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Coming to terms with widowhood - or not

(16 Posts)
silvercollie Sat 12-Jan-19 06:32:47

Sometime after her single overseas son had temporarily moved back home, my cousins husband died. She is in her early seventies and was married for 55 happy years. There are two married older sons who live close by.
Throughout her marriage, in common with many of her age group, she has never taken responsibility - nor interest - in the running of the house other than the shopping and cleaning. Her late husband ‘did all of that’.
At his death and since, her ‘living at home’ son has taken on his father’s role. My cousin takes no interest in the garden, refusing to have even pots on the patio, no interest in going out, unless she is taken. She refuses to take her car to meet other relations, will join other cousins for lunch occasionally so long as someone takes her.
Throughout her marriage she developed only one female friendship - other than her immediate family. She therefore has no ‘comfort zone’ to help at this difficult time.
Not computer literate and was never interested enough for her husband to teach her. Her live-in son is a computer buff, but she does not want to know.
The problem is that this son is contemplating moving back overseas as he needs to get on with his own life but is concerned about his mother.
How can we, her family, best help? She is a very unworldly person and is one never to have ‘put herself forward’.
Given that the grieving process is very individual, we wonder to want extent we should ‘interfere’. One of our number was widowed some years ago and understands better than others. I have lived on my own for many years and cannot imagine not taking responsibility for myself, so am of no help at all.

Blencathra Sat 12-Jan-19 07:12:20

Better late than never. Her son is enabling her very selfish attitude. He needs to get back to his own life - she won’t make changes while he is there. You can just keep in touch, talk to her and encourage her in new things.
It may seem hard but I have been a widow and so I know what it is like.

Grammaretto Sat 12-Jan-19 08:17:41

I feel your frustration. It may be that she will be able to manage when she has to.
This happened to someone I know when her husband died suddenly. At first his work colleagues helped sort his business affairs and make sure his widow didn't starve.
Later her daughter, though living abroad, master minded the sale of the too large family home and buying another at long distance.
It's a few years ago now and with time and helpful new neighbours plus a dog to walk, things are less worrying.

Blencathra Sat 12-Jan-19 08:23:54

The best thing that I did was join an organisation for widows- it puts you in touch with others going through a similar experience.

Anja Sat 12-Jan-19 08:40:04

If she is in her early 70s but was married for 55 years she must have still been very young when she married. So this is all she’s known.

eazybee Sat 12-Jan-19 08:44:43

Your relative has spent her life being cared for by her husband, and since his death has shown no inclination to take control of her own affairs, so it is unlikely that she will change now. You sound a kind, caring family, so it is up to you to decide mutually just how much care, and time, you are prepared to give to her. The responsibility rests with her two sons in this country, and it is up to you to assess whether or not she wants to join in with any social life; offer by all means, but don't be conned into taking on her husband's role in organising life for her. These helpless "my husband did everything" widows are much tougher, and more manipulative, than you think. (Bitter experience,)

sodapop Sat 12-Jan-19 08:56:54

It's going to be difficult for her to change now silvercollie even if she wanted to. The lady's son must get on with his own life but should try putting a few things in place before he leaves. As there seem to be some family members who are concerned maybe for the first few months someone could visit weekly, telephone calls etc and not stop if they are rebuffed at first. Maybe once her son is gone she will be more receptive to other ways of keeping contact. If he leaves her with a simple computer set up you could help her with it.
I think its a case of just plugging away with her. There is no need for her to change as long as her son is there.

Niobe Sat 12-Jan-19 09:02:10

I echo everything that eazybee has just posted. I know someone who clings onto her husband's niece , expecting her to do everything, even though she lives with her son, DiL and two university age grandchildren. Leave things to her son's who live nearby.

aggie Sat 12-Jan-19 10:00:15

Maybe it wasn't her choice to ignore the running of her life , I am widowed and haven't a clue about our finances because OH took care of most bills and I was under the impression we were on the bread line ! I have no idea so my DD1 is doing it all and having had Power of attorney set up years ago , she is ok with that , as am I . I wanted to take over some of the financial things when we were first married , but himself was aghast at the idea and kept me in the dark .I am now too old to learn new stuff and trust my Family . I hope the Lady has set up POA so someone can help her , don't blame her but encourage her to get out and about , set up a flexible routine ..... shopping ..... out to a meal , is there a luncheon club run for elderly she could join ? she is grieving , not just helpless

Jane10 Sat 12-Jan-19 10:54:16

I agree with aggie. She may well have been excluded from financial matters by her DH. Poor woman is not going to suddenly have a personality change to an outgoing business woman while simultaneously mourning her husband after a very long marriage. She is just not like the OP nor she should be expected to be. I'm sure in time she'll find a way of living and coping but needs some patience and compassion from her family rather than veiled exasperation. Sorry to sound so harsh but I'm feeling very sorry for the poor woman.

EllanVannin Sat 12-Jan-19 11:13:08

This " behaviour " can also come about if the husband suddenly suffers dementia and is unable to carry out the usual household tasks that were always required of him. Although he's still around there is the added burden of having to look after him as well as trying to continue where he left off.

This is extremely difficult where the husband has " done everything " then suddenly you're left, bereft.
There's no easy answer as each person is an individual and how they continue their lives is entirely down to them.
No amount of encouragement in dealing with the situation is going to make any difference to some and professional help is usually the answer in the end.

crazyH Sat 12-Jan-19 13:13:26

I have a friend who was very much like your cousin. Her husband did everything for her. When he died, she did not even know how to sign a cheque. They had no children. But she was lucky enough to have her husband's niece helping her with all the paper work.
Five years on, she can run her own business if she wanted to. She has s coping very well. Her husband would be very proud of her.
I 'm sure your cousin will find her way...Don't worry too much about her...she'll be ok

paddyann Sat 12-Jan-19 15:22:48

Its a generation thing surely,men did the finances women looked after the house /children etc.I always think that why so many older widowers marry again so quickly ,they need someone who will look after them .Your cousin is just a product of her times,she may well find it very difficult to learn some of the things YOU think she needs to do,so leave her be.Hopefully her family will offer the support she's lacking until she finds a way round it

Fennel Sat 12-Jan-19 19:55:39

My parents were like that, Dad did everything financial.
After he died I helped Mum with these things and she soon learnt.
But I think she had always been a capable person, just gave in to my Dad when he was there.
It takes all sorts. Silvercollie - you can help by first finding out if records of bills etc have been kept methodically. And if so by whom, and where they are.
Then check if there are any debts outstanding and if so sort them first.
Then pass over the responsibility for one or two regular bills to the widow, and explain to her what to do.
and go on from there.
If the records aren't in good order then you or someone else needs to get them sorted first.

silvercollie Sat 12-Jan-19 22:02:44

Thank you all for your help. My own thoughts on the subject are inclined to be leave well be. Time will sort it out. Another cousin is planning to take her to some approriate keep fit classes to build self confidence. Her children will step up and look after Finances etc.
I so agree with you folk w ho have pointed out that it is a generational thing and, having married so young, she is unaware that there were other options.
Although I am a few years older, my life choices presented a completely different pathway.
TBH it would be cruel to push her along just because some of us feel she would get more out of her new life. She does not want to , she wants her husband back and maybe, for the time being, that is where it must stay. Not quite a year yet, but everyone grieves differently.
You have all been most kind.

Razzy Sat 12-Jan-19 22:27:25

My dad did everything so when he died in his 70s my mum struggled. She had never written a cheque, done anything financial at all, is hopeless at maths. I let her go at her pace. Luckily they lived at a retirement complex but miles away from me and she doesn’t drive. It took about 3 years for her to start moving forward with her new life. I had to run her finances and all paperwork, with help from my brother. She has now moved closer to me, in another retirement conplex so at least gets to meet others in a similar situation. It is 8 years now and she still gets lonely but can cope. She knows quite a few if her neighbours and I see her and sort out her finances. I think don’t push, she needs time to adjust to the new life that has been forced on her. Grief changes and can cause the person to be angry at the situation but you can’t rush the stages of grief.