Soon after we moved to France, my husband died. Now I feel so lost

Lifestyle

The dilemma I’m not sure my situation amounts so much to a dilemma as just fear and desperation, but here goes: my husband and soulmate of 31 years died suddenly and unexpectedly this year. We’d recently moved to France for an adventure and to spend more time together without the demands of work. Our two daughters are in the UK and their grief and mine is overwhelming.

Lockdowns and travel restrictions mean we can’t be with each other. I am very isolated in France and feel my mental health worsening. During the first few months I did call my girls, in floods of tears, but realised it wasn’t fair on them and both told me to seek counselling. There is nothing available here really and a well-known bereavement counselling service in the UK has a different support worker at the other end of the line each time I call.

I am frightened I won’t be able to sell my house In France, given Brexit, lockdown and winter coming, but I need to sell up to get back to the UK. I’m missing my husband desperately and I feel lost, frightened and lonely. I don’t know what I expect you to be able to tell me, but shall send this anyway. If you’ve read this far, thank you.

Mariella replies And breathe… I am so sorry for your loss and of course you are in a dilemma. The death of your husband and the sense of isolation, loneliness, fear and panic are all hugely hard to cope with, especially when you are at a distance from those you love most. It was a cruel twist of fate that your French adventure should end thus, and naturally you are full of grief. Some of those sentiments have also probably translated into a sense of injustice, even anger. It’s hard not to take great emotional punches like this personally.

Being submerged in sadness is understandable, but I would encourage you to meditate on your good fortune in having had such a long and rewarding marriage. It’s not every day that partners continue feeling like soulmates after 31 years. You have much to be grateful for. When we are feeling lost and alone, remembering our good fortune, rather than simply focusing on despair, is a very important step towards healing.

Take each moment, each hour and each day in bite-sized chunks
Mastering our thought processes and diverting ourselves from the bad ones is a skill. It’s so easy to succumb to those negative voices in our heads. If we attempt to take in the full scale of any given task ahead of us, it’s terrifying, but if we take each moment, each hour and each day in bite-size chunks, it’s possible to proceed with less trepidation and make progress.

As human beings we have an inordinate gift for hope, living every day as though it will be forever, every relationship as though it will never end and every dream as though it will never be broken. Sometimes, though, having eyes to the sky is not our greatest asset. That’s particularly true when what comes to pass feels like it should have been avoidable and, therefore, must be a punishment. So it is with your husband’s “unexpected” death, bearing in mind all deaths are inevitable.

There’s not much I can do to advise about the practicalities of your situation, but there are certain aspects that I know to be facts. Your house will sell, you will return to the UK and your world will keep on spinning. What you are battling at the moment is the awful paralysis that grief brings.

You need to sit back and learn to coexist with grief instead of allowing it to devour you. Counselling would be very helpful. I know you’ve tried that avenue and found it frustrating, but trying briefly and then declaring it unworkable is a reflection of your state of mind, not the reality. Try Cruse Bereavement Care on 0808 808 1677 or cruse.org.uk. Talking to a professional would be a constructive way of putting your thoughts in order, before you do likewise with your practical affairs. In the meantime, may I suggest a copy of Grief Works by Julia Samuel, which is a small font of enormous wisdom.

When you return to the UK you will be embarking on a different kind of life, so it’s important that you think about that will look like. You need to develop skills for solo living and have a social infrastructure in place, as well as proximity to friends and interests.

A personal tragedy has occurred, but there is life beyond – and potentially a rich and rewarding one. Start with a short-term plan: how about renting your house out and spending a period in the UK for a brief respite (when and if Covid lockdown allows), and to test out where you are most comfortable?

You need help to recover from your loss and to raise your eye to a whole new world of challenges and opportunities. Savour the slow dawning of a new life. I’m sorry for your loss, but hopeful for your future. Write back and let me know where it takes you.