From as far away as Australia to the British Isles, from Canada to Nigeria, the Widowers Support Network hears the cries of men who mourn the loss of their wife, their soul mates, their partners in life. Widowed men don’t ask for much, never have, never will. After all, men who mourn are expected to “get over it,” right? You know, be a man. Macho if you will. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it was meant to be.
It is said that to grieve, you first must have loved. For without love, grief does not exist. To have loved is among life’s greats joys. As such, it is unrealistic to think one who once loved doesn’t grieve when it is lost. And with grief, comes sorrow, tears, fright, despair, pain, loneliness, depression, aimlessness, and more. Each of these behaviors is dangerous. At times, life-threatening. Yet for some reason, widowed men continue to be held to a different set of expectations vs. widows when they experience the loss of their beloved spouse.
Following a speaking engagement in Connecticut, it hit me. “Men don’t think they have permission to grieve.” This is why they retreat to the shadows of our communities to mourn in private, many in total despair, for they wish not to be viewed as less of a man, then society would have them be. How sad for the widowers of the world; our fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, neighbors, and colleagues.
In the Gospel of John (John 11:1–44), we learned of the story of Jesus’ dearest friend, Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days. Jesus loved Lazarus. When Jesus wept after he learned of Lazarus’ passing. So painful was Jesus’ loss, he decided to perform one of his most prominent of miracles in which he restored Lazarus to life four days after his death. For those of the Christian faith (and I invite others as well), ask yourself; does anyone see Jesus as less of a man for his tears? Jesus’ reaction to the loss of his beloved friend reinforces the view that grieving is a natural extension of one’s love for another.
As we approach Christmas when all of the Christian world celebrates the birth of the Christ child, and presents are so bountiful, do so with a new awareness of the plight of the widowed man. You may know a widower who you are contemplating purchasing a gift. But what does one gift to a widower? The answer lies in this article.
From around the world, widowers have shared with me a listing of the gifts they would truly love to receive. Don’t worry about the cost. The presents widowers seek won’t cost a nickel.
It’s no wonder so many people fail to complete grief counseling sessions that take place over a period of several weeks, with many attendees opting to bail out of such programs after just a week or two. Why? I believe one of the reasons is because too many of the programs fail to provide a real road map to the healing grievers seek. Those who grieve aren’t interested in hearing a lot of theory or advice that is short on substance. They need actionable options. Proven steps and best practices they can employ as they begin their journey toward some semblance of a recovery.
This tendency to withdraw from what are well-intentioned resources should be of no surprise to anyone, especially when speaking about widowed men. Yes, my view applies to women and men alike, but as an advocate for widowers, I have come to recognize how men who are suffering from the most significant loss of their lives want to act to make their pain go away by taking concrete steps others have previously tested. Those who fail to complete grief recovery programming are generally not interested in listening to subjective material offered by family members, friends, or a subject matter experts that are weak on specifics.
I like to tell the story about my brother Don and his wife Kathy when they were traveling by airplane. As they sat in their seats, Kathy leaned over and informed Don how the little boy seated behind her was kicking the back of her airline seat. Being a man of action, Don looked over the top of his seat to the youngster seated behind Kathy and with a raised voice, told the young man to “Knock It Off.” Kathy then leaned over and asked Don, “What did you do that for?” Kathy went on to say how she didn’t want Don to do anything; she just wanted him to know what she was experiencing. But like most men, Don is a fixer. If you give him a problem, his mental Rolodex of problem-solving solutions will begin rotating until the appropriate fix surfaces. It’s what men (and many women) do!
Perhaps that’s why I like plans. Documents that will help me navigate my way until I reach my desired destination or outcome. Plans should contain both strategic and tactical steps one can initiate along life’s journey that will lessen the likelihood of their veering off course or wasting precious resources. I believe people prefer specific, well researched, and proven steps that will advance their agenda. When such insights are available, it can allow the reader’s recovery instincts to be stimulated, causing them to tweak the best practices of others until they conform to the reader’s comfort zone. To this end, I offer the following.
Grief Recovery Rule #1 – Turn to Your Higher Power.
For those who believe in a higher power, turn to Him. Place your grief and your future into His trusted arms. There is no better place to be.
Grief Recovery Rule #2 – Grieve for as long as you wish.
Grief doesn’t end. It evolves. There are no sequences or stages of grief you can anticipate occurring. So don’t let anyone tell you, “It’s time to get back in the game,” or “Get over it.” Do so when you are ready, not before. If their nagging continues, it may be time for some new friends.
Grief Recovery Rule #3 – Forgive yourself for any lingering regrets you may harbor.
If you were a caregiver, the spouse, or the life partner of the deceased, you might have some lingering thoughts of regret. “I should have visited more often.” “Did I find him (or her) the best care possible?” “I should have told him or her I loved them more often.” Regrets surface because deep down inside, you honestly loved that person, and you weren’t sure if they truly knew it. I have some news for you, they did. There is no need to second guess your previous actions. You undoubtedly did the best you could under the circumstances. And you can be sure they appreciated your loving care. So when you lay your head on your pillow tonight, go ahead and tell them again, “I love you!” They’re listening.
Grief Recovery Rule #4 – Watch your health.
No matter how well anchored of a survivor or caregiver, you may believe yourself to b; you are vulnerable. Now it’s time to take care of you! All caregivers and the widowed should be seen by their primary physician. As part of your exam, ask your doctor for a referral to a mental health professional. You know, someone with whom you can talk. You’ve been through a lot, and you may have suffered physically, and don’t even realized it. Besides, you have others who are depending on you to recover from your grief. This caution is especially true for widowers since most men fail to take proper care of themselves, especially when they are called upon to serve as a caregiver. Want a sampling of proof? Widowed men have a suicide rate that is 3-4x higher than married men.
For those who have lost a spouse, be advised that your loss is the #1 stressor on the stress index scale. Regardless of how tough you think you are, the human body can only handle so much stress and just for a limited period before it can affect your health.
As I said, those who grieve are vulnerable. Here’s more proof. According to the US Census Bureau, 700,000 people are widowed each year in the United States and will live on average another 14 years. Research has shown that if you are caring for a spouse and are between the ages of 66 and 96, you are at a 66% higher risk of dying than one who is not a caregiver. Sixty-five percent of those who are widowed (men or women) will experience a severe illness within twelve months.
Grief Recovery Rule #5 – Don’t make any hasty decisions.
Countless widowed individuals have felt a need to make changes soon after experiencing a loss. Time and time again, they have proven why they should not have done so. Whether you are considering moving closer to your son or daughter or downsizing your residence or even proposing marriage to a new love interest, take your time in doing so. Ask for advice from those you admire and trust. When appropriate, talk with a licensed professional with the proper expertise and credentials, even if a fee is required to do so. (Pssst – Be sure to check their references.) You’ll be glad you did.
Grief Recovery Rule #6 – Stay close to those you love.
Seventy-five percent of a survivor’s support base will vanish – or at the very least, be less available to the survivor following the loss of a spouse. Those who are suddenly unavailable may well include family members and friends. The risk is that people who feel continually lonely have a 14% higher risk of premature death vs. those who don’t.
Grief Recovery Rule #7 – Allow those who care about you to assist you in dealing with your grief.
You are not the only one who is grieving. When friends and family tell you they want to help, make it easy for them to do so. Have them cut your lawn, handle your grocery shopping, or clean your pool for the few months. (Just kidding.) But by allowing them to serve in some way, they feel like they have contributed to the healing of all who mourn, including themselves.
Grief Recovery Rule #8 – Communicate your needs or challenges.
Ask for help if you need it. Don’t make people guess. Failing to do so may cause your critical needs to be unaddressed while only trivial tasks are handled. When appropriate, communicate your needs with a subject matter expert. From financial matters to your spirituality, legal issues to mental health examinations, lean on those service providers for guidance. Should you wish, feel free to contact The Widower’s Support Network (WSN), for advice and mentoring, a free service WSN offers to all widowers and the families that love them.
Grief Recovery Rule #9 – Grief groups are a tremendous resource for people in need of support.
Grief groups (aka Support groups) can be very beneficial to those who grieve, so don’t shy away from using their services. (This goes for men too, especially those men who foolishly think they can go it alone.) Among the leaders in support services for those who grieve are Hospices, churches, civic groups, and more.
The sponsoring agency may have designed their program offerings themselves or may have licensed programmings, such as Walking Through Grief, (available at Walkingthroughgrief.com), GriefShare (GriefShare.org), and Soaring Spirits International (Soaringspirits.org). The cost to attend such support groups are modest, with many are available free of charge. WSN’s first choice is Walking Through Grief programming, available in many communities across America. You also have the option to stream and view individual programs for as little as $8. See Walkingthroughgrief.com.
Many support groups address the needs of individuals, caregivers, or survivors dealing with specific diseases or ailments. For example, PanCan has support groups across America for Pancreatic Cancer sufferers. Compassionate Friends is a terrific organization that enables families to grieve the loss of a child. By using your computer’s search engine, you can easily find support groups for virtually every kind of ailment or illness, including cancer, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis, Chron’s Disease, and countless others.
For those who don’t wish to attend meetings outside their home, you will find books, DVDs, and more available at the OpentoHope.com, GriefToolbox.com, and GriefDiaries.com, all excellent resources for healing videos, books and more.
Some who grieve may enjoy getting away from their current environment and enjoy a transformational journey at sea, featuring the nurturing and coaching made available from a world-class team of grief experts. Such experiences are available from Grieving Seminars at Sea on The Bereavement Cruise. The beauty of such an outing is that it allows you to find yourself in a neutral arena, absent the trappings and triggers of everyday life and the memories you may find troubling. To learn more, contact our office at herb@WidowersSupportNetwork.com
Grief Recovery Rule #10 – Get on your feet and out of the house.
Widowed people need to reestablish their own relevance. It is essential to have a purpose when you rise out of bed each day. You can accomplish this in many ways. Volunteering has been found by many to be the best grief recovery tool. Reach out to a non-profit who supports a good cause, your church, or perform a kind gesture for someone who can’t pay you back. Perhaps this is why I established the Widowers Support Network, as it provides me with such gratification. Besides, it gives me purpose.
Grief Recovery Rule #11 – Commemorate the life of your deceased loved one.
Perform charitable works in their name. Turn their articles of clothing into “Love Pillows” and give them to those they loved. Celebrate their birthday by joining forces with friends and family in aiding their favorite support group.
Grief Recovery Rule #12 – Never lose HOPE. (Hope Trilogy)
As Alexander Pope wrote, HOPE SPRINGS ETERNAL. Feed your subconscious mind with healing thoughts offering reasons to have hope. View, read, and listen to the lessons learned and the opinions of those who have been where you are today. To begin, allwho grieve (men and women)should register at WidowersSupportNetwork.com. Once registered, request your free copy of WSN’s powerful HOPE TRILOGY, the story of three remarkable men, and their mastery over adversity. Write: info@WidowersSupportNetwork.com
Grief Recovery Rule #13 – Take Care of Business
As my deceased brother, Dan taught me when I was just a teenager, “Take Care of Business First.” Failing to do so can cause significant hardship if not expense during the remainder of your grief journey. While matters such as career preservation, legal affairs, and financial wellness may not be the “first” thing you address during your journey, putting off such essential matters can cause catastrophic outcomes later. Again, seek professional assistance when needed.
Grief Recovery Rule #14 –Consider acquiring grief relief from a Therapy or Service Dog.
“Therapy dogs bring comfort to those in need of companionship while Service dogs have been individually trained to do work or perform tasks for the benefit of a person with a disability, according to the Americans with Disabilities Act.” Across America, there are many animal shelters, SPCAs, and civic, service, and charitable organizations that have programs that can assist you in learning more. A supportive pooch is worth considering. Personally, I would run out and get a rescue dog from the local SPCA, even if it isn’t a “service” dog.
Grief Recovery Rule #15 –Celebrate the life of the one you have lost by living yours; they would certainly want you to do so.
When considering what actions widowed men can take in hopes of accelerating their healing, they may only have to reach down to the pet seated beside them. I witnessed the power of pets often during Michelle’s illness, especially during the final hours of her life when her son Jacques carried each of Michelle’s three golden retrievers, one at a time, from his car up to her hospital room. The nursing staff placed a gurney beside Michelle’s bed so her beloved Charlotte, Spencer, and Carolina could lie beside her one last time.
In this appendix, I’ll discuss the positive benefit of pets, and also direct you to resources for pets that are specially trained to provide support and assistance.
My first exposure to the phenomenon of pet therapy was back in the 1990s when my bank duties included leading KeyBank of New York’s annual Neighbors Make a Difference Day. On this day, the bank would close at noon to free up employees to go into the neighborhoods they served and perform community services. One time, bank volunteers took a group of dogs from the local animal shelter to a nearby nursing home. Some dogs were even invited by the seniors to jump up onto their beds. I still remember the looks of joy and comfort on the faces of the seniors when petting and playing with the dogs. Neither the home’s residents nor the dogs wanted the visit to end.
According to the Mayo Clinic, “animal-assisted therapy (AAT) can significantly reduce pain, anxiety, depression, and fatigue in people with a range of health problems including those suffering from a post-traumatic stress disorder.” AAT is the use of trained animals to assist patients in achieving established health objectives and is the first of two therapies grouped under the heading of Pet Therapy. The second is animal-assisted activities, which has a more general purpose, such as what the seniors experienced when the KeyBank volunteers visited them with the dogs.”
The Paws for People website (pawsforpeople.org) adds: “It’s well-known (and scientifically proven) that interaction with a gentle, friendly pet has significant benefits including releasing endorphins that have a calming effect and can diminish overall physical pain. The act of petting produces an automatic relaxation response, reducing the amount of medication some folks need, lifts spirits and lessens depression, encourages communication, lowers anxiety, reduces loneliness” and more.
Widower Mark R. Colgan had this to say about his two Labrador retrievers, Murray and Tucker: “The evening Joanne died my two Labradors proved to be more than companions, they were family members that were grieving the loss of Joanne. As I sat downstairs, reflecting on the day’s shocking events, I heard an unusual cry coming from the bedroom. The bedroom that Joanne had died in earlier in the day. As I peered around the corner of the bedroom door, I saw how the cry was coming from one of our dogs, Murray. He lied on the bed in the spot Joanne had died and was crying in a way that I have never heard a dog cry before. He was mourning.”
But it’s not only dogs that provide us support and solace. Some widowers are more the cat-lover type, and similar benefits have been attributed to cats and other pets.
Professor Carr notes that pets serve another important purpose: they give widowers a schedule and routine. For many widowers, especially those who are retired, days can feel long and empty. Some widowers struggle to get out of bed. However, a dog eager for a walk or a cat meowing for her morning kibble force us to get out of bed, face the day and set up routines that can be a healthy and important source of structure.
Whether you’re a divorcee, a widowed man, have never married or even been in a committed relationship, you may someday tire of being alone. I completely understand. You see, I have been in your shoes as have millions of other men. As a result, there are many lessons and best practices for you to go to school on as you emerge from your “cave.”
Men have various reasons for wanting a new friend. Some men hope to discover love while others are happy having someone who can cook meals or care for them should they ever become ill. Others are lonely, usually the result of a divorce or the death of their spouse and desire someone with whom they can share a bed. Others are wounded following an unwanted breakup, or they are a veteran of a previous romantic experience gone bad; causing them to shy away from ever exposing their emotions or their wallets to more pain. As a result, they forego any future entanglements. To them, it’s just not worth it. Like the women they seek, men too have their own motives.
Others see a real upside to dating and are willing to give it another try. And when they do, they like moving things along pretty fast, but they would be better advised to be a bit more patient. Through my years of research, I have found men in like situations to at times be a bit impulsive, a behavior that triggers potentially devastating errors in judgment. There are many risks associated with late-in-life dating. From the emotional dangers of rejection to the financial risks presented by a woman who has predatory motives, dating can have its downsides. But that should not deter a single or widowed man from seeking a companion and more. Dating can be exciting. It’s fun, but it can complicate one’s life, so go about it with your common sense fully engaged; moving forward with intent and purpose.
Where does an eligible man begin?
If you are considering re-entering the dating scene, you first need to understand your own motives clearly. What is missing in your life; a partner or a hot date? Do you seek the companionship of a woman of deep faith, an intellectual who can debate the issues of the day or someone who can make you laugh and has a great figure? I know, I know… you want all of the above. But what are your MUST WANTS? You need to know them and then look for them in those you meet. Example: During one’s life, we all accumulate baggage. If you are asking a new companion to accept your baggage, are you willing to accept theirs?
When I decided to seek a new life companion, I subscribed to the online dating service, eHarmony.com. Be aware not all online dating services are created equal. Fortunate for me, eHarmony paired me with a computer engineer named Maria. Maria subscribed to eHarmony herself because she happened to know the psychologist that designed eHarmony’s matching software, and he confirmed how it was scientifically valid. I suspect not all online dating services can make the same claim. Maria and I were married a year later.
My mother once said to me, “If you want to meet a nice girl, go to church!” Regardless of your beliefs, my mother’s advice is worthy of consideration.
A Dating Checklist for Senior Males
What void in your life are you attempting to fill?
Are you emotionally ready for a relationship?
Identify your Must Haves and your Never Wants
Children? A smoker/drinker? Someone younger? Someone healthy? Someone who is financially self-sufficient?
Women prefer men who take care of themselves physically as well as visually.
Never invite a woman into a cluttered or messy residence.
Define your dating strategy
Consider the services of a dating coach.
If you use an online service, be honest when answering their questionnaire.
Join groups or volunteer where you are likely to meet others possessing common interests.
Get off the sofa
Be where people are found; civic and public events, at a house of worship or clubs.
Be honest about your intentions
Don’t say you’re the “marrying type” if you are not.
Enjoy the moment
Plan fordates that both you and your new friend will genuinely enjoy.
Some of the most enjoyable dates don’t have to cost anything.
First dates over lunch at a favorite restaurant make for a safe environment for both parties.
Widowers are vulnerable. Very vulnerable! In fact, according to research performed by Dr. Justin Denney of Washington State University, widowed men have a 1.6 to 2.0 times the risk of death by suicide, compared to otherwise similar married men, and they’ll do so within two years of their wife’s death. Still, other research suggests the rate may be even higher. And that’s just the beginning. Widowers have an increased rate of diabetes, hypertension and more. Widowers are at risk of being diagnosed with depression, which can negatively impact virtually every aspect of their lives. From raising children to maintaining their career, handling personal finances to on-going relationships with others, and yes, dating, the challenges are many. Sadly, few men are equipped to handle any of these.
“If we’re all going to die, why is it that we are so ill-prepared to deal with it?” said John Von Der Haar (68) who lost his wife Mary Jane in 2013. Good question.
While there is no cut and dry answer, there are clues we can point to which have contributed to the problems widowers face. From the time little boys are learning to walk, they are repeatedly told how “boys don’t cry” or “Be a man!” Much like our fathers and grandfathers who came back from wars, and rarely spoke of their days in uniform, many widowed men don’t believe they are allowed to cry or grieve outside of the shadows of our society. It is as though they are seeking permission to grieve. Until they feel they can, they hold their feelings mostly to themselves, offering common phrases such as “I’m OK, just leave me alone with my thoughts.” When family, friends, and collogues leave a widower alone, they are contributing to the creation of an environment that is likely to make the widower’s grief more challenging to navigate. Frankly, it is the worst thing that can happen.
Master Sergeant Chris Sweet – USAF (ret) has worked with military personnel who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. When asked if he thought widowers are at risk of a PTSD diagnoses following the loss of their spouse, Sweet said, “Absolutely.” Sweet should know, he lost his wife Danielle (30) who contracted Leukemia in 2009, after the U.S. Air Force deployed her to Afghanistan. According to Sweet, “All of the symptoms PTSD sufferers experience are exactly what I went through following the passing of Danielle. It’s no different.”
Men need a purpose. To provide, protect and love their mate. When a wife dies, many men seem to lose their reason for living, providing the basis from which other problems can grow.
When asked, few people can name even one man who has been widowed. But given a few moments for additional consideration, many are likely to say, “Oh wait a minute, I do know one. He lives down the street or works with me at my office.” When I presented this same question to a friend of mine, he failed to recall how his own father was widowed. I find this stunning.
Few Americans can name more than one U.S. president who was widowed, yet over one-third of the Presidents of the United States have experienced the loss of a spouse (sixteen in total). This lack of awareness of the mere existence of widowers among us validates how they seemingly live in the shadows of society and our communities.
Want more proof? Americans 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, including 3 sequels.
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 – including the behaviors of those reading this article – they too will soon be forgotten. Sadly, this failure by society to recognize the plight of our widowed population, not to mention their needs has become an international norm.
This view was crystallized by 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 passage of this resolution by the United Nations as the need for heightened awareness about the needs of widows around the world are indeed critical. But the way I see it, the United Nation’s only got it half right. What of the needs of widowed men? In my view, the time for everyone’s proactive support for widowers is way overdue.
Not to diminish the pain and suffering of the countless widows 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 compared to women following the loss of a spouse. Women are more likely to be comforted by others while widowed men are expected to “get over it.”
Couple the prevailing view that men are tough and don’t need grief support with the fact that few resources are ever explicitly crafted to comfort and assist widowed males, it’s no wonder widowers have such difficulty in dealing with so many significant challenges. Challenges most are ill-prepared to engage including substance abuse or 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 fifty-two-year-old wife in 2008, when I entered my local large box bookstore. As I approached the customer service counter, I inquired what they may have available that could help me – 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.” Can you imagine my disappointment?
It was at that precise moment I decided someone needed to write a relevant book for widowed men and that person was me. After nine years of research, my breakout book, The Widowers Journey – Helping Men Rebuild After Their Loss (Amazon.com) was released in 2017. When my literary agent shopped the manuscript around to over thirty New York publishing houses, she was repeatedly told that “Men don’t buy books.” As a result, the publishing community doesn’t accept manuscripts written for widowed men. Once again, I confirmed how the needs of the widower next door are repeatedly ignored. This apathy towards the needs of widowed men was not something I was willing to accept, hence my decision to self-publish The Widower’s Journey.
While the United Nations and New York’s publishers have failed widowers globally, they are not alone. With 2.7 million widowers in the United States alone, and 420,000 new widowers each year, our houses of worship, as well as our employers, have also failed them. The medical community and our local, state and federal governments are equally up to the task of disappointing our widowers, as are many of our friends, families, and neighbors. Each segment of society is culpable in their neglect of men who are desperately dealing with emotional pain during repeated dark days and tear-filled nights. The absence of meaningful resources being provided, not to mention some semblance of awareness about the pain and suffering widowers endure is heart-wrenching, perhaps even sinful.
Even if those who are in a position to act elect not to do so for humanitarian reasons, they should do so because it is in the best interest of all parties to ensure widowed men are healthy, functional and contributing to society.
Correcting this unfair treatment of widowers begins when all interested parties – including you – start doing their part beginning today. To that end, I am calling upon the United Nations General Assembly to join us by passing a resolution declaring the International Day of the Widower to be celebrated annually on March 7th.
So let me ask you a question… Do you know a widower?
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.
It’s true! No matter how painful your grief may be, getting up and off the couch and into your community to serve others is guaranteed to make you feel better. Whether you volunteer for the fire department or the Red Cross, become a scout leader or work in a soup kitchen, serving others will energize your heart as it searches for joy.
About 2 1/2 years ago, while volunteering at my church during their annual fall festival when a fellow parishioner approached me and asked, “Have you ever considered joining the Knights of Columbus?” I replied no, but I would be willing to consider doing so. I ended up joining the KofC and have enjoyed working side by side with some terrific gentlemen on a wide variety of volunteer efforts, not to mention having an opportunity to serve my Lord and his church.
Recently, the members of KofC Council 12761 honored me by electing me as their Chancellor. I assumed my new duties last evening during a special ceremony held at my church.
Why do I tell you all of this? Its to point out how serving others, no matter the organization or environment in which it is orchestrated will brighten your day. It gives widowed men “purpose,” and every man needs “purpose.”
As we travel down our never-ending journey of grief, each widowed man will have moments when he can choose to accelerate his own healing. One of the ways to do so is in the service of others. After all, there is no greater reward than what one feels after they have done something for someone who can’t pay them back. Celebrate the ‘life’ the of your bride by living yours. The choice is yours.
So what are your thoughts on this topic? Let’s hear from you.
Valentine’s Day, 2008, will forever live in my heart as well as in my mind’s eye. The day began when I was awakened by a noise coming from what seemed to be the vicinity of the kitchen. As I approached to retrieve my first cup of coffee of the day, I found my beautiful wife Michelle busy working on her latest project: making pretzels sticks dipped in various flavors of chocolate; each stick beautifully wrapped in heart-themed cellophane, with a red or pink bow. “These are Valentine’s Day gifts for your staff,” she said. “Employees always like getting gifts from their boss.” I didn’t know it at that precise moment, but Michelle’s efforts to spread joy among my team at work would be the last thing she did in our home before being admitted into a hospital for the last time, later that same day. Michelle lost her battle with cancer twenty-one days later on March 7, 2008, a dark and rainy Friday evening in San Antonio, Texas.
Surviving holidays as a widower, especially as a new widower, is always tricky. As an advocate for widowers, I have noticed how most widowers have one or two holidays that are harder than others to deal with, for they are laced with cherished memories that are more valuable than the Crown Jewels of England. For me, Valentine’s Day is one of those days. With perfect regularity, February 14th is always sure to give me pause, as each year I’m reminded of the sixteen years I celebrated it with Michelle.
For many widowers, Valentine’s Day delivers an endless barrage of love symbolism, perhaps never to be experienced again. From chocolates and flowers for their lady to memories of a warm wet kiss or a loving glance from across a room, the expressions of love around Valentine’s Day are inescapable. Valentine’s Day reminds many widowers of the emptiness they may have become accustomed to living with daily, even if for only a brief second when their grief of yesterday assumes its role at center stage in one’s thoughts.
Following Michelle’s passing, I assumed I would be a bachelor for the rest of my days. It was about that time I decided to celebrate Michelle’s life by living mine. Two and one-half years after Michelle’s passing, I met and fell in love with Maria. We were married twelve months later off the coast of Italy during a ceremony onboard the Ruby Princess cruise ship.
Does this mean I never think about Michelle anymore? Hardly. I am proud to say I was married to Michelle as I am to Maria today. Today, Valentine’s Day reminds me that the human heart can mend and is capable of loving more than one person over a lifetime. If a widower is seeking companionship, a life partner, or perhaps more, he should have hope that such joy may well be awaiting its discovery by him. And it is likely to occur when he least expects it to do so.
I understand that some widowers, including those who, like me, may have discovered love again, have lingering difficulty in dealing with the visible triggers of grief Valentine’s Day presents. For them, please permit me to offer a few suggestions.
1. Spend the day with your children or with members of your extended family, preparing your wife’s favorite recipes. Once made, enjoy a family meal with each other while allowing each family member to share stories about your wife.
2. Spend some time working on your family tree, capturing memories about your wife for future generations to enjoy. You may even want to write your wife a letter and insert it into your family tree’s archives.
3. Spend time with your grandchildren, perhaps taking them on a day-trip to show them their grandmother’s favorite park, the home of her youth, or where the two of you met. And be sure to take the little ones to their grandmother’s favorite restaurant and buy their lunch while you’re there.
4. Focus your expressions of love on to others. From volunteering for the Red Cross or your local veteran’s organization to spend some time assisting those served by your wife’s favorite charity.
5. Volunteer to babysit for another couple so they can enjoy their Valentine’s Day as much as you enjoyed yours during years past.
6. Be strengthened by reading scripture (1 Thessalonians 4) that speaks to Our Lord’s promise that we will one day again be reunited with those that we love.
Just because someone dies doesn’t mean the love they shared with others did likewise. This Valentine’s Day, go out and celebrate the time you were blessed to be with your beloved wife. And when you lay your head on your pillow later that evening, be sure to tell your deceased wife you love her. Go ahead. She’s listening.