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Tango Tales - Grandpa died of a broken heart




Stuart’s life has been spiralling out of control. He lost everything, his marriage, his kids, his home and eventually his job.

The nightmare started the day his wife Jenny left, took the kids, even the dog and moved out…. citing Stuart had become unbearable to live with, so she wanted a divorce!


Stuart had come home from work that day to find the house was empty. It actually echoed as he frantically ran from room to room to find anything or anyone that belonged to this house. As he threw open the wardrobes, there was nothing but empty space. He ran from room to room shouting “No, No, No………NNNNOOOOO” slumping to the floor with his head in his hands sobbing. He was shaking, feeling shock and despair, he went down to the kitchen. There was a piece of paper on the kitchen bench. It read “Stuart, I’m sorry I can’t do this anymore, life with you has become unbearable and it is best for me and the kids to move out and move on with our lives…… Jenny”


Stuart felt blindsided, abandoned and rejected. He felt a wave of panic come over him as he didn’t know where Jenny and the kids had gone, vanished without the opportunity to fix it, the opportunity to tell the kids he loved them or the opportunity to change.


He knew things were difficult at home. He had been working long hours, under a lot of pressure to meet impossible sales targets drinking late into the night to numb the pain of pending failure and under a lot of pressure to spend more time at home with the family. He had been so consumed worrying about losing his job, he never envisaged losing his marriage. He was devastated.


Over time the drinking worsened as the loss of his family was a pain so excruciating, he couldn’t bear, often thinking suicide was the only peaceful antidote. Jenny wouldn’t let him see the children as she was worried about Stuart being drunk around the kids and hoped this would give him incentive to get his life together. All this did was spiral Stuart further and further into depression resulting in the loss of his job, loss of house as mortgage repayments couldn’t be made and eventually moving back home to his parent’s place to relieve financial pressure. Stuart was like a walking zombie, life zapped out of him, with little will to live, with no hope for the future.


Jenny filed for divorce requesting full custody of the children as Stuart was in no state to look after the children. Stuart couldn’t afford a lawyer and felt he couldn’t get any lower, filled with anger, bitterness and resentment that Jenny ruined his life, he became a tortured soul.

Like a virus, the grief spread through the household, John, Stuart’s father became ill with cancer through the stress and heartache of not seeing his grandchildren. John and his wife Mary had a close bond with their grandkids and would break down in tears as they reminisced about how they use to collect them from school each day to take them home for afternoon tea and spend quality time together. They would play board games, go to the park or stop at the café on Fridays for a milkshake and donut whilst they waited for their mum or Dad to collect them on their way home from work. It had been two years, since Stuart and his parents had seen the kids, they were all heartbroken.


Stuart tried reaching out to Jenny pleading to see the kids and for their grandparents to have some time with them but Jenny said ‘No I’m sorry, we have to follow the court order”


Over time, grandpa was deteriorating, bedridden and struggling to breathe. Stuart called an ambulance and went with his dad to the hospital. They kept grandpa in but the doctor called Stuart into his office advising that he may not make it through the night. Choked up with tears, Stuart drives home to get his mum to bring her to the hospital. Mary sat beside the bed holding John’s hand whilst Stuart stepped into the corridor to make a final plea for Jenny to bring the kids to the hospital to say goodbye to their grandpa. Jenny wasn’t convinced it was a good idea and Stuart in sheer desperation shouted down the phone “For god’s sake, Jenny, Dad is dying and has been miserable not seeing his grandkids for two years, he needs to be able to see them and tell them he loves them” Stuart was sobbing, he was emotionally spent, he hung up and walked back inside the ward.


Stuart sat on the other side of his dad’s bed holding his hand and his dad said “I love you son, don’t have any regrets, life is too short” Dad’s eyes moved towards the door where Jenny and the kids were standing. Rosie ran straight to her grandfather throwing her arms around him crying saying how much she missed him and loves him so much. James followed his sister and climbed onto the bed to hug his grandfather too. Jenny walked up to the grandfather’s side, tears in her eyes, and grabbed his hand. John looked at her and sobbed “please let Mary and Stuart see the kids, I don’t want them to die of a broken heart too” John started to cough, going red in the face struggling to breathe. The machine John was hooked up to started bleeping loudly and the nurse ran in. Jenny tearful ushered the kids out as didn’t want them to see the grandfather in the throes of death.


John died that night of a broken heart but filled with love from the hugs from his grandchildren in his final moments.

Jenny reflected on how the last two years had been her desperate escape from an unhappy marriage and although she was truly worried how Stuart’s mental health could affect his parenting, felt guilty that him having some time with the kids could have given him some happiness in a dark time in his life. The children certainly missed him too and the last two years had been tough for them all, when it could have been a time for family healing as they transitioned and adjusted to the new family structure.


A couple of weeks had past when Stuart was sitting with his mother at the dining table drinking a cup of tea and eating a piece of freshly baked sponge cake when there was a knock on the door. Stuart went and opened it to see Jenny and the kids standing there. Stuart was in shock with his mouth open, unable to speak. Jenny said “I have bought the kids over for a couple of hours so they can spend time with you and your mum…. if that’s ok” Stuart said “of course, of course, come in kids, thank you Jenny” The kids stood waving their mother off then came to the table and gave their grandmother a hug, then sat down to a piece of cake.

Every Saturday Jenny would drop the kids over for the day so they could spend time with their dad & grandmother. The house had become happier, the grief was lifting day by day. Almost as though the house was healing, the air was lighter and there was hope for a brighter future.


Stuart started to become healthy, stopped drinking and got a new job. Each week he enjoyed having the kids come over and re-establish bonds. The grandmother got a new lease on life with the house filled with laughter, love and hope which also helped accelerate Stuart’s healing to transform himself and his life. The kids started to stay over on the weekends and loved spending time with their dad and grandma.


Grief can be crippling, spiralling us into depression creating self-destructive behaviours which can be exacerbated by further loss. The love of parents, grandparents and children should never be withdrawn as a punishment as this brings despair. Working together through compassion, respect and putting the children’s needs first to receive love from all family members in two separate homes helps them thrive but also helps the whole family heal from family separation.




Author – Cheryl Duffy

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