Widower, 92, reveals how he overcame loneliness of losing wife after 55-year marriage

·4-min read
Dick combatted loneliness
Dick decided loneliness "wasn't going to happen" after losing his wife. [Photo: Age UK]

With loneliness the theme of this year's Mental Health Awareness Week, we take a look at one man's very special story to show that anyone can combat feeling this way.

Dick, 92 when originally interviewed by Yahoo UK in 2019, shared how he overcame the loneliness of losing his wife of 55 years in the hope of helping others.

He met his late spouse Joan on the bus in 1950, when he was just 23.

Read more: How to spot someone is lonely and what to do to help

Instantly “smitten”, the pair married a few years later and enjoyed more than five decades of “perfect” wedded bliss.

Dick, from Wirral in Merseyside, even cared for Joan during her 20-year battle with Alzheimer’s, before she collapsed suddenly in 2008.

Left alone, he decided loneliness “wasn’t going to happen”, setting out on a “crusade” to ensure others decide the same.

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Dick keeps a photograph of his late wife Joan on his mantlepiece. [Photo: Age UK]

Dick and Joan first locked eyes while commuting to Unilever in Wirral, where they both worked.

“As they say in the novels I was smitten,” he told Yahoo UK at the end of 2019. “It was like being hit with a baseball bat.”

The pair wed two-and-a-half years later.

“We had 55 years of perfect marriage,” Dick said. “I was just happy with her.”

Dick retired in 1987, the same year Joan first showed signs of Alzheimer’s.

With Joan never having left the country, the pair travelled the world as much as they could over the next decade, before her dementia “got a bit much”.

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Dick became her full-time carer, “doing everything from 2000 onwards”.

In 2008, Joan was rushed to hospital after she collapsed at home. She died the day she was discharged.

Despite her Alzheimer’s, Joan never forget her beloved Dick. “She remembered me right up to the last minute,” he said.

While he works hard to stay positive, Dick struggled with the loss of his wife.

“I was talking to her for at least six months after she went,” he said. “I was so used to being with her for 55 years. They never go away.”

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The pair enjoyed 55 years of "perfect" marriage. [Photo: Age UK]

Dick counts himself lucky that his two children and grandson visit often, but feels for those whose loved ones live further away, he said at the time.

“These days families get scattered,” he said. “They used to live on the same street. There’s a great danger you’ll end up entirely on your own.”

Refusing to become isolated, Dick “made the effort” to meet new people.

“This is where Age UK has been so helpful; they let me mix with people,” he said.

“They run activities like singing and dancing, or flower arranging if you’re that way inclined.

“I’ve got over being lonely because I decided it wasn’t going to happen. I got up, made the effort to get out and joined in things.”

Dick also taught English country dancing, only giving it up when he became “a bit doddery on his legs”.

After serving in the navy before meeting Joan, Dick went along to Joining Forces, a programme for veterans at Age UK Wirral.

Once a week, he meets up with other ex-servicemen, who he now counts as friends. Dick also finds ways to keep himself busy the rest of the time.

“I go to the library and have a chat with the staff,” he said. “I’m a guide at the local church. Whatever comes up.”

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Watch: 5 top tips to boost your mental health

Despite his age, Dick refuses to abide by the “stiff upper lip” mentality.

“There’s nothing to be ashamed of to say, ‘I’m on my own and I like to have a conversation with people’,” he said.

While it may be difficult initially, Dick’s advice to others is to join activities in their community.

Read more: The most common mental health conditions - and where to get help

“The most impossible thing to do is to lock yourself away,” he said.

Combating loneliness could even be as simple as stopping people for a chat.

“Throw your mobile phone down the bottom of the garden and talk to people,” he said.

“I want a crusade to start street conversations again. All the dogs we talk to wag their tails at you.”

Now in a good place, Dick still carries the memory of his wife.

Speaking while looking at her photograph, he added: “Remember the good times - and that was 99% of the time.”

If you are struggling, the Samaritans are available 24/7 on 116 123.

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