My Lovely Girl
Listened to a moving and inspiring programme on Radio 4 on New Year's Eve.
Apt too, coming on the last day of 2010, that bleakest of years in my life.
It was called 'Widower's Tales'.
Beautifully produced, it featured four men who were left alone after the death of their partner and how they went on to find a new identity late in life.
No annoying interviewer to come between them and the listener.
Just their voices relating their stories. Punctuated with brief snatches of the song 'After You've Gone'.
Guy, now in his eighties, had lost his wife Daphne.
'(Her) death had been so clearly coming for so long. I didn't expect death to be a shock, but it turned out to be a much greater shock that I had expected.
I suddenly felt distraught and alone without my 'prop'. I would walk around in the garden with tears streaming down my face, just missing her.'
Barry had lost his wife, Noreen, 11 years ago.
'She had lung cancer but it wasn't diagnosed for a long time. She died within three weeks of the diagnosis.Peter, now 80, has been widowed for 40 years.
I'm very close to crying all the time. I only have to hear the plaintive call of a bird in the garden and I start filling up.
We were married 31 years. She suffered from arthritis and I worked from home so we were together most of that time living in the same house.'
'She died in Bart's Hospital giving birth.Bob, now 68, lost his wife, Chris, three years ago, suddenly and avoidably through want of antibiotics.
Life has been pretty terrible. It comes to you in bursts. The more distractions there are the better. Bringing up the children and working.
Then you get the grief and it doesn't go away. There I was a grown man, constantly struggling against bursting out crying in public.
That went on for five or ten years.'
'I'm now a sad old man who walks around with carrier bags, talking to people in charity shops and buying stuff. Simply for someone to talk to.
I was planning to retire. For years we had saved hard to build a nest egg. Our 40th anniversary was approaching and we had lots of plans.
I miss looking up and seeing her.'
Barry has given up watching TV.
'It wasn't the same without her.Guy admitted that, when Daphne was alive, they didn't do much entertaining.
After a few months I realised it was time to do something interesting. Something new.
Noreen would be amazed at the things I am doing now.
There I was approaching 60 and could not drive or swim.
Now I can.
Although the driving took me three years and cost me the equivalent of a small new car.
The swimming took a year.'
'She didn't like mixing with people or having them in the house.
I've always been keen in cooking.
Even in Burma, fighting the Japanese, I would heat up the supplies we were dropped by air, using an old kettle over the fire.
When she did die, I said to myself, "Buck up Guy. Don't mope. Get on and do things."
Now I entertain and have even written two cookbooks.
You have to adjust; you have to cope.
No point in thinking 'I wish she hadn't died', because she was obviously going to die.
You have to get used to it and used to the idea and make the most of things.
If you don't make a new life, you're wasting yourself and making a complete mess of things.
You have to get out and do things.'
'So how are you coping?' I can hear you asking, as I sit here on the eve of the first anniversary of the day you slipped away from us for good.
'I'm doing OK', which is what I think you would hope you would hear me say.
It hasn't been an easy year. But both of us knew it was never going to be.
I am able to cook and care for myself. But then I had a good tutor.
I now even have a new cookbook - 'Solo in the Kitchen' - to help me broaden my repertoire.
Unlike Guy in the programme, however, I don't see myself getting into entertaining on a grand scale.
The children have been really supportive.
There when I need them to talk to but respecting my need for solitude and space.
I fill the house with music - old favourites and some new ones - when I need a lift.
There's an easy chair on the landing where 'your' armchair used to be.
I sit there and read a lot. Or sit in quiet contemplation and let the memories flood in.
And what of this second year without you?
Well, these 'letters' to you will continue.
They have been a great source of comfort to me, knowing we can still 'talk' and share things, just as we always did.
But I sense the need for them to be more outward-looking.
More exploratory. More adventuresome. Just as my life now needs to be.
As Guy in the programme advoctes, I will get out and do things.
Gifts this Christmas of sketching pads, pencils and notebooks have given me the motivation and encouragement to do that and look at things through fresh eyes.
At last I am getting to grips with writing my family 'memoir'. I am now comfortable with the form and structure I want it to take.
These, like the research I have done so far, have raised more questions.
So I need to go back and ask those questions and do some more 'digging.'
Above all, I want to spend more time with our four lovely - soon to be five - grandchildren.
It's such a delight watching them them grow and develop - and so rewarding to be with them.
I know that the thought of missing out on all that was devastating for you.
So I want to be there for them as much as I can, to make up for them not having you to share things with.
I will travel too.
To places we never got to see together and some that we did and thought special.
Wherever I am - or whatever I'm doing - I know you will never be far away, just as you were for the last 50 years.
And will be for the rest of my life.
Miss you so much.
Will love you,