The loss of a spouse at an advanced age

The loss of a spouse at an advanced age, more commonly the loss of a husband, is likely to result in a marked psychological reaction. It often results in a serious economic change, the loss of a home, and brings forth the specter of a future in a dependent situation. It carries with it an implied threat of the nearness of our own end. Above all, it calls for a readjustment of one's emotional relationships to people. The surviving person must reinvest his feelings of tenderness and affection in someone else and must find other sources to supply his own needs for love and friendliness. At least for a while, life is likely to be empty, frightening, and depressing. People try to ignore or deny the loss of their spouse by retaining the house or the furniture as a symbol of their marriage. They continuously talk of their past life and of the departed husband or wife. We can forgive them if at times they exaggerate and forget some unpleasant difficulties of their past marital life. In their effort to regain an emotional relationship with someone, they may again turn to their children, other relatives, or even strangers, to shower them with solicitude, often interfering and unwelcome, and to demand from them attention with frequently annoying persistence. Their striving to find substitutes in friendships or in the care of children or grandchildren may never prove satisfactory, when it is tried, and their grief may persist. A mental or physical illness coupled with a lack of desire to live not too rarely ends the survivor's life before long.

The difficulties in readjustment after the loss of a spouse, the loss of a job, or the loss of health, are accentuated when our friends become fewer as we grow older. Our own increasing rigidity and insistence on regularity often limit our social contacts. Physical difficulties make the maintenance of friendship difficult. When we lose our jobs, we lose many social contacts. We or our friends are likely to move away and there are fewer and fewer old people around. If we have lost our homes, it is more difficult to entertain and more difficult to meet new friends to replace those who have gone. Younger generations crowd the older people, who are likely to develop a class consciousness and feel resentful toward the whole class of younger people by whom they feel themselves displaced. They become hostile and suspicious and withdraw more and more, becoming increasingly impoverished as far as external satisfactions are concerned and less able to make a readjustment. When economic situations permit it, old people tend to migrate to Florida or California. There the concentrations of old people are high, and this, perhaps even more than the climate, draws them to these places.

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