I’m not ready to die of a broken heart

Someone said the most hurtful, shocking and rude thing to me recently, but I’m so grateful for it that I

Someone said the most hurtful, shocking and rude thing to me recently, but I’m so grateful for it that I feel I have to share my story.

To start at the beginning, three years ago my husband died unexpectedly after a brief, vicious joust with cancer. Aside from the slight belly and fondness of red wine, he was perfectly healthy, swam every other day and was full of life – until he suddenly wasn’t.

My husband was a planner. Consequently, we had holidays booked, savings plans in place, we’d even put in an expression of interest in a retirement community close to the beach. We assumed this was a long way off and even laughed about moving into the “old people’s home” after we’d travelled Australia.

I was devastated when he died; it was as if a cyclone had ripped through my life, laying my past, present and future to waste, and leaving behind a broken, empty landscape.

I don’t’ know how I survived those first few months, but the despair seemed endless and vast.

When the offer came through for the two-bedroom townhouse in our retirement community, my immediate response was to pass on it. My son convinced me otherwise, using all those phrases you never want to hear: “rattling around an empty house”, “got to get on with your life” and, worst of all, “Dad would want you to”.

Moving was such a trauma that I left the whole job up to my children; bless them, they did their best to make it as painless as possible. I couldn’t even say goodbye to the house; I couldn’t bear to see the empty rooms.

My son cajoled me into “making an effort”, so I tried my best, introducing myself to the neighbours, resisting the urge to run away when anyone tried to make conversation with me. Everyone was very welcoming – and curious. They quickly got to the crux of my story. I remember the jab of pain the first time someone categorised me: “So you’re a widow.”

Despite my best efforts and the initial friendliness, I failed to make any friends in my new community and wondered if I’d made a terrible mistake. Was it my imagination, or were people avoiding me?

About three months after I moved, I had a visitor who changed my life.

My neighbour across the way was a man called George. At 88 he was a small man with a shiny bald head, constantly bursting with energy. George was the self-appointed community entertainment organiser who coordinated trips, concerts, lunches for anyone who was willing.

He sat in my living room with a kind smile and his hands clasped together and told me that I wasn’t going to make any friends in the community if I didn’t ‘lighten up’.

“Truth is, we’re in the waiting room for heaven right now and no one wants to spend their time stuck with someone who is sad all the time,” he said.

I was so shocked that I can’t remember what I said or what happened next. But days later, once the anger and hurt had worn off, the meaning of what he was trying to say began to sink in: it was time to give up my grief and get back to living.

I’d love to tell you that the change was instantaneous and the sun came out from behind a cloud, but that would be a lie. Truth is, my grief is still there and I feel it always will be. But I did start putting on makeup again, smiling more, accepting invitations and spending more time outside my own four walls. Despite his harsh words, George made sure I was included in community events, and each and every one got easier. I’ve made new friends, reconnected with old ones and some days I really feel I’ve ‘lightened up’.

Having finally found a comfortable place between life and loss, the best advice I can pass on to you is this: fake it. Try smiling even when you don’t feel like it. Say yes to a function when all you want to do is stay home. Living eventually overtakes grieving and before you know it you’ve gone a whole day without feeling sad.

Have you suffered deep grief? How did you come through it? Share your experiences to help others.


  1. I know what you are saying it took me 3 year’s to move on. But the thing is yes I still have those moments of missing my husband. It’s now 5yrs and 8 months since my husband died of lung cancer. He will always be a part of my life in one way or another. Yes we have 4 beautiful adult children from 45yrs to 34yrs old and 8 grandchildren from 24yrs to 3yrs and 1 great granddaughter 22mnths old. I have retired but I do voluntary work for our Church Community Center. So my life is busy.

  2. Thank you- your story is so poignant and accurate too. That broken heart mends even though it is so badly scarred. Facing life alone is very hard and lonely but there is a way through it seems. You have so much to be grateful for, health. Financial security and new friends and activities. These are not always available and ” getting on with your life” can be agony. But thank you for reminding me that a new life is possible- I am going to seize the day and have some adventures before I end up in the retirement village though!! L

  3. When I started reading I thought ” this is my life” ( with a few changes) I wholeheartedly agree. So hard that it is, you can be overcome so much with grief that you wish you were dead yourself with not just losing your partner but your while life it was. After about 6 months of losing my husband suddenly at 49, I sat down one day and said to myself “I can’t go on like this. ” I needed to decide which way my life was going as I had a 14 yr old to get educated ( plus 2 older children who had left school). It wasn’t easy putting on that”happy face” every day. I found before that my friends were “non-existant”- few people have the skills and experience to help anyone going through the grief of losing a partner so they tend to retreat. Life goes on even though you are stuck in a place that you can’t seem to find a easy out of. By faking happiness sometimes leads you eventually finding an escape to some sort of normality. Life goes on though you never forget your loved one……….

    • JAY  

      I belong to a women’s group and I was asked to join the Committee. I am now the Secretary and kept quite busy. The worst time for me is nights. Someone told me to accept all offers for outings in the bbeginning Now after 3years and4 months Ifind I can pick and choose. We will always have grief just find it a little easier to deal with

  4. I have been grieving for 17 weeks after the death of my 38 yr old son. It has been the most awful experience and is subsiding in some ways now, but I still have mornings when I wake and I know I’m going to have a sad day. It can be over whelming and we just have to go with it. Toughening up or faking it don’t work.

    • It may sound awful, but I feel I am ‘sick of grieving’, but I guess it is only 17 weeks…early days.

      • Merilyn  

        When we lost our son 3 years ago, he was only 29. It’s been a long hard 3 years and we miss him more & more but at the time he passed, a friend’s mother (who’d also lost her son) said to me that you never get over the loss but you do learn to live with it. Some days the pain of loss is like a tidal wave sweeping over you, other days you’re ok and eventually those days when you’re “ok” join together and you have a period of “life”, then the tidal wave comes back – but it will recede. You will always miss your child and grieve for the life that should have been but try and take comfort from your memories of the good times and bad, warts & all, and just take it one day at a time at your own pace. Time has a way of marching on.

  5. Thank you for your story……every word I can relate to and more (my own experience). Life moves on and we have to as well with a smile on our face but……………………..

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