18 Replies Latest reply on Jun 2, 2010 10:43 PM by creect2

    Long marriage, sudden widowhood


      My husband spent 40 years teaching at a private religious college and was set to retire in June of 08.  He died suddenly the first week of the fall semester in 2007.  His Ph.D. was in Chinese History and he taught that and History of Japan as well as European History. Needless to say I was overcome with grief and an enormous mountain of work to do.  In October the stock market started its downward spiral and I am very upset that my husband worked so hard to get the money into the pension system and now it has lost so much.

      I have not contacted TIAA and this forum is the first I have approached the subject except for casual conservation with friends.

      My son is also a professor of Chemistry in Washington.D.C. and is watching to see what I am doing.  He is very laid back about it all and says I should not react to it all.  Easier said than done.

      I have handled the hard stuff like changing the names on all the insurance policies etc. and it is deleting his name on everything even the gas co and the telephone co. etc.  After a while you just give up and let it stand.  It really does not matter after all.

      My three children and married and live in three different states.  I am alone except for a new puppy and some friends.  Coping is what I do every day.  I seem to want to be with others who have lost a spouse as they are the only ones who really understand all the aspects of being left behind.

      I never even thought of this happening and think that perhaps we were going to be moving closer to one of my kids and their families.  But which one and how can you leave all you have loved behind you?  I keep buy but after 40 years of living the academic calendar of school vacation, final exam week etc.  It is a shock to find out that others do not see the calendar in the same way!

      Any advice you can offer me will be appreciated.  I keep busy with volunteering etc but it is very much a front and not a real passion.

      remarks?  Advice?

        • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
          Keep volunteering, and the passion will come. You sound very self aware. I think you will be fine in time.
          • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

            Dear Carolann,

            Like you, I was lucky enough to be married to my soulmate, though we only had fifteen years together.  He died a few months after his retirement in 2003, leaving me a widow at 47.  Fortunately, I was still working (I'm a community college professor) and was wonderfully supported by colleagues and friends in the community, but the first year or more was one long slog of "things to do," and I still occasionally find odd details that were missed all those years ago.  You're right; those things don't matter and do eventually get taken care of.

            In terms of your busyness feeling like a "front," that was very much the case with me as well.   Nothing mattered much and I found myself hoping not to have to live too long, but there was a lot that had to be done (his mother was still living at that time and required a lot of emotional support) and no one else to do most of it, so I kept putting one foot in front of the other.  Then something changed.

            As a result of having lost what felt like everything, I became pretty much fearless and basically said "yes" to any invitations from friends.  "why not" became my motto. Not to go into unnecessary details, one of those invitations led to a new career focus (being still in my early fifties may be an advantage here) which has become a passion.  A women's grief group that I joined in the second year (and in which I was the only widow, everyone else coping with other sorts of losses) morphed into a raucous weekly dinner group that has become a mainstay of everyone's life.  Most unexpectedly, in 2006 I married a coworker whom I'd never talked to until I recruited him for a volunteer activity at the college.   

            The only advice I can give will no doubt sound trite, but it was true for me.  As much as you can, stay engaged in life, even if you don't feel engaged.  By behaving "as if" (a term my grief group used a lot) you are living, eventually you will begin to feel alive again.  My experience has been that doors will open. 


              • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood


                Thank you for your note.  It does make it better when you can share your feelings with others.  My kids do not want to hear how bad I feel and my daughter does not want to dwell in anything that is sad or unhappy.  So you are right.....you have to be with others and their support means everything.  I am still exploring trying to get together with a group of women but everyone is so busy with jobs and family and since I do not have anyone here I have all kinds of time.  I volunteer with preservation group and may do more but for now in this winter of my discontent I am staying close to home and hugging my golden pup more than is probably necessary. ha ha

                I know that I will never find another man like my husband but I really don't know where to look for some kind of male companionship.  My friend still works at the university here but her dept. has no one I would like to meet.  I would like to get a group of women and men together from my Hospice group but only the women are game.  The men stop showing up for monthly meetings.

                Thanks again.  I appreciate it more than you can know.

              • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                My wife & I discussed this the other day. Both of us are still working & are in our 60s now. We have two adult children but can't imagine ever turning to them for any consolation. They're so wrapped up in their own lives that at the most we'd receive a card once a year & a few phone calls.  They're strugglling with finances, careers, schooling, etc., & we weren't too dissimilar when we were in our twenties, though we were married & they're still both single.

                Working, or continuing to work, connects you. Volunteering also connects, although I believe working for a company or organization provides more of a buy-in to shared goals. The money doesn't hurt either. While the economy is bad, there are surprisingly many part-time positions, primarily because the companies don't want to pay benefits.

                Losing a loved one also does not mean that love must be vacant in your life. Too many of our church buddies found new spouses through their strong relationship within the Christian community. They balance the love & respect they had for their former spouses with the new relationship & love of a new spouse.

                Continuing with an active social life is important. That can involve movies, plays, sporting events, take some courses at a community college, library meetings, book store presentations, museums, etc. Living close to any size of town offers unparalled advantages to expand into something you've wanted to do for a long time. Travel is also expanding if you have someone to go with you. Going by yourself can be difficult & lonely.

                  • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood


                    My late husband and I taught together in various places including overseas through our entire marriage, 32 years.  When he died in 2005, all our savings had been wiped out by his diabetes and our ignorance about U.S. healthcare, but my life has moved on.  I teach now in a good school, bought a house, have started a new life.  We had returned to the US for better health care, when a bunion operation became infected and he finally succumbed after a year of fighting it.

                    My pastor and my church have been my loving support since then.  My pastor helped me with weekly grief counseling.  It's not so much what he or I said; it's having that hour with a loving, healthy person who had known my husband somewhat, and the focus upon myself and my needs (financial, professional, personal.)  I read lots of books:  Donald Hall's book of poems about his wife's illness and death call Without, the book called Widow, by Lynn Caine,  the Bible's many references to "widows and orphans" and the book The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion, in particular.  E.E. Cummings wrote a poem called "The Widow's Lament in Springtime."   I wrote lots of grief poems myself.

                    You are not alone.  Be gentle with yourself; I spent yesterday afternoon at home in my chair, crying about the many sudden changes in my life (pastor is retiring, my son lost his job) and it was indeed cathartic.  I "spoke" with my husband, gaining strength from his get-up-and-go attitude.  Remind others on occasion that you are a widow.  I just love that there are special considerations given in Biblical verses, both Old and New Testament, for widows and orphans.  We're special.

                    Christy in Virginia

                      • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
                        I have a husband who is 11 years older than I am - he is now in his late 70's and still working even though he has short-term memory issues and depression from some pretty terrible things employees did to him when he owned a business.  When he does his work he is 100% focused and accurate and on target - it is just ruminating about all the betrayals he experienced that gets him down.  And he is still trying to solve some business issues from the old company. I think all the time about how much time is left to us and the quality of the time that is left. Some days even I get depressed thinking about all that has happened in the last five years.

                        I am a writer and as President of a 200 member, 63 year old writing group, I also work as an editor and script doctor.  I have won awards for my poetry and am host of a local cable TV show called Poetry Today recently I taped my 12th show with Marc Kelly Smith - the originator of the poetry slam around the world. I am hosting a show coming up on memoir writing.

                        I also give workshops on "Writing Your Life in 8 Lines and 24 Words" which are very popular and have won awards for my poetry.  Poetry writing and reading helps you in so many ways.  In the rhythm of the words (they don't have to rhyme) and universal themes you can find so much comfort and solace.  To know that there are others who grieve and have made a sometime companion of that grief, is to know you are not alone in your grief.

                        Read and write poetry, write fast, don't think.  Do it for yourself.  Write in a journal - when I give writing workshops I hand out spiral-bound notebooks for journal writing with bright covers - you would be amazed at how writing fast in a journal allows some of your grief to get out of your mind and on to the page.  It always works and all it takes is your time and energy to do it.

                        It is a natural component of aging to look at our spouses and our lives to make some sense of why we were here on this planet, what we accomplished - or didn't.  The very act of writing allows you to move forward even a little bit helping to reaffirm who you are - and that you count- in this crazy world.

                        As for depending on kids for comfort or solace - that doesn't work.  Our kids tried to run our lives earlier this year (with the best of intentions) with weekly phone calls and you should do this or that - without asking us if we needed their help or wanted to talk with them about the intimate details of our lives.  We stopped those calls.  They have busy lives, with working and kids and friends and each of them live on a different coast.  We older adults must take charge of our lives however we can. 

                        Try writing and reading poetry, or writing in a journal or starting a memoir.  It helps immeasurably.
                          • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
                            My dear husband, soul mate and best friend passed from pancreatic cancer 1 year ago, Then my sweet niece passed unexpectedly a few months later. Then 4 Aunts and Uncles passed unexpectedly, all within a short 10 month frame period.   All of the mutual friend couples of 29 years have chosen not to contact  me and I am now left with a blank page for myself. I resigned a position in Academia at a major university last week because I need some time to wrap my head around everything that has happened in the last year. I also want to be able to be available for my girls. The past year I have worked long hours and commuted to work 4-5 hours a day, to and from work.  I do have 2 beautiful girls in college and love them dearly. They have there own lives and I am very close with them but need to branch out, but do not know where to start.
                            I go out dancing with my sister, the one who lost her daughter, for exercise once a month.  But that only goes so far because I do not like or want that kind of scene.
                            My husband and I were extremely close. We did everything together. Not because we did not have a choice but because we loved each others company immensely.  My husband was extremely intelligent, creative and talented. We enjoyed the same things but yet each brought different things to the table. We both worked hard and liked to be a family unit on our time off.
                            Trying to rebuild my life and would like some concrete suggestions.
                              • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                                There are no easy answers to such a deep loss. My DH and I are best friends as well as lovers, but both of us have some health issues that could easily mean one will be left alone at some point. I've often thought about this issue. Difficult as it is to make oneself reach out, there's just no other way to build a new life - which is what the survivor has to do.

                                It's hard when you don't have that one special person to share everything with. My MIL lives with us, and every day she mourns the loss of her own DH. The trouble is, he's been gone for over 10 years and she still hasn't built any kind of new life for herself. She still hasn't even bothered to learn our neighbor's name even though she's been living with us for three years now. I see her flounder helplessly, unable to bridge that gap to make her own friends, and it's truly pathetic. I would never want to end up that way.

                                It's a cliche to say, "go volunteer", but there are certainly many organizations where you can join and try to find new friends. Whether it's a dinner club, a seniors center, a library, a garden club - heck, even creating a blog - this is a period for you to challenge yourself. Who are you, really, and what are you made of? Do you let change defeat you, or rise to the occasion?

                                If you find yourself battling depression, this is a common reaction to such loss as you've had. Have you talked with your doctor about trying some mild anti-depressants for a short time to see if it helps? Does your employer offer any kind of personnel counselling as a benefit? - many do, for a nominal cost.

                                Your couple friends are most likely at a loss of how to tactfully approach you. Reach out to them, don't wait by the phone for others to call. Passivity becomes its own trap and you need to break out of it. You don't need to date, necessarily, but you do need to start expanding your social network and making new friends. If there's a widows group, for instance, for those who've lost their spouses to cancer, why not join? If there isn't one, why not start one?

                                Life starts one day at time. Give yourself a plan - one new activity a week, perhaps, to try it out and see if you like it. You have many opportunities in front of you to choose from, as you build new happiness in your life. I wish you good luck and success!

                                • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                                  My wife and I were "soul-mates". What got me "through the night" was not grief support groups but a small and tenacious groups of friends determined to be there for me 24/7.

                                  The psychological wound heals but it takes time.

                                  Best -



                                    • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                                      I have been widowed for 1-1/2 years now. He was my soul mate, best friend, lover and father of our 2 girls. We were together for 28 years.  He died from pancreatic cancer and fought courageously for 7 months.  It was extremely difficult to see my precious loved one suffer so. I started my career in nursing as an oncology/hospice nurse and still it was difficult.  My oldest daughter just graduated from college this weekend and I so wanted to share this proud moment with him. We always said to our girls that college was mandatory. I wanted him there for my daughter so that she could see his proud face and see his huge smile and feel his big tight bear hug.

                                      After my husband's death I went from shock and working 12 hours a day to resigning my position in nursing right after his 1 year anniversary of his passing.  I thought I was doing everything right by keeping busy and doing what I thought I needed to do but  somewhere down deep I recognized the need to properly grieve my loss and losses and to be available for my 2 girls who lost their father. You see four months after my husband passed my niece who was like a daughter to me and had 2 little girls suddenly died of an infection. I then lost an Uncle and an Aunt all within 8 months. I had lost my parents and my husbands parents when we first got married 28 years ago. So my husband and I were on our own raising our 2 girls. The four of us did everything together. Sports, games, music and anything else you could think of. I know I was very blessed to have this kind of relationship and family life for 28 years.

                                      The time off has been at times unbearable, deeply sad, and yet therapeutic. I did not resign my position 6 months ago without a plan. I planned to grieve, stay still and listen to my heart and soul. Somehow I used my reserve to visit my girls at college and let them know that I knew they had lost the greatest man that they had known in their lives, so far. They had been suffering quietly and not wanting to burden me with their grief. I called each one of them one day after I had resigned and said I have arranged to stay up near your college for a week and I will be their for you when  you want to get together. I even brought the family dog, who was their childhood dog named faith, when they where younger they would dress her in doll  dresses and push her in there doll coach. This surprised them so much and the three of us were able to commune with each other and cry, laugh and also just be with each other. It was good.

                                      I have decided to sell our house and downsize to something more manageable for me. I do not know where or what, yet.  I have been able to get to a place within myself and say, " what good are all his clothes doing hanging in our closet, just because I want to go in and smell them and look at them, because it reminds me of my love and how  beautiful he looked in them or do I give them away to the Veteran's Association and give them to people who truly can use them and those people who have nothing.
                                      I cried when I bagged up the clothes and folded them very neatly and respectfully. I smelled them for the last time. Interestingly though, his scent on the clothes had fainted to just a hint of his natural scent.

                                      I made a pack with myself---- I do not leave the house without a bag of books for the local libraries, a bag or 2 of clothes for either the Salvation Army, Good Will, or local shelter and I also leave things in my driveway for Purple Heart, American Red Cross or Veteran's Association after calling them to come and pick the items up. Of course I take out several bags of trash each day as well. The house is full of 30 years of our stuff, my husband's office stuff, both of our parents stuff that we inherited. Hence the pack to dispose of all these items every day. This in and of it self keeps me very busy.

                                      When I feel uncontrollable sadness and grief for myself I exercise. I turn on the TV and dance to music or stick in an exercise tape and exercise. If the weather is nice I go for a power walk in the local park, as long as there are other people around.  I also joined the local gym and run on the treadmill for 1 hour and 1/2. I get a nice hot shower at the gym and by the time I get home I can usually fall asleep pretty quickly.

                                      I get together once a week with my best friend from high school and we go to get a bite to eat and sometimes the movies. I have also gone on several day trips with my sister the one that lost her daughter, my niece. We select trips like seeing a play in New York. There are tour companies,ie Starr Tours that pick you up at a location and drive you to the place you have selected to visit. The fee can include lunch and either the tour ie, West Point, Baltimore Inner Harbor, a play or show in New York, etc..
                                      It is important to eat and especially eat nutritiously. Veggies-Fruit and protein. Take a multi-vitamin if you cannot eat so much.
                                      It is hard for me to eat because I used to be the one that all the kids would come over to our house to join us for dinner. I cooked every night. My husband and children loved my cooking. Not that I was such a good cook but that I liked to cook.  Since my husband passed I have only cooked 3 times. I went up to my daughter's college and cooked Thanksgiving, an early Christmas dinner and another meal for 24 plus kids. That was nice. I was surprised I had not forgotten how to cook.

                                      I try not to be too hard on myself and remind myself that I only have to take baby steps. I was always a multi-tasker, planner with many goals.  I am now trying to not look too far ahead and live in the present. It is too hard to look ahead and not see my husband at my side.

                                      Everyday in America is a blessing and I also say thank you to "my God" for all my blessings: My health, my 2 daughters, the years I had with my husband, the wonderful parents I had,  the birds and the beautiful sky. Even through my tears of grief, while I am crying for myself because of my loss, I give thanks for every thing I do still have and have had in my life, every morning when I awake and every night before bed.

                                      I also, sometimes get angry at my husband for leaving me so early in life and leaving me when I am still so young and looked forward to our golden years, but after this event, I then say I know it was your time and I need to be strong.

                                      So for anyone reading this that has gone through or is going through something similar know that there are many of us out there that have lost loved ones and you will find joy and feel love again. It will just be different.
                                      Your God has not forgotten you, you will become stronger and learn new things. Carry on because if it not yet your time to leave. Look for the simple things in life to bring you joy. It does not come over night and I am still working on this. But I have to say that I am at a much better place within myself now then I was 6 months ago.


                                        • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                                          I just wanted to let you know that I was very moved by all that you shared here.  It was very moving. I haven't had the same life experiences as you.  But I went through some losses a few years back and really get it. I'm sort of new to this site in that I haven't spent much time on it. Today I was looking at the message boards and so this one and checked it out.  I think you're blessed to have such a good friend and sister to share your life with - your children; and you certainly know that. And that you're missing your husband also, simultaneously while recognizing the good.  I think this is what is meant by bittersweet. But I want you to know that even as you were writing about your loss, reading what you wrote, was helping me understand ways to find the good in life.  So thanks and best wishes to you.


                                          • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
                                            Thank you for your wonderful sharing of how grieving has been for you.  It is different for each person.  What I came away with while reading your feelings is that whatever it is we feel is okay and and that each of us copes in a different way.  The most important thing is that we cope -- in our own way we cope -- and isn't it nice to have friends to bounce our feelings off of.
                                    • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
                                      I think writing down your feelings can help one overcome whatever is going on emotionally in one's life.  I give workshops called "Write Your Life in 8 Lines, 24 Words" - a process I developed as a writer to get those attending to get to a simple way of defining one's life.  All the time I see delight, amazement, surprise and even tears as one puts down words that reflect one's life at that moment in time.

                                      No one can overcome our human loneliness even in the middle of community.  Moving closer to our adult kids and giving up our contacts and familiar surroundings doesn't seem to work either.  My husband is much older than I am and we are in the process of making the decision of selling our longtime home and figuring out where to go.  The property taxes in our community are higher than surrounding communities - and we just can't stay here - we just received a 20% tax increase.  This town is just forcing us to leave.

                                      Yet, even with all the decision-making, change of lifestyle, downsizing, approaching mortality and upheaval I have discovered that when we reach out to others, and ourselves,  through our words on the page and through our interactions, we nurture ourselves and others.  For me, that is what it is all about - giving others a way to tap into themselves, then use those tools whenever needed to help define a life in progress. 

                                      We matter.  That we have lived a long and productive life matters.  Nurturing ourselves and then others helps.  Write down some feelings, see where it goes.  BTW William Carlos Williams wrote "The Widow's Lament in Springtime" not ee cummings. 
                                  • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                                    Dear Carol Ann:

                                    I lost my husband very suddenly in 2004 when we were both teaching. I could supply all the platitudes that were spoken to me and did no good, but I'd rather tell you about the outpourings of love and concern from friends, family, and strangers (who knew him), which, by the way, still continue. For example, later this month, the university is hosting a concert for flute, guitar and voice composed by a leading woman composer around several of his poems. Also, we have a poetry broadside series in his honor. The annual fund-raising softball game for this will be April 3. The reason I give these specific details is that friends and family, and the college, might be wondering if there is any way that they can honor your husband in some fashion. Would you feel up to talking to the chair of his department about something that would be a tribute to your husband's service?

                                    These events help keep my husband alive, not just for me, but for all the others who loved him.

                                    On another front, I agree with those who say to keep getting out and about, even if you don't feel like it. The reading that helped me the most came from TIAA. They sent a kind of "in their own words" compilation of advice from widows and widowers. And, my church family helped a lot too. I also traveled.

                                    I also took on a big project at the university, which I'm still doing, which changed me from a professor into an administrator, and even though my professor friends say that I've gone over to the "dark side", I enjoy it a lot. So, to sum up, keep busy, be open to new experiences, do something you love doing.....and be kind to yourself. This is the first year I've had hope in my mind when New Years rolled around. I spent a lot of time alone grieving and depressed, but I think it was useful time and necessary. I even think I was in shock for a year or so and, as you say, operating on auto-pilot. Everyone's experience is different and the progress of grief is also different for everyone. Don't think you have to be on any kind of a timetable, even if it is one provided by a counselor.

                                    I also know how hard it is for your children to speak with you now. My adult children both clung to me and pushed me away, and had problems in their own work and social lives, but we started something that we have kept up--calling each other every day. It has been a comfort to all of us. They are now both doing well and we can talk about their dad and tell stories that make us all laugh.

                                    you and your family will be in my thoughts.

                                      • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
                                        Thank you for taking the time to write.  I will try and use some of your suggestions as to a way to honor my husband's 40 years of service to the college.  it was too late last year and now too late for this year but at least I will get it started.  And yes, my adult children do call me at least every other day. Since they are so far away no one knows if they are it! As graduation time comes again it brings back some saddness of my husband sailing off in his robes.  If my younger son gets his tenure I will trade in those robes for new ones for him...his Dad would have liked that I know.  Thanks again.
                                          • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood
                                            I'm sorry for your loss, and I'm glad your adult children are helping you work through this.
                                            • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood


                                                 I lost my beloved Jim 18 months ago. He was 74....I am 61.  His TIAA-CREF ended at his death. His SS is not quite enough....so I work 3 days a week. Am very fortunate to have my little job. Am also fortunate that TIAA-CREF opened their program to non teaching spouses so that I was able to open a meager Roth IRA. It is very small....but am thankful to them for what I have. They rebalanced my portfolio on my birthday last year & so far their choices have been growing nicely......far better than the CD's (certificates of depreciation) I have at the credit union.

                                              Love communicating with others my age......in particular those who have lost a spouse......for as you said......they seem to better understand the pain

                                              Write if you wish,



                                                • Re: Long marriage, sudden widowhood

                                                  I too have been widowed in 1995 and then met and married my present husband, Larry, who was diagnosed with Alzheimer's in 2003. About a month ago I flew to Chicago from Maine to pick up a 2006 Airstream Parkway model RV. I like to say that I did not want to wait for the other shoe to drop before I started travelling on weekends. We get help here at the house from Monday to Friday for Larry so it leaves the weekends to go in the RV. The reason I selected this type of RV is because I thought I would be able to handle everything from packing to unpacking. I was right. It is one of the best decisions I have made to date.

                                                  Give yourself the time you need to grieve your best friend that you recently lost. Everyone grieves differently but in my case, it seems as though it took me a few years altogether. I used to write him letters about important events and feelings of sadness. I would seal the letters and put them in my safe until I was ready to tear them up. This was helpful for me as I was able to get my deepest feelings out.

                                                  Once Larry was diagnosed in 2003, I started grieving again because that diagnosis is very tragic. At the same time I like to think that "everything is perfect the way it is" and therefore accept all challenges that come my way. Becoming widowed and then carrying for a very sick husband has thought me enormously about life and myself. I am grateful for everything.

                                                  Your work will carry you through and I encourage you to get out into the community to participate in events that you like. BTW I met Larry at a Kiwanis luncheon where he was the guest speaker. You never know where your next best friend may come from. You have so many great years ahead of you. Enjoy life to the fullest and stay well.