“How can I deal with the loneliness and isolation I feel as a widow?” Ensign, Aug. 1976, 26–28
Ione J. Simpson, Social Worker for LDS Social Services Perhaps loneliness and isolation are so hard to handle because they persist and become most intense after a widow is expected to be well on her way to recovery from the loss of her husband. I recall visiting with a widow whose husband had died only six months previously. She recounted the conversation of a kindly neighbor who advised her, “Ruthie, I don’t want to see you shed another tear. It has been six months now, and it’s time to close the door on that chapter of your life.” It is difficult for others to realize that the first six months to a year are so involved with efforts to sort out the chaos that has enveloped your life that you don’t really feel the full impact of loneliness until much later.
One of the things that helped me most was having someone I could talk to. This is so important. For me it was a dear person who had been a good friend through all of my married life. Sometimes I needed to talk about how my husband died and to question why. Sometimes I needed to tell her of my hurt, which was so deep it was physical and penetrated my whole being. Sometimes I needed to tell her of the feeling, real or imagined, of being rejected by old friends, of no longer having the recognition that accompanies being the wife of a special man. Sometimes I needed to tell of the feeling I had that I was nothing and of no importance to anyone: and sometimes I needed to recall with her the happy memories. The need to talk, to grieve, to express your pain is there long after friends and family have finished with their grieving, and reminders from you only make them uncomfortable and you a poor companion. While I was fortunate enough to have a special person I could share these feelings with, many do not. I am finding that frequently another woman, even a new friend who has also lost her husband, can fill this need. She likely has a similar need and you may help each other.
Keeping busy is another way to cope with loneliness. Particular circumstances determine what you can do. In my own case my family would all soon be married and there were still many years ahead. I needed a challenge, something different, something to keep my mind busy. I began to think about going back to school. The idea was frightening—could I concentrate? Could I remember? I gathered my courage and drove the fifty miles to the university. I recall how my heart pounded as I walked through the campus and into the student center. The appearance of my would-be classmates had certainly changed. The casualness of their dress and their long hairstyles were a far cry from school days I remembered. I wondered if someone who only months before, as PTA president, had gone before the school board to protest the wearing of pants by girls could adjust to it. A month later, however, I had found a car pool and joined some other “older” women in commuting to school “just to see if I could make it.” How well I remember taking voluminous notes, studying into the wee hours of the morning, cramming for exams. My first exam was a computer test—I had never even heard of a computer test! Many times I wondered if I had made a mistake, but when the quarter ended and my grades came, it was exciting. I could study! I could learn! I could learn anything I wanted to! Something good was happening to me. Back to school I went. Four years later I graduated with a master’s degree. They were four long, hard years, filled with study, but also filled with the struggle to find myself, to build a new life and regain that feeling of self-worth so essential to our existence.
I soon learned that there are special times when loneliness comes—holidays, anniversaries, birthdays, even weekends. Looking ahead and planning for these times helped them pass more easily. Family was always my first resource, when they were available. There is nothing like the loving arms of a grandchild thrown wildly about your neck to drive away feelings of loneliness and rejection. Christmas and other holidays find my home filled with joyous fun and laughter as thoughtful children bring their families and we love and enjoy one another. It is as important to them as it is to me to remember the happy times we have had and to build memories for their own children. We all make special efforts to help each other during these times. Weekends and especially Sundays I would do anything to keep from having time on my hands—write letters, invite people for dinner, visit someone—anything to fill the time until I could get back to school on Monday. One great blessing is that the time does come when this need to avoid remembering passes. Then you can sit back and enjoy the memories you have made.
What are the possibilities of remarriage as a solution to widowhood? The lonely woman who sets out to find a husband is often asking for more trouble than she is in already. True, some do remarry and find happiness, but they are the minority; some marry quickly and unwisely and are disillusioned. With the odds what they are, it would seem that the objective for many of us had better be to build a new life for ourselves and enjoy our memories.
I think it is important to keep old friends, if possible, but it is even more important to find new ones along with your new interests. Often these newfound friends are women in your own situation—widows. I don’t know why the term “widow” hurts so much when it means you, but early in your widowhood it is painful and you hate it. In our couple-oriented society a widow doesn’t seem to be a whole person. Frequently she is ignored or dropped from activities she once enjoyed. This can be so painful to a new widow that it may cause her to withdraw and seclude herself from the companionship of others. It takes courage to keep this from happening. My best friends now are women in my own situation, and we enjoy many things together—family home evenings, dinners at each other’s homes, symphonies, movies, an occasional trip. There is satisfaction in discovering you can handle widowhood.
I can’t help but feel that there is something special to be learned from being a widow. As your children find their own mates and need you less, you may increase your Church and community responsibilities as you find you are on your own to do what you wish to do with your life. This is when the real opportunity and challenge come—there are temple and genealogical work, service to others—think what you can do if you are not concerned about recognition, fanfare, or applause. This is when there is time to practice the most basic of our gospel teachings—to love one another. The world is full of people who need your special kind of help. A sweet peace accompanies a gift of service to someone who can’t repay you.
The single most precious source of strength has come through communication with my Heavenly Father. There have been so many times when there was no other place to go but to him, and I rejoice in the knowledge that by doing so I have grown, my testimony has strengthened, I have found peace, and I am a better person than I was six years ago. The Lord knows us well—he knows our strengths and our weaknesses, and he gives us to endure only that which we can endure. Being a widow is a challenge—one none of us would accept if we could have it otherwise—but it is an opportunity to grow. Somehow I feel that my mate is moving steadily forward, and I am planning to keep up with him. It isn’t easy but it is possible, and it can be exciting. There is a way to handle every problem. I hope you find yours.