The painful emotional quandary of Ed, the 62-year-old retired banker from Westminster whose wife of 36 years died last April, stirred many sympathetic responses from readers who also had suffered the loss of a spouse.
Ed didn't want to remarry, nor was he interested in romance; it was still too soon for that. What he was looking for, he said, was "primary companionship," a woman his age who would go with him to dinner or the theater and who would understand his needs as a widower.
Several women who wrote in response said they thought that they filled that bill and were willing to offer Ed comfort and advice.
"I identify very strongly with Ed," wrote Isabel, a recently divorced 62-year-old Huntington Beach resident. Married for 36 years to "a professional man who spent the last 30 years of our life together being totally married to his profession," Isabel said her divorce was nonetheless "devastating to me because I loved him very much. There are times when the pain seems unbearable, but fortunately I am surrounded with a loving family and a career that keeps my mind occupied.
"I am comfortable being single and have not thought in terms of remarrying. However, it has occurred to me on numerous occasions that it might be fun to have a male companion my own age who enjoyed doing the same things I do. It was comforting to learn that there are men out there who would enjoy meeting women their own age."
Leigh, a Placentia resident who described herself as "a professional woman of 60," said she particularly empathized with Ed's frustration over the dwindling contact with his friends.
"My experience as a widow," Leigh wrote, "also included the loss of many old friends who did not know how or did not have the courage to continue our relationships. It hurts so much to have the pain of these smaller separations added to that of the greatest loss of the beloved spouse.
"I hope Ed will come to enjoy his memories of happy times spent with his wife."
Two readers suggested that Ed could find sympathetic ears and perhaps even the type of companionship he was looking for in a pair of support organizations for widows and widowers.
"I was widowed at 60 after 36 beautiful years married to a wonderful person, and I think Ed is right that the most understanding people we meet are the ones who have been through a similar experience," wrote Judith, a visitor to Orange County from Alexandria, Va. "An organization called Widowed Persons Service not only offers psychological support, but also practical seminars on coping with life (for men, survival in the kitchen is sometimes very much needed) and social functions--potluck dinners, theater outings, short trips, etc., on a non-dating, non-spouse-hunting basis very appropriate for the period in which Ed now finds himself.
"In the process of helping others, I have also felt better, and I have met many lovely people."
(The Widowed Persons Service, known locally as New Directions, is operated through the American Assn. of Retired Persons and is headquartered locally at Long Beach Community Hospital. Groups meet on the second and fourth Mondays of each month. For more information, call Janie Ingalls at (213) 494-0590.)
Celeste, 59, a widow who lives in Buena Park, wrote that "the best thing that happened to me (after my husband's death) was being invited to join New Pathways, the St. Jude Hospice Bereavement Support Group, which meets every Monday evening at St. Jude Hospital (in Fullerton) for a period of 13 weeks under the marvelous direction of a very special lady, Roberta Connolly. There are 30 in our class, and the few weeks I have already had have been so helpful. You are with people who understand. We discuss every aspect of bereavement, and it helps to talk about these many problems."
(A new series of group sessions will begin June 6. For more information, call Roberta Connolly, hospice program manager, at (714) 871-3280, Ext. 3680. Pre-registration is required.)
One widower, Earl, who is 77 and lives in San Clemente, said that eight years after his wife's death he has tired of simple female companionship and is ready to love again. But he warned Ed that the chase doesn't get any easier with age. He said he has found that women his age can be as picky about the men they allow into their lives as are their younger counterparts.
"In the eight years that I have been a widower," Earl wrote, "I have been lonely. I miss female companionship, and even sex. I'd like to love someone and be loved in return. . . . I have not been derelict in my search for another mate . . . but women, no matter what their age, all want the same kind of man."
Earl went on to describe a man who is young, handsome, charming and rich, and, even though he characterizes himself as financially self-sufficient, young-looking and personable, "I find myself among the castoffs."
"I frankly see no prospects of meeting a mate I can share the next 20 years with," Earl went on, "unless I win the lottery. . . ."