BY ESTHER RANTZEN
LONELINESS creeps up on you like an ambush. It is treacherous and cowardly.
It surrounds you when you are least prepared for it and suddenly you feel the pain, like a dagger to the heart. It's not difficult for the newly single, I've found, to survive the everyday difficulties and tribulations that turn life into an assault course - when the car breaks down, or the bathroom floods, or the money runs out.
Those are the times when you can cope because you have no choice, you must get on with it. So you strap on a metaphysical tin helmet, put your head down, dodge the bullets and survive until another day.
But when morning breaks and you realise that the sun is shining in a cloudless sky, that's the moment when you sigh with relief and turn your head on the pillow towards your partner. That's when you remember he's not there any more, and it's the moment when loneliness strikes deepest.
Three years after my darling husband Desmond died, I still find it hard to admit to loneliness. It seems ungrateful to my family and friends who have helped so kindly to support me. But they have busy lives of their own, and with the best will in the world, they can't fill the gap.
I have learned, over the past three years, how painful it is to be happy by yourself, when you've got used to sharing treats and holidays with someone who was literally your other half.
How do you appreciate a wonderful sunset, or a gorgeous piece of music, without him to nod and smile to - someone who enjoyed it alongside you for so many years.
Those of us who are fortunate enough to have memories of a long, loving partnership can flick through our mental albums and remember the times when we were happiest, moments when we walked wordlessly, hand in hand, our pleasure redoubled because we were together.
My memory is filled with moments I shared with Desmond; the chilly spring dawn when we watched the sunrise at Delphi; the hot summer afternoon we spent fishing for mackerel in Bantry Bay; the nervous suspense when we watched our daughter acting in a Christmas pantomime.
I have just taken a cruise holiday up the deep, green fjords in the southern tip of New Zealand; Desmond would have adored them.
I could hardly bear their beauty, I so longed for him to be standing next to me at the rail, pointing to the spot where Captain Cook landed, and instructing me in seamanship. But he wasn't there, and he will never be there again.
When Desmond died, I put his own wedding ring on my finger. It was a talisman, and a constant connection. Six months later, I was interviewed by Michael Parkinson and sang some words I had put to the tune of the Irish folk song, She Moved Through The Fair.
'My husband, my lover, he was brave, he was fair, And we journeyed together, and each memory we'd share.
Then he took his hand from me, when we had to part, But I know that he's with me, for he's here in my heart.' It wouldn't win any awards as a lyric, but it seemed to strike a chord with other widows, for I received dozens of requests for the words. At the time I still felt physically connected to him.
For two years after his death, his spirit was so close that I could talk to him silently, and feel that he was still sharing our lives.
When the children went away with me on a week's holiday to one of his favourite places, Corfu, we drank to his memory and felt that he could hear us, and clink his own glass in heaven.
When I went with two of our closest friends to the south of France on the anniversary of Desi's death, as I had promised him I would, we opened a bottle of sparkling pink wine and the wind blew the bubbles back into our faces, and we knew he would be chuckling at us.
BUT time changes things. It's more than three years now, and I've moved out into open water. Not that I have begun to forget him - I think about him every day. …