Q. I met someone who remarried after her husband died. Recently, her second husband also died. How common is it to be widowed twice? How do people survive this?
I personally know of four widows who lost two husbands each. It's becoming a trend of sorts as we live longer and there's more time to start over again. The number of Americans 100 years old or older increased 43.6 percent between 2000 and 2014, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). There are now 72,197 centenarians, over 80 percent of them women. Women still outlive men, although the gap is narrowing.
Two of the second-time widows I've talked to have no interest in dating or marrying yet again. "How many times will my luck hold out?" says one, who finds the second death easier to navigate than the first. "My children were young when my first husband died of cancer. I had to worry about them and their needs, as well as my own. Now they're married and have families. They and my grandchildren are supports for me." She completely changed her life after losing her second spouse, moving from the suburbs to the city and growing a busy social life with friends (both widows and divorcees). She regularly attends the theater, takes film classes, and also volunteers at a museum. She maintains a close relationship with her stepchildren and step-grandchildren.
Another widow lost her first husband in a skiing accident. Left in profound shock, she joined a bereavement group. She remarried a year later. "It was a big mistake. I was vulnerable," she says. Divorce followed. Subsequently, she married her third husband and remained happily wed for 18 years before he died. Ten years later, she's quite content with her independence. "I dated for a while but found I'm not interested in beginning again. I took care of my last husband for two years. I like my life now. I want my own space. When I travel, I book my own room," she says.
Someone else feels different. Although her last husband had dementia before he died, she'd welcome a new relationship. So would another two-time widow, who volunteers at a local college to fill the void. The point is there is no one pattern. And as life expectancy grows, there are more choices than ever before. The Pew Research Center, which analyzed U.S. Census Bureau data, found that four in ten marriages were remarriages. Half of formerly married seniors were remarried in 2013 compared to 34 percent in 1960.
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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.