Losing your life partner is the biggest challenge many of us have to face in old age. Former TV presenter and journalist Barry Norman lost his wife of 54 years, Diana, to heart disease in 2011.
Here he talks to Nick Smurthwaite about being left on his own, and why he decided to write a book about their life together.
What prompted you to write 'See You In The Morning'?
Originally I had no intention of writing a book but a couple of weeks after Diana died I felt I wanted to write something about her. At the time I did it for myself and maybe for the grandchildren when they’re older.
So how come it finished up being a 265-word book?
I had a change of heart. I thought, actually I’d like everyone to know how special and extraordinary she was, so I sent what I’d written to my agent and it was snapped by the Daily Mail who asked me to write more.
Then later, when my agent was at the publishers Transworld, he reminded them about the piece that had appeared in the Daily Mail and they commissioned the book.
Didn’t you find it upsetting to write about happier times together?
I actually got a lot of pleasure out of recalling the great fun Diana [right with Barry] was to be with, but, yes, of course there were moments when I felt sad doing it. I hope it’s not mawkish or sentimental because Diana would have hated that.
Did you always think you’d be the first to go?
Yes, but Diana always had the last word and she said she would die before me, and that’s what she did.
It is two and a half years since she died. Is the grief beginning to lessen now?
The sense of bereavement is still there. I’m coping and trying not to feel sorry for myself because self pity is self-defeating. The odd glass of wine helps but when self pity creeps up on you the only thing to do is to pull yourself together and get on with it.
I don’t grieve for Diana because she died very peacefully, propped up in bed, bedside light on, with a book by Patrick O’Brien on her lap. It’s the kind of death you’d happily choose for yourself.
But coming home to an empty house is quite depressing. Before, she would always wait up until I came home, usually asleep in her favourite armchair. Now I come home to an empty armchair.
You say in the book that, immediately she died, you busied yourself with sorting out all her papers.
Yes, all that admin stuff after someone dies helps you get through it – the death certificate, the funeral arrangements, contacting solicitors, working out who owned what, all that gets you through the first two or three weeks. Then you have to face the future alone.
Has work been a comfort?
Definitely, a great help. I certainly wouldn’t want to contemplate a future sitting around in carpet slippers watching daytime TV. I do like to have plenty to do because it is important to keep myself busy.
And I gather from the book that your daughters, Samantha and Emma, have been a great support?
The last couple of years would have been intolerable without my daughters and my three grandsons. Emma and her son, Bertie, live a couple of hundred yards from me in the village where Diana lived for more than 50 years, and where I still live.
Did you consider moving house after Diana died?
No, not at all. Even though her grave is a few hundred yards from my house, I hardly ever go there because I don’t feel she's there. But I do feel her spirit everywhere in the house, and I love that.
I have a couple of favourite photographs of her propped up in the sitting room and every now and then I curse her soundly for dying before me. Of course if I’d done that while she was alive there would have been an instant comeback. I really miss the clash of wits that went on throughout our married life. I even miss the rows we had.
Do you fear getting old on your own?
Yes, of course. The one thing I really fear is being stricken with something that makes me a burden on the family. I’d love it if there was some form of euthanasia to relieve them of that. I’ve talked to my daughters about it, just as Diana and I talked about it together when she was alive.
Are there are any advantages to getting old?
I find it much easier to speak my mind freely now. It's not OK to be rude to people, just because you’re old, but it is easier to go against received opinion, to have the courage of your convictions. That’s very liberating.
See You In the Morning by Barry Norman will be out in paperback on 13 March.