"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.
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