On being widowed and lonely

Today I visited Mrs M, who is in her late 80s. She wanted to talk about a problem with a rash and get some advice about her medication. Once I’d talked to her about her concerns, my GP antennae started twitching and telling me that there was Something Else Going On. A few gentle questions later it became very clear that not only was she lonely, but also very depressed. The immaculately dressed lady in front of me was struggling to get out of bed in the morning and had only dressed today because I was coming over. She was sleeping poorly, not eating, crying every day, and feeling “ready for the knacker’s yard”. Since her husband died a few years previously she had never really recovered, and the grief had been overtaken by depression. We talked about depression and what it meant; we talked about treatment and the options we had (what the Royal College of GPs calls “exploring the patient’s ideas, concerns and expectations”). And then we talked about her husband, “because you never really get over losing your husband. Not after fifty years”.

It took me back to an ongoing fear I have about widowhood. Society has never really come to terms with the widowed. A friend whose husband died young from cancer talks about how, young or old, widows make us feel very scared and uncomfortable. There is no way to solve the problem. You can’t make it better. Is there anything that doesn’t sound trite when you’re consoling someone who has lost their life partner, the person they’ve spent every day with and every night sleeping next to ever since they fell in love? We see a lot of widows in general practice, so many people who’ve been left stranded, that it almost becomes usual. Of course, like every patient, scratch the surface and discover the story and it’s frequently a very everyday tale of love and loss. Everyday but no less poignant for that.

I left her house and called my husband just to tell him that I loved him. Wouldn’t you have?

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18 Comments

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18 responses to “On being widowed and lonely

  1. Let me be the first to say welcome to you. I’m a relatively new blogger (just over two weeks now) and having read all three of your posts I am going to add you to my blog list so that I read you regularly.

    I, too, am a widow. My husband died nearly 10 years ago when I was just 44. His death was very sudden, totally unexpected, and occurred while we were on holiday in another country. Depression and loneliness have been real problems for me too, and I appreciate the help and support that I have received from my GPs. What touched a nerve with me about your post was that you say that society hasn’t come to terms with widowhood. You are absolutely right. Because I am a relatively young widow, when I go anywhere on my own where couples are the norm, people automatically assume that I am divorced and that I am on the lookout for my next husband, yet I have continued to wear both my own and my husband’s wedding rings all this time.

    Keep blogging, I’m sure that I am going to enjoy what you have to say.

  2. And the idea that you will ‘get over it’ is one tha should be kicked into touch for good. I have a husband of many years standing, but before him I was with someone for 8 years and going to marry him when he, like the commenter above, died very suddenly, aged 43. Even though it is 36 years ago, I have never ‘got over it’, it is in many ways the same as it was the day it happened, and I know not only that I won`t but that I shouldn`t and wouldn`t want to get over it. Why would I ? Love it stronger than death and what is time, anyway ? I say this even after many years of happy marriage and the births of 3 children and all the rest if the water that has flowed under the bridge. Perhaps if widows were not made to feel they had to get over it, life might be easier on them. It doesn`t mean you need to let everything in life go, forget other people, other interests.. life is still there. But why should widows be expected to forget and start running round looking for someone else within half an hour – and if they find them, then be expected to expunge everything about the former love from their lives and their memories.
    A friend lost her husband in tragic circumstances a few years ago and asked me when she would begin to ‘forget.’
    I said ‘Never.

  3. You describe general practice at its best. My praise seems pointless. Res ipsa loquitur.

    You also make an interesting point about widows being unsettling. I expect you are right – because they are a momento mori.

    That’s quite enough Latin for one comment. :-)

    And welcome! I’m delighted to find you blogging, and look forward to reading your posts in future.

    AB

  4. docjock

    I, too, am a GP. Your piece about widows rang bells with me as it will with all GPs, I am sure. One of my most poignant memories is of when I met a new patient who had been a widower for a couple of years. I asked him how long he had been married and he told me, “52 years”. “A long time”, I replied. “Not long enough”, was his response, which stopped me in my tracks. Of course, he was right. Good luck with your blog.

  5. psychsarah

    The little hairs on my arm stood up when I read the last line of this post. I so often leave my sessions with patients and have an overwhelming desire to call my husband, my parents, my best friend… I see it as a gift of the job-not taking the ones you love for granted!

  6. NiceLadyDoctor

    Thank you all for your kind words. One of those days in GP-land where you feel that you’ve matured just that little bit more, I think.

    psychsarah – “a gift of the job” – what a lovely way of looking at it.

  7. Pingback: could you give me something, doctor? « Nice Lady Doctor

  8. amy davis

    HI,

    I lost my dear husband, Fred, a month ago, and still am in shock. He died, suddenly, after a morning on a tractor, of sudden cardiac death, in my arms. A part of me died with him. After 33 yrs of marriage, a great marriage, this is extremely difficult for me. I try and count my blessings, and I have many, including 4 incredible children, and 4 grandchildren.

    I believe the answer, is that “Never” will I get over this. I just want to be able to breathe normal again.

    Amy

    • Lisa

      My husband died last year after 29 years.. I am begining to breath right again but cannot get rid of that cement block in my stomach…Although I really miss him, I do thank god for the 29 years I had with him and my 3 children… I do believe I will be with him again….

  9. claudia

    my husband dieds 5 yrs ago this december. we were married only 13 yrs. i tried to go on but i find myself staying by myself ,shutting out family, my closest bud is my new dog .my husband’s dog shortly after he died..so this dog is my everthing.. i have a son and and a granddaughter and a dgthr-in-law..i love my granddghtr to death..but she’s getting older ..iguess ..i love my son but he’s so negative and selfish in so many ways..this story has so much more but i would need to explain in detail to a shrink..i think i’m happy alone but i wonder if i’m not trying to hide from any more pain.. my husband is my 2nd spouse.my son is a result of my 1’st marriage wich i thought would last 4ver until he cheated on me and left my son and me alone.. basically i have just become a hermit.. i do see and spend tine with my grnddghtr and talk to my dghtrinlaw.. but as socialilizing and spending time with my family ..i avoid it. why?

    • I can totally relate to becoming a hermit. My husband died suddenly in March of 2010 at the age of 48. We were married 28 years and I have been crying everyday since. I find that I am not comfortable going out. My husband and I did everything together and all our friends were couples. I now feel like I don’t fit in with them anymore and I rarely hear from them. I don’t even know where to begin to try and make new friends that I might have something in common with. My buddy is my dog that I got 1 month after my husband died. I have a daughter (28 yrs old) and grand-daughter but we are not together everyday. How do you fill your time without feeling so alone on a daily basis?

  10. Hi! I was surfing and found your blog post… nice! I love your blog. :) Cheers! Sandra. R.

  11. gertrude mark

    it is ten years since my husband’s sudden death. i find myself crying every morning and evening. i am a retired psychotherapist, grandmother, two mature sons-engaged in research-independent living- recently i find myself crying day and night.

  12. gertrude mark

    ten years since husband’s death. crying day and night. independent living mentally active. lonely like never felt before.

  13. jayalaxmi.herale

    I have been a young widow(at my age of 38)I am a doctor by profession and completed my family duties.Now i am 55 and terribly lonely.Run out of ideas to be happy.I feel nobody has time for me.

  14. Amanda

    I lost my husband oct 09, i miss him so much, i just wish i could turn back time so i could stop him from going out on his bike. I have just turned 44 and know i need to get back out into the big wide world but i cant or should i say won’t. I have 4 teenagers (21,20,20,16) at home and they keep me busy i worry about them all the time .Like some of the other widows i to got myself a dog and i love here to bits she feels like my only friend at times people tend to stay away from you for fear of what, im not totaly sure of, i do talk about him all the time maybe that is it, i cant help it i miss him so much. I don feel that i can socialize,i dont feel confident anymore, im so lonely it does not seem to be getting any easier.

  15. Bernadette Redmond

    Its been 10 weeks since my husband died so suddenly at the age of 45.i am 44 and we were together 23 yrs. I still wait for him to come home and hope that i will wake up and he will be back beside me where he should be.The coroner cannot yet find a cause of death and this has made it harder, .His death doesnt make sense Why does it take so long to find a cause when we are in 2011?.I feel so lonely all the time ,even in a crowded room as he isnot here with me.I have such a good family and friends who i try to go out with but i always see that empty chair in the restaurant where he should be.I dont feel i will ever get over this loss and although others say to me i know how you feel , i lost my dad my sister etc, its not the same.My partner dying is like part or most of me has also died..I too have a dog who i cry with all the time .He was there with my husband when he died and i can feel from his dog that he is grieving too. Why is life so cruel.

  16. I lost my hard working husband on Oct. 4, 2011. it was very sudden. We had been married 35 years. We were 54 when it happened. I am heartbroken. I can’t even begin to look for the person I use to be. I don’t want to stop grieving. I cry all the time. I quit my job. My daughter and 3 young sons ,moved in with me. I am a Christian but I cannot deal with so much pain and loneliness, unfinished business. Everyone called us the perfect couple, the golden couple, soulmates and we were. Now what do I do?

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