June 26, 2013

Handling The Loss of a Spouse

An unpleasant reality for many of us who are married will be the likelihood of facing the death of a spouse. Women tend to outlive men so we usually think in terms of widowhood. Interestingly, recent longevity studies show a chance in this accepted pattern: men are closing the longevity gap.
 
A study released earlier this year on trends in the United States reports that over the ten year period ending in 2009 life expectancy for males grew by 4.6 years while the predicted lifespans for women rose by less than 3 years. Women still live, on average five years longer than men, but that gap is narrowing. The point is becoming a widow or widower is a life experience that may confront just as many men as women in the years ahead.
 
I was asked by a reader to address the topic of becoming a widow. It is a subject fraught with intense emotions and life altering consequences, but one I don't feel adequate to address on my own. Luckily, the following guest post arrived in my inbox a few weeks ago. Because it deals with this subject from the perspective of a person who can speak about it from first-hand experience, I have posted it here for you to read and consider.
 
If you are single you might find some value in the author's words, too. You undoubtedly have friends who are married. These suggestions may give you a little guidance in helping a friend through this process. 
 
4 Practical Ways To  Prepare for the Loss of a Spouse
 
Denial Won’t Do, Warns Author-Widow
 
The sound of silence was the most haunting for Thelma Zirkelbach on her first night home after her husband’s death. “I’d lost my husband, but I hadn’t lost his voice, I told myself,” says Zirkelbach, who had spent so many nights the previous year at hospitals with her husband Ralph, who died not long after being diagnosed with leukemia.

 “I picked up the phone and there was no dial tone. If the phone was dead, Ralph’s voice would be gone forever.” Through her panicked daze, after having sunk to the floor with her spirits, she realized the phone jack was unplugged. She plugged it in and heard his voice one more time through the answering machine. It would be the first thing she fixed around the house without Ralph’s help in decades.

“There were many moments like that in the year after his death. One of the things I had to learn was to find help from many people, whereas for most of my adult life I had the help of many in one man,” says Zirkelbach, author of “Stumbling Through the Dark,”  a memoir about an interfaith couple facing one of life’s greatest spiritual challenges.

Loving couples wince at the thought of losing their spouse and may even deny the idea despite a terminal medical diagnosis, but accepting the possibility helps in preparing for the years that follow, says Zirkelbach. She offers the following tips for doing that:

 Consider the best way for all loved ones to say good-bye: Ralph’s family comes from an evangelical Christian background, whereas Thelma is Jewish. Memorial services are designed for the surviving family and friends, and Zirkelbach held a service at her synagogue, which was filled with friends and colleagues. “Make sure you do all you can to best say goodbye in your own way, which may include your religion or some other ritual,” she says.

 Take stock of the necessary services you’ll need to replace: In many ways, Ralph was an old-fashioned Midwesterner who was a handyman around the house, moved heavy boxes, dispensed with unwanted critters like cockroaches, and acted as a one-man security system. He also provided smaller services in which a companion can help, such as fastening necklaces. Since Ralph’s death nearly eight years ago, Thelma has hired her current handyman, air conditioning technician, accountant, financial advisor and attorney. 

 No matter how independent you are, accept the fact that you may need emotional support: Soon after her husband’s death, Zirkelbach joined a support group for widows and widowers and found solace in the company of others who had loved and lost. At one point, the group leader connected with members by saying they were blessed to have loved someone enough to mourn them. “His statement turned grief on its head,” she says.

 Nurture your spiritual life: “I have become ‘more Jewish’ during my widowhood,” she says. “When I was a child, Judaism was part of the background of my life, like the Muzak you hear in elevators but don’t really listen to.” Now, however, religion has moved to the forefront of her life, and she adds she is thankful for the strength her faith has given her. “Yes, in spite of loss, I have still found joy in living,” she says.


 
Author Thelma Zirkelbach has been in private practice in speech pathology, specializing in young children with speech, language and learning disabilities, for many years. She began her writing career as a romance novelist, publishing with Harlequin, Silhouette and Kensington. Her husband’s death from leukemia in 2005 propelled her to creative non-fiction. Her web site is Widowsphere: A Circle of Hope.
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Satisfying Retirement is receiving no compensation for this guest post.


16 comments:

  1. Lovely post. My best friend just lost her husband at the age of 48. I hope she can move through the grief and begin a 'second act'. Grief is a process I've been unfamiliar with, for the most part. This month has changed all that. I can't imagine living alone, so I know I would be lost for a while. Lots to think about.
    Thanks for posting.
    b

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    1. I have lost my mother and a favorite uncle. In my mom's situation I had the better part of a year to prepare. My uncle's death was sudden. I think his hit me harder because it was so unexpected.

      Betty and I have talked about the inevitable. It is very hard to get our head's around it, especially today, our 37th anniversary.

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    2. Happy Anniversary Bob......HOw will you celebrate? Cindy

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    3. Sleeping late, getting our exercise by walking around an inside mall near our home, and going to Zinc Bistro for a very nice dinner tonight!

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  2. Interesting topic and directly related to a major article in my newspaper today titled "Loved one's death takes a toll". The article did not specifically focus on losing a spouse but did talk about the physical and mental health issues that can follow the loss of a loved one. It also pointed out that we baby boomers are poised to go through the death of many loved ones in the next few years be it parents, siblings, spouses or friends.

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    1. Our Sunday School group is made up primarily of people at least ten years older than us. In just the last few months three members have lost spouses. It is tough to watch.

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  3. Thanks for adressing this. Since our retirement it is an issue that lurks in the background and one that pokes its head up everyonce in awihle. I wonder how one of us will handle this after being together for since we were 16? Maggie Smith was recently interviewed and said that after her husband passed away the question that nagged her for sometime was "what was the sense" in continuing without someone to share it with? It took her sometime to figure that out. Of all of lives challenges this might be the hardest. Cindy

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    1. Maggie Smith is one of my favorite actresses. I didn't know that about her-thanks for sharing her insight.

      I can't think of anything tougher than losing a spouse, though I guess losing a child is just as bad and can often break apart a marriage from the stress and guilt.



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  4. Thank you for sharing her wise words.
    As my 63 year old husband finishes tiling the floor....I cannot imagine.

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  5. This is going to be a tough, but the more you can learn about the tasks the other one does around the house, the better off you'll be. The older the couple, the more tasks split along gender lines. I've met women who didn't have a clue about the family finances, where the money was, how much there was, etc. Other the other side, I've met men who are completely lost at doing laundry or cooking meals. My plea would be to younger retirees to spend some time changing roles if you don't already. It could be fun and save a lot of frustration in the future.

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    1. Your point is extremely important. While each of us has strengths in certain areas, it is our responsibility to prepare the other person for what she or he needs to know. That is an act of love.

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    2. An insight with a smile. My mother passed away about 3 years ago and before she died she decided that my father needed to know how to do the laundry. Her handwritten detailed instructions till hange inside the laundry room door. Now dad knows how to do the laundry but her loving instructions are a memory he cherishs. Cindy

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    3. That is sweet.

      I found a 25 year old cassette tape of my mom reading a children's book to my daughters. To hear her voice again every so often brings back a flood of memories.

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  6. Bob- your comment made me go out and buy one of those books that record a voice. I will get my mom to read those so my grandchildren can hear her for many years to come. My son is recording several for their daughter as he goes to Afghanistan. Thanks for the idea to move it to mom as well.

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    1. Great idea! Yes, there is something very special about hearing someone's voice again. I need to find a way to burn the cassette onto a CD. The tape inside is getting brittle and cassette playback machines are pretty much gone.

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