living with the loss of a love

Doreen’s Story: The Loss of a Love

Our readers have acknowledged that midlife can be an exciting
and liberating time. Many women are freed from responsibilities
of parenting and from the pressure of meeting expectations of
others. Their knowledge and life experience lead to greater
awareness, acceptance and confidence.

However, midlife may also be a time of loss. Our readers have
shared their stories about different kinds of loss – work,
relocation, divorce, health, or relationship. The loss of a
relationship, through the death of a parent, friend, or partner
is profound. One of our readers has dealt with the death of
her husband and has been kind enough to share her experience
with us.

This is Doreen’s story.

“I had known my husband since school days and we had begun to
‘go steady’ when we were 16. At age 18, I entered nurses’
training at a large hospital where, during the three years of
training, I made life-long close friendships. Six months after
graduation, we married and over the next years we had three
sons. My husband was an air traffic controller and we lived
in several remote areas during our early years, wonderful for
bringing up children and also for making friends from all across
the country. We both loved traveling and had friends in
England, France, Australia, Denmark and Yugoslavia. I made a
point of always writing and keeping in touch with all these

At 48, when my husband was diagnosed with cancer, it was a
devastating shock to the whole family! He underwent surgery
and chemotherapy and even went back to work for a short time.
He felt things were getting back to normal and he was conquering
the disease. The surgeon had told me at the time of the
operation that even though he had removed everything cancerous,
that with this type of cancer there is little hope, as it
always returns. I kept this wretched piece of news to myself as
I felt it would not help in the healing process and I did not
want my sons to know either. The doctors were right. In two
years it was back with a vengeance and in a couple of months he
was gone.

I had been working in a pharmacy at the time and although I
took some time off, my boss said they really “needed me.” If
he hadn’t said that, perhaps I’d have taken the easy way, just
quit and stayed home in my sorrow. Going back was hard for a
few days but then it was good to be in a routine with some
purpose. I had to be strong for my sons who were grieving
as well.

I had many friends but somehow when you are no longer a couple
you find that you are excluded from many things that they are
doing with couples. Fortunately that is not true of all. The
following year my close friend from training days lost her
husband to cancer as well and I was able to help her through
some of the lonely and difficult times. Six months later, my
boss died of cancer – his wife was also a classmate from
training days. Because we had kept in touch over the years
we found that we soon added a few other single classmates and
friends. We got together for birthdays, then season tickets
to live theater, symphony concerts, Shakespeare at the beach,
occasional week-ends away, and other social events. We are
a great support for each other and now that we are getting
close to 70, and we are beginning to have some illnesses of
our own, we need each other even more. I still keep in touch
with my far-away friends as well, always looking forward to
hearing from them. Although my sons mean the world to me, I
feel that because of my many friends, I have been able to
adjust to this new life fairly well and I have not ended up
smothering them and being dependent on them and possibly
ruining our wonderful relationships.”


Stepping Stones: The Path Doreen Followed

There are many ways of coping with loss and each of us will
find our own. Doreen found a path through her grief primarily
through the support that came from her friends and the comfort
of her work routine. She also found a sense of purpose in taking
care of those who needed her – her husband while he was ill,
her sons and her boss.

Throughout her story, Doreen speaks of the value of her
friendships, especially those she nurtured over the years.
By reaching out to these women, she was supported, involved,
and included. Doreen and her peers continue to be resources
for each other now that they are getting older.

For each of us, grieving is a process. We may experience a
variety of feelings at different times. Some feelings may be
stronger than others depending upon events that may trigger them.
Some of these feelings may include:

* Sadness
* Denial
* Anger
* Blame
* Fear
* Guilt
* Loneliness
* Anxiety
* Depression

You may experience some of the symptoms of depression such as:
sleeplessness, loss of appetite, difficulty concentrating, lack
of interest.

The loss of a partner may entail other losses as well, such as:

* Companionship
* Normal routine
* Financial security
* Identity
* Plans for the future

Here are some ideas about things you can do that may be useful:

** Allow yourself to grieve – eventually you will have more
good days than bad ones.

** Be patient with yourself and your situation.

** Get the help you may need – medical, legal, financial,

** Ask for and accept support.

** Be open to comfort from religion or spirituality.

** Hold on to and share your memories.

** Establish or maintain a routine.

** Take care of yourself through exercise, good nutrition,

** Re-engage in life through work, new interests, old passions.

** Appreciate the legacy left by your loved one.

** Embrace your changing identity.


Recommended Resources

A bereavement group may help support you through your grieving
process. You can find out what is available in your community
through your local mental health association, hospital, church,
or synagogue.

There are several books on grief that my be beneficial to you:

“I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and
Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One” by Brook Noel
and Pamela Blair, Ph.D.

“The Mourning Handbook: The Most Comprehensive Resource Offering
Practical and Compassionate Advice on Coping with All Aspects of
Death and Dying” by Helen Fitzgerald.

“How to Go on Living When Someone You Love Dies” by Theresa A.
Rando, Ph.D.


IV. Our Invitation to You

Do you have your own transition story? We invite you to
share it with our readers for the benefit of women who
themselves may be dealing with similar changes. The skills you
used may be Stepping Stones for others. If you are interested,
let us hear from you. Please e-mail us at

(c) HerMentorCenter, 2003