Life After Death : Classes, support groups and mixers help people who have lost a longtime spouse regain their emotional equilibrium.

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Most single seniors were once half of a couple. Unlike other single people--who divorce, delay marriage to pursue a career or fail to meet the right person--seniors often find themselves alone because their life partner dies.

Losing a spouse through death or divorce is never easy. But when the union has endured for decades, some people have described the separation as "losing themselves" or as "an amputation."

And regaining emotional equilibrium can be a long and delicate process. Becoming a social person again may seem to be an impossible feat.

Most social service and mental health professionals agree that suddenly single seniors generally find it more difficult than younger people to cope with bereavement. And the exigencies of daily life become overwhelming.

This difficulty makes grief education classes, bereavement support groups and social mixer activities for mature singles imperative. Ventura County has such groups. They are sponsored by community social service programs and senior centers, churches, synagogues, hospitals, hospices and nonprofit organizations. But many seniors do not know about them, or--in the case of support groups--they are embarrassed to attend.

It took 65-year-old Edith Sprinkle of Thousand Oaks three attempts before she could leave the parking lot at the Goebel Senior Adult Center to attend a meeting of Caring Companions, a bereavement support group sponsored by Hospice of the Conejo.

"My husband got sick one morning and died that night," Sprinkle said. "When you lose your spouse, you never get over it. But you get through it."

But many people do not get through it, according to Marge Lewi-Rucker, a counselor who helps the support group. All 12 women in the group had been married to their original spouses for more than 40 years and were 16 to 24 years old when they married.

"These women were married all their adult lives. When you lose the person, you lose the role," Lewi-Rucker said. "These women lost structure."

"We feel the loss more," added Sprinkle, "because no one needs us. No one depends on us."

The women agreed that only another widowed person can understand what they are experiencing. "Suddenly you find out you're not the only one who can't remember, can't eat, can't sleep, or can't sit at the same dining room table where you sat with your husband," said June Thorson, a 67-year-old resident of Camarillo.

Most organizations offer two or three levels of support. People bereaved six months or less are encouraged to first attend a grief education class. Next, they join an on-going bereavement support group. And third, there are social mixer opportunities available for widowed and divorced seniors.

The important thing is to get out and get going.

* FYI

For referrals about social clubs or bereavement support in your area, call the HELP-LINE 1-800-556-6607. The following organizations offer free or low-cost bereavement support:

* Camarillo Hospice Inc. provides a Newly Bereaved Support Group, grief education classes, separate women's and men's support luncheons, and widows' and widowers' support groups. Call (805) 389-5897.

* Hospice of the Conejo offers senior widows and widowers support groups for ages 50 and older. Call (805) 495-2145.

* Santa Clara Valley Hospice provides ongoing bereavement support groups serving Fillmore, Piru and Santa Paula. The hospice, in conjunction with the American Assn. of Retired Persons widowed persons services, offers social gatherings in Santa Paula and Ventura. For details, call (805) 525-1333.

* Livingston Memorial Visiting Nurse Assn.-Hospice in Ventura provides free bereavement support groups. Call (805) 656-5957.

* Widowed Persons Services of Ventura County, an adjunct of AARP's national program, will offer a grief education and recovery workshop featuring several speakers Oct. 5 from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Financial Plaza Hilton Hotel, 600 Esplanade Drive, Oxnard. The cost of $20 includes a full breakfast, lunch and all instructional materials. The deadline to register is Sept. 27. Call (805) 525-7523.

Social groups: The Ventura Department of Parks and Recreation has formed Mature Minglers, a new social group for singles 55 and older. For details, call (805) 648-2829.

Moorpark Community College will offer a workshop entitled "Living Alone and Liking the Company" Saturday from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Psychologist Linda Merrill will examine the anxieties of being alone and how to move on after divorce or widowhood. Cost: $40. Call (805) 378-1408.

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