One woman’s loss has been transformed into new friendships for hundreds of widows across the UK, after she founded the new social networking website The Jolly Dollies.
Yvonne Vann, who lived in Milton Keynes for 15 years, created the site after her own experience when her husband Victor died seven years ago following a long illness.
She told the Citizen how she was able to turn his death into something positive for herself and countless others.
Yvonne said: “In a way I lost my 50s, as I spent most of them caring for Victor.
“For the first couple of years after he died I was totally and utterly lost. My whole life had been built around Victor, and I had no idea how to socialise. I was very uncomfortable around couples, and felt like I was the odd one out, a spare part.
“Quite by chance I met somebody else who was in a similar situation. We went for a couple of drinks, and to tai chi classes. Other widows found out, and we invited them to join our group.
“The group kept growing, and we started going to things like car maintenance classes. By then the local news had got wind of it, and I just thought that if it works for us then why shouldn’t it for other widows?”
67-year-old Yvonne, who now lives near Weston-super-Mare after 15 years in Great Brickhill and then in Great Linford, was married to Victor for more than 30 years.
He died in 2007 from multi system atrophy (MSA), a terminal neurological illness which saw his bodily systems gradually break down.
Throughout his final years Yvonne cared for him, eventually feeding him and changing his underwear.
Yvonne said: “Victor was 47 when he was first diagnosed with Parkinson’s. But it wasn’t Parkinson’s, which is a chronic illness, it was something even worse.
“When we saw a doctor who gave us what he had, neither of us could look at each other. It was as if it would be really happening if we made eye contact. It was not real.”
Yvonne added: “I looked after Victor until the day he died at our home. It was gradual at first, but in the final few years it really accelerated. I was caring for him 24/7 and did everything for him. The professionals wanted to fit a tube into him so he could have liquid nourishment, but I wouldn’t let them because I knew that eating, and my feeding him, was one of the few pleasures he still had.
“He lost the power of speech very early on, and I can remember one night when we went out for dinner and stopped to buy petrol. He was walking back to the car and I noticed his walk had changed – I asked why he was walking so slowly, and it was his condition. I never saw his healthy walk again.
“It was very difficult, watching the man you love deteriorate like that. But it was also a privilege to be there and to care for him – I loved him so much and I love him still.”
The Jolly Dollies website was founded last year, and with members joining across the UK Yvonne is keen to encourage more women from her former home county to join.
Members can simply visit the website to learn more, and then email their details to Yvonne so that she can put them in touch with the nearest group. Groups then decide between themselves where to meet, when to meet, and what they will do.
Yvonne said: “The biggest benefit of joining is the groups decide how they want to do things.
“We have groups go to the West End, my group went dancing last year, and you can all chat on your group’s Facebook page.
“We’ve got hundreds of members, from all walks of life, and we’re always there for each other.
“And I am also launching a male version, The Jolly Gents, for widowers, next year too.”
n To find out more visit https://thejollydollies.com/