Grieving in the grind of COVID-19 lockdown, Danielle O'Brien finds comfort in Legacy network

GRATEFUL: Danielle O'Brien with sons Kai and Reece in their backyard at Anna Bay on Friday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll
GRATEFUL: Danielle O'Brien with sons Kai and Reece in their backyard at Anna Bay on Friday. Picture: Jonathan Carroll

For schoolteacher Danielle O'Brien, the COVID-19 pandemic could not have come at a worse time.

The 44-year-old lost her husband, Darren, to cancer in January 2019. Her oldest son, Kai, 11, was then diagnosed with a rare genetic condition. Her other son, 10-year-old Reece, is autistic.

When the pandemic hit and lockdowns began, Ms O'Brien was working from home, trying to home school the boys and dealing with the pain of her husband's death.

"COVID has been a major factor in exacerbating the grief process and [removing] the support you would normally get from loved ones," she said.

"It is heavy to be at home in this still very challenging time from a grieving perspective, but still to be teaching from home, teaching my own children, keeping up with our medical appointments, is intense.

"The idea of keeping it up to the end of October is, well, shockingly overwhelming, which I know it is for everyone."

The Ontario native's parents are in Canada, "literally on the other side of the world", and unable to visit.

Ms O'Brien, a special needs teacher at Shoal Bay Public School in NSW Hunter region, credits friends and Newcastle Legacy Club with helping her cope.

Legacy Week starts on Sunday to raise money to help support widows and the dependents of veterans.

The Newcastle branch helps more than 1000 widows.

Ms O'Brien met her husband in Kuwait, where she was on a "one-year adventure" as a twentysomething teacher and he was working as a RAAF avionics technician then as a contractor.

The couple stayed for 10 years. Kai was born in Kuwait and Reece in Canada as the family were making their way to Australia.

Darren worked for Boeing at Williamtown then received a terminal cancer diagnosis in 2017.

"To everyone else's account, the healthiest terminally ill man anyone has ever met," Ms O'Brien said. "A few weeks before he died he was still downhill mountain biking competitively, and then he wasn't."

The challenges of the pandemic hit hard, but social connections made through Legacy had been "critical in getting us through".

"We're all aware that that first common ground is probably the worst thing that has happened to any of us. That's also the most cementing factor.

"Even though it's really new for us, personally, the most recent event we went to for someone it had only been weeks, and suddenly your worst nightmare is a survival guide for someone else."

Legacy "connected the dots" to services, paid the boys pocket money, helped fund Reece's schooling and offered emotional support.

"It's a really important service that's required more than ever during this time."

Legacy is not selling its traditional badges but is taking donations at its website.

This story 'Your worst nightmare is a survival guide for someone else' first appeared on Newcastle Herald.