Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair

Till Death us do Part

Nyle Kardatzke

“My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Psalm 22:1 and Matthew 27:46

All marriages end in death or divorce. My wife and I talked about our deaths a few times, back when we were both healthy. We sometimes joked about being each other’s “first husband” or “first wife,” never imagining that there might ever be a second spouse for either of us, or that one of us might live alone for many years. We assumed we would both die in old age within a year or two of each other, as our parents had. But now it has happened, and she is gone. Her cancer reappeared, and she died at age 64.

Death always seems sudden, even if it was expected, because it’s so different from all other changes: it is so total, and it’s irreversible.

I learned that I am “widowed” when I offered to give blood in my wife’s honor soon after my wife’s funeral. When I tried to register as a blood donor, the young man asked, “Marital status?” I was confused. I looked down at my wedding ring and stammered, “My wife just died.”

“Widowed,” the young man said and checked that box on his chart. I felt a little dizzy at that moment and I thought about my new marital status for a long time. Before this, I had been either “single” or “married.” I never expected to be a widowed man.

Your wife’s funeral may have seemed like a blur at the time, and you may remember only a few details now. You had to make some decisions in a hurry when your wife died, especially if she died unexpectedly and suddenly. You may be unnerved now by some of the decisions you made then while you were in a state of shock. But be kind to yourself. Remember that you were in an unnatural condition: you had lost your “better half” or maybe your better three-fourths. “Better half” is a good expression, especially now. It says something important about marriage and about losing your wife. You really were two parts of one living thing: your marriage.

C.S. Lewis said that losing your wife isn’t like having your appendix out or being hospitalized with pneumonia: you get over those and they are forgotten. Losing your wife is like having a leg amputated: you don’t get over that. It is such a huge change that it tends to define who you are for a long time, possibly for the rest of your life.

What do you need to learn about being single again? In what ways is this different from being single when you were younger? What challenges do you see ahead? How is your world different from that of a widow woman?

When I became a widowed man, I wondered what to call myself. “Widow” is usually applied only to women, but why can’t a man be a widow? Why accept the implied accusation when you are called a “widower?” You didn’t cause your wife’s death. “Widowed” is a better term, but of course she didn’t do this to you; it wasn’t her choice. I like to call myself simply a widow or widowed, or maybe better, a “widow-man.”

More has been written about widows than about widowed men, so recovering from loss of a spouse might seem like “women’s work.” But you are now doing some of the hardest work of your life, recovering from her death. This is not for the faint-hearted.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Dating/Relationships Grief/Dispair Guilt/Shame Healing Loneliness Moving Forward

Permission to Change

Nyle Kardatzke

My wife and I slept in a king-size bed in the final years of her life. After her death, I continued to sleep in that massive bed, but always on my side, not hers. It was a comfortable bed, but I found I was swimming all over it at night, and it was hard to make such a large bed by myself. Changing the sheets seemed to be more work than it was worth for me alone.

About four months after my wife died, I looked at that king-size bed one morning, and for the first time, it occurred to me that I didn’t have to keep using it. I could use one of our other beds. I winced at the thought, wondering what my wife would say if she came home and saw that I had changed things without her permission. Where would she sleep? It took me half a minute to realize she wouldn’t be coming back to catch me disturbing our bed. Emotionally I didn’t feel that I should be making a change without her permission even though mentally, I knew that it was okay. I went ahead that day with a major bed-moving operation that ultimately led me to the twin-size bed that now suits me best.

Several other times, I have wanted to make a change in the house or my schedule and have felt I had her permission to do so. Fortunately, my wife was quite practical, so it’s easy for me to picture her approving and endorsing some of the changes I have made. But there are still things I leave as they were, out of respect for space she still occupies in my mind. She liked things this way, and I can still enjoy them for that reason.

Many widow-men probably need to feel their wives’ permission to make changes, especially in the first few weeks or months. Of course, we know that it is we who must grant the permission, but we are more comfortable with those decisions when we feel our wives invisibly agreeing, may be smiling and nodding from where they are. My wife’s name was Darlene, so I sometimes ask myself, “WWDD” (what would Darlene do)? I often receive assurance about an action by asking that question, and I have been diverted from disasters in the same way.

Small household changes are one thing; new relationships, especially with women, are another. Some men never feel they have permission to see other women, to say nothing of remarrying. Others make this transition smoothly. Still, others can do so because their wife told them she wanted them to remarry. You will have to listen to your mind as well as your heart in these matters, and you may need to listen for your wife’s voice for her counsel.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Grief/Dispair Memory

Memory and Memories

Nyle Kardatzke

Our memories, in many ways, are a storehouse of who we are. Remembering past events tells you something about who you are. We widow-men face practical issues of memory: our ability to remember names, appointments, and where we have left things. There are also memories that we want to keep: mental pictures of scenes we shared with our wives when they were here. Memory and memories make up much of who we are.

Forgetfulness comes with the confusion we widow-men feel. It’s hard to remember what we said to each person recently, and we might forget appointments. We may forget where we put something in the living room or kitchen. I often spend time looking for things that I have lost due to forgetfulness.

In the first few months of my widowhood, I sometimes wondered if I was becoming senile. Was it the onset of Alzheimer’s, I wondered? But then I realized I was experiencing shock due to my wife’s death, not dementia or Alzheimer’s.

If you are an “older man,” maybe over sixty, memory losses may worry you a lot. When you forget something, remember that your mind is working hard behind the scenes, and it may neglect to remind you to do even some basic things. Remembering to do simple tasks may require conscious thought for a while.

When your wife died, you did lose part of your memory: the role that she always took care of. She reminded you of names, meetings, birthdays, and how to tuck in your shirt. You lost a large part of your sentimental memory bank as well. I often wish I could share a memory with my wife; she is the only other person who might remember and care about specific events.

You can enjoy some of those sentimental memories just by thinking about them, and you can store them to remember again by writing them down. Thoughts and memories, even valuable ones, are transient and disappear quickly if not written down.

I take lots of notes and make lists to make up for losing my wife’s reminders. These lists help keep me on track as I go through the day, and they remind me of what I have accomplished when I feel I have done nothing. Because I like lists, sometimes I even add something to a list after I have done it, just for the satisfaction of crossing it off the list. You have some new tasks now, without your wife. Written lists may make up for some of that loss.

I not only forget some essential things, but I also tend to avoid some of them. I tend to avoid financial matters, home maintenance, lawn upkeep, and car repairs. I sometimes avoid or delay unpleasant meetings or phone calls. Some things may seem more emotional now without her. Avoidance can be as risky as forgetting.

We won’t always remember everything we want to remember. We may not remember to write down all the things we should. But most of our forgetting is forgivable. Be honest with yourself about the systems that can assist your memory. Your mind is working hard in your new life. Give it all the help you can.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Learning new skills

Cooking

Nyle Kardatzke

During my married life, there were periods of several years when I did more cooking than my wife, though she was a good cook. Her professional life kept her away from home for many evenings, so I cooked. I enjoyed cooking, and I was reasonably good at it. We enjoyed our quiet meals together at home.

One evening during my wife’s final year of life, I was cooking dinner, and she was at the kitchen table visiting with me. I said, “Do you know that I pray the prayer of the Pharisee?”

She was puzzled, so I reminded her of the parable of the tax collector and the Pharisee in the temple. The tax collector beat his chest and prayed for God’s forgiveness. The Pharisee prayed, “Lord, thank you that I am not like other men!”

I said to my wife, “I also pray nearly the same prayer as the Pharisee. I say, ‘Thank you, Lord, that I am not like other men…I can cook!’”

We both laughed, and I have often been thankful that I can cook, especially now that she’s gone. I cook most of my meals, and I like the independence and economy my cooking provides.

If you haven’t cooked much in the past, I encourage you to develop your skills. Cooking can be gratifying, and it gives you a degree of independence you won’t have if you must eat out all the time. Eating out is expensive, and it can become a chore. Your home-cooked meals can be healthier than restaurant food: probably cleaner and more varied, and you can control the fat, carbs, salt, and sugar. Try some recipes from the internet to build your repertoire. Dr. Google can provide lots of cooking help. Make judicious use of some packaged or frozen meals to speed things up and eat out when you must, but don’t be a slave to restaurants. You will build up your cooking skills just by using them.

Even if you have done a lot of cooking before, you now confront the task of cooking by yourself and for yourself. When I became a widowed man, I became weary of hearing widows say, “It’s hard to cook for just one.” I was unsympathetic, thinking to myself: “Okay! Cook for four, eat that twice, and freeze two meals for future use! How hard is that?”

I was in my third year of widowhood before I felt an emotional weight about cooking for myself. It became harder for me to think of my next meal and to start work on it. I knew how to cook, but I didn’t feel like doing it. Then I began to understand the widows’ lament: it’s not the physical work of cooking for one; it’s the emotional effort of cooking when there is no one else to cook for. But cooking can be its reward, once you start a meal.

It’s often said, “The shortest way to a man’s heart is through his stomach.” The same is true with at least some women. I almost always feel better if I cook for company, and men and women alike enjoy the meals. Occasionally I have a friend over for lunch or dinner, and my enthusiasm for cooking revives.

My companion at mealtime is usually the TV. Hearing the news as I cook simulates the presence of another person, so I nearly always check the news or the weather while eating. If the news is jarring or boring, I sometimes watch a Smithsonian Channel documentary, an old show on YouTube, or a portion of Netflix movie. I’m told watching TV is a bad habit, but it works for me.

Mealtime is an important time for social life as well as personal renewal. Listen to your body and your feelings to find the right mix of meals at home and time away from home. Enjoy breakfast, lunch, or dinner with a friend at a restaurant, but have the comfort of your own home cooking, too.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Healing Manful Emotions Moving Forward

Laundry

Nyle Kardatzke

With the holidays behind us, we widow-men may feel relieved to return to the mundane duties of normal life. If you had house guests, you may still have a backlog of laundry.

“Marriage is about the most expensive way for the average man to get laundry done.” Burt Reynolds

A lady friend told me about her widowed father’s struggles with his laundry. The same woman said she prefers to do all the laundry for herself and her husband, but she lets him wash his own underwear, socks, and towels: he’s not likely to damage those.

If there was ever a serious conflict in our marriage, it probably was over laundry. My wife had very precise routines to govern clothes washing. I called it “scientific laundry,” and to this day I can’t tell you all the elements that went into it. The most scientific procedures were applied to her clothing, not mine, so I have very little idea what was involved. What I do know is I could never interfere! Like my friend’s husband, I “wandered off the reservation” only at my peril. There were times when I wondered if laundry crises would become a serious threat to our marriage. (Near the end of her life, she actually asked me to do a load of her delicate laundry. I didn’t realize it at the moment, but that was a sign that her life was ending.)

My friend and her sisters helped their father by giving him tips on laundry and buying him no-iron clothing. They didn’t want him to stray into the even more technical field of ironing clothes. For my part, I’m reasonably good at ironing, and I usually find it therapeutic. It’s clean, quiet, indoor work, and if all goes well, wrinkled clothes come in one side and smooth ones go out the other.

I’m still pretty unscientific about laundry, but I have experimented with bleach. It’s wonderful stuff! When I found that it would brighten some of my white things, I started using it regularly. I have bombarded underwear, towels, and sheets with chemical warfare. Those successes have led me to use high concentrations of bleach on my kitchen sinks, badly stained old Tupperware measuring cups, and even on my kitchen counters. (Caution! Please do a little research before trying bleach on modern counter-tops. Mine are not modern.)

Confession Time: I have violated some of my wife’s laundry laws in recent months, and I seem to be slipping into habitual laundry criminality. I have sometimes washed outlandishly mismatched batches of fabric: towels, pillowcases, underwear, socks, and jeans all in the same load. Each little experiment with eclectic laundry has emboldened me to take the next step. I have found that modern colorfast clothing rarely discolors other clothes. Now I am an unrepentant felon where laundry is concerned. I have simplified and expedited my laundry work, and that’s worth the shame and guilt my wife thought I should feel.

You may be inclined to violate some of your wife’s laundry rules. Smile when you think of them. Take some pleasure in remembering her care for you and your clothing.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Children Holidays

Christmas

Nyle Kardatzke

Holidays are an especially hard time for those who are grieving, and Christmas may be the hardest for those who especially love it.

My wife died on October 25, 2010, so Christmas came two months after her death. My three adult children were coming for the holiday with the four young grandchildren we had then, and everyone would stay at my house. I knew that I had to decorate the home to some extent rather than broadcasting to these young people that I was alone, sad, and in shock. Christmas decorating was a project my wife had always led, so now my mind felt like oatmeal and my body seemed leaden. I could hardly go through the motions of testing the lights and putting them up and getting the small, pre-lighted tree from the attic. My decorating was far below my wife’s standards, but it was enough to signal to me and to my kids and grand-kids that life was going on. When my daughters and the grandchildren arrived, it quickly became a real Christmas. The holiday I had dreaded became a step toward the future.

On the third Christmas, after my wife’s death, I was at the home of one of my daughters. It was the first time the children had a grandparent in the house for Christmas, and it was my first time to have Christmas in one of my children’s homes. It turned out to be a very good time, though different from the past.

This is now my 10th Christmas season without my wife, and each Christmas has become easier and more focused on the family and my friends beyond the family. Of course, there are still sentimental moments and sometimes pangs of sadness, but those are part of the truth about life as it is now.

Christmas won’t be the same for you without your wife, but Christmas seasons won’t always be the same emotional challenge you feel now. You may find that you are comforted by having the same decorations and foods as before, or maybe you will discover new places and new activities. Let the holidays begin to shape themselves as you find the best ways to observe them meaningfully now.

Don’t overdo your celebrations, but don’t make a big show of not celebrating the holidays. It will only make you and others sad. Don’t build a wall of gloom around yourself. People won’t want to try to break through that wall.

There is no way to take away the pain of loss we feel at Christmas. But begin now to form your new practices for this special time. Let yourself grieve, but also let yourself be thankful for the celebrations you enjoyed with her in the past. She would want you to grow past your grief into the new person you are becoming now.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Forgiveness Guilt/Shame Healing

Forgiveness

Nyle Kardatzke

In the old movie, “Love Story,” the lead character says, “Being in love means never needing to say you’re sorry.” In fact, loving another person means often saying you’re sorry unless you are such a perfect person that you never blunder into a thoughtless talk or fail to show sympathy and support when you should. Forgiveness is one of the great binding forces in marriage, family life, and in love, wherever it occurs.

Forgiving and being forgiven are among the most healing things that we can do, and that can be done for us, perhaps especially in a time of pain and grief. Forgiveness brings wrongs and painful events to a conclusion. It provides a new start and a new life.

We usually think of forgiveness in relation to some specific, real harm that someone has done. The person who has done the harm may have done it deliberately in a moment of anger or jealousy, or it may be a result of mere thoughtlessness.

Forgiveness may come after an apology, and the act of forgiveness may be known to both parties.

But forgiveness may not be reciprocal between two parties; it may be a choice by the person who feels harmed, even if no reply can come from the source of the harm. Forgiveness after the death of your wife is of this kind: if there is something for which you need her forgiveness, she can’t express it, nor can you apologize to her directly and in-person for something you did or failed to do. If there are hurts that now make you angry, you can forgive her in your heart and in that way, let her rest in greater peace than before.

If you have felt anger or guilt about her death, forgiveness is the step you need to truly move on.

You may need to forgive yourself for failings of yours in your marriage that now make you feel guilty. You may need to let forgiveness dissolve anger; you may still have against your wife. Your anger may relate to the cause of your wife’s death, or you may simply be angry at your new situation or God for letting it happen.

As we have seen earlier, there is false guilt as well as real guilt. Both must be dealt with for you to continue your new life freely so that your past now can strengthen you rather than burdening and accusing you.

In the Christian world, forgiveness is essential to becoming a Christian and to practicing the Christian life. Even outside the Christian life, forgiveness is essential for mental health and emotional freedom. The need for forgiveness comes from the recognition of our failings and our basic tendency to do the wrong things. To a Christian, forgiveness begins with God’s forgiveness and then extends to seeking and giving forgiveness to others. Forgiveness is a discipline wherever it occurs, and it can take a lifetime to learn.

If you feel a need for forgiveness from your wife, it may be best to simply assume that she forgives you. If you believe she is in heaven, assume that she has taken on some traits of God, including forgiveness. In that new life of hers, she is wiser and more forgiving than she could have been on earth. Accept her in that new life, and accept her forgiveness.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Grief/Dispair Loneliness Manful Emotions Mental/Emotional Health

Fear

Nyle Kardatzke

I was surprised to find myself fearing some things that I hadn’t feared before, or hadn’t feared as much before she died. When I knew I would be alone in the house for the first time after her death, I was afraid of what my emotional reaction might be. I asked my son and his wife to stay in a guest bedroom that night, and my fear of being alone in my house subsided. The next night was fine. Within a few days, new fears intruded: running out of money, being sick with no one to care for me, making bad decisions without the benefit of her wisdom, and the fear of breaking down crying in front of people. You may find that you have new fears or old fears that are stronger now that you are alone.

Fear can be rational or irrational. Rational fear is your mind warning you of potential hazards. It leads you to take preventive action to protect yourself and others. Irrational fear is unreasonable, out of proportion, and not based on facts. Irrational fear can disable you and slow your grief recovery. If it comes upon you, try to identify it for what it is and do what you need to that day, defying unreasonable fear.

A widow friend of mine fears air travel after her husband’s death. I know that other widows fear driving alone and to be in public places surrounded by strangers. Most men don’t experience their aloneness in these ways. There is enough of the bully in most of us to feel that we can make things turn out as we want. We may be more likely to be surly with other people if things go wrong at an airport or in traffic. We men tend to soldier on stoically, even grimly, rather than seek help or look inside ourselves. We shouldn’t be surprised. Men are, after all, different from women.

If you don’t have fears, other people do. If you have adult children, they will fear for you even if they have little reason to fear. Your friends may fear for you, especially if you expressed natural, open emotion at the time she died or at her funeral. Keep in touch with those people. Don’t ask about their fears or yours; mere contact with them will restore calm. Action on your part will also avoid solicitous inquiries that are awkward for you and your family.

Although I am not Catholic, I am impressed by Pope John Paul II’s frequent advice not to fear. “Do not fear,” he said often. The Bible is full of admonitions to deny fear of its power over us. These warnings have caused me to wonder why they are so important and so frequent. Surely we are not to be unwise about things that warrant real fear, rational fear. But we should not let ourselves be paralyzed by the unreasonable, irrational fear that will hold us back and limit the full lives we can have.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Manful Emotions

Emotions

Nyle Kardatzke

Quotation: “You won’t always feel the way you do now.” – C.S. Lewis

Emotions sometimes seem more real than reality itself. In a time of grief and loss, our emotions are deeper and stronger than at any other time. We feel that we may burst into tears or maybe even collapse because of these feelings of grief. We know emotion is a natural part of grief, and we know we must sometimes let it overtake us, but we don’t want to lose control of ourselves. We don’t want to magnify our grief, and we don’t want to upset others. And we may be alarmed if we think we will always feel this way. But you won’t always feel the way you do now, as C.S. Lewis has told us.

My wife had two episodes of heavy cancer treatment, each of which lasted many months. During those times, my wife and I were not emotional except in a few isolated episodes. She was almost always calm, whether the news was good or bad. Strangely, I found that I was most emotional when we had good news about her condition, not when bad news came.

When I learned that her PET scans were clear during her first cancer treatment, I broke down and cried. She then had five more good years. When we learned in the second episode that two forms of chemo had failed, we both took it as another objective challenge to be met. We were less emotional about bad news than about good news. You and your wife may have been the opposite. We can’t know in advance how we will respond emotionally to great difficulties.

Sometimes my judgment has been impaired by emotion during my time of grief. More than once, my anger over a traffic situation has become inflamed absurdly. I once growled at people in an airport when I was delayed, though I wasn’t even inconvenienced. And I have also caught myself buying things that were only attempts to soothe my grief or loneliness.

Our emotions can energize us or cripple us. The joy you feel in moments of positive forward momentum is an emotion that supports and nourishes you.

Not all grief is openly emotional. Some of our grievings go on quietly without our noticing and then reveals itself in a new feeling of peace. I’m sometimes surprised and pleased to find that my life is coming together again in a new and comfortable way. Grief has been at work behind the scenes, and I sometimes experience the happy fruit of that work when I least expect it.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com

Categories
Grief/Dispair Loneliness

Alone Again

Nyle Kardatzke

When my wife died, one of the first things I noticed was the silence. Now there was only silence where she once had been. I especially longed to hear her voice; I still do. The house suddenly seemed large and hollow.

Soon after she died, my mind raced back to the days just before I met her forty-five years earlier. With her gone, I felt that I was alone like I was back then. I felt that I was starting my life over.

When you and I lost our wives, we were alone not only physically but also emotionally. Our friends couldn’t fully understand what had happened. Some of my friends didn’t know how to react to me and to my wife’s death. I wouldn’t have known how to respond if their wives had died. Forgive your friends if they seem to wander away from you and your loss too soon. They probably just can’t understand.

You may need a lot of solitude in the first few months after your wife’s. In the first few months after my wife died, I especially valued solitude at home. I didn’t hibernate and avoid all contact with people, but when my social and church events were over, I felt relief being surrounded only by my home. Not all grieving widow-men or widows feel this way. Some resolve their grief by travel, social activity, or volunteer work. Their aloneness gives them the freedom to do those things.

Being alone is not the same as loneliness. Loneliness comes when you feel her absence. Loneliness may rush at you when you are alone or with other people. It may seem to overwhelm you at those times. Some widow-men say they are suddenly “ambushed” by a sudden feeling of grief and loneliness.

When loneliness comes upon me, I sometimes just wait it out, or I tell myself it’s natural to sometimes feel sad at this point in life. After all, I have lost the most important person in my life. Sometimes I just make an unnecessary trip to a store to get out of the house, or I go to see someone for a short visit. Loneliness does recede, but my methods may not be yours. Find activities that turn your grief into peace. Scripture says our grief can turn to joy.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidowman@gmail.com