An excerpt from How To Be A Merry Widow – Life after Death for the Older Lady.
You are like an animal cut off from the herd; people are social beings and need to be with others. The very word ‘”solitary” brings fear even to the most hardened criminal. Familiar rooms looked alien to me, and a painting we had bought together seemed to stare accusingly. The silent house was eerie and evenings alone were alarming to the point of panic. With desperation as my only companion, all sorts of ideas came to mind: offering a home to a relative, taking in a student, finding a friend to share the house or selling up and moving into a hotel. Anything to prevent living alone. Displayed on the sideboard and windowsills were over one hundred sympathy cards, lovingly chosen, I am sure, and with kind messages. How wonderful it would have been if just one of the senders had phoned to say, “Can I come round tonight?” I resolved never to send a sympathy card to anyone. Instead, I will telephone or write a letter.
Many women of our generation have never lived alone; we left our father’s house to move in with our husbands. Being on our own in a house is a complete change in our way of life. Even to watch people passing by makes us feel less isolated.
What can a widow do? First, know that the strangeness of loneliness is merely temporary and soon disappears. Avoid reading anything about bereavement and the various stages of grief; every person is different. Instead, think of widows you know who are leading happy and interesting lives; focus on one you admire, be inspired by her and see what you can learn from the way she tackles life. If she can do it you can do it. Persuade yourself that you are the kind of person who can rise above your present unhappy state.
“Plus est en vous. (There is more within you.)”
– Motto of Gordonstoun School
Look on the positive side, no shirts to iron for a start. Rejoice in your independence. You can do exactly as you like; paint the house pink, invite your chain-smoking brother to stay or relocate to anywhere on the planet. Consider the good things about being alone. For the first time in your life you are free. Spoil yourself; spend his money on chocolate and taxis. You’re worth it.
A widower speaks: Don’t get me wrong, I’d a hundred times prefer she was still with me but I do enjoy the freedom.
Remove yourself from the place of loneliness, your home. Plan at least one social event every day and plan outings to look forward to. Unless you are dying, staying in all day is a bad idea and will make you morose. You may have demanding things to do in the home but go out at least for some part of the day. Too cold? Wear three coats but go out. Raining? Big umbrella but go out. Not feeling too good? Try fresh air and a walk. Fight any temptation to hide away feeling sorry for yourself.
A widow speaks: I pushed myself with all I had to do, all the paperwork and the flat feeling when it was finished. I’m all right when I’m busy.
Do not dismiss the idea of going out to work again especially if you are in good health. New legislation is in place preventing discrimination against older people. Study the Situations Vacant columns in newspapers and the cards in job centers; you will be surprised at the variety of work listed. One friend invigilates exams in a college, and another is a life model for an art class.
Plan a personal project; something to occupy your thoughts and energy; something to get your teeth into. Perhaps a re-design of the garden or a spare room. Family history is absorbing and so is academic study, especially if there is a certificate at the end as a target. Open University courses are hugely life-enhancing and there will be many students older than you, unless you’re a hundred and two. Busy people are not lonely. A friend tells me that widows are in a trance for the first year; perhaps I’m in a trance writing this.
A widow speaks: I play the piano when I’m fed up. Sometimes I have to force myself but it makes such a difference. The music takes me away.
Have a daily paper delivered. You don’t have to read it all and recycling is a nuisance but a national paper keeps you in touch with the world. You’ll probably be waking early anyway and a cheering routine is to make a cup of tea, collect the paper, return to your bedroom and do the crossword or that exasperating sudoku.
A friend tells me a dog is not only wonderful company but everybody else with a dog will stop for a chat with you; she says dogs make people happy. I’m toying with the idea of a cat.
A widow speaks: If you’re on your own I don’t think you could live without a dog. Who would you talk to? When I go home he greets me as if I’ve been away for a year.
Take risks; go to a show alone. You will be sitting in a row of people at the theatre just as you would with a husband. You can walk in a busy park alone saying hello to children.
Some activities are even better on your own, shopping and libraries for example, where you can browse forever. But going to parties by yourself is definitely not advisable. It is one thing to stand with a drink in your hand making small talk knowing there’s a husband in the corner grumbling and wanting to go home and quite another matter if he is not there. You feel lost. Invited to parties, merry widows should ask if they can bring a friend.
A widow speaks: The worse thing was coming home after an evening out and having no-one to talk to about it.
Merry widows stride into the best hotels as if they own the place, knowing that afternoon tea in a top hotel costs no more than a café and that they’ll find a better class of customer there. Carry a book to give an air of independence and if you see somebody who looks interesting, smile and get into conversation. Merry widows enjoy talking to strangers; a chat with a stranger can bring much interest to the day. Risk a snub and do not assume that young people only like talking to other young people. You are at an age when conversation becomes easy.
Be open to adventure; boldness has magic in it. Do things you could not do as a couple. My young decorator was painting the kitchen ceiling, and I didn’t know what to do about cooking a meal. On the spur of the moment, I asked him if he fancied going out for lunch at the local pub. “Oh, yes,” he said, “but I haven’t brought any money.” I told him I was paying but we were going in his van. He sat eating lunch in his painting clothes like a proper workman and it was a really enjoyable break in a dull day. How’s that for freedom? You can’t do that if you’re married and you can’t do that if you’re young, but you can do it if you’re a merry widow.
Mary Essinger is the author of How To Be A Merry Widow – Life after Death for the Older Lady.
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