Widow’s fire describes the (sometimes) uncontrollable and all-consuming desire for sex following bereavement.
When we lose our partner, particularly when we lose a partner young, we lose a lot of things. And one of those is the sex life that we had with our partner, either throughout the relationship or prior to them being ill. But it’s not just about losing the sex life we had. Grief and bereavement leave us with a void, and our libido can kick in to fill that void and provide us with the kick of feel-good neurotransmitters and hormones we need. Sex is also a distraction from grief, a way to take control back in our lives, a comfort, and something that makes us feel alive.
What to do when widow’s fire strikes? Masturbation releases the neurotransmitters and hormones, such as oxytocin, that make us feel good, and also helps sleep. But it’s not enough for everyone.
If you want and need sex, do what you want to do, what you need to do. Just remember that you are vulnerable. Be careful. Take steps to protect yourself, sexually, physically and psychologically. Don’t be affected by other people’s opinions or judgements. And whatever you do, understand that it does not make you a bad person, or have any reflection on the relationship that you had with your partner.
For some people, it’s not so much a craving for sex as a craving for intimacy. It’s the lack of touch. I remember going to a Pilates class and nearly crying when my tutor put her hand on my back to readjust the pose. I know it's not the same, but hugs from friends or family, or a good massage can help to fill the gap.
Other people can shut down completely, with their bodies blocking all sexual feelings, or they can feel disgusted at the idea of sex. If you don’t feel widow’s fire, or the thought of having sex ever again turns you off, you’re not doing it wrong, because everyone grieves in a different way.
I was widowed at 50 when Tim, who I expected would be my happy-ever-after following a marriage break-up, died suddenly from heart failure linked to his type 2 diabetes. Though we'd known each other since our early 20s, we'd been married less than ten years.