Moving Home After the Loss of a Partner
Losing a partner – through death or divorce – is something many of us will face at some point in our later years. The tough choice then often arises around where we will live: should we stay or should we go...? Tony Watts OBE interviews someone who has been on that journey – and shares the lessons he learned.
Gemma was 63 when she passed, ironically on the day before she would have reached 64. I’d bought her a “birthday greetings bottle of wine” ready to give her, but that never happened.
We’d known that there was a strong chance of losing her for at least 18 months prior to that because the diagnosis had come so late. We had a few false dawns, but eventually we lost her to cancer. I know it might sound cynical, but in order to cope with what I knew lay ahead, I had already started to think about what my life would need to be like after she had gone... not least where I would live.
Before she went, I honestly couldn't imagine living in the same house that we’d been in for the last 23 years. It had so many memories. But, oddly, I actually found it helpful to stay there for the first year. She hadn’t died at home but in a hospice, and that made it a bit easier. That year gave me time to grieve, and take comfort from the happy memories that came back with each change of the season in the garden. You never get over losing someone you love, but you can get through it.
It was only when one of my daughters opened up about why she wasn’t coming to the house very often that I knew I had to move: she and her sister were finding it really hard to visit me without their mum being there.
At 66, I was newly retired and, while I had an attachment to the house, I didn't have many friends locally: my work had taken me away a lot, and Gemma had been the one with a strong social circle. The world was my oyster and I decided to make a fresh start.
I had friends in Devon and I loved sailing – so two good reasons to move there. I didn't need lots of space and I’m definitely no gardener. I also wanted to have the freedom to lock up and go away for a few weeks at a time – on holiday or to stay with my children and grandchildren. The obvious solution was a retirement village.
After a bit of research, I alighted upon a really nice one not too far from the coast – or the rail network should I find myself not wanting or able to drive far in the future. It also ticked all the boxes in terms of facilities and amenities, including a decent gym and restaurant, and had lots going on as and when I felt ready to build new friendships.
I was at the lower end of the age spectrum there, but I soon found myself making new friends and filling my time productively. There were suites available for my grandchildren to stay over too. It really was perfect.
What I hadn’t expected to do was to meet someone there and fall in love, and she with me. But that’s exactly what happened. It was as painful a process as it was exciting as I was still grieving for Gemma. Carole felt the same as she had lost her husband two years before. As the man said, “The deeper that sorrow carves into your being, the more joy you can contain.”
Oddly, that triggered another change of thinking about where we both lived. Neither of our apartments were really big enough for both of us, and we just felt like having our own space for a while. Our priorities had changed, so we needed to rethink.
We settled on moving a few miles away to a house that had been previously occupied by an older couple who had made some adaptations. We knew we didn't need them yet, but who knew for the future? And we could pop in to see the friends we’d made at the retirement village whenever we wanted.
The next task was telling our children. We’d anticipated a bit of tension there, but they were all really understanding. We also took steps to ensure that, when one of us passed, the other person would sell up in order to pass on the inheritance. Hopefully that won’t be for some time yet. But when it does happen, the first choice for both of us would be to go back to where we’d first met...
- Take time to decide on your next move.
- Decide on what your priorities will be for the years ahead – you can’t fulfil all of them, so which are the most important?
- Take your family’s wishes into consideration – but don't be ruled by them.