‘The ice of grief is only just beginning to melt’: Inspiring women say meeting each other was ‘life-saving’ after losing husbands to same type of tumour

Diana Nilsson Shafikova, 35, met her husband Gunnar when he was visiting her home-city of Moscow.

She was 21 and about to graduate from university, he was 14 years older and an entrepreneur from a different country. But she said it was simply “love at first sight” and she knew she had met her soulmate.

After months of being pen pals and Gunnar telling Diana he loved when she was studying art in London, they vouched to settle down in the capital one day.

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Then ensued 13 happy years together which took them across the world, founding a business together and settling in London where they had three children.

But Gunnar tragically died of a glioblastoma brain tumour at age 49 in September last year. He left behind Diana and their three children Fjordess, 11, Trolle, nine, Landess, seven, and Vinde, four.

Diana and Gunnar spent 13 happy years together

Today, Diana lives in Hammersmith with her children and wants to share how the chance meeting of another woman would later become her greatest support.

She told MyLondon: “When you lose someone, you have the shock of dealing with immediate problems.

“I was numb for months. The ice of grief is only just beginning to melt. It’s a few months later when you really how much you have truly lost. You can never be prepared for that, one minute the person is there and all of a sudden they’re not there.

“Gunnar was so entrepreneurial, creative and adventurous. What we had together was unquestionable – it was something worth dying for.

“He was in a hospice when he died and he took his last breath in front of me. No one talks about the trauma of that. Is this person lying here lifeless the person that I met? Who is he? Do I try to remember this person when they were healthy? Or when they were sick?

Gunnar and the children

Gunnar and the children

“Cancer just robs you of everything – they get weaker and less confident with each day that passes.”

Recalling the day he passed away, she said: “I kept talking and we went through our favourite memories, many of them from London. I reminded him when he went straight to the DJ in Metropolitan bar and asked him to play Suspicious Minds by Elvis Presley and when he made a band play ABBA’s Dancing Queen on the beach in Bali.

“A friend brought our children to the hospice later that day and we had a lovely afternoon together hugging and kissing but deliberately not saying goodbye. It was beautiful.”

Gunnar passed away just 40 minutes after the children had left and Diana then faced the difficult task of telling their children.

Diana spoke of the intense loneliness of grief, the overwhelming feeling that no one can understand how you feel and that one point she wanted to die too.

Olga and her husband Errol on a trip to Tasmania, Australia in 2018

Olga and her husband Errol on a trip to Tasmania, Australia in 2018

Enter: Olga.

Olga Fontanellaz, 47, met Diana on a Facebook glioblastoma brain tumour group at the end of last year.

Olga’s husband, Errol, died of the same illness, was treated at in the same hospital as Gunnar and died a month apart from him.

While they didn’t know each other at the time, Olga and Diana both picked up medication for their husbands at the same pharmacy.

They say they were both in a state of shock after losing their partners but that meeting each other was “life-saving.”

Diana said: “Often you feel friends get tired of your grief and you feel you have to put on a front and pretend to be OK.

“If you’ve lost someone, you just understand that’s not something you get over. That’s why most of my friends, like Olga, are people who have lost someone.”

Diana and Gunnar

Diana and Gunnar

Olga added: “After he died, all my friends disappeared. It’s like people think misery is contagious. Our society is so success-focused and people don’t want to be part of your grief. They come back a year later and expect you to be fine, and are disappointed when you’re not.

“I had literally no one to talk to. My mum couldn’t understand me. She said ‘Don’t worry, you are young, you have all your life in front of you’. But for me that is a bad thing. I have my whole life without my husband.”

Like Diana, Olga travelled extensively with her husband – which took them to remote parts of Asia where they worked as photographers. They say that speaking to other widows is often the only way to feel understood.

Now, both women are looking to set up a charity which helps other women who are have lost their partners. They have set up a GoFundMe to support to support their endeavours – which you can find here.

Diana is also now adjusting to life as a single parent and running the family business in London, a city which she says holds a big place in her heart.

She added: “Since Gunnar’s death, London has been a place to help combat my loneliness. It was the first home for our children when I was happily married to the love of my life. Yet it was also the place where Gunnar took his last breath.

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“But, as well as battling with rage and grief, I feel so much love and gratitude. I am so incredibly thankful for the time I got to spend with this unique and wonderful man – those incredible 13 years which were filled with love and adventure. I feel like I own a box full of treasured memories. I loved every moment with him.

“This is selfish maybe but I am working on finding the way to make sure I have equally happy life ahead of me. I am 35 and I want to live. After these difficult years, I want to understand who I am on my own, find my voice and use it.”

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