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How Long Have You Been on Your Own?

By Mary Lou Harris September 23, 2023 Mindset

I was visiting in the UK, traveling by train between Manchester and Shrewsbury en route to Wales. Seated in one of those foursome seats with a table between, I shared conversation with two women traveling from different locations in England.

We chatted as strangers on a train will do, comparing and commenting on the different final destinations for each of us. One of the women mentioned meeting with friends for a holiday weekend for the first time since she lost her husband.

As the conversation continued, the third seat mate asked the widow, “How long have you been on your own”? Her question struck me as a kind and forward thinking way to approach a loss.

Directing Life Forward

She wasn’t expressing condolences or asking when the husband died or anything else about the deceased. She was asking this woman who had suffered a loss how she was moving forward. I found it to be a thoughtful way of saying, you are important. How are you moving forward, looks to the horizon of the widow’s life rather than questions about how long she had been married, when her husband died.

No, her question was, “How long have you been on your own?” The question opened up the widow to respond that it had been 13 months, describing changes she had made to her home in the meantime, and plans for the future which included this particular holiday weekend with friends in a seaside village in Wales.

New to Being on Our Own Through Life’s Transitions

That conversation and the questions of ‘how long have you been on your own’ can apply to many transitions and take various forms, whether it be a divorce, estrangement from family members or perhaps loss of community due to a location move that is beyond our control.

As the topic arises with friends, or with strangers, how do we engage? There may be need to commiserate and hear out a friend, a mother, a sister. But after doing so, as the seat mate so beautifully did, how do we ask the questions or invite comments about how are you since this disruption in your life, and how have you been moving forward. We already know what was behind us, but what is on the horizon?

As we pass the ages of 60, 70 and beyond, the likelihood of loss in the form of people in our lives or a beloved home we must move on from, even when it is unspoken, even when, and especially when, relationships with people and place were a part of us, the need to move beyond sweet memories and regrets will come.

By the time we are reading a publication such as Sixty and Me, most of us will have already experienced some transition, whether an unexpected job loss or a death of someone close to us.

We need the time to mourn and digest our loss, but hopefully, when the time is right, someone will be there to ask the questions about you, not about the person, home, or employment that was taken from you. Someone to ask about you, how you are moving on, asking the questions, “How long have you been on your own since that loss? How are you doing since then, and what is on your horizon?”

If no one is there, asking us these questions, perhaps we will need to ask it of ourselves. “How long have you been on your own,” with the unspoken subtext of “How are you moving forward since your loss; since your life changing event?”

Thank you, stranger on a train, for offering me this tool as those close to me will inevitably face life’s losses. 

Let’s Have a Conversation:

How long have you been on your own? How are you moving forward? What’s on the horizon for you?

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Diane Dickson

ive been on my own for 16 years. I have been many things to adjust to. I always had my friends, my children, my job, but I began to write in journal small. I was always a writer of stories, novels poems, but now I wrote about day-to-day things, and what I appreciated. I began to travel on the first time on my own one of the books I wrote dealt with this, and I live in revolved around the idea. Paris is always a good idea. It is one of my favorite cities, but I have never been there totally on my own.


My husband died a year ago. I did right by him, but after decades of caregiving, it is frankly a relief to be past that. I am fine alone but just this week I have been dealing with a health scare, a possible stroke, and I wasn’t able to get help from friends. It made it all that much harder. I’m generally so independent so this was disappointing. Many women serve as caregivers for their spouses and family members, but when they need help, it can be hard to find.

Barbara C

I’ve been on my own most of my life. To add to the loneliness, I lost my adult daughter, with whom I spoke every day. We traveled together and we were friends as well as mother/daughter. She was struck while crossing a street a year ago, and I haven’t had luck successfully dealing with it. I live alone. Friends and my sons live far away. I’ve developed some local friends and we share breakfast every two weeks or so. But besides that and doing outside chores, I find myself in a pretty deep black hole, as if part of me got torn away. I’m trying my best to fight the depression and the anger. At 72 and disabled, my forward path is a bit limited. I’ve sought out a local grief discussion group, which hasn’t helped and trying to get an appointment with a grief counselor while on Medicare in my area is a very difficult if not impossible feat. All I can say is that I keep my chin up, keep a facade of a smiling face when I do emerge out of my cave, proceed one foot in front of the other, but my life is definitely not the same.


Barbara, i am so sorry, what a terrible loss. I wonder, since the grief counseling group didn’t work could you try a different type of group? It could be anything, knitting, cards, really anything. Something where you are with others and maybe have your spirits lifted a bit.


I am also 72 and my husband died 13 years ago. I have recently joined a knitting group and they are a lovely group of women and we talk about everything. I highly encourage you to join a group like that. If you don’t know how to do a craft, those that do will teach and encourage you!

Jan J

There’s Meetup groups (they meet via ZOOM) where older women friends knit and crochet together. I’ve been surprised at how rewarding these groups are. Go to and look for “Women Friends Over 50.” A friend of mine doesn’t do these crafts, but she joins for the conversation!

Jan J

I wonder if there’s some volunteer work you could do, despite being disabled. Volunteering, for me, has made my depression manageable.

Ann boland

Thank you, Mary Lou. This is a brilliant way to move a conversation along on a positive note


I’ve been on my own pretty much since I started college. Two marriages of about 2 years each with 12 years in between and then 32 years on my own since my 2nd divorce. Raised my daughter alone since her dad abandoned us when she was 2. She passed away unexpectedly in July at age 34 so now I’m really back on my own.


I’m so sorry, Kathleen.

The Author

Mary Lou Harris is a proponent of active living, community volunteerism and inquisitive travel. After a post age 60 retirement from a career in public service, she expanded those interests to include ultra-trail running, hiking and extended-stay travel. She can be contacted through her website or on Twitter at @stillarunner.

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