How It Feels to Be a Widow

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  • Solitude, by Choice or Circumstance, as We Age


To the Editor:

“How to Talk to a Widow,” by Betty Rollin (Opinion guest essay, Nov. 30), absolutely hit the nail on the head. I have been widowed twice, once at age 55, suddenly, after 32 wonderful, happy years of marriage, and with two grown daughters. I said to myself, “I will never marry again because I could never love anyone else.”

I was wrong. Much too soon, less than a year later, while I was still grieving, I met a man, also recently widowed. We fell in love, married and had 18 years together. We completed each other. He brought joy to my life when I thought I would never feel joy again.

He died seven years ago after a short illness, and I know I will never be whole again. Grief is not an illness that you “get over.” Grief is born of love, and you must learn to live within it, moving forward as best you can.

I am fortunate. I have ample finances, live in a lovely community, play golf, volunteer with children in the court system, and have friends (many of whom are widows) and family who love me. But I am alone.

When you lose your spouse, you no longer come first with anyone. That is an understandable reality, but also a hard truth.

I am thankful for the life I have, as it is a good one, but your thoughts and prayers don’t do much for me. And memories don’t sustain me. The real thing was much better.

Beverly Stautzenbach
Venice, Fla.

To the Editor:

“How to Talk to a Widow” has some thoughtful and helpful suggestions. I’d like to add some others based on my experience as a psychotherapist, a widow and a facilitator for groups of widows.

Be an empathic listener — don’t give advice. Encourage the person to express their feelings, whatever they are, whether it’s with you or by themselves. That’s the best way to get past their grief and move on with their lives.

For example, it’s very normal to be angry at the spouse who died; you feel abandoned. When a person is grieving, they need to be with those feelings. It’s not the time for pep talks and logic.

The one phrase that seems to be very helpful to many widows is not just “I loved him so much,” but “I know how much he loved me.”

Shelli Chosak
San Diego

To the Editor:

Betty Rollin included so many truths about being a widow. Having a broken heart, being grateful for a wonderful marriage, feeling guilty about feeling sad when others have no home, or are hungry, or are living through a war.

One thing she didn’t mention was when a widow or widower faces their own death without the support of their other half. I want my husband’s hand holding mine telling me he loves me as I leave this life, but it is not to be. I can only be truly grateful I was there for him.

Debra Spaldo
Nokesville, Va.

To the Editor:

Reading Betty Rollin’s essay took me back a decade to a difficult, strange time in my life. Ms. Rollin refers to a conversation held more than a year into her widowhood. By then, for many widows, the world has moved on (as it should), the “I’m so sorry for your loss” phase is long gone, and the idea you could still be deeply sad, arguably even sadder, isn’t understood.

One year later, my loss was most acute. Day-to-day life returned and new routines emerged, all in the void of my husband’s presence. Not one cell in my being stopped missing him.

On the first anniversary of his death, the family gathered at Glacier National Park in Montana to spread his ashes. I slept in a cabin he and I had stayed in the year before. Waking early on ash-spreading day, I found myself walking alone aimlessly on a mountain road not sure where I was.

A car pulled up alongside me. Inside was his family looking for me. My sister-in-law rolled down her window to speak. I smiled and said, “Crazy lady, right?” Smiling back she said, “Yeah.”

Candy Ellard
Austin, Texas

To the Editor:

I would add one suggestion to Betty Rollin’s sage advice. Widowed a mere five weeks ago, I have already seen value in following the advice of my sister, who has been widowed for 11 years. She counseled me to not turn down invitations from friends, or they were likely to stop making them.

If a long outing, like a day at a museum, seems unbearable, counter by suggesting a meal or movie. If it feels too soon to accept an invitation, rather than declining, make a plan for some later date … and then keep it. Respond to a caring invitation with one of your own.

Gail Lynn Goldberg
Ellicott City, Md.

Solitude, by Choice or Circumstance, as We Age

Mary Felder at her home in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in Philadelphia.Credit…Sahar Coston-Hardy for The New York Times

To the Editor:

Re “More in U.S. Living Alone Later in Life” (front page, Nov. 27):

As the author of a book on solitude, I read with interest the article on Americans living alone.

I appreciate the article’s shift in tone from that of 10 years ago, when similar reporting would have featured “lonely” in the headline or lead and focused on how terrible life is for those who live alone. In interviews I conducted for my book, many solitaries spoke of how they felt lonely or depressed only when encountering media describing them as such. Your article appropriately mentions that many solitaries are content and fulfilled in solitude.

Indeed America has a problem, rooted in the myth of the happy couple with many children living in a free-standing house. That myth governs policy decisions ranging from government housing subsidies and tax policy to private sector discounts for couples and families.

On an overcrowded, rapidly warming planet, when and how will we publicly recognize and subsidize those who make the most important gesture toward a sustainable future — choosing to live modestly in solitude or in community, and choosing to adopt children or to remain childless?

Fenton Johnson
Rhinebeck, N.Y.
The writer is the author of “At the Center of All Beauty: Solitude and the Creative Life.”

To the Editor:

This article sorted Americans by age, race and marital status, stating unequivocally that those living alone — a growing share — live shorter, less healthy lives,

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