Suddenly Single After 40: NOW WHAT?!

What is it like to suddenly find yourself suddenly single after the age of forty? Where does one go to find the answers to transition from the married us to the single me? Having experienced this journey myself, I wondered how many Issues After Dark listeners might be struggling with this same transition, whether it be through death or divorce, thus the genesis of “Suddenly Single After 40: Now What?”

I knew the program would be both cathartic and challenging. Cathartic because each of the guests would have the opportunity to tell their story; too often after the death of a loved one, people no longer want to hear the stories. It would be challenging because the individual stories would take my guests and I back to that place of sudden loss, heart wrenching pain and change that would be irrevocable.

Suddenly single after 40 is a challenging time. It is a place that does not resemble singleness before 40. It does not resemble single that has never been married. Suddenly single after 40 is a whole ‘nother ballgame. I am no longer a tender (or whatever they call it today); my knees hurt and my roots are gray; young men address me, more often as not, as Ma’am; no one is yelling at me, as I walk down the street, “Do fries go with that shake?” Men my age, to reverse Moms Mabley’s line, only want to find out from me, “Where the young women at, where dey at?” Young women say, “Ooooh, I wanna be just like you when I am your age (my response: blank stare).” And should I have a special friend, what do I call him? Boyfriend makes no sense to me after 40 and Boo is not my generation. And what are my married friends now to do with this fifth wheel?

Still, all this stuff is superficial. This suddenly single after 40 thing is about more than the physical;there is the emotional, the psychological and the spiritual. Where there were once two, now there is only one, one voice/my voice; one choice/my choice, shared memories now my memories alone. I felt this was a conversation long overdue.

The word cleave, as in a man will leave mother and father and cleave to his wife, means to bond, to seal. A sealed envelope can be opened, but it is no longer the same. So it is when the marriage bond is ripped apart. In death, the remaining spouse is no longer the same. In divorce, neither party is the same. What am I to do with this different Donna? How do I find my voice as a suddenly single? Who am I without my spouse by my side?

The guests, Debbie Trigg, May Henderson and Mary Smith, are  women who truly love the Lord and each woman brought that passion for the things of God to the IAD microphones, so very necessary because, as one guest put it, “It is a process to get to the place of acceptance; you adjust to that change but you never get over the loss.”

May and Debbie, both widows, spoke of the loss of men who truly loved them; “The love of my life,” May declared. “He truly spoiled me,” is how Debbie explained her husband’s love for her. Both women then went on to speak of the loss of companionship, the loss of “us,” but the most significant loss was the unintentional exclusion from the social circles that had been in place before the husbands died. “People stopped calling; social circles closed off.” May shared how she finally had to tell people, “He died; I didn’t.”

I discovered last evening that this phenomenon of exclusion does not just apply to widows. Mary Smith, a divorcee, shared her story of the discovery of her husband’s infidelity and the repercussions. “I lost a husband; I lost a home; I lost a job; I lost a church family [her husband had been a pastor]. And in the midst of all this change, my only child, my daughter left for college.” Mary also spoke of the exclusion factor and defined it this way: “They [family/friends] know what to do with the two of you, but they do not know what to do with just you.”

I raised the question as to which was worse, death or divorce. Mary, who is having to contend with an unrepentant ex-spouse, did not think that it was a matter of worse, but rather a matter of having to contend with the aftermath of divorce. She now calls her husband Joseph rather than Joe. This change is about seeing him in a different light, no longer as the man she thought she knew but now as the man he has become. It is a drawing a line in the sand of yesterday and today.

We talked about the anger, anger at God, anger at the spouse for leaving us. We talked about the “Whys” of suddenly single, why would God gift us with good men and then take them away (or allow them to walk away).

There were the moments of the first major meltdowns:

Debbie: “I took a big girl pill and went to Las Vegas. I went to a very nice restaurant by myself and was doing well until the waiter took away that second place setting. I lost it right then and there. The waiter asked what was wrong and I told him that I was a widow. Every time he passed the table, he would place a red rose on it. When I got ready to leave the restaurant, they had a stretch limo waiting to take me back to my hotel.”

May: “It was a Sunday night [communion] and all the deacons were lined up in front of the church. My husband had been a deacon, and when I saw those deacons, I lost it. I ran over to where the Mothers were sitting and I just fell on them.”

Me: I was on my way to a meeting in San Francisco, headed for the toll plaza to the Bay Bridge, when a friend called to tell me that the church (a little more than two years after his death) had called a new pastor. I hung up and broke down in the car. I could no longer deny that things had changed. There would be no turning back. I whooped and hollered all the way up to the toll booth. I pulled myself together long enough to pay the toll and when I moved away from the booth, I broke again and cried my way all the way to the meeting.”

There were moments of laughter as well as we shared those “Did that really happen,” moments. The woman who declared that my husband had come to her in a dream and told her to tell me, “Don’t get married.” Debbie declaring that she must have had a sign on her forehead that attracted married preachers. May telling how she sat a chair in front of her to represent her husband and proceeded to curse him out for leaving her.

As usual, two hours is never enough, but at the end of it all, the whole conclusion of the matter is this: Trust God in everything. Find a friend who will not let you be alone and who will be your confidante, someone whom you can trust. Don’t allow people to define you and when you go out alone, don’t let them stick you into a corner. Embrace the journey; realize it is a process and thank God for His grace and mercy.

Where are we today?

Debbie, after 5 1/2 years of singleness is married. In her words, “If Changa (her late husband) was filet mignon, Spencer (current husband) is prime rib. I was not looking for him; he is God’s gift to me.”

May: “God does not have to send me another husband (though he has the right to change this idea); I am content with my life as it is today.”

Mary: Is stretching and growing; there is no going back to yesterday. There is a ministry out there with her name on it and God is going to use this experience to bless other women.

Me: “Well, you know where I am; sitting behind the microphone at Issues After Dark and loving every minute.

May reminded me of one of my husband’s favorite sayings (he was her pastor, too): “Recognizing the sovereignty of God…” God is sovereign and he makes no mistakes in our lives. We begin the journey in grief, but we move through the journey confident that God has not forsaken us. It remains to be seen what he will do in our lives and the lives of other women who find themselves suddenly single after 40.

I always second guess myself about the topics for IAD:Ladies Night. Thoughts like the following run through my head: “Will anyone listen; will anyone even care about this subject; will it all turn out horribly, the guests will be rendered mute at the sight of the microphone, none of the conversation will make sense, and by the end of the program the masses will gather outside the studio, with torches and chains, chanting, ‘Off with her head; off with her head!”

Yes, I do go through my DonnaAngst at the onset of each program. Yet, I do not regret any program that IAD has produced for Ladies Night because I believe that if only one person gets it, if only one person is encouraged to meet a challenge, make a change or dare to pursue a dream, then “Mission Accomplished.”

There was one post last evening that confirmed this ideal for me: “I truly enjoyed this broadcast. Being over 40 and divorced, this truly gave me a different look on life.” It may sound like a cliché, but I am humbled at the very thought that God allows me to share his ideas (I am just the mouthpiece) with millions of people I will never meet, but when they share their heart with me, I am blessed. I pray they are as well.

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