Think of Dear Ellie as your very own kitchen table, where you can discuss the things that are on your mind. Now that the boomers are turning 60 and those in the Greatest Generation are in their 70s, 80s, and 90s—we are all blazing new trails in the third third of life. So, have a cup of coffee and let’s talk about life: the past, the present, and the future. [Editor's note: Dr. Greenberg no longer contributes to Silver Planet, but we have made her archived blog entries available as a service to our readers.]
My husband died recently from a heart attack, and I am trying to get accustomed to being a widow at age 68. It isn’t easy. Everywhere I look, I see his clothes, books, tools, and the things in our house that he loved. This was a second marriage for both of us. His first wife died, and I had been divorced from my first husband for many years. My late husband and I were married for 18 years and had a very successful relationship. We were interested in the same things, traveled all around the world, were active in our community, and enjoyed each others’ children. I had an ideal and secure life with him.
He left a number of letters and papers about his early life, which I have never read. He always said that I should read them after he is gone. He has been gone for six months. Do you think that I should read them now? Anastasia
You are very fortunate to have had such a satisfying relationship with your second husband and to have had so many years as an active, involved, and interested couple. Many women would like to be able to say that.
Now that he has been gone for six months, it is important that you start to put some closure on the phase of your life that you shared with him and to begin the next phase of your own life. If you remain healthy and active, you may have most of the third third of your life (the period from ages 60 to 90-plus) yet to live. You have also entered the fourth phase of your adult life relative to your marital status, having been married twice and single in between those marriages. So you must begin to plan ahead.
Your late husband was wise to give you permission to read his private letters after he died. You have appropriately honored his privacy, and it seems that now is the proper time to read his letters. But reading might not be enough.
I suggest that you try to write about your feelings and thoughts as you read the letters. Do so on the first reading, so you don’t miss your original reactions.
Writing often serves as an outlet for one’s feelings and ideas. I call writing a “transition enabler.” Whether you use a legal pad and a pen or a computer, writing not only captures your spontaneous thoughts and feelings, it can also help you through difficult periods in your life.
The fact that you chose to write to me about the current challenges in your life tells me that you would be comfortable with the process of writing. Try it, and let me know how things go. I’ll bet that you will learn a lot about your husband and that reading his letters and writing about that experience will help you through this important transition in your life. Ellie
By Elinor Miller Greenberg, EdD
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