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Mar. 10, 2015 - Updated 04:16 UTC

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Life after spouse's death

Jun. 28, 2017

An elderly person can take the death of a spouse very badly. It means being alone after the person they've long been with is suddenly gone. In Japan, there are now over 8 million people over the age of 65 whose spouses have died. Organizations have now begun to help these people deal with their pain and loss, and to get their lives back on track.

A non-profit organization began in Osaka 11 years ago with 60 members who had lost their partners. It has now grown to 200.

The NPO wants to give people a chance to share their grief.

"When I go shopping I remember that it was something that I did with my wife, then my eyes fill with tears," says one widower. "It makes me feel lonely."

Mayumi Natori joined last year. She says, "I still feel sad that I can't see my husband any more. It's been 8 years, but I still hear the sound of the door and it seems like he's come home."

Natori's husband died just before his planned retirement. The couple loved going on trips. They planned on taking many more.

"We had big dreams," Natori says. "We were sure that they would come true. I really regret that I couldn't give him that. It hurts."

She lost her desire to do anything and would spend days sitting in front of her husband's photo. She gradually became reluctant to even go out.

One of her friends advised her to join the group, and that helped her change. She says meeting and sharing her pain with people in a similar situation helped her to open up.

"I was really down, but I realized that I should change," says one person in the group. "I thought, I can still do this, and it's still not time for me to get old."

Natori began enjoying one of her old hobbies again. She loved to paint when she was young.

She also became a fan of a famous figure skater and traveled long distances to cheer him on in competitions.

"Maybe I won't get better soon but I'm sure I'll feel better one day," she says. "When I die and meet my husband again, I hope I can be happy to tell him what I did even without him."

Midori Kotani is an executive researcher at Dai-ichi life research institute. She studies the lives of senior citizens. She says men, in particular, may feel isolated.

She surveyed people who lost their spouses. Half the female respondents said they went out more often after the death of their partners, but only one third of men said they did.

"Many men assume that they'll die earlier than their wives," she says. "So, if they lose their wives -- who are the only people they can depend on -- the men are at a loss in many cases."

Kotani organized a group for bereaved spouses and encouraged men to join. She gets them to talk about their hobbies.

Kotani's group plans to create opportunities for widowers to go out freely and easily. This includes group trips, which men may be reluctant to sign up for by themselves.

"I tell the participants that they need to find a way to put double the amount of enjoyment in their lives, since they lost their partners," Kotani says. "I hope that across Japan, groups can help people become active again, rather than spend the rest of their lives grieving."


NHK World's Family Affairs' correspondent Yumiko Sei joined Newsroom Tokyo's Aki Shibuya and Aiko Doden in the studio to talk about support for widows and widowers in Japan. Watch the video for their discussion.