The topic of widowhood often comes up in my private Facebook group, Celebrate Life, especially around the holidays. Many women after 50 have suffered the devastating loss of a spouse. I am certain there will be discussions on how to deal with widowhood during the Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah holidays. (If you are interested in joining this subgroup, join my FB group, Celebrate Life.)
There was a call out on Celebrate Life to form a sub-group for widows. Under the astute leadership of one of our members, the women in the group have found comfort in sharing their grief and knowledge. As I stress, “Women need women.”
Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Hanukkah are around the corner, the hardest time of the year for a widow – especially a widow in her first year of mourning. The loneliness and sadness are almost impossible to bear during this joyful time of the year.
I know, I was a widow.
I do have some ideas to share with you about the holidays but first, let’s discuss widowhood.
A New Lifestyle with Widowhood
For a woman over 50 who finds herself alone and adjusting to a new and unwanted lifestyle, the experience is traumatic and it takes time to transition from coupledom to singlehood.
For recent widows, and those of you who have a difficult time moving into the now, I want to share with you the tools I used to emotionally pick up the pieces of my life.
I want to begin by informing you of the change in our culture.
The trend toward singlehood is on the rise. Singles are becoming one of the largest demographics. About 50% of American adults are either divorced, widowed, or never married. Women are living longer, so there are more widows, and though the stigma of being alone has lessened – it hasn’t disappeared.
Nevertheless, before a widow can reenter society, she will encounter several bumps in the road. Aside from the emotional trauma of losing a spouse, she is suddenly thrust out of her comfort zone and forced to do things independently.
How To Survive Widowhood
In one split second in my 40’s, I was no longer Mrs. Michael A. Forman. I was a widow. My late husband, also in his 40’s, passed away suddenly from an unexpected heart attack.
The day of Michael’s funeral is a blur. I don’t recall the Rabbi’s words. I do not remember how I arrived at or left Michael’s funeral.
Similarly, I don’t know who put a lifesaving paperback book in my hand at the end of his service. The book became my savior as I began a new passage, a new journey back to life.
Tools To Rebuild Your Life
The little paperback lying on the table next to our bed the following morning was How to Survive the Loss of a Love. The book is filled with jewels of knowledge that led me from utter shock and darkness into light. I used the book’s teachings as tools to rebuild my life. It was no easy task. There are several new books, but I cannot imagine any better than the one handed to me. Buy only the first edition even if it is used!
It has been proven that you cannot heal emotionally from loss without mourning. I know this to be a fact. I followed the book’s teachings, experiencing each of the four stages over the course of a year. On the year anniversary of Michael’s death, I took my girls to our Synagogue. As the Rabbi spoke, a year of tears surged down my cheeks that literally drenched my face. I could not stop them during the entire service.
The feeling of loss did not end even when I restarted my life. It took two years to fully concentrate again. The sudden loss of my husband was so paralyzing that I sometimes ponder its long-term effects on me.
The 4 Stages to Recover From the Loss of a Loved One
You cannot survive the emotional loss of a spouse or loved one unless you experience these four steps. You must not hold back. You must mourn your loss.
The Tools I Used
Spending Time Alone
Living in the beautiful city of Honolulu, I walked four miles each morning and four miles at sunset with my pooch. I thought about my life with Michael. And I did not hold back my emotions. Crying and sobbing, I grieved alone.
Getting Physical in Widowhood
The exercise was very important in my healing process. I walked to rid myself of stress, stay fit, and stay healthy. You have time to nurture your body and mind.
Your Home Is Your Castle
I was numb from the sudden loss of Michael. As I mentioned I could not concentrate; I was unable to read or watch television.
I decided to move from our family home of love and memories into a charming, small temporary apartment with palm tree leaves almost touching my lanai. I lived near the ocean so I could take in the salty air and listen to the sounds of the ever-changing sea.
I bought orchids and placed family mementos everywhere. Often spending time alone on my balcony, I gazed below at the koi pond watching the koi fish swimming peacefully.
Moving from a large home to my enchanted apartment was my safety net and the ideal setting for healing. Moving is not for every widow, but it was what the doctor ordered for me. I felt safe, protected, and secure in my small apartment by the Sea.
Listening To Your Heart
Widows, have confidence in the inner you. Listen to your heart rather than to the suggestion of others. Have faith in your instincts. I did what felt right to me. No one can get in your head.
Though I was not a woman over 50, my instincts told me to spend a year alone. I mourned 365 days of that year. Respect your comfort level; eventually, you will regain optimism and hope and reenter the world.
A Widow’s Story
Once a month I went to my hairdresser. I would sit in his chair, and he would ask, “How are you feeling today.” I would answer, “ I am so sad.” For six months that was our total conversation.
In the seventh month, he asked the same question, and I replied. “ I am beginning to feel better.”
Darling, I was afraid. I was now mom and dad. I was worried about my daughters facing their lives without a father. As a woman over 50, you will have different questions facing you.
It was during the eighth month, I began to ask myself these questions. Should I stay in Honolulu or move to Chicago to be closer to my family? You will face your worries. Don’t leap into decisions – no fast moves for a year.
After several months of indecision and a lot of soul-searching, I began to live into my answers. I was able to think clearly and began to make realistic choices. Please don’t rush your healing process.
It took me a full year to complete the four steps of mourning. Listening to the Rabbi’s sermon at Michael’s memorial service one word went through my mind…acceptance. I walked outside holding hands with my two daughters and knew it was time to move into the present.
For you darlings who are recently widowed or those having a hard time months or years later, I will leave you with this short story.
I recall that several years ago when I was 50, I observed one of my older friends going through widowhood. She had been married for 60 years.
I admired her greatly and watched her from afar as she found her place in the single world. Even with a booming career, she realized she had to slightly shift her lifestyle.
She moved outside her box of comfort and learned to play cards and even took up golf! She took it upon herself to make dates with other single women. She decided she wanted to have a full life and extended herself, opening the doors to new opportunities. It is difficult to start a new life after 50 but you can when you become proactive.
How To Handle Your Holidays
In the second year of widowhood, you will probably ask yourself, “Where did everybody go?”. Offers of walks and dinner dates dry up, and friends have stopped checking in on your well-being. Many of you will ask yourself, “Is this all there is to my ‘new’ life? Loneliness?”.
I know it is hard to reach out and tell someone you are alone, especially over the holidays. If you have widowed and divorced friends who are alone, reach out to them! Remember they want to be less lonely, too. Come out and tell them you are lonely and have no plans for Thanksgiving and suggest getting together for a holiday brunch or dinner. And add, “Maybe we can start a woman’s group? I would love to offer my home.”
It is a wonderful trait to be able to show your vulnerability to a married or single friend who is fortunate to have her family with her for Thanksgiving. It is actually powerful to say, “I’m lonely. May I spend Thanksgiving with you and your family?”.
Have you considered volunteering over Thanksgiving? There are so many people who are lonely. You will not be lonely if you volunteer. You will feel joy in giving back! There are several organizations that need your help.
Have you considered traveling over the Thanksgiving holiday? This would be a perfect opportunity to join a tour of single travelers. The new experience will ward off loneliness and who knows who you may meet and what you will learn.
Have you considered online dating? Thanksgiving and Christmas are perfect times to reach out and brave the world of widowhood. Your goal is to become less lonely and more visible. I know it takes courage. So why not make a plan to give yourself a Thanksgiving and Christmas gift? Online dating lets you see what is out there! No one wants to be alone for the rest of their lives. People need people. Of course, you may prefer and be happier alone. I am just putting this option out there. It is not the right time until you know what you want.
If you are a new widow I don’t suggest you rush into dating. You are too vulnerable and wounded. You have to process your loss before you are able to concentrate on a new relationship. And you have to ask yourself if you want to date someone.
If you are experiencing severe social anxiety or loneliness preventing you from connecting with others, Thanksgiving is the perfect time to pick up your phone and make an appointment with a positive psychologist.
Why Thanksgiving? Because this holiday is the time to share with others and if you cannot, you may be giving yourself the message that you need help.