10 Rules for Survival as a Widow

The following appeared in today’s Telegraph, accompanied with a beautiful open letter written by Esther Rantzen to her friend, the novelist Jilly Cooper.

Jilly Cooper and her husband Leo

Jilly Cooper and her husband Leo


1 Give yourself time. Don’t make up your mind about any fundamental changes to your life too quickly. You are not in the best state of mind to judge things objectively. In time, the shock will pass, even if the grief doesn’t — but that shock of losing your lover/best friend may prevent you making good decisions.

2 Don’t blame others for their clumsiness — the head on one side, “How are you” question may feel intrusive, but is well meant. The other friends who avoid the subject, or being with you at all, probably have their own reasons for being unable to cope with your grief.

3 Talk to your children. They will be grieving too, but may be trying to protect you from their pain.

4 Don’t try to recreate much-loved rituals that used to centre around your lost partner. The year Desmond died, I tried to create the kind of Christmas Desi loved, complete with carols by the brass band he was patron of, but our children found it unbearably painful without him. We have never tried it since.

5 Create new memories to celebrate the life you have lost. On the anniversary of Desi’s death we go away to places he used to love, drink to his memory, and share laughter together, the way he used to.

6 Parties will never be the same, whether you are the host or a guest. Reconcile yourself to that. It’s not such a great loss.

7 Recognise you may have skills you can develop for the first time. Widowers sometimes have to learn to cook. Widows learn to do accounts (or employ an accountant). I’m a better driver than I thought. Desi had green fingers; I used to kill every plant I breathed on. I’ve learnt their needs, and I talk to them the way he did. And they flourish.

8 Move on physically and mentally. You may well have many years of life and living to look forward to. You may well decide to downsize; I have, and I am snug and happy in my little flat. But please don’t do it until you are ready (see rule 1).

9 Look after yourself. You may become sick of your own company, without the cuddle that used to comfort you, but remember, your partner loved you. That proves you are lovable. Widows — ladies, have the beauty treatment, buy the new pair of shoes (preferably red) if it cheers you up and you can afford it. Widowers — men, try having a swim, or learning golf. And have a holiday in the sun in midwinter — maybe on a cruise or a singles’ holiday. Have a massage. Give your body a treat.

10 Don’t close your heart to the possibility of a new love. I haven’t mastered this one. But some of my friends have, and they are blooming.