Conscious Aging: The Difference a Decade Makes, Part IV

Very shortly after Jerry’s death two men who were more professional colleagues than friends of ours each asked me out for a meal. They didn’t know each other, and their professional trajectories had been very different. One was a regional bank president for a global money center bank, with a high community profile. The other was a clinical psychologist, with a much more private life. I knew both men had lost their wives within the past year, and that both had remarried.

Despite the differences between them, their message to me was almost identical. Join a grief group. They had, and each had found an attractive women with whom to bond, initially over shared loss, but quickly, over more than that. They’d remarried very quickly after the loss of their wives, and each was happy with the decision.

I was touched by their reaching out, and struck by the vulnerability each was willing to share. Life alone, each said, sucks. Go out and find someone. Move on.

Introverts, by and large, don’t join grief groups — and I didn’t. My own grief over Jerry’s death was so overwhelming I couldn’t imagine listening to stories of anyone else’s loss. I didn’t find the thought that I was in the same boat as a lot of other people at all comforting. Rather, I found the thought of being in the presence of so much raw grief utterly impossible to entertain.

Sixteen years on, still having made no moves in the direction of finding another life partner, I think there may be something to the idea of getting right back into the saddle after a loss. It’s an observation, but not a strong enough one to move me to action.

There’s an upside to being an introvert: we get along quite nicely on our own. There’s also a downside: the experience of loneliness that drove each of my friends out of their isolation after the death of their wives didn’t work in the same way for me. That has really never changed, not in the 16 years since Jerry died, not over the last 10 years as I’ve really become aware of my own aging, and it may or may not be a good thing.

If not another life partner, what of friends? As I said earlier in this series of posts, I had more couple friends in Rochester, along with a deep and sustaining group of women friends. Here in Seattle, as I’ve worked to meet new people, my friendships are almost entirely with women somewhere in the neighborhood of my age — with a few younger friends thrown in. Is it enough? For me, it is. I’m surprised, although I shouldn’t be, that it’s much harder to make new friends at this age than it was when I was working. The easy exposure to a lot of new people simply can’t be replicated in retirement. I’m also surprised that friends made since I’ve moved to Seattle have come and gone more than anticipated. Some have moved away to be nearer their kids. Some have moved into retirement communities, and been drawn into the busy life there. Some, alas, have died.

tomorrow: family relationships at Klainer West

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