"Celebrate your struggles," - Deidre Combs, author, "Thriving through tough times." - click here for her YouTube Ted Talk.
By Julia Anderson
"It's just going to take time."
That's the last thing you want to hear from friends as they pat you on the shoulder over your loss. They've done their bit. They've given you all the comfort they know how to give and now it's up to you to survive one day at a time while the clock ticks.
These well-meaning friends could do better for those of us who are suddenly 60 and single either because of the death of a spouse or (as in my case) an unexpected divorce.
It is six years this month since I learned that my then 63-year-old husband was involved with another (much younger) woman and "didn't think he could give her up." I've come a long way from the shock and profound grief of that moment six years ago as I then moved through a divorce and on to a new life. For me in that first year, it was some times about getting through the next 30 minutes rather than the next week or for God's sake, the next year.
I had my episodes of plate smashing, of cursing the pain and crying my eyes out. At the time I had a job to go to every day, a job that kept me from going crazy as things slowly got better.
I learned a lot that first year, I sought out inspiration, devoured books, pasted notes of encouragement to myself on the fridge. I learned to cry with my eyes open, to stay away from people who wanted to gossip about what had happened, who looked at me like a specimen under a microscope. I learned there were those I could talk to who understood, and those that didn't.
Women every day are making these adjustments that in the dark of night can take your breath away for the profound aloneness of it all, for the silence of the evening at sunset and for the constant inner dialogue as you plan the next minute, the next day, the next move.
A friend of mine told me recently that sometimes when she comes home to the empty house since her husband died, she immediately must go out again.....to the store, somewhere. "Then when I come back the second time, I can handle the emptiness," she said.
Another friend who recently lost her husband has a grandchild living with her that has eased the empty house issue a bit. But she too is early into her journey to find her new self, to get back on top. She says she's looked a volunteering but finds many of organizations in need of stronger management. "I wouldn't be able to keep my mouth shut so I just move on," she said. I suggested that maybe she needs to find a paying job. She nodded but I can tell it's too soon; she has more sorting to do.
Those of us in our 60s are really too young to devote all our time to grandchildren although that option offers certain comforts. We feel that there's still a contribution to be made, a project to undertake, a problem to solve.
Here at www.sixtyandsingle.com I've shared resources for those working hard to find their footing as a single woman over age 60. There's a new book for the list: "Thriving Through Tough Times: Eight Cross-Cultural Strategies to Navigate Life's Ordeals," by Deidre Combs.
Combs offers practical ways to handle those really tough times; those that "appear when the people, health or bank accounts we counted on disappear. We suddenly lose someone very dear. We become really, really ill, or the bank auctions our home...when the ground dissolves underneath our feet."
Yes, that's what I'm talking about when you are suddenly 60 and single. The devastating rush of being absolutely alone is something you can't really prepare for even if the person you're losing falls ill and leaves you over a long period of decline. Worse is abandonment, sudden and sharp. Either way the ground has dissolved under our feet.
Combs with undergraduate degrees in mathematics and Spanish, a masters in Information Technology and a Ph.d. focused on world religions, has a firm grasp on the grief process. She understands the universality of suffering.
A reviewer at www.Amazon.com says Combs, "provides multiple examples from countries and cultures, and she enlivens the text further with quotations from people of various ages, ethnicities, eras and professions. The uplifting conclusion is both a summary and inspiration. A useful grief guide with groundbreaking ideas, expert advice and a compassionate tone."
When I was immersed in the worst of my grief from loss, I recognized the two-sidedness of it all. The pain kept me awake at night but it also brought me in touch with deep universal truths, it had me seeking out authors that tackled the worst of the human condition. Alexander Solsynitzen comes to mind. His "Gulag Archipelago" was actually a comfort.
Joan Didion's "The Year of Magical Thinking" about suddenly losing her husband to a heart attack was enlightening. Authors Anne Lamott and Annie Dillard offer perspective on the human condition.
Viktor Frankl's "Man's Search for Meaning" explores the very essence of human suffering, how to overcome man's cruelty to man, beyond loss to the acceptance that there's no answers. I've mentioned Susan Anderson's "The Journey from Abandonment to Healing," several times here at www.sixtyandsingle.com
So how am I doing six years beyond my crushing disappointment, my loss? Friends would say I'm doing well.... remarried, traveling and working as a writer in semi-retirement. I have private moments of inner sorrow over what happened. I suppose I'm forever changed, maybe a bit separated from the day to day silliness of life.
I enjoy the moment in ways I never could before. I get down on my knees in thanks for my health and the active life I still have and my wonderful companion. I'm luckier than most.
Tomorrow, I leave for a two-week motorcycle trip to Utah's scenic canyon lands with Ken. We will visit my 98-year-old mother both going and coming back. I'm bringing along three books on my Kindle. One of them is Combs' book on Thriving Through Tough Times. There's always something new to learn, to think about.
It has been a remarkable six years...one moment at a time.
BY JULIA ANDERSON
Frontline's 2013 broadcast on public television called "The Retirement Gamble" created a firestorm of conversation and concern for people in the financial planning industry, retirement fund managers and those of us who advise and comment on the topic.
Key elements of Frontline's investigative look at how the 401(k) business works:
- Retirement money management is big business.
- Most retirees are unaware of the fees being taken out of their nest eggs that over time will cost them tens of thousands of dollars!
- Most companies provide their employees with limited choices for where their retirement money can be invested and despite recent congressional action to bring more transparency to the business, the veil shrouding fund fee disclosure has not been lifted. The depressing news is that working Americans are being short-changed when it comes to 401(k) retirement management plans.
According to Frontline research, the average wage earner stands to lose $109,407 over the lifetime of retirement investing in fees and commissions that reduce the reinvestment factor in their savings programs.
Anyone who has spent time planning for retirement knows that to live comfortably without running out of money you will need a $1 million nest egg. Few of us will achieve that goal, but certainly we're not getting any help from the 401k industrial complex. What can you do?
How to check up on your retirement nest egg:
1. Make friends with the people where you work who are in charge of managing the company 401k plan. Ask them about fund choices and fund fees. Make this a mutually beneficial conversation. What fund manager is the company's plan using? Ask for full disclosure of management fees and trading fees. If you work at a larger company, go to www.brightscope.com to see fee rates.
2. Save as much as possible up to the 15 percent maximum limit in your 401k from day one. If you're over 50, save even more in your 401k. Your minimum goal should be $1 million in your retirement nest egg by age 65.
3. Don't invest in your own company's stock. You're taking enough risk just by working there. Diversify your savings in low-cost index funds with expense ratios of 1 percent or less. What's an index fund? Index funds are a collective investment vehicle (fund) that aims to replicated the movement of an index of specific stocks or a set group of investments. For example, S&P 500 Index funds invest in the 500 leading publicly traded companies in the U.S. stock market. If the S&P 500 goes up, your S&P Index Fund will go up. No one is "managing" the fund and collecting a big fee for doing it. Get it!
4. If you leave a job don't be influenced by advisers who will push you into their own typically more expensive proprietary financial products. Either leave the money where it is or roll it into your new employer's 401k plan. You might also consider a rollover IRA in a self-managed account at Fidelity, Vanguard, Charles Schwab where you are in charge and can monitor expense ratios on the funds you invest in at lower cost.
After reviewing the Frontline broadcast, Robert Brokamp of the Motley Fool wrote a piece called "The Tyranny of the 401(k) Industrial Complex." Brokamp summarizes by reminding us all that planning for retirement IS up to each one of us. Click here for the Motley Fool retirement calculator.
"However you manage your finances, ensure yourself that it's doing more for your retirement than someone else's."
If the Frontline expose isn't enough, read Helaine Olen's book, "Pound Foolish," an expose of the financial services industry. In it Olen describes the business as a "world of illusionists, conjurers, and snake-oil salesmen of every stripe."
Again, who cares about your welfare, your retirement security and your money, more than you do? It's up to us all to get on top of our retirement planning, ask tough questions of our 401(k) fund managers and make sure we are not paying for someone else's retirement.
I meet women all the time who face job and money transitions and who want to do them right. It’s about building confidence and taking charge of the future. This is your money. No one cares more than you do!
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