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Life After Death

How to get through the first year of widowhood

Getting through the first year of losing your partner is a bit like a roller coaster. There will be enormous ups and downs. You might be plunged into the depths of despair at any given moment. You may burst into tears in the supermarket when trying to work out what to cook for supper that night. And you might also experience inexplicable highs. Day by day, you start to get used to the practicalities of your new life as the realisation that your partner is not coming back really begins to hit home. You will have to struggle through many “firsts” without your partner by your side – from your first Christmas to your first birthday on your own.

“It’s when the drama is over and you face the grey mudflats of the future that the real widowhood begins... You don’t ‘get over’ the man, though you do after a year or two get over the death; but you have to learn to live in another country in which you’re an unwilling refugee.”
- Writer and agony aunt Katharine Whitehorn, who lost her husband in 2003 after 45 years of marriage.

After six months or so, friends and family who have supported you through the first difficult months might start to drift away and get on with their own lives – thinking that the worst should surely now be over. Your grief will begin to settle a bit like a stone in the bottom of your stomach. But then along comes the first anniversary like an enormous boulder to rub salt into the wound that is probably just beginning to heal. And as you tip into the second year, the daily grind can be even more difficult to bear –making you even more painfully aware of how much your miss your partner being around.

Grieving is a long, slow process. But slowly, imperceptibly, each day will start to get a little bit easier. Some days you might even wake up and begin to feel happy again. Eventually, you might find yourself starting to look forward rather than dwelling on the past.

You will probably begin to feel like socialising again after months of not being able to face anyone except your closest friends and family. That’s when it becomes really helpful to join an organisation like WAY, which can provide a new social network after your old ones begin to shift and change in the aftermath of bereavement. WAY has events and gatherings across the country – giving members the chance to meet up with other people who understand exactly what you’re going through. It’s often really helpful to meet with people who are not in couples – especially at the weekends, which can be especially hard when you’re on your own.

Some people might even begin to entertain the idea of dating again. Others might never feel like falling in love again after they've been widowed. But other people feel the need get out there and meet anew partner. Dating after bereavement can be full of pitfalls. Emotionally you might still be feeling very vulnerable. And this can lead you to make unwise decisions. An emotional rejection can plunge you back into the depths of despair. So dating after you've been widowed is something to be treated with extreme caution. Other WAY members can be an invaluable source of advice and support as you venture back into the dating world.

As the months turn into years, it’s important to hang on to the notion that there is life after death. After the first few months in survival mode, you do begin to feel like living again. For some people it takes a year or less. For others it can take ten years before they feel any sense of happiness. The pain of bereavement is always there – like a dull ache, but many WAY members have turned their lives around in surprising ways after their partner has died. One 44-year-old member learned to ski for the first time and has now become a skiing instructor – taking groups of WAY members to the slopes every New Year; another started running marathons at the age of 40 and raised funds for WAY in the 2012 London Marathon (read her story); other members have done things they would never have dreamed of in memory of their partner – like skydiving or wing walking; and many members have found happiness again with a new partner.

No two people are the same when it comes to grieving – but it can be really helpful to talk to other WAY members to share some of the ups and downs you are going through. Whether logging onto the closed Facebook page or meeting up with local member, just to know that you are not alone in some of the emotional and practical challenges you may be facing is really reassuring.