Let’s talk a little about your conversations with the women in your life. These could be daughters, daughters-in-law, mother, aunts, female colleagues – generally any women you come into contact with during your day.
Do some of these women regularly claim that you’re “not listening” or that you’re repeatedly “interrupting” them?
As a widower, you and your late wife may have developed a “shorthand” way to deal with conversations to keep this from happening. And now you’re confused to find communication problems showing up with the women in your life.
As a coach, it’s not unusual for me to hear from male clients about issues like this. And it’s surprising how often the frustration comes down to the different ways men and women view communication.
Over time, my clients and I have found an image they can use to bring about positive changes. The metaphor involves (believe it or not!) a glass of water.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. First a little background on what is often behind the men/women communication problem.
TALKING FROM THE WOMAN’S POINT OF VIEW
She wants the man to listen to what she’s saying until she’s done talking and then if she wants to hear his opinion she’ll ask. Here’s what is considered typical for women:
A woman talks to another person to feel connected to them.
A woman feels cared about when she knows someone is listening.
She knows someone is listening when they don’t interrupt and when they validate that she knows what she’s talking about.
Women may already know how to do this with other women, because it’s what the other woman wants, too.
TALKING FROM THE MAN’S POINT OF VIEW
When men talk it’s usually to do one of the following:
Share information – the news, accomplishments, scores, etc.
They have a problem they’ve tried to solve on their own and now they need a solution. When they ask someone for a solution they expect an answer right away.
Other men may automatically know how to do this because it’s what they want as well.
A FEW THOUGHTS FOR THE MAN IN A CONVERSATION WITH A WOMAN
It’s frustrating when a woman tells you “you’re not listening” when you’ve just offered a suggestion or solution for her problem. You may have listened to her until you heard the problem she was having, and maybe your solution really is the perfect one to solve it. You gave it to her because you care about making her feel better. And you’re confused when she gets mad.
So let’s symbolize a woman’s stressful feelings as a full glass of water. The woman’s glass is filled to the brim with her feelings, lots of pressure. There’s no room for even an eyedropper more of liquid (definitely no room for advice).
The way many women release their stress is to talk about their feelings.
At this point, I tell a male client, her “glass” is completely full and there’s no room for his solution. And because I know his intention is to do something to help her feel better, I explain that “just listening” is like “dipping a large spoon into the glass” and taking out water. It begins to take the pressure of the stress away, and this helps her feel better. Just making sounds like, “Hmmmm” or “Oh my” or “Oh yeah” as she talks will let her know you care about how she’s feeling.
The process of repeating her words back helps even more. For example:
She says, “My boss is a jerk.” Instead of saying, “You should just quit”, try saying, “I agree your boss is a jerk.”
She says, “I had to stay home all day with the kids and I’m feeling overwhelmed.” Instead of saying, “Just get a babysitter,” say, “I see how overwhelmed you’re feeling because you stayed home all day with the kids.”
This reassures her that you’re listening to what she’s saying and you understand how she’s feeling.
The ultimate goal is for the woman to empty her emotional glass. When the man listens and empathizes with her feelings, she’ll start to feel better.
Typically, when a woman has emptied her stress-filled glass she will either say, “Thanks, I feel better” and she’ll be ready to move on to other topics.
Or she’ll say, “Thanks I feel better and what do you think I should do about my horrible boss?” Then, you get to give your great advice and the woman is ready and willing to hear it.
And there’s an additional benefit of listening. Along with relieving her pressure and helping her feel better, you don’t have to keep thinking about a solution to her problem as she’s talking. You can relax and just listen (I know, I know – easier said than done). Treat this like any muscle. The more you use it the stronger it gets and the better you get at it.
I’d definitely like to hear what happens when you use this technique.
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.
As a widower, you’ve most certainly dealt with an enormous amount of stress and grief at the time of your partner’s passing. During that excruciating time, spouses often have the added burden of making plans for final wishes and funeral services of their loved one. This is an incredibly trying time for everyone who’s ever been there.
If you have already gone through the funeral-planning process for your loved one, you may have some ideas of your own final wishes, and you might have thought about ways to lessen the burden on your surviving family members when your time eventually comes.
Whether it’s buying family plots or discussing wishes with loved ones, pre-planning a funeral can have several advantages.
Remove Additional Stress For Yourself and Your Loved Ones
As you already know, loved ones are often caught in the midst of processing the grief and shock of a passing as they plan the end-of-life arrangements. This creates a stressful situation in an already emotional time.
By pre-planning a funeral or end-of-life ceremony, you can reduce the burden for your loved ones to plan a funeral later. Of course, mortality can be an uncomfortable subject to discuss with your family, however, planning ahead can take away some of the sting of “the unknown,” and can help you and your family prepare mentally and emotionally for what’s to come.
Make Informed, Thoughtful Decisions
Planning ahead helps you make strategic decisions about your end-of-life proceeding. You can identify your wants and needs, and even compare prices with a number of providers. By making funeral arrangements in advance, you spare your family the pressure of making fast decisions at a time of duress.
One of the most important considerations in planning a funeral is what will happen with the decedent’s remains – where they will be buried, scattered, entombed, or something else. A short period of time generally exists between a person’s death and his or her burial, which means, for example, surviving family members might be rushing to buy a plot without foresight or personally visiting the site. It’s in the best interest of an entire family to think out and make these important decisions before the time comes.
Consider Financial Responsibility for the Funeral
Pre-arranging a funeral can also allow you to remove a financial burden–and the stress that goes along with it–from your loved ones by making sure your affairs are in order when the time comes.
Start to plan ahead now for the costs involved in the funeral arrangements for your own wishes. First, you’ll need to map out each step of the process, so you can associate an approximate cost with each piece. Then, you can determine how the financial aspect will be handled. For example, options like funeral insurance and funeral trusts can help you secure your final wishes without passing the financial burden on to your surviving family.
Where to Start
Planning a funeral ahead of time is now easier than it has ever been. An online resource like Funerals360 can help you effectively plan for the future and compare the costs of services.
The Funerals360 website is full of resources to help you organize all of your wishes and plans. You can use the My Funeral Wishesfeature to outline your final wishes, and it’s easy to print and share electronically so you can have a conversation with your family and/or next of kin.
The interactive funeral planning checklist is an invaluable tool that can help ensure you have all your bases covered so nothing gets missed. It lets you know everything that needs to be done–from information needed to obtain death certificates to utilities and accounts that would need to be closed–and keeps your information organized in a central and shareable place.
By pre-planning or pre-arranging a funeral, you can effectively relieve the stress later and ensure the fulfillment of your final wishes. You’ll also have the benefit of comparing prices and ensuring the best outcome possible.
Life as a widower is full of enough stress and grief, and for many, even the thought of planning out arrangements for a funeral in advance can be too much to think about while already dealing with the loss of a spouse. However, the act of pre-planning your own funeral can provide a sense of relief in having one less thing to worry about – for you, and your family.
About the Author
Rachel Zeldin is the Founder of Funerals360, an online resource that helps families find local product and service providers for their funeral or memorial. Her inspiration came from the frustration she experienced trying to find reliable funeral planning information online when her uncle passed away unexpectedly without any prior arrangements in place. A passionate consumer advocate, Rachel is also the Founder of Funeral Consumer Alliance of Greater Philadelphia , a non-profit advocacy group that is a chapter of the Funeral Consumers Alliance.
Herb Knoll was known as a man who could get the job done. But when the former bank president and author lost his wife to cancer he found few resources. The more he learned about the plight of widowers the more he became motivated to write a support book. He is the author of The Widower’s Journey and leads the Widower’s Support
I want you to know a few things. After Suzanne dies, you will feel like there is little potential of anything ever making your life any better. Did you know that you will be scared, hurting, very much alone (even surrounded by friends and family), completely lost and heartbroken? Please know that although you could potentially just curl up in a ball and die from that heartbreak, you won’t.
Potential is an interesting word. It means, “having or showing the capacity to become or develop into something in the future.” When Suzanne dies, you will feel like there really is no future to develop into.
When that time comes, all you will want to ask yourself is, “What’s the point?” I mean, there won’t be a single thing that truly appeals to you as having any real potential for your future.
Work? You will no longer be interested. Dating? Nope, you will start too soon and be heartbroken again (but luckily, you will meet someone new who will accept you as and where you are). Living? Well… if I am honest with you, the only thing that will keep you waking up every morning and wanting to go on living is your daughters.
Thing is, Jeff, when we grieve hard, our tendency is to spend too much time in our heads. We grieve for the life we had. We grieve for the life we no longer have. And we grieve for the life we had envisioned for the future. You will miss every aspect of that life. You will feel empty without it, and you will be lost.
Because we grieve the primary and secondary losses, we lose not only our vision of a future with our person, but also the vision of our own future without that person. It doesn’t make much sense, I know, but it’s true. Too often, we close ourselves off to any real possibility of achieving our own potential when we are grieving. We tend to lose our core Self. We lose our focus and our center. We forget who and what we are.
When this happens, anyone can be like you will be for so many months after Suzanne dies: you will be floundering, lost, feckless, aimless, self-sabotaging, bleeding all over people who did not cause your wounds, and you will feel like you can’t go on.
But you will keep going. And when you reach the 21-month “Deathaversary”, you will write about how you are a completely different person than you were in those first few days, weeks, months, year and longer after Suzi dies.
Your life will have changed in so many ways that you will no longer recognize yourself. I won’t lie—it will take some SERIOUSLY hard work to completely and radically change your Self. Especially after how deep your grief was, and will be up, as recently as just a few months previous.
Some of the changes will be physical and “superficial.” In 21-months you will have lost 15-lbs, you will grow a beard (you’ll start it for the “November” movement, like it, and keep it). You will travel a lot. You will buy and move into your own home—the first without Suzanne. You will meet someone new.
You will also get laid off from your job—the one you were planning to leave anyway—and you will start your own coaching business designed to help others like you find new purpose in their lives and find ways to work at something that truly makes them passionate. It will be some of the most rewarding and difficult work you will ever do.
But none of the changes you will go through will be bigger than the internal, mental and emotional transformation you will undergo. You will truly begin to self-actualize (defined as “the realization or fulfillment of one’s talents and potentialities; a desire for self-fulfillment, namely, the tendency to actualize one’s own potential”); and you will rediscover your true Self.
You will do all this because becoming self-actualized means you will be fulfilled, doing everything you can to achieve your fullest potential. And you will do all this because you want to be the person that Suzanne would have wanted you to become anyway.
So, in that vein, let me mention what I believe is another meaning for “potential.” That meaning is to release the “latent qualities or abilities that may be developed and lead to future success.” And this is where you will be on the day of Suzanne’s 21-month Deathaversary.
You will be successful, because this letter is meant to help you, Jeff. I want you to understand and know that no matter how desperate things may seem (no matter where you are in your grief journey), there is hope. You can be and become the best version of your self by believing in the potential you have inside to heal and to grow.
While no one is perfect—and you know I believe we are all perfectly imperfect—you will have worked very hard to change. You will have accepted the grief. You will have also accepted that you were not always the best husband or father, and you will have stopped most of the behaviors you exhibited when Suzanne was alive and when the girls were children.
As part of your work, you will forgive and accept your true Self and that will completely change your emotional and spiritual outlook. You are going to be far more present with others (and with your own self) than you ever have been before.
And you will create a true vision—not a dream, but a vision—of the future Self you see inside; and you will want to bring him out to the world. You will like that person very much. That person has the amazing gifts of love and kindness to give to so many other widows and widowers, and to the world.
So now, I will repeat what I just said a few paragraphs ago: there is hope, Jeff. No matter who or what you think you are (and where you may think you are in your grief journey), there is still a chance for you to be and do better with your true self. But it’s not going to be easy. It will nearly “break” you. And you will have to let it. You will shatter the old you and become someone and something better: the best version of you.
Be open, be accepting, and be able to let go of the things you think you wanted. Truly take the time to discover your own purpose, passion and internal power… Those will be the keys to change. The catalyst will be knowing and realizing that truly “you are enough.”
By doing the hard work when it might feel easier to avoid it, you could save yourself a great deal of hurt. And you will set yourself up for a much better life if you choose one.
Dearest, kind, loving, Jeff. You have all my love and hopes for the future you…
The quality I admire most in writers is their passion for their work and their causes. We’re all Don Quixote fighting huge windmills, doing our bit to make the world a little better and inspire others. Herb Knoll is a great example, devoting much of his life to a cause few think about, even though it is too close to us. For some of us ‘he-men’, (ha ha!), it is our greatest fear. Herb Knoll offers help and hope.
There are 2.7 million widowers in America, 420,000 new widowers each year. One in five men will be widowed and 65% of widowed men will experience a life-threatening illness within twelve months. As Herb explains, widowers experience a wide variety of challenges: health problems, loss of faith, financial set-backs, problems with relationships, careers, raising children, dating, and more, “not to mention, grief.” It is eye-opening to realize that the suicide rate among widowers is 3-4 times higher than that of married men. It is to help these vulnerable men that Herb runs the Widowers Support Network, which provides free services to widowers, and has written The Widowers Journey. As Herb says, “America’s widowers need help. Unfortunately, few resources are available to them.”
We tend to think of men as strong and independent, the truth is we’re far more vulnerable than we appear. So, what inspired Herb to accept this mission?
Following the passing of my bride, Michelle, at age 52, from pancreatic cancer, in 2008, I needed help in dealing with my grief. Among those I sought assistance from was my local Barnes & Noble bookstore. When I asked a clerk what he had for a new widower, he typed “widower” into his computer’s search engine. He then looked up at me and said, “Mister, I don’t have a thing for you.”
NOT AN ACCEPTABLE ANSWER
Many would have accepted that response, but not Herb. He asked himself,“How could this be? Nothing?” As he explains it, “Having been published in the past, it occurred to me that someone needed to write a book for America’s widowers, and that person was me.” But would he stick with such a daunting challenge. “Within a year, I resigned my position as a senior bank executive and dedicated my life to serving America’s widowers.” And from a terrible life-changing event, a mission was born, but what gave him the strength and ‘stick-to-it-iveness’ to accomplish his dream?
Herb was born the ninth of eleven children in Buffalo, New York. Before he was able to graduate high school, he was activated in the army reserves and served as a Drill Sergeant from 1967 to 1973. His determination compelled him to later attend college courses at night, “and with the support of several wonderful superiors”, he was able to rise from the ‘bottom’, to the presidency of a bank in central Florida.
Herb has a history of overcoming hurdles. He says as a youth, he stuttered, yet became a professional speaker (my professional hobby,), who frequently addressed conventions, corporate meetings and university audiences.” His book, The Total Executive, (1986), became a three-part series produced by PBS affiliate WNED-TV entitled, Today’s Executive, and he was featured as the sole on-air personality speaking before a live audience. He was also the spokesman in Marketplace Bank television commercials when he served as its president. In 1991, he was inducted into the Buffalo/Niagara Sales & Marketing Executives International Hall of Fame. World-class designer Piero Di Mitri presented him with the first ever Di Mitri Executive Image Award, presented by supermodel/actress Jennifer O’Neill and multi-Grammy Award winner, Wynton Marsalis.” I think his greatest reward is knowing he has helped countless men who share his loss:
“My life’s work is more than the nine years I spent researching the world widowed men inherit, or the 102,000 words I wrote, or the 59,000 words I chose for my book. My calling is one of having developed a deep compassion for the men who suffer in the shadows of a society that has failed them. Whether you speak of our houses of worship, our Federal, State and local governments or the neighbors next door, widowed men have been left to their own resources.”
WORKING FOR CHANGE
Herb believes our view of men has to change. “They just don’t believe they have permission to grieve. The trauma imposed unto men will continue as long as we keep teaching our young male children that “Boys don’t cry.” The injustice imposed on widowed men will continue to manifest itself as long as we hold men to a different standard.”
THE WIDOWER’S JOURNEY
Once he recognized his calling, Herb wanted to write a practical book: “Widowed men aren’t interested in a lot of theory. They want actionable steps they can call upon to accelerate their recovery.”Hebelieves men learn best from those who’ve experienced this loss. “With forty+ widowed men (three of them double widowers) volunteering their insights and best practices to the pages of The Widower’s Journey, widowers are sure to find answers to the questions that keep them up at night.” He also presents experts in the field: “The Widower’s Journey validates the words offered by its contributing widowers with contributions from fifteen subject matter experts from the fields of psychology, sociology, personal finance, law, religion and more.”
As a widower, Herb was able to rediscover love when he met Maria a few years after Michelle passed away. Maria and Herb were married in 2011. “I have been blessed in so many ways. While I enjoyed a remarkable life and career for which I am grateful, serving widowers and those who love them is by far the most rewarding thing I have ever done.”
At the beginning of this article I stated the thing I admire most about writers is their ‘passion’…I was wrong, it’s their ‘compassion’, how much they care. If you want to learn more about our compassionate Villager writers, please visit www.wlov.org for a directory of our authors and their books, as well as a list of local writing clubs that will help you express your passion in writing. If you know a middle or high school student that loves writing, tell them about the Florida Writers Association Youth program (www.floridayouthwriters.org) where compassionate authors help them achieve success.
Mark H. Newhouse authored the award-winning comical mysteries, Welcome to Monstrovia; The Case of the Disastrous Dragon; and the new, Case of the Crazy Chickenscratches. Founding president of Writers League of The Villages, and the Central Florida Book & Author Expo, December 8, 2018, at the Eisenhower Recreation Center, he invites you to share suggestions and questions by contacting him at www.aimhipress.com.
Reprinted with permission of Village Neighbors Magazine – August 2018
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.