On milestones: the first anniversary of losing my wife and best friend

This time last year, Richard Littledale’s beloved wife Fiona died in her own home, surrounded by family and cared for by Sue Ryder Nurses. Here, Richard reflects on how he’s been coping with the approaching milestone and shares what has (and hasn’t) worked for him.

I wonder whether anyone has ever written a coffee-table book on ‘milestones’. 

I can picture it now, open on some elegant table, with glossy colour photos of milestones of every shape and size. Some of them are small and nondescript, their corners knocked off by passing traffic of old and their writing disappearing beneath a creeping tide of lichen and moss.

Others are painted bright white with their letters picked out in black and they have been lovingly repainted over the years.

Others, still, seem to indicate the distances to places that people no longer wish to visit.  If someone were to produce such a book, I would buy it without a doubt.

A landscape littered with milestones bearing the number ‘one’

There is an old-fashioned charm to a milestone: they speak of a bygone age when maps were king and no one had heard of satnavs. People looked down on them from horseback or out of a stagecoach window, or even wound down the window of their prized family car to look at them.

Nowadays, they are fascinating, but irrelevant in terms of travel.

I’ve tried telling myself that a date is just a date – but I am fooling no one, including myself.”

For this past year, I have been travelling through a landscape littered with milestones. They all bear the number ‘one’, and they all count in years rather than miles. They mark things like birthdays, anniversaries and other significant dates. 

This past week, I have passed the milestone that marks the first anniversary of losing my wife and best friend.  Today, I pass a similar one that marks the first anniversary of her funeral. 

How I’ve coped

I don’t look out for them, any more than you look out for milestones from a car equipped with modern navigation equipment. All the same, there they are; the car slows, the window goes down and the milestone is there.

I have tried telling myself that a date is just a date – but I am fooling no one, including myself.

I have tried accelerating past them, but the car seems to slow all by itself. 

I have tried looking the other way – but the milestone is on that side of the road too, it would seem. 

For me, the best thing to do has been to pull over and take a moment.”

In the end, I have decided to stop the car, get out, and sniff the damp and mossy air around the milestone. I take a breath, I shed a tear, I decide that maybe the journey is not the one I’d originally planned – and I move on.

Every person treats these milestones differently, I am sure. However, for me, the best thing to do has been to pull over and take a moment. The car, and its driver, are better for it.

Do you find particular dates or times of year triggering for you?

Grief doesn’t abide by a set schedule, but many members of our Online Community find that they – often subconsciously – miss, remember or dream of departed loved ones on significant dates. The run-up to Christmas is also a common time for feelings to be heightened.

If you are struggling, you're not alone. Our Online Community is a safe and anonymous space where you can talk to others who are going through the same thing.

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Richard Littledale

Husband of patient

Richard Littledale

Richard's wife Fiona was cared for by Sue Ryder Hospice at Home Nurses during the last few weeks of her life. Since then, he has been chronicling his journey through grief via his personal blog http://richardlittledale.me.uk.