My journey of dealing with grief: Simon Hancox at TEDxDerby

My journey of dealing with grief: Simon Hancox at TEDxDerby

Translator: Linda Anderson
Reviewer: Denise RQ OK, thank you. So, yes, I’m Simon Hancox, and I’m here today to talk
about my journey of the last 15 or 16 months
of my life basically. But before I do that,
here’s my little dog, Hank. Thank you, you can do
that again, if you’d like. He’s a little bit bigger than that now.
He’s a little border terrier. We’ve had him for just over
a year or so now. So, I live with Hank in my house
in Alvaston, Derby, with my two little boys, Will and Sam,
who are five and nine years old. I work in the not-for-profit sector
in Derby, in the charitable sector, and I have done for many years now. It’s humbling really,
I speak to people that have innovations, ideas, TED-kind of ideas really,
passions, determination, motivation. Sometimes it’s fueled by a personal
tragedy, a general interest, some desire to make things happen,
to make that change. So every day in my working life,
I speak to these people, I connect with them, and I help try
and facilitate and grow their idea, much in the same way that our good friend
here is growing furniture. And we’re all kind of growing
these ideas together as well. This is my mum and dad, and when I told them I’d been nominated
for a TED talk, we got chatting. They’re quite gregarious people. They’ve always been surrounded
by friends and family, all their lives really. And, I’ll get to the point here. There is a reason I put my folks in there. I was very, very poorly when I was born. I almost died, and I was in hospital;
incubator-jobbie for quite some time. And, I wonder if that’s kind of affected,
in a very positive way, the relationship I have with my parents. Because they were often to and from
hospital, more or less every day, coming to see me, to see
how I was doing, etc. And I’ve seen them surrounded
by friends and family more or less all of their lives, and I
wonder how that’s affected me as well. This is Annabel. I met Annabel in 1994, in, not too far from here,
The Blue Note in Derby. Can I get a shout-out for
the Blue Note? (Shouts) (cheers) Well done, very good,
that’s made my day. So, in the heady days of Britpop,
Blur, Oasis, Pulp, and all that, we had a shared love of David Bowie,
vodka, and alternative cinema, kind of in that order as well, really. We connected very, very well,
very, very quickly. Friends and family could see
we were very, very close together, very, very well connected,
very early on. So four years later, we got married. We began our journey together,
if you like, really, in this next stage of our lives together. And new jobs, new houses, new haircuts for Annabel,
not for me, unfortunately. And new additions to life,
to our family as well. Will came along in 2004,
and Sam came along in 2008. We got changes in jobs, as I say. Annabel entered
into the world of education, which was something
she’d always wanted to do. Basically, that was our life,
we were very happy. It was in April 2012, when Annabel
found a lump in her breast. At that stage, we were a bit shocked,
surprised, and concerned. We were both turning 40 years of age
that particular year, and we’d been making plans to go
to the States at Christmas time, to spend a joint 40th birthday together,
and have a great time, as you do. Even to the point of sorting the kids out, in terms of, they’re going
to go here, etc. So we had this news,
which seemed a big shock. It felt particularly cruel, as Annabel
had entered the next stage of her life, in terms of job and everything else. So, it was triple-negative
breast cancer, quite aggressive. Because of Annabel’s physical makeup, in terms of what she was
receptive to or not, we were a little bit limited in terms of what drugs
would work, and what wouldn’t. But chemotherapy began, so we started
on a plan, on a chemo cocktail. And initially, over the summer period,
things went well. It was great, we were looking
for that word “shrinkage”. We were looking for some positive signs
from the consultants and from the team. Initially, over the summer,
it was great, it went really well. Bike rides, walks out, runs,
holidays, all that kind of stuff, that went really well,
that was fine. And that kind of aided our well-being,
and our position, if you like. And then, towards the end of that period, towards the end
of that particular chemotherapy phase, it was pretty clear that the cancer was
a bit more aggressive than we thought. Unfortunately, it was clear
that the cancer was taking hold, and things weren’t really working
in the way that we wanted them to. This is a photo taken at the end
of October, 2012, on a trip to York. So I surprised Annabel
with one of our many surprises, most of them didn’t work out
in life really, but this one was OK,
I find that I quite like that. So we went to York for the weekend,
did all the usual stuff, ghost walk, walk
the walls, all the rest, and Annabel was quite
healthy at that point. But things went kind of downhill
from then on after that. November and December came,
the cold winter air, and everything else. It was quite a tricky time for us. Christmas came, and we went
into hospital on Christmas Eve. Because Annabel–
it was quite difficult at that point. I took the kids in with me
on Christmas Day. They were being their usual noisy selves,
running up and down the corridors, getting on the nerves of the nurses
and the team there as well. So, that’s great, that’s fine,
that’s what kids do, isn’t it? But then Annabel died by my side,
on the 28th of December, a few days later. So that was big, that was a huge shock. A massive change in our lives really,
for myself and the kids. So, I thought, OK, I need
to let people know, and I got Annabel’s phone, obviously
all my friends and family knew, and I started phoning people,
people I didn’t know, in Annabel’s phone. Started making connections,
talking to people, and I ended up with something
that was quite new to me. I didn’t realize
that Annabel was so vocal, and so loved, and liked on the many forums
she was involved with. She wasn’t quite moderating the forums,
but she was a very active person on there. She connected with a lot of people,
some of which are in this room today. Some of the people I spoke to
felt that they wanted to do something to commemorate Annabel
because she’d been doing lots of research in local areas to see how Huddersfield
could be supported by this group; how so-and-so could be supported
in Bath by this group over here. She’d done a lot for people, and people
wanted to give something back as well. So the “Race for Life” was happening,
as it does every year across Britain, and a couple of the ladies wanted to get
involved and run a “Race for Life” group. Allie, who is over here,
put your hand up please, Allie. Thank you. So, she came up with the name
of Annabel’s Angels. And said, would you mind
if we run a race in London under the name of Annabel’s Angels,
raising money for Cancer Research UK? I said, “No no no, it’s fine,
that’s OK, that’s great.” And then one cropped up in Bath, and then in Aberdeen, and then in Bradford, and then in Nottingham,
Derby, etc. So there were loads that kind of
cropped up, quite a lot, really, and it was quite humbling and, wow, OK. So then I got on the phone again.
It’s your fault, again. And I said, we need some kind of design. We need a name, we need
a T-shirt design, something really. So I said, “OK, I’ll speak to the kids.” So I had a word with Will,
who was eight at the time. I said, “Let’s get our pens and pencils
out,” so this is what we did. He thinks it’s his work, he’s looking
at a career in freelance design. (Laughter) He doesn’t get out of bed for less
than 5,000 pounds, apparently, or so he says. He should be here,
in this room, shouldn’t he? But we talked in town with this, with
a designer who’s based in New Zealand, a very successful designer
who has also been touched by cancer. So all of this has been created
by letting people in, letting new people
into my life, into our lives. I start to meditate at this time as well. I always wanted to try and understand
how Buddhists were always so calm. They are, aren’t they, they’re always
so calm, really, why is that? And so I started to go into
the Tara Buddhist Center down the road in Etwall, and I find that incredibly relaxing,
and I really wanted to embrace this idea of impermanence,
that letting go is not a bad thing. It doesn’t mean you love a person
any less or anything like that at all. It’s about the acceptance
of life and death. I also started writing.
I started writing a blog. It was more or less a letters blog
to Annabel, to tell her, I knew she wouldn’t read them,
I know that, but it was more or less designed
to show other people how I was feeling. So I ended up writing 32 letters, and the ones in the December,
January, February time, they were pretty dark days, really. But then moving forward,
it was a little bit different. And anyone who wants to ask,
the phone was going all the time. “How are you doing?”
“How are you doing?” I would point to blog, say,
“Here’s what I’m doing.” I’d point to blog, that’s kind of what
I would say, my standard response. “How are you doing, Simon?”
Point to blog, “There you go.” So people would know,
but then it went pretty viral. It got something like 40,000 views
within six months or so, and it went a bit mad. Media got involved, local,
regional, and national, even the telly people got involved, and it was all a bit “Uhhh…”
I think it was strange. Here’s a guy who is sharing his thoughts
in a very unusual way, perhaps. Maybe a little bit too soon after
what has happened, I don’t know. But what I really wanted to do
was to connect with other guys, to talk to other guys to see
what they were feeling, to see if what I was feeling
was kind of the norm. I spoke to lots of my friends
and family about this journey, but they were involved with me already. I didn’t want to burden myself,
didn’t want them to think, “Christ, it’s Simon again. He’s crying. Pick him up off the floor,”
that kind of thing. I know they wouldn’t think that, but it’s my perception,
it’s how I would think. So I wanted to speak to other guys, other people that were going through
what I was going through. So, my best friend, Matthew,
rings me up one day, “You need to turn the telly on.”
OK, so I turned the telly on. And it was a breakfast TV program. It was a guy called Ben
who was talking on there, to the telly people, about his journey. He’d lost his wife, very recently
in a car accident in London. And he’s got a young boy
that he’s bringing up on his own now. And he also wanted to connect
with other guys as well. So, we started talking, I managed to get
his email address, got chatting, got chatting late at night,
early in the morning, more or less all the bloody day, really. And then, we had this idea,
well, we’re connected here, we’re connecting with each other, we’re talking about some common stuff,
we’re helping and supporting each other. Maybe there are other guys
out there like this that would like to benefit
from that as well. So about a month or so later,
it’s an online forum, called “The Gentlemen’s Room”,
sounds a bit seedy, I know that, that’s why I put that very manly
“Fight Club for Widowers” underneath. So, there’s people, there’s guys in it
in the same position as us, from different countries,
mainly English-speaking countries, from England, the States,
all over really, that connect on there. We’re there more or less all the time, during the day, in the evening,
in the early hours, because widowers don’t really sleep. So, there’s me and Ben, I’ve got me
and Rhys, and myself and Mike, just couple of others really,
that have met up as well. And all this has been made possible
by the idea of letting people in. Nigel will like this one. Grief can play a funny part in your life. You think you’re doing OK,
but it oscillates like this. (Waves hands up and down) This is on the top of Snowdon,
minus 20, with an 8 year-old who’s clinging on
to the trick point at the top. No idea how we’re going to get down. Poles were at the youth hostel,
and I’ve not got my crampons with me. So, you feel this sense of invincibility
because what else can happen in your life? You’ve lost the partner
that you’ve had for 20 years. There’s not much more that can happen
in terms of worse things than that. There’s been a lot of research
and a theory written about grief. The most famous is by a lady
called Elizabeth Kubler-Ross, who wrote about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining,
depression, acceptance, and these have been used,
and quoted, and misquoted as well, by psychologists,
psychotherapists over the years. Not so much nowadays, but it has
been the benchmark for years. But in reality, they’re not linear, grief
is unique, there’s no real set pattern. Elizabeth herself, just before she died, stated her annoyance
about how she was misquoted. She said these are five common stages,
they’re not five required stages. She said, “I’m more
than these five stages, and so are you.” I did lots more reading as well.
Brene Brown, who’s no stranger to TED. There’s a wonderful graphic novel by a guy called Anders Nilsen, who
also lost his wife, his partner to cancer, and Joan Didion’s
“The Year of Magical Thinking”; is a diary, 12 months
after her husband died of heart attack. So, going back to the ladies
that I talked about. They wanted to do something a little
bit more, beyond the “Race for Life”. They had this idea of setting up
a fund raising support group, where we could tangibly help women
and families that were going through what we were going through. So, that’s what we did. So, this is Nichola, with our cheeky
little logo on the top there. So this is a photo shoot done in London with a photographer, Rachel Raphael,
who is incredibly talented. I’ve got Linda, and Amanda there as well. We started selling these things, these wristbands, mugs,
tee shirts, all the rest, really, all with the aim of raising money to become a registered
charitable trust in Derby, that would directly support families
and local cancer-related support groups. Going back to the Cancer Research UK
and “Race for Life”, they spoke to me,
they asked me and my children to come and open the “Race for Life”. So that was a bit of a surreal experience, addressing 5,000 women,
all there with the regalia, with these funny things
sticking out of their head, wings, pink, and all that
kind of business, and me kind of pouring
my heart out, trying not to weep. Quite surreal, really. But, we did it. We did it well. And we raised thousands of pounds
for cancer research all around the country as a means of doing that. And again, it comes back
to this core of letting people in. In terms of the charity, we’re going well. We’ve got people running,
writing, climbing mountains, all the rest, backpacks, huge events,
big things at Pride Park. We’ve been involved
in Guinness World Records, auctions, Westfield charity climbs,
and all the rest, really. And the idea is, like I say,
to create a grant-making trust locally that would directly support families
in and around Derby. It makes their life a little bit easier. We’re not really doing the same thing
as what Cancer Research UK do, because that’s about the research. It’s all about making people’s lives
easier where we can. Headspace; has anyone heard of Headspace? Well, they got in touch because they had
read about the blogs as well, and they saw me dabble with meditation,
and they got in touch. And they said, “OK, we really like
what you’re trying to do here, so how about we work in partnership?” I said, “Yeah, alright, OK, that’s fine.” So, every person who follows
Annabel’s Angels, every kind of follower, we’ve got a free
12-month subscription for Headspace. So, if anyone in here wants it,
grab me at the end. So, again, that’s all made possible
by letting these new people and these new organizations
into our lives. So just to finish, really,
we’re kind of doing OK. It still oscillates, and it will always
oscillate for years, I imagine. Grief isn’t fixed in six months, a year, 18 months, 24 months,
or however long really. Moving forward doesn’t necessarily mean you leave something behind, right behind. It’s about pushing yourself
and challenging yourself. And I really like this idea, it was mentioned in the talk
by Kelly earlier on, on the video, if you can somehow summon up
the courage, I suppose is the word, to speak to your friends,
speak to people that you know that you’ve known for years,
speak to new friends and acquaintances, and present with them a tangible reason
for them to help you and to support you– -Because that is what they want to do; That’s what they will want to do. They want to tangibly help you
in some kind of way. So I wrote 32 letters to Annabel, in a very kind of open,
very frank, very honest way. And I firmly believe
that why we are all here today, why we are all here, and exist, we’re here to individually
and collectively support each other. To live this world of life as best we can. So that’s my message to you:
open the door, let people in. Thank you. (Applause)

About the author


  1. thank you for sharing with us , the journey of your personal loss. You speak with compassion and empathy. Annabel surrounds you . Peace

  2. I'm so sorry for your loss. Grief is a personal journey. I lost my mother to cancer 5 mos. ago and my wife to a fluke kidney illness. 3 mos. ago. To say life is hard and confusing now is a vast understatement. You're handling your grief well by helping others and I know your wife would be very proud. Best wishes to you, your sons and your dog. My wife and I rescued a dog together and she has been an amazing companion during my time of pain.

  3. Boy, you want to feel better,  just look at other people's circumstances.  I was taking antidepressant pills I didn't need and my doctor threw them in the trash when I said all the different ones I was on in two months made me sick (long story).   But anyway, you don't stop antidepressants cold turkey without going through horrible withdrawal like anxiety. Then my mom died, she had alzheimers and I was her caregiver.  That left me alone, made my finances change and depression and loneliness set in.  I didn't think I was depressed, it felt like my body was and talk about fatigue, you don't feel like doing anything and get chills, numbness in your arms and feet and sleep only 11 to 3 at night.  Now, I can't look at her photo, everything reminds me of her and no one really understands, everybody came for the funeral then went back home to their normal.  I lost my normal.  How this man can talk about his wife and look at her picture I'll never know.  I get chest pains (which is a normal grief response) and feel sad and cry.  You get to where you want to talk to somebody but can't without crying  and online chat rooms almost seem too crowded or just people on there for all the wrong reasons.

  4. So Sorry for your loss. Blessings to you and your boys. I have a question, what happens when you open the door and no one comes in. And you are ridiculed for your grief especially by your family.

  5. These podcast have helped me a bunch. I lost my husband in February very unexpectedly after 25 years of marriage. He was the love of my life the one and only and the rock of our family and I've been reeling ever since. But I found these podcast and they have helped so much.

  6. Lost my wife of 25 years just two weeks ago. Obviously my best friend. I'm just in a haze. Don't have much of a social life per se, am looking to try grief counseling soon. Prayers to all who have experienced the loss of a dearly loved one.

  7. I used to think grief wasnt an actual thing. Then i lost the person i was closest to..

    Grief is very real. After 5 months it is still overwhelming

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