Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Why We Celebrate July 4th

Nine years ago Big Man was an artificer instructor at HMS Sultan, which is a MOD establishment for mechanical engineers. He had been tasked with taking a handful of young trainees on an Outward Bound kind of course in the Brecon Beacons, lasting from Monday to Friday. The plan was that Big Man would take turns driving the mini-bus and leading the younger guys up mountains, and they would stay at a Youth Hostel place. He set off first thing on the Monday morning - not very willingly - though obviously I was happy at the thought of having the bed to myself for four nights. No change there then. I remember that we hadn't been listening to Radio 2 for very long at that stage and that I sent an email to Ken Bruce, asking him to say 'good luck to my husband and his boys, who were trekking up some Welsh mountains'. Big Man heard that because he rang me when they reached Brecon and said how surprised they all were, and how they'd taken the mickey out of him. He rang home every evening and said that it was hard going and that he was looking forward to getting home.

On the Thursday, July 4, I got home from work and the phone rang about 6pm. A distraught voice I hardly recognised gasped 'It's me....I'm at Abergavenny Hospital....they're saying I've had a heart attack'.

How do you react to that?

In my case, very badly, and I'll be ashamed of myself forever. I wouldn't accept it, wouldn't believe it - I insisted that the doctors were wrong. I was awful to Big Man for so many reasons. Plus I blamed myself for jinxing him by getting Ken Bruce to read my good luck message out. All I could think about was myself...MY loss of lifestyle; MY loss of a healthy husband; MY loss of the Navy 'family'. Not a thought for my hard-working, strong, dependable husband - fit, strong and only 36 years old. It was a very dark period for us and one that I don't think I can ever completely atone for.

My Big Man hasn't really recovered physically. He's lost confidence in his own strength and is aware of his body's fallibility every day.
He's not recovered mentally. He has only just finished three years of therapy (it's a measure of how far he's come that we were able to drive past Abergavenny Hospital when we went to Wales last month), and his image of himself as provider, protector and mainstay of his family has taken a real beating.
He had to leave his job in the Navy which was all he'd ever done and which he truly loved, because he wasn't ever going to be able to go back to sea again.
He, and we have had to change our lives totally. A heart attack doesn't just affect the victim...it affects everyone around them too. But we survived...HE survived.

And every year on the 4th of July we celebrate that.


  1. Don't blame yourself too much, you were suffering grief for the loss of your life as you'd known it and grief is characterised by first, denial followed by anger. It's a normal and typical reaction to life changing loss and you'd lost the husband and life you had had.


  2. That is so young to suffer such a major and dramatic change in your life, I would have reacted the same as you. Our first instinct is self preservation, so its just an example of how earth shattering the news was that you thought about do many things. Sadly we all seem to know someone who has had a heart attack and lived AND someone who died.
    I'm glad you're all able to reflect with positivity now, but I think it is important to highlight the massive effect something like this has on your future.

  3. I agree that you shouldn't beat yourself up about your reactions to such a dreadful event, you alone have to deal with these things and who is to tell you how. I'm glad that you are all able to celebrate your survival, look forward not back.

  4. We never know how we are going to react to life changing events, particularly when they come out of the blue! Wishing you both well.

  5. It's a good thing to celebrate, we do the same we had a near fatal car crash on 27th April 2000 in which my husband suffered a severe brain injury so had to learn everything from scratch, included eating and talking. We always celebrate living on that day, it's a positive reminder!

    I'm glad your OH has come through rehab and is recovering. No one realises what an impact these things have on you unless you've been through it, it has years and years of impact. My OH hasn't recovered fully and never will, and 11 years on it still affects us. I think personally it has changed us forever and we can't expect it not to affect us, once we accepted that, we started to move forward a few years ago although many things have changed for us as I can imagine they have for you. No one can underestimate the impact of your life changing forever it's a weird situation to be in, so I'm sending you all my best wishes, from someone in exactly the same situation!

  6. July 4th for us signifies the hardship and toil that so many people went through (willingly) in pursuit of a better life. The path to a new life certainly wasn't an easy one but victory was sweet. July 4th is the day we celebrate realizing that dream of a new life, of independence and freedom to be ourselves.

    Sounds like you and your family celebrate a very similar July 4th.


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