What Is It Like to Be Widowed in Your Forties?
My husband died when he was 47 and I was 43. His death was sudden, unexpected, and so traumatic for me that it took me two weeks to even realize that I was no longer married.
This experience taught me that how well forty-something woman survives the death of her spouse depends largely on things such as:
- the issues she must face,
- her health,
- whether the couple made advanced preparations for the possibility of death,
- her financial situation,
- her support system,
- her beliefs and attitudes about death, and,
- how she handles grieving and feelings of guilt.
It is important to understand that few people in this age group either discuss or plan for death, mostly because doing so is uncomfortable and frightening.
Those with children are more likely to make plans, but since doing so costs money, many opt only to set up life insurance polices while others simply do nothing at all.
People in their forties often assume that death is far in the future, however if they knew that approximately 59,520 people in their age group die every year, they might be more inclined to take steps to protect their families “just in case”.
Death comes to people of all ages but is always less expected in those who are younger. For this reason, if for no other, it’s wise for people to create wills and other legal documents. When they don’t, those they leave behind have a much more difficult time trying to deal with the trauma of losing someone they love.
While it’s never easy to lose a husband, doing so in your forties can be especially difficult because:
- age discrimination makes finding a job difficult,
- becoming a single parent in mid-life presents problems,
- finding a new spouse isn’t easy, and,
- facing many years of uncertainty can be traumatic.
Women in their forties who have been married for years can have an extremely difficult time trying to transition back to being single because socialization rules have likely changed and competition for men is fierce.
Widows in this age group often feel they can’t compete with those who are younger, prettier or in better shape. They know that to compete they’ll have to make major changes, but that doing so won’t be easy.
They are dealing with the emotional trauma of their husband’s passing while at the same time trying to support their children who also are grieving and may not even be old enough to understand where Daddy went.
Any forty something widow knows that finding a replacement husband is more difficult at that age because men in that age bracket either already are married, are looking only for younger women or are not worth having.
If these widows are lucky enough to find Mr. Right number 2, their children often balk at the idea of a new man joining the family.
Some kids do everything possible to sabotage new relationships and often are able to undermine and destroy them.
I know of one case where a teenage daughter’s behavior became so bad that her mother had to divorce her new husband in order to resolve her daughter’s mental health issues.
Not all middle-aged widows face every one of these problems, but even having to deal with any one of them is tough.
By the time women move into their forties, some find that their health has begun to fail.
Those who don’t have problems are more physically able to handle the issues they must face after they lose their husbands.
However, those who already are suffering with health problems will have a tougher time because becoming a widow is extremely stressful.
It takes a great deal of emotional and physical strength to cope with all of the problems of widowhood, and if these things are lacking, important issues may not be handled well or at all.
Widows who did a good job of planning for death when their husbands were still alive always fare better than those who did not.
Without a Life Insurance Policy, Will and Power of Attorney they can find themselves facing difficult legal problems.
I know of one case where the husband had put the family car in his name only. After he died, it took his widow six months and the hiring of a lawyer to have the car placed in her name!
It is unfortunate that younger couples do not think they will need these documents, but unfortunately they are the ones who suffer most if an unexpected death occurs.
Without these documents a forty something widow can easily find herself swimming in a sea of legal problems that can maker her situation much worse than necessary.
Years ago I met one woman who lost everything because her husband was the main income earner in the family. It was only after he died suddenly that she realized he had not left any life insurance. She lost her home as a result because she could no longer afford to live in it.
Many couples live from paycheck to paycheck, so if one of them dies when young, the situation can prove disastrous for the remaining spouse.
On the other hand, a couple that has made it a point to live frugally, save and invest has done all it can to protect themselves and their children in the event of death.
The younger the couple, the less time they have had to build their cash reserves, but by the time they have reached their forties, there should at least be some money tucked away for emergencies.
However, a widow needs to know where that money is and the best way to access it.
For this reason it’s vital that both spouses manage the family’s financial accounts and also keep good records of them.
An insurance policy does a widow no good if she doesn’t know that it exists, where it is located, how much it is for or how to cash it in!
- If the widow already has a job, she may be able to survive financially.
- If not, she’s going to find it difficult to become employed because age discrimination does exist and will make finding work difficult if not impossible.
Unfortunately, we live in a world where youth is idolized and aging is seen as a sign of weakness. By the time a widow has reached her forties, she’s going to find that age discrimination provides a real stumbling block for making money.
This is exactly why having life insurance policies is so important for younger couples, especially when children are involved.
One of the biggest surprises middle-aged widows will discover is that some of their friends will disappoint and actually shock them while others will unexpectedly be there to help them.
- some will encourage them to continue grieving and distance themselves when this doesn’t happen,
- certain women will view them as competition and end their relationships,
- some of their friends’ husbands will try to seduce them and
- many will be far too judgmental.
On the other hand, there will be people who were just casual friends in the past who will call and visit regularly and encourage younger widows to get out into the world and start enjoying it again.
These things happen to most widows, but especially to those who are younger.
Many forty something widows are surprised to learn that their husband’s relatives may quickly abandon them after his death. This does not always happen, but when it does, it is a traumatic experience.
She probably thought she could count on these family members for emotional support, but when they turn their backs on her it makes her loss even harder to bear.
Some of her own relatives may behave the same way, which leaves another hole in her heart and makes her feel totally isolated.
Death allows people to display feelings they may have been hiding for years, few of which are pleasant, but all of which can make a widow lose faith in people she thought she could trust.
Beliefs and Attitudes
The ingrained beliefs and attitudes of a widow can either help or hurt her when it comes to dealing with the death of a spouse.
If her religion has taught her that cremation is taboo, but her husband said he wanted to be cremated, she’s going to have a tough time choosing between what he wanted and what she has been taught.
The younger she is, the more difficult this choice will be. However, older widows usually have come to terms with these issues, and thus can do a better job of dealing with them.
Families also may have specific views about how they want their child’s or brother’s body to be handled, but if these do not concur with his wishes, the widow is put in a position of having to fight for him at a time when she is weak and frightened herself.
Older widows may find themselves dealing with family attitudes as well, but by the time people are up in years, many have no families left with whom to quarrel about these things!
Younger widows will find these situations easier to manage if they simply accept the fact that they are the ones who have the right to decide what is to be done. If they follow their husband’s wishes, they can be at peace with their decision.
Many young widows believe that they should feel guilty about the things they said and did when their husbands were alive.
This is true for those who abused their relationships, but it is not true in general.
In truth, all couples have disagreements and neither partner in a marriage is perfect. Given these facts, there is no reason for the remaining spouse to feel any guilt.
Grief is an entirely different thing.
Most people truly don’t understand what grief is, but would be surprised to learn that it is both an emotional and physical state that can become so painful that it is almost impossible to endure at times.
For most younger women, it is much worse at night than during the day, especially because they who have been used to enjoying regular intimate relations but no longer can. The feeling is intensified by the fear that they might never be able to have this type of closeness to a man again.
Grief is more intense for those who still have many years ahead of them because they are alone, it is dark and they have nobody to call, hold and comfort them.
Their future is a question mark, and their feeling of loss is so intense that it brings them to tears.
There is nothing anybody can say or do that will release them from this horrible pain, so they may look for ways to cope.
Some turn to sleeping pills, drugs and alcohol, but this is always a mistake because it’s one that can make things much worse in the long run. Granted, these things are tempting, but they are not real and lasting remedies.
The only real way to deal with grief is to stay busy and to let time pass.
Older widows know they don’t have much time left. They also no longer have the same physical needs as their younger counterparts.
So while they also grieve, they do so differently and under different circumstances.
- generally more settled,
- have lifelong relationships with people they know will help them,
- are in better financial situations and
- have children who now are adults.
These things don’t eliminate grief, but they make it easier to bear.
Over time, a young widow learns that life goes on. She realizes that her husband is never coming back and that she must rebuild her life and move on because the only other option is to get stuck living in the past.
Some remain celibate, but most eventually feel a rush of hormones that they must find ways of satisfying. This is a dangerous time for young widows because their physical needs create a situation that can make them victims of unscrupulous men.
Regardless of this, younger widows likely will have many years to live and should do what they can to make them happy ones.
Forty something widows have unhappily learned that life is unreliable. There are no guarantees about anything.
They know that they have survived one of the worst situations anybody could ever endure, and are stronger for having done so.
If they are willing to accept their circumstances, they can move on with their lives and find ways to make them happy and productive.
One of the benefits of being widowed at a younger age is that women have time to build new relationships that will provide love and stability once again.
Having the hope that this will happen is the best thing a widow in her forties can do for herself and her children.
Has this article encouraged you to make advanced plans for the death of your spouse?
Questions & Answers
© 2019 Sondra Rochelle