Usually, we have a roomful of women attending our talks and signings about becoming Suddenly Single after 50: The Girlfriends’ Guide to Navigating Loss, Restoring Hope, and Rebuilding Your Life, based on our book by that title and our weekly blog, www.lifelessonsat50plus. Occasionally a guy attends, often to be supportive of a female friend. But weren't we surprised--and delighted--the other day when a talk in Barbara's hometown brought forth several guys, and one asked a very touching question:
Question: I'm a widower; I lost the love of my life, and I don't know how to move forward. What advice can you suggest?
Here's part of how Barbara responded at the time, which, with Margaret, we’re now expanding for the blog.
Answer: First, let me say how sorry we are for your great loss. Now for the next part, moving on, which is tough for you and understandably. Remember, first, it's your time table to follow and nobody else's. You don't have to get over your loss and become happy in a month, six months, even a year. The pain will lessen but never diminish. We do hope for you that at some point, you can start looking forward to a future and thinking about what you want to do with the rest of your life. Life, as you knew it, is over. You can craft a new life and find happiness again. As we know, life is very, very short. The first two years after Margaret’s loss were the worst. She went for grief counseling and joined a grief support group. And then she started to feel empowered. She was alone for the first time in her life and in control of her own future. She began to move on: new relationships, new ventures, and new home, to name a few.
Think about things you might like to do to engage you, maybe, what you've never done before, so you don't keep thinking how your late wife would have reacted. Keep busy. Barbara who lost her husband to divorce took dance lessons--the Lindy, salsa, and more, which her former husband never would have done. She mastered a lot of new steps and dips and even found it great exercise. Margaret started entertaining and differently than her barbecue-king husband liked to do. We're talking fancy linens, china, crystal, the works, even lighting candlesticks and multiple courses, each with good wine! To pair the right wines, she attended tastings where she met some interesting folks. She also began two new volunteer projects working with kids, which she loves.
If these notions are terrifying, maybe, you can start by joining a support group for others who've lost a spouse, partner, or loved one. You have something in common and can listen to what they've done to move forward. You might even make a friend; some folks have found a romantic partner. In our book we talk about Mike and Joan who met in Margaret’s grief support group. They recently married. Don't feel rushed to do that or date. Spend time with friends of both sexes. Again, take your time, and if you don't want to date that's fine, too.
If you work still that's great because you have a place to get up and go daily. It’s a familiar routine. Getting up, getting dressed, brushing your teeth, combing your hair, and getting out of the house are all crucial to good emotional happiness. If you don't work, maybe find a volunteer activity where you can help others with a skill--reading, teaching French, and preparing your favorite recipe. The point is to get outside of yourself. It's empowering, and will pay you back emotionally in buckets of rewards.
Do you like to read? How about those classic books from high school or college you never read or want to reread? Hang out at the public library, another great place to run into new people or join a book group either there or at your local book store. Barbara tackled Charles Dickens again, always a favorite? How about taking up a musical instrument or singing if you're so inclined? If you play an instrument already, why not volunteer to perform at a local school or senior center. How about a community dramatics group, or good physical exercise? Pilates, running a 5K--which Barbara is now training for, or just joining a gym will get those endorphins going. Releasing happy chemicals throughout your blood stream does wonders; just wait and see.
Don't think at any point you have to become a Renaissance man and do all at once. Try one activity and stick with it for a while to give it a fair shot. You'll meet others and expand your social circle. Try not to talk too much about your loss around those who haven’t experienced something similar. This is when a grief support group is terrific and safe. Too much doom and gloom can be off putting. Sometimes, you have to be a bit forward and hold back on your sadness. "Hey, I see you here all the time. You seem to love the treadmill. I'm Joe, and you are …?" Do it once and you'll find it less scary. Some may be so happy for the possibility of a new friend. If not, don't take it personally since you don't know what's going on in their life.
Any of these ideas appeal yet? Try some and get back to us within six months for a check in; we'd love to hear. And here's our final takeaway. You always need friends surrounding you to encourage you but also to keep listening to you and not saying, "Time's up, get over your grief.” Someone actually said that to Margaret. Barbara got a variation. "You've said that already. Time to move on." You don't need to put such folks out of your life forever but for now you should or until they understand the situation.
In the meantime, we get what you're going through. Stay in touch, and good luck!