Christina rediscovers joy through friendship

A widow from Wilton who all but died of a broken heart following the death of her husband has spoken of the joy she has finally found through Oddfellows friendship.

Christina Morrow, 75, became so depressed after she lost her beloved husband Ralph, she stopped eating and had to be rushed to hospital for a blood transfusion and iron infusion.

But today Chris says she has a ‘new lease of life’ thanks to one of the UK’s largest and oldest friendly societies, the Oddfellows. She has a wonderful group of friends, wakes up feeling bright every day, and enjoys an active social life.

Chris, from Wilton, near Salisbury, is sharing her story to encourage other people to make new connections within their communities.

She said: “Ralph was my soulmate, we loved to travel and I had devoted my life to him. I was his carer for 20 years and when he was gone, I was totally forlorn.

“I hadn’t always been able to socialise and maintain friendships like everyone else. So I fell into a very deep black hole. I stopped eating, I didn’t leave the house, I slept most of the day and couldn’t sleep at night.

“I have no doubt the lack of a support network compounded my feelings and made me feel so much worse. Of course it’s devastating to lose your husband, but I felt completely alone.”

Chris and Ralph ran a successful business together before taking early retirement when Ralph was diagnosed with Eosinophilic fasciitis, a rare muscle disease that paralyses the muscles.

The pair were married for 39 years, and when Ralph died four years ago, Chris didn’t want to go on without him.

I had a lot of counselling and support, but I needed more than that, I needed friends.

For almost two years, Chris hid her depression from her daughter Mandy, who worked as a long haul stewardess and spent much of the time out of the country.

She finally got help when her shocked aunt came to visit and immediately called an ambulance.

She said: “Mandy and I have a very loving relationship and because I hate to worry her, I went to great lengths to hide the true state of my health. But when my aunt arrived she took one look at me and called for help.

“The doctor looked at my test results and said I shouldn’t really be alive. It was the wake up call I needed.”

She added: “I had a lot of counselling and support after hospital, but I realised I needed more than that, I needed friends.”

Chris, who joined the Salisbury Branch of the Oddfellows in May last year after cutting out an advert for the group, said: “It was as if a weight had been lifted from me. Having people who understood what I was going through gave me hope.

“It’s given me a new lease of life. I'd always been looking after Ralph and I was totally closeted. He was the love of my life, so I didn’t mind, but now he is gone I need to reach out and find those friends again. Without the Oddfellows I don’t know what I would have done. They picked me up when I was down, they are there for me.”

With one in five (20%) over 65s saying they don’t have any significant friends, and a further 31% saying they haven’t made a new significant friend in more than 10 years, the odds on building a new friendship group weren’t stacked in Chris’s favour when she found herself alone aged 71.

As we age and our life changes, we have less access to these everyday social opportunities, which can contribute towards social isolation in a huge way.

The independent YouGov study was commissioned by the Oddfellows ahead of its annual Friendship Month awareness campaign, celebrating the power of friendship. The study also showed that a huge majority (79%) of people in the South West make new friends during education (40%) or through work (39%), meaning opportunities for people to make friends in retirement are greatly reduced. 

But the Oddfellows has welcomed Chris with open arms, and she now boasts more friends than she has ever had.

Dawn Walters, spokesperson for the Oddfellows said: “Sadly, it’s very common to become isolated when we lose a loved one.

“But studies are beginning to show how regular company is essential to living a happier and healthier life. In fact, some would say that spending time with friends is as important as eating healthily or exercising. Friends aren’t just there to socialise with, they provide support and comfort in times of need.

The Oddfellows is here to offer friendship and support all year round.

“Most of us make our friends through work, family or education. As we age and our life changes, we have less access to these everyday social opportunities, which can contribute towards social isolation in a huge way.”

Dawn added:  “The Oddfellows is here to offer friendship and support all year round and we put on lots of exciting events which are perfect for first introductions. If someone is unsure about what to expect, please contact us so we can put you at ease. If we know someone new is coming alone, we’ll always ensure there’s someone for them to ‘buddy up’ with until they find their feet.”

If you'd like to find out which Oddfellows events are happening near you, use our online Events Finder, alternatively if you're keen to visit your local Branch, enter your postcode into our Branch Finder

You can also request a free membership pack by visiting our Contact Us page, or calling the Membership Team on 0800 028 1810.