Through the power of storytelling, Jo gives grief a voice.
Jo Betz was a savvy businesswoman and highly-sought after marriage celebrant - having officiated over 450 weddings - when all of a sudden, she was planning her husband’s funeral when he died suddenly of an asthma attack in the middle of the night. She had gone from celebrating love to being swallowed by grief in the matter of a single evening. She was now a widow, and a single mother to a young daughter.
The story of how Jo lost her husband is one filled with sadness, heartbreak and devastation but it is also extremely powerful because her life didn’t stop and she refused to let herself fall. Being an inherently positive and confident person, and not wanting to waste a year in absolute despair, Jo set about building something tangible from her story that she could share with others. She found that writing and speaking about her experience was not only therapeutic, it also helped her to make more sense of her situation each time she wrote or spoke about it.
Through her unique lived experience she began to realise that in our society and culture, grief is messy and uncomfortable [whether it be death, a relationship breakdown, infertility or simply a crisis of confidence], and while we are required to deal with it on a daily basis we mostly choose to fear it, run from it or pass judgement on others. She discovered the importance of being able to acknowledge the grief of others, and also how we can educate others to help us in our own grief.
A natural communicator, Jo is now passionate about sharing her interesting perspective and contemporary approach to a delicate subject - with equal parts honesty and humour - and using her powerful story to humanise grief for others while providing actionable strategies that help people dealing with loss to ‘just feel good again’.
Jo wrote Grief - a guided journal for those wishing to explore their grief after the death of a loved one through writing. Whether their loss was six months ago, or six years, the journal is a safe space to journal on a variety of topics. From the stages of grief, connection and anger, to loneliness, gratitude, regret and more, guided writing prompts are provided. The journal provides an opportunity to lean into grief, to not shy away from unsettling feelings. To simply let it all out. Through the therapeutic benefit of writing, the journal brings positive wellbeing, self-exploration and healing.
The person that Jo has become is one who knows the narrative when it comes to grief, trauma, loss, resilience, adaptability, strength and fragility and she is living proof that you can still live a beautiful life despite the less than ideal circumstances you might find yourself in.
‘Jo Betz: A Grief Journey’
Operator: Emergency Services, go ahead caller what is it do you need the ambulance?
Caller (Jo): I need an ambulance. He can’t breath, he's having an asthma attack.
Jo: I met Craig at what you could describe as one of Geelong's classiest establishments, a nightclub called Home House. Craig's first words to me were, "will you marry me?", and I naturally said yes, although this is probably about 2am. I remember we just got chatting that evening and we did share a bit of a kiss and exchange numbers, and look sure I thought he was a nice guy. But I do remember thinking, I'm not sure if I want to actually catch up with him again. But he consistently called me and we got to know a little bit more about each other. I just kept thinking, I don't know like, we're so different from one another. So he was a guy that was really into motorbikes, surfing, skydiving and I was just kind of a girl that you know, liked having a glass of champagne with my friends and reading books. We just got along really, really well and I think those early encounters were just full of fun times, good times, going out for meals, sharing a lot of seafood together and just getting to know each other kind of through that process. And he sort of blew me away from the get go.
Soon after we were engaged Craig and I actually decided to be married at my family's property out in Bannockburn. So it ended up, you know it was wedding planning, but almost like 18 months of hard labour as we put in all this work into the garden and trying to finish off mum and dad's property so it was up to scratch for a wedding. But seriously, like I have the best memories of that time. Because we'd come down on a Saturday morning, we'd work all day, and then we'd sit and have dinner with my mum and dad and enjoy wine and talk about life and Craig would always get a bit tipsy. And he'd talk about how much he loved me and how much he loved other people in general, and then often I'd have a gut full and just go I'm going off to bed, please be quiet. But it was a really precious time in our lives. We got to spend time with my family a lot more and mum and dad really got to know him.
Yeah, so a couple years after we were married, I think Craig and I just came up with the idea that yeah, we'd like to have a baby. And when Heidi finally did arrive, I just kind of remember, Craig was the first one to hold her and I don't know, just the way he looked at her from the very moment that he first met her was just something that was so special and so beautiful. I think even for me, it was a really beautiful time for us because I think I sort of started to understand well, yeah this is what life is all about. That together you create this family and you become this family unit. And we were very content it being the three of us. He was such a beautiful father and incredibly effortless. Like I feel like Craig being a dad was not a job or it was a chore or anything like that, he was just, you know, so wrapped to finally be a dad and he spoilt Heidi rotten. They'd often go camping, just the two of them, which I think would have been such a special time for them both. And look, while I wish I you know, I could hear the conversations that they perhaps had, like I am so pleased that they had that time together as well.
2:30 in the morning, Craig would wake me from the deepest sleep. And all I remember is he kind of bashed through the door and I immediately sat up right, and he was just looking at me saying I can't breathe, I can't breathe. So naturally you go straight kind of into panic and sort of shock mode. I picked up my phone and I followed him down. Craig had sort of positioned himself over our toilet and you know, he had one arm against our wall and one arm against our shower. I guess trying to get some kind of breath into his lungs. So the operator, you know, is starting to ask me a few questions about what kind of condition he's in and I'm saying he's not breathing, he's bright red and, I guess yeah at some point she says to me, "have you noticed any change in the colour of the face?" and when I've looked up at Craig, I could just see his face had gone this like blue kind of colour, and his eyes had started to roll. And then next minute he kind of collapsed. The operator says to me, "you're going to have to start doing compressions. You know, there's 30 compressions that you'll have to do. And then we'll take it from there." So I started yeah, working on Craig and you know, she's saying to me "1, 2, 3, 4, 1, 2, 3, 4." And I'm just pleading with her saying like when, when is help going to come? I never heard any sirens, I never saw any lights and the next minute this man walks into the bathroom and says, "I'm here to help." And I just remember this immense kind of relief. At that point like all sorts of thoughts are going through your head where you're thinking well, has he died? Like, have I lost him? Or if he hasn't died I know he hasn't been breathing for a very long time and what does that mean for us?
Yeah, mum arrived and one of the paramedics came out and just kind of said to me, "you know, we just wanted to let you know like yeah things are not looking good but we'll keep going." And I guess in your mind you're kind of going, alright well, we just keep going, we sort of see what happens. And they came back again and said "look we've been working on him for over an hour now and ever since we arrived we've never, we haven't got anything. We've tried paddles, we've tried adrenaline and we haven't been able to get a thing. So yeah, we're sorry to say, he's died." And I just remember kind of like leaning my head on my mum's shoulder and just feeling this like, real sense of defeat. Like I wasn't screaming, I wasn't sobbing even, it's just, I just felt so defeated. I sort of sat next to him and held his hand and I remember I kept saying to him, I'm sorry, I'm sorry. And my mum and sister had come in and said "you've got nothing to be sorry about, you've done everything that you can." But I just said to them, it's not even that, I'm just so sorry that he's missing out on life, missing out on our beautiful little girl, and missing out on our future together.
I think coming out of that experience, you know, all you can feel is complete loss straightaway. And, you know, I'd gone from being a wife and a mother, to a widow and a single mother. I had lost, you know, my husband, the father of my child, my best friend, my supporter and number one backer. And you know even things like, I'd lost my home, I lost my financial security and experiencing a death like that really knocks your confidence. So I think I'd lost a lot of confidence, I'd lost a lot of trust in the world. And I guess, you know, I started to wonder who I was, and I didn't know who I was going to end up being.
When I think about Craig, you know, he was just so full of love. Like for his mates, for his family, for me, for Heidi, and he was never afraid to express that at all. And I really loved that about him. You know in a world where often, you know, men don't want to express their emotions or feelings, Craig certainly told everyone in his life that he loved them. And there was never any doubt about that. I'd often listen to him in a conversation with a friend on the phone and he'd always hang up like you know, love you mate, love you mate. Like and even towards me, he'd always be telling other friends how much he loved me. So it was always so obvious. But I'd also say, he was quite fiercely loyal as well. And if you were kind of in his corner he did everything to you know, back you 100%. And I know for me, I just felt like he supported me and he was able to instil a beautiful confidence in me as well. And I'd often say that I could go home to Craig and say, look, I want to become the Prime Minister of Australia tomorrow and he'd just be like, yep sign me up 100%. You can do whatever you want to do. So, yeah he was certainly an amazing supporter and a very loyal person.
In those initial phases, and still now, it is confusing, it's scary, it's overwhelming and I think where I became really frustrated with grief was that there didn't seem to be any sort of manual or something out there to tell you how you did your grief properly. And yeah, I did, I actually found that incredibly frustrating. And sometimes I feel like with grief too, just as you begin to feel like you're perhaps moving forward and you're making some kind of progress, something minor or something major can trigger you right back to the very beginning again, where you feel like you're in this deep, dark hole of grief.
The deep dark hole of grief, is the kind of grief that you feel where you feel this heavy fatigue. You can't get out of bed and just the basics of life seem really hard to do as well. It's a really heavy feeling, and one where you kind of can't think or feel with any sort of clarity at all. And yeah, it's a frightening place to be when you're especially in those initial stages. When you're in that deep dark hole, you know, often people are telling you to do things like yoga or go for a 10 kilometre run or pat your dog, and that might make you feel better. But when you're in those deep dark holes, it's tough to even get out of bed. They're not the kind of things that you can actually do for yourself. So you have to really take this back to basics approach. And so to me, back to basics really is addressing four basic needs that someone needs to survive. And so they are things like nourishment. So are you eating healthy? Are you keeping hydrated? Are you meeting your basic needs to make sure that you're fueled enough to make your way through this deep dark hole? Grief can make you feel so cold to your core. So it's really important that you also address keeping warm during that time. So you might want to look to external things like having an extra blanket on your bed, having a hot water bottle or an extra pair of socks, but things that give you great comfort to help you through that time. Grieving can be so taxing mentally and physically, so it's really important to rest. Now rest can be as simple as cancelling an appointment, postponing a catch up with a friend, just whatever you need to do to make sure that you're giving your body and your mind the space to rest when it needs. So it's important to keep the connection going with your deceased loved one and one way that I've done this with Heidi is creating a daddy box. And it's a place that we can go to that Heidi can place her drawings or photographs or letters to Craig. And it's a way that we can honour him, particularly on those special days like Father's Day. I've also found though, more recently, that even I've started to write letters and place them in the daddy box too. And we often try to, I guess, remember and honour him on those harder days also, whether that is his birthday or our wedding anniversary. So each year I encourage Heidi to either make a cake or sometimes we go and buy one, and you know Craig and I were lovers of seafood so often on our wedding anniversary I'll still treat myself to a dozen oysters and some prawns and yeah, just try and remember him in those harder moments.
I think Craig would be exceptionally proud of both Heidi and myself. It has been the roughest of rough roads. But I feel like each kind of hurdle that we face or come across we, you know, we do the best that we can and we do it together. And I think yeah, Craig would be incredibly proud of that. And I know deep down all he would want for Heidi and all he would want for me is just to be happy and to yeah, be getting the best out of life that we can.
Look I think at times, it can be hard to find gratitude in grief because you feel like the worst thing has happened to you and so how can you be grateful for the light or what is happening around you? But as time has gone on, I've actually found the opposite. I have found a lot of gratitude within my grief. Perhaps it was the nature of Craig's death and how quickly it happened, but I've seen right before my very eyes how quickly life can be taken away from you. So I think there's a part of me that is simply grateful to be alive. Look, now don't get me wrong, life is incredibly challenging and hard and Craig's death stripped me right back to nothing. But in that, you know, I'm grateful that I've had the opportunity to rebuild myself into the type of person that I want to be and that is a person that is far more connected, someone that is far more present than they ever have been and so, I'm incredibly grateful to simply be here because I know there's one person that would give anything to be alive.