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If you’re reading this and are a person of a certain age, whether widowed, divorced, single or married, the value of friends is a truism.

I’ve written about The Transition Network (TTN) before (thetransitionnetwork.org) but it’s such a valuable organization that it’s worth writing about again.

When I moved to Manhattan almost 4 years ago, I hardly knew anyone. A woman I met in a memoir writing class told me about TTN. I checked out their website, looked at all the activities they support, paid the membership fee of $100 per year and joined.

TTN is a community in NYC of about 600 women (there are chapters in many other cities as well) and includes countless peer groups and “special interest groups” focused around particular member interests.  I’m in 3 peer groups that meet once a month in the apartments of one of the (typically) 8-9 members and we discuss different topics that have some relevance to us as women over 50 living in NYC.  My special interest groups includes one that is called “Travel Mates” (which has a long list of TTN members interested in travel who can be contacted by anyone in the group planning a trip and looking for company) and “Culture Mavens” (which also has a long list of TTN members who can be contacted if you’re looking for someone to join you for a museum, theater or movie excursion, for example).

TTN also includes the option to join The Caring Collaborative, to which I also belong, and which is primarily neighborhood based.  We also meet once a month in someone’s apartment on the Upper West Side and, over wine and appetizers, discuss an interesting topic with some relevance to our lives,  health or well being. Because we are neighborhood-based, the idea is that we are available if any of us need someone to ‘get our back’ in an emergency : a visit to the ER, a trip back home from a colonoscopy, etc. You get the idea.

The drawing shows 12 of our 15 person Caring Collaborative Group meeting recently at my place to discuss the topic: “Who Was the Most Influential Person in Your Life”.  I think we all agreed it was an extremely interesting evening and reminded us all of the importance of social connections as we get older.

 

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I do have to say that, overall, I’m doing pretty well and am very lucky.  I have a wonderful family and many friends.  My family consists of two devoted children, their spouses of whom I’m very fond and with whom I get along well, and 3 incredibly adorable grandchildren.  My friends fall into two categories:   “good friends” to whom I can tell just about anything, and know that they are listening and care.   And other friends with whom I enjoy spending an afternoon or an evening going to movies, the theater or out to dinner.  The women’s organization, TTN, of which I’m a member, has been enormously helpful in creating networks of other women who are widowed (or divorced, or never married).   I’m in pretty good health (so far), and am very active.  I have a small business creating art objects which provides an outlet for my creative energies.  Also,  I’ve been auditing one class each year, and am about to take a class in making art with an artist from a local museum.  I’m very active as a volunteer in trying to raise awareness (and funding) for research to help find a  treatment for PKD, the kidney disease that was responsible for my husband’s death.

That doesn’t mean that there aren’t bumps in the road when things aren’t always hunky dory.  The emotional triggers are always situations when I sense my husband’s absence acutely, even 7 years later.  I had one of them recently when I saw a young couple walking down the street, holding hands.  It’s something my husband and I did all the time.  There’s something about walking down a street and holding the hand of someone you love that’s almost magical.  You are two against the world and nothing seems impossible.  Sometimes, I’ve even walked along and held my hand out, expecting, and hoping, it would be grasped. It obviously never is now and that really does make my heart ache.

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I’ll be widowed for 7 years this coming July.  It’s definitely gotten easier to be on my own than it was at the beginning.  After all, we were married for more than 4 decades.  And we got married when we were just 22.  I never even lived in an apartment by myself.  I went from a women’s dorm as a graduate student to an apartment when we were married. My husband and I did everything together, so, in over 40 years,  I never went to the movies or the theater by myself.  I did work and occasionally had to make business trips, so I did have the experience of being on my own for hotel stays, dinners, airplane trips, but business trips are different.  Besides, I could always call my husband whenever I felt lonely.

The biggest challenge of being a widow is being on your own.  Always.  Even with close family.  Even with good friends. Even with almost 7 years of this new normal, it’s difficult.

As Eponine despondently sings in “Les Miserables”:

“Without him
The world around me changes
The trees are bare and everywhere
The streets are full of strangers”