I’ve never seen the topic of sex addressed in your column but writing an anonymous letter is my only option. This isn’t a topic I want to discuss with my family doctor — or with anyone. My wife died after an extended illness. We didn’t have any physical intimacy for many years due to her health. Without going into details, I learned to get by. Now that I’m free, it’s like my sexual imagination has gone into overdrive. But I’m of a certain age and to be as obsessed as a teenage boy strikes me as unseemly and disrespectful to my late wife. I would very much like to see this addressed in your column.
Getting it on in our later years
Sex isn’t a topic I’ve written often about in this column. However, I assure you that as a practicing clinician, I heard a lot about it from people in all stages of life. We are created to be sexual beings. Although age, health, and the loss of a partner may affect the frequency and the means of expression, our sexuality continues throughout the life span. Your interest is not only normal, it is common and healthy!
Perhaps more importantly for you at this time, bereavement can bring forth a host of feelings about physical intimacy. Some people report increased desire while others believe they’re ready to close up shop. Some feel misplaced guilt about moving on from their lost partner while others embrace the idea that it’s not their turn for a little action. Little research has been conducted about “sexual bereavement.” However, one study reports that while a significant majority of those over age 55 who have lost a partner mourn the loss of sex, that same majority find it difficult to initiate discussions about the issue. Embarrassment over aging bodies and loyalty to a departed loved one present hurdles to frank discussions and seeking advice for those left behind.
A simple answer won’t suffice for this complex topic. Beyond assuring you that your interest is very normal and appropriate, I suggest a couple of books and an excellent blog that will provide further guidance. Joan Price is an educator and advocate for ageless sexuality. She has written several books on this topic and has an excellent blog (www.joanprice.com) that is entertaining, instructive, and interesting. In particular, I believe her book, Sex After Grief: Navigating Your Sexuality After Losing Your Beloved, will be helpful to you at this time.
Another book, Sizzling Sex for Life: Everything You Need to Know to Maximize Erotic Pleasure at Any Age is thoroughly and delightfully reviewed on Joan’s blog by Mac Marshall, a retired anthropology professor and researcher. Written by Michael Castleman, this book is worth reading and will provide answers to questions you may have and to questions that probably never even occurred to you! In addition to a comprehensive discussion of up-to-date knowledge and clinical research, the book is written in an amusing, easy-to-approach manner and even includes fascinating snippets on the historical perspectives about sex.
These resources will give you a starting point on your new journey and provide reassurance. As you go forward, remember that all the cautions about practicing safe sex still apply. Hold on to the belief that it’s never too late to have an active and enjoyable sex life!
How late is too late to express sympathy? A casual friend lost her husband to COVID-19 at the beginning of the pandemic. We used to be closer when we worked together but I hadn’t seen her socially in some time. For one reason or another, I failed to send her a sympathy card or call her with my condolences. It’s more than a year later and I’m embarrassed at my lapse of good manners. Should I let this go or should I send my expression of sympathy now?
An expression of care and sympathy is always appropriate. The last year taxed all of us and it’s understandable, but regrettable, that some of our usual expressions of caring for others slipped through the cracks. By all means, send a card now. You may want to send a Thinking of You card versus a traditional sympathy card but either would be appropriate. Perhaps enclose a sentiment similar to this:
“In the challenges of the pandemic, I failed to send this card after Jim’s death and I apologize for its delayed arrival. But please know that you have been in my thoughts. I’m so sorry for your loss and hope you are recovering from such a difficult time.”
If possible and if you knew her husband, recount an anecdote or fond memory of him. The memory could even be of something that you remember her mentioning about him. For example, “I always remember how you said Jim loved to sail and how much he enjoyed spending time with your grandson.” Doing so personalizes your message, displays empathy, and brings comfort to the bereaved. I always recommend adding a personal memory to expressions of grief whenever possible. If it seems appropriate to you, follow the card up with a phone call and invitation to coffee or lunch. I’m certain that whatever effort you make will be well-received and much appreciated—and how wonderful that we can now see our friends in person again!
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