After Your Mate Dies: Decisions, Decisions

Q. Do you know how many widows work after the death of their husbands?  I’m curious because I’ve been widowed for eight months and find my job keeps me going. What are the experiences of other widows?

I haven’t found any statistics, except for some that go back to the 1950s when women’s lives were very different. I do know that experiences differ because there are so many variables, starting with the answer to, “Do you have a choice?” Some widows do not, and must continue (or return) to work for financial reasons. They’ve lost their husband’s paycheck or pension benefits, if any, and can’t get along without the money. Others are fortunate enough to have financial security and the luxury of options.

 Another issue is whether the widow has a job or career that she enjoys, one that offers satisfaction or simply makes her feel happier. Obviously you do. So do I. I considered my career as a journalist a life saver after my husband died. It was an escape from the grief and upheaval. If you can get lost in your work and the time flies by, it’s an invaluable “break” from everything else going on in your life. I also welcomed the structure. I had to finish a project by ---. I had an appointment at ---. I was expected at ---.

However, the death of your spouse is also a crossroad in so many ways, and surprisingly, positive opportunities can present themselves. I know widows who have decided this is the time to consider going back to school for a degree or to change careers, or start one they never had. Conversely, some decide to downscale demanding jobs, reduce hours and work at a slower, less stressful pace that allows more flexibility in their lives.

 Others who can afford it may decide to retire entirely and turn to volunteer work, or long-dormant interests or other pursuits they never had time for before. Or they may blossom in unexpected ways.  For example, Laurene Powell Jobs, widow of the late Steve Jobs, has recently become a more public advocate for education, conservation and other causes. She was always involved in philanthropy, but has “spread her wings” since her husband died two years ago.

Such decisions may take some time to evolve and we figure them out in our own unique ways.


If you have a question for Florence, please email her at

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.

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