There’s a growing group among our ranks— seniors who feel displaced. Many who enter their golden years without a partner know there are programs designed for them, but nevertheless feel disconnected. A friend in my area whose wife passed away four years ago, told me of his frustration in trying to fit in again as a single man. Temple nights, ward dinners, church activities—it just isn’t a good fit anymore. And, at the same time, the Singles’ program isn’t comfortable because he isn’t looking for a new wife. He still feels married to his sweetheart, and though she’s passed through the veil before him, he continues to view their marriage as ongoing. Many of our seasoned saints feel the same way: They want to socialize with others like themselves, but they aren’t shopping for another mate.
My friend told me of 90 people in his stake alone who fall into this category. Other stakes may have many more. There’s an invitation-only website on Facebook for LDS widows and widowers, and my friend has started up a sub-group called NorCal LDS widows/widowers, adding new subscribers every week. Across the globe there are Empty Nester groups who gather to have Family Home Evening. Some of them have amazing lectures, elaborate meals, entertainment, stories, games, and travel opportunities. I’m aware of one group with 50 members, half of whom aren’t even church members. They’ve invited so many community members to join in that the missionaries call it their best night of the month. The widows and empty nester couples get to have the social interaction that they crave, without it feeling like a Speed Dating night. My own ward has a senior gathering called “The Forget-Me-Nots” that meets weekly, and has developed close bonds among its members.
Any ward with a good group of seniors is lucky; their wisdom and experience are invaluable in callings and classrooms around the world. And it’s essential that these members be valued and included, and invited into homes all year, not only on holidays. They can act as surrogate grandparents for children whose own grandparents are unavailable. They can bring immense strength and comfort to struggling members who need to know others have survived their same trials. Never should an elderly member feel neglected, or “put out to pasture,” as one sister described it, telling me she wished she could have a “fun calling” again.
And, likewise, these same mature members need to roll up their sleeves and join in, not always hanging back and waiting for an invitation. By stepping up, introducing themselves, and reaching out to others, they can feel more connection than if they wait for an activity to come along that’s tailor-made for seniors. They can attend Primary events and cheer on the little ones, they can get to know the youth at camps, sporting events, and performances. Sometimes showing an unassigned interest in young people can make all the difference in a developing testimony. Volunteering to serve is the best remedy for loneliness and depression— seniors need to sign up for funeral/moving/new baby/missionary help, and use their talents to bless others. Serving is also a great way to discover new friends, of any age.
The key is love, just as it’s the key for all of us in whatever our own personal challenges. Married members need to reach out to include those without spouses, and those without spouses need to initiate some socializing as well. In an effort to meet the needs of widowed members, let me ask our wonderful Meridian readers to leave comments below, sharing ideas that have worked in your area. Have you used Facebook, blogs, or websites to gather with others? Have you formed a sub-group of an existing singles program? Let us all know, so we can better meet the needs of our brothers and sisters. As the song lyrics go, “This could be the start of something big.”
Joni Hilton is “Your Youtube Mom” and teaches household tips and life skills at
Be sure to read her blog at jonihilton.blogspot.com.
Hilton’s most recent LDS comedy, Funeral Potatoes-The Novel, is available at LDS bookstores. She is currently serving as Relief Society President of her ward in Northern California