Loneliness Awareness Week: the importance of looking after yourself in widowhood

June 2024

To mark this year’s Loneliness Awareness Week, we look at the importance of looking after yourself in widowhood. WAY Ambassador Norman Smart shares how his faith, WAY and his community choir have helped him to combat loneliness...

Being a young widower, you can easily be overlooked by society, and have a feeling of being cut off.  Becoming a member of WAY allows you to be in touch with other young men who know how you’re feeling and can give you a sense of belonging and community. I have found that my faith and singing have also helped me through my dark days.

Before I was married, I never had a problem with doing things by myself, but of course this changed once I had a partner to consider. Having lost Helen while young, I needed to go back to doing things by myself, it wasn’t easy, but I never gave up. So here I am, ten years into my widowhood journey, and I’ve never been so busy. 

My Christian faith has been part of my life since birth, as I was brought up within the Methodist faith. One of my earliest memories is of entering the main body of Eastville Park Methodist Church after spending the first part of the Sunday service in junior church, standing on the pew with members of my family and waving my arms around as if I was conducting the congregation as they sang the hymns.

I was blessed that, when I met my late wife Helen, she too was brought up as a Methodist. We wanted to marry in a Methodist church, which we did, surrounded by family and friends.

Fast forward to 21 March 2014, we were back in the same church. This time we were saying goodbye to Helen, having lost her to complications due to cervical cancer.

After Helen passed away, I found I was questioning my faith. However, when I returned to services, all I could see was Helen’s coffin at the front of church, which I found upsetting. Suddenly I felt a hand on my shoulder and a lady who I now call a friend, asking if I was, ok? I explained what was happening and she suggested I enter the church via a different door, which I did, and it seemed to break the image.

I continue to attend my local Methodist church. I have made so many friends, I have even been welcomed into the fold of another family, who see me for me and not as a young widower who needs pity. I play a very active role within the church, something I might never have done if it wasn’t for meeting Helen. 

Joining WAY Widowed and Young was one of the best things I did after I lost Helen, during one of my darkest moments. I joined in 2015 and I have never looked back.

The great thing about WAY is it’s the only national charity in the UK for people aged 50 or under when their partner died. It’s a peer-to-peer support group operating with a network of volunteers who have been bereaved at a young age themselves, so they understand exactly what other members are going through.

During my time in WAY, I have been an Area Contact, an ambassador (which I continue to do) and have supported various fundraising events, everything from cake baking, helping to set up events to shaving my head during the Covid lockdown raising over £1,000.

It might be daunting at first thinking about joining WAY if you’ve been widowed young but I assure you’ll never look back. Sadly, you are not alone on this new and unexpected journey. Men so often find it hard to open up and share how they are feeling. I recommend you open up. It might be painful at first but it’s better than allowing your feelings to fester and eat away at you. 

I’d also recommend trying something new? I decided to join a choir. We all hear the saying “Singing is good for the soul and your mental health”. Well, I wholeheartedly agree. I didn’t realise at the time how good it is to sing as part of a choir, I even find that, when the 10-week term ends, I miss not singing on Monday nights. Thanks to the choir I have not only improved my singing voice, but I have been exercising the little grey cells as when the choir performs, we do so with song sheets, so having to memorise up to 20 songs is a real challenge. 

I have also had the opportunity to sing 4 solos, which believe me for someone who doesn’t like being the centre of attention is scary, but the buzz one gets from it is hard to describe.

To sum up, I’d say that it is so important to look after yourself in widowhood. It’s so easy to cut yourself off and fill yourself with self-pity, but in the long run your mental health as well as your general health will suffer. You run the risk of losing the friends you might have, and you’ll never get to meet new friends…

Read more articles by WAY Ambassador Norman: 

Advice for looking after your mental health from a WAY Ambassador Men’s Health Week: how the Internet is helping young widowed people stay connected