#466: What It’s Like to Become a Widower | The Art of Manliness

What’s it like for a man to lose the person at the very center of his life — his wife? Maybe you know firsthand, because you’ve lost a spouse yourself. Or maybe you know a friend or family member who’s a widower, and have wondered what he’s going through and how to help him. Or maybe you’re just curious about what this journey is like, should you, heaven forbid, become a widower one day yourself. No matter which group you fall into, we could all benefit from understanding more about the journey widower’s take through loss, grief, and the effort to establish a new life. Here today to walk us through this process is Herb Knoll, who lost his wife himself and has dedicated his life to helping his fellow widowers. Herb is the founder of the Widower’s Support Network which provides free advice and resources to men who’ve lost their spouses, and the author of the book The Widower’s Journey. Today on the show, we discuss Herb’s own experience of becoming a widower, how and why he found that there were few resources available specifically focused on helping men deal with the loss of their wives, and how that catalyzed him into creating such resources himself. We then get into the different issues widowers face, including loneliness, isolation, depression, a decline in their own physical health, and poor decision making, and how and why these issues can manifest themselves differently in men than women. Herb also shares tips on what family and friends can do to support a widower in the months after his spouse dies. We then discuss what dating and marriage is like for a widower, including when the time is right to start dating again and how to handle a second marriage with kids, both financially and psychologically.

LIFE HAPPENS WHILE YOU’RE BUSY MAKING OTHER PLANS

This is the famous quote from John Lennon. As I sat down to write this, that quote came to mind because I never expected things to go the way they’ve gone. Yes, we all hated the pandemic that seems to have no end, the uncertainty of the virus’s danger, the inability to be with family and friends. You know the rest.

Personally, it was a year of difficult loss. My wife Susan in March 2020 on the heels of losing my Dad earlier in the year at age 95. I lost some dear friends too. I sold our house of 25 years, that was the best house I’ve ever enjoyed. The list goes on. I won’t burden you with the bad news. We’ve all had enough bad stuff to last us a while.

Yet reflecting on the past year and heading into the new year, I’m also surprised at the good things that occurred that I never saw coming—small blessings and large ones too.

I noticed things started turning around when I was invited to join the “Widowers Support Network – Members Only,” (available to Men Only). Honestly, I never expected to find the depth of friendship and support that I have received in a group like this. It lifted my spirits. It helped me raise up hope that better days were ahead.

Then I noticed that both my attitude improved, and my heart opened up. There’s a lot of life left to enjoy. It’s a chance at a “second act,” if you will.

The more I let my spirit improve, the more good things came my way. I had a new business – actually two of them – drop in my lap. I’m not ready to retire, and at the same time, I wanted to free up my daily schedule and not have to report to a job five days a week. It’s called designing your life, and it’s fun to do that.

Then I met a new woman. I wasn’t looking for a relationship. But suddenly she shows up and makes my life beautiful again. We’ve developed what we like to call a “Pandemic Romance.” Ironically enough, part of our mutual attraction comes from the fact that we both lost our spouses. We both knew true love in our marriages. Surprisingly that common loss has made us even closer. My late wife was ill with Alzheimer’s for some years before she passed. I haven’t had a normal relationship with a woman in a long time. I forgot how sweet it is.

I offer this story simply as a way to support all the Brothers in WSN. There’s hope for us all. There’s a new chapter in your life waiting for you. Take a moment and realize that a good life can undoubtedly happen while you’re busy making other plans.

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Larry Ahrens is a former radio and television personality in Albuquerque, New Mexico, where his show, “Coffee and Conversation,” was broadcasted. Larry’s articles appear every other Thursday, right here, on WSN-MO. You can send private messages to him on Facebook Messenger.

Glitter

We all have memories. Sometimes we want to bring these memories to the forefront of our thoughts, and other times they are best suited tucked away in the back of our minds. Some of these memories are fond and happy, but honestly, some of these memories are sad or scary. I will be the first to admit that not all of my memories are happy and great. However, all of the pictures together paint a mosaic of who we are and who our loved ones were.

What’s more, they make up who we are today. Without all of the memories, we lose a part of ourselves. This part of ourselves that includes our memories may be the most significant part we have. I admit there are several memories that I would prefer to tuck away and never meet again. That is just not possible. Rightfully so, these memories need to be a part of my life. I do, however, recommend concentrating on the good memories. Keep the happy memories close and alive inside us.

Recently, I had to face a chore that I was dreading. I knew I had to put up the Christmas tree. I really was not looking forward to it. It would be a chore for the dogs and me. I mustered up the confidence and got the tree pulled out and the boxes of decorations. The dogs were much more excited than I was. I cannot say for sure if they knew why they were so excited, but their enthusiasm was contagious. Before long, they ran around the tree, helping in their own k9 way, and I was pulling out ordainments. I started to get a smile. The reason for the smile was I would remember where so many of these ordainments came from. My wife had ordainments made with the kid’s names; she had ordainments made with graduations and baptisms. I remembered all these times and more. At the time, I did not think these ordainments were such a big deal. Now, they are a huge deal.

One ordainment brought a special smile and tear to my eye. My wife’s grandparents had passed down a fish ordainment. Admittedly, it is a hideous fish. It is old chipped, faded, and as frail as paper. Nonetheless, every year I would hurry and find the fish first and try to hang it on the front of the tree in all its glory.

Moreover, every year I would receive a scolding because I knew that the fish needed to be hung but only in the back of the tree. Sure, it’s a tradition that the fish be hung, but it was our tradition that I try to hang it out front, and I would get a scolding. That was a memory that I thought I had tucked away. However, without warning, that memory came rushing back. I chuckled and cried all at once.

I have discovered that memories are like glitter. I say this because if you ever take a handful of glitter and throw it into the air, you can try to clean it all up, but you never will get it all. You will find glitter in places you never imagined, and for years to come. It is like my memory of the fish. I was not looking for that memory. I also thought I had the Christmas trees’ memories cleaned up and put where they go, but once the fish came out, it was like glitter. The memory was there without warning, shinning, and sparkling to the extent that was unmissable. It caught me off guard, and I knew I had a choice. I could enjoy the memory like glitter, let it shimmer and shine and be pleasing, or I could think of it as something else I missed that needs swept up. I chose to enjoy it. Don’t store your memories away. Instead, think of them as a shiny spot or something messy; you feel a need to clean up.

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You can contact Chris at brandt5@hotmail.com

Brothers: We Still Have a Purpose

For many of you, this title strikes you as a bit rhetorical. For others, you may take one look and discount this notion entirely. My brothers welcome to one of the many complex aspects of being a widower.

Early in my widowhood, I found myself completely unprepared to deal with the difficulty I had with convincing myself that I alone was enough of a reason to move forward with my life. While not at all suicidal, I found it difficult to get on with the business of healing.

As I have shared many times in my writings, one of the wisest decisions that I made was to seek grief counseling. While I know that is not a palatable thought for many of you brothers; it was the answer for me. Without it, I may have eventually come around to be motivated to do the work necessary to begin the process; however, having someone to talk to, structure my thoughts with, recognize my feelings, and simply just listen helped me tremendously.

During these sessions and with my dogged determination, I found that my life still had a purpose. Let me share with you three thoughts that I have on this matter.

I Learned to Master my approach to my thoughts and feelings.

While I know “master” is a strong term when it comes to emotion or grief, I feel comfortable in using it. Why, you ask? I believe we each will experience a wide range of emotions for an individually based period; we eventually gain some clarity of what we are feeling and why we feel that way at the time. Of course, there are no absolutes, but we often grow with time or circumstances in this area. In my book The First 365, I recount how there are certain songs, events, and memories that may cause me to emote for the rest of my life. When I experience these thoughts and feelings, over time, I have become armed with the coping mechanisms to make it through these periods.

We Often Model Behavior to Others

Whether you know it or not, you are modeling behavior to others. Take a moment and remember some of the awkward conversations you have had with other people. They are fearful of saying the wrong thing or asking inappropriate questions following the death of our your spouse or partner. I honestly feel that this is a significant contributor to why some of our “friends” vanish into thin air after our loved one passes away. While they may not engage you in conversation, they are often watching you for signs of how you seem to be coping with your loss. These observations sometimes lead to those “you seem to be doing well, Terrell” conversations I have had with others over the years.

One of the groups that we almost universally model to is our family. For those who still have children at home, recognition for your modeling may be expressed in the unsolicited hug or the head resting on your shoulder. Being an empty nester when Robyn died, I could have used a head on my shoulder!

We Often Times Mentor to Others

By writing my book, serving as a podcasts guest, and having shared my thoughts with you, I find myself being sought out by friends, former classmates, and by individuals that acquaintances just have people to call me when they experience loss. On occasion, some of these conversations have led to short-term mentoring relationships. However, because I am not a grief professional per se, I will only allow these conversations to progress so far before recommending a more formal relationship with a trained professional.

So, my brothers, We still have a purpose. Brokenhearted? Yes! But alive none the less. We learned to find times of comfort where we find them, friendship where they manifest themselves, and a new purpose wherever it can be found.

As always, I welcome your feedback. Know that I never take these opportunities for granted and enjoy the interchange we have from these articles. Until next time.

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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 his website thedebriefgroup365.com: there, you will find all his social media contacts or through the Widow Support Network. His insights appear here every other Tuesday. His second book, From the Heart to The Heart, will be released soon. More details soon.

Dash

March 28, 1959 ~ April 5, 2018. There is so much about my late wife Lorna’s life that you really can’t signify it by placing a dash between her first breath and her last breath. The Pastor mentioned it at her celebration of life. The dash represents decades, represents learning, loving, serving, raising a family, being a wife, a mother, a friend, and so much more. I got to spend 14,635 days with her—13,858 as her husband. I wasn’t ready for it to end.

May be an image of 1 person, beard, hair and outerwear

One summer’s day, we went for a drive along an old highway following the Red River. As we wound our way back on the west side of the river, we came upon a very old church and took some time walking through the cemetery, stopping and looking at the various names and dates on the gravestones there. I don’t remember the oldest ones, but there were many with birth dates in the mid to late 1800s. Some small graves had a short period between the birth and death dates; some had a longer time between those dates. All had a dash. A start date – an end date. With each one, the dash represents their lives between those dates. The dash didn’t mean anything to me, other than they were born, they lived, they died. But it meant something to someone. There are monuments in cities and parks worldwide with plaques that tell the reader of the accomplishments of the person immortalized there, what significance that person did during their dash of life. History books with information about people or events that happened between this date and that date. The dash. And then there are many whose dash seems meaningless to anyone else. But their dash does mean something because everyone matters. I have seen some headstones where the dash is there, but no end date yet. This occurs when one spouse has ended their dash and is waiting for their spouse to join them after their dash is complete.

This dash of life is just that….a dash….a moment in time. It may seem to us to be an eternity, but we have no clue what eternity is really like. I don’t know my great grandfather’s or great grandmother’s dash. I do know that both sets of my grandparents dared to leave their homeland, leave friends, family, livelihoods, and go to a new country far off in the hope of a better life. They did so as they sought a better life for their children and the generations: a better dash in their lives. And I’m very thankful for that. Lorna’s grandparents did the same, and because of that, Lorna and I were able to be a part of each other’s dash. When my dash is complete, I will have an endless amount of time to talk with them and hear what their dash was like.

Under Lorna’s name are the two dates of her time here on earth. The significance of her dash will be with me until my dash is complete. Now, in Heaven, there is a start date of when she got there, but there will never be an end. No need for a dash. My dash is continuing. No idea how long it will be, but it is up to me to make it significant to those around me, especially to my kids and grandchildren. We cannot influence our start dates, but we can control what our dash represents; and who and how it interacts with another. So that when our dash ends here, it represents our start date in Heaven….without a need for a dash.

Decluttering

By Jeff Ziegler

Today, I spent part of my day decluttering the kitchen and reorganizing my toolboxes. It was a bit cathartic. I threw a load of things out. And it got me thinking about how cluttered I have been feeling in my mind of late.

Clutter is a funny thing. We “collect” knickknacks, and we display them so everyone—especially us—can see them. From little magnets, we bought on that visit to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco to the owl candle holders that came from someone who thought they were cute.

Whatever you have lying around the house, taking up space, have a good look. What you probably don’t realize is it’s a reflection of your internal mental state. Today, I discovered how truly cluttered my life is; simply because I started looking around my kitchen. And I didn’t like it.

It started with the counters… I saw way too much stuff just sitting out! Things I don’t use every day went into cupboards. But of course, I had to clean out the cabinets to make room for those things I don’t use regularly.

Then, when I moved on to the cupboards, where I saw the things I haven’t used in a long time. Some of them I haven’t used since before I moved into this house nearly 18-months ago. It was then I decided that things had to go.

If I was going to declutter the kitchen, then I also had to do other rooms as well. So, now, I am halfway through clearing the living and family rooms and plan to move on to my office next (probably tomorrow). And, I have realized that it’s about time. I have needed to clear my head (and my space) for a long time.

By recognizing that the space I live in reflects my internal state, I chose to start decluttering—inside and out! And so, the process of clearing begins. Suzanne was never one for clutter. It was time to clear up—and that was something I used to love about Suzanne’s cleaning and clearing habits—she was ruthless.

She especially disliked things being left out on the counters. If I left my keys and wallet on the counter when I came in from work, I would get “the look” (You know, the one that said, “are you planning on leaving that there?”)

As I worked my way through the kitchen, probably embodying a little procrastination about writing this piece and some need to simply clear the space, I started to think about what she would think of this place (and the space I have created). Once I finished decluttering the kitchen, I surveyed the landscape. I think she would have liked it (as it is now).

So, now, I believe that I have channeled that energy of hers and have done something I probably never would have done without her. Truthfully, I am living that adage, “Be the things you loved most about the people who are gone.”

I hope this helps you think about what is cluttering up your life and whether you are being the best of the person who you loved and lost. Today, I know that I have been.

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Jeff Ziegler’s column can be fond very other Wednesday here on WSN-MO. You can write Jeff at jeff.ziegler@ymail.com

Finding Help for Your Grief

Losing your wife is so all-encompassing that it may not be comparable to any other loss except possibly the death of a child. The complete intertwining of your life with your wife in marriage makes her death distinctly life-shattering and life-changing. For this reason, many men find they need both informal and formal help in growing through their grief.

My church contacted me about the grief support groups held several times each year through our Stephen Ministry. The groups were conducted on an “as needed” basis, and the next group wasn’t scheduled to begin for about five months. While I waited, I learned online about several other grief support places: other churches, hospice care, and hospitals.

I was the only widow-man in the group of eight I joined; the others were all women, and only one was a widow. Everyone in the group had lost a family member through death, generally siblings or parents. Some had lost loved ones only a week or two earlier; some were grieving deaths from a few months ago. It might have helped me more if there had been another widow-man in the meetings, but I found I could learn from those experiencing other sources of grief. Perhaps I encouraged the others.

I later learned of a program called GriefShare, and I was invited to be a discussion leader for small groups at a church where the meetings were held. GriefShare looks deeply into experiences of grief when a loved one dies. It is presented from a Christian perspective, but it can be valuable for those of other faiths. You can find locations and meeting schedules online at Griefshare.com.

A good friend in a distant city lost her husband six weeks before my wife died. She and I had known each other for nearly fifty years. After we both lost our spouses, we became our own two-person support group through a constant stream of emails. We reminisced about our spouses’ final illnesses, our families, and the struggles we felt in our time of grief. When we found a book for grieving people, we began to email about the readings every day. Our two-person group was a rare discovery, and we both felt it preserved our mental health during that most challenging times. We still email often, but not about the loss of our spouses now. Our communications back then have had their healing effect.

You may want to list the names of three people with whom you could speak freely. If you can meet in person, that may be best, but even email and text messages can help. If you have a pastor, a priest, or a rabbi trained in grief counseling, they can be a great help. There is help for your grief.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, Widow-Man, every other Wednesday. You can write Dr. Kardatzke at thewidoweman@gmail.com.

Widowhood Love and the BAE Phenomenon

WSN-MO: A Few Minutes with Terrell Whitener

Next month I will experience the sixth anniversary of my wife Robyn’s death. Over the almost two years that I have had the privilege of sharing my thoughts with you brothers, I have admitted that I have discovered that I feel that I know very little about women.

In the twenty-two and a half years that Robyn and I were together, she was the primary focus of my affection. Now full disclosure, it was not like I never appreciated other beautiful women, but in my selfish desire to continue breathing, I never acted on straying too far from home.

As the calendar changes to 2021, I think, dear brothers, that I may be ready to tread to the deep end of the pool again. I still do not know how to swim, but what the heck, it may be time.

In most of my conversations/flirtatious conversations that I have experienced with women my age, I have found that I, after a period, can categorize most of them in one of three areas. In today’s slang, there is an acronym BAE- Before Anyone Else. For me, however, I would sum my experiences with these acronyms differently. Let me share my experiences with you.

“B” stands for broken. I have found that the relational history of these women has left them with some significant wounds. However, very high functioning, successful women, boy do they come with some issues. Now I am sure that I am not “issue-free” myself but come on, not on this level.

Being a man attracted to intelligent, independent, successful women basically around my age, I have found that there is a definite reason that most of them are still available. I make this observation not out of bitterness but out of sheer observation. I live my life as a glass half full person, so I press ahead optimistically.

“A” stands for annuity. Boy, I have met a couple that loves to run through money! Fortunately, I am blessed to live a comfortable life, but like many, that comfortable life comes with a modicum of common sense as well. While among my cohorts, they know that I have a propensity to pick up the check, a practice my son always chides me on; everything has its limits. I very much believe in taking really good care of individuals that I may be interested in, but one whiff of entitlement, and I’m get immediately turned off.

So, I avoid being the “come up, brother.” I never mind investing in good ground, but please bring something to the relationship, will you please! I am sure this is a byproduct of living for more than two decades with a highly successful and generous woman, but I am who I am.

“E” stands for emotionally unavailable. I have experienced individuals that want all the perks but none of the responsibilities. I am far too old to play “house” in a relationship. Being serious is not a pre-requisite for me in a friendship, but I will not commit to exclusivity to an emotionally unavailable person. I am experienced enough to understand that there may be many reasons why an individual becomes emotionally guarded. However, careful, cautious, and unavailable are different things.

I often say that knowing what I want in life begins with knowing what I do not want. Over the years, I have had the good fortune of discovering what love looks like, feels like, and acts like. I am not saying that it needs to be precisely what I have experienced in the past, but it should exhibit some strong similarities to what brought me happiness in the past. I do not have a clue if a meaningful relationship/friendship is in my future. But if it comes along, I want it to be positive for both parties involved.

So, there you have it, my current state, Widowhood Love and the BAE phenomenon. I admit that this article is a bit of a departure from my usual offerings, but an honest offering none the less. As always, I welcome your feedback on these thoughts. Until next time.

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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 his newly redesigned website, thedebriefgroup365.com; there, you will find all my social media contacts or through the Widowers Support Network.

Life is for the Living!

Some winning thoughts by Jim Winner

Life is for the living!

I went to the mountains of Pennsylvania last week to spend Thanksgiving with a few family members. Six of us gathered in my father’s cabin and enjoyed three days of relaxing, visiting, and sharing life.

My father died in an automobile accident ten years ago. Thanksgiving was his favorite day. The first few Thanksgivings without him were hard. My late wife Joyce died 18 months ago. That was tough. This was the second Thanksgiving without her. As I looked around the table, which used to have a minimum of 15-20 people gathered around, I was reminded once again how quickly life changes and how the older we get, the more it changes. I was also reminded that no matter what happens to us, life goes on. COVID and the risk of traveling kept some higher-risk family members at home. Life and work obligations prevented others from traveling. I agree with and respect those decisions. After all, it is 2020.

As I think back on Thanksgiving 2020 versus Thanksgiving 2019, I realize that, thankfully, I am a completely different person. I barely remember Thanksgiving 2019. I was deep in “the fog.” Last week, my siblings and friends remarked how good it was to see me happy again. The truth is, I am happy. Life is good in every way. Life’s journey continues. I took some long walks in the woods and spent some time honoring and remembering past Thanksgiving. There are a lot of good memories in that cabin. I also spent a lot of time thinking about the future and all the memories yet to be made. There’s a saying about the windshield being larger than the rearview mirror. That’s so very true.

As we approach the Christmas season, I know there’s a natural tendency to dwell on the Christmas past. There’s a significant risk to that. Christmas past is over. While we should never want to forget Christmas past, we must not live there. We should always honor and learn from the past. We cannot stay in it.

What I will hope we can all do is live for Christmas ( and life ) in the present and future. So, as we approach the Holiday season, I encourage you to honor the past memories while being intentional and focused on living for the present and future. Gain wisdom from those memories, and embrace what the present and future hold.

Life IS for the living.

A “Lakota Tradition” About Grieving

WSN: Widower, Wounded, Warrior, Waking and Walking

By Jeff Ziegler

This subject matter has been doing the rounds on Facebook of late. But it is relevant to what I want to address in this week’s post.

It starts like this: “In the Lakota tradition, a person who is grieving is considered most waken, most holy.”

It is not an alien concept. In many religions and belief systems (Judaism, Hinduism, Buddhism, etc.), the bereaved are held in high regard and “revered” for a certain length of time, but what happens when that time is “over?”

The same Facebook post about the Lakota Tradition continues by saying, “There’s a sense that when the sudden lightning of loss strikes someone, he or she stands on the threshold of the spirit world. The prayers of those who grieve are considered especially strong, and it is proper to ask them for their help.”

What most people, especially non-widows, will typically ask of us is how they can help us. And we usually don’t have the clarity to answer, so we end up with yet another casserole.

But if you read my last post, I specifically talked about asking for help. So, why would a Native tradition turn that idea completely on its head and dictate that we (as widows and widowers) are the ones that others turn to in times of their need while we are grieving?

The answer isn’t straightforward, but belief systems are robust. We are raised to believe in certain things. So, I ask, does that mean we as the bereaved have some unique channel, an open line, to the hereafter when our person dies? While we sit in the throes of grief, do we have some acute superpower that is effectively a hotline to the creator/universe/spirit that created us for a brief time? If so, when does that end? When do we stop having this superpower?

The Facebook post ends like this: “You might recall what it’s like to be with someone who has grieved deeply. The person has no layer of protection; nothing left to defend. The mystery is looking out through that person’s eyes. He or she has accepted the reality of loss. They have stopped clinging to the past or grasping at the future. In the groundless openness of sorrow, there is a wholeness of presence and a pearl of deep natural wisdom.”

The thing is, I believe we all have this superpower and can access it at any time. What happens in times of deep grief is that we allow our true essence, our inner core nakedness, vulnerability, and openness to come out. We strip away all the layers. We lose the ego, and bravado falls away as we reach deep inside to bear witness to our mortality for a season. For some of us, this never leaves after our loss. For others, the superpower is lost over time; it wanes into a capacity to simply identify our grief feelings.

In my own life and practice, I have lost then rediscovered this superpower. It took a lot of hard work because my ego built up so many walls and roadblocks to protect me from feeling the deepness of my grief. It stopped me from truly accepting my mortality (that Suzanne’s death showed me)—to the point where it almost cost me everything!

What I realize now is that by genuinely accepting the ability to commune with my feelings and the grief associated with Suzanne’s death. I can now reopen the channel to the great creator, which helps me be at peace (with a sense of calmness and knowing that allows me to remain open to all possibilities in this life). This evolution of mine will enable me to act as a source to help others in their need.