My dictionary defines “lonely” as “without companions” or “solitary,” and notes that the first recorded use of the word dates back to Shakespeare’s play “Coriolanus.” Widows know loneliness well. When a mate dies, you lose a confidant, your best friend, and part of your social role. Connections can fade or disappear, especially those associated with your husband’s business or professional life.
These social “losses” need to be recovered. And a large body of research suggests that expanding your network of friends has an enormous positive impact on your mental and physical health — and helps you live longer. What works is a wide variety of friends, such as co-workers, neighbors, old friends, fellow volunteers, and members of your place of worship (or book group or yoga class). New acquaintances can play an especially important role in thriving and building a meaningful life. Friends of all kinds reinforce a sense of belonging and help you feel loved, respected, and appreciated. They provide places to turn when you need assistance or information, whether it’s finding a good dentist — or free technology classes.
Friends also help you adjust to the limitations of aging, by sharing their own experiences and educating you about what to expect from procedures like cataract surgery. They share tips on managing chronic ailments like arthritis. Friends also increase your chances of survival when you get sick. I just had dinner with friends who bonded in a once-a-month women’s poker group. One member, who lives alone, faces hip replacement surgery in a few weeks. We’re rallying to supplement support from her family by visiting her, providing dinners during her recovery, and accompanying her to doctor visits when necessary. Such resources are often all around us — if we stop, look, and start talking to people.
A Swiss study published in 2015 in the Journal of Gerontology: Series B, compared the well-being of widowed and married people in 1979 and 2011. The research found that widows in 2011 were better off financially and socially — and felt less lonely — than widows 32 years earlier. Yet there is still much we can do to live our lives to the fullest.
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.
Image via Shutterstock / Gwoeii