Categories
Camaraderie Giving Support Grief/Dispair Widower Awareness

Reaching for Help

An Excerpt from The Widower’s Journey (Taken from Chapter 2)

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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.

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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
Camaraderie Finding Purpose Widower Awareness

Learning From Each Other

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All widowers… you, me, the guy down the street… we all have something in common… we are going, or have gone, through hell on earth. We may have different experiences on this journey, but we also have many commonalities… especially if we were fortunate enough to have a good loving marriage.

We can support each other by sharing that which was common in our experience, as well as by sharing that which was unique to us. By seeing the different ways in which we meet our challenges, we learn that we don’t all have to do it the same way. We also learn there are many different paths to healing and to feeling whole again.

My situation was unique because of my background, culture, family, style of meeting challenges, faith, and circle of friends and acquaintances. Each of us has all of these in some unique combination, so what works for me may not work for you.

BUT, we all feel, we all loved our wives, we all go through deep and painful grieving, and we all feel like we are alone in our pain during this period. And we all come out of the experience with more empathy than we had before it. These commonalities, together with our shared experience help us to identify with and learn from each other’s experience.

We all feel as if a huge part of us has been torn away as if our very being is now incomplete. We have pain, we cry, we feel disoriented, and we have lost all sense of our place in the world. We feel lonely like we have never felt lonely before. We are desperate to have our wife back in our lives and to feel her presence again. We wander around our home lost and not knowing what to do next.

Most of us worked hard for decades to build a nest egg so that we could retire together and enjoy the fruits of our labor. We expected to outlive our wives and that our hard work would provide for her later years. Instead, we now find ourselves alone with no place to go, and in a very unfamiliar role.

It helps each to focus on gratitude for this wonderful woman who was in our lives, for the lessons we learned from her, and for the love she shared with us. As we struggle with redefining who we are we must hold on to what she instilled into us and honor how she made us a better person.

And finally, we need to discover our new purpose in life now that she is gone. That means becoming a better father, grandfather, neighbor, community member, and person. We need to learn how to turn away from negative, angry, and helpless thoughts, and turn to gratitude for the good in our lives while celebrating the wonderful memories of our past lives with our wives.

Our time left on this earth is now less than before, so the importance of making good use of our remaining years becomes even more crucial. So, I challenge all of us to ask ourselves, “What will I do with my remaining time on this earth to make it better for my children, grandchildren, community, and world? What can I do that would make my wife proud of me and what I accomplished after she was gone?”

I hope you will join me and many of our fellow widowers on this journey to healing.

Inquires can be directed to Fred Colby at colby3687@gmail.com.

Categories
Camaraderie Faith/Religion Giving Support Widower Awareness

Winning Thursday Thoughts from Jim Winner

Jim Winner

Today, WSN-MO welcomes fellow brother Jim Winner as the newest member of our editorial team. Welcome Jim. We are all looking forward to reading your insights.

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Today marks day 214 since my Joyce died. Even though she was sick for seven months, and we knew for a month, she was going to lose her battle with cancer, I had no idea of what real grief would be like. For the first three months, I seriously questioned not how I would make it through, but IF I would ever make it through. At the three month mark of her passing, I took a stack of grief books and got away for a week. Through the reading of many books, followed the prescribed journaling exercises, I came to realize I needed to stop asking the question

“WHY” and start asking the question “HOW.” None of us will ever know why our beloved wives died. That’s one of the great mysteries of life. Once I realized that things began to change for me. I began to ask myself HOW I will live the rest of my life. What will my legacy be? What will I do to live a life that honors God and honors her legacy and wishes?

The only right answer to the above question is the answer that is right for you. We’re all going down this road together, but everyone’s story is different.

In my case, the answer came in one word, service. I needed to identify and serve causes that would not only help me heal but would help others. In my case, I have discovered an avenue of service that is both important and purposeful.

Last fall, I became involved with a local food pantry in Indianapolis. It’s a pretty busy place, serving nearly 2000 clients every month. I help people shop; I empty trash, I do whatever is needed. It feels good. It feels good to know you’re putting food on people’s tables. It feels good to know you’re helping to address food insecurity issues. Every time I serve there, I come home feeling blessed at the opportunity to help others who are facing their own set of difficulties. I’ve had the chance to connect with people going through circumstances similar to mine. I’ve been able to offer and receive encouragement from many new friends. It makes me realize that as dark and challenging as my journey has been, there is an opportunity to grow and be better from it.

I’ve appreciated the many stories I’ve read on this forum. Well, I haven’t met any of you face-to-face, I believe many of our wives share the same values. I believe our wives want us to continue living our lives. I believe our wives want us to do things that matter.

Is it hard? You bet it’s hard. Nothing worth doing is that easy, is it? If you’re looking for something new to do this year, something to make you feel better, think about volunteering for a cause you respect, or something she liked. It will honor her, and it will help you as you move forward in your journey.

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Jim Winner’s Winning Thursday Thoughts will appear every other Thursday.  Jim is a member of WSN-MO and a former stockbroker and business owner. He resides in Carmel, IN and Naples, FL. You can write Jim at: jbw0802@gmail.com

Categories
Camaraderie Giving Support Grief/Dispair Widower Awareness

Why Widowed Men Are Different from Widows

Nyle Kardatzke

We widowed men have much in common with widows, our sisters in grief. Like widows, we have lost our spouses, the loves of our lives. They have had experiences of loss like ours: shock, disorientation, grief, and loneliness. We have much in common with female widows, and we can be more empathetic now. But our experiences are likely to differ from those of widows.

One reason for difference between widow-men and widows is that we are outnumbered. Because men tend to die at a younger age, there are far more widows than widow-men. I have seen estimates as high as an 8 to 1 ratio of widows to widow-men. One effect of this difference is that widows get far more attention than widow-men in books, organizations, and public understanding. The Widowers’ Support Network is one of the few resources addressed specifically to the needs of widowed men.

Perhaps it’s a result of the difference in numbers, or maybe it’s a difference in the behavior of men vs. women, but widowers seem to disappear into the woodwork soon after their wives’ funerals. I know a few widowers in my church, but their status as widowers is nearly invisible. They seem to blend in socially, almost as though they haven’t had this great loss. The presence of widows is far easier to detect.

Women tend to be more social than men, though there are many exceptions. Within marriages, wives are often the more active socialites. They make social contacts more often than men in many marriages. When a husband dies, a woman finds immediate consolation from other women, and this may become a long-term pattern. In my own church there is an ongoing monthly meeting of widows. It’s called “Lydia’s Ladies” for the woman who sold purple dye in the book of Acts. They enjoy each other’s company, grieve with new widows, support each other emotionally, and enjoy enlightening talks.

There is no equivalent to “Lydia’s Ladies” in my church, but there is a weekly meeting of widowers at a larger church nearby. The men in that group function much like the widows at my church, but it’s a much smaller group, usually a dozen or so compared to more than twenty women at Lydia’s Ladies.

Widowers are far more likely to remarry. This is partly due to numbers, but it’s probably also a matter of temperament and previous life experience. Widows seem to handle their lives alone more comfortably then widowed men. For some, this may be a grim acceptance of a lonely life; for others, remaining single may be the happiest, most gratifying form of widowed life. This is true for many widowers, of course, but we’re more likely to remarry. Even when widows participate in online dating, they often want someone to go out with rather than someone to come home to.

Cooking, cleaning, and doing laundry are differences in life experience that have equipped men and women differently for the loss of their spouses. Even in our society of gender equality, women tend to do more cooking and household upkeep than their husbands. Some widowers have done so little cooking that they are lost in the kitchen. This alone is not a good reason to hurry into a new marriage. In most American cities there is a plethora of restaurants, fast food places, and grocery stores filled with nutritious fruit, vegetables, and quick meals.

Even widows who are good cooks often say they don’t like to cook for only one. I’m convinced they feel the loneliness of eating alone but haven’t lost their ability to cook. There’s no easy remedy for this except to seek some variety in what we cook at home and how often we eat there. Eating out with a friend or inviting someone over, even for a simple meal, can inspire you to enjoy your kitchen more.

These differences between us and the female widows around us mean we live in a somewhat different world than our sisters in grief. We have to learn our own ways of living with our loss, sometimes from widows, but sometimes from our fellow widow-men here in the Widowers’ Support Network.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday beginning today. You can write Dr. Kardatzke c/o herb@widowerssupportnetwork.com

Categories
Camaraderie Giving Support Manful Emotions Widower Awareness

I Am A Widow-man

Nyle Kardatzke

When I became a widowed man, I wondered what to call myself. “Widow” is usually applied only to women, but why can’t a man be a widow? Why accept the implied accusation when you are called a “widower?” Long before I lost my wife, I rankled quietly at the term “widower,” and it still sounds like an accusation to me. If a painter is one who paints and a builder is one who builds, what is a widower? Is it someone who “widows?” Does that not sound like an accusation or a judgment? You didn’t cause your wife’s death. “Widowed” is a better term, but of course, she didn’t do this to you; it wasn’t her choice.

I know widower is the standard term for widowed men, but I’m enough of a Grammar Nazi to be bothered by it. I like to call myself merely a widow or widowed, or maybe better, a “widow-man.” Being a widow-man implies that my situation is different from that of a female widow, as I will explain in future messages here. “Widow-man” reminds me of “macho-man,” a hearty, masculine title. I hope it doesn’t resemble “girlie man” to you!

Now that I have had this little rant with you to introduce myself, I’ll calm down and accept the standard terminology. I may sneak in the “widow-man” term sometimes, and I’m asking your forgiveness in advance.

Men, we have entered a new kind of life. We are alone after a short time or perhaps after a lifetime with the woman to whom we were supernaturally bonded in marriage. Even those of us who lost our wives later in life were not prepared for this new life. Death itself is always sudden, even after a protracted illness, because it is such a complete, irreversible change. And being alone as widowed men in a world of married couples and widows is a new thing for all of us.

In future essays, I’ll explore some aspects of this new world of male widowhood. I’ve been here for nearly ten years. Perhaps I can share some things of value with you.

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Look for Dr. Kardatzke’s insights to appear in his column named after his book, “WIDOW-MAN,” every other Wednesday beginning today. You can write Dr. Kardatzke c/o herb@widowerssupportnetwork.com