Where to start? In September I was 70, with two children and three wonderful grandchildren. Ten years ago, my husband and I broke up without regrets.
When I was 35, I met a man at work. It all started with office chatter. My kids were still in school and since my parents split up when I was a kid, I swore I’d never do the same to mine. The man was also married and had two grown children.
After a few months we really felt a connection so we went for coffee. Six months later we had a ‘real’ date. Suffice it to say that we started an affair then.
He told me about sad things in his wife’s life that would never leave him. Neither of us had had an affair before, so we both viewed our relationship as more than an affair.
35 years ahead. He is now retired and we still see each other, although not as often as we would like. He takes care of his wife’s health problems. Two weeks ago we managed to get away for a night and the last time was six months ago.
Even though I would have liked us to live together, I was happy about our night out and he called me on Sunday morning. That night we texted goodnight as usual.
Monday morning it was raining so I half expected a text that he wouldn’t go for a walk but heard nothing. I sent a ‘?’ to his phone but still nothing.
I went for a walk with a girlfriend, still not a word. My gut told me that something wasn’t right. Three agonizing days later, I discovered that he had died suddenly that night.
Bel, the pain I feel is so intense. I have some friends who are aware of the situation and who are wonderful and supportive, but I can’t talk to anyone in my family.
I’m the “other woman” of course, so out of the picture as far as his funeral is concerned. I can truly say that I loved him and that I was lucky enough to have had his love all these years.
We told each other all our fears and he always said I knew more about him than anyone else.
I know there are many who think I deserve this pain because I’m having an affair. It really helped through the tears writing this in the small hours. But how will I ever fill the void?
This week, Bel advises a reader grappling with the death of a secret lover of more than three decades
Are there really, really “many who think I deserve this pain because I’m having an affair”? I wish I could say ‘no’, but unfortunately I’ve found that for every nice person among us you only have to lift a stone to find creatures full of resentment, enjoying their own malice.
So if readers think you deserve your current grief as a reward for infidelity, I ask them not to waste their time writing me this. ‘Delete’ is the best tool.
Thought of the day
And isn’t this what we live for?
To look not for miracles, but for signs
That this life is still worth the expedition?
From The Angel of Persistence by Romalyn Ante (Filipino-British poet, b.1989)
For many long years you and your Love (I refuse to call him ‘lover’) shared what time you might be dating. You were both, for different (and good) reasons, committed to staying with your husbands, and yet the deep emotion you soon shared was as binding a bond as any other.
As I say in my answer to the second letter from “Ruth” today, people often have very complicated emotions. Therefore, it is quite possible to love two people at once – love, that is, in very different ways.
Each of you was married to a partner to whom you had made vows in good faith. But then you found your soul mate. Your agreed solution was not to destroy the marriages, but to share the little time available to you, for 35 years.
You put your need for each other behind love for children and duty to a partner so that no one has suffered – except the two of you. But it could be worn. Your Love took care of his wife until his eighth decade. I find this story deeply moving and honor your long, silent dedication and your present grief. You desperately wonder how you can ever fill the void.
I won’t tell you any lame lies, because that would mean bridging a gap. But you and I both know that time and the love of friends and family and staying busy will all help as the months go by. They are not a ‘cure’ for grief, but a crutch. These are, of course, the early days of grief, made much worse for you because you are barred from participating in public mourning.
In a novel or movie, you might be the shadowy figure at the back of the church or graveyard. In real life, you should cherish the memories and be thankful that at least you found each other.
Some people never experience such a love in their life and you know it. You tell me you have a full life and also stay involved with your ex-husband’s family, and that’s all good. It’s the only way forward, isn’t it?
But soften your feelings with those sympathetic friends as much as possible, and you know that you will continue to talk to your Love, as always.
Am I Spending Christmas With My Ex?
I have been remarried for 11 years and my current husband adores my children and grandchildren.
My ex-husband and I met when I was 16 and he was 19. We got married and had our first child when I was 21. It was a bad birth and I had postpartum depression for a while.
My ex and I didn’t argue, but he was never there and went on with his life as before, working and away every weekend.
More from Bel Mooney for the Daily Mail…
I worked when our second child was three, but my mother didn’t help. She was steeped in bitterness about her own life. My childhood had been difficult because my father was a bully and made life difficult.
Anyway, we had a total of five children. I tried my best to be a good and honest mother and I am blessed because all my children are lovely people. Now I have seven wonderful grandchildren.
My ex-husband has had a great partner for nine years. We all get along well. I will be 66 on Christmas Day and we are all invited to the family home where I lived with him for 31 years, now their home.
I know it’s just granite and wood, but I have memories of the family growing up here.
My current husband doesn’t want to come. So how do I let them down gently? They don’t see the problem and if we don’t go my grandkids will ask, ‘Where’s Nana?’ A child’s mind is innocent and they are not tainted by life.
I know my kids are torn because their father is just as important as me. Can you advise?
Your letter reminded me a few months ago how I would like to invite my own ex-husband and his second family (all very sweet) to share our Christmas.
For a few minutes I was excited by the idea that I could make this happen. Then I rejected the thought. That heartfelt, idealistic vision of the unity of the family—which would be so wonderful for all children and grandchildren to see—was confronted with the reality of complicated emotions.
It’s all fine to make a generous invitation, but is it really that generous not to be aware of the feelings of the other people in the equation? In some ways, that can even become an exercise in selfishness.
I can totally understand why you and your husband don’t want to go to the family gathering on Christmas Day.
It is always good practice to ask, “What would I do in her place?” And when I answer that question personally, I come up with the alternate scenario. You see, in your place I would probably say yes to the invitation, even if it hurts to be in the old family home. This has nothing to do with any sense of ‘virtue’; it’s just that i would put family first because i like to seem in control. Not meek but tough and often challenging.
But we’re all so different, with as many reactions to delicate situations as there are colors in the trees right now – and so I’m still on your side.
You have to put your love for the children and grandchildren against your love for the impeccable husband who won’t go. You and he can enjoy the family on many other days of the year.
So why do we attach so much importance to December 25? Since that day is your birthday, you could tell everyone that you and your husband decided to go for a job-free Christmas lunch at a nearby hotel or restaurant, and invite the younger generations over for a Boxing Day buffet at your home.
Or does one of your children have a living space big enough for the whole family? This would allow all of you to be together while saving wistful memories of the old house.
I’m sure you are a loving Nana who enjoys not only the love of the grandchildren but also the affection of your ex-husband. So you deserve to do what you want to do on your birthday.
And finally… Inspired by kinship care stories
It was an honor to speak at the launch (in the Houses of Parliament) of a major new campaign called Value Our Love, organized by Britain’s leading kinship charity.
When I told the assembled MPs and other key figures (as well as some brave and brilliant caregivers themselves) that writing this column has made me so aware of the complexities of family life, I confessed that I knew nothing about caring for relatives.
Get in touch with Bel
Bel weekly answers questions from readers about emotional and relationship problems.
Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email email@example.com.
Names are changed to protect identities.
Bel reads all the letters, but regrets that she cannot enter into personal correspondence.
I hadn’t considered what it means for a family member to adopt a child who would otherwise have been destined for the congregation. Yet this is so important.
Grandparents, uncles, aunts, older siblings… these are the people who open their homes and hearts to young people who can be challenging, so great are the problems they have faced.
We heard some stories – and it was heartbreaking and inspiring at the same time. These wonderful family members often turn their own lives upside down to nurture the future of young people and save society millions in terms of emotional repercussions and the horrendous cost of caring for a child.
Foster carers receive financial assistance and we help families who receive Ukrainian refugees. Right. But to change the life of a vulnerable young person? Zilch.
I heard about some of the hoops related caregivers have to jump through, how they sometimes have to give up their jobs and how hard it can be for the family – and I was impressed.
All the charity wants is equality with other carers. There is not much to ask when these people undoubtedly put the family first.
You can find more information about the campaign at kinship.org.uk/. Watch the short, moving film that you will see there. The verse script (spoken so well by caregivers and youngsters) was written by my daughter, Mail contributor Kitty Dimbleby. It was she who pointed out this vital matter to me. As it turns out, family can agree with you.
You can sign the petition at valueourlove.kinship.org.uk/.