Census and sensibility



It’s the silliest little things that trigger a wave of grief sometimes… last week it was the census!


The census takes place in England and Wales every 10 years and is used to inform government planning for things like schools and healthcare. It’s also a great historical record as after 100 years the old census records are released. I have one friend who has used this to research the history of her house in the 1800s and early 1900s. Professionally I have used it in Health Impact Assessment to identify health inequalities between different areas.


With my interest in how the census is used, I had no problem in filling out the form on 21st March as required, and for the first time this year it was all online. It was all going great until I got to the marital status section, and had to tick the “widowed” box. Marital status comes up on forms quite a bit, and I wonder if I will ever have to tick that box and not feel that pang of sadness as I do.


I know that this box has affected my fellow widows differently. For those of us who were married it is a simple but painful act, just to tick the box. But for the many widows who had built a family (with or without children), or a home, or a relationship with their love, but who had not wanted (or had run out of time to get) the “piece of paper” of legal marriage, there is no word for them, no box, other than “single” and no recognition of their relationship or loss. (There are so many ways in which our old fashioned system fails to recognise the reality of modern families and relationships, but it comes to the fore when people are widowed and those that weren’t married even miss out on financial bereavement support, even if they have children).


Then I wondered about where I would have been for the last census in 2011. I can’t remember if Chris and I spent the census day together, but we lived in separate houses and weren’t yet married (or even engaged). At the last census I would have ticked the “divorced” box, his would have been “single” and I think it likely that we each filled out our census form separately.


Which made me sad, because it means the census will have no record of us having been together.


My pity party was fairly short-lived, and now I am starting to wonder what the next 10 years will hold. While I know I will still miss Chris in 10 years, by the next census I wonder what my circumstances will be?


I still find it really difficult to think about anything more than a few months ahead, and so I definitely don’t have a 10 year plan – the difference in my circumstances since the last census is a perfect example of why. In 2011 I didn’t know that I would get married, buy a new house with Chris, adopt a dog, support Chris through cancer, become a widow, adopt another dog, move house again and be living by the beach. I didn’t know that I would have roles on two of the UKs biggest major infrastructure projects and find my preferred work niche, but choose to take a break from it. None of us had any idea that we would live during a pandemic. I didn’t think I would be brave enough to start a blog, or dream that it would win an award! In 2011 I never imagined for even a second that Chris wouldn’t be here in 2021.


My focus is on the next few months. I am about to start a new job, back in major infrastructure, which I am really happy about. I have a few ideas for home improvements that I will get some quotes on (and which might form a 3 year plan!) My younger daughter has a year left on her college course so I will be supporting her through completing the course and choosing what to do next. Beyond that I have no idea, and it is exciting and overwhelming to think about all the possibilities. I do have a dream of writing a book, so maybe by 2031 I will be a published author...


Anthropologist Ernest Becker suggested that it was the awareness of our mortality that set us apart from other animals (although this view is becoming outdated). What I know is that I wouldn't have wanted to know what was ahead of me back in 2011, and I don't want to know what to expect between now and 2031. All I can do is hope that the good outweighs the bad, try to live without regrets and keep my priorities right - spending time with family and friends, and keeping work in balance, taking it all a day at a time.