Widower's Peak

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Widower's Peak: As Males Live Longer, More Are, Unexpectedly, All Alone


George Graney sits alone at the piano, plays a waltz, and lets his mind race back to the days when his beloved Mary was still alive.

During their 40-year marriage, they walked along Revere Beach nearly every day. In the evening, he would play his piano, accompanying her violin.

He never imagined she would die first. Men usually go before their wives. But as medical technology allows people to live longer, the number of elderly men, including widowers, is steadily rising.

Federal statistics show that the number of elderly widowers increased 64 percent over the last half-century. There are now close to 2 million widowers over the age of 65, many of whom never expected to be alone in their golden years. In the past decade, the number of elderly widowers has increased by 239,000.

Though widowed female seniors still outnumber widowers by more than 4 to 1, the men are catching up. Two decades ago, Boston-area senior citizen residences were home to just two or three widowers living amongst scores of widows, officials at these centers say. Today, there are usually enough men to complete a baseball lineup.

And, with their growing numbers comes a growing problem for elderly widowers: loneliness.

Gerontologists say that widowers struggle more than widows to live without a spouse. Growing up during an era when men relied on their wives to be housekeeper, caretaker, and their main source of emotional support, an expanding generation of elderly widowers find they've lost both their best friend and their social planner, leaving them isolated.

''For women, it's a seamless thing. For men, it can be a big change,'' said Jan E Mutchler, professor of gerontology at the University of Massachusetts at Boston. When men lose a spouse, ''they lose the person they rely on most.''

That's why the American Association of Retired Persons suggests that men write about their loss in a daily journal and attend support group meetings.

''They've been so conditioned to be strong, they bottle everything up. Even thoug they appear to be adjusting well, inside they are really suffering,'' said Kathy Wood, national program consultant for the AARP's grief and loss programs.

Though many senior widowers like 88-year-old Graney say they don't see the point in finding love in their twilight years - ''What are you going to do, have a woman catering to an old buzzard like me?'' he asks - other men are finding second chances in an abundance of eligible women.

At Bayview of South Boston, an assisted-living residence, heads turn when Millie and Michael walk by, always hand in hand.

''People whisper, `I can't believe she's holding his hand. She's only known him for a few months,''' said receptionist Joan McGrath.

Their romance began shortly after Michael Mooradian, 80, went to live at Bayview. The widower, whose wife died 20 years ago of cancer, said he was sad and lonely for years. He had acquaintances, but never anyone he felt so close to - until he met Amelia Koutalidis, whom everyone calls Millie.

Koutalidis, 81, whose husband died in 1969, played solitaire for hours every day until the day she met Mooradian.

''I don't know. I just looked at him and he looked at me, and I just knew. I liked him from the beginning,'' Koutalidis said.

Now, instead of solitaire, she plays rummy with Mooradian. Instead of moping in his room, or standing by the entrance waiting for his laughter to visit, Mooradian walks along Carson Beach with Koutalidis.

Mooradian, who was a hairstylist before he became a draftsman, even cuts Koutalidis's silvery hair.

''We talk about everything,'' she said. ''It seems like I've known him a long time.''

While the ratio of eligible partners is favorable to men, some men don't care for the romancing, saying they'd rather sit in an easy chair and read all day.

Frederick Gilmore, a retired Walpole firefighter who is 93, doesn't see the point in romance at his age. He said his heart ''is no good'' and he's ''full of arthritis and God knows what else.''

He has his own apartment at Forge Hill Senior Living Community in Franklin. A black-and-white photograph of his deceased wife, Rachael, sits on an end table. Married for 53 years, Rachael passed away in 1973. He's had girlfriends since then, but no one who has taken his breath away.

''If there are any women here, I haven't met them,'' Gilmore said. ''Take a look around.''

Graney, who lives at Bayview, hasn't met anyone, either. He considers himself too old. If he had a girlfriend, he says, he would be a burden to her, since he needs help getting around. So, he lives on his memories.

But Mooradian and Koutalidis are making new memories together. Though Mooradian shares a room with two men, Koutalidis has her own. Last week, her bureau was adorned with a vase of red roses - a gift from Mooradian.

''You're never too old, you know,'' she said with a wink.

Source: Cindy Rodriguez, Boston Globe, www.boston.com/dailyglobe2/253/nation/Widowers_peak+.shtml

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