Life After Loss; A Grief Journey

Justine Ellis Port

Justine Ellis

From the moment Stu and I met, I knew we would be together forever. Right after we said goodnight after our first date, we both knew we wouldn’t be apart for long. We dated for 6 months before getting engaged and a year and half later, we were married. We always said; when you know, you know. Stuart and I were married on August 15th, 2015. He put all of what then were my broken pieces back together and helped me become a best version of myself. Our life together was filled with love and laughter…man was there laughter! He always joked that he was the only person I couldn’t stay mad at and he was right. He truly was the only person I’ve ever known who could simultaneously make me mad and smile or even deep belly laugh at the same time. Neither of us were perfect people, but we were perfect for each other and together we made a great team. Where I lacked, he excelled and vice versa. I never had to doubt how much I was loved when I was with him. I always knew in a way, but now truly know, I never fully appreciated the beautiful life we lived together.

From the very beginning of our relationship we knew we wanted to start a family and we were blessed on September 13th, 2016 to welcome our first son, Grayson John; the light of Stu’s life, into the world. His son, his pride and joy- everything he did, he did for Grayson and I. Truly the most amazing husband and father, working so hard for us to have the best life possible. Unfortunately, our forever was stolen from us and ‘till death do us part’ came a lot sooner than it should have. My life will forever be divided into two parts: Before Loss and After.

On Monday, November 13th, 2017 my husband woke up early like he normally did for work, kissed me goodbye and headed out the door. A kiss that unbeknownst to me, would be our very last. Little did I know that at 5:45am, 15 minutes before I even got out of bed that morning, he would be taken from us. Stuart was struck by an impaired driver while he was on his way to work as an electrician and was killed instantly at the age of 28. Killed by a driver that was under the influence of drugs and alcohol, doing ≥ 227km/hr in an 80km/hr zone, while driving on the complete opposite side of the road, with an already revoked license. Stu wouldn’t have even seen what was coming and didn’t stand a chance.

While completely unaware that Stuart’s life was ending, I was home getting ready for work. I’m a Registered Nurse and was busy getting my then 14-month-old son ready for the day. My mother-in-law was in town staying with us to take care of Grayson as my parents (my mom normally watched our son when I was at work) were out of the country at a conference. I headed to work, oblivious that my life had already changed forever.

I sent my husband a text as I did every morning, telling him I was safe at work, asked if he was safe and told him I loved him- a text I later learned he would never read. Around 10:30am while at work, I received a frantic phone call from my mother in law telling me there was an emergency and that I needed to come home right away. She wouldn’t tell me what was going on and I could barely understand what she was saying but I knew I needed to leave right then. I could hear Grayson crying in the background, so I knew he was alive and breathing…and it was right then that I told a co-worker of mine I was sure something was wrong with my husband.

I got in my car to drive the 40 minutes home and used handsfree to call my mother-in- law back demanding that she tell me what was going on. She barely got out that the police had shown up at my door, that there was a crash and Stu was gone. My world as I knew it ended right then. I didn’t want to believe it at first, I must have tried calling Stuart’s cellphone a hundred times, begging him to pick up. Of course, he never did. I called my mom begging her to get on the next flight to come home, then my sister and a couple of my best friends, sobbing and in shock. Many of them begged me to pull over, saying that they would come get me, but I just needed to get home to my son. When I walked into my house, there was a phone number on the counter for me to call. When the police officer answered the phone and the first thing he said was “I’m sorry for your loss” and it was then I knew my worst nightmare was real. Thankfully my best friend walked in my front door seconds later and caught me as I crumbled to the floor.

The rest of that day still feels surreal with friends and family showing up at our house and me having to tell them that not only had Stuart died, but that I was also 6 weeks pregnant with our second child. We had only just started telling our closest people about the pregnancy, as we ourselves hadn’t even known for two weeks yet. I knew the pregnancy news was eventually going to get out in the media (which it did) and I didn’t want anyone important to us to find out on the News. I told my best friend that it felt like I was on an episode of Grey’s Anatomy. This doesn’t happen in real life! How am I a Widow at 28?! How am I going to raise two babies under two on my own?! I didn’t want to do any of this without my husband, this wasn’t supposed to be our story, but I wasn’t given a choice.

On July 20th, 2018, 8 months later; without Stu by my side – I welcomed into the world, our second son, Coby Stuart- who is named for his Daddy in Heaven. It will forever break me that he doesn’t ever get the honour of meeting his Daddy earth side. Although there is no doubt in my mind that they know each other, it will always break my heart that we never got a single memory as a family of four, not a single picture, nothing.

Neither of our boys will have memories of their own about him or their own personal knowledge about the wonderful man their father was. All of this and more, stolen from us.

Stu has now been gone for two and half years. The secondary losses are endless. The life I live now is a far cry from the one I lived previously and I’m nowhere near the woman I once was. The person I was, died that day with Stu. Grief has a way of changing you. Stripping you down to your core and changing every single perspective in your life. Nothing is the same, nothing ever will be. Along with my grief, I’ve been battling many of the other things that come along with trauma. Anxiety, Depression and PTSD. Stuart’s killer was sentenced finally in March 2019, to 5 years of incarceration with an 8-year driving ban upon release. Unfortunately, because of our horrible “Justice System” we are now just days away from a Day Parole Hearing, that if granted, will mean he will have spent less than 14 months in prison for taking the life of a beloved husband and father.

To be completely honest, if it weren’t for my boys, there are many mornings I wouldn’t be getting out of bed. I get up and do it for them, when I can’t do it for me. They lost their father; they don’t deserve to lose their mother too. From the moment Stu was taken from me, I knew right away that I needed help. I wasn’t going to be able to survive this grief without professional help. I started seeing a therapist soon after Stuart’s death and continue to see her on a very regular basis. Solo parenting two little boys who are now 3.5 years old and 21 months old, is no easy feat, but I’m incredibly lucky to have a wonderful tribe of people beside me to help me along the way. I’m learning to give myself grace and am constantly reminding myself; it’s okay to not be okay and its okay to ask for help. I’ve stumbled and fallen more times than I can count.

Grief comes in waves. Sometimes it’s in the form of violent storms, while other times it’s a lighter breeze but no matter what, my grief will last forever. I’ve had incredible opportunities to connect with other young widows both through online platforms, as well as in person. I did reach out to a couple young widows I had found on Instagram in my early days, desperate to talk to someone who got it, who understood the pain I was in and hopefully offer some kind of guidance as to how to survive this pain. I was grateful to also have a few others reach out to me when they heard my story. I’ve learned to lean into my faith more and pull strength from there when I have none left of my own.

In the past 2 years I’ve also had other young widows who are newer into this journey than I am, reach out to me. Many of them have the same questions about survival that I did in the beginning and ask me when it will feel “better”? I wish every time that I could tell them it does, but I’m usually very honest that it doesn’t “get better” but it “gets different”. The deep dark, all-consuming grief in the beginning, doesn’t last forever but it can and will, show up again; likely at the most inconvenient of times (not that there’s ever a “good” time to be swallowed by grief). Sometimes I push through one day at a time, others are one hour, one minute or sometimes even seconds at a time. But I will always tell them: you can and will survive this. If not at first for you; for your kids or for others in your life that depend on you and love you. I myself still continue to learn how to survive this life, as there will never be an end or a “fix” for my grief…Stu never gets to come home. I do pray that one day I won’t just “survive” but eventually thrive. I don’t know when or for sure if that will happen, but I try the best I can to hold on to Hope.

Before kissing my husband goodbye for the last time, I promised him I would love our kids enough for the both of us and would always fight against impaired driving. I have created relationships with people I now consider family, at MADD Canada and they have walked with me through much of the debris impaired driving leaves behind.

Expressing my grief and sharing Stu’s story, our story, helps me to cope with my loss as well.

Because of someone else’s selfish decision to get behind the wheel impaired, mine and my boy’s lives are forever changed. I don’t get to grow old with the man I was supposed to spend forever with, and my kids have to grow up without their amazing father. Every day is hard, some are impossible. But so far, I am proof that your lungs can continue to breathe after all the air is stolen from them and your heart can continue to beat even after its been shattered beyond recognition.

Please, for the sake of every family out there, always find a safe way home if you plan on consuming alcohol and/or drugs! If you spot or know of someone who is driving impaired, on land or on the water; PLEASE call 9-1-1! You could save someone’s husband, father, son, brother, friend…person. Arrive Alive, Drive Sober. Not One More.


Grayson, Coby Stuart & Justine Ellis

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