Sarah - Interview 20

Age at interview: 62
Brief Outline: Sarah's husband, Russell, died in 2006 in a road traffic collision. He was driving a bus when the driver of another vehicle pulled out suddenly, causing the incident. Sarah was devastated and still feels that her life has been shattered.
Background: Sarah is a Manager in a college of further education. She is a widow and has 4 children. Ethnic background/nationality' White British.

More about me...

In September 2006 Sarah’s husband, Russell, was driving a bus on a stretch of road that changed from a motorway into a dual carriage way, and which was inclined slightly up-hill. He was driving at a safe distance behind a van. Witnesses were sure about this. There was a car transporter in a lay-by on the dual carriage way. Without warning, the car transporter pulled out in front of the van, the van slowed down suddenly, and Russell was unable to stop the bus before it crashed into the back of the van. The collision was partly due to poor road design, and partly due to the error made by the driver of the car transporter. He should not have pulled out suddenly just in front of the van.
Russell was crushed when the bus hit the van. His injuries were serious. He was taken to hospital by air ambulance but died in the operating theatre due to massive blood loss caused by his injuries. Sarah was taken to the hospital by police escort. She had to identify Russell. She phoned the children and when they arrived they all went to see Russell together.
The funeral was held about two weeks later, after the post-mortem. The funeral was lovely. About 300 people attended the church service and four people spoke about Russell. He was then cremated. Some of his ashes were scattered on a hill and some put in a casket and buried.
Sarah found it very hard to believe that Russell had died. His death was a tremendous shock. During the first year after Russell’s death Sarah had terrible dreams and often felt physically ill and exhausted. She feared the future and felt deeply depressed at times. Now, over two years later, Sarah wants to “move on” and be in a happier place, yet at the same time does not want to leave Russell’s memory and the experience behind. She feels guilty if she feels any happiness because Russell hasn’t got the chance of such happiness. Sometimes she feels positive and confident but at other times she is back in the ‘pit of despair’. She hates being alone.
About five months after Russell’s death Sarah had some counselling arranged by her GP, and provided by her GP. The counsellor was very helpful and provided strategies for coping. She helped Sarah visualise and think about situations in a more positive manner, and she helped to validate emotions. Sarah still sees the counsellor about every six weeks.
The driver was only charged with driving without due care and attention, and then fined, and given penalty points and ordered to pay costs. Sarah had been told by the police that he would be charged at one court appearance and then sentenced at a later court appearance. She had been told by the police that it would be sensible to miss the first court appearance, which would be very short, but attend the court for the sentencing. However, the driver was charged and sentenced at the same time and so Sarah and her children missed his court appearance, which made them all very angry. The Crown Prosecution Service had not informed the police that this might happen.
The police liaison officer was excellent, and passed on as much information as possible. He visited Sarah regularly in the first few weeks and then at least once a month and kept her up-to-date with what was happening. Sarah and the family wanted as much information as possible about what had happened. The police took Sarah and her children to look at the road where the collision occurred and explained that tests had shown that Russell had not been speeding at the time of the collision. The bus company has also been excellent and has tried to help Sarah in every possible way.
The inquest was held some time after the court case. There were a number of witnesses, but the driver of the transporter that caused the collision did not turn up. The coroner did not think that the word “accident” described what happened, so gave a narrative verdict.
Sarah was interviewed in 2008.
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Sarah explained what happened when the policemen came to her at work and told her that the bus...

It’s very, and the whole of that is very, very clearly imprinted in my mind in a very funny kind of way. I had a very, very peaceful day at work, in the office mostly tidying, and , it’s a very funny thing now whenever I have had a similar day when I’ve just been quiet and in the office tidying, I’ve had an incredible sense of foreboding and you know, kind of what’s going happen?
And our secretary stuck her head around the door, I can see her head now, and said, “There’s someone to see you.” So I said, “Show, show them in.” I’d just picked up the phone actually and I was ringing somebody else, so two policemen came in, I said, “Just sit down till I finish the phone call.” And there’d been a situation the day before when somebody’s car had rolled away in the car park and bumped into somebody else’s, and I just thought, “Oh Gosh, I hope to goodness my car hasn’t rolled away.” And then the other thing is there might have been somebody being naughty at work, which obviously would’ve been an issue, and I just hung on for a moment, and the person, it was twenty five to, it was after half past four, twenty five to five, and I just said, “Blooming part-timer, they’ve gone home already.” ‘Cos they didn’t answer the phone, and turned round, and one of the policemen came up from the table, sat on like a filing cabinet by my desk, and just said, “There’s been an accident to Russell’s bus, he’s rather badly injured and we’ve come to take you to the hospital.”
Ah, it must’ve been awful.
You just dropped everything and went.
I dropped everything, I stood up and had my coat half on and said, “Oh no, I think I’d better go in my own car,” and that was very, very funny, because I then said, “So that I can come back when it’s all over.” And so subconsciously I must’ve thought that this is a death situation. But equally in my logical head, must’ve, and I thought that’s a terrible thing to say, and I changed it and said, “To come back at the end of the evening.” Thinking like, and he said, “No, no, no, we’ll stay with you all night if need be. You come with us now.”
You didn’t think perhaps it was something, a minor thing that you could just sort of see him at the hospital and come back again to the office? You thought it was…
No, because he did, he actually said to me he’s seriously injured and he did say he’d fractured lower legs, upper legs, pelvis and had abdominal injuries, so I knew.
You knew it was serious?
that that it wasn’t, this wasn’t just, and anyway policemen don’t come and take you to you to hospital because they’ve, you’ve broken your leg.
So I must, and I must’ve sub-consciously known that it was a death situation, because of the fact saying, and I said, “I’ll need my car to get me back when it’s all over.” And then knowing that that was the wrong thing to say, and changing it to say, at the end of the evening.
So did you…
So they then, I just bobbed my head around my colleague friends door, and said I’m off to the hospital and Russell’s been injured, and then knocked, knocked, on walking out knocked my head into my bosses door to say, “I’m going because there’s been an accident and they’re taking me to the hospital.” She then actually came out and said, “I’ll come with you.” And he said, the policeman said, “No we’re going now.” And she said, “I’ll follow you.” And he said, “You won’t, we’re going on a blue light.”
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After Russell died Sarah's overriding emotions were to do with protecting the children. When the...

You haven’t actually described your feelings at different, in different months or years. I mean the shock to start with, no doubt.
Yes, the shock I suppose, but incredibly calm. We had very independent, we led very independent lives, and I spent a lot of time saying in the first few days, saying, “Well it’ll be okay for me, because I’m not the sort of person who goes home and we had tea together every night.” Because you know I lead an independent life, therefore it’ll be much easier for me than for somebody who you know they both come home from work every night, they have tea together, and they sit together all evening. And I kept thinking this is going to be, you know, thank goodness it will be easier for me than for other people. But then further down the line, when the reality actually; and at the beginning I was incredibly protective of the children, and my overriding emotions were to do with protecting them, rather than anything that was going on for me, myself. And then, then when the reality that this was here for life, for good, I went through a period in the early days of being, of hating the house, as you are going into the house, and absolutely hating it.
I used to get stuck in the shower; I’d go into the shower and get stuck, completely rigid and couldn’t get out. It sounds silly, I found whenever I was in the car I was reliving that first night experience, and that went on for over a year, dreadful.
The experience of going to the hospital do you mean?
Yes, reliving that story that I’ve just told you, again, and the minute I got behind the wheel of the car my brain went into, the policeman around the door, and then that whole experience. Dreadful dreams which often involved death, and often involved crashing, sometimes it was children, sometimes it was, at one time it was a room full of budgies that were all being crushed to death.
That was bad. But then lots and lots of, “I don’t like living alone, I don’t want to be alone”, I, the future, and the absolute fear of the future. We were within, he was within six months of retiring and me a year of retiring, and we had a plan and now it felt like my whole life has been taken away because what is my future, what is my plan? And then at one stage, a complete loss of confidence in me because I was a wife, and my, it felt as though I had lost me because the person that I was had been taken away. A confident person in a secure relationship and a future planned out, and all of that gone, literally in a minute. And so I felt I’d lost him and I’d lost the me, and I’d lost the life, and then there was a period of time when I started thinking well, his needs became more than mine and I started thinking well it’s not fair that actually I’ve got a life, I’m okay, stop whingeing, I’ve got a life he hasn’t got a life, and that’s not fair. And he’d spent the last ten, fifteen years collecting things for his retirement, which he now couldn’t use, do, play with, have, enjoy, and that’s not fair.
And, absolute exhaustion, total exhaustion or permanently exhausted and I still feel tired really. Because all the time you’ve got a split personality, you’ve got a, a logical head that knows logically that you have, you are in a bereavement process and you are going to work through it and all will be well in the end, and then you’ve got an illogical process that puts you at the bottom of a black pit that you simply can’t climb out of.
So you are on this incredible roller coaster that sometimes I can be walking through town and thinking, “Right I’ve only got one life, I’ve learnt that lesson. I must make the best of it myself. Therefore I’ll do all these good things.” Then you’re feeling positive and confident, and then you can wake up the next morning, back in the pit of despair. And completely out of control, and you think, “How can this happen”. One morning I’d stood in the shower, feeling positive and confident, and thinking this was absolutely, I was in control and things were going well, I walked into the bedroom, looked at a photograph, and I describe it as being within 30 seconds I had gone from feeling positive to being back in the depths, and that’s incredibly exhausting. I can’t begin to explain how exhausting.
And that was just recently?
No, that was that was probably six, eight months ago. But even now I can have, I can, I can be confident and positive one day, I, went, in the summer which was leading up for two years I had a couple of months where I honestly and definitely felt things were getting better, and then I had a traumatic time around about the second anniversary of his death and that has put me back to a place that I was six months, eight months ago.
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Sarah went back to work after three weeks- the routine helped. But over two years later she still...

While I did not have difficulty with eating, and in general slept well, I did tell you about the incredibly horrific and scary dreams I had, though they too have lessened in frequency. I found waking in the mornings particularly difficult and often felt very ill, non specific, complaint, but just 'too ill' to get out of bed. Fortunately going back to work after 3 weeks helped enormously with this as it gave me the impetus and made me get out of bed. For me maintaining a routine definitely helped. While feeling ill in the mornings was regular during the first year it has certainly lessened with time, though some mornings for absolutely no reason that I can identify it still happens, and is horrible.
The ‘realisation hit’.... This is a very unsettling feeling, and usually happens quite out of the blue. I may be thinking something and then quite suddenly realise what has happened. For example, washing up one day, I hear a car and think 'that will be Russell home' and then realise it can't be as he has been killed. That thought is accompanied by what feels exactly like a hard blow just above my stomach in the lower part of my chest. It all happens much quicker that it takes to say far less write, but what feels like a very hard physical blow causes a sharp intake of breath, and I then have to do a couple of deep breaths to get back on an even keel. An unpleasant sensation, particularly as it comes completely without warning and seems to be a subconscious reaction.
I have had two or three occasions when contact with a person in uniform, usually a security guard in a store has caused an instant 'panic attack' reaction. For example one day a security guard came up behind me and said 'excuse me' and as I turned and saw him went into instant panic mode. Actually he was just saying that the store was about to close, but for a moment I nearly lost it. He was wearing the white shirt and dark trousers of the police men who came on that first day. It has happened to me a couple of times since, and as it is quite unexpected can be alarming. I find hearing ambulance sirens quite difficult too. I do manage my feelings with strong control and these physical manifestations come without warning, are completely subconscious, and therefore impossible to control, and so can be quite frightening.
Finally the most difficult thing and something I still have not faced and does trouble me a lot, is that I cannot actually think about what happened to him without feeling physically sick. Even writing this is bad so I will say no more.
I was a normal woman living a normal life at 4.30 on the 21st September, now I feel I will never be normal again. My mother's mantra was 'acceptance', and that to find happiness and peace in life one must accept what happens to one. I find this impossible as what has happened to Russell and our family is unacceptable in every sense. 
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A policeman advised Sarah to prepare a statement. One of her sons gave it to journalists when...

And finally, you haven’t said anything about the press. Did they get involved?
Yes. On the very first day on the night at the hospital I actually said to the policeman who was there, “Can you keep this out of the papers?”, because at the time I thought, at the time I was thinking this dreadful thing had happened, I don’t want my children opening a newspaper and reading about it. And he said, “That’s not possible you will find that there’ll be reporters on your door wanting to know about it”, and he actually advised us, he said, “The thing to do is to prepare a statement, if you don’t want to be part of all of this, and you don’t want the press.” And so what we did was, that very first morning when we woke up the next morning, we actually wrote a thing that said something like, something very simple about, you know this has happened and the family want to be left alone to deal with it. And so when the press did turn up on the doorstep one of the sons just went and handed out this piece of paper that just said, “He was a quiet and gentle man, we want to, we’ll miss him and we want to be able to be left alone”, and to be fair, that actually was fine.
But what we didn’t, I didn’t realise when I spoke to the policeman, because I was there on my own at the hospital, that time when the other children hadn’t arrived, was that actually they were practically obsessed by looking at what the papers said, and they cut out and kept every article, every photograph, there was a lot of stuff in the commercial, in the specialist press as well, which they’ve collected and kept, so there is a file there, but I think that was the first sign of what developed into this obsessive need to know absolutely everything about what had happened in the accident.
So did the press bother you again after that?
After, no after that, nobody else came near us.
Not individually.
Not individually, the only other time was after the inquest, there was a reporter at the inquest.
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Sarah saw a counsellor attached to her GP's surgery, who used neurolinguistic programming...


And where have you found help for yourself at?

I see a counsellor, in February or March when I started getting really bad, I was at my GP just for an ordinary smear, and I said I think I’m going phone to Cruse or something like that, one of these people that you have the names of, I could do with talking to somebody about this, and they said, “Oh we’ve got somebody in the practice.”
Oh that was good.
There was a three month waiting list, but I said, “Oh put my name down anyway because I think I could do with something.” And I got home from work that day and there was a phone call that said, “The doctor thinks it would be a good idea if he saw you now. Come on Tuesday”.
Oh that was good, so that’s paid for by the National Health Service?
That’s paid for, no actually, the GP himself employs this person.
What so the practice?
The practice, the practice does yes, and they’re not a, I am an anti counsellor person, I don’t know what you know, but I was always very sceptical about this contemplating your navel, but she described herself as a Heinz 57 varieties, and it was a lot of different skills, and she has the most incredible, she messes with my mind if you like,
Does she, does she call it anything? Does she give it a label?
I think its…
Cognitive behavioural therapy, or something like that?
Something like that; neuro-linguistic programming I think.
Oh right.
And I’ll give you an example of the very first thing she did with me, which she copies in very similar things. One of the children decided to have his children christened thinking, “Let’s cheer Mum up with a happy family event.” Without actually realising how traumatic; this was about five months after Russell died, and I at one stage thought I can’t even go to this event, because it was putting me in a church, with the couple with the children, and the wife’s parents standing there, and me on my own with my big tall son beside me. And how can I do that? I can’t, simply cannot do that and in a public place and maybe cry, I can’t do it, , very panicky about it. And she did a thing which was she had me visualise what it looked like, and then slowly over a period of two or three minutes I walked back to the church, so the visual image got smaller and then turned it into a black and white photograph and then it was no longer straight in front of me, she had me go to the back corner of the church, so it was off centre, and by then I was too far away to see properly and I actually felt the whole tension draining out of me while I actually did that, as I did this visualisation thing, or imaginary, visual you know, and that took away the kind of anxiety I had about it, and I was able to cope with it.
She did that before you went to it?
Yes, absolutely yes. So I was able to think about it, and think yes, I can go to this christening, and then the other daughter got married. She got engaged two weeks before he died and then got married a year later and a similar thing, “How can, how can I go to a wedding and marry my daughter, our daughter, without him, it’s criminal, it’s wicked it should not be happening.” And then a bit of blame for the bloke who caused, made this situation arise, and again she did a similar thing with that, and she does a lot of a very clever things about how your imagine, how you visualise things, it’s very clever. Very clever.
So can you give me the, another example of the wedding, did she make you think about it in a different way as well?
No, we talked about how to have him there, and the different ways to have him there, and so we did actually have a photograph on the table, with some beautiful flowers, not in front of me, off side, off side, so that he was there but I didn’t have to look at him, because if I’d looked at him it would have made me cry. But in fact when it, and then we’d talked about what I’d think about and how I would think and as a result the wedding was a, a, well they were definitely, it was a happy day.
So she helped you change the way you might think about it?
Absolutely, completely and utterly. Yes. So it’s not a, it’s not a contemplate your navel, and how do you feel about things. It’s strategies for coping.
So she’s professionally trained?
Oh incredibly professionally trained, incredibly professionally trained. And I don’t think I could have survived , well of course I would have done but she has enabled me to, and when I have issues that I have to deal with…
Can you still go and see her?
I can see her for as long as, the words are, “for as long as I like, whenever I want.” Well not whenever I want, I can go about once a month, every five or six weeks. But because of the trauma round about the second anniversary she did say if I wanted I could ring her up, and after the, that trauma she was able to put things into perspective, so she’s very clever.
That’s good.
And I would, I would recommend it to everybody.
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The counsellor understood Sarah's emotions and allowed her to feel 'really awful'. She understood...

The other big thing she [the counsellor] does, again picked up from reading, from me reading the books, she validates my emotions, and so when I say I’m feeling this, that or the other, she says, “That’s right. Yes, of course you are.” You know. And there’s quite a lot about the child within and say, yes, you deserve to be nice to yourself, you know, you are suffering. Whereas all the time I’m very often saying, you know, pull yourself together and behave.
Whereas she allows me to feel really, really awful and I do have a big hang up about time, because when my parents died you kind of think well the first year's the worst and then after that you know you get on with life, and to be honest year two for me in some ways was worse than year one. And what she, she says well that’s right because of this whole, the whole kind of traumatic bit does put you in a separate place, and there isn’t such a thing as a timescale for it, it’s as long as it takes. And I’m setting unreal expectations. 
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Sarah felt very angry at having missed the trial of the man involved in the crash.

One of the hardest things about it was the issue about the whole court proceedings, which the children were very desperate to go to, and because of lack of communication with the crown prosecution service we actually missed all of those [court proceedings].
The first time we were told he was summonsed and he didn’t turn up. And the judge at the time said, “I’m not prepared to go any further until he does turn up.” So the second time he did turn up, and said he’d changed his lawyer so he wanted an adjournment. And the third time they told us it would just be a charge and then you, you come back on a second occasion for sentencing. And the police had said to us, well the charge only takes five minutes, you turn up, they say, “you’re charged”, and the time for you to attend is to come the second time when its, when it’s sentencing. But what in actual fact happened, because by this stage he’d been three times, when he turned up they actually did the charge and the sentencing and everything, so we just got a phone call three days later saying, it’s all happened, it’s over and done with, and that’s what happened. And again, that was something that made us all very, very angry.
And what did he get [as a sentence], just a fine?
He just got a fine yes.
Didn’t you have a police family liaison officer?
We did yes. And to be absolutely fair to the police, they were equally angry about it because they too hadn’t had communication from the Crown Prosecution Service about it. It wasn’t entirely; it definitely wasn’t entirely the police fault. And in fact we had a family liaison officer, and then his sergeant, they came to the house and apologised actually, about it all. And I, I actually wrote a letter to the Chief Constable to say, look this family has had, is experiencing this traumatic situation which has been exacerbated by all this nonsense. 

Sarah pointed out that ordinary families who are bereaved through an illness do not have a police...

And then did the police liaison officer contact you regularly with updated [information]?
He did yes, probably about once a month. Yes, right through, and in a funny kind of way that’s one of the things that sets this sort of death apart from heart attack things, because if you’re an ordinary family like us you don’t actually have policemen in their uniforms sitting at your kitchen table for an afternoon talking about things, and that happened a lot. And it was kind of we’d moved into a different place, we are now the recipients of care, i.e. we have a family liaison officer and that’s not the sort of thing that one expects within normal life.
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Sarah's husband left a specialist collection of books and magazines that needed to be sold. She...

And then I suppose there were other practical that you have to worry about? Sort of changing bank accounts.
Yeah, bank, all of that bank accounts, house insurance, that was, that was a massive piece of work, but probably what was an even bigger piece of work for us, which was personal is that he was a collector and had more collections of things to do with transport than you could ever begin to imagine, and we’re still sorting those. And that’s been a task of just humungous proportions, an attic completely full of trains and boats and planes and vehicles. More magazines than you can ever be, and something, we counted 120 magazine titles.
Ah. Goodness.
Collections of, and thousands of books, all of which have had to be catalogued and showed, and sold in specialist places because they were all specialist things.
And actually dealing with all of that has been another of the things that I feel that has made this whole experience even more drawn out. Because you’ve got, and back onto this split personality business, you’ve got the need that you have to do this clearing out and yet on the other side by clearing out you’re throwing him out, disposing of him, the things that were his life, excitement. So you’re torn, you want to throw it out, or, I don’t mean throw it out, you want to dispose of it.
That’s a better term, and some of the things, something that cost £150 you don’t want to give to a charity shop, because when there were 40 of them that’s a large amount of money tied up in artifacts, that you can’t afford to give away or throw away, and so getting rid of them in a specialist way, you’re desperate to do, but you’re desperate not to do because the doing of it is somehow denying him his retirement pleasure. And so that’s another split personality thing, which is still going on, and I think will probably go on for another year or so at least.
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