Absolutely no one (except possibly fortune hunters who marry older men for their money) wants to consider the prospect of widowhood. We are all in denial. It as if by refusing to acknowledge the possibility, we shake our fists in the face of the gods. But the facts are undeniable:
The most recent American Community Survey, published in 2014, estimates that there are almost twenty-five million women over age sixty-five, but fewer than twenty million men. Seventy-two percent of the men are married, but about forty-six percent of the women. A little over eleven percent of American men are widowed; more than thirty-five percent of women.
As I look back on 2009 when I joined the widow club, I see so much that I wish I had known in advance, as well as a few places where—mostly by blind luck—I (or Lev and I) laid a good foundation. And at least I had some advance warning.
Most young widows lose their husbands to sudden death, whether by natural causes or traumatic injury. I hurt for them when I read their books, blogs and Tweets: rearing children, working…or having to go to work, losing medical benefits, the lack of a peer group of widowed friends. They face serious additional challenges, and their lists of what they wish they had known and done are much longer than mine.
Sadly, many of their challenges are the same that women face when they are confronted with the ugly surprise of divorce, even more unmentionable and unthinkable than death. I have been surprised by divorced women who tell me that they read my blog and follow me on Facebook because “I felt exactly like you describe.” They too grieve—for the death of hopes and dreams, family and future. And they often confront a nastier reality. Much of what equips a woman for life alone as a widow also equips her for life alone as a divorcée.
I offer my list as a starting point for conversation.
- Have the what-if conversation about what you and your spouse envision for the funeral and burial or cremation.
- Understand all aspects of the family finances.
- Know your husband’s professional advisors; go with him to meetings with the accountant, attorney, banker, investment manager.
- Know where all your legal and financial papers are, including birth certificates, car and other property titles, insurance, loans, contracts of every kind, wills.
- Review your wills on a regular basis. Family circumstances and tax laws change.
- Keep your home safe and in good repair.
- Nurture your female friendships.
- Strengthen your relationships with your and his families.
- Do for others.
- Develop a hobby.
- Maintain your independence.
- Avoid isolation.
- Take care of your health: mind, body and soul.
- If you are a widow, what would you add to the list?
- Perhaps you are a family member or close friend who watches a widow struggling with the detritus of death. What would you add to the list?
- If you are divorced, how would you change the list?
You may respond by commenting below, by emailing me or by sharing and discussing on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest. Your email address will not be revealed, and I will not share emails without permission. While I do not envision a 13-part series, I will be blogging on aspects of grief and I’d love to hear your story. Thanks!
 ACS Demographic and Housing Estimates, 2009–2013 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates. 8 Jun 2015 <http://factfinder.census.gov/faces/tableservices/jsf/pages/productview.xhtml?pid=ACS_13_5YR_DP05&src=pt>