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
“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.
Satisfying Retirement is receiving no compensation for this guest post.