top of page
Health & wellbeing
When a loved one dies, it can affect your own health. We look at how to find support, look after yourself and grieve healthily.
Almost as certain as the fact of our own death, is the fact of grief. It’s nigh on impossible to go through life without experiencing loss. If we love, we grieve. As we get older, losses can become more frequent and more significant. How can we grieve without damaging our own health?
Many older people have to go through the death of a spouse or partner. After a lifetime together, it can be difficult to cope with bereavement. How do you adjust to a very different life, perhaps living alone, or in very different circumstances? How can we find support from the right people? How do we even recognise we might need support?
One of the most effective support mechanisms is through talking - processing your grief. It’s useful to be able to talk to friends or family about your loved one. Below we hear from Leeds Bereavement Forum about some of the things to think about when grieving. And we give some details on how to find a bereavement support group in Leeds. But first, we hear from someone who has been through the process. Ian’s wife died a few years ago and he’s convinced that by telling his story it helps him – and it might help you too. Stories can be really powerful.
If nothing else, sharing stories of loss make us realise there are other people out there who are going through similar things: we are not alone.
One of the most effective support mechanisms is through talking - processing your grief.
Interview: Ian Roberts
Ian’s wife Ann died about 4 years ago and he found support after her death from various organisations in Leeds. Recently, Ian has made a film about Ann with Lippy People. We met Ian to hear more.
Ian was born in Armley in 1945. “Not far from the jail,” he says. Ian is a well-groomed 76-year-old, who tells his story with refreshing candour. As a child, he used to love watching the trains from a wall at the end of the street. Ian left school aged 15 and worked at Temple Newsam coal mine. “We called it a quarry
with a lid on top, because it was only shallow,” he says. “I did a year on the pit-top, in the timber yard.” At 18, Ian became an engineer, working at Kirkstall Forge.
Ian met Ann in 1964. “We met at the cinema,” he says. “Lawrence of Arabia.” Ian had worked as a fireman
at The Crown cinema in New Wortley, so knew the place well. Ann was one of the usherettes. His friend encouraged him: “Don’t talk to me, go chat the usherette up!” He walked her home after the film.
“I asked her if she’d have a date with me the following night and she said yes.” After courting for a few months, the couple eventually “went out properly” and married in 1967. “She was a loving, caring wife,” recalls Ian. “And a loving, caring mother.” Ann and Ian had 4 children: 3 girls and a boy. At one point Ian worked for a time in Liverpool and the pair could only communicate by writing letters. Despite this, the couple stayed strong and together. “Like any couple, we had our ups and downs,” says Ian.
In 2012, Ian and Ann had what he calls “3 days that changed our life forever”. Ann began to feel ill whilst window-shopping in Leeds. Doctors initially suspected a chest infection, but an X-Ray revealed “a small pin prick” on her lung. “They said it’s a small tumour,” Ian remembers. “But that’s not all. They said, we think it could be cancer.” Ann went through many years of treatment, though she refused chemotherapy. Surgery was ruled out and eventually doctors tried a new treatment: stereotactic radiation therapy. Ann’s tumour was “obliterated” and the cancer disappeared. But, as Ian says, “The radiation therapy virtually destroyed her lungs. The amount of radiation that is shot into the body is 100 times that is used for an X-Ray.”
Ann died on 31st December 2017. “It was so sudden,” says Ian. “She was the life and soul of the party at Christmas. A week later, she was gone.” On the last day of her life, Ann was taken to St Gemma’s Hospice, with the family by the bedside. “I went out for a cigarette,” says Ian. “I came back and the nurse said, your wife’s just taken her last breath.” Ian was handed Ann’s jewellery. “I didn’t break down and cry, there and then.” Ian had to break the news to his daughter and his granddaughter. Ann had told him to give her necklace to their granddaughter and Ian did so. “In a way Ann is still with me,” says Ian. He keeps her ashes in a casket on a “shrine” to his wife in his house.
When Ann fell ill in 2012, Ian was referred to Carers Leeds. When she died, he got involved with a Support After Loss group in South Leeds. “It wasn’t me that thought I needed support,” Ian insists. A bereavement worker called Sue Sutton had noticed Ian was struggling. “When Ann died, I shut myself up for 6 solid months, didn’t go out of these 4 walls.” His sister-in-law noticed too. “She said, you’ve got a bus pass – get out there and use it!” Ian really values going to the support group. “Everybody in the group under- stands what each member is going through, because each of us has gone through it ourselves. After each group meeting a tremendous weight is lifted of our shoulders.”
Through the support group, Ian got involved with Lippy People’s ‘Life, Loss, Learning, Legacy’ project and made a film, telling the story of Ann’s diagnosis. “If the story that I’ve told helps one person understand what it means to go through cancer, it’s done what it aims to do.” Carers’ organisations use Ian’s story to help others cope with similar experiences. Ian has really valued his time with Lippy People. It’s helped him and he has helped others tell their story too. He recalls how he encouraged a man whose wife had died of MS to work out how to make his film. “I was with him when he told his story and we kept in touch throughout the pandemic.” Ian sums up his thoughts on grief thus: “Bereavement might be easier to deal with as time goes on. But grief never leaves you. Grief is there all the time. Whatever happens, I don’t love my wife any less.”
How can we help ourselves and others through the death of a loved one? Here are some ideas and thoughts and tips from Leeds Bereavement Forum.
The death of someone we love is no doubt the most stressful life event experienced. Healing is not about ‘getting over the loss’ but more an adjustment to life without the person who has died. This takes time, maybe several years but grief cannot be hurried, neither can we avoid it. Healing and adjustment happens one step at a time and there will be good days and bad days. As time goes by you will find the good days gradually become more frequent – give yourself time. There is no set timetable for grieving.
Bereavement is also a very individual experience and no two people mourn in the same way. However, for most of us the journey follows a similar path through the shock and disbelief, waves of pain and sadness and a whole range of other intense and often ambivalent feelings – anger, depression, euphoria, which often take us by surprise. Grief does not always unfold in orderly, predictable stages. It can be an emotional roller coaster, with unpredictable highs, lows and setbacks. Everyone grieves differently.
Talk about that has happened with family and others who are sympathetic. Make the effort to keep up contacts with friends, even if they live some distance away. Remember that other people want to help, but often do not know what to say or how to help. Do not be afraid to ask for help and if you feel the need get in touch with an organisation that offers support in bereavement. If you can’t talk to your family or friends, try going to a death café. It can help to write thoughts and feelings down in a letter to the person who has died, or to express them creativity in other ways such as a painting or a poem.
Listen to Your Body
Cry when you feel the need, letting out the pain and grief helps us work towards healing. Be kind to yourself, listen to your own needs, particularly at times when you are feeling really low and do not expect too much too soon. Big decisions or changes, such as moving house are better left for at least a year, rather than made when emotions and thoughts are volatile and fluctuating. Bear in mind that grief can affect health on all levels, producing a range of ‘symptoms’ and altered perceptions, some of which may seem quite bizarre. Keep an eye on your health, eating properly, take regular rest and exercise. Do visit your doctor if you are worried about your health.
If you need support when bereaved you can contact:
Leeds Bereavement Forum 18a New Market Street Leeds, LS1 6DG
0113 225 3975
Lots of support services and death cafes across Leeds can be found at
For more information about the Dying Matters in Leeds campaign go to: http://dyingmattersleeds.org
More Health & Wellbeing.
Stories, interviews and information around physical and mental health.
bottom of page