FORMER Tanaiste Mary Coughlan has spoken for the first time about coping with the death of her husband and her life after politics.
Ms Coughlan's husband David, a garda, died last September.
In a remarkably frank interview, Ms Coughlan ruled out a return to politics and said she had turned to exercise as a means of keeping healthy, both mentally and physically.
She said that returning home after losing her Dail seat was difficult for her and her children Cathal (15) and Meadbh (13).
"I had to learn I was stepping into their world. It was a big change for them too," said the former Fianna Fail minister.
"David was always there. It took me a wee bit of time to get into their way of going, football schedules and all that, but we got through that.
"I have been through a lot in many ways, like a lot of people in your audience," she told interviewer Gerry Gallagher at an event at the Abbey Arts Centre in Ballyshannon, Co Donegal.
"I had to let other people rear my kids. I was never about for almost 10 years. I relied on a lot of people. You sit back and think, 'well, what was it all about' when you have a lot of loss to bear."
Ms Coughlan said she had spent some time after losing her seat in March 2011 closing down her constituency offices for Donegal South-West and finding jobs for her staff.
"I had a great team and you could forget that it was not just me that loses out, it is the team," she said.
She began doing some work for a brother living in Britain when she learned her husband David had cancer.
"David got sick, so my responsibilities were with David.
David passed away in September so I have not really decided what I am going to do. I will take some time and see after that what I will do," she said.
Her only political comment was to a question on the bank bailout, insisting it was "the right thing to do".
But she said she was now more concerned personally with moving on in her life and "not moping in a corner".
Ms Coughlan said: "You have to do a couple of things. You have to believe in yourself. You can sit in the corner and mope and do nothing about it – or get off your backside and do something about it.
"That's what it's all about. It is about being healthy. I would try to aspire to healthy eating and exercise; it is good for your mind.
"If someone asked me what was the thing that got me through very difficult times in political life, and in personal life, then definitely those are the things. Get out, get a bit of fresh air and look after yourself. That's hugely important."
She added: "Your health is your wealth, your physical and mental health and this is the thing that stood to me."
Talking about losing her seat, Ms Coughlan said "one door closed and another door opened".
Close friends say she hasn't made a decision on whether or not to return to politics, but loyal Fianna Fail supporters in Frosses, where she lives, and the surrounding area hope that she will.
"People would understand if she didn't want to go back into politics," said one local party insider.
"After losing David and settling into life without him it would be hard for her to make a decision either way at this time.
"But there would be massive support for her in this part of Co Donegal and she would walk into a seat if she stood again."
Party strategists were blamed for her losing her seat after they decided to run two candidates in 2011. The vote split between Ms Coughlan and Senator Brian O Domhnaill, with Independent Thomas Pringle getting the seat.
Donegal's two constituencies are being scrapped and replaced with one five-seater for the next general election, making any re-election more difficult.
However, Ms Coughlan's supporters believe her candidature would give FF two seats, with Charlie McConalogue retaining his.