Life is altered drastically when "we" becomes "me" and you're no longer part of a couple. In one moment, your lifestyle, social life, finances, relationships with friends and family, emotional and physical well-being change.
I know, I lived it. My husband, Robert, died suddenly at age 50 in January last year. Overcome with crippling grief and devastating sadness, I felt that if I thought too hard about what happened, I'd never be able to catch my breath. But, somehow I made it through those first horrific days. Weeks passed, life went on, and I found myself heartbroken, yet surviving.
For many in the Act2 generation, part of acclimating to our solo status includes grieving our lost future - the road not taken together - enjoying children and grandchildren, traveling and planning for retirement.
Married friends may feel uncomfortable with the suddenly single you because they knew you as a twosome. Some interviewed for this article found there were awkward moments as the "extra" person.
It's been 12 years since Tina Lackner, 47, of Islip, lost her husband, William, but she still finds it difficult being the odd person in a group of couples.
"Recently at a wedding, the table was a long oval that had eight chairs around it," she recalled. "The maitre d' had to come and put a ninth chair on the end for me. That really drew attention to the fact that I was alone."
For Frank Rowan, some of the more difficult moments after his wife, Joan, died in October last year came from the everyday things they did together, like sharing breakfast in their kitchen. "Now, I typically go out to breakfast to meet a friend," said Rowan, 75, of Smithtown.
Making the transition from doing everyday things as a couple to a "year of firsts" alone can be agonizing. Walking around an empty house, talking to your departed loved one, is part of the grieving process. And everyone finds a different way to cope.
A difficult distance
"People distance themselves from widows," said Michelle Noonan, 52, of East Northport, who lost her husband, Tom Maier, in 2005. "They don't know what to say. It's like you have a disease." Noonan would occasionally escape to Mohegan Sun casino in Connecticut, "not so much for the gambling, but just to meet people who didn't know my life," she said.
When Frank Modica, 60, of Deer Park lost his wife, Lois, in October 2008, he felt isolated and lonely. "Without a partner, it is difficult to plan things like going out to dinner, going to a movie, or sightseeing," he said.
Moving forward is daunting, but, with time, you do. I was lucky. My friendships didn't fade - they became stronger and intensified. It helps to have plans - dinner or movies with friends. I pumped up my gym routine and started working with a personal trainer. I keep busy with work and - I admit it - I love TV. The DVR became my new BFF (best friend forever).
But it's different for everyone. Many found solace in their careers and in daily routines. Carol Carroll, 53, of Melville, was relieved to get back to work after her husband, Ken, died last year. "It kept my mind busy and made me tired at night," she said.
New ways to grow
For Diane Thide, 56, of St. James, exercise was key. After she lost her husband, Charlie, six years ago, "I made exercising a priority on the weekends, when I was most lonely," she said.
Domestic projects provided a good distraction for Helene Gibbons, 47, of Huntington. She had her house sided and did a lot of gardening after the death of her husband, Timothy, in 2008. "The gardening was a way to add color and to watch things grow and see beauty," she said.
Many joined groups; some started them. "My girlfriend and I were widowed four months apart," said Irene Harris, 62, of Bellmore, who lost her husband, Art, more than three years ago. "We helped each other get through each day and thought there are probably others out there like us, so we started the group." Now, the Bellmore Widows and Widowers Meetup Group has more than 200 members, most in their 50s and 60s.
Judy Reinhardt, 57, of Oyster Bay, who lost her husband, Ed, in 2008, found a bereavement group helpful. "It was good to talk to people in the same situation," she said.
Ivy Firouztale, a bereavement social worker at Hospice Care Network in Woodbury, hears that sentiment often. "A bereavement group provides a safe place to journey with others who are experiencing similar losses," she said.
But they're not for everyone. Carol Scibelli didn't click with the two she tried after her husband, Jimmy, died in 2006. "I knew it was not for me when I realized I was able to notice everyone was wearing ugly shoes," said Scibelli, 59, of Merrick, a self-described humor writer. Instead, she began a blog, PoorWidowMe.blogspot.com.
We all cope and move forward in our own way and time. Transitioning to the "new normal," I ask myself, who will care for me when I'm sick? Who will love me? Who will get my humor and accept my quirks?
For the lucky ones, there is love after loss. And humor. Richie Schemmer, 62, of Franklin Square, thought he'd grow old with his wife, Ida, his best friend of 36 years. When she died in 2006, "I was totally destroyed," he said, "I had no interest for nearly a year to socialize." Eventually, he attended a bereavement group and made friends who suggested ballroom dance lessons.
"Making new friends is crucial," said Schemmer. "My late wife was Italian, and the new lady in my life is Jewish, so I guess I went from meatballs to matzo balls."