An Excerpt from The Widower’s Journey (Taken from Chapter 10)
As I said at the beginning of this chapter, grief means we’ve been cut off from a relationship that brought us all kinds of emotional benefits. Part of our recovery is finding sources of emotional support that will help assuage the sting of that loss.
For us men, that’s often a tough thing to do. This was driven home to me in the spring of 2014 when a friend of mine, retired minister Paul Hubley, arranged for me to meet with a group of widowers, each a resident of the Elim Park facility in Cheshire, Connecticut. After speaking to the gathering of widowers about my loss and trials, I was amazed how engaged the men became. The men shared stories, and tears flowed as each man recounted his loss and the pain he had carried—for many of these men, it was the first time they had spoken of their feelings, and it was obvious they felt better for sharing them with other widowers. It was one of the most moving experiences I had while working on this book.
On my trip home, it hit me that widowers need permission to grieve and to share. Today, most do not feel they have permission, or they fear that others will think less of them as a man if they expose their grief. For that single reason, one widower I spoke with decided not to participate in this book. He was afraid that once he revealed his story and his emotions, others would see him as weak.
I admit that I didn’t reach out as soon as I should have for all the support and fellowship I needed. I recall one day, as I worked at my desk at the bank, one of the employees from the bank’s call center entered my office with her brow furrowed by concern. She quietly told me how “everyone on the floor misses your laughter.” That helped me see myself from a different vantage, and thanks to that caring soul I began to realize that I was not in a good place physically or emotionally. I realized I needed help, and I resolved to find it.
Men don’t need to go it alone. Those who have friends and family should reach out to them. For those who don’t have loved ones nearby or who don’t feel comfortable asking friends and family for assistance, there are other services available. Hospice, which provides comfort care and support to dying patients, also can be an important source of support and empathy for care giving husbands and widowers. For instance, hospice offered widower Rod Hagen counseling for one year following the loss of his partner, Larry. Every ten days or so, the same man would call Rod, so he had someone to speak with—someone who understood what he was going through. Rod added, “The hospice volunteer ended up calling me for nearly two years. I wasn’t asked to come to some meeting and sit with a group of strangers and talk about my loss. Hospice was great. I also had a couple of close friends who were there when I needed to talk, and even when I didn’t need to talk but I didn’t want to be alone.”
Widowers need a support network. I refer to them as a widower’s Personal Advisory Board. They could be a team hailing from your collection of lifelong friends, neighbors, a fellow congregant from your religious community, relatives, or a select group of professionals (doctor, lawyer, financial planner, life-coach, etc.). Your Personal Advisory Board represents your go-to team, the ones you should make familiar with your life situation and allow them to advise you as needed. Forming a Personal Advisory Board is a great way to allow another person who is also grieving over the loss of your wife to offer their support. You could even say it would be therapeutic for both of you.
Fellowship with other widowers through a widower group, or even with just a single widower, can be a valuable part of your Personal Advisory Board. Widower Chris Sweet tells us how he reached out and found one of his old high school buddies who had also lost his wife. “He and I used to play basketball together but lost touch after graduation. When his wife died, I felt horrible for him. I remember how I didn’t know what to say to him. After some time, I found myself thinking how, given his loss, he was aware of what I was going through, and might be able to help me make sense out of what was going on with me. We spoke on the phone and exchanged e-mails. That was what I needed to keep me going.”
Check for widower support groups at local churches, hospitals, and hospices. Or you may want to check out groups through www.nationalwidowers.org. Let me also recommend you register with the Widower’s Support Network’s FREE private Facebook page for widowers, caregivers and men experiencing a loss. We also invite good nature men who wish to offer their encouragement to those we serve. At the Widowers Support Network, our mission is to comfort and assist widowers by offering free services. See “Widowers Support Network – Members Only” on Facebook. We also offer a public Facebook page for all others to enjoy. See “Widowers Support Network” on Facebook.
Other resources that might be of help to widowers include www.onetoanother.org, a service that enables men and women who have experienced loss to meet, and www.widowedvillage.org, which connects widows and widowers for friendship and sharing.
In my research, I also discovered that a pet can be a great source of comfort during a time of grief. After personally witnessing the effect that animals can have, I became a believer. But rather than go into that here—I know pets are not for everyone—I’ve written up my research in Appendix III.
The Widower’s Journey is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobles and elsewhere in paperback ($14.95) and all digital formats. Members of WSN-MO enjoy 15% off if purchased directly from the WSN. To do so, write [email protected]