By Herb Knoll, Author: The Widower’s Journey
When asked, few people can name even one man who has been widowed. After a few moments of additional thought, many are likely to say, “Oh wait a minute, I do know one. He lives down the street.” When I presented the same question to a friend of mine, he failed to recall how his own father was himself widowed. As remarkable as it may appear, few Americans can name more than one U.S. president who has been widowed, yet over one-third of our presidents have been widowed (sixteen in total). Widowed men reside in the shadows of our communities. Want more proof? American’s love movies – yet few can recall how actor Mel Gibson practically built his action-hero career on exacting vengeance from being a widower—not exactly a healthy way to deal with loss. He did it in the Middle Ages in Braveheart, during the Revolutionary War in The Patriot, and as a cop in Lethal Weapon, 1 through 4. Look around you. While you may not know a widower today, you will soon, for one in five men you know will eventually be widowed. And unless things change, they will be soon forgotten. Sadly, this failure by society to recognize those men who have been widowed, not to mention their needs has become an international norm.
No other testament to this view was more poignant than the actions of the United Nations when on December 22, 2010, the United Nations 65th General Assembly unanimously adopted a resolution establishing June 23rd as International Widows Day. To be celebrated annually, this global day of action was intended to raise awareness about the cultural discrimination of widows. We all should applaud the actions of the United Nations in their effort to raise awareness about the needs of widows around the world, but what of the men who have been widowed? What of their needs.
Not to diminish the pain and suffering of countless windows on all seven continents, the actions of the United Nations mirrors the efforts – or lack thereof – of societies around the world; Men are held to a different set of standards versus women after they experience the loss of a spouse. Women are more likely to be comforted while widowed men are expected to “get over it.” Couple the general view that men are tough and don’t need grief support with the fact that few resources are ever crafted to comfort and assist widowed males specifically, its no wonder widowers face so many significant challenges. Challenges most are ill-prepared to deal with including substance abuse to career self-destruction, from difficulty reconciling with their higher-power to their financial ruin, isolation, grief and severe health concerns. In addition to an increased rate of diabetes and hypertension, widowers have a suicide rate that is 3-4 times greater than that of married men. In spite of all of these facts and more, widowed men are left primarily to their own resources. I personally experienced this phenomenon following the death of my wife in 2008 at the age of 52, at my local Barnes and Noble bookstore. As I approached the customer service counter, I inquired what they may have available that could help me as a new widower deal with my grief. The clerk politely entered the word “widower” into his computer’s search engine and then looked up at me saying, “Mister, I don’t have a damn thing for you.” You have got to be kidding me.
It was at that precise moment I decided to write a book for widowers. The book, The Widowers Journey – Helping Men Rebuild After Their Loss (2017)(Amazon.com). When my literary agent shopped the manuscript around over thirty New York publishers, she was repeatedly told that “Men don’t buy books.” As a result, the publishing community doesn’t accept manuscripts written for widowed men. Again, the needs of the widower next door are ignored.
While the United Nations and New York’s publishers have failed widowers around the world, they are not alone. In the United State alone there are 2.7 million widowers with 420,000 new widowers each year. In spite of this vast community of poorly served sufferers, our houses of worship, as well as our employers, have failed them. From the medical community to our governments (local, state and federal), and even our friends and families, each has failed to do their part in addressing the needs of widowers everywhere. The absence of meaningful resources, let alone awareness about the pain and suffering widowers endure is heart-wrenching, perhaps even sinful.
And even if those who are in a position to act don’t wish to do so for humanitarian reasons, they should do so because it is in the best interest of all parties to ensure this segment of our population is healthy, functional and contributing to society.
It begins with all interested parties doing their part starting today. And that beginning can be on the floor of the United Nations General Assembly who, like many others, failed our world’s widowers.
In the famous words of Gandhi, “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
Herb Knoll is an Advocate for Widowers, a Professional Speaker and author of the breakout book, The Widower’s Journey. Available at Amazon.com in paperback and all digital formats.
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