Former Telecom head and My Food Bag co-founder Theresa Gattung tells Paul Little about a significant year in her life.

In February 2016, Margaret Doucas, my best friend of 30 years, died suddenly and unexpectedly after an operation. It should never have happened. I had just assumed we'd be in our 80s together.

I have been lucky in my life not to have had tragedy. My parents are still alive and I've never had a miscarriage or lost a child. I've had relationships split up, and physical health challenges - but I had never experienced grief in that way. I assumed you could bottle it up, and I could manage it like I manage other things in my life.

Immediately I kicked into the practicality of helping her husband organise the funeral. At the service it was hard for me to speak but it was a real celebration of her life.


In late February I realised I didn't feel myself. But I was very busy with My Food Bag so I thought I'd have a quiet March and by Easter I'd be done.

In the first week of April I started to get going again, but one day I woke up and I didn't feel very well. However, it's my way to push on. I went off for a swim and for the first time ever I got out of the pool half way through my kilometre. I went home and got worse and worse - terrible headache, nausea, diarrhoea, racing heart, cold shakes.

Then a big red patch showed up on my leg and I ended up in hospital. They didn't know whether I had cellulitis or a leg infection, or whether I had an infection in my heart, it was racing so much. The leg got worse before it got better and I stayed in hospital for five days.

Back home I was on a work call and the friend on the call said, "You are not all right." I thought I was fine, but I had another quiet couple of weeks before I got going again and became extremely busy.

By December, I was exhausted. I got to the beach and put myself to bed for a month.

My friend Barbara recommended a counsellor, who said, "Some of this is unprocessed grief. Can we have three sessions together?" And I said, "Yes."

Why is this significant? Because I have never understood people going to counsellors. I wouldn't say I'm highly judgemental. But I've never understood it. I'm a keep-going person Why pay someone with a stopwatch charging you by the hour? I'd always had a thing about it.

But it was brilliant to start releasing some of that emotion. After the first visit with the counsellor I was driving and started crying and crying. And after three or four sessions, I felt much better.

So that year was significant for me, because I had never really understood that you can't put grief in a timeline that says "I'll recover in a month or three months or a year". It has its own rhythms. It's been an interesting emotional journey for me.

I think I always did celebrate life, live every day to the full and spend time with people that matter, but I feel that even more now. You just really don't know how long you've got.