Dear Bel

I’m approaching 50 and feel hopeless. My 19-year marriage ended in disaster. At 22 I was divorced. I’d dropped out of university to marry him and felt I had to stay — until he put me in hospital.

After a 5-year marriage, I was treated horribly by the man I loved. After cheating on him, I got pregnant and pretended for three years that the child was mine. Once we had finished our relationship, I entered into a new relationship with my biological father.

My ex forced me, when my daughter was just three years old to inform him that she may not have been my child. The truth was confirmed by DNA testing. I broke my ex’s heart and have felt guilty ever since. He did not want to become her biological father. I have never seen him again.

My ex-husband and I grew up together. He was kind and forgiving, and we became good friends. We even went on family vacations together. After five years, he got married and had kids of his own. His relationship with his daughter began to unravel. She knew he wasn’t her biological father, but loved him so much and suffered terribly as he retreated from her life.

Counselling and antidepressants were necessary to assist her with the stress. There’s now no contact at all.

I continued making mistakes, including dating a married man I adored for years but who wouldn’t leave his wife.

Eight years ago I finished my last relationship — with a man I didn’t love but who treated us well. Once again, I was terrible to him and decided not to go back. Single ever since, I don’t go out or answer messages on social media from men. I can’t bear to go through it all again.

My dad died six months ago. I am now helping my family care for my mom, who is suffering from dementia.

My best friend of over 20 years — the only person I could confide in — died of cancer. I’ve been on and off antidepressants all my adult life, but found counselling torturous and unhelpful.

I look at other people’s lives and wonder why I can’t have that. Maybe I don’t deserve to be happy because I caused other people to be unhappy, most of all my daughter.

Although I understand that you might tell me to socialize, I feel afraid and overwhelmed by the thought. Talking to people is not something I like. Honestly, I don’t want pity, just to feel happier.

In the past couple of years I’ve put on about two stone and hate how I look. Maybe being menopausal contributes so I’m going to get HRT and hope I might feel better.


This week, Bel advises a reader who is approaching 50 and feels hopeless.

Bel gives advice this week to a reader approaching 50 years old who feels lost and helpless.

Your subject line was ‘How can I be happier?’ and I confess I thought ruefully that the question has been pondered by great thinkers for centuries and still wakes people at 4am, when everything feels worse.

There are so many interesting quotations on the subject, but I especially like Einstein’s wisdom: ‘If you want to live a happy life, tie it to a goal, not to people or things.’ I reckon that is as good a place as any for us to start.

Your story about your men relationships is really sad to read. I can imagine how you feel every day.

Yes, you tied your life to ‘people’ and it turned out very badly indeed. On the surface (and what’s printed here is a short version of a very long letter), it sounds as if you thought yourself unworthy of love, so instinctively despised (it might be too strong a word) any man who treated you well.

The Week in Thought 

 To a chemist, nothing on earth is unclean. A writer must be as objective as a chemist…[and]It is important to know that dunghills have a respectable role in any landscape. Also, that there are evil passions as well as positive ones.

Anton Chekhov, Russian playwright/short-story writer (1860-1904).


Only you know the factors that contributed to your current state of mind. You can only do this if you are a skilled therapist. If your counseling experience was not a good fit, then leave it. You might be able to try again in the future, but you will need to do your own work.

What sort of ‘work’? Start to think constructively about a goal for yourself — one that can only be achieved if you confront the past, admit the wrongs and confront the person who committed them.

Sins (and I used the word deliberately because it’s uncompromising) have to be confessed and repented — and only then is forgiveness possible.

It is clear that you have admitted to lying and cheating and feel an overwhelming guilt about the impact it had on your child. It is important to first learn to forgive yourself. To find true happiness, one must reflect deeply and take time to do so.

A portion of the longer letter can serve as a pointer to hope. You say you ‘try to be thankful’ for your family, ‘a wonderful daughter who loves me’, dogs, a home you own and health. So I believe the practice of keeping a ‘gratitude journal’ would be an excellent exercise for you.

Write at a set time, perhaps with tea or coffee when the sun goes down. Take note of any good points. The beauty of a florist’s window. Your dogs have made you smile. A call from your daughter. Sunshine. The beauty of raindrops.

Positive thoughts are cumulative and will have an effect. I guarantee you that positive thinking will bring about the benefits.

It is normal to feel grief for your parents. Reading books is a good idea. The use of HRT can be a great idea. It’s also important to eat right and do as much exercise in your daily life as possible. The dogs’ tails will wag. Why not consider volunteering, too? It is worthwhile to research all options. It is important to start rebuilding a life that you love, now.

Our hearts were broken by the suicide of our nephew 

Dear Bel

My nephew, who was 36 years old, took his own life this summer. He was 36 and single, and a gifted craftsman. My mother, father, two siblings and other loved family members were all left behind.

He had suffered from mental health problems since he was a teenager and we all supported him as much as was humanly possible — to no avail. This unbearable loss was not mine and I am so sorry for her. She will not be happy ever again, I am afraid.

Is it unfair that life is so hard? Her kindness is contagious and she has never hurt anybody in her entire life. I am filled with anger at the whole situation — as is the whole family. No one knows what we can do to help her.

She is in a very negative place and thinks counselling or medical help will be of no use at all because it won’t bring back her beloved son.

What is the best way to move forward? It is early, I am sure. But I want to reassure my sister that the sun will rise again one day. Help!


Your family has suffered the most horrible sorrow. I cannot express my deepest regrets to you. All reading this will surely tremble for your sister, understanding that the loss of a child — at any age — is the worst thing a parent can endure.

One of the most lonely human emotions is grief. Over the years I’ve answered many letters about bereavement, but the bewilderment of those left behind after a loved one has chosen to die is arguably the hardest form of loss.

Even if there are warning signs (the mental illness), the human spirit takes refuge from reality in the hope that the mind’s dark veil will be lifted and everything will be all right.

What’s left when it’s not? Confusion, disbelief, guilt (‘Could we have done more?’) — and anger, too. You mention anger with ‘the whole situation’, but this surely includes some anger at the terrible decision made by a desperate man.

In Arthur Miller’s play After The Fall, a tormented character says: ‘A suicide kills two people . . . that’s what it’s for.’ The implication is that suicide is an act of punishment — of the self and of a loved one. But is that really true? It is impossible to know. What we do know is that it affects a whole group of people — like a rock thrown into a pool, the ripples disturbing the surface.

Humans are profoundly connected — at once our glory and our punishment. Because of these connections, I believe that it is helpful for someone who suffers unfathomable grief like your sister to know that she’s not the only one.

Instead of suggesting counseling, I would provide details about the Child Death Helpline to anyone who is affected by the loss of a child. Those who answer the phones (Freephone helpline 0800 282 986; are specially trained bereaved parents.

Helping with the 1995 launch of this service, I met many grieving parents who told me their stories — and what a help it was to talk to others who had also walked through that particular valley of the shadow of death.

A beautiful book entitled Enduring, sharing, loving, by Marilyn Shawe, available on Amazon, could be purchased for your sister. It contains raw and honest prose and poetry by parents who have lost their children.

The anthology is a reminder that the knowledge of pain is shared, that plenty of time is needed before any sort of ‘moving on’ is remotely possible, and there is a community of grief which can offer comfort, no matter how unlikely that seems. I have no answer to the problem of pain, or its brutal unfairness, but I do know that love is never-ending — at once unique and miraculously shared.

(I should remind anyone affected by the contents of Lynne’s letter that the Samaritans can be called day or night on 116 123.)

And last… And finally… 

What would you do if somebody left you £5,000 in a will?

Reach out to Bel 

Each week Bel responds to readers’ queries about emotional and relational problems.

Write to Bel Mooney, Daily Mail, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT, or email

You can use a pseudonym if necessary.

Bel is open to reading all correspondence, but she regrets that she can’t enter personal correspondence.

Like me, you’ll think of many things you could spend the money on, from new furniture to a wonderful holiday to a splurge on clothes and jewellery. Give the money to your family. Pay off your bills. But that wasn’t the thinking of beautician Jessica Zhu.

You may have read in Tuesday’s Mail the story about how the nail salon manager decided not to keep the money Dame Diana Rigg left her.

Miss Zhu used to give manicures and pedicures to the actress since 2001. Once she was diagnosed with cancer, the actress saw her every day up until the day that she passed away.

When she heard she had been left £5,000 she refused to take it, asking that it be given to Rigg’s grandson instead.

I’ve been unable to get this simple story out of my mind. For in a week dominated by Cop26 — with the motorcades, private jets, famous folk and rich bigwigs spouting hot air, and Lord knows how much appalling cumulative consumption and waste — one ordinary woman decided her long relationship with a client was more precious than money.

Miss Zhu said: ‘I was with her until her last minute of life because I wanted to be with her . . . out of love and kindness.’

Let’s pause for a moment to drink in those words like a fizzing glass of the best champagne. There can be no doubt that the tender treatments, as well as the ‘same old chats’ (in Miss Zhu’s words) made Dame Diana feel so much better, even though she knew she was dying.

Pink nails can do wonders for a woman’s morale — and such things are not trivial. Nor is everyday ‘chat’.

It is easy to imagine how Jessica Zhu, a wonderful woman of faith and a great counsellor did just as much for Diana than any religious person or earnest counselor. It is sometimes hard to see the good in the world, and it seems more depressing these days. But this story of kindness made my week.