A few years ago, I spoke to a lively group of women that had been started by my friend Joan Rogliano, a divorced realtor living in Colorado. The Wildflower Group had been formed out of a need for an organization to tend to the needs of recently-widowed and divorced women.
My topic was on networking, and how to manage our way through life’s larger transitions. Few transitions though are larger than a late-in-life divorce or being widowed. Divorce rates among Baby Boomers have boomed, up 109% in recent years.
It’s hard enough to go through a loss, harder still to survive economically, and for many of us, even harder to find new love again as we age.
Wildflower has bloomed, so to speak, if for no other reason than there is such a need for what Joan provides. As so many people opt for divorce, the need for a support system and a great group of gals to help us hang tough has also risen.
Too many women feel lonely and isolated, so groups like Joan’s, and online groups like Sixty and Me, provide the social connection that people crave, especially as they move through big seismic shifts in their situations.
Now What Do I Do?
For so many, late-in-life divorce or widowhood comes as a complete shock. For women like my mother, who became a widow in her 80s, my father’s compulsion to control everything was costly.
By that time, she had no idea how to manage her finances, what she had in the bank, or how to protect herself financially. As a result, when a family member wanted money, she wrote a check for $24,000.
That had been the last existing investment she had to support herself outside Social Security. I had to take her checkbook away, or she’d have given him that money as well.
For my mother, and many women like her, finding herself alone that late in life was both freeing and terrifying. Dad’s death had been expected, but she had functioned in a state of denial for years. Suddenly, she had huge responsibilities she had no clue how to manage.
I moved back to Denver from Spokane to help out. Not all of us have kids who will do that. Organizations like Wildflowers and Sixty and Me have evolved to provide the safety net. They provide sisterhood and succor we all need to get back on our feet and thriving again.
But What About Love?
For many of us, the end of a relationship is a door opening. Especially if our partners haven’t been good for us, it’s a chance to start over. Here are some keys to that process at any age:
Allow Yourself to Experience the Ending
The Ending, which could be a death or divorce, causes a great deal of change. Each entails a loss: loss of identity (I’m no longer Mrs. Johnson, now who am I?), possible loss of property or access to kids or grandchildren, a loss of a circle of friends.
Each element needs to be acknowledged, honored, and mourned.
As a society, we aren’t adept at ritualizing and respecting large life passages. When we take the time to look deeply into those things that are passing, thank them for what they brought us, and bury them in a ceremony, we state that we are indeed moving on. Our hearts and minds find closure.
Move into the Neutral Zone
After the ending, you’ll move into the Neutral Zone, a time of in-between. For many, this is exquisitely uncomfortable. It’s supposed to be. In that discomfort, we have a choice. We can feel sorry for ourselves, or we can build interim scaffolding.
That’s when we reach out, network, connect, create brand new friends, and try brand new things. This time of in-between can be the single most exciting time of our lives.
It takes courage, but by experimenting with new activities, getting out and getting engaged, not only do we heal but we also build a new life.
Experience A New Beginning
Eventually, we will reach a point where we have a New Beginning. It might sneak up on us, it might be glaringly obvious. Each of us responds differently.
Whether we experiment with online dating, start a brand-new bridge club, or learn to ride a Harley at 75, it makes no difference. We’re evolving into who we were always meant to be.
My mother fell in love not long after my father died with a long-time family friend. She was as giddy as a schoolgirl. It was a great highlight of her last years. There’s no guarantee it will happen for all of us.
However, we create a better chance for the River of Life to deliver something magical onto our shores when we take the time to process our losses with respect, patience, and the time necessary to honor our feelings.
That opens the door to endless possibilities, as we clean house, so to speak, to make room for something new to happen.
A great resource for moving through many of life’s shifts is a book called, Transitions: Making Sense of Life’s Changes by Dr. William Bridges. It’s the one gift I give all my friends when they are facing tough times, and it is a terrific primer for how to make the best out of what can be a terrifying time.
Have you lost someone late in life? How did you move through your process towards a new you? What can you share about how you managed so that the rest of us can best embrace the inevitable changes that aging brings? Please share your insights for the benefit of the community.