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We all know the value of social connections and how they make us happier and even prolong our lives.   I’m going to offer a simple suggestion.  If someone else doesn’t suggest a celebratory get-together, then you be the one to do that.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I belonged to The Transition Network (www.thetransitionnetwork.org),  a women’s organization that has chapters in a number of cities throughout the country.  TTN offers opportunities for women over 50 (who pay just $100 a year for a membership fee) to get together with other members, with shared interests, in groups which meet regularly.  The simplest type of shared interest group is a book club but TTN in New York City also has groups that attend the theater or opera together, or enjoy leisurely lunches or dinners, or the delights of travel.  There are many, many more.

The jewel in the TTN crown is a program called The Caring Collaborative, which is based around members who live, roughly,  in the same neighborhood.  The “caring” part of that program is the value of proximity if a particular TTN neighbor needs some assistance, say, after surgery, for grocery shopping, or to be met after a medical procedure and escorted home.

At the most recent monthly 2-hour meeting of my particular neighborhood Caring Collaborative group, which meets in different member’s apartments, attendance was down to 6 from more robust levels of 12 and 13 in times past.  I proposed that our group have a pot luck holiday dinner party in lieu of our typical 4th Monday of the month meeting, which this month would fall of Christmas.  After some discussion, we decided on Wednesday, December 27 and one of the group’s members is hosting it.

The RSVP’s are now just coming in.  I suspect it will be well attended and people will enjoy clinking glasses together to toast the New Year and be reminded of the benefit of having neighbors who are there to help if you need it.

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In my NORC (Naturally Occurring Retirement Community) neighborhood of Manhattan’s Upper West Side, there are a a number of restaurants that offer special deals if you eat before 5:30 pm! My favorite offers discounts on glasses of wine.

Many of the customers are other women of a certain age.  One major advantage of these restaurants is their decibel level, which is significantly lower than the average Manhattan restaurant.  They don’t have pounding rock music, or hard-surfaced walls, so any patrons with hearing loss do just fine carrying on a conversation.

If you’re reading this with any entrepreneurial plans to open a Manhattan restaurant, here’s a tip. This is a neglected demographic and the idea of having more restaurants where you can actually hear other people talk seems to have strong appeal.  Even younger customers would benefit. They could actually hear each other talk instead of staring into their smartphones opposite their dining companions.

 

There is this phenomenon called a Naturally Occurring Retirement Community (NORC).  For the past 5 years, I’ve been living in one on the Upper West Side of Manhattan.  It turns out, many in my NORC are women of a certain age. One of my grocery stores offers “Senior Discounts” on Thursdays and there is no problem finding grab bars, walkers, canes or compression stockings.

“A naturally occurring retirement community (NORC; /nɔːrk/) is a term used to describe a community that has a large proportion of residents over 60 but was not specifically planned or designed to meet the needs of seniors living independently in their homes.”

I haven’t posted recently but I’m back.  It’s not that I’ve been away (although I did take a very ambitious trip for a few weeks which will be the subject of another blog entry).  Thankfully, I haven’t been distracted with illness. Primarily, I’ve wondered how to orient my blogs now that I feel less as if widowhood defined me.  I’d like to avoid using the “moving on” cliched expression.  Instead, I’ll say I’ve progressed from feeling like just half a person.  I do feel much stronger and like a whole person, a single woman on my own.

In a few weeks, I’m coming up to the 8th anniversary of my husband’s death.  That is an extraordinarily long separation after an incredibly happy and supportive marriage.  As we all know, grief has a way of coming at you when you least expect it.  I’ve no doubt that it will be another difficult anniversary.  But I think some of my newly acquired strength will be there to help me out.

To express this stronger single person I’ve become, I’ll be drawing in color!  I hope you’ll join me for explorations as a single woman with both wonderful memories of the past and resilience to deal with the present and future.  Stay tuned.

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There is this quote by Paul Tillich, the existentialist philosopher and theologian:  “Loneliness expresses the pain of being alone and solitude expresses the glory of being alone.”

It’s an interesting quote and for me, in my 7th year of being a widow after an incredibly close marriage, I am finding there is certainly a difference between the two states.  I can not say that loneliness is never a companion.  It is, especially when I summon up the courage and take a tour by myself with strangers, many of whom are couples.  My husband is not there to sit next to me on the bus or hold my hand in a museum or on a walk along the rim of the Grand Canyon.  The loneliness then is profound.  And while I have made some dear friends on these same tours, I acutely feel the absence of my husband, who was my favorite travel companion.

But I am learning to appreciate solitude and even to discover that I can fully enjoy myself on solitary visits to a museum, a movie (especially with a bag of popcorn), a play (primarily if it’s a matinee when there are likely to be fewer couples) or a walk in the park.

I have family and numerous friends in New York City.    I have been taking classes and belong to The Transition Network, a nonprofit organization comprised of more than 600 women over 50 in New York City who are learning how to enjoy growing older through peer groups, special interest groups, lectures and group activities (thetransitionnetwork.org).  In short, my schedule is usually pretty full with activities involving other people.  Except when it’s not.  And then I have to decide if I am in a state of loneliness or solitude.

I find it’s much better to celebrate solitude than wallow in loneliness and towards that end, I try to make a point of doing something that I know I’ll enjoy doing –seeing a particular movie, going for a walk in Riverside Park when the sun is getting low in the sky with an iPod playing my favorite music, finding a particular museum exhibit I know I’ll enjoy.  I think you get the general idea.  In short,  I am learning to enjoy the times when I am my own company.

 

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This past spring, I signed up for a 7-week workshop at Senior Planet, a unique nonprofit organization whose slogan is “Aging with Attitude” and whose mission is to teach technology to seniors with the goal of enhancing of their lives.  The class for which I signed up was called: “Between Two Worlds: Modern Art and Technology”.

I enjoyed every minute of the 1-1/2 hour class that met once a week either at the Senior Planet storefront in Manhattan’s West 20’s or at the Museum of Modern Art.  The class was taught by a MOMA teaching artist.

We used Senior Planet’s iPads to experiment with cutting edge apps to make collages and slow motion videos. The iPad work was mostly based on imaging our more traditional art, which was created with paper, scissors, paints as well as interesting light-sensitive papers and inks.

MOMA then exhibited our art in their education building on West 53rd Street

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It was my first (and likely last) MOMA exhibition!

The workshop was just a thoroughly enjoyable and liberating experience discovering forms of technology I would never otherwise have explored.

There’s that great quote from Henry Ford:

“Anyone who stops learning is old, whether at twenty or eighty.  Anyone who keeps learning stays young.  The greatest thing in life is to keep your mind young.”

 

 

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These are two of my silk paintings.  I painted them several months after my husband died in a class I took at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City.  When I signed up for the evening class, I had no idea what would be involved in painting on silk but I decided I wanted to be away from the house as much as possible, especially at night.  My short-term goal was to be as exhausted as possible when I came home, which was one of my tactics for managing my grief.

I remember the teacher beginning the first class with an introduction to silk painting and saying, “We can lose ourselves in silk painting and forget everything except watching the dye seep into the fabric.”  Perfect.

The painting on the left was inspired by my first trip as a widow when I went to the Grand Canyon.  My goal on that trip was to see a hole in the ground which I thought would be as deep as the one in my soul.  I don’t think I thought the hole was nearly as deep, but I was impressed with the mountains against the sky.  That stayed with me.

The painting on the right was an Italian hillside town, which still exists only in my imagination until I can take that trip to Italy.

There’s an excellent article in the New York Times today about a coloring book made by Deborah S. Derman, a grief counselor: “Coloring Your Way Through Grief”.

It supports the view that coloring books enable grieving people “to relax and be more focused” and “can have a profound impact on a person’s physical and psychological well-being”.

I didn’t use a coloring book but my silk painting class did accomplish those very same ends.

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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”