21 September 2017

The Merry Widow?

The title of Franz Lehar’s light opera, ‘The Merry Widow’ might sound like a contradiction in terms, but it can become possible, with choices and decisions and the all-encompassing love of our Heavenly Father.

I learnt, early on after my husband Roy had died, that there is no blueprint for bereavement. Everyone approaches it in a different way and from a different set of circumstances. Even if it happened that your loved one died at the same age, of the same illness, your coping mechanisms would be different, because of your lifestyle and the way you were brought up.

Each of us has a set of emotions, but each would focus on different ones, according to our personalities and attitudes.

I have a friend whose husband died at a very young age, of cancer. They were both Christians and although her grieving was intense, anger was not one of the emotions she felt. She was counselled, uninvited, by a well-meaning professional, who told her that she was living in denial, because she was not expressing her anger over what had happened. At that point she expressed her anger but for different reasons! There is nothing wrong with being angry. If you feel angry it is good to express it to get it out of your system, but to remain angry can have adverse effects, not only on the emotions but also on the body, i.e. the heart. I have learnt that the safest place to dump any of these negative emotions is at the foot of the cross.

I never felt angry, but that didn’t lessen the sadness I felt at Roy’s death.

However, after he died, I realised that I had actually been going through the grieving process for a long time before his death. This made the actual death somewhat easier to cope with, as it came as no shock. Someone whose husband dies suddenly has to go through the shock and the grief together, which must create enormous pain, both physically and emotionally.

A defining moment in my grieving came two weeks after Roy had died. I had been asked to help to launch his autobiography, which had only been published just after his death. I was invited to Northern Ireland to be interviewed on a TV programme (terrifying in itself!) On my return journey I arrived at Heathrow Airport and faced the usual row of taxi drivers waving bits of paper with people’s names on and family and friends waiting. At that point, a woman who had been walking ahead of me rushed to her loved one and melted into his arms. I was alone.

There was no one to meet me. I had to get myself to the long-term car park and drive home to an empty house! I started to sob uncontrollably. I would never again have anyone who loved me like that to meet me, I thought.

Suddenly I realised these were tears of self pity…..poor old me! I realised too, that this could be the slippery slope to depression and I was adamant that I was not going down that road. I became aware of the difference between tears of sorrow and tears of self pity. At that point passers-by must have thought I was ‘off my trolley’ as I admonished myself out loud. “Pull yourself together woman. Be grateful that you have had 31 years of a wonderful marriage and a very happy life. Now, get back to the car park and go home”. And I did!

From that moment I determined that I would have a heart of gratitude rather than resentment or despair. I had had a very privileged life with so much for which to be grateful.

I am sure many will remember the old hymn, “Count your blessings, name them one by one…”

Well, from that time on, I did count my blessings. If I felt sad, I would start to thank God for all He had given me and very soon, my heart (and sometimes my voice!) would start to sing.

It’s ok to cry. Sometimes the emotions are overwhelming and I found that if I bottled them up for too long, it would result in a headache that sent me rushing for an aspirin, until I realised that a good cry was far more effective and releasing.

I did decide, however, that it was better, as far as possible, to keep my tears for my bedroom, behind closed doors, away from my friends who were so precious to me.

I had known people who, whenever asked how they were feeling, would reply with a barrage of negatives to the extent that people eventually avoided them! I didn’t want that to happen to me!

No matter what burdens we have to carry each day, or what worries beset us at night, we have the comfort of knowing that Jesus is beside us to take all our cares and release us into confidence, joy and peace. Jesus – what a wonderful friend!

Fiona Castle

Fiona Castle, most well known for her marriage to the late TV entertainer Roy Castle, began her career as a dancer. She worked in the theatre from 1956 as a dancer and singer and was introduced to Roy Castle by their mutual friend Eric Morcambe.

She married roy in 1963 and they were together for 31 years until his death from lung cancer in September 1994. They had four children, Daniel, Julia, Antonia and Benjamin.

Following the loss of her beloved husband, Fiona has been active in campaigning and writing. She was awarded the OBE for her services to charity in the Queen’s Birthday Honours in 2004.

Fiona has written 12 books including autobiographies, and 5 anthologies of poems and prose. She currently travels the country speaking about aspects of her christian faith at a variety of events.

Here, Fiona shares her experience of coping with the death of her husband.