Life After Death

By Terry Rempel

Is there life after death? Yes. But I’m not talking about the person that has passed away. I am a Christian and do believe in life after death for the deceased. But I want to talk about those of us left behind after the death of our spouse. For me, a huge part of me died when Lorna passed away. At least that’s the way it felt. The “us” died with her. After 40 years together, just shy of 38 years married, we definitely felt the “and the two shall become one” part of marriage. I didn’t know who I was on my own; I only knew the “us.” I only wanted to think of the “us.” After she passed, I would wait around in the house when I was going somewhere even though I was ready to go. It was like I was waiting for her to finish getting ready and say, “OK, let’s go!” But she wasn’t there, and I was waiting for nothing; it was just what I did. I felt lost to get ready to go anywhere with Lorna, and I would get in the car myself. I felt dead inside. I was existing.

Time may heal the wound, but the scar stays forever. Widowers go through the motions. I went through the motions of living. I hate saying that I “got used to it,” being alone. You learn to manage it. And, slowly, I started thinking of what I might want to do for myself. But it wasn’t only for me, because I had family that wanted me to choose to live again. This is where the life after death part begins, and it will be different for everyone. I saw a post on Facebook that said, “It’s time for the next chapter.” Shortly after that, I saw another one that said, “If you need to start a new chapter in your life, don’t wait for the page to turn itself.” OK. I get the hint.

Choosing to live again after the loss of your spouse takes time; it takes thought, it takes healing. It’s all a process. At first, you don’t want any process, but this is life. We need to choose to live not only for ourselves but for those that love us. Continuing to work, deciding to start a different line of work, moving to a new location where your late wife has never been is all part of the process—and starting to date again. Turning that page is a big one and can be very intimidating. For me, it took me a couple of weeks to finish my profile on a dating site. Even choosing to go on a site like that or choosing a site was difficult. Fortunately for me, my first contact was with a lovely woman, but it didn’t go anywhere. I hit the jackpot with the second contact. We have been together now for almost 11months. A few characteristics are similar to my late wife, love of family and relationships and love of gardening, but she is very different in many other ways. Learning to live again is hard; learning to love again is confusing. I needed to be careful that what I was feeling was for her and because of her, not because I was lonely and wanted to be with someone. That part was confusing. But I have truly fallen in love with my new love. And I can love her in the way she should be loved because of the love I still have for my late wife. That may sound confusing, but if you’ve started down that road, you will understand.

Turn the page and choose to find life after death.

WHAT TO SAY, NOT SAY, AND I SAY …. TO A NEW WIDOWER

I recently was asked during a radio interview to summarize my advice to the friends and family of a widower on what to say or not say to them. The following are some highlights of our conversation.

WHAT TO SAY TO A NEW WIDOWER

I often recommend you start off by asking the widower to tell their story (both their wife’s story and their own) – ask questions that prompt them to tell their story, such as:

  • How did you meet?
    • What made her special?
    • How and when did she pass?

Widowers need to tell their story. It honors their wife every time they do. They heal just a little bit every time they tell their story. I must have told mine a couple hundred times the first year after losing Theresa, my wife of 45 years.

If you (a friend or family member) have a story about their wife to share with them, go ahead and share it. We widowers love to hear funny stories about our wives that remind us of her special traits that made her a unique and special human. We also love to hear moving stories about something special she did for others, it lets us know that others loved her too.

WHAT NOT TO SAY TO NEW WIDOWER

Many comments can be insensitive. Don’t be one of those people that says:

  • You or your wife somehow deserved this
  • You did not pray enough
  • Don’t be sad, just be happy
  • Everything happens for a reason – it will all be o.k. in the end
  • Grieving lasts just a while, you will be stronger for it

If you cannot think of something positive or supportive to say, just don’t say anything at all. We don’t need anyone else’s self-righteousness, or personal life philosophy. In these times of heightened anxiety and stress too many people are ready to go negative and feed our self-doubts and guilt. Keep that to yourself and leave us alone if that is your approach.

Also, don’t just thoughtlessly ask, “How are you doing.” Widowers know that in most cases you really don’t want to know and are praying that we don’t answer that question honestly. We often want to say something like, “I feel like crap! Do you really want to know how I feel?”

WHAT I TELL NEW WIDOWERS

When I first meet a new widower, I will usually try to provide support by telling them:

  • You are NOT going crazy
  • What you are going through is normal
  • Expect there to be both physical & emotional pain for months if not a year or more
  • You will often feel like you are losing control, this too is normal
  • You may feel like half of your self has been ripped away from you
  • You may not know who you are anymore, and may have to reinvent yourself in order to heal

I hope this provides you and your family and friends with fodder for consideration. Feel free to share this with them, and please provide feedback if you think I missed anything or could have said something differently.

© Copyright 2021 Fred Colby

All rights reserved

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Widower to Widower 2nd Edition is now available through: Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Indie bookstores, Target, Walmart, local libraries and more. For autographed copies, go to: https://www.fredcolby.com/buy-books. https://www.facebook.com/FredColbyAuthor

Transitional Objects

Last week I saw a story on the news about a woman who lost her 94-year-old father after he battled an illness for a short time. The woman reflected on the task that many of us have dreaded: sorting through her father’s belongings and then deciding what and to whom you want to give them.

She would donate some to various charities and others gifted to relatives. There were two items she wanted to keep and that have taken on a new meaning for her. One was her father’s rocking chair. He loved that chair, and she remembers him enjoying it as it brought peace and comfort to him. Secondly, a blanket he would often wear that not only provided warmth and, as she said, “made him feel comfortable.”

Initially, she was reluctant to keep the items but thought about how they could be meaningful to her today. She enjoys the rocking chair and the comfort it brings her. She thinks about her father often and recalls him rocking in that chair, smiling and feeling happy. The blanket, too, has a new meaning. Just as it brought him warmth and peace, she feels surrounded by him as if he is wrapping his arms around her as he did so often when she was a little girl.

I thought about her words as I continued my journey after 17 months and continued to sort through my wife’s belongings. My wife and I were fans of a reality TV show called the Deadliest Catch. One of the captains, a rough and tough old sailor named Captain Wild Bill, was her favorite character. He has a line of products he sells with his ship’s logo. A few years back, I bought my wife one of the long sleeve shirts that she often wore to dialysis during the last years of her life. It was a little big for her, but she loved wearing that shirt. It made her feel strong, warm, and comfortable. She also wore it at the beach as we watched the waves crash into the shore and enjoyed the beauty of nature.

It has taken on a new meaning for me now. I often wear it and feel my wife’s presence and love when wearing the shirt. It’s getting slightly worn, but I keep it as clean and well maintained as possible. It reminds me of her as I feel her wrapped around me. It brings back so many great memories and lots of joy and smiles.

Yes, there are tears at times, but they are tears of joy as I feel her around me.

I firmly believe that transitional objects are an essential part of our growth in grief, from sadness to gratitude.

David Kessler is a bestselling author and expert in the field of grief. He worked with Dr. Elizabeth Kubler- Ross and recently, with the permission of Dr. Kubler -Ross’s estate, was permitted to write Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief.

He talks about sorting through his late son’s clothing and other things. He laughed about keeping his son’s high school algebra book.  He is confident his son would have said, “Seriously, Dad?” “What meaning does that have for you or me”?

Kessler uses that anecdote to encourage the bereaved to look for items that have meaning and that give you comfort and peace.

Brothers, what items do you keep that bring peace, comfort, and meaning to you? It’s a testimony to your late wife.

Your Adult Children

“And he will turn the hearts of fathers to their children and the hearts of children to their fathers.” Malachi 4:6

Your adult children have suffered a significant loss too. You probably have done what you could to comfort them and give them wisdom about life without their mother. However, the fact remains that they are without their mother and the things she used to do with them and for them. You need to continue to think about them and their needs, just as you did when they were younger. Your children may turn to you for more parental attention than if your wife were here, or they may pull away from you to deal with their grief, recovery, and adulthood in their own ways.

My wife had close relationships with our three children and their spouses. She would talk with them at great length about their wedding plans, apartment decorations, careers, and babies. At times I felt a little jealous about her attention to them, but I was happy to see the joy she and the children had in each other.

My wife had professional training in child development and parenting, and when our children became parents, she shared that expertise with our daughters and our daughter-in-law. Your wife probably related to your young children in ways you couldn’t. What trait of hers was most valuable to your children?

I think grandmothers are usually more nurturing than grandfathers, and mothers typically are more closely involved in their children’s lives than are the fathers. Mothers are often keener judges of kids’ emotional lives. Fathers sometimes want to know how they are doing in school and sports. But fathers and grandfathers play their own unique roles. Sometimes just “being there” either in person or on the phone or computer is needed. Above all, “being there” means paying attention and listening, even to some things you don’t understand. I have learned that my two-year-old grandchildren delight in my attention, even if they sometimes don’t seem to notice me. The older grandchildren need more concrete evidence that I’m paying attention.

When my children began to talk, I found that my wife could understand their fractured speech when I couldn’t. She would quickly translate what the child was saying. If your wife translated for you, it might be one of your treasured memories.

You are even more critical to your family as a father figure and grandfather figure now. You can’t control all aspects of how you are seen in the family, but rest assured: you are being noticed, watched, and remembered.

At Christmastime, three years after my wife died, one of my daughters began quizzing me on my wishes for my care when my health begins to fail. At the time, my health was excellent, but it would have been absurd to pretend that my mental and physical health would continue in the same condition for another thirty years.

Since then, I have talked with my children about some of my future hopes for health, independence, and adequate care if I decline gradually rather than die suddenly. It was a major step toward their taking over a parental concern for me. We did not resolve all the issues, but it was a meaningful conversation. I need to continue that conversation with my children as my age increases and my health changes.

If you haven’t already done so, you may wish to start a conversation with your children about your needs during the years ahead.

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You can write Dr. Nyle Kardatzke via Facebook Messenger.

Grief Lessons: From the Rolling Stones

Recently, I had the pleasure of checking off one of the items on my personal “bucket list.” That was to attend a Rolling Stones concert. Little did I know as my son and I settled into our seats that not only would I witness a fantastic concert but get an up-close and personal lesson on grief.

Recently one of the long-term members of the group Charlie Waters, passed away after a short illness. As the music began, a montage of pictures of Charlie played on the enormous screens above the stage. The crowd, out of respect, rose to their feet to acknowledge his contributions to the world of music and to celebrate a friend most of us had never met.

As we both observed the tribute, and during the next fifteen minutes, as the group began what would be one of the best live performances I had ever experienced, I came for a concert. I received a lesson in grief as a bonus.

After a couple of songs, the remaining members paused to thank the crowd for all the notes and letters, emails, and tweets expressing their condolences on the loss of Charlie. As a result of this shared acknowledgment, I came away with yet another lesson in how and why it is important to grieve in a healthy way.

The first lesson that I learned is that we must find a way to absorb the initial blow. I often say that in many ways, nothing is surer than death; nothing has worst timing than death.

A couple of months before embarking on their most recent tour, Charlie informed the band that he would be unable to participate in this tour because of his health. Like in our lives, his absence would cause the group to adjust. They would have to work with a new drummer for the first time in decades. Would the beat be right, would the cadence line up, would the fans still like their music? All these and many more hurdles would have to be overcome.

When we lose someone that we love, we, just as they did, have to find the right beat, find a new cadence, possibly find a new way to be loved the same by what remains of our friends and family even. These and many more questions permeate our lives.

The second lesson was that paying the proper tribute helps in the healing process. By taking the time to pay tribute to Charlie, the group not only acknowledged but found a way of connecting their grief with our grief, thus recruiting us to join them in the healing process.

I have long believed and stated that we get no extra points for suffering in silence. Talking about and even paying proper tribute to our loved ones is both the right thing to do and the healthy and necessary thing to do. It, in most cases, does not make the pain go away, but it acknowledges that others suffered a measure of loss as well.

My third and final lesson from that evening was finding a way to move forward in excellence. The concert they gave was outstanding. Buoyed by a tribute to Charlie, they moved forward the best they could. Never the same, but doing their best with what remains. Isn’t what we are all tasked with, doing our best with what remains.

Some of us have and will find new loves and partnerships; some will not. But we must resolve to do our best with what remains. I am sure Charlie would want it that way.

You never know where a much-needed lesson will come from. I, for one, would like to thank Mick, Keith, Ronnie and of course Charlie for the lesson I received that evening.

Terrell Whitener is an author, motivational speaker, and coach. Based in St. Louis, Missouri, Terrell is the author of The First 365, Learning to Live After Loss. Terrell can be reached at my newly redesigned thedebriefgroup365.com, where you will find all my social media contacts or through the Widow Support Network.

An Open Letter To Newly Widowed Men

Donated by Ed Hersch of Pearland, Texas, USA, in hopes that it will help others.

Author Unknown.

Dear Sons:

We have all been through a most tragic situation, the loss of your dear Mother and my wife. Each of us are dealing with Mom’s passing in a different way. There is no right or wrong way, and some of us are seeking outside assistance to help us through this. Mom will always be with us, especially during the good times such as graduation, weddings and your future children. Life is not always fair or right, but this is not something we are able to control as much as we want to.I am sharing this email with you so as to provide you with a better insight on me and how I am dealing with the loss of your Mom. There are some statements which I am sure each of you can relate to for yourselves, but most are for me, the spouse. I need your support and we need to support each other.

Love, Dad

When you you suddenly find yourself without your spouse, you don’t know what to expect.Your world’s been turned upside down. Like the mighty oak caught in a fierce wind, you feel uprooted. Your feet don’t touch the ground. You think you’re crazy. But you’re not. You’re just a new widower. Your life is forever changed.Learning to expect the unexpected will help you get through this most painful time in your life.Here are a few things you need to know if you are to survive.

  1. Expect people to say stupid things. “Don’t worry, you’re young, you’ll meet someone new.” No matter your age, this will sting like a hot iron on raw flesh. Your mind is on your spouse and how to preserve your memories together. The thought of another person in your life too soon after your spouse’s death may cause you additional pain.
  2. Expect to be asked out – by your best friend’s wife. No your best friend won’t know. Yes – it’s a wacky world out there.
  3. Expect to look in the mirror and wander who you are now without your spouse? Treat yourself to the time to heal and find out.
  4. Expect to break down when you least expect it–at the sound of the doorbell, at the sound of the telephone, at the sight of a couple walking hand in hand. All too soon the reality of being without here comes and goes and then it really hits you.
  5. Expect to begin each day wondering how you made it through the day before. Be grateful for today and make it the best you can. After all — it’s your day!
  6. Expect to feel weak, strong, angery, happy, euphoric, glad, sad, guilty, alone, lonely, trapped,free, tired, bored, overworked, overwhelmed, silly, puzzled and even like you don’t belong. You have just experienced life at its worst. Everything will be okay. Think baby steps. Think, I can and think, I will. GIve yourself time.
  7. Expect all your friends to run away. They’re frightened too. And they just don’t know how to handle your situation or your grief. Seeing you dealing with the death of someone near and dear is just too close for comfort.
  8. Expect all your friends to come back. Give them time. The real ones do.
  9. Expect to find yourself standing in front of an open refrigerator at 3:00 in the morning studying the expiration date on a bottle of ketchup. Give yourself permission to process your grief any way you need to. It’s okay.
  10. Expect to laugh when the dog pees on the living room rug, when the garage door falls off its hinges, when the refrigerator makes a puddle on the kitchen floor, and when the woman next door goes out on a date — with the woman down the street. Your life is forever changed and so is your outlook. In the big picture, these things become minuscule.
  11. Expect to ask yourself questions that have no answers. What if? Why me? Now what? When?
  12. Expect to make plans to run away.
  13. Expect to cancel them, because you realize there is no place to run away to forever.
  14. Expect there will be moments when you just wish for a giant eraser to erase it all away.
  15. Expect the pain to never end. It won’t. But in time you will learn how to manage it. That’s a promise.
  16. Expect there to be time when you do not sleep.
  17. Expect there will be times when you can’t focus.
  18. Expect there will be times when you don’t want to eat. In the beginning you won’t be able to enjoy food. But it is important to drink plenty of fluids. If nothing else, drink water to keep your kidneys flush. Nourish and take care of our body — you need your strength to heal.
  19. Expect to eac too much.
  20. Expect to not be in the mood for all the things you once were in the mood for. Imagine the new possibilities as you discover who you now are.
  21. Expect the sun to come out tomorrow, the daffodils to sprout in spring, every bird on the planet to sing, every oak, elm, and cottonwood to shed its leave in the autumn, the moon to glow, the stars to twinkle, the earth to spin on its axis, and then to wonder why.
  22. Expect no one to understand. Though they say, “I understand.” They can’t. They don’t. They never will. Not even another widower.
  23. Expect to make mistakes as you rediscover who you now are — that’s okay. Expect to forgive yourself.

You will make it through your grief, it’s important to realize you are not alone. What you are feeling is normal. Being informed is being prepared. It will help you survive.Expect the unexpected!And, like the mighty oak caught in a fierce storm bending in the wind to keep from being uprooted, you will learn to accept your plight. You will learn to remain grounded, and eventually you will be able to turn your upside down world right side up again. That’s a promise.Editor’s Note: Thanks Ed for sharing this valuable message.

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Ed Hersh has been a member of WSN-MO since 2017. You can write him via Facebook Messenger. Ed Hersh attended high school with of Herb Knoll, Founder of the Widower’s Support Network.

“Love You Different”

Like many men who have lost a wife, Herb Knoll did not believe he could ever love again. Of course, this was long before he met his wife, Maria. One night, it occurred to Herb how, should he ever fall in love again, it might well be with a widow, especially given his age. This was the birth of the song “Love You Different.” Those who have experienced the loss of a spouse, a life partner, or a close relationship; listen as Herb captured in verse a tender song about a widower who falls in love with a widow.
Three of Herb’s recording artists, friends from Nashville, entered a studio to record this genuinely unique track. Pictured below are (L-R) Kim Parent, Rob Harris, and Marcia Ramirez. Together, they tweaked Herb’s original lyrics and then brought it to life. We hope you enjoy “Love You Different” and ask that you share it with your friends. The lyrics can be found on here and appear on page 107 of Herb’s popular book, The Widower’s Journey.

“Love You Different”

Music by: Kim Parent, Rob Harris, & Marcia Ramirez

Lyrics by: Herb Knoll, Kim Parent, Rob Harris & Marcia Ramirez

I have come to know
The heart can love again
Even after true love has passed into the wind
There’s no need to explain
What you’re going through
‘ Cause not long ago I lost an angel, too
I know you miss him
But I’ll love you different
I won’t replace him or ask you to forget
Love him all the same
That’s not for me to change
I know you miss him
But I’ll love you different

Even as we let them go
Part of them will stay
Woven deep into our lives and who we are today
That’s something we can celebrate
BRIDGE:
So let me wipe your tears away, my beautiful friend
I believe they’d tell us it’s okay to love again

The Fall Season -Nature is Splendiferous!

Splendiferous is a real word that captures the essence of the Fall season. It speaks of the beauty, glamour, majesty, and any adjective you can think of that describes the magnificence of the season.

I am blessed to live in Upstate New York. The fall season is the best time of the year. For my late wife, it marked the beginning of the best time of the year:  Fall, Halloween, followed by Thanksgiving, and then Christmas and a New Year. It’s a festive time when families decorate their homes; children celebrate with costumes and candy, leading into a time for family and friends to gather and celebrate a special time of the year.

For widowers and anyone suffering from loss, it can be an immensely challenging time. Memories of wonderful times together, sumptuous meals, lots of laughs, and fun with family and friends all seem to hit us hard when we do not have our loved ones to share the time with and celebrate the joy of the season.

As I drive around while working, I notice the trees changing colors and becoming absolutely breathtaking. Yes, tears have flown and continue to flow as I remember my wife and me enjoying our time leaf-peeping and watching nature unfold into splendor just before it gets very cold.

The other day I stopped to stare for a while at the beauty of the trees and then reflect on the many times my wife and I would visit our special places in Northeastern New York in the autumn. As I paused to enjoy nature, I laughed about our times together. I thought about different places we shared lunch and just basked in the glow of nature’s beauty. I shed tears because my wife was not with me, but I also thought about gratitude. I am grateful that my wife made me stop and enjoy the beauty of nature.

I have a very demanding job, and it consumes, as my wife used to say, “too- much” of my time. I would get caught up with work and still do at times and fail to see and appreciate all that is around me.

I fail to give thanks for nature and all it gives us as we change from one season to another. I recall a time not too long ago when my dying wife taught me another important lesson about life.

My wife loved life. She appreciated every day of her life. During the last few months of her life, despite her illness, we traveled as a family to Rhode Island to visit the beach in late September. Despite it being somewhat chilly- I am being liberal with that description we had my wife bundled with blankets and gave her hot chocolate as she sat in her wheelchair at the beach. She loved every minute of her time and enjoying nature. Seagulls were flying around the beach looking for food, people walking on the sand, waves crashing against the sand, and a beautiful skyline.  We laughed and joked, but then I gave her quiet time alone to absorb all the beauty she saw, which I knew she loved.

That experience taught me an important lesson about grief. It is so easy to get caught up in grief that you fail to see the beauty around you.

I have friends and family members who reach out to me regularly and invite me to lunch or dinners and want to spend time together.

I am taking in the beauty of nature. I still talk to my wife, as I said in the past. I thanked her for teaching me to appreciate the beauty of nature that I often neglect. I thank her for teaching me to appreciate all that I can from people and the things around me. I am grateful she came into my life to teach me, love me, and for sharing her gifts with me and others.

Grief is a journey, brothers not meant to keep us in darkness but to encourage us to reflect on what we learned in our years with our spouses and how we can always pay it forward. Learn from your late spouse and spread that love, kindness, and appreciation to others.

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Retirement

“When you are retired, you never get a day off.”

by Dr. Nyle Kardatzke PhD

If you haven’t retired already, it’s something you may have thought about even if you are younger than the usual retirement age. If you are retired, your retirement years present new questions since your wife’s death.

Retirement involves our emotional and spiritual needs as well as financial issues. I’m retired, but I am not a big fan of retirement as the be-all, end-all of life for everyone. I don’t deny that retirement can be a blessed “gift of time,” even after the loss of your wife, but retirement is not the purpose of your life.

The most significant benefit I have found in retirement is having fewer fixed duties on my calendar and more flexibility in most of my days. Emotional downsides of retirement include loneliness away from colleagues and anxiety over decreased income. Another emotional aspect of retirement is that you must find something else to define yourself and your life when you have no job and no title. While you were employed, your job probably provided a lot of your identity. Without your job, identity questions loom large.

If you are already retired, there may be emotional and spiritual aspects of retirement you find challenging. For those challenges, you may want to speak with other widow-men or a trusted spiritual leader where you worship. I attend a weekly meeting of widowed men at a large church in my city. Those meetings are a godsend to the dozen or so men who attend.

I retired at age seventy, exactly one year and ten days before my wife died. I am thankful we had that year, and I’m thankful I am able now to devote time to my children, grandchildren, other family members, friends, church, and other personal interests. Although I loved my work, my retirement time is another kind of “job” in which I monitor my time and use it in the most valuable ways I can manage. I have told a few friends that being retired is another kind of management job for me. One of my retirement activities is writing books about the main episodes of my life and selling a few of my books on Amazon.

Finding the right time to retire can be a complex question. There are emotional and social aspects as well as financial issues. There are advantages to being retired, but there are potential downsides. If you retire, you need to accept your new identity and build on it to find your new sources of self-worth.

There are times when I think wistfully of the joys of having a job, surrounded by fellow workers, and energized by goals, deadlines, and the financial rewards of working. If I had a job, it might take my mind off my wife’s death. I have thought about “un-retiring” and taking a job for all the reasons I just named, but I’m still retired so far. It has now been eleven years since my wife died, and I’m in my early 80’s, so I now question my strength for a regular, paying job now.

People are living much longer than fifty years ago. Retirees also tend to be in better health than their grandparents were at their age. Longer life implies a need for more money during retirement, and better health implies an opportunity to work and earn longer.

I’m over eighty. I’m in good health, but the basic upkeep of my body takes more time than when I was a lot younger. Since health problems are important in older age, some men keep their jobs to have health insurance coverage. This may be an issue for you to check on.

You probably have seen your parents or others retire and become busier than ever. Retirees nearly always say they are busy, and most say they don’t know how they ever had time to hold a job. I sometimes joke that I must not have been doing anything productive when “working” since I’m so busy now. I hope I’m kidding about that.

Time management can be a challenge for retirees. Since you are in charge of managing your own time, you may confront the problem of “time without borders.” This means you are free to sculpt each day, but it also means there are fewer limits on the time you spend on each activity. If I find a helpful book or article about time management for retirees, I’ll write about it here. It must be out there, probably on Amazon.

Anticipatory Grief – An Early On-Ramp to One’s Grief Journey

By Herb Knoll

Author: The Widower’s Journey

Loss of a spouse or a life partner can occur suddenly, as in the case of a drug overdose, an auto accident, or someone falling down a flight of stairs. Some spouses are lost to their families following a prolonged illness such as cancer, dementia, or Multiple Sclerosis, leaving the door open for survivors to experience anticipatory grief. As the Widowers Support Network founder, I have witnessed members frequently debate which scenario is more comfortable for the survivors. The jury is still out.

            A period of anticipatory grief provides family and loved ones the time to get used to the reality of impending death gradually. Sudden death may deprive loved ones of the opportunity to say goodbye, reconcile a long-standing dispute, or say “I love you” to the soon-to-be deceased.  Conversely, anticipatory grief has its own set of pluses and minuses. Writing for the Journal of Palliative Care, Therese A. Rando wrote: “… in the area of anticipatory grief; the caregiver has the golden opportunity to use primary prevention strategies and to make therapeutic interventions that may facilitate appropriate grief work and a more positive post-death bereavement experience for the survivor-to-be.”

            Perhaps this is why I did not shed a tear while attending my deceased wife’s Celebration of Life after serving as a caregiver for thirty-nine months. After all, I had been experiencing anticipatory grief for thirty-nine months. Each morning, and before I would even open my eyes, I would think to myself, my wife is dying, and I need to give her another good day.

Dr. William C. Shiel (MedicineNet) cautions: “Although anticipatory grief may help the family, the dying person may experience too much grief, causing the patient to become withdrawn.”

            The view of some soon-to-be mourners is that anticipatory grief is a sign of abandonment of the dying patient, leaving in the aftermath of the patient’s passing a sense of unwarranted guilt by the survivor, perhaps for years to come.  Moreover, one should not assume that by experiencing anticipatory grief, they will automatically share less pain following the eventual passing of their loved one, as each survivor’s grief journey is unique. Anticipatory grief entrenches itself into a caregiver’s daily life, absence of any fanfare or noted entry. The soon-to-be survivor will be burned with having to carry any fear associated with their anticipatory grief as well as its emotional weight each day, each hour, each minute.

One occasion I experienced anticipatory grief occurred about two months before my wife died. I was sitting at a traffic light at the corner of 1604 and Blanco Rd. in San Antonio, Texas. As I glanced to my right, I noticed a grey-haired elderly couple in the car next to me. As I gazed upon them, it struck me how lucky they were to have enjoyed their senior years together and how I was not going to be so fortunate. At the time, I felt cheated. Little did I realize that the human heart can love again and that I would discover love and marry years later.        

            Commenting on his experience with anticipatory grief, widower Joe Netzel of Cincinnati, Ohio, said, “When I had “alone time,” usually in the car during my weekly trip to and from the grocery store, and when I had a private moment to think/ponder/wonder/tremble about life without her,” My mind tended to drift toward the possibility Tracey might not win her battle with breast cancer.”

Widower Mike Simons of Cleburne, Texas, lost his wife Amy in May of 2019, self-discovered he was “pre-grieving” when he found himself needing to visit with a financial advisor, a lawyer, and ministers. “I cried in the shower or the car when running errands so I could be strong for the family.”           

Dr. Shiel adds, “Expecting the loss often makes the attachment to the dying person stronger.” I can personally attest to a feeling as the thirty-nine months I served as a caregiver for my deceased wife were among the best years of our sixteen-year marriage.  

Working with thousands of widowers from around the world, I have found that the degree of anticipatory grief or pre-grief experienced by a survivor may not only influence the severity and duration of their grief journey. It is also likely to accelerate their desire to rebuild what remains of their own life following the passing of their loved one, including their romantic involvement with another woman or life partner, an action that may risk alienating family and friends that may view such conduct as disrespectful to the deceased, if not worse.  

Caregiver Nathan Siefert of Wauwatosa, Wisconsin, wife Becca is currently fighting cancer. “I’m slowly taking on more and more around the house and in our family,” said Nathan as he described the current state of his anticipatory grief journey. “Faith has helped.  I chose at the moment to evict any intrusive worries.  I chose to focus on what is in front of me.”

To help combat the onset of anticipatory grief, Nathan remains proactive. He works out three days each week, and he runs to keep depression at bay. He shares his fears with friends, a little bit at a time to not scare anyone away because he will need them to listen to his concerns during the dark days ahead. Nathan encourages caregivers who believe in a higher power to read Matthew 6:25-34, which reads in part, “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its things.”

Those dealing with anticipatory grief are encouraged to see a mental health professional. During my caregiver days, I knew I needed to be on top of my game. I also knew I would be ill-advised to evaluate my mental state, yet I needed to know that I could deal with my anticipatory grief for as long as my wife needed me to do so. I decided to visit a psychologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center for her sake and my own, where I was pleased to learn what a trained professional thought. I was handling the rigors of being a caregiver pretty well. Nathan’s doctor prescribed a medication for anxiety for him, something just to taken some of the edges off.   

Writing for the Visiting Nurse Service of New York, Vince Corso suggests caregivers work through their feelings of anticipatory grief and take time to examine unresolved issues between their loved ones and themselves. “Say what needs to be said,” Corso advises. Moreover, if your spouse or life partner is still well enough, settle legal and financial matters and discuss end-of-life wishes.

Anticipatory grief or pre-grief is a condition that ebbs and flows and should not be ignored. Sufferers should seek medical attention. I’m here to tell those who think seeing a doctor is not manly; you are mistaken. Seeing a doctor for a legitimate medical condition is a smart move, especially if you genuinely care about being able to serve your ailing spouse or a life partner better.

“Some days are better than others when dealing with my anticipatory grief; the denial, the depression, the bargaining, and the pain,” said Nathan. “Today is a good day. Tomorrow I may be on the edge of tears as I can’t stop thinking about life without Becca.”

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Herb Knoll is an award-winning advocate for Widowers, speaker, and author of the breakout book, The Widower’s Journey. Herb is the founder of the WidowersSupportNetwork.com, featuring the “Widowers Support Network Members Only,” a private Facebook page for men.  Herb also hosts the Widowers Journey Podcast. See https://widowersjounrey.libsyn.com.