BEL MOONEY: Is it daft to grieve for man I longed to love?
I’m writing as I need to express my grief for what could be described as unrequited love. Now, by openly acknowledging my huge loss, I can finally honour a marvellous man who meant so much to me.
Eight years ago, my long-term partner suddenly left me — a complete shock, causing permanent and profound damage. For a long time I found it hard to function, and life seemed bleak. However, small patches of light began to appear, one of which was deciding to resurrect my lifelong interest in travel and literature, albeit alone.
With trepidation, I booked myself a place on a cultural package tour to France — only five days, but a big step when you’re feeling bereft.
My anxiety and loneliness began to ease the moment I stepped on the coach — the other passengers were an eclectic bunch, with varied interests, some travelling alone, too. We began to forge friendships. But the lynchpin of the tour, the leader, was a charismatic, energetic man who exerted a powerful magnetism over the group.
Jim was funny, knowledgeable, outspoken, compassionate . . . and very attractive. We talked about mutual interests but I totally understood that he was married, with a family of which he was immensely proud. Over the years, I joined several more tours he led, each time more at ease and hugely enjoying the company, jolly meals and intellectual stimulation.
Jim and I developed our friendship, sharing details about our respective lives. Knowing he was married didn’t stop me from dreaming about how wonderful it would be were he single. Harmless dreams never acted on. We kept in touch and began to discuss how we could work together on a future trip. We promised to meet soon to begin the planning, and the thought of that was uplifting and exciting.
Two weeks ago, a mutual friend emailed to commiserate about Jim’s sudden death — assuming I knew. The shock was enormous.
Extreme distress was compounded by a feeling of being ridiculous — I’m over 60. The fact that I cannot share my distress with a single soul — other than you, Bel — just makes me feel worse. Is it ridiculous for older people to experience such longings, even if not realised or reciprocated? In some ways, I think it is nonsense — but on the other hand, I will always be so glad to have met Jim. He gave me hope and a renewed interest in life.
This week, Bel advises a woman whose former long-term partner suddenly died, leaving her devastated
This letter moved me greatly and I feel very touched that you should want to share your feelings here. I have no doubt that many readers will know exactly what you mean — because they too will have cherished dreams that had no chance of coming true.
When I felt tears in my eyes I wondered what was going on, since I’ve never known such a dream. But you see, your email is full of the sadness of (in the words of the poet Donald Davie), ‘Time passing and our passages of love /As ever, beloved, blind/As ever before…’
You express universal longing — whether a fantasy of love, or the wistfulness for lost youth, or the quiet melancholy of accepting that most lives are doomed to disappointment.
If readers are thinking me too downbeat, let me assure you I do try to be positive most of the time.
But I’m a realist who has known family trauma, horrible anxiety and loss in my life — and therefore understand the angst that underpins so many letters to this column, puzzled missives combining in an existential chorus of, ‘Is it possible ever to be happy?’
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
Surely the only possible answer to that question is: ‘Yes, as long as you don’t expect the feeling to be permanent.’
You have experienced the anguish of abandonment by somebody you loved deeply, but have also enjoyed rebuilding life, the exhilaration of being with like-minded people and also connecting with a terrific guy at a level (to you, at least) beyond friendship.
Yes, your heart may feel bruised by loss once again, but your soul is still ‘dancing through doorways’ (as Dire Straits sang) in a glorious, life-enhancing quest for life and love.
Who knows, but that in his turn Jim might have wondered (even if only in passing, while remembering you with real warmth) what it would be like to be in a real relationship with you? That’s something you can never know, but why shouldn’t you hug the possibility?
Now you are left with some good memories to cherish and a deep sense of sorrow that the world has lost a vivid, warm presence who must have affected many lives, as well as yours. I am so glad you chose to honour him on this page.
You must know I am going to shout out that it is not nonsense to have such feelings.
Far from being ‘ridiculous’ I think you are brave to express timeless emotions which men and women through the centuries would understand.
It sounds as if (like me) you’ll continue to wear your heart on your sleeve, ever defiant, perpetually hoping things will get better and forever ready to celebrate those glorious moments of wine, laughter and conversation with people as terrific as Jim.
Like him, you are someone who lights candles that blaze in the darkness. Please never stop.
My friend is stuck with a monster
My friend is abused mentally by her partner and I can’t help her, except as a place to unload her troubles. I think he is suffering from psychosis or Alzheimer’s.
He screams abuse (I can hear him) and threats — even sparked by the postman ringing the doorbell. His language is vile.
In his 70s, he has genuine ill health but won’t do anything to help himself. He complains of chest pains but won’t see a doctor. The doctors won’t discuss him with her, because of ‘confidentiality’.
Since he won’t have anything to do with them, who can she turn to?
When the district nurse comes or he goes to hospital for regular treatment he can contain himself, but the days running up to the appointments are hell — with him telling her to cancel the ambulance, throwing hysterical fits etc. He drinks treble whiskies for breakfast, then at lunchtime, and a bottle of wine or more throughout the day.
He is on a hefty dose of anti-depressants, but won’t let her tell the doctors about the alcohol he consumes.
He is so full of self-pity and hates it if she is unwell — taking the focus from him. Covid set him back (as all of us) and apart from the hospital (by ambulance), he hasn’t been out of the house for three years — not even on the terrace for fresh air. He refuses to speak to anyone on the phone, even once-good friends.
I’m at a loss, seeing her being beaten down (not physically as yet) every day.
There is no joy in her life, only constant misery. What can she do?
Reflecting on the number of households who must be living in the misery you describe is daunting.
You tell me that you are registered wit the same surgery and the doctors are ‘useless’; with GP services worse than ever I can remember and mental health problems affecting so many people, I do not know how realistically to suggest help. But I must try.
Thought of the day
It can take you all your life to see yourself as what you are. Something that was in front of your face all along suddenly comes into focus for the first time.
From Snow Country by Sebastian Faulks (British novelist, b 1953)
Twice in recent years, concerned about the quality of my parents’ home life due to my father’s vascular dementia, I wrote a long (typed, therefore formal) letter to the GP, setting out the problems in detail. Did it do any immediate, practical good? No, but at least it was all set down for the records.
Since your neighbour is (surely) an alcoholic yet being prescribed medicine in ignorance of all the booze, your friend’s letter would have a perfect justification.
You say he won’t go to the GP, so who is prescribing? If the hospital, then the same strategy must apply. A blood test will reveal heavy alcohol use. In all her communications with the NHS your friend needs to stress the situation she is in, holding nothing back, being sure to emphasise that she also has the right to ‘confidentially’ as a wife who is being (at the very least) bullied by a very disturbed man who sounds as if he urgently needs a new diagnosis. The district nurse must be informed too. Can your friend phone her/him confidentially?
This situation could escalate into physical abuse; all it takes is one furious push — and something terrible could happen. That is a very real anxiety, so I suggest you inform yourself (with your friend’s welfare in mind) of the procedure by which an individual can be sectioned under the Mental Health Act 1983 (mind.org.uk/information-support/legal-rights/ sectioning/about-sectioning/).
As this man’s nearest relative, your friend does have rights — and it could prove vital for you to be in an educated position to advise an exhausted and miserable woman. The Mind website is a useful resource in general. It might also be helpful to telephone the Age UK Advice Line on 0800 678 1602.
Your friend could do this in your house, with a cup of tea and your company. It is good to know she has you to support her, so make sure she gets out of that house as much as she can.
And finally…Novels that were balm after loss
You won’t be surprised to know that my avid reading of fiction and poetry informs everything I write. Having to bid farewell to both my parents in the past 18 months has focussed my mind on loss, leaving me bewildered by the simple, ancient question, ‘Where are the dead?’
Bel answers readers’ questions on emotional and relationship problems each week.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email [email protected]
A pseudonym will be used if you wish.
Bel reads all letters but regrets she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
A scarf, an old note in a familiar hand, a tattered photograph falling from a book . . . such things remind you that being ‘haunted’ isn’t necessarily about ghosts. The invisible presence of our beloved dead can feel the most natural thing in the world.
That’s why two novels published this summer have been helpful. The first is Think Of Me by Frances Liardet — a beautifully written, poignant story set before and after World War II. James is a widower in mourning for his late wife Yvette, as well for as their baby daughter.
Yvette’s complicated spirit is a presence in the narrative — a woman whose secret story, revealed through her notebooks, becomes heartbreakingly unsettling. James is haunted by his lost love, but learns to accept that she was not necessarily the person he knew. And yet she was . . .
A more literal haunting happens in Louisa Young’s sweetly comic yet deeply moving Twelve Months And A Day. Anybody who loves the film Ghost will feel the same way about this wonderful novel, which asks what happens when people cease to live — but love does not.
A man and a woman — strangers at first — are devastated when their beloved partners die. In time they meet and become friends, but will affection evolve into something deeper? All the while their dead loves, so real to us, are watching on together . . . until . . . but I won’t give that away.
The novel allows us to think of those we have lost as actually there. And yet there is comfort within possibility: ‘It wasn’t that grief wasn’t there. It’s just that space had been made for happiness.’ Both these novels leave you feeling hopeful; thus the best fiction can make you sad — then release you, in the end.