This February The Huffington Post UK is running Making Modern Love, a fortnight-long focus on what love means to Britons in the 21st Century. Built on the three themes of finding love, building love and losing love, HuffPost will feature human stories that explore exactly what it is to be in love in modern times
When it comes to grief, I have both good news and bad news for you. The good news is that however bleak and despairing you feel right now, you won't always feel this way, I promise you. The bad news is that there is no fast-fix for grief; no amount of counselling, hypnosis, holding of crystals or drinking Merlot will cure your grief, and believe me, I've tried them all. Nor does finding a new partner cure grief, because if it did, new widows would be given a subscription to an internet dating site along with their husband's death certificate. But still the perception remains that once Prince Charming Mark II turns up on a white horse to help you put the wheelie bins out, your grief is over.
Twenty-four hours after my husband, John, drowned whilst we were on holiday in Barbados in February 2011, came the first of many, 'You're young, you'll soon find someone else" comments. I didn't want anyone new, I wanted my husband, and the thought of even holding hands with a strange man was abhorrent. At forty-six, I was convinced that I would be alone, forever.
And then, about six months after John died, and at a time when life was so painful I was praying to spontaneously combust in the street rather than continue to live without him, something horrific happened in Marks & Spencer.
Whilst taking a shortcut through the women's underwear department, out of the blue, I had a seriously X-rated thought about Ian, a widower I'd met through an online bereavement group. Our messages to each other had been entirely platonic: he wrote about the grinding despair of living with his teenage sons, but without his wife; I wrote about my struggles trying to bleed my temperamental radiators, something my husband used to do. I stood amongst the lace-trimmed bras, horrified, sweating with guilt. At home, I hid photos of my husband in a drawer: I couldn't bear to look at him knowing that - in my mind - I'd been unfaithful.
The guilt over something I hadn't yet done with a man I hadn't yet met and who hadn't even hinted at romance followed me everywhere, and when one morning my first thought wasn't to look at the empty pillow next to me, but to grab my phone to see whether Ian had sent me a text, it plunged me into a spiral of despair and confusion.
When months later Ian and I eventually met, instead of a white horse, he turned up in a battered red Ford Mondeo estate with a Micky Mouse car aerial topper. He wasn't my type and completely different from my husband, but even so, I gave him a speech about how I didn't want a relationship ever again. He gave a speech telling me he didn't either. To make sure that we both knew where we stood, after he left, I emailed him a synopsis of our discussion.
We continued to meet, as friends, but then we decided to go on a proper posh-clothes going-to-a-restaurant date, something neither of us had done for more than twenty years. It was a disaster. I was too anxious to eat and ended up sobbing hysterically that I still felt married. It's still up for debate whether I pushed him out of the taxi or he jumped, but what was clear to both of us was that it was too much, too soon.
The funny emails and witty texts stopped.
Life felt even darker than it already was.
But we missed each other, and after more talking, we fell in love. Far from feeling strange to hold a different hand, it felt absolutely wonderful.
At first, I kept our relationship quiet, not through shame that I'd begun to date before the first anniversary of John's death had passed (though this didn't sit easily with me), but because if I had fallen in love too quickly with the wrong man I wanted to make that mistake in private. When I finally revealed that I was dating in my blog, Planet Grief, some widows were angry with me, disappointed that I'd gone back on my earlier conviction that I'd never fall in love again.
It's now over four years since Ian and I met. Two years ago we bought a house together. We plan to get married. New love doesn't erase old loss and cure grief, but brings with it complicated emotions and painful reminders. It's not easy living in a household that has only come together because of the death of other people, but losing those we love has made us cherish what we have now.
I was never going to fall in love again, and no one is more surprised than me that I did.
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