How yoga is helping Sutton Coldfield’s widow find strength in the grieving process

Orla Blackburn and her son Orann

For Orla Blackburn, the death of her beloved husband Andy, aged just 47, in 2018 was devastating.

‘The kind soul’ Andy was, after all, a wonderful father to Orann – aged four at the time – and a rock to Orla.

Andy was diagnosed with aggressive lung cancer at the end of August. It had very quickly spread to other parts of his body. He tragically died 11 weeks later at John Taylor Hospice.

“Andy was a beautiful soul, he had the kindest, most beautiful personality,” recalls Orla, who lives in Sutton Coldfield.

“He had a quirky and unique way of seeing the world and his sense of humor made me laugh, and everyone who was lucky enough to experience it, throughout our 24 years together. .

“He was that rare type of person who never said anything bad about anyone, even when it was appropriate to do so – it just wasn’t his nature.

“He was an amazing dad, always on the floor and playing games with Orann, while I took care of mum’s practical stuff.”

Orla Blackburn

Naturally, Andy’s untimely death rocked Orla, who didn’t know where to turn or what to do.

“When Andy died, I found myself so lost, traumatized and upset,” she recalls.

“There were so many emotions that came with being heartbroken. Losing your partner or spouse is life changing and hard to fully comprehend if you haven’t been through that experience yourself.

“Suddenly Andy was gone. Orann had just come into reception at school so I didn’t really know anyone there. It was a really, really tough time.

“There are so many losses happening at the same time.

“Not only have you lost that person who has been by your side for years, but also the person with whom you have gone through the vagaries of life, with whom you make decisions and who has supported you when you were at your worst and encourages you when you are well Everything fades away.

“What you thought was your future and the person who could validate your story and your memories – it’s all gone. It is difficult to express the many losses that you are experiencing at the same time with this person who is no longer there.

With the emergence of a pandemic, life was hard enough anyway. For anyone bereaved, the pain was multiplied.

“I had to quit my job as a graphic designer as they were unable to support me as a single parent and I knew the stress of that job would be detrimental to my health,” she recalls.

That’s when two flashes of light in a dark tunnel entered Orla’s life: a charity called Widowed and Young (WAY) – and yoga.

Orla Blackburn

“I had a gym membership and people told me I should use it to structure my day,” she recalls.

“A lot of the daytime sessions at the gym were yoga classes, so I started doing one, then another and another.

“Doing these classes helped me to release some of the emotions that were locked up inside me, to realize that my body needed to be taken care of and treated well, it helped to build confidence in what I could do and accomplish.

“I found yoga so useful and rewarding that with the encouragement of a supportive friend, I found the courage to apply for yoga teacher training. It started as the first lockdown .

“At first it was quite stressful to do everything online when I had my son in charge and home schooling, but I managed.

“It took eight months to complete the course and I doubted myself a lot throughout, but I did it. It was such an achievement for me.

“I discovered Widowed and Young (WAY) a few months before starting yoga teacher training. I had struggled with everything going through my head and this feeling of being very alone, until I joined this incredibly supportive group. I would highly recommend WAY to anyone in need. It was incredibly helpful to be around people who were in the same situation.

“You immediately have a network of several thousand people who are all in the same situation. The members-only Facebook group chat and activities are still very active. There are always other people there to support you who simply understand.

Having received their support. Orla decided to give something back.

“In early 2021, I started giving gentle healing yoga classes to widows and widowers at WAY every Saturday morning.

“I was hoping yoga could help others work through their grief the way it has helped me. This group has been around for over a year now and it’s such a rewarding class to lead.

“Since then, I have started giving lessons to the community of Sutton Coldfield on Monday mornings. We are building a beautiful community and my wish is to continue to develop it.

While Orla and Orann mourn Andy — “It’s still hard to believe he’s not here,” says Orla — yoga has at least given him purpose and purpose.

Orla Blackburn and her son Orann

“Yoga is healing and therapeutic. It’s about what your body will allow you to do and it can slowly improve over time,” she says.

“Once you have fully discovered the benefits of yoga, there is no looking back. It helps to slow down your thoughts and mind and appreciate the here and now as well as improve your ability to move your body the way it was designed to move. It made such a difference in my life. and that’s what I try to do for others now.

“In my previous job I worked really long hours and put my all into this career, but losing Andy made me think about how I was living my life and I realized what I was doing wasn’t giving me back. happy.

“Yoga means that I am of service to others in a way that will benefit your physical and mental health.”

Now Orla hopes to use yoga to help others in her position.

“I counsel widows and widowers who need to find their way, find their way — so they can live with joy and purpose and not get stuck in grief,” she says.

“Losing your life partner who has always been by your side is shocking and it takes a lot of work to move forward in your unwanted new life.

“Counseling and support groups are your first port of call for finding a way to deal with grief. There may come a point where you feel stuck and don’t know how to move on, but you really want to embrace the life you have and that’s when I hope to help you.

“Working on my own grief is an ongoing process. The pain of Andy’s absence will never go away. It’s something I will always carry in my heart and of course I have ups and downs with my grief, things can get messy.

“But I also found how to live happily again, and it’s an ongoing process, but temporarily going to these yoga classes when I was in deep pain opened up possibilities for me and my way forward.”

To find out more or to book Orla’s yoga classes at Emmanuel Church Hall in Wylde Green, Sutton Coldfield, Birmingham, go to or email [email protected] .com

Orla also has a private Facebook group for anyone who has been widowed – male or female – and wants to find their way. For more information, search Beyondbereavementintobravery

WAY Widowed and Young celebrates 25 years of supporting young widowers. across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The very first WAY event took place on February 26, 1997 in Cardiff and. today WAY has over 4,300 members across the UK – all of whom lost their partner before their 51st birthday.

Drawing on a network of volunteers who have all been widowed themselves, the charity provides peer-to-peer support to young widowers across the country – including sexual orientation, gender, race and religion – as they adjust to life after their partner’s death.

In normal times, WAY volunteers run lively social gatherings throughout the year – providing an alternative social life for people who have lost their partner at a young age. During the pandemic, WAY meetups have moved online, including weekly pub quizzes and bingo sessions, as well as local meetups through virtual platforms such as Zoom. WAY members also have access to closed Facebook groups, as well as a 24/7 helpline. See for details.