About Orla Blackburn

My husband’s last breath

On October 31st 2018, I held my husband as he took his last breath.

How my body and mind reacted when my husband died was not how I ever imagined I would react. 

On the outside I seemed ok, I felt relatively normal, in fact, I felt way too “normal”. 

What I didn’t realise then was that I had gone into a state called dissociation, I felt numb and ok. I couldn’t understand it at all. But dissociation is one of the ways the body and mind deal with trauma. It took some time before I was able to start processing and feeling and once I started feeling I could start the journey of healing.

My husband had been diagnosed with terminal lung cancer 11 weeks prior to his death. It was 11 weeks of shock and disbelief, of hospital visits and chemo, of radiation and hospice, of starting our son at his first year in primary school and doing the school runs between school and hospice. Of hoping the diagnosis was wrong, of thinking we had 6 – 12 months. But we only had 11 devastating weeks.

On the day my husband died our 4 year son was at a Halloween holiday club and was blissfully unaware and looking very much forward to his very first Halloween of ‘trick or treating’. 

Watching my husband take his last breath and feeling his heart stop was shocking, horrendously shocking and heart breaking that I cold not stop it from happening. Once his body was taken away by the funeral directors and everyone headed home in their separate directions, I made my way to our son’s holiday club, brought him home, got him changed into his trick or treat outfit and took him around the neighbourhood.  I let him believe that for one last day, everything was ok. I also just did not know how on earth to tell him his daddy was dead.

Without that state of dissociation, I would not have managed to do this. But my mind shut down and let me only cope with what I could. 

We all have our story, of the lead up and the death itself, of how we reacted.

We all grieve differently. What we usually see depicted is the Hollywood version – we are distraught, we cry uncontrollably and then, with time, we gradually get over/through it. However, there are so many ways the body receives and holds such painful and traumatic information.

Real life is very different. There is no one set way to grieve, no right, no wrong, no time frame.

The first year without my husband

about Orla Blackburn

My first year without my husband was about putting one foot in front of the other. The basics. Getting our son to and from school, feeding him. Bedtime. That was all I could manage. I left my job as head of creative for an international brand because they were unable to support my new status as a solo parent. It is hard to think straight or to make big decisions when you are in a state of trauma, but I left behind any last bit of security I felt I had because I felt so very unsupported and what I needed more than anything, was care and support. There is a lot of educating to be done in the work place and at schools on the huge impact a significant loss can have on our whole being (but that is another campaign for another day). I was overwhelmed, terrified, unable to make the simplest of decisions, I didn’t trust myself or anyone else. I barely had the capacity to care for our son apart from the basics – I knew I was in a bad way, I was desperately struggling.

By chance, I discovered the healing and transforming powers of yoga. I had sporadically tried yoga before, but with this heaviness and hopelessness, it took on a very different role to what it had been before. It was such a relief to be in these classes. To push my body, yet listen to it and to discover it had more abilities than I realised. Tears would roll down my face during the meditation at the end of each session – sessions with strangers who did not understand my tears and who I avoided talking to at all costs. But I kept returning because at last I was starting to feel and to release some of the held in pain.

Certified Yoga Teacher

Yoga had such an impact on my wellbeing that I very nervously decided to invest in me – and train to be a yoga instructor. Making this decision was not easy (I was full of self-doubt and) but I decided to take a risk, to invest in my future.

Certified Grief Educator

Once qualified, I started sharing my yoga with other people who were grieving, the widowed in particular and began developing a gentle and nurturing style of somatic mindful yoga.  

I’ve also invested in training with David Kessler to become a Grief Educator. David Kessler is one of the world’s foremost experts on loss and author of several books on grief.


“I aim to guide and encourage you to find healing in both body and mind that is unique to you. I will hold your hand, encourage and guide you to find your way forward, to discover who you are as a solo, how to integrate your loss, and to know that you can live life fully with hope and with joy.” 

Grief Educator Certificate Program
Yoga Alliance Teacher Training course
StretchBodyMind certificate