Virginia Ironside's Dilemmas


I had been married for only three years when my husband died suddenly.

We were just about to start a family – and now it's all over. It's been a year now and I'm still feeling desperately lonely. I've joined all kinds of clubs, had counselling, and I do some voluntary work – all along with a full-time job – but every time I'm on my own at home I feel not only so bereaved but so alone. Everyone says I'll find another man, but firstly, there's no sign and secondly, I'm not sure I want one at the moment. What can I do? Yours sincerely, Deirdre

Virginia says... Of course you feel lonely. You're bereaved – and if by any chance it's almost exactly a year since your husband died then you're probably suffering from something called Anniversary Bereavement. This can hit bereaved people years on, when they imagine they've "got over it". Suddenly the date of their loved one's death comes along, and they can't work out why they feel utterly frightful, often getting not just depressed but ill – until they remember the date and everything falls into place.

So do wait a few months before you get professional help – which you might need if this feeling goes on unrelentingly. In the meantime, you've been absolutely amazing by joining all these organisations and keeping yourself busy, but it seems to me that you haven't left much time for yourself, alone at home. It's no wonder you feel upset when you're alone. You're practiced in getting away from yourself, but not in being with yourself.

Of course you don't want another relationship right now. But what about a relationship with yourself? And with your home? After reeling off a list of relations he described as "his family", my small grandson recently asked me what my family was. Startled, I said that it was much the same as his. He seemed doubtful. Then, struck by a revelation, he said: "Your family is your house!"

And I was struck by the truth of it. After all, you don't just have relationships with people or animals (though actually a cat might be a very comforting companion, despite this being rather an old-ladyish suggestion). No, we also have relationships with things. When you're next alone at home, ask yourself what you're having a relationship with. It could be with the food you're cooking for yourself and eating. It could be a relationship with the wall you're painting. These inanimate objects can't talk back, but you're having a relationship with them, changing them, despite that. I think if you try to see what you probably now think of as things connected to mundane tasks as, instead, friendly companions, you might feel that life on your own is less pointless.

You make an impact all the time, not just when you're doing good or socialising.

If you think this is just a lot of barmy "om" stuff, then fair enough. But at least give it a go. And don't forget Cruse, a wonderful organisation that has volunteers to help bereaved people like yourself.


Readers say...

Take it slowly


There is no specific time frame for grieving. I'm glad you have had counselling and maintain an active life, but please don't feel you have to "pull yourself together". I speak from experience, having lost the father of my children. You will never get over it, but learn to live with it in your own time.

Christina Burton By email


Be easy on yourself

My heart goes out to you. It really isn't very helpful of all those people who say you will find another man. You will never find one quite like the one you lost and it was the relationship you lost, not the man so much as what was between you. Your personal existence does not depend on having another man: you are still a whole woman, but a grieving one.

It sounds as if you have done all the right things, except perhaps giving yourself time to mourn, until you are all mourned out and can laugh again. There will be something you used to enjoy doing on your own before you married. Go do it, and begin to live again, for yourself.

Mary Harris By email


Next week's dilemma

Dear Virginia,

Ever since I married four years ago I've wondered whether my husband's the right man (we have a small child we both adore). He's totally undemonstrative, a workaholic, and doesn't understand where I'm coming from. We were going to go for counselling, but then I got a job that means I work nights three times a week and though I'm tired, we're getting on better – probably because we don't see so much of each other. I'm worried, though, that the job is just a distraction, a plaster stuck on, and we're not facing up to the real problems. What do you think?

Yours sincerely, Celia


What would you advise Celia to do? Email your dilemmas and comments to dilemmas @independent., or go to independent. Anyone whose advice is quoted will receive a £25 voucher from the wine website Fine Wine Sellers (finewine

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