Life in the Golden Years: A story of survivors

Linda Alessi • Updated Jun 17, 2017 at 10:45 AM

Many years ago, I ventured into a group that was so different than any I had joined before. It was a widow and widowers’ gathering of people who had lost their mates.  It was unique since many of us were in our 30s and 40s, too young to face the world alone. Too unprepared for what we would encounter. There were others in the fifth and sixth decades of their lives whose lives changed abruptly.

The utter despair appeared too frequently, and the sense of displacement was evident. We came to help ourselves and others mend our hearts and make adjustments to a life we had not chosen. It was thrown upon us sometimes without warning. It was a life alone.

Whatever the manner in which the loss took place, it was nonetheless devastating.  We knew we would encounter a multitude of feelings as we opened our sessions, reviewing how we managed to get through the past week.

Many of the women were teary-eyed as they explained the frustration of living alone and managing a household they were so ill equipped to handle. The maintenance of the family finances, balancing the checkbook, repairs and the daily chores usually managed by the man of the house were now their jobs.

The men, on the other hand, complained of their ineptness of running the household with chores unfamiliar to them. They were ignorant of the routine of planning meals, laundry and raising children alone. It was a revelation to all that all aspects of maintaining a family and home has to be familiar to both mothers and fathers to cope on a daily basis.

Upon reflection I realize today more parents have interchangeable roles and share the responsibilities in many cases. This pertains to the younger people left alone. Older people have other problems dealing with being left sometimes with failing health and many years together now uncoupled.

Our sharing with each other helped to comfort and understand what we were going through. Many times, questions would arise and a multitude of answers would ensue. What most do you miss by not having your mate with you any longer? After a period of reflection, the answers came. The lack of sharing. No one was there to listen to you with the happy experiences, the sad or annoying events that took place. Our loss left us with no reflection of ourselves. It was as if we lived in a house without mirrors.  

To those with a fragile self image, the loss was indeed more profound. They saw no place for themselves. Their existence depended upon the loved one who was no longer available. They missed the recognition, the smile, a kind word from their mate. They missed the loving touch and intimacies their shared.

It took hard work to get though this difficult period. Positive attitudes were fostered to uplift us and many became stronger. We were challenged to attempt new ways to live our lives. The support and understanding of family and friends was important. We availed ourselves of our spiritual advisors, mental health professionals to aid us in our transition.

We realized we needed a new path in the life we still had to live. We did not belong to a couple society, and some of the relationships we enjoyed in the past were no longer available to us.

I am grateful to have been an integral part of this group. It is 40 years later, and I am still experiencing the familiar picture. Some have the same expression I remember from so long ago. The names are different, and many years have past, but the situation is still devastating. I think it is even more so. Many have lost their mates of many years. They had begun to grow old together and planned retirement, but death has stolen their plans. 

I think it is even more difficult for seniors to adjust. There is the added burden of the loss of youth and the frail health of many. Fear and loneliness can be a constant companion. The will to survive is the strongest element in man, and we can sustain many drawbacks.

It is noteworthy that attitude and faith can bring us to acceptance a wholeness that we all desire.

Linda Alessi, of Lebanon, is a regular contributing columnist. She writes about life in the golden years.


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