Lifestyle

Friday 19 September 2014

Finding love after bereavement

John McAreavey and Tara Brennan
John McAreavey and Michaela Harte on their wedding day.
John McAreavey and Michaela Harte on their wedding day.
Natasha Richardson and now widower Liam Neeson.
Natasha Richardson and now widower Liam Neeson.

John McAreavey is smiling again and the country couldn't be happier for him.

In fact, the news that John McAreavey has found love three years after his wife Michaela was murdered on their honeymoon in Mauritius has been the most widely read story of the week and garnered the support of the nation.

We worried it might never happen, that the manner of his beautiful bride's death was so brutal, so devastating, that his grief might last forever. Yet when pictures of the handsome widower with his girlfriend Tara Brennan were released in the last few days, the truth was plain for all to see -- love has triumphed over pain.

"There is always a despair in death, but what happened to Michaela McAreavey was a terrible, harrowing tragedy," says Lisa O'Hara, couples counsellor and psychotherapist with mindandbodyworks.com.

"As a nation we all felt it, knowing that John felt it so much more. His world at that time was akin to a bomb going off and blowing everything into little pieces.

"You don't just get up and walk away from that. It will be woven into his life forever, but there is a healing that comes from the mourning period and now John can stand up and say, 'I'm still alive, I want to live again and share that life with somebody.' And once again, we're all behind him, so glad that he can now live in the present and for his future."

While Lisa's words will strike a chord among many people who have lost a partner or spouse, some might wonder if or when it might be appropriate to look for romance again. How soon is too soon to start dating after bereavement?

"There are no hard and fast rules," says John Brennan, a counsellor and psychotherapist with About U Counselling. "It really depends on the person.

"Like any grieving process, bereavement takes time and the person going through it needs to allow themselves to suffer their loss and feel their emotions.

"As part of that process, at some point, you will reach a point where you say, 'I can't go on like this; I have to start living again.'"

Golfer Darren Clarke thought he was ready when he stepped out with family friend Nikki Regan just four months after the death of his first wife Heather to cancer in 2006. However, the relationship soon fizzled out and a joint statement from the pair attributed the split to having become "too close too soon" after Heather's passing. The next time the Ryder Cup star fell in love, he took his time. He and former model Alison Campbell enjoyed a year-long engagement before tying the knot in the Bahamas in 2012.

"It's important that there's a mourning period that has to be gone through," says Lisa O'Hara.

"You need to deal with the feelings that come with death, because it's so final.

"There is an interdependency that comes with relationships and if you've had a good relationship and you're left on your own, there can be a temptation to re-partner as quickly as possible.

"There's a plethora of emotions you go through -- anger, sadness, anxiety, depression -- and if you meet somebody during that process, it can influence the kind of person you choose to be with.

"There is no fixed time limit on grief -- it depends on the individual, the relationship they had with their partner, the way the person died, lots of things -- but as the saying goes, 'Two falls of the season' is a good rule of thumb. There's no need to rush a relationship and especially with the emotional rollercoaster of bereavement, it's a good idea to give yourself time to heal.

"People innately know when they reach a place of acceptance, when life begins to resume, when they can get out of bed in the morning and start taking an interest in other people."

Publisher and broadcaster Norah Casey knows exactly what she means. Having lost her beloved husband Richard Hannaford in October 2011, she refused to entertain the notion of letting a new man into her life for at least two years following his death.

"I am still a young woman and Richard wouldn't have wanted me to spend the rest of my life on my own," she told the Sunday Independent last month.

"He said that to me many times before he passed away. He said it would be better for both of us. For myself I knew that I needed to get through the second anniversary."

And just days after Richard's second anniversary, when she least expected it, a man walked into her life, they talked for hours and, she says, they "just connected".

For anybody in such circumstances, Lisa O'Hara thinks it's wise to wait.

"Choosing a partner too early in the grieving process can be rooted in the need to not be on your own rather than because you really connect with that person," she says.

"Those who wait until they feel stronger are in a much better position to select somebody for the right reasons."

Bill Phelan, co-founder and director of Two's Company, an introduction agency for professionals, couldn't agree more. He and his partner Jennifer Haskins are reluctant to take on anybody within 18 months of bereavement.

Instead, they direct them to Beginning Experience, a voluntary organisation which runs weekly meetings and weekend retreats to help people recently widowed, separated or divorced.

"They're not ready to be in a new relationship," says Bill. "It's too dangerous to introduce the newly bereaved to other people on our books until they have worked through their loss.

"We protect our members and the danger is that such a relationship would move too quickly and could end up with people being hurt.

"Once we're comfortable that they are through the mourning period -- which we find typically takes 18 months to two years, and in some cases longer -- we're delighted to make those introductions.

"Some find friendship, others find lasting romance and we've recently had four new engagements. Now that's job satisfaction!

"Like everybody else, I'm delighted to hear that John McAreavey is in a new relationship, but I'm not surprised.

"He was obviously in love with Michaela, which was demonstration enough that he's the kind of person who is open to love and that in itself makes it possible to love again. I'm delighted for him."

And so say all of us.

Celebs letting love in again

* Lisa Niemi, the widow of actor Patrick Swayze who died from pancreatic cancer in 2009, got engaged on Christmas Eve to jeweller Albert de Prisco. The 57-year-old had been married to the Dirty Dancing star for 34 years.

* Sam Stynes, the widow of Aussie Rules legend Jim Stynes, is reported to have found love again with Geoff Porz, a businessman who sponsors the Melbourne Demons, Jim's beloved Aussie Rules football club.

* A year and a half after the death of his wife Natasha Richardson, Liam Neeson began dating PR executive Freya St Johnston. The relationship ended after two years because it was said he wanted to spend more time in New York with his sons.

Irish Independent

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