Widower: How Grief Changes Us

Grief, really deep grief, can change you! 

I see examples of this change through my men’s grief group, responses to my online blogs, online widowers groups, and chance meetings I have with fellow widowers in my community.  This change does not happen overnight, it can take months if not years to happen. 

Many are shocked to find that such a horrible experience can transform them and actually make them a better person. Others may find themselves spiraling down into an angry depression, often aggravated by alcohol and/or drugs. And some may find that they experience all of these.

A Man Called Ove, written by Fredrik Backman, does a superb job of describing the experience from one man’s perspective. This hard-bitten loner sinks even deeper into self-imposed isolation and loneliness after his long-suffering and tolerant wife passes. Near suicidal, he responds to kindness and outreach from others with disdain and grumpiness. 

Eventually, he is forced out of his shell (much to his dismay) by his new neighbors and an odd mix of personalities that come into his life. He discovers (as many other widowers and I have) a new sense of empathy that allows him to connect with others like he never has before. 

This new-found ability to empathize with others allows us to live our lives in new productive ways. We find we are willing to help others, to cry when others are hurting, to take the time to listen to others and to reach out to them when no one else will. We also may find that we can express our own grief and love for our wives (and others) in a way which goes way beyond what we may have expressed before.

For me, this took the form of writing a book, starting a blog, founding a men’s grief group, and more in my effort to help others. Through these writings, I learned to be much more open and vulnerable. This is something I never could do before due in part to my upbringing as a man in today’s society. I have met many other widowers who have experienced the same transformation.

The following was written by a fellow widower one year after his wife’s death.

THE FIRST YEAR without Leona (my soulmate  in every way)

By Larry Rittenhouse

It’s easy to look back; the future is more opaque. No one can ever know or understand the intimacy of our journey and who we were together. I often say, “I’m not sure who shaped who over nearly 58 years;” but, every day this past year I’ve been humbled to tears when I remember her example, love, care, and support. We shared everything in common. All I can do now is honor her in every way from this day forward. She will help me find a new normal. At the same time, I want to remain ordinary. I just want to be a dad, grandpa, great-grandpa, brother, uncle, and friend. I want to remember her laugh; and, her whispered, “I love you.”

I asked Larry after he shared this with me if he would have written anything like this before losing Leona. His answer was, “No.”  I have many examples of this transformation we go through, and they all point towards our becoming more empathetic, expressive, and loving.

We paid a horrible price to become this better person. I would rather that I did not have to pay that price; but, I am very grateful to have at least something good to show after all of it. I know my wife would be proud of my progress as a person… and I know many other widowers who can say the same.

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