Saturday, September 4, 2010


Judith Viorst in her book "Necessary Losses," raises a distinction in regard to the death of a spouse as differing from that of another loved one. She explains that when a spouse dies, an entire way of life is also taken from the survivor and that in itself becomes another death to surmount.

I really identified with this description, it just rings so true with me and my experience. Right now I see my life as one of having to be totally reinvented by myself from the ground up. It is as though I am emerging from the womb naked and at this point everything necessary for my survival has to be provided by me. In a way, I am now serving as a parent to myself.

I lost every aspect of my previous life with the exception of my education which I've always believed can never be taken from you. My financial cushion is shattered, the home to provide some of that financial security is gone, I've lost my social network, I don't have a career or job in keeping with my interests, skills or educational level, the absence of emotional love, support and connection that was the heart and soul of my marriage has left me bitter, hopeless and drained.

Here I am at 51 needing to undertake a total rebuilding of my life for all levels and aspects and I don't seemingly have the strength, energy or even desire to do so right now. I'm exhausted from the years of sorrow and the constant getting up and facing the day on my own. At 51 I'm not sure anymore how much my depression, anxiety and exhaustion stem from my age and the beginnings of menopause or actual grief. Why does it have to be one or the other? Maybe I am suffering from both!

I thought the other day that I probably have a good 20 years left in the work place where I can be productive to others and derive some meaning and satisfaction for myself. I need to make a concerted effort to seek employment in my field and to regain my qualifications which are outdated.

But I admit I am utterly overwhelmed by the prospect of having to reinvent myself at so many levels, from the ground up while being naked! I don't know where to start and my fear combines with me just not doing anything. I lack a plan - I don't even know how to make a plan on a course of action. There seems to be too much to do and everything to do all at the same time. Do I focus more on one specific aspect or goal or try to work on them evenly at the same time? Having a better job would improve the financial end of life but having a better social support system would make it easier for me to focus on my work life.

I feel in similar ways to that of myself as a college student. I had a tough time figuring out what to concentrate on and ended up getting my BA with the 5-year plan because I'd changed my major so often. But at least back then I felt the support of family and friends behind me. I knew if I made a mistake and failed there would be a place for me to go and guidance in helping me figure out the next step. Now I am in the position of trying to guide my sons to the best of my ability and figure out this new personal path and I am feeling crushed under the pressure and responsibility.

I know that the optimistic thinkers and doers out there can to point to this as an opportunity for great growth and potential. Like those speeches you'd hear about being able to accomplish your dreams and aspirations. But I tell you, I didn't have any clue ahead of time that this would become the new state and reality of my life. Around me others are thinking about retirement and relaxation. It is a rude awakening to be plunged into a world where what you knew and are familiar with has been stripped away. I need to work at a better job simply to survive and assist my boys with their college educations. I don't have a choice. And rather than inspire me to more greatness, that in and of itself isn't a motivator. I'm being forced to survive whereas before in my old life, decisions I made were based on what I wanted to do on my terms. Kind of like now being forced at gun point to keep trudging forward, rather than do so willingly. It does make a difference.

Sitting here and brooding about all of this gets me nowhere. I suppose in the end, whatever step I end up taking, in whatever direction it is going, is one small step toward the future and going forward and an improvement from stagnating in my current fear and indecision. "Take a step. Any step. Take a chance, any chance and see where it leads and what comes of it."


  1. A couple of things. First, I think that, if you are pretty sure you could get a better job in your real profession, you should take a very hard look at exactly what it would take to get back into that line of work. From what I see - looking at this as an outsider - it seems that you are gravely underemployed and at a job that is tiring and quite menial. You need to do whatever it takes to climb out of that ditch.

    As for your social situation, most people meet the kind of people they date and marry through either work or social activities such as participation in a special interest group. They don't meet them in nursing homes or at their son's football or baseball games, or at nightclubs, etc.. You need to be in an environment where you will actually meet interesting *nice* people and not just a bunch of soccer parents or elderly clients.

    As for your sons' education, do you think they will be able to work part time to help out at some point. That's not at all unusual these days. When I was at university - I went back as an adult student - most of the younger students I took classes with - had outside jobs to help out with their tuition, etc.. I look back at those students and it was the ones who were working who also really buckled down and worked really hard on their degrees and didn't just goof off. I felt the same way. I was working hard at a job to put myself through university and I took my education as seriously as my work and made the dean's list and got large scholarships each year. I was incredibly mercenary about the whole thing, but did also enjoy my years at university too. Anyhow, I hope your sons are interested enough in furthering their educations that they would be willing to dig in and help out with putting themselves through university. You're working hard enough just to support the family as it is, so their help would be a great contribution to the whole family's well-being.

    And yes, take a step forward and be willing to take chances, but do a bit of research and thinking ahead before you do. I liken these situations to be like those of the migrating shorebirds that must fly many thousands of miles. They stop on beaches to feed and must store up lots of energy before flying onwards. If they waste their energy flying around pointlessly, they soon burn out what little they scrounge at each feeding and they will never make it to their wintering place. But if they can feed and then fly on by the most direct route, they will get there in good condition, ready to recover for their long return flight in the spring. We have to be like that too -- yes, rest and recover and lie low at times -- but when we are ready to move, it needs to be calculated to return the best results. Right now, I see you working at a hard job that is taking too much energy and not delivering enough reward. Think about that. You need to change the equation. Less work and more reward. What will it take to make that happen? Don't keep wasting your energy on a dead end. You're only 51. I'm already 4 years older. Things don't get any easier. Make the best of what you have right now.

  2. Bev - You raise some good points. My husband was a thin, athletic man and his doctor said his cancer was the "easiest" to beat - Hodgkin's Lymphoma (tumor under his arm). But cancer ran in my husband's family and he couldn't beat it.

    I feel the most sad about the relationships I've had since my husband's death, that the men took such little interest in my boys. It would be lovely to find a man who truly wanted a couple nice young men around and who'd be willing to exert some time and effort nurturing them - Lord, they could use some honest to goodness male attention/involvement.

    Your description of the birds fueling up before embarking again on their long journey was very inspiring and totally on point. I will think of your words often and not feel so guilty for taking my time before jumping in.

  3. I agree that you should try again to find something in your own field. Surely it would pay better and you would have the sense of achievement that's lacking now.

    I left you a birthday poem just now in the comments section below your last post.

  4. You know, I have spoken to older men who think they were much better fathers in their later life, than the fathers they were as young men - and some of them were not the natural fathers of their later-in-life families. Many of them took on a different role - that of a mentor rather than a competitor. I think that older men (and women) usually have their priorities in the right place. Most have done all that they set out to do with their careers, and many have more time for a family and put a higher value on that time because they have a better understanding of the shortness of our lives.

  5. Bev - I will let you know about the older men if I meet any. I know it is pretty remote that I'd ever meet an available guy at a football game. About the affluent community I reside in, most families pay the college tuition for their kids and this area has more married people in it than anywhere else in the U.S.! But I know that I am not part of a two-parent family anymore and just don't have the resources to provide free-rides for my sons. I just hope they'll be able to do it with me helping a little - maybe they'll have to go to college a few years longer than most. Personally that wouldn't upset me in the least.

    I do know that after all I've been through that I am a much deeper/more evolved person than I was 20 years ago. I think I will make a better partner now. But it seems as though some men will be frightened of me for having too much baggage.

    Thelma - Loved the b-day poem and thank you for thinking of me!

  6. I think finding work in your field will help you in a whole variety of ways:

    1. With more income, you'll struggle less to secure the basic necessities of life, leading to less stress.

    2. Less stress and more income will put you in a better position to form connections with new people. It's hard to be relaxed and social when you're constantly worried about being able to put food on the table, and it's hard to get out and meet people at all when you can't afford to go anywhere, not to mention when you're exhausted from a full day of hard physical labor.

    3. As Bev said, you're much more likely to come into contact with compatible people, whether for friendship or something more, if you're working in your own professional field. I have some acquaintances among the parents of my daughter's school friends, and they're nice people, but we're never going to be more than acquaintances, because we have nothing in common beyond having kids the same age. All my close friends over the last 15-odd years have been people I've met through work.

    So yes, if you have to choose something to focus on, I would vote for your career as that one thing, at least for right now. Aside from everything else, the physical part of your current job is going to take a real toll on your body as time passes. My father worked on a loading dock for 20 years, and everyone who had been there for a while, even the strapping young men in their 20s and early 30s, had bad backs and shoulders and knees from all the lifting and carrying. My dad ended up retiring at age 63, even though he really couldn't afford to, because his body was breaking down and surgery was in his near future. His employment options were limited because he didn't have a college degree, but you do, so please take advantage of it if you can.

    I can't remember if I've asked you this before, but have you read Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich? I think you might identify with a lot of what she went through in the course of her "experiment," as well as her perspective as an educated woman thrust into a world of underemployment. Might be worth checking out.

  7. I really wouldn't worry too much about a man feeling you had too much baggage. A man of true character would not think so. What you're doing is very admirable. Many men would be quite impressed. Don't sell yourself short. I believe that, if you can get working in your real profession again, a lot of things are going to fall into place for you.

  8. Everyone has given great advice. Making goals and then breaking those goals into manageable tasks, is a great way to achieve things.
    Baby steps, better than no steps at all.

    I've been in a huge slump lately and am now taking anti-depressants, has just gotten me out of the low mood/negative self-talk cycle.

    As far as men is concerned, it is a fact that older men are usually seeking younger women. Prince charming is not out there, he doesn't exist, lots of us have to face the fact we are doing it on our own and probably always will. Concentrate on the things you have control over, with the greatest possible reward.


  9. Julie - Sorry about your slump but hopefully you'll be coming out of it. I've been debating getting a Dr. appt. for an anti-anxiety and anti-depressant. I don't think it will hurt to go in and discuss.

    I was also working at the storage shed all day and night today, and kept thinking about baby steps and manageable tasks. There isn't really any other way.

    You're right about the Prince Charming. But it would be nice to go out someplace and have even an ordinary guy treat me to a cup of tea of glass of wine!

    Vanessa - You always express yourself so eloquently and well. I believe I have to focus on the job part and hopefully "life" will fall into place from there. Until then, I'm going to keep busy and active downsizing my possessions and enjoying the fall season.

  10. I've read this post several times, and the only thing I can say is - I understand. I married, worked some until I had my first child and then I stayed home. It is what I wanted to do. I was NOT a career-minded woman. My husband and I had four children, after the doctors told us we had less than a 1% chance of having any children, so staying home to care for our children was even more of a priority for us. It was my "career". Then I began the "adventure" of homeschooling. It was a great network, meeting other families, doing activities together, very family oriented, husband and wife, both involved. Then BAM!!. My husband died. I was left lost, confused, trying to hold on to the old life, but I couldn't. I was not the same, my family was not the same and I felt like I didn't fit in with the traditional "homeschooling" families anymore. I put my youngest in school and I don't fit there either. My WHOLE life, network, me changed. At now almost 52, almost 7 years of him being gone, I don't know what direction to go. Major changes are coming again and I don't know what I will do. Still taking care of children at home, now taking care of elderly parents and wondering what I will do to earn an income. For some widows, their "moving forward" has come more quickly, which is great!; for me, it is a much slower pace and I really don't know what I want at this point.

    Hang in there and thank you for sharing your thoughts and feelings!

  11. Beth, I sooo understand where that is coming from. I also have that feeling of 'where do I belong'? I think it would probably be there for every widow, and indeed happens to many women once their children get older as well, so is a double whammy for those who have both of those situations to deal with at once.
    I hope and pray that you have the strength to examine what would make you happy and get on the path to achieving some of that. It is not too late to start again, but takes so much courage and energy.

  12. Oh goodness - I just realized that the Judith Viorst who wrote the book you mentioned is the same Judith Viorst who is the author of one of my favorite children's books, Alexander and the Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day. I had no idea that she'd ever written anything for adults, much less anything on the topic of loss. But on especially hard days, I do often say "That's it, I'm moving to Australia," which is what Alexander wants to do in the book.

  13. Beth - Thank you so, so much for commenting. It gives me some peace of mind to know that somewhere out there is another widowed mom, my age who has also been widowed around seven years. So many of the widowed blogging are newly widowed and I sometimes feel even more alone being a "seasoned" widow and griping like I do. I appreciate when you point out that for some of us the adjustment doesn't come quickly or easily. You'd think by now my life would be more manageable but it is getting worse. I too, was never a career-minded woman preferring to be a hands-on mom, coaching and volunteering alongside my husband. I did work part-time but spent even more hours as a volunteer at school, with sports and in the community. Now I feel as though I'm at the bottom of the barrel career-wise, having taken so much time off caring for my husband, kids and then aged and ill parents!

    We experienced a medical situation when my youngest was diagnosed with a potentially fatal heart condition just a year after my husband's death. Then I went right into helping care for my folks. Doing so is extremely difficult when you're on your own and caring for children besides. My heart goes out to you as you navigate those waters. Thank you for keeping in touch and bringing a sense of connection to me. I truly wish you well and think of you often.

    Vanessa - I know, I found this fact interesting too. It was one of the reasons I wanted to read "Necessary Losses." I'm not sure I know of any other authors who have written books in totally different categories.