You’re a mother but you are also a women. You are trying to find the balance between the two. You have a huge responsibility parenting your children, protecting them but also needing to have your needs met as an adult. You find yourself entering into unfamiliar territory. The jungle. You enter with trepidation, with a glimmer of hope, and find yourself fighting to survive the hidden agenda of the creatures who dwell within.
Some of these human creatures are married, happy not to remove their wedding ring with the band mark on their finger and poor intentions in mind, some are younger males who think lonely single mothers are easy prey, and some intoxicated just out for a good time, and then there’s you leaving and on your way home feel dejected by this scene yet to only to perhaps enter the jungle next week to leave feeling the same way time after to time until you realise you can’t do this anymore. You deserve and want better and continue your journey within a crazy existence where you feel your life slipping through your hands, and that these day were never meant to turn out this way. When saying, ‘I do’ in front of a priest some 15 years earlier, you thought these days would be behind you. This is not where you wanted to be. You were happily married living a life with your husband and children, but your husband was taken from you by a turn of fate. Now you need to rebuild your life again, creating happiness, peace and fulfilment.
This is the story of me moving fowards, gaining independence, strength and finding love again.
After Harry died I attended a young bereaved partners group. This was run by Caritas Christi in Kew run with volunteer funding. It was a fundamental resource to my healing. It was a support group for young widowed men and women. One night they had a guest speaker who spoke about moving on and relationships. She said something that resonated with me at the time.
‘You need to be proactive.’
Being proactive however requires being prepared to step out of your comfort zone. That takes courage, bravery, strength and self respect. You’re allowing yourself to be vulnerable and letting another in. Opening your heart up to allow someone to potentially break it. That’s no easy task when you have used every bit of strength and resilience you thought you had to survive the loss of your soulmate and best friend. You are giving yourself permission to be loved and love again but to also have emotional pain inflicted on you if your giant leap of faith turns sour.
I lived in an outer Melbourne North Western suburb that consisted mainly of young families or single women/mothers. I’m sure there were single males as well but I feel they were a minority. I worked in a female dominated profession in a women’s hospital. People said to me, ‘just live your life and when you are happy and least expecting it someone will come into your life’. Who knows maybe they would have, but I know I wasn’t socialising with single men, my friends were all married in their 30’s and in sweet spots in their lives. We were young and all newly married, buying our first homes and having children. I was now travelling on a parallel path to my married friends. I was widowed and now sole parenting 3 young children.
I didn’t even have single friends. I had been coupled with Harry since I was 16. I had never even done the young partying life. That wasn’t me. I’m basically a non drinker pretty much because I strangely don’t like the taste of alcohol. I was always happy just hanging out at friends places, fun days at the beach that sort of thing. Harry and I had our first child when I was 23. After dating since 16 and marrying 6 years later aged 22. Children was the next progression. I lived out of home since I was 18 and with Harry since about 19 or so.
In those years Harry and I travelled overseas together, both commenced our chosen careers, studied, lived a young carefree life, bought our first home together and our first dogs, Beagles called London and Snoopy. Friends lived with us, we had parties, went to parties all that stuff. Life was fun. Really fun. Lots of laughter. Harry took promotion at work as expected and I also continued to work on my career reaching levels of seniority we were aiming for. We were on track, heading in the right direction.
This link will give insight to this story
Fast forward to 2001 widowed for a couple of years and 33 year’s old, mother of three children aged 3, 6 and 10. At the young bereaved partners group I met one of my now very close friends Ella. She had children similar age and had been widowed for approximately the same time and lived near me. We barely knew each other but a funny thing about death and support groups, you are all there for the same reason and have a unique bond. You know what each person feels and no words needed, they just get it. It draws you together this weird bond of understanding. It’s comforting to be around someone who understands you, your emotional pain, struggle and grief, no matter how different you feel your lives are. I remember when I first met Ella feeling like I would have nothing in common with her.
When you are newly widowed or find yourself single, it changes the dynamics with your married friends. I relate to the Bridget Jones movie in the scene where she’s having dinner with her married smug friends and just doesn’t want to be there. My friends were very supportive, not at all smug. For me however I found it really hard to be around my married friends for a different reason. It was extremely confronting being with couples and those couples in particular that were your friends when Harry and I were a couple. Their lives appear as if going on unaffected and your world has been shattered and fallen apart . You are floating in the ocean surviving a shipwreck trying to just stay afloat and hanging onto what you can to keep life just as it was. You realise sitting with your friends who all seem to be laughing, happy and fortunate enough to be watching their children grow together with their partners/husbands, that that was once your life, but you now feel incredibly displaced. Despite hanging onto the remains of the wreckage you are drifting in another direction.
You don’t belong with your married friends but you also don’t feel at ease and comfortable with your new single friends. History and memories are built with friendships and the more memories you have with each other the more relaxed and comfortable you are in their presence. I was transitioning into my new life and didn’t really feel I belonged anywhere. I was no longer married and belonged in that world and I didn’t know these new people coming into my life that well to feel I really belonged in that circle of friends.
As time went on and Ella and I started doing more things together like barbecues with our kids in the local park and dinners at the local bowling club with our children our bond of grief grew stronger. We started spending more and more time together, so much so that we spent pretty much as much time with each other that we would have with our husbands. We’d catch up during the day at times then part ways, collect our kids from school, cook our tea for our family, attend after school activities with our children then end up at each other’s places for a couple of hours until it was time to go home and put our kids to bed and settle in for the evening.
Eventually I began to feel just as comfortable in her presence if not more than with my married friends who I’d known for years. Ella was very much like me, we weren’t gregarious girls. Both of us quiet and non drinkers pretty much. We both loved our children and missed our husbands but both very aware they were never coming home again. Both of us trained professionals working in health and hospitals. Both of us had loving happy marriages and both longed for the tenderness and closeness a relationship could bring and missed sharing our lives with someone special.
I remember having New Year’s Eve at my home one year. After everyone left as I turned off the lights to go to bed, I thought how I missed having Harry there to say what a great night it was as you pick up those last few glasses and bring them inside and place in the sink. I turned off the lights, got undressed and went to bed.
Everyone’s grief experience is different. For me I really missed the fact that no one came home to me anymore. I missed those final moments of tuning off the light after friends had been over and ending the night together. Our neighbours next door were good friends of Harry and I and they would often have impromptu card night or barbecues. I noticed after Harry’s death that the dynamics in your friendships change. You aren’t a couple anymore so you find yourself by default going to ‘girls’ nights. Husbands felt awkward coming over for barbecues with their wives because Harry normally would be there to balance the conversation from girls chatter to general chatter. I would go and visit my married couples and I would find their husbands would hang around for light banter then leave the room, leave ‘the girls to talk’. I got so tired of just female conversations. I missed talking to men. I missed male banter.
One summer evening approximately 12 months after Harry’s death, I was standing out the front about 7 pm talking to a neighbour. Our neighbours next door were friends we socialized with a lot with. This particular night Sarah walked up her garden path, cardigan slung over one arm and bottle of wine in the other. She smiled at us and we enquired where she was off to, in which she buoyantly replied, Susan and Bills house. Since Rupert’s death Sarah and Pete had become quite good friends with Susan and Bill socializing more frequently with them. As I stood there and watched Sarah walk away down the footpath I thought to myself, although I want everything to stay just as it was, everything was changing.
Friends lives were moving on, new friendships were forming and no matter how much I had wished my life to stay as it was, life was moving on. This moment was a huge crossroad in my grief experience.
There’s an iconic scene in the movie Castaway in which Tom Hanks stars . The scene is called ‘At the Crossroad’. It’s the moment where he is faced with choices. Depending which road he chooses to travel could determine his destiny. Harry used to believe that the choices we made in life was what determined our destiny and that fate played no part.
As I watched Sarah walk down that path towards her married neighbours and friends house I thought, that used to be our house they’d be walking to. Since Harry’s death our impromptu barbecue and card nights had stopped. Which was naturally purely a result of circumstances, but they had developed new ways to filling their nights that they most likely may have spent with us. At that moment I realised I needed to make my life happy again. I needed to find a different way of existing and being happy otherwise the world would move on around me and I would potentially find myself very lonely if I didn’t. Time, my life as I had known it couldn’t be held still in a time capsule and at this moment it had never been clearer to me.
Overtime, after about 2 years Ella and I felt we were ready to enter the adult world again. We were adult females, not just mums. We needed more than to just be mums. We decided we needed to start going out and decided to try this on a Friday night. I didn’t want to have to answer to and explain myself to family and friends and they also had done more than enough for me to ask anymore of them. I engaged a teenager babysitter and paid her a small fee to come and look after my children whilst I went out. I would put them to bed before going so pretty much all she needed to do was be present. She was a gorgeous girl who I will forever be thankful to.
So, now, I have a sitter for the kids, where would we go. Initially Ella and I went to the pictures or out for dinner. After being widowed for a couple of years I had begun to feel lonely. Initially I would say I felt alone. Alone in the big wide world. I had never lived on my own. Over time I became used to that and independent but loneliness was creeping in. I was young and both Ella and I agreed we didn’t want to be on our own for the rest of our lives. We were ready to try the dating game.
We decided we weren’t going to meet another partner out at dinner or in a cinema. We had both gone to hear the guest speaker at the support group and had taken onboard her recommendation of being proactive . I believe if I wasn’t prepared to be proactive, I probably wasn’t going to meet anyone. Yes maybe one day someone may have walked into my life but at the time I didn’t see this a likely chance.
As much as Ella and my single circle of friendships had grown, that had mainly included females, I missed socializing with males. I had distanced myself a lot from my married friends because it was to emotionally painful to be around them and I found myself becoming more and more lonely. I would cry myself to sleep some nights from loneliness and missing the tenderness a relationship gives you. Your children love you but it’s a different love your partner/husband gives you. Your partner/husband makes you feel feminine, desired and admired. They offer stimulating conversation, they support you in times of difficulty at work or other relationships, be it friends or family, they get you and back you. Friends also have their own family and you can’t be dropping in on them all the time. Friends hug you but it’s clearly a different physical relationship you have with your partner than anyone else. Your partner you can also just be with, speak no words or need for conversation, no awkward silences, just comfortable in each other presence.
I was starting to crave what was missing from my life, a partner. A physical and emotional relationship. I was wanting more than friendship. I wanted what I had lost. I wanted to love someone and be loved. I always believed I deserved happiness again and that had this situation been reversed I believed Harry would have repartnered. He was a good-looking guy and I’m sure would have had no issue finding another suitor.
This is when it was like becoming 16 again. Dating is no different in your 30’ and 40’s than it is as a teenager. You feel just as insecure and vulnerable.
A young married work colleague helped Ella and I get back into the singles social scene. I remember going to Bridey OReily’s pub at Southbank in the City. I had my conservative clothes on with long sleeves and not a lot of flesh showing. Karen took hold of my arm and started pulling up my sleeve saying you need to show some more flesh! With that over time I started wearing singlet tops and really looked at my wardrobe. I modernised my clothes. It was time to recreate myself a bit. You find yourself stepping into this whole new world. Not all bad as it was often a time of self discovery. Getting to know myself.
I had read an article about being ready to move into a new relationship. It said that we need to know ourselves as individuals, our likes, dislikes, whatever are deal breakers for us and who you are, your values and morals, what you stand for. The article said if you don’t fully know these things when you enter a relationship you tend to take on your partner taste in music or hobbies and then if they leave the relationship you once again find yourself lost waiting to jump onto the next person likes and dislikes. I spent a lot of time reflecting on me, what I wanted from a relationship, what my views where on politics, art, music and right down to what food I liked. The article also mentioned that often if you jump to quickly into a relationship in a rebound situation often what attracts you to that person is what are your weakness’s. As you get stronger you longer need that person to fill your weakness’s and what you actually admire in a partner is something completely different. Also recreating yourself is a time to review how you want to be viewed, perceived. Often in our lives we fall into a mould and our friends who have known you for a long time expect you to be and behave a certain way and we tend to remain this preconceived idea of a person. When branching out and meeting new people, making new friendships circles it’s a time we can change our ‘image’ so to speak. Be different, be known for strengths we haven’t been known for before.
Having been in a relationship with Harry since being 16 and now in my early 30’s and single I in many ways had the most growth as a person. Who I was and what capabilities I had and it was OK to like the things I liked and do and be the person I wanted to be and to feel good in my own skin about those things.
In time I felt confident and independent and very ready to move forwards.
The single scene was sleazy, very much based on your physical appearance and superficial . I found myself in bars, nightclubs, where I was exposed to intoxicated men and women, women and men both behaving poorly and even exposed to illicit drugs.
One night a single friend who I knew well and currently going through a divorce offered for me to go out for tea with her. On one occasion there was an attempt to set me up with a rich business man at least 20 years my senior who lived on a boat at Docklands he and offered for me to bring my kids over one day. I sat there next to him in the restaurant and thought to myself, I could never just be with a man for his money. For me it’s more about compatibility and companionship and physical attraction. There was no way I was taking up this mans offer. I have no doubt if I was keen to pursue that situation I could have found myself frequenting that boat and being mixed up in some ugly romance.
Another time I was out for dinner with this same friend and one of the other guests who was a pharmacist starting offering around ecstasy tablets after dessert prior to heading across the road to a night club. Me being a non drinker finds it annoying enough to be around intoxicated people let alone drug affected people. I couldn’t believe that this was where I found myself. Out for dinner being offered drugs. I politely declined, stood up from the table and said good-bye. Thanks for inviting me but I was heading home.
The next morning I saw this friend and said, I don’t know if you use drugs but it’s not my scene and if you’re going out and there’s drugs involved please don’t ask me to come. I’m not into that stuff. She said she wasn’t either and had somehow found herself in this social circle. She said she didn’t know what to do so took the tablet and excused herself from the table, went to the toilet and put it in her purse. She said she still had it but didn’t know what to do with it. I suggested she flush it down the toilet. From then on I never went out with her again and just visited her at her home for a chat and coffee.
Ella and I found ourselves frequenting a pub that had live bands. I was reluctantly living the life of a teenager. The one good thing is we both liked dancing and spent the night having fun dancing. That attracted attention of males and sometimes unwanted attention.
When I think back to that period of my life I remember it as awful. It just wasn’t me but I enjoyed in someway being in the adult world, dancing and being dressed up.
I remember looking at women who had a lot of flesh showing at an age where it just wasn’t becoming to them. It was rather sad. I said to Ella. If I turn 40 and still single I will not be doing this! I found myself at 36 with males younger than me on a dance floor wanting to kiss me. Oh my god! I was in the jungle and the predators were in full force. I never did this scene when I was younger. And didn’t want to be doing it now. I would come home and feel so empty, so disheartened. I found if someone started talking to me as soon as I said I was 36 and had 3 children, one who was 12 the males would run a mile. Men either just wanted sex, or looking for a women 10 years younger than them or childless or at a stretch only had a single child who was a toddler.
I remember one day sitting on my bedroom floor feeling alone, lonely and broken, crying from the pain of it all. Loneliness is a terrible feeling. I don’t wish it on anyone. Lonely for adult company and companionship.
One Easter we went away with my married friends. I clearly remember sitting around the camp fire watching one of the couples interacting with each other affectionately talking to each other and sitting there listening to the Powderfinger song ‘These days’ as it played on our camp speaker in the background…..
As I sat there looking across as the campfire flickered I felt a deep deep and overwhelming sense of sadness. I did my best to fight back tears. I couldn’t let people see how sad I was. I didn’t want their sympathy nor to ruin their evening by being Debbie Downer. The lyrics of the song stabbed deep into my heart and soul with each line. My life was slipping through my hands. I couldn’t stop it. I felt I had no control over my current situation or destiny. I can’t put into words how truly sad I felt at that moment. How much I was missing Harry, how much I missed my old life and just how my existence felt so wrong. How these days had turned out nothing like I had planned. Inside I was screaming with emotional pain. So so sad, so so alone and lonely despite being surrounded by friends. I felt absolute despair. No matter how proactive I was being at trying to move forwards, my life on a personal level as a young 30 something female, single mother of 3 children felt awful. Why was I the one who had her husband die. Why had this happened to us. It felt so permanent. Something had to change.
My friend who had initially helped get Ella and I back out into the social scene, told me about a new dating site online. In the early 2000’s online dating was very primitive and had quite a negative stigma amongst mainstream society. This dating site was called RSVP. She told me you can post on your profile that you have 3 children and if men weren’t interested in that then they won’t contact you.
At this point in my life I felt rock bottom. I was feeling an old undesirable mother. My confidence was low. No one was ever going to want to be with me. I was unattractive and undesirable. One of Harry’s work colleagues had cemented that thought when he said, ‘you’re gonna find it hard having 3 kids to meet someone’. I felt I was a mum with nothing to offer any decent male. My night scene experiences had left me feeling a sense of being in a jungle were you had to have your wits about you. You were a piece of flesh to be preyed upon. I knew that I was never going to meet anyone that way. I decided to try take a look at this online dating site. I still believed if I wasn’t prepared to be proactive I needed to be prepared to remain a single mother. My career cruising along. I was a woman with a profession yet it seemed at 37 and a mother of 3 children the age my children were this was not what the men I’d been meeting were looking for. I was over the nightclub/bar scene. I’d rather be single than endure that humiliation and predatory behaviour of individuals any longer, not one Friday night longer. I just couldn’t bear it’s sleeziness one more time.
The bar was set high by Harry and I wasn’t prepared to settle for less. I knew what I deserved, how good men treat you and that jungle I had found myself in wasn’t for me. I had better self-respect than to continuing to return to the jungle,that jungle.
The humiliation I felt at times was horrible. Just awful. Only a couple really close friends knew of my personal private journey. The emotional turmoil that I was going through isn’t something you share with the masses. I think back and see a fragile, extremely vulnerable person just trying to find her way. Wanting peace again in her life. Wanting to feel loved. I was unsure about writing this blog as its hard to show your vulnerabilities, but I feel I’m in a much stronger place and that terrible time in my life is in the past. No matter what happens in the future I will never be doing that scene ever again! I write this blog to show someone else struggling with the same thing who may get some comfort knowing they aren’t alone in their feelings.
My life was going to work, come home be Mum, sleep, go to work, repeat……. It felt like Groundhog Day.
I will continue the next chapter soon … online dating!