How to Avoid Pitfalls of Widowhood and Retirement


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In response to an article I wrote about managing the aging process, I received this email:

“Barbara, I think you are “right on". When I was teaching high school, I felt young and attractive. Now that I have retired and especially now that I am recently widowed, I feel old, useless, and not wanted. A widow becomes a fifth wheel: never invited into the circle of friends you had when you were a couple. When going to group dinners, singles are placed at tables off by themselves. I am now dealing with both age and being without the love of my life and escort. I go to lunch often with other widows (my age). I work in 3 volunteer organizations but all involve old people. Have just finished reading Art Linkletter's book, HOW TO MAKE THE REST OF YOUR LIFE THE BEST OF YOUR LIFE. Many of his suggestions require money and a companion, neither of which I have. HELP. Any other good suggestions?????” signed “Luann”

In summary, Luann’s message tells me:

  1. She’s retired
  2. Widowed
  3. Lonely
  4. No plans for the future
  5. She wants social interaction but not with “old” people
  6. She volunteers but it is not fulfilling
  7. She could use more income

Remember, Luann said: “When I was teaching high school, I felt young and attractive. Now that I have retired and especially now that I am recently widowed, I feel old, useless, and not wanted. ” Undoubtedly, Luann felt young and attractive while working because of association with young and attractive, mentally stimulating co-workers. Their youth and vitality helped to nourish and support her perception of her own youth and vitality.

Since I don’t know why she retired, I can’t comment on her decision. But I do know this: Luann could have had an exit strategy for life after retirement. Retirement is particularly difficult for those who enjoy using their intellect. It’s traumatic to stop doing challenging work you’ve always enjoyed and begin to live life as a mind-numbing pastime. Your self-worth can go down the drain in a hurry. In addition, after the “honeymoon” of not having to respond to a schedule wears off, it can be terribly boring. Luann was not well prepared for her husband’s demise. While he was alive, she did what most women do: she failed to think in terms of what “might happen” to her if her husband dies, and what steps she could take to emotionally survive her loss.

Because she relied on a close circle of married friends, after her husband’s death she had to deal with the reality of being an “outsider” or as she put it, a “fifth wheel”. To prevent being in that situation, while her husband was alive, Luann could have gone back to school, or joined organizations that would have put her in contact with people of different ages and circumstances – married, divorced, widowed, young, old. It’s what all mid-lifers and beyond should be doing: Planning ahead to thrive independently and happily no matter what happens.

Had she done such pre-planning, it would have broadened her circle of contacts and friends she could rely on for the social and emotional support she craves. Because Luann finds it depressing to be around “old” people much of the time, this strategy would have helped her find the diversity of friends she needed when tragedy struck. Someone in this mix of people might even have been a special someone with whom she could later share her unforeseen widowhood.

And speaking of finding a new love, Luann should definitely let her friends, married and single, know that she is looking. She should get involved in activities where there is a likelihood of meeting someone suitable. If she limits socializing to women friends, chances of finding a partner are greatly diminished.

What really struck me about Luann’s situation is that she doesn’t have enough money to do some things she would like to do. I constantly harp about financially strapped retirees volunteering when they should be earning a paycheck, and Luann’s situation demonstrates the validity of this position. It makes me crazy when I see retirees, mentally and physically able, financially doing without for lack of satisfying employment that would enhance the quality of life.

You don’t have to become a “fifth wheel. ” You don’t have to be lonely. You don’t have to do without financially after traditional retirement age if you are mentally and physically competent. But you do have to plan for the kind of life you want after life throws you a curve ball. Looking ahead will help mitigate a huge amount of grief.

Barbara Morris, R. Ph. is a pharmacist, author of “Put Old on Hold" and a recognized authority on health and anti-aging strategies. Sign up for her monthly Put Old on Hold Newsletter at and receive her complimentary ebook, “Twelve DivaTested Tips for Fabulous Skin. " Her expertise is cited in Art Linkletter and Mark Victor Hansen's new book, “How to Make the Rest of Your Life the Best of Your Life. "


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