A journey through grief to find life
When Olivier died, Nadine Williams fell into complete despair, “utterly desperate” and completely alone.
“I crumpled like a pack of cards,” she says. “I was not in a good place and I think there are a lot of Baby Boomers who are going to stumble around the place and not know how to talk about it when the time comes.”
That was five years ago. And now she has found her peace after a long journey through grief – thanks to family, friendships and an eye-opening trip to her husband’s home in France.
“Grief is as long as a piece of string. It’s like childbirth, something you have to go through alone, but eventually you have to accept the fact you will be alone,” she says. “You are totally alone. Your children have grown up and moved on and the person you spent your life with has gone.”
Nadine had written the story of meeting Olivier, the love of her life, in From France with Love, and now, writing her story Farewell My French Love after his death has been a tonic.
A good friend suggested a trip to France together to help shake her out of her depression and help rediscover her joie de vivre.
The resulting story chronicles not only her journey through grief, but is also a travel story for the Francophile, an emotional story of a friendship tested and ultimately the triumph of realising that life goes on – “I am filled with gratitude for my beautiful life, my health and new-found happiness”.
It was not the path she had expected. She was 58 when she met Olivier, six years her senior, and they had been married for only four years and four months when cancer took him away.
Nadine wallowed in her grief, unable to find any joy in her life until her friend Jane coaxed her into taking a trip to France together. The resulting journey isn’t all roses as they have to learn to live with each other’s idiosyncrasies, but it is a learning journey on many levels.
“On my trip with Jane, I learnt that we have to forgive each other our differences. We taught each other a lot about life and shrugged off ill feelings,” she says. “We also visited the glorious Loire Valley, Provence and Paris.”
By the end of the trip, she had learnt how to live alone happily.
“I learnt to appreciate freedom and alone-ness and that I could be happy being alone,” she says. “The consolation is the freedom, the chance to do whatever you want to do. You can go and do whatever you want to do. Embrace that. Some I have met go to the cemetery twice a week and keep struggling to move on, but we all have to do it.”
While grieving is important, there are some ground rules to stay on track and not give up on your own life.
- Stay in contact with family – siblings, children, grandchildren. Make an effort to attend family events.
- Stay involved in the lives of your children. They don’t want mum sobbing around the place.
- Do not sell your house within the first 12 months.
- Get a pet to talk to.
- Get out of the house and circulate. Go to the shopping centre for a coffee.
- Move back into community. Call people. Answer the phone.
- Travel. There are plenty of companies with widows travelling alone.
- Be kind to yourself. Go to the hairdresser, have a massage. Light candles, learn to watch TV by yourself.
“Everyone has their own journey in grief,” Nadine says. “A grief counsellor can help but at the end, it is a lone journey and you have to do it from within.”
Farewell My French Love, $22.49; ebook $13.99, harlequinbooks.com.au