Categories
Children Family Giving Support Grief/Dispair

A Widower’s Letter

herb-16-1

Widower Ed Hersh (Texas) shares a powerful letter he wrote following the passing of his beautiful bride, Shellie.  Ed’s letter speaks volumes about the plight of the 2.7 million widowers in America.  He has authorized me to share it with you below.

“Hi Bernie,

“It was very nice of you to call me yesterday afternoon. You sounded perplexed when I told you that I am still on a roller coaster.  I thought that writing might be easier for me to attempt to share what I am going through and how my life has been permanently impacted.

“Loosing Dad and Shellie a month apart of each other has been more than most people can handle, myself included.  You know that Dad and I were very close.  Shellie and I were married just months short of 25 years—an accomplishment by all standards of today.

“In May, Jonathan graduated college, an event that Shellie had been looking forward to for the last three years.  It was one of two goals she set to live for when she was diagnosed in April, 2008.  Watching Jonathan march in procession and receive his diploma was both joyful and tearful.  The dinner Shellie and I planned in Dallas went on as planned, but not without tears.  No way could I have had a party at the house to honor Jonathan having just lost Shellie.

“Life as a single parent is not easy as I’m sure you have heard from Belinda.  Being a single parent of children who have lost their mother is even more difficult.  We will go through life celebrating more graduations, engagements, weddings, births and bar mitzvahs—all joyous but without their mother who died at a young age.

“After being together for 25 years, I am now without my partner and lost.  Marriage is the joining of two halves to make a whole and I am now half again.  Who am I and what do I want?  I don’t know. 

“I am alone, don’t want to burden my sons and am lonely, yet not ready for large social gatherings.  I go to shul weekly for Kaddish for Dad and Shellie, yet I leave with an empty and unfilled inner self.  I have seen counselors and rabbis.  Yet I am unable to truly communicate and receive the words of solace that I seek.  Had I only lost one I would have had the other to truly comfort me.  Now, there is no one.  I am told that it takes time and I’m sure that that is true.  My world has turned inside out and I am searching–for what I don’t know, but am told that I will know when I find it.  Friends and acquaintances can not understand, not that I expect them to, but they have abandoned me for many reasons: not knowing what to say or my regressing inward or not wanting a single person in the mix or whatever, I don’t know. 

“Anyhow, I did appreciate your call and thanks for listening.

“Ed” 

THANK YOU Ed for sharing your words with those who turn to the Widower’s Support Network for understanding and comfort.

Categories
Children COVID-19 Family Health Moving Forward

What’s behind your mask?

Jim Winner

I just got back from a trip to Oregon. I had the privilege of spending ten days with my 34-year-old daughter. It was wonderful. Spending time with an adult child is a rewarding and meaningful experience. We shared many long conversations when we discussed some real hard life topics. Us dads all know how precious those times are.

Everywhere I went, I saw people wearing masks. No question, it’s a necessary sign of the times. It’s something we must do until we figure this corona-virus out. I don’t know about you, but I miss seeing the face behind the mask, I miss enjoying the smile of the person I’m talking to. I miss the expression on a person’s face. I want to know who’s behind that mask. I want to know what they’re feeling. I want to see them, not just a piece of them.

I believe we tend to wear different masks as we journey through the grief process. I know in my early stages of grief, for the first few months after Joyce’s passing, I tended to try to take on a lot by myself. I admit that I tried to mask a lot of how I was feeling. I’m very fortunate that I have friends and family who kept reaching out to me during that time. It’s easy to shut ourselves off and try to tough it out. That won’t work. We want to “man up” and not let others see our real emotions or situation. I think this is particularly true in the first several months after a loss. That’s when we’re most confused and tend to internalize everything. That won’t work either.

Masks can offer protection from the unwanted. Masks can serve as a filter, literally and figuratively. Masks can also hide what we don’t want to share with others.

I see all kinds of ads on Facebook for masks. Who would have ever thought they’d be the must-have fashion accessory for 2020? But then again, 2020 hasn’t exactly gone the way anyone expected.

When it comes to the physical masks, I’d recommend that you follow whatever protocol keeps you compliant and makes you confident, comfortable, and keeps you and those around you safe.

When it comes to emotional masks, I’d like to suggest that we are much better off not wearing them. When someone you trust and care about asks how you are, tell them. Be honest. They’re asking because they care. Share the good, and share the bad. Not even your closest and trusted family member, friend, or ally can help or support you if they don’t know what you need. And if your phone doesn’t ring, don’t feel bad if you’re the one reaching out. Trust me; your closest friends want to help. They want to be there for you. They don’t know what you need unless you tell them. For many of them, this may be their first grief experience as well. Help them be better at what they so desperately want to do, to help you.

So, wear that mask when you need to, but know when it’s time to take it off.

Blessings, Brothers!

___________________________________________

Jim Winner’s thoughts can be found here every other Thursday. You can write him c/o WSN.

Categories
Children Dating/Relationships

Dear Abby Style Article #1

Christine-14

PUBLISEHD 3-19-20 

WSN-MO: The Perfect Catch

A few minutes with Dating and Relationship Coach, Christine Baumgartner

Just about every day, I’m in communication with widowers. 

Not only is it what I do as a dating and relationship coach, it also comes from being involved in several widow Facebook groups. I’m so grateful for all these connections, for it has helped my own healing process. 

The many “gems” I’ve collected along the way have led me to think an occasional “Dear Abby” style article might be in order. So, I’m giving it a try. Below you’ll find three great questions I received, followed by my thoughts. 

Question: My wife passed almost two years ago, and I’m dating a woman who is also widowed. My wife had tons of new clothes, shoes, jewelry, perfume, etc. Is it tacky to give some items to my new friend? Everything is brand new, still boxed as my wife bought it – designer pocketbooks and all. Or should I ask her if she’d feel creepy taking stuff?

Answer: Such a great question… thanks for asking. Here’s my suggestion. You could ask the new lady in your life if she’s interested in any of your late wife’s clothes. Let her make the decision. There’s no “right” or “wrong” here; I’ve seen it go both ways.

  • I know a few couples (in the same circumstances – both widowed) who are happily wearing the late spouse’s clothes.
  • I also know a couple where the new partner thought it would be too creepy to wear the clothes of the late spouse. And a widower who thought it would be too startling and sad to see another person wearing his dead wife’s things.

As a side note – if your new lady isn’t interested in your late wife’s clothes, then make sure you ask your family members if they would like any of her clothes. Sometimes family members want something just as a memory and not to actually wear. So ask everyone, even if they’re not the right size.  

Question:  I’m 60 years old and was married for 36 years. In 2018, my wife passed away after a 3.5 year battle with inflammatory breast cancer. I grieved the entire 3.5 years of her illness, knowing I was going to lose her. My 33-year-old daughter, who lives with me, was infuriated when I started dating seven months after my wife passed. I’ve been dating a wonderful lady for six months now, and we’re falling in love. We have no plans for marriage at this time. My daughter has all the concerns and terrible anger I’ve read about. I’ve tried to reassure her that I’ll always love her, and we can still have a close relationship. I don’t think she will ever accept the new lady in my life. She has ruined relationships with my brother and his wife and my sister over this. They have also tried to let her know that I’m moving forward and will always love her. My 25-year-old son is happy for me. This has created a huge gap between him and his sister. She’s been to grief counseling only once. I’ve offered to go with her but never get an answer. 

Answer: This is a challenging situation. I’ll give you a few ideas, and I trust you’ll find what works for you.

It’s important to keep living your life amidst your daughter’s upset. It’s not your job (really) to make her happy every minute of every day – this may be a hard belief to carry when it involves a daughter you care about. However, she sounds pretty unreasonable. When someone has an attitude like this, it’s very difficult to make them happy. 

If things become unbearable, a time may come when you need to draw a line in the sand. Have a trusted friend or therapist help you come up with some well-thought-out boundaries. This isn’t an easy task, especially when the boundary is something like “she needs to treat you (and the lady in your life) courteously and with respect or she needs to move out (and give her a deadline).” With any boundary, make sure you’re really ready. Because, for it to work, you’ll truly have to “stick to your guns” and not back down. 

A few caveats:

  • I don’t know the circumstances behind your 33-year-old daughter needing to live with you. If it’s a physical or emotional reason (meaning she needs constant supervision and care, then you might need to eventually consider a facility where she could be cared for. 
  • If she’s capable of living on her own but has a financial issue (and she’s physically, mentally, and emotionally capable of supporting herself), then a boundary might just be the thing she needs to get her life together. It could be that part of the reason she’s mad is she feels threatened that her living situation might change. 
  • Once our children become adults and are capable of taking care of themselves, then it’s up to us parents to move on with our lives. We need to become examples of people who do good self-care, and being in a healthy, loving relationship is one of the ways we do this. 

Question: My wife of 10 years recently passed away. I went straight to anger mode, and I’ve been there ever since. Why do scumbags get to live, and my sweet wife was take? She was one of the greatest people on this earth? I’m functioning at work and in everyday life but am also pissed off all the time.

Answer: Your feelings of anger are so normal. And you’re right – it makes no sense that wonderful people die and terrible people get to live. Many widowed people feel this way (I certainly did). I appreciate you’re still being a responsible person and going to work. At the same time, I know how debilitating it is to be angry all the time. Here’s what I’ve seen work for others and myself:

  • Therapy. A skilled and professional therapist can help you work through your feelings of anger.
  • Regular exercise. I realize this doesn’t change any of the circumstances. I do know it’s a great way to dissipate and lower the energy behind your anger and help it not feel as consuming—things like walking, running, bicycling, or lifting weights at the gym. I’ve also known people who took up martial arts because, not only did they get to expend energy, it also gave them focused targets on which to aim their anger.
  • Join a support group. This is one thing that helped me. I found widow groups (both online and through meetup). When you share your anger issues with the group, you’ll probably find out that many of them share your same feelings. Some of the members may have insights for you. 
  • Recommended reading. Why Bad Things Happen to Good People by Harold Kushner, this book helped me tremendously with my anger. It’s been helpful for many of my clients as well.

In closing…

Have you had experiences like these? If so, how did you handle them? I’d love to hear your thoughts. And as always, please write to me with your questions and concerns. I’m happy to answer them.


WSN-MO: A FEW IMPORTANT POINTS.

1. The services offered by Christine, herself a widow, does not include “dating or matchmaking services.”

2. WSN-MO remains a private “Men Only” page. As such, Christine does not have direct access to WSN-MO’s Facebook page. All postings are facilitated through WSN-MO.

3. WSN-MO members can ask questions of Christine (even anonymously via private message to me) Just send your questions to me at herb@WidowersSupportNetwork.com. Following, I will then post her responses.

4. WSN-MO members who wish to contact Christine directly are encouraged to do so c/o her website http://theperfectcatch.com.

Look for Christine’s advice every other Thursday.

NOTICE: Listen to Christine’s advice on Widower’s Journey Podcast, Episode #2.

See: http://widowersjourney.libsyn.com/relationships-with-christine-

Categories
Children Family Giving Support

Helping Your Children

An Excerpt from The Widower’s Journey (Taken from Chapter 10)

As I said at the beginning of this chapter, grief means we’ve been cut off from a relationship that brought us all kinds of emotional benefits. Part of our recovery is finding sources of emotional support that will help assuage the sting of that loss.

For us men, that’s often a tough thing to do. This was driven home to me in the spring of 2014 when a friend of mine, retired minister Paul Hubley, arranged for me to meet with a group of widowers, each a resident of the Elim Park facility in Cheshire, Connecticut. After speaking to the gathering of widowers about my loss and trials, I was amazed how engaged the men became. The men shared stories, and tears flowed as each man recounted his loss and the pain he had carried—for many of these men, it was the first time they had spoken of their feelings, and it was obvious they felt better for sharing them with other widowers. It was one of the most moving experiences I had while working on this book.

On my trip home, it hit me that widowers need permission to grieve and to share. Today, most do not feel they have permission, or they fear that others will think less of them as a man if they expose their grief. For that single reason, one widower I spoke with decided not to participate in this book. He was afraid that once he revealed his story and his emotions, others would see him as weak.

I admit that I didn’t reach out as soon as I should have for all the support and fellowship I needed. I recall one day, as I worked at my desk at the bank, one of the employees from the bank’s call center entered my office with her brow furrowed by concern. She quietly told me how “everyone on the floor misses your laughter.” That helped me see myself from a different vantage, and thanks to that caring soul I began to realize that I was not in a good place physically or emotionally. I realized I needed help, and I resolved to find it.

Men don’t need to go it alone. Those who have friends and family should reach out to them. For those who don’t have loved ones nearby or who don’t feel comfortable asking friends and family for assistance, there are other services available. Hospice, which provides comfort care and support to dying patients, also can be an important source of support and empathy for care giving husbands and widowers. For instance, hospice offered widower Rod Hagen counseling for one year following the loss of his partner, Larry. Every ten days or so, the same man would call Rod, so he had someone to speak with—someone who understood what he was going through. Rod added, “The hospice volunteer ended up calling me for nearly two years. I wasn’t asked to come to some meeting and sit with a group of strangers and talk about my loss. Hospice was great. I also had a couple of close friends who were there when I needed to talk, and even when I didn’t need to talk but I didn’t want to be alone.”

Widowers need a support network. I refer to them as a widower’s Personal Advisory Board. They could be a team hailing from your collection of lifelong friends, neighbors, a fellow congregant from your religious community, relatives, or a select group of professionals (doctor, lawyer, financial planner, life-coach, etc.). Your Personal Advisory Board represents your go-to team, the ones you should make familiar with your life situation and allow them to advise you as needed. Forming a Personal Advisory Board is a great way to allow another person who is also grieving over the loss of your wife to offer their support. You could even say it would be therapeutic for both of you.

Fellowship with other widowers through a widower group, or even with just a single widower, can be a valuable part of your Personal Advisory Board. Widower Chris Sweet tells us how he reached out and found one of his old high school buddies who had also lost his wife. “He and I used to play basketball together but lost touch after graduation. When his wife died, I felt horrible for him. I remember how I didn’t know what to say to him. After some time, I found myself thinking how, given his loss, he was aware of what I was going through, and might be able to help me make sense out of what was going on with me. We spoke on the phone and exchanged e-mails. That was what I needed to keep me going.”

Check for widower support groups at local churches, hospitals, and hospices. Or you may want to check out groups through www.nationalwidowers.org. Let me also recommend you register with the Widower’s Support Network’s FREE private Facebook page for widowers, caregivers and men experiencing a loss. We also invite good nature men who wish to offer their encouragement to those we serve.  At the Widowers Support Network, our mission is to comfort and assist widowers by offering free services. See “Widowers Support Network – Members Only” on Facebook.  We also offer a public Facebook page for all others to enjoy.  See “Widowers Support Network” on Facebook.

Other resources that might be of help to widowers include www.onetoanother.org, a service that enables men and women who have experienced loss to meet, and www.widowedvillage.org, which connects widows and widowers for friendship and sharing.

In my research, I also discovered that a pet can be a great source of comfort during a time of grief. After personally witnessing the effect that animals can have, I became a believer. But rather than go into that here—I know pets are not for everyone—I’ve written up my research in Appendix III.

______________________________________________

The Widower’s Journey is available at Amazon.com, Barnes & Nobles and elsewhere in paperback ($14.95)  and all digital formats. Members of WSN-MO enjoy 15% off if purchased directly from the WSN. To do so, write herb@widowerssupportnetwork.com

Categories
Children Holidays

Christmas

Nyle Kardatzke

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Categories
Children Family Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

Dealing with the feelings that come up around the holidays

Christine-14

All those feelings that come up around the holidays

As the holidays approach, I start hearing from folks in my widowhood community. They talk about the variety of feelings the season is bringing up for them.

A widower, with sadness and confusion in his voice, tells me that the holidays were always “her thing”. She was the one who would:

  • Pick out the perfect Christmas tree.
  • Put out the beautiful decorations.
  • Bake the holiday cookies.
  • Wrap the gifts.
  • Take the kids caroling.

A grieving widow tells me that he was the one who would:

  • Get the decorations out of the garage and attic.
  • Lead the prayers and blessings.
  • Light the Hanukkah candles.
  • Prepare the traditional food alongside her.
  • Organize gift exchanges.

For some people, the coming season will be one of the many “firsts” in their widowhood. The pain is very fresh. For others, this is their second or third time around, and they’re wondering why they still feel so lost and numb and raw.

They say – what if the season overwhelms me with sadness? Will I even be able to function? How will that be for our kids? 

Here are some thoughts about this:

  • Your feelings are very real. You might be tempted to control/hide them. However, this can actually make the holidays harder for both you and your kids.
  • It’s important for everyone in the family (including you) to talk about how they’re feeling about the person who is gone (doing this whenever you feel it is best) and how your feelings are affected by that person not being here for the holidays. 
  • This may feel impossible. Or you may be worried that letting out just one little feeling will cause you to completely go to pieces. Very normal – pay attention to this. Talk to a trusted friend, a spiritual mentor, a therapist. Sharing your raw feelings with them first will reduce the enormous pressure inside you. It will also help the feelings be less overwhelming when you talk with your children. 
  • An important thing to remember – when you talk about your feelings with your kids, it gives your kids permission to talk about theirs. 

Widows and widowers ask me – how about the traditions we’ve always done with the kids? Should I do things as we always did them? Is it bad to not do it for the kids? Here are a few things I’ve seen:

  • Some people have a family meeting to ask the kids how they feel about things like decorations, gift giving, and food. The kid’s responses help guide the holiday process.
  • Some families find it cathartic to keep their traditions going. They talk and cry their way through all the memories that come up.
  • Other folks find that’s just too hard, and they do something completely different. (I’ll be exploring this idea in next week’s blog.)

I know firsthand how the holidays can be filled with huge feelings. The best advice I received as a new widow was to “just feel what I feel when I feel it”. 

And what I found was – just like the ocean – my feelings would wash over me. And just like a huge wave, it could feel overwhelming, sometimes like I couldn’t breathe, like I was drowning, and that it would never stop. 

And then just like the ocean, the wave would go out and I could breathe again, stop crying, and even muster a smile. 

I’m interested in hearing about your experiences as you go through the holidays this year. Send me an email.

Categories
Children Family Giving Support

Fun Activities to DO with Your Grandchildren

Christine-14

Grieving and Thanksgiving 2018

With the approach of Thanksgiving, I can’t help but think back to Thanksgiving 2012, my very first holiday following my husband’s sudden death. The grief fog was still very thick. Numbness created a comforting cushion around my body and emotions. 

My husband had died in August. By the time November arrived, the loving family and friends who had gathered around me the first couple months had returned to their normal lives and I was on my own. The “dreaded firsts” were upon me, and I knew Thanksgiving was only the beginning.

Some wonderful friends invited me to their family Thanksgiving dinner that year. I’d spent many holidays with them when I was single, so this felt safe and comfortable. But I could still feel the enormity of this outing, if for no other reason, it was a solo drive (I’d had company on most of my drives since August).

My husband had loved to cook. He cooked for me, his kids, his friends, and the neighbors. Thinking about what to serve, shopping for the food, and preparing the meal brought him lots of joy. I was the sous chef, the audience, and the enthusiastic eater. So, each of our Thanksgivings together had been quite the event. Since his death, I dreaded grocery shopping because I never knew which aisle would bring me to tears from the memories of our being there together.

One thing he didn’t do was bake. He had a favorite German bakery that made our special occasion cakes. He also loved Marie Callender pies. As I sorted through household things after his death, I found quite an accumulation of Marie Callender pie tins.

I realized there was a Marie Callender’s restaurant close to my Thanksgiving destination, so I decided to turn in the stack of empty tins on the drive to my friend’s house. It would be good to get them out of the house (this felt like a manageable small step) and I would also get back the deposit money. 

So, I left the house early, and drove to the shopping center.

As I approached the restaurant I noticed a long line of people that stretched half-way around the building. This puzzled me, but I didn’t give it a lot of thought (it truly didn’t penetrate the grief fog). 

When I got to the restaurant door, I was stopped by a tall man (he literally blocked me). He asked what I needed. I looked up at him and said, “I’m returning my pie tins.”

I watch his expression turn into a huge question mark as he said, “Okay, come in and stand over by the counter.” Then he told a woman behind the counter I was returning my tins and went back to the front door. 

While standing there waiting, I noticed (through my fog) that the restaurant certainly had a lot of customers today. I also noticed that the employees behind the counter were racing around gathering up lots of boxes and customers were walking out with large bags full of stuff. Boxes of pies. Boxes of food. I’m not sure how long I stood there. I do know that it was long enough for some of the fog to finally lift and I had the realization, “Oh, it’s Thanksgiving and people are picking up their dinners and desserts!” 

What a revelation! Outside of my grief-focused self, the rest of the world was still doing its ordinary holiday routines. It was all around me, and I hadn’t been able to connect the dots.

Soon after this, the woman behind the counter asked me how she could help me and I said, “I’m returning my pie tins and just realized it’s Thanksgiving and this is probably a weird thing to do today.” She gave me a big smile and said I was definitely her easiest customer of the day. She took my tins and returned with my deposit money and wished me a happy Thanksgiving. 

As I left the restaurant I was thinking Tony would have gotten a kick out of my doing this. The thought brought both tears to my eyes and a smile to my face.

When I told this story to friends later that day, we had quite a laugh. Then, at the Thanksgiving table, we shared things we were grateful for. I said I was grateful to have special friends who made me feel like family and were accepting of me and my fog. 

In hindsight, I can see that:

  • At one level, I knew it was Thanksgiving because it was causing me to sort through grief and memories and make decisions for myself. 
  • But at another level, my foggy self had failed to connect this thought with the world at large (grief does strange things like this). The world out there was still going through its holiday routines – including coming to Marie Callender’s and picking up pies! 

What about you? Are you reading this article because you too are struggling with grief? Let’s talk. Email me at christine@theperfectcatch.com

Categories
Children

My daughter is having trouble adjusting to life without her mother

It has been 19 months since my wife passed away yet my 14 year old daughter still has not recovered from her loss.  She locks herself in her bedroom for long periods of time.  She shares very little with me about her day let alone her life or her feelings.  I just don’t know how to help her.  Has anyone else had similar experiences?  If so…please tell me what you did about it.