3 April 2023
Tim Arthur: The death of his wife Louise, raising their daughter and Tim’s mistake at Louise’s funeral.
Have you ever thought about your fantasy funeral, pondered your dream epitaph or wondered what you do if knew you had a week left on Earth?
A selection of six writers, comedians and actors shared their innermost feelings about death, dying and loss with us with a carefully crafted combination of candour and comedy in our podcast series Dead Good.
We’ve picked out some of the best bits in a new series of articles and if you like what you read you can then click on the link at the end of each one to hear the whole of that interview. They really are rather good – Dead Good in fact.
The death of any loved one is a crushing blow. When Tim Arthur’s beloved young wife Louise died the impact was on a whole other level because they were both so young and he’d been spared any bereavements to that point in his life. To further compound the shock and grief, two of his grandparents died soon after too.
“It wasn’t a factor when I was growing up. Nobody died that I remember. So death just wasn’t a thing that I was aware of or thought about and it particularly wasn’t spoken about in school. So when I got older I suddenly had to face this idea of mortality, this idea that, oh, man, these people die.”
Tim, the CEO of Royal Academy of Dance and former editor of Time Out, was only 28 when Louise, the woman he’d proposed to three days after meeting her at party, died from a brain tumour, diagnosed just weeks after the birth of their daughter Caitlin.
It’s evident in the eloquent and clear way in which he tackles many of the tricky taboos related to death and dying that Tim has completely come to terms with discussing both his own loss and the wider topic. In fact, since Louise died, he’s written a book, done a one-man show and appeared on a TV show that followed six people going through the grieving process.
“Over time, I think now I just feel more comfortable talking about it because I feel it’s part of life. You know, we none of us are getting out alive, we will all have to face this. We’ll have to face the death of our loved ones or our own mortality at some point. And the more comfortable we are to actually talk about it, the easier I think it is for everybody.”
So how did Tim tackle those serious life challenges following the death of a spouse, including the immediate one – the funeral, bringing up Caitlin, who was just four, alone, and finding new love?
He managed to overcome challenge number one – the funeral – more by luck than judgement. Inadvertently, he provided a moment of humour when instead of playing the Kenny Rogers song she’d requested, he selected from the compilation tape the Police’s De Do Do. “Everybody laughed. And it just… brought humour into those darkest moments. I think in my own funeral I would like a humorous moment where something goes wrong.”
Louise’s long illness, and Buddha-like acceptance of her situation, did at least give her time to talk Tim through countless parenting dilemmas and instil in him a sense that he could go on.
“She said, you’ve got to go on and live your life. And I just said, I don’t know how to do that without you there … And she said, I totally believe in you. You will find a way. And I guess … she had this belief in me that I would be okay. So that’s sort of what she left me with, really.”
While having Caitlin gave Tim a real sense of purpose and a reason to get out of bed in the morning after Louise died, he says he wasn’t the best father, best illustrated by the morning when he toasted one of her socks because it wasn’t dry.
Caitlin is now 26 and has just got married but the happiness of that moment was tempered by the feelings he’d been suppressing for years after promising himself when Louise died that he would hold it together until Caitlin’s big day.
What of his own search for new love, post Louise? Tim revealed that in his case, it wasn’t guilt or a sense of betrayal that held him back for ten years. “As soon as I felt like I was falling in love again, I went, I know what happens when you fall in love. You end up with this horrendous pain. And it was that idea, can I make myself vulnerable again? But Louise would have well, really just wanted me to go on and live a life. That’s what she wanted me to do and all that entails. Make somebody be happy.”
Tim’s Departure Lounge
We asked the questions you want to know but might be afraid to ask!
How would you spend your last week on earth? I would just like to spend time in my last week with the people that I love
Fantasy Funeral: A Viking funeral
Epitaph: Three random words like astronaut, hawk and peanut so people could read whatever they wanted into it.
For Tim’s tips on how to deal with conversations with people who don’t know your loved one has died, his plea for more words to describe grief and a near the knuckle joke involving a chocolate bar his wife loved but a nurse found in bad taste, listen to the whole podcast here.
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