Categories
Family Financial/Estate Planning Giving Support Grief/Dispair Manful Emotions Mental/Emotional Health

Widower 101: More Key Learnings

Terrell Whitener

Recently I shared four things that I have learned since becoming a widower. In this article, I would like to continue to share a few additional thoughts on this issue.

For each one of us, this list may be different. As I write in my book The First 365, a loss is the ultimate designer emotion. No two journeys are alike. Since becoming a member of the Widowers Support Network, I have had the privilege of reading and sharing with members of this group. I consider it an honor to be among those chosen to contribute to this group. Each of us has experienced the loss of a spouse or partner. Though similar in many ways, each of our relationships took on different qualities. With that being the case, there are differences in what we miss in the loss of our companions. I shared with you last time that for me I have found it is the small things that I seem to miss the most. For many of you, it is something completely different. So, let’s look at some additional thoughts that I have on this matter.

You May Not Be Able to Do It Alone

When I lost my wife Robyn, I decided very early that I could not navigate through this jumble of feelings and emotions alone. Many years ago, I learned that as a man “what we don’t talk out, we act out”. I made a conscious choice to not burden my family with the responsibility to take this journey with me. While I needed (and still need) their love and support, I would need to surround myself with a team of individuals during this most trying time. I come from a generation and culture that has not always embraced the thought of reaching out to mental health professionals. In some ways, the “suck it up” and “suffer in silence” mentality often ruled the day. However, I am so very grateful that I made the decision to receive support from a professional. It is through this relationship that my book was born, it was through this relationship that I am sharing this article with you today.  I respect those individuals that decide to face this trying time in a more solitary manner. I just want to encourage those that make that decision to know that finding support from others is always an option.

Relationships Will Change, While Others Vanish Immediately

In my previous article, I shared how I learned that many people that I thought were “our” friends were really my wife’s friends. Every so often I reflect on how many relationships I said goodbye to on the day of my wife’s funeral. While a bit unfortunate, I have come to realize that on other than a polite social level, none of them played a significant role in my life. To be completely honest, with the shift in perspective and priorities that have developed in my life, there probably isn’t much room for these encounters anyway. One of the changes that being a widower has brought to the surface is how I value my time. With time being so important to me now, the quality of my relationships is very important to me. For many years in the business I always shared with my team that “I rather go to war with 50 good soldiers, than 100 half-ass ones”. In some ways, I have come to look at friendships the same way. Not a thought of bitterness, but quality control in this area of my life.

Prepare for An Adjustment in Finances

One of the areas that I would love to see more emphasis put on in the grief and loss community is the financial impact of widowhood. Talking about money can be a complex issue for many. Far too often there is a tinge of embarrassment if individuals find that they may not have been as prepared as they should have been for the loss of a loved one. With death many times not giving us a timeline, with being amid a battle to take care of our loved one, financial planning may not always be at the forefront of our thoughts. With the passing of our loved one, many see a financial impact from this loss. In my own life, I saw a forty percent reduction in my monthly income. For many that can be devastating. For most of us that I am sharing this article with, we have already dealt with this reality. But as the network grows, our ability to share our experience with others who have not gone through this is something we should think about.

No Expectations

In the early stages of grief and loss, a common mistake is to take in the expectations of others. Many times, we want to be strong for others, try to mask the heartbreak and genuinely want to make others feel like we are going to be alright. While we are working very hard to put others at ease, many times we are not as sure ourselves. In my book The First 365,  I talk about one of the mistakes that I made was in returning to work too soon.  I was fortunate enough to have an employer that offered for me to take all the time I needed before returning to work. I took the weekend! I wholeheartedly endorse taking more time than that! One thing I often find myself saying to my fellow widowers when speaking with them is to manage their expectations. I often find myself ending many conversations by telling them “no expectations”. As a point of full disclosure however, no expectations do not include behavior deemed harmful to yourself or others. No expectations encompass being loving and patient with yourself, which may not be as easy as you think. Navigating the path toward your new normal can be quite the undertaking.

Initially, I very much struggled with no longer having the responsibility of being a caretaker. For years my schedule was very much guided by that role. It took some time to realize that caretaking had become a large part of my identity. Having the freedom to completely chart my own path became almost overwhelming at times. The great news is however that eventually, you will find your way forward. Try to resist any artificial timelines if you can.

Remember that You are Not the Only Person that Lost Someone

A secondary aspect of no expectations is to remember that we must have compassion for others. While we are grieving our loved ones, don’t lose the fact that your loss has persons around you as well. Even though they may not verbalize it, many times they are hurting as well. I will never forget the strength demonstrated by my son as he sat with me in those initial hours and watched me completely melt down the day my wife Robyn died. It takes love and strength to witness such a thing as that. The same thing goes for friends, co-workers, neighbors as well as anyone who knew of and cared about your loved one. While I am not advocating for putting the healing of others ahead of your own, we must remain cognizant on grief’s effect on those around us. For those of us that are parents, this can be extremely complex to manage. We must find the strength to be a loving to our children as we are to ourselves. Their ability to process the loss often-times is directly correlated to our own.

Do the Work It’s Worth It!

For those of you that have followed my articles, you know I am a strong proponent of the benefits of doing the work. While I strongly believe that there are many paths to the destination of healing, each path requires work on our part. I endorse just as strongly that the work is worth it. No matter whether you seek the assistance of professionals, find the strength within or just let time and experience facilitate the healing process, the work is worth it.

So now I have shared just ten of the many lessons I have learned during my time as a widower. I would love to hear from you about what some of your key learnings have been. One thing I am very sure of is that if I were to write another version of this article five years from now, it may have a bit different slant to it. I am often awed by how much I have taken in over the last four years. I am in many ways so much more grown up and, in many ways, more alive now than ever before. However, that is another article for another day. I wish you nothing but the best on this journey that we share.

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 twhitener@thedebriefgroup.net, LinkedIn @terrellwhitener, Instagram @ or through the Widow Support Network.

Categories
Family Giving Support Grief/Dispair Holidays Loneliness

What are you going to be doing on New Year’s Eve?

WSN-MO: The Perfect Catch 

WSN-MO Dating and Relationship Coach, Christine Baumgartner asks… 

What are you going to be doing on New Year’s Eve? 

I’ve been talking about the holiday season and widowhood for the past couple weeks. In those articles, I haven’t included the New Year’s celebration because it often impacts people differently than the rest of the holidays.

New Year’s is all about reminiscing about the year that is ending (which you may feel completely unable to do) and looking forward to the new year ahead (which may seem impossible to even imagine).

Just to remind you:

• Depending on how long it’s been since your spouse passed away, your feelings may still be pretty raw. Especially in that first year when you’re probably in a fog.

• Some people opt to keep their traditions going as always (and to talk and cry through the memories). 

• Others find that’s just too hard, and want to do something completely different. 

Something to ask yourself as New Year’s Eve approaches – will it help you more to be around a lot of people, a small number of people, or by yourself? 

If you feel that being with “lots of people” is the right thing for you, here are a couple suggestions:

• Restaurant or nightclub. You can get dressed up, dance, and blow horns at midnight. 

• Have you heard of “First Night”? This family-friendly event is available in various areas of the country (they do it where I live). The city closes the main street, and the local stores and restaurants stay open. Shuttles take people around to entertainment (bands, comedy shows, crafts for kids) being held at local theaters, gymnasiums, and museums. There’s a fireworks show at midnight.

If you prefer being with “just a few people”, here are some that have worked for me:

• Go out to the movies with a friend.

• Plan to go to someone else’s home (close friend or family member who knows how you’re feeling) for an evening of board game playing and good snacks. Then, watch the midnight celebrations on TV or computer.

• Go out to dinner. It’s important to pick a restaurant that won’t bring up memories. 

If you feel like you want to spend the time by yourself, you could:

• Go on a trip locally or far away (once again pick a place that won’t bring up memories). Being away from home can help you not feel like you’re “trying to have” or “not trying to have” your normal traditions.

• Get a pile of movies for watching at home. 

• Make plans ahead of time to have a healing ritual for yourself. Include candles and music if that appeals to you. You can meditate, cry, write a list of resolutions for next year, talk to your deceased spouse – whatever brings ease to your evening.

And to restate my advice from the last two weeks: “Just feel what you feel when you feel it.” Those huge waves of feeling that crash over you won’t last forever (they only feel that way).

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

Christine Baumgartner

Dating and Relationship Coach

The Perfect Catch

http://www.theperfectcatch.com 

WSN-MO: A FEW IMPORTANT POINTS.

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

2. Christine will NEVER have direct access to WSN-MO’s Facebook page. All postings will be facilitated through WSN-MO.

3. WSN-MO members can ask questions of Christine (even anonymously via private message to me) on our Facebook page which I will forward to her. You can also send 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 always free to do so c/o her website http://theperfectcatch.com.

Look for Christine’s advice every other Thursday.

Categories
Giving Support Grief/Dispair Healing Mental/Emotional Health Pets

An Excerpt from The Widower’s Journey: Appendix III – Support From Pets

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.

To read more… see page 187 of The Widower’s Journey. Available to all Members of WSN-MO at 15% discount. (www.widowerssupportnetwork.com/reserve-copy)

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.