BEL MOONEY: Can I ever move on from my lonely grieving?
I was widowed very suddenly two-and-a-half years ago, while living in France and moved back to the UK soon afterwards.
My daughter died 20 years ago this week of meningitis when she was 23 and my brother died in April last year.
My only family is my niece and I moved to live in the same county to be close to her. But as a paediatrics consultant in an NHS hospital, she is so busy and I don’t see her often.
I didn’t know anyone when I moved here and made an effort to make friends by joining the WI, U3A and a knitting group, and I got to know other dog walkers (I have a springer spaniel).
But all the friends I have made have partners/ husbands/children/grandchildren and I still feel incredibly lonely, especially at weekends. While I try to be cheerful and interested in their lives when we meet, I don’t think any of them realise how desperately sad I feel when faced with days when I spend all my time alone with my dog.
I’ve tried to make contact via Facebook and other local internet sites with other people, who, like me, have no family around, but that’s been unsuccessful.
I’m not looking for another life partner after 43 years of marriage, but wonder if I should look on dating apps for the older person!
Most weekends I end up in tears, weeping for what I have lost and just longing for someone to put an arm round me and reassure me that things will be all right. I read your column every week and it has taken me months to pluck up the courage and write.
This week Bel Mooney advises a woman who asks if she can ever move on from her lonely grieving
Your brave, sad email arrived a week before another longer one, with a similar sorrow at its heart.
Another widow, JB, reflected on the cumulative pain of previous bereavements, leading to the loss of her husband four months ago. Here she is:
Thought of the day
Some matters remained obstinately unresolved because that was what life was like. Not all the uncertainties we faced were capable of being resolved — there were many strings left untied.
Extracted from The Minor Adjustment Beauty Salon, by Alexander McCall Smith
‘This is the first time I have lived alone. From a big family, I met my husband when we were 16, married at 20 and had three children. When they left home we still had each other, soulmates, together for 58 years. I hope you can give me some reason for continuing to make an effort.
‘A lot of people have said how strong I am, but I don’t feel it. I’m just carrying on. I get up, do my make-up and dress well. The house is clean and tidy and my little dog is a comfort. But now I ask: will I get over this?’
Over the years I have received so many letters like these two, from men and women alike, wondering how to continue with life after the death of a beloved partner or spouse.
What’s more, in my personal life I have shared conversations with many friends who tell me that after such a bereavement it’s hard to know whether you can summon enough strength to get out of bed in the morning and whether it’s worth it.
Some of them might be blessed with loving families and good friends and neighbours, yet still that silent spectre called ‘Loss’ follows them wherever they go and climbs the lonely stairs with them at night.
You, Joanna, desperately want company and have tried with admirable fortitude and energy to make new friends. JB wants to know if it is possible to ‘get over’ the loss of a soulmate, and wonders if it is humanly possible to get used to living alone.
My heart goes out to you both and (as so often, writing this column I love so much) I feel utterly helpless in the face of your grief.
Yet JB asks me specifically for ‘a reason for continuing to make an effort’ and so I must try.
Because — let’s be honest, even if such honesty can seem bleak — finding a reason to live is at the very heart of the human condition. And it’s not always easy.
At midnight, two weeks from today, we will all move our clocks forward one hour and summer time will begin. Yes, it may still be cold. Yes, there may be frost in April and May.
Yes, we might find the lighter evenings make us melancholy, as we reflect on time passing so quickly and watch people in the street. Yes, the blossom on the trees might become so blasted by heavy rain we miss the chance fully to enjoy the pink and white beauty.
All those things can happen, as you know, just as some of us will receive bad news from the doctor, while others hear something to lift them to a peak of joy… and all this is about being human, coming to terms with life and facing the veiled future. The daffodil spikes can seem cruel as they tear through the earth or look utterly glorious, filling hearts like Wordsworth’s with pleasure.
And so we stumble onwards, making the best of it while we can and, on other days, feeling like giving up.
But the reason to go on lies within the not-knowing. The promise of what might happen, the hope that sings through the bedraggled bird on the bough, the flash of a smile in the street. These things (and so many more) are why we get out of bed. Why the dog’s tail wagging urges us to look after other living things as well as ourselves. To look outwards — always.
Believe me, I hear the grief and loneliness in both the letters, from you Joanna and from JB, which moved me so much.
Countless readers will hold out hands to both of you, because they understand what you are going through. And there is nothing to do except what you are both doing — carry on going out as much as possible, appearing to be strong, and just trying. I offer the small consolation that the act of seeming strong can and will become a habit which, in time, does diminish pain. And that the hope of making new friends is real, and so is a gradual adjustment to life on your own.
What do our beloved dead want for us? That we continue and be happy if we can.
As the late poet Brendan Kennelly wrote:
Though we live in a world that dreams of ending
That always seems about to give in
Something that will not acknowledge conclusion
Insists that we forever begin.
I am half-mad with forbidden lust
I am in my late 50s, married for 27 years. My wife is a great lady but I don’t think I’ve ever been in love. Why did I marry? It seemed right at the time.
We haven’t had sex for about five years, although I think she’d be willing if I was. Two years ago, I became involved with a woman at work who’d found out her husband was having an affair.
Our closeness meant snogs and cuddles (and a little more), but I said I couldn’t leave my wife, so she took her husband back.
I was devastated. Because of my moods, my wife suspected something was wrong. So I admitted I fancied this other woman.
My wife asked me if she hadn’t returned to her husband, would I have left for her? I couldn’t answer truthfully so stayed noncommittal. But the question looms, even though my wife is trying to make our marriage work.
I still see the other woman at work and occasionally out in my car. We haven’t had intercourse, but are aroused in each other’s company.
What do I do? I love my wife, but am not in love with her and cannot bring myself to make love with her. The other woman is waiting for me to leave my wife so she can leave her husband and we can be together. But I am frightened in case it doesn’t work and I’m left alone.
When we are apart I am unhappy, I feel guilty and cannot sleep, thinking this can’t go on. But then I just want to have more of her. I would appreciate your thoughts?
My first response is that being so sexually obsessed is exactly what the doomed opera diva Violetta sings of, in Verdi’s La traviata: ‘A cross and a delight.’ Or (if you like), an agony and an ecstasy.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
You think about making love with the forbidden person 98 per cent of the time, brood painfully in the wee small hours of the morning, fantasise about a love nest with him/her in which you can have hot sex most of the time, and turn your back on the poor person who is your spouse. You lie, feel guilty, and then lie some more.
People reading this who have never experienced that madness can count themselves lucky. It is an ancient lunacy, and always will be.
All I can tell you is that I know exactly what it’s like and that in time, if you stay married, the madness dies down and you get on with the life you have.
And yes, as the days turn into months, then years, the life you imagined in the heat of passion becomes hazier and hazier until it fades completely.
But make no mistake, right now you’re cruelly punishing your blameless wife. If you love the other woman, the honest thing is to take the gamble and move in with her.
OK, so you are ‘frightened’, but to cling to that fear and allow it to dominate your actions is feeble.
You enjoy your teenage-like fumbles in the car, but can’t face up to your lover or your wife with the honesty of a mature man.
You’re being monstrously unfair on both women, so I suggest you make a decision.
And finally… I feel utterly powerless — and furious
It came as no surprise that so many people applauded my article last Saturday in which, drawing on a new book, Hags, by the journalist Victoria Smith, I tore into those foolish younger women who have made themselves handmaidens to the cause of men, willing to sacrifice hard-won women’s rights for the sake of utterly meaningless slogans like ‘Trans women are women’.
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
It is fine to be tolerant and proclaim ‘Trans women are trans women’, but not to fly in the face of all logic and insult those who disagree.
That’s not an issue for this column today although the subject has cropped up in past letters. But what is an issue is the sense of utter helplessness I feel all around.
Those who wrote about that article called me ‘brave’ for ‘speaking up’ and ‘giving us a voice’ and went on to ask why the world seems to be so mad and/or deluded.
I had a similar response when I wrote recently about the ‘woke’ rewriting of the author Roald Dahl.
The issue is different, yet when I read some of the leaked WhatsApp exchanges during the pandemic, between Matt Hancock, former health secretary, and other ministers and civil servants, I was conscious of deep disillusionment, too.
Many times in this paper I have written tough pieces challenging rules which seemed to me to be arbitrary and cruel, but what matters is that I, and so many of you, feel powerless.
We know in our hearts that we are poorly governed and that both Keir Starmer cosying up to Sue Gray and Boris Johnson putting his dad up for a knighthood are insulting to us.
Likewise we know that a tulip cannot become your actual daffodil and the word ‘black’ is not racist.
And that young children should not be taught about sex fetishes in school.
Realising you can do nothing, you feel alienated in your own beloved country. And it makes me, for one, absolutely furious.