Living alone neednt be lonely

Statistically, older women face big odds that they'll wind up alone in later life. But that doesn't mean they have to be lonely.

"Not only can we expect to live longer than ever before, but we are likely to live at least some of those extra years alone," writes Dr. Lucy Scott in her book titled "Wise Choices Beyond Midlife: Women Mapping the Journey Ahead" (Papier-Mache).

Scott notes that women statistically outlive men, that more than 9 million older Americans live alone, and that 78 percent of them are women.

"The longer we live," she says, "the greater chance we have of being single."

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 50 percent of women married before 1974 have been divorced or widowed.

When death or divorce takes the mates of older people, they are left alone to grieve, to learn how to cope and hopefully, to go on successfully.

The best advice for those still grieving is to be patient with yourself. Don't rush your recovery. When you're ready to attempt a re-entry, you'll know.

Let us say you've done your grieving and are now ready to re-establish a social network. Although you've kept in touch with former close friends, your singlehood can make you the odd-woman-out in groups of married couples.

You have a choice. You may become a recluse or you may establish a new social set. Time for a single-seniors network of some kind? Time for striking out as an independent, going it alone?

In Grandmother's day, widows would have moved in with relatives. Today, especially in America, many learn to lead and enjoy independent lives. Some choose to find or at least look for another mate. Others turn bitter and live with regret and anger.

The most astonishing and bleak discovery many newly divorced or widowed seniors make is the realization that if they don't do it for themselves, no one else will.

"We owe it to ourselves to 'set ourselves in motion.'" writes Frances Weaver, author of "The Girls With the Grandmother Faces" and "I'm Not as Old as I Used to Be" (Hyperion).

"The next time an announcement crosses your desk concerning a museum outing, a library reading, a community-college class about the people of the Argentine pampas or the Wounded Knee Reservation; the next time an Elderhostel catalog turns up with a study group for the lighthouses of Maine or the Superstition Mountains of Arizona, give it some thought…When you get home and open that front door, you should be smarter than you were when you left home."

A traditional homemaker, Weaver was married to a physician, then unexpectedly widowed at 58. Weaver realized she could choose to invest some of her assets in herself. She capitalized on her talent and created her future.

You can make your way to a fabulous re-entry, too, if you begin saying "yes" to life. You'll never know how capable you are until you begin moving.

Since becoming single after ending a marriage at age 58, I have learned how to pump my own gas and I still hate it. I bought a new car; allowed myself time to sketch and make self-taught watercolors and keep a journal; purchased a condominium; quit my "day job" and started a new career; took a trip to Europe; established many new friendships and deepened others; traveled alone and with others, including my daughter; and learned how to love my new self and my independent lifestyle.

If you wait for someone to accompany you to the movies, the Getty Museum or the dog races, you will never get there. Be safe and use common sense, but be assured it is possible to go alone and have a grand time.

According to Barbara Tom Jowell and Donnette Schwisow, authors of a practical book called "After He's Gone: A Guide for Widowed and Divorced Women" (Birch Lane Press), when we face small challenges, we gain confidence.

I was the only solo single woman on a three-week European tour. As a consequence, I found myself seated at dinner with the only other solo, a charming retired minister whose wife was unable to travel. By the end of the tour we were fast friends and upon our return, he lovingly insisted on taking me to lunch so I could become acquainted with his brilliant wife.

Regarding solo travel, I hear you saying, "I could never do that." Take it one door at a time. Try something that feels safe to you, say a bus tour booked through the local senior center, your synagogue or the museum. You'll meet people of like mind and make some new friends.

I met some delightful women in their 80s at a New Mexico Elderhostel two summers ago. I quickly learned that Elderhostel is a truly poor shopping mall for a new mate. There were many disappointed widows there, a large number of married couples and few available males.

Closer to home, there are opportunities to volunteer. Usher at the symphony or chamber music concerts. Take classes at the community college. Join a club. Or quite simply, frequent a coffee shop and smile at the other regulars.

Like many older Americans, you may want to consider getting a job. According to Olsten Staffing Services, one of the nation's largest temporary employers, many men and women ages 55 to 64 are returning to the workplace for stimulation, interaction and remuneration. Kelly Services/AARP also have a 12-year-old Mature Worker Program.

"To every woman who has ever said, 'Do I dare, at my age, embark on a new career?' we would like to shout a resounding, 'Yes!'" write Jowell and Schwisow, whose book suggests, among others, ways to assess your skills and re-enter the job market, return to college and to buy or sell a car.

"Think back to the dream you had when you were a child, your fondest hopes. What would you do if you could do anything, anything at all?" they write. "Dare to dream, and while you are at it, dare to dream big."

You're never too old, for instance, to return to college.

Whatever path you choose, understand that you're calling the shots.