Adjusting to life and an unfamiliar ‘new normal’ after the death of a spouse or partner can be a long, emotional journey.
Establishing a new day-to-day after widowhood isn’t easy and there can be many challenges and practical questions, too, but members of the peer-to-peer support network, WAY Widowed and Young are on hand to offer each other tips and advice.
“Wedding rings, what to do with clothes and other belongings and when to go back to work are among the most common questions we see on our members’ only forum and Facebook group,” says WAY’s Vicky Anning.
“As a peer to peer support network we believe that there's no right or wrong answer to these questions. Everybody grieves differently, but the support of other people who have also experienced a loss can be invaluable, whether you find the answer you are looking for, or take comfort in knowing you are not the only one to be facing similar challenges.”
Here, WAY members address 10 questions and answers you may want to know, but are unsure how to ask.
1. How long do I wear my wedding ring for?
Sian — “I have no intention of ever taking mine off.”
Andrew — “I’m going to keep wearing mine until I start dating seriously.”
Rebecca — “We weren’t married but I wear a wedding ring now as a symbol of the relationship we had. I’d rather be known as a widow than single.”
Pauline — “Mine was quickly removed as I got fed up with all the questions about where my husband was.”
Carolyn — “I wear my wedding ring on a chain when I go out.”
2. What do I do with my partners ashes?
Kirsty — “Five years on and I still haven't done anything with them. They’re on top of the kitchen cupboard. I’ll wait till we’re ready.”
Lucy — “They’re scattered in special places. I’ve also kept some for the children, and used some in memorial jewellery.”
Rupert — “We agreed many years ago that neither of us wanted anything momentous done with our ashes. So, I spread them at the crematorium. I don’t visit. She’s not there. We agreed on this.”
Hannah — “My husband was Sikh and part of their belief is to be scattered in flowing water. I took our boys, and my inlaws on a boat trip and we scattered his ashes in the sea.”
Susan — “His ashes are under a remembrance rose, in the back garden.”
3. How do I maintain a relationship with my inlaws?
Rebecca — “I’m so lucky because I’ve gained a second family out of it, and though we’ve had some issues, we’ve been able to make decisions together as the three of us.”
Suzanne — “I visit infrequently because they live so far away. This suits us.”
Amanda — “Delicately. Especially if my children are involved. Don’t let them make you feel guilty, ever.”
Rupert — “My in-laws have been fantastic. They’re very supportive, even now I’m in a new serious relationship.”
Lucy — “We arrange family get-togethers, mostly on birthdays and special occasions.”
4. What side of the bed do I sleep on?
Leigh — “My normal side. It’s comfy and familiar.”
Suzanne — “In the middle!”
Rupert — “The opposite side to what I used to.”
Susan — “I still sleep on my side of the bed, but sometimes I turn my hubby’s pillow around so it feels a bit like he’s laying there.”
Sian — “My side. My daughter hasn’t slept in her own bed since her daddy died, so she sleeps on his.”
5. When is it okay to start dating again?
Amanda — “Whenever you want to. I’m nine months in and I’m ready to dip my toes in.”
Hannah — “I haven’t, and don’t know if I ever will.”
Fiona — “I have no idea. I need company, not romance.”
Suzanne — “When it feels right.”
Pauline — “I’ve dabbled with some dating sites and had a few dates, but I haven’t found anyone yet.”
6. When do I go back to work?
Fiona — “I went back to work after a week or two. I’d like to give it all up but I can’t.”
Leigh — “Never. I can’t see myself going back.”
Andrew — “I’d been looking after my wife for close to 18 months. I’ve been off for almost two years now. I don’t think I’m ready, but I’m looking forward to going back.”
Sian — “I went back after six months. I think I was ready.”
Jackie — “I went back after about four weeks mainly because my kids were asking why I wasn’t going to work if they were going to school.”
7. What do I do with their belongings?
Lucy — “I made memory boxes for myself and the kids.”
Leigh — “I cleared everything out. Nothing is sacred but memories.”
Jackie — “I let friends and family choose the things they wanted.”
Kirsty — “I have a good friend who works for a Christian homeless charity and I gave some clothes to him. I have had thank you letters from people who have received the clothes which was special.”
Sian — “I still have everything. I don’t feel like I can part with anything at the moment.”
8. How do I attend social events without my partner?
Jackie — “This has been hard, so I mainly stick to girls' nights out."
Kirsty — “It’s not really a problem anymore.”
Sarah — "I enjoy WAY events and going out with friends."
Carolyn — “Well, he wouldn’t want me sat at home alone.”
Rupert — “I tend not to go to the things that we both would’ve gone to.”
Fiona — “I don’t really socialise. I just don’t feel like it.”
9. How do I explain my partner’s death to our children?
Kirsty — “I said that Daddy’s heart stopped working, and that he died.”
Andrew — “I told them that Mammy had died and couldn’t come back, but that she lived on in our hearts.”
Rupert — “My boys were adults by the time their mum died. We had to be open with one another.”
Amanda — “Honestly and factually.”
Sian — “One of my friends broke the news to him as she had to collect him from school. Paramedics were here when he left for school that morning, and an hour later, he was home.”
10. How to go on holiday without my partner?
Fiona — “I don’t really want to. I find the idea scary. I’ve been away a couple of times since he died, and haven’t enjoyed it.”
Hannah — “I’ve always loved holidays and I don’t think the children should be missing out. I find being at home alone is harder than being away.”
Lucy — “I travelled to see my parents in Spain a few months after. I sobbed through the airport, on the plane and most of the holiday.”
Kirsty — “For the first couple of years, my parents kindly joined us. Last year I put my big girl pants on and took my three children to Rhodes on my own. It was all inclusive, making it as stress-free as possible.”
Jackie — “I’ve done a holiday with my kids, but it was an active holiday so we were always keeping busy.”
Curious about Widowed and Young?
WAY — Widowed and Young is a peer-to-peer support network for people who’ve been widowed before their 51st birthday. WAY is open to anyone who’s lost a partner at a young age, whether they were married or not, in a civil partnership, with or without children.
For Jackie, an active member of WAY, she loves being around people who understand what she's going through.
"WAY has been a lifeline – just knowing I am not the only widow and what I am feeling and thinking is normal," she said.
"I have made some wonderful friends through WAY who will be lifelong friends."
The network offers a members’ only website that’s available 24/7 for members to share their experiences, concerns and questions with each other. Volunteers also organise informal face-to-face meetups throughout the UK.