Monday 20 May 2019

'No one knows what to say to a widow'

Lynda Kealy was just 37 with two teenagers when her husband died. She tells how she coped

Lynda Kealy has remarried after losing her husband Richard. Photo: Douglas O’Connor.
Lynda Kealy has remarried after losing her husband Richard. Photo: Douglas O’Connor.

Chrissie Russell

Lynda's sister was convinced she'd found her the perfect man and, like all good sisters, she'd already contrived a meeting, at her boyfriend's 18th birthday that night. Having been in an on/off relationship that was now most definitely off, 17-year-old singleton Lynda was excited by the prospect of a new romance. But when she got to the party, though handsome and well dressed, Mr Perfect was behaving badly.

"He was quite drunk and quite abrasive," she laughs. "I don't know what made me agree to see him again but I did."

The couple met under the clock at Clerys and went to see Xanadu. Sheepish and wanting to impress after the previous night's encounter, Richard insisted on walking close to the road, holding doors open, escorting her to her bus stop and waiting to see her on it.

They fell in love and married in 1983 when she was 20 and he 22. There was a house-share with an old man in Phibsborough, the years where they frantically worked two jobs each to afford a newbuild in Clonsilla; feeling so grown up but buying curtains that didn't fit; having two beautiful daughters Ciara and Emma, and holidays in a tiny cottage in Co Kerry where the days were filled with exploring, board games and cards.

"We were young and we had plans," says Lynda. "Every couple who takes their wedding vows says the words 'til death us do part' but death is never talked about, it's never on the radar. We only saw a life ahead together full of plans, goals and expectation."

In 2000, on Holy Thursday, the unthinkable happened and Richard was diagnosed with leukaemia.

By the November, the oncologist had warned Lynda she had to tell her 15 and 13-year-old daughters to prepare for the worst.

"How in God's name do you put into words to children that their dad, their hero, the first man in their life will no longer be there to tousle with, they they will no longer have his big arms to hug you, will no longer kiss you goodnight?

"I felt like I was the executioner. The girls got angry with me and there was absolutely nothing I could do to alleviate their pain."

In January the following year, Richard died, leaving behind two teenage daughters and Lynda, a widow, at 37.

Today is International Widows Day, a global day recognised by the UN to raise awareness of the issue of widowhood, in particular the poverty and social injustice faced by the 259 million widows worldwide.

Now in its 10th year, the day was established by the Loomba Foundation, a UK-based organisation headed by Lord Raj Loomba, whose mother was widowed at 37 and raised and educated her seven children single handedly in India. June 23 was the day her husband died. But Lynda isn't convinced she needs a 'special awareness day' to be reminded of her loss. "I think it's absolutely ridiculous," she says. "Why on earth would I want to 'celebrate' being a widow? It's not a title you should be ashamed of, but neither is it one to celebrate, it's an unfortunate title and I'm sure in almost 100pc of cases widows and widowers don't need reminding."

In 2004 Lynda, a commercial manager with L'Oreal, made the difficult decision to start dating again. "Having not dated since I was 17, it felt weird. How does a 41-year-old widow with two teenage children go about meeting someone?

"I didn't drink, didn't really socialise because all my friends and acquaintances were in relationships or married and I was the only one 'free'. In fact, because I was widowed or 'single' again I found I was invited to less and less events and parties and I wondered why."

"Was it because I was a threat? Or did no one really know what to say to a widow? Sometimes I got sympathetic 'hushed tones' responses, other times I almost could see women sit up with a 'hands off my man' attitude. It was disconcerting."

She signed up to a dating website. "Over the next few years I dated and had some fun, perhaps the type of fun I had not experienced because I married so young.

"But it wasn't me. I was looking for what I had lost, I was looking for a new Richard."

In 2010, she met John O'Keeffe in the Four Seasons for dinner. "I spent the whole night laughing at his outrageousness and one-line quips," she smiles. "I felt for the first time since Richard I had met my match."

He also clicked with her daughters, now grown-up and married, and she and John later married.

But being a wife and a widow isn't an easy path to navigate. "I feel lucky to have met someone who loves me as much as Richard did but there is a conflict," she explains. "You meet someone and grow up together and you expect that it will be the only person you will love for the rest of your life.

"I love John, but the love feels differently to the love I had with Richard. I feel guilty about that.

"When my twin granddaughters were born last October, I felt grief and then almost the same sense of will and purpose that enveloped me shortly after Richard died."It's almost like I have to make up for his absence by being everything I can possibly be to these little girls.

"The most painful moments were the weddings when I walked each daughter down the aisle to give them away and then giving the 'father of the bride' speech.The pain and grief I felt were for Ciara and Emma and their loss. The pain goes, but it is replaced by sadness and regret for all the things I should have said and done and a life cut short."

Irish Independent

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