In honor of Thanksgivukkah, we debrief today with Enid Shapiro, an 88-year-old woman who grew up in Brookline and lives there now. She was married for 60 years until her husband’s death four-and-a-half years ago. Enid is also an active contributor to the work of Keshet and chairs the Rainbow Committee at Temple Sinai. Perhaps we can all use this holiday season to connect with others, young and old, to share stories, build wisdom, create new relationships and strengthen the ones we have.
As a social worker, I’ve always worked with seniors. I tell them that the most important things are your family and your own relationships, with people of any gender.
I spend lots of time with my friends, and they have fulfilled my life too.
My husband and I had a very good marriage. But nobody goes out of this world alive. And once a spouse passes away, widows and widowers need not be isolated. We are not meant to be alone. Sometimes it’s even easier to make a new relationship if you’ve had a happy marriage. People who are fortunate enough to find other people who are compatible with them can have meaningful relationships throughout their lives. You ought to enjoy as much in life as you can. Whether or not you want to marry again is up to you.
I wouldn’t want to get married again, but I wouldn’t object to having a relationship. I mean, why not? I want to share meaningful life experiences with someone else. I’d love to have a boyfriend, and I think I could be a very good girlfriend. It’s just an opportunity to enjoy other people. I’m not trying to look for it, but I am trying to enjoy life. If there was someone who was attracted to me, and I was attracted to him, I think that would be great. In fact, I have a number of male friends, which is wonderful. I don’t think anybody has to be segregated because of anything.
Children are often offended when parents find another relationship. I think my children would be pleased. They know I always like to share my thoughts and feelings. My children are not around—they are busy and have their own lives. And they don’t always listen. Also, I want to share my thoughts with someone who has lived through my times and has common life experience.
If families find they are in conflict over a widowed parent seeking out new partners, they can try to talk to each other about it. Nobody knows what someone else is thinking or feeling unless you ask them. It’s very healthy to want new relationships and new experiences, and I’ve seen it be really positive for many older couples and their families. Tell your children: “I still have thoughts and feelings, and there’s nothing wrong with finding someone to share it all with. Age doesn’t mean you need to be isolated from the world. Relationships are an opportunity to continue to learn.”
My grandmother had a boyfriend in her later life, which made her life just wonderful. It can work.
I believe strongly in all individual relationships, and I’m very involved with Keshet’s work in building a more inclusive Jewish community. It’s important to have community support for everyone, including older people.
Older people can be sexy. They don’t need to be dowdy—they can be fashionistas and want to look good and dress well. We aren’t just creeping around. Older people have feelings too. Older people have lots of ideas. We all have to talk throughout our lives—to share thoughts, ideas, feelings, and to talk about social justice, our suggestions for tikkun olam, the repair of the world. All Jews have a responsibility to translate our beliefs into social justice, which happens through connection and conversation. The world needs more awareness. We are getting there. I love change.
My advice for younger adults is to communicate.
A physical relationship is important, but also talk to each other. Plan for the future together. Find people who communicate well with you. Unless you talk things out and both agree or at least understand how the other feels, you don’t have a basis for a future. Communicate. Particularly while dating, so you know quickly how the other feels about things.
Intermarriage is fine as long as people think through long-term issues, like religion and raising children. It can work beautifully if there’s a lot of good communication and people understand what they both want.
Nobody knows what another person is thinking. Even if you’re married. Even if you’ve spent all day together. Ask a lot of questions. Ask about hopes and dreams for the future. Ask how people stand religiously, intellectually and politically. Ask about money. Just ask.
You need to communicate how you feel too. Your feelings, not just the facts.
It isn’t easy to grow up and make all these decisions, but it’s a lot easier with someone you love. And it’s the same for older adults.
Are you an older adult with stories, reflections or advice to share with us young people in our 20s and 30s? Do you want to talk with older adults in your life and share their stories, reflections or advice? Email me. I would love to hear from you!