Late life heartbreak: Survivors, Part Two

Today, more tips. Come to think of it, this is useful  advice for any loss.

6. Ask for what you need, from those who care.
Your friends know you feel awful, but cannot divine what you need. Want to go for Thai? Redecorate your bedroom? Revise your resumé? Make a list of what you will do, and who can help.

If you don't know what you need, relax; notions come. If you decide that's a $20,000 year-long trip, like Paula did, do some calculations first. (She did, and went.) 

At the opposite end of the financial spectrum, Ros told everyone she needed a job, and began last  month as an office manager for a friend-of-a-friend's business.

7. Accept risk and the unknown.
Resist making absolute assertions like "No one will love me like Mark", or "He'll get tired of her". As long as you have a day to live, you have mystery and potential. You will also have searing pain and just getting thorough– but  everyone does at this point of life.

People mean well, so they predict, "Oh, you're so wonderful, you won't be alone for long". You are not in an interchangeable your-picture-here situation; who knows what will happen to anyone? As one friend said, "There are ways of living I don't know anything about, and now I can discover them." 

"Risk" is usually interpreted as downside risk, aka "awful things that could happen", but there is also upside risk, wonderful, numinous, completely unanticipated experiences. You will encounter both. Don't focus entirely on preventing the downside, or you may miss the upside. For example, Ros found that her relationship with her siblings changed entirely once she was not trying to maintain the facade of a marriage.

8. Choose a symbol of transition.
In 1982, during an excruciating divorce, I bought a pair of sapphire blue Tony Lama boots. Today, they sit atop my bookshelf reminding me of those scary, necessary steps toward another life. (And also, that your feet spread as you age.)

Laura showed me her new apartment, calm, elegant, feminine. She's proud of the "new" furniture she found piece by piece at garage sales and consignment shops.

Paula got her first dog. Ros swapped her wedding ring for a Victorian opal; the gem symbolizes hope. Laurence got a facelift, which would not be my choice but she said it did wonders for her self-confidence.

9. Take the high road with children and in-laws.
Pam says her son, 27, "has had Tom's number for years" and does not need elaboration from her. Her mother-in-law, whom she loves, has Alzheimer's but remembers who she is. She does not tell her they have been separated for months.

Ros bleeds inside hearing of the kids' visits to her ex and his girlfriend (at the  property she had always thought they would share) but is careful to be neutral. I admire her (and am not sure I could do it); she says it's important.

10. Strength shows up in different ways, on different days.
Pam years ago fired two therapists who assessed Tom as a bully and told her that she was in a codependent relationship, and now she is returning to one, ready to face her fear of being alone. She attended her son's graduation with her sisters.

Ros told well-meaning friends that she did not want to take a holiday with them, and passed part of it at a retreat center. One woman found the strength to discuss reconciliation, sensing it was likely a hollow gesture mandated by her former partner's family. That turned out to be the case, but she learned some things about herself and the relationship that she values.

If I were to add something, it is to find a way to laugh. This might take a few months. I remember picking up a book of cartoons in a bookstore in the midst of that divorce. Suddenly I heard a strange sound: me, laughing. It felt so good, yet so alien, that I  bought the book on the spot.

Buy the book, see the movie, listen to a friend's funny story. Bolting down one's bitterness is a bleak and perpetuating proposition.

For this reason, I also avoided misery memoirs (except for "Heartburn" by Nora Ephron, whose mordant humour did me good) and extended evenings with women in the same boat who could not talk about anything else.

Do you have any advice? Your contributions will help other women going through a later-life breakup, or supporting their friends.

I will respond to comments left this week on Friday.


LPC said…
In all seriousness, find a brilliant television series and buy all the DVDs or watch the episodes, in order. This will not per se make anything better, but it will cause time to pass without you noticing the pain. And then, as happens, the sheer passage of time and the going on of life, and the efforts you make to rebuild will manifest.

In 2007 I watched all of The Sopranos over a course of 3-4 months of weekends. Sitting on a sofa in my little apartment with its horrid beige carpet. Letting the days go by, letting the water take me under.
Viktoria said…
I second what LPC says, get busy with things that make you forget about it for a while. Don´t hide, grieve for real, do it well, be brave and look it in the eye, but not all the time. The unconscious mind needs time to sort the emotional bits, and works better if you don´t think about it always. Be aware of what you dream at night. Explore ideas about the future. And bless you.
Susan said…
Such a good and helpful post Duchesse which further proves to me that you are a good and caring person.

Anonymous said…
Timely posts. I recently learned that my husband of 45 years has been cheating on me for the last 25 of them. While I am heartbroken, grieving, and angry, I also feel stronger than I have for a long time. I can survive on my own. He's discovered that he's terrified of my leaving him and is working hard to make amends.

After I told him I'd been to see a lawyer the look on his face was priceless. He got serious about saving our marriage. The other woman has become ancient history.
Volunteer in your community. Helping others helps puts life in perspective. Join a Yoga class or a walking group and take each day as it comes...
Unknown said…
All good advice. When I went through "my dark night of the soul" in the early 90s I just had to keep going/doing one day at a time. Some days when I woke up the only good thing I could think was "At least I'm alive." Slowly I renovated a house, forged a new career and finally found a gorgeous man (through a dating agency) and we just celebrated our 10th anniversary. Miracles do happen they just sometimes take time.
Gayle said…
Gather up the girlfriends -
to walk together, have lunch,
play bridge, ride horses ,,,
maybe even talk about it a
little ..
Susan said…
With all due respect to Hostess of the humble bungelow---Yes, there is a perspective to be gained, but there is also real devastation to do deal with.
Duchesse said…
LPC: Thanks! No one mentioned that and I can see how some absorbing escape could do a world of good, release the endless dialog in one's head.

Victoria: Beautifully put. I was youger when this happened to me but it took me back. I found I had to grieve not just in the moment but through each season, with its specific dates and memories.

Susan: It is my friends who were good enough to be so open and honest.

Anonymous; You have a mighty task ahead, which I hopes brings healing to you both. I wish you strength and you already sound in possession of that.

hostess: That was true for me- helping others lifts you out of your own pain, if only for a time. I also immersed myself in jazz ballet classes, figuring the barre was healthier than the bar. But that was 30 years ago; now, it would have to be yoga.

Chicatanyage: Any or all of these most intriguing turns of life are available. Each of the great things that happened for you seems to me to have take a combination of risk, courage and luck. Your testimony will add to what I've been saying: you aren't done living by a long stretch.

Susan: I took hostess' point as, getting out there is good. Too much endless self-analysis, asking questions for which there are sometimes no answers, can lead to a very bleak place, even depression.

At the same time, your point is valid too. Someone said to me (30+ years ago), "Aren't you over it *yet*?" at more or less three months. Just because a woman can show up and do her job well (or volunteer) does not mean she is not utterly wrecked inside.
Dear Duchesse,

While I greatly appreciated both parts of this subject, I preferred the second part as it recognized that many more of us than one would like to think don't have the material resources for the wise advice in the first part.

Whatshisname quite a few years ago (I was not a young thing, but many years under 50) also left me destitute - he was a very traumatized refugee claimant (this is true and documented, not just some story he told me and other friends). But as a result, very manipulative and unconcerned about the impact of his actions.

And I've worked in community associations where it was essential to find resources so misused women could find help. and help themselves.

No, not done living at any age, but we must remember that in patriarchal society, the odds are against women of a certain age as there is also the factor of men going after much younger women.

Here, of course, I'm talking about heterosexual women, but lesbians - and gay men - have other problems due to discrimination and simply being a minority.

I've always been involved in community associations. Whether loved or unloved, it is important not to stay in a bubble, and to interact with and help - and be helped - by a broader community.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: Except for "Seek legal advice immediately", the five points of Part One are possible for women with limited material resources.(Legal aid is available but it is not limited.)

Only one of these women does not have to worry about money- and the rest are concerned about every dollar.
Duchesse said…
lagatta: I meant to write "Legal aid is available (to persons who cannot afford a lawyer) but it is not unlimited."

Anonymous said…
Anonymous 10:36 right-o your husband of 45 years was cheating on you for 25 of them and you were clueless?? and now you are sitting there holding the big stick of financial ruin over him running off to the lawyer and all that good stuff. You seem very proud of yourself for winning the prize - a milquetoast of a man who doesn't love you, but is afraid of change this late in the game. I have no clue why anybody would want to "save" such a marriage.

What you have ain't a marriage it's a financial arrangement, there is nothing to work on and nothing to save. He is afraid of you, that's all, and I actually doubt he has given up the other woman; it's just a lot harder now that you keep him under 24-7 surveillance but guess what that makes it all the more exciting.
Duchesse said…
Anon@10:43: It's so easy to judge, isn't it? One can assume all kinds of things about people one does not know, without having to take any accountability for what one writes by posting anonymously, without any e-mail address so the person accused could respond privately, if she wished.

In these circumstances, I too would question a man who wants to stay, and will make an assumption of my own, that Anon @ 10;42 thinks about the wisdom of trying just about every hour of every day. But perhaps she will respond to you herself.

In the meantime, I feel more compassion for her, as the situation is likely more complex than we know, and I've seen couples repair serious situations such as this.

And I agree, fear is not a good motivator- whether in a marriage, parent-child relationship, work setting, etc.
Anonymous said…
Dear Duchesse

I endorse your advice. I do agree with LPC about finding something to make the time pass. In my case
(first divorce)it was books - reading- and my wonderful friends. (How did they put up with me?)

Now I am older (think mid 60s) I am so damn grateful to be alive that I wouldn't have the energy to think about disbanding my marriage.

Besides, my husband is on palliative care which concentrates the mind wonderfully. We are not perfect and there are lots of disagreements, but we have had to work out the important stuff.

I do think it is very hard to start again over 50 /60 and my heart goes out to anybody in this situation. Your advice is well thought out and practical. What a good friend you are Duchesse.
Duchesse said…
Anon@8:01: When partners anticipate the end of life, whether on a far or near shore, it changes how they view their relationship... perhaps the subject of another post.

I too read a lot, and kept journals, which I only recently, three decades later, discarded.
Mardel said…
I agree with LPC as well, you need some way to lose yourself to survive the hours when you are home alone. They cannot be avoided, and the soul needs some time to heal behind the scenes. Otherwise I think these are fabulous posts.
Anonymous said…
I was the anonymous whose 28 year marriage is ending. All of your points are great -- LPC I have ordered a great tv series and look forward to laughing through it.

I am not in Canada, my home, and cannot afford to move home there yet. My son went off to university, I have no family here, and few friends as I have spent most of my adulthood seriously ill, part of the reason my husband left me. The days go on forever, and I am grateful my dogs are here with me, as they are of such great comfort. My family in Canada is furious with me, because of my marriage breakdown. Did I add I was very overweight?

I don't mean to be so pitiful, just some days are so dark. My mobility is very limited but I hope to get a volunteer job somewhere.

Maybe one of you kind women could give me a kick in the ass?
Duchesse said…
Anonymous@9:39: Your health comes first, and I hope, though you don't say, that you are able to move about somewhat- because attending a support group for newly-separated might offer you a great deal now, as you have not been able to make friends where you are. Phone counseling is another option, so you have some strategies for dealing with your family. I wish you did not have to endure this alone.

Classes (chess, history, Russian literature, Thai cooking, whatever) gets you out and among people. As a friend said to me, "It's no good having the only sound in your head be your own voice." (She delivered a boarder!)

Of course there is the online world, all kinds of boards for newly-single women, but (maybe this is my age showing) I'd rather spend an hour or two in face to face interaction.

Yes, some days are dark indeed. It may sound strange but I predict a day will come when you would not go back to the way things were, despite the pain you feel now.

Duchesse said…
mardel: Though they did not speak of it explicitly, I believe that the solitude you speak of is an important part of coping- especially if you have to go to work and 'act normal'. Each woman must choose how much solitude is healing, and also at what point it is time for some company.
emma said…
Hi Duchesse,
I think these are very good suggestions. I particularly liked the one that said there are still adventures in store for us - it may be cultivating a rich inner life & more, & better friendships, or a meaningful involvement in a cause, rather than a new relationship. But I do believe that if we want to, we will discover things about the world that will enthrall us.
I agree about humour - going through my separation I found myself laughing out loud - in public! over Robertson Davies' Rebel Angels. It felt so good.
I also swam a lot. No one can tell in the pool if you're crying!
And it is so important to find things to disrupt your ruminations. As you say, sometimes there is no answer for our questions. I wish I had learned that one sooner.
I can only add, "Be careful who you share your situation with." I was much younger and more naive - and I still remember a few zingers that were shot my way.
Thanks for posting this topic, and to everyone else for their thoughtful responses.
emma said…
As someone who has kept journals off and on since she was 10, I am interested in why you have discontinued...
Duchesse said…
emma: The journals from that period were so boringly repetitive, just endless pages of grief and recrimination. I didn't want them anymore.

"Be careful who you share your situation with" is good advice. When I was still married, I spoke to a woman who I thought was my best friend. She then went after my then-husband, admittedly not a hard target. That affair was but one of many he had, but it hurt the most.

Anonymous said…
reading your last two posts I am both sad and glad all at once sad for the pain of these women and so glad that you have been kind enough to post sound advice as others have said you are a good and caring person.. I wish everyone the strength to endure and to enjoy better times...
Duchesse said…
Anon@6:13: They will read this post, but especially the comments. (I spoke with two today.) Thank you for your heartfelt support.
Anonymous said…
Great posts.

I am so in awe of my Mum who found that my Dad was cheating on her with many women(for the second time - first time was 10 years earlier as far as we know...).

Aged 60, with cancer, she built a new circle of close friends, travelled, volunteered and lived as much as she could until she passed away at 64. Such strength! It was incredibly hard but she never gave up on moving forwards and improving things.

Duchesse said…
Eleanorjane: What a woman! I hope that any woman in that age cohort who needs inspiration sees this.
Anonymous said…
I am the 28 year ending marriage woman (also known as Christine) and I can't thank you enough, and your readers. I really have felt a new sense of hope.

There is little information for us "older" divorcees and I have had so many pitying comments from friends and family, so this was a wonderful surprise.

Duchesse, thank you for posting this series, and for caring about your readers.

Christine xo
Duchesse said…
Christine: Most of the time, people mean well, but, as in bereavement, they can say really gauche things. (Some of this is their own projection- at least it was when I went through it.)

Thank you for your appreciation, they will like hearing the posts were helpful.
Anonymous said…
I'm Anonymous 10:42 above. I wonder if the person who posted so unkindly re my situation is in fact the "other woman."

You know nothing about my marriage, nothing about my husband and little about me. This is a very difficult time in our lives. I appreciate the kind words and advice from others here.
Duchesse said…
Anon@10:42: Sometimes people who have inaccurate ideas or incomplete information about our situation can still deliver some insight, but it's always been much easier for me to hear if those points comes from a place of compassion rather that judgment.

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