Q. My husband recently died after a long illness, and I’d like to join a bereavement group. I have a choice between a group that meets nearby, which is for people who have lost any family member — and a group that’s further away, but is solely for widows and widowers. Does it really matter if I opt for convenience?
Yes, it does. The “general” bereavement group is likely to include many people who have lost elderly parents, siblings or other loved ones. But the emotional, financial and social upheaval you face can’t be compared to the fallout from any other loss. You’ll spend a lot of time listening to stories and problems that will seem irrelevant to your own needs. You shared your life with your spouse, and that life is now gone. A certain status as a wife and part of your identity is gone, too. You’re no longer half of a couple, which means you no longer “fit” as you did in relationships with other couples. You’ll probably lose at least a chunk of your social life as a result.
And then there’s the financial blow experienced by many (perhaps most) widows. Household income is usually reduced. His paycheck, if any, is gone. His pension is usually gone, too, although you may be entitled to the amount of his Social Security check if it is larger than your own. You also face a huge list of decisions you have to make, ranging from how to get the chores he used to handle done – to whether you should remain in your home or move.
In a bereavement group for widows, everyone is going through what you’re going through. Each loss is unique, of course, because each spouse was different, each marriage was different and we survivors are different. However, most of the issues and challenges are the same – including the task of building a meaningful life as a woman alone. Other participants can provide invaluable practical information that can help guide you through this devastating experience. They also may become new friends. You already have so much in common.
I encourage you to choose content over convenience and try the widow/widower group, if possible. (Note that although such groups are usually open to widowers as well, fewer men tend to join. In my experience, men are also more likely to drop out.)
If you have a question for Florence, please email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Florence Isaacs is a freelance journalist,author — and a widow herself. Her books include My Deepest Sympathies, When the Man You Love Is Ill, What Do You Say When and Just a Note to Say...The Perfect Words for Every Occasion.