I had a beautiful life together, four wonderful children and now four amazing grandchildren with another on the way. I am grateful for her every day and I am so happy she got to see our daughter married before she passed away.

“One of the things I have been doing for my children and grandchildren has been to create a sort of diary of my life. My daughter bought me a book at Christmas called ‘Dad, tell me your story’ which has been fantastic to fill in with my happy memories, and my two grandchildren in America send me a weekly question which I must complete for them - at the end of the year it will be turned into a book for them. It’s been a wonderful way to connect with them as I can’t be near them and it’s also been a wonderful conversation starter as my thoughts are brought back to my younger years.

“I also have a call list - a list of people who I make an effort to call. Those on the list change each week - sometimes it could be a fellow Freeemason who I know lives alone or it could be a family member abroad or even just a neighbour who would appreciate the thought - a little really does go a long way and it really lifts my mood too.”

Tom’s daughter is a nurse and he has real admiration NHS staff.

“When Pat died they were amazing and supportive, it pains me to know what they are suffering now and also what those who have lost loved ones are missing out on through the grieving process. When Pat died, I had arms around me from family, friends, locals, Masons and non-Masons, I was able to celebrate her life, talk about her, laugh and cry with those who loved her too. Right now there is a real gap in the grieving process and my heart aches for those who are having to deal with that everyday.”

Just before lockdown kicked in adventurous Tom bought a motor bike, one he’d longed for for many years but Pat wouldn’t let him. He says, cruising the countryside is one of the things he’s looking forward to the most when he can eventually get his license!

“When restrictions are lifted I’ll be getting my license and living the dream! Until then, I’m keeping busy. I resurrected my guitar, doing jigsaw puzzles, upcycling furniture - you name it, I’ll give it a go!”

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