The thing about Mondays and Tuesdays when you get back to work after the weekend is, the inevitable question from people “so what have you been up to this weekend?”. Its been interesting to see the different reactions from people when I’ve told them that I have spent the weekend in Newcastle, with over 100 widows. Some looked at me awkwardly and didn’t know how to respond, some laughed (the ones who know me well did anyway!) and some just asked why?
I’ll tell you why. The weekend was the AGM, 21st birthday party and annual get together organised by a charity support group called WAY which stands for Widowed and Young. Every single member of it is a widow or widower, under the age of 50 when their partner died and this AGM was my first one. I have been on local events before with perhaps 10-15 from our local WAY group, but this was definitely the BIG ONE.
Myself and my widow partner in crime, Lisa, were late because of the weather and when we arrived after our slalom in the snow journey, we sneaked in just after a coffee break in the hope that no-one noticed. So what was the first thing I felt when I arrived for a weekend with 100 other widows? I felt incredibly safe. That’s the first thing I noticed. We took our seats at the far end of the room and I looked around and felt safe. There was huge comfort in knowing that every single person in that room had at least one thing in common – we had all lost that very person we had chosen to grow old with, to spend the rest of our lives with, our best friend, our other half, our everything. The glances and smiles from people weren’t of sympathy, they were of empathy and understanding. A whole room of people who just knew, they just knew exactly how I felt. Like any other group of people you come into contact with, some you gravitate to, some you are happy to chat to, some you avoid and some you become lifelong friends with, BUT for all of us there, our future lives had been changed for ever. There was a powerful unspoken understanding, no barriers no elephants in the room, no awkwardness whatsoever.
To be able to sit down to a 3 course dinner with so many people you have never met before and just throw yourself into painful, personal and emotional conversation and then end up laughing about something else in the next breath is quite surreal. You could be busting the dance moves on the dance floor one minute and then a song comes on to catapult you backwards to a heart breaking memory that leaves you sobbing in a heap on the floor, and someone to pull you to your feet and give you the biggest hug ever. That is what I witnessed. There was no judgment, no one thought it was weird and its was perfectly OK to join in with the tears.
When you can walk into a hotel dining room wearing a t-shirt saying Widows on Tour 2018 and know your dark humour will be appreciated by those 100 other people, When the ones who don’t get it (like the hen party that was also there (!) look confused and bewildered, it was strangely empowering. I didn’t feel like I had to hide away to avoid any awkwardness or uncomfortable conversations.
What I have learned from this group that, let’s face it, no-one would ever want to join, is that over the last 10 months I actually feel lucky. I feel lucky that I got to say goodbye to my Dave and be with him and hold him until the end. I feel lucky that I have a loving and supportive family, wonderful in-laws and fantastic friends. I feel lucky that I had Dave in my life with the happiness he brought me. Some people aren’t that lucky. Some never got to say goodbye because their partner went to work and never came back, some went to a party and a freak accident claimed the life of their partner and some still to this day don’t know what exactly what did happen to cause their loved one’s death. Some have the most awful in-laws who cause nothing but heartache and some, like my lovely friend Lisa, had to give her husband end of life care whilst pregnant and then give birth to their child without him being there. The circumstances and impact of a partner’s death varies massively and everyone’s stories are different. To me, these people are inspirational in the way that they deal with what has been thrown at them.
It helps to be able to talk about your fears for the future, talk about to people about how difficult those long lonely hours are when you should be going to bed and waking up with the person you love the most, financial struggles, decisions that have to be made and how to cope as a lone parent. I know many people have lots of support from friends and family but being alone isn’t their every day life and they get to walk away and carry on. It’s reassuring to speak to people who are further down the line of widowhood and know that you will learn to move forward and find ways to cope. What you talk about about are not platitudes or cliches, its experience. It makes such a difference when you are trying to find your way.
My dad jokingly calls WAY the doom and gloom club, it really makes him laugh. The doom and gloom bit is the reason we are all in the group in the first place. However, my family and friends know how much this group means to me. They make me smile, they give me strength, friendship and fun and the positives this group provides are immeasurable.
So what I want to say is, thank you to this amazing charity, to the people who make it what it is and to the close friends I have made through it. You make this shit journey more bearable. You are all fantastic and I cant wait for #widowsontour2019!
To those people who know someone who has lost their partner, tell them about WAY. DONT wait to tell them about it in case you think it’s too soon, or they may get upset, let them make the choice of when and whether they want to join. Knowing that there is this kind of support out there is half the battle, thriving on that support can help win the war.