Monday 19 March 2018

'I kissed my husband goodnight not knowing it was our last kiss'

Happy: Davina Dunphy and her husband Tony.
Happy: Davina Dunphy and her husband Tony.

For me and for so many that lose their partners or spouses, it was sudden. I went to bed on a Wednesday night, October 8, 2014, with my husband.

We watched the first episode of season one of 'The Wire' and Tony commented that he was really going to enjoy watching it. He had taken the Thursday as a holiday from work, and we were going to go up to Kildare Village Shopping Outlet to do some shopping before our planned holiday to Lanzarote a couple of weeks later with the kids.

We kissed each other goodnight and lay down.

Little did we both know that that would be the last time we ever spoke to each other, kissed each other or held each other again.

I woke up on the Thursday to the sound of the alarm going off on my phone. I nudged Tony and said we better wake up and get the kids ready.

He was lying face down on the bed. I knew when I nudged him that there was something not right as he was ice cold. I then started to shake him saying loudly: 'Wake up, wake up' - but at this stage, I knew there was something not right. But I could not comprehend it.

When I got no response, I got hysterical. I jumped off the bed and went over to his side and pushed with all my might to turn him onto his back.

Rigor mortis had set in. The stiffness of his cold body and the expression on his face is one I try to erase from my memory, but never fully will.

I phoned 999 and I told the girl: 'I think my husband is dead'. I nearly vomited when the words left my lips. How could this be?

She asked me to do CPR on him which I tried, but to no avail. I phoned my parents and brother who were at the house in minutes.

Before anyone arrived, I had to go out to my six-year-old who had woken up because she heard me screaming.

I brought her out to the kitchen with her one-year-old brother and sat him in his chair, turned on some cartoons and asked her to keep an eye on him. I told them: 'I'll be back out in a minute.'

When I think back it was like an out-of-body experience - the sheer confusion and disbelief. I kept thinking, 'this cannot be happening'.

The ambulance came, and then it seemed like the house was just full of people coming and going. I was still dazed at that stage.

Tony's mum, sister and family were in America, his dad was working out of the country and his other sister was in Cork. Everyone had to be contacted - a phone call they will never forget.

Tony's epilepsy started when he was 17-years-old. I didn't know him back then, but it started out of nowhere really.

He didn't have a head injury or anything like that. He just had a seizure one night and that was it.

He had been on medication for 20 years for his epilepsy. He'd been for many CAT Scans and MRIs but unfortunately never had a seizure during any of these tests so it was hard to pinpoint .

It was years of trying new medications, them working for a while and then trying other medications when the previous ones didn't work so well any more.

It was trial and error and sometimes he would go for months and months without a seizure and then other times he might have one nearly every night for a week.

He only had nocturnal epilepsy, which meant he only got them in his sleep. Other than that he was a very healthy, happy young man. He loved me and his kids so much and we also loved him and still love him with all our hearts.

He was such a happy kind person that anyone who came in contact with him liked him immediately.

He worked full-time and was a referee for the Waterford and District Junior League under the FAI. He absolutely loved refereeing as he had been a great player in his time, but as the years went on he diverted into refereeing.

In the early days, I didn't think I would make it past the end of the day but I knew I had to be strong for the kids. I was the only parent they had now.

Everything changes. Happy occasions are bittersweet because while you are celebrating a birthday or Christmas you are also holding back the tears, thinking that a very significant person is missing from the picture.

You mourn for yourself because you miss him so much. You mourn for your kids because they are missing out on these precious memories with their dad, and you mourn for your husband because he was robbed of his life so young and is missing out on watching his kids grow and making all the happy memories.

My family and his family have been very supportive and are there for me and the kids and I am extremely lucky in that sense.

The first year was very hard but at times I think the second year is even harder, because you are not in denial any more thinking that this is just a bad dream.

Now you realise that this is reality, and this is your life.

I don't think too much about the future, I don't plan too far in advance, I take each day at a time and as long as my kids are happy and healthy and I am able to look after them, that's all you can do.

Myself and Tony had 14 extremely happy years together, we never fought, we loved each other dearly and almost got 10 years of marriage - November 6, 2014 would have been our 10-year wedding anniversary.

I did find that joining widows' groups on Facebook has helped a lot. I would even go so far as to say that it is better than going for therapy. And it is because all of those people in the group are just like you. Most of them have small kids and are under the age of 40.

Our stories may differ in that some of the people lost their spouses through cancer or illness, but we are all living our lives as best we can, working, caring for our little ones and grieving at the same time.

I wanted to do something last year to raise some awareness for epilepsy but wasn't in the right frame of mind so in June this year, myself and my brother participated in part of the Viking Marathon in Waterford and I raised well over €2,500 for Epilepsy Ireland. I might keep this as an annual fundraiser now, all going well.

Everyone knows someone can die from cancer if it's not caught in time or treated in time.

However, how many people can say that they knew you could die from having epilepsy?

Well, I can say I am one of those people. Never in the years when Tony had epilepsy were his parents or I aware that you could die from this and I think it is important that people know that there is such a thing.

It's referred to as Sudden Unexpected Death in Epilepsy (SUDEP), and it can happen to people who are otherwise healthy.

Each year, more than one out of 1,000 people with epilepsy die from SUDEP. If seizures are uncontrolled the risk of SUDEP increases to more than one out of 150. It is even more common than Sudden Infant Death Syndrome ( SIDS).

I can now go out and talk about Tony without breaking down and crying. I can face the world with a smile on my face, but it's the tear-drenched pillow at night that knows the truth behind the smile.

For more information on Epilepsy Ireland see

Irish Independent

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