When Wives Become Widows

For most women, the life of a wife is very little like the life of a widow.

It's a transition that no one wants to make - a sad and wrenching change that is forced on some 700,000 American women every year.

For those who've been married a very long time - whether or not the woman also held a job - the transition from wife to widow can be even harder to navigate.

CBS News Correspondent John Roberts reports nearly half of American women over the age of 65 are widows - but many are leading lives that defy the age-old stereotype of the little old lady.

Today's widows are increasingly independent, many holding down jobs, others traveling and seeing the world, and more than a few benefiting from resources including the Web and in the community.

Just two percent of the widows in the over-65 age group wind up remarrying, so one of the most important challenges is finding new ways to reach out to others with whom to share their lives.

The AARP provides one resource for doing that, through its Widowed Persons Service - for men and women - providing emotional support for people who have lost their mates.

Those who reach out to the service, says Rebecca Harrington of the Widowed Persons Service, have a continued "desire for independence, the desire not to wilt away and fall into the background, the desire to take charge, explore life and themselves, the desire to get out there and do things in the community."

That's how it is for 80-year-old Judith Sternberg of Westchester County, New York, who got married at age 20, raised two sons, and had been married for 50 years when her husband, Harry, died.

Sternberg says at first, she was devastated, not knowing how to handle what was the first time ever in her life of living completely on her own.

"At one point, I hate to admit it, I was even thinking of suicide," says Sternberg, in an interview with CBS News. "You're home alone at night and that person who was beside you in bed is gone and you have a lot of memories…but I looked in the mirror one day and I said 'You want to live? Then you better start living!' "

Which is what she did, teaming up with a friend to found the Westchester Women's Network, a support group for widows.

The group does a lot more than just talk.

They meet once a month, listen to a guest speaker, enjoy a brown bag meal, and plan their social schedules.

Sternberg, by the way, is back in the social swing, and reports she's dating again.

Remarriage isn't, however, in her plans.

Sternberg says today, she doesn't rely on anyone but herself.

"I had to learn a lot by myself. And you know what I found out? I found out I'm a very much stronger person."

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