It sometimes feels like there are two types of widows in the world – the stooped old lady stereotype, and the kind that swish their glamorous cloaks around, Scottish Widows-style.
At least that’s how Rosie Freeland felt when her husband Hughie died in April 2022 after two years with bone cancer. Suddenly sporting the label at age of 33 with two young children, it didn’t feel as if the word ‘widow’ chimed with who she really was.
“I felt utterly confused about how I was ‘supposed’ to behave and feel after Hughie died,” says Rosie. “Was I allowed to laugh? Should I think about dating? Did I need to lie in bed weeping all day?
“People seem to want widows to be holier than thou, but I still had the same desires, wants and needs as I had when my husband was alive.”
Rosie met Helen Rowell, 35, at a bereavement event for their children and immediately found a kindred spirit. Though Helen’s husband Mike had died in very different circumstances – in a skiing accident – the two bonded over a shared frankness about death and grief.
Through a series of WhatsApp messages, the pair talked openly, sharing thoughts and feelings that they couldn’t air with even their closest families. Their brutally honest messages eventually informed the podcast they have now started together called The Widowhood to help all those who have been widowed, no matter what age or gender.
Rosie says: “When I met Helen, I realised there is no normal 'way to be a widow'. And yet, some of the more taboo topics that had crossed my mind had also crossed hers. We were at ease together talking openly about sex, body image and disciplining children, which wasn’t a conversation we’d heard anyone else having.”
The Widowhood podcast is now live, with new episodes released every other Thursday.
Rosie says: “I wish that I’d had access to a resource that shared the truth about widowhood.”
There are other resources for those who lose a partner at a younger age. Most notably, the charity WAY Widowed and Young which has just marked its 25th birthday.
It was set up by Caroline Sarll whose brother-in-law Charlie had a heart attack at the age of 37. Caroline’s sister, Amanda, was 35 and 12 weeks pregnant at the time. Caroline was shocked to find that there was still very little support 30 years after their own mother had been widowed young, so she set up the charity which has gone on to support 14,000 people.
It is estimated that around 100,000 men and women in the UK are widowed under the age of 50, facing many different challenges and issues than those who experience death of a partner later in life.
For Rosie and Helen, their own podcast is both a way of talking more openly about the reality of losing a partner while also throwing light on the subject of death in general.
They would like everyone, not just the bereaved, to listen to it to help them understand what those who are widowed are really thinking and feeling.
Rosie says: “We aren’t trying to shock people. What we really want is to tackle the way people talk about death. As a society, we’ve become much better at discussing mental health, but death remains the last taboo.
“People don’t feel comfortable talking about it which makes people like me and Helen feel even more self-conscious. It’s a subject that needs to be confronted, accepted and normalised.”
Called The Widowhood, the podcast deliberately puts that term – widow – front and centre stage.
“We don’t want to get rid of the word,” insists Rosie. “We want to redefine it.”