Categories
Emotional Suppression Grief/Dispair Loneliness

Widowers Need To Step Out of The Shadows and Into the Light of Day

By Herb Knoll

Author: The Widower’s Journey

Grieving men are misunderstood. And for a good reason. After all, men don’t believe they have permission to grieve in the first place. When a man experiences a loss, they frequently resort to their primitive behaviors, suggesting to those who will listen, “I’m fine,”  Oh really?  Is that why you sit in front of your TV, endlessly watching programming you have little to no interest in watching, frequently falling asleep in your darkened home, and your half-finished pre-fab frozen dinner resting on your belly. Is that how you define “fine?” I can relate.

For months following the passing of my wife, I would go to work at the headquarters of the bank at which I worked at 4AM (banks don’t open until 9AM).  Upon my arrival, I would tune in my favorite radio station that played one love (sad) song after another. I was usually the last to leave the bank about 7PM, just in time to get home to another tasteless meal I stockpiled in my freezer, just to do it all again the next morning. This went on for four months until one day, a young female staff member entered my office with an important message for me. “The entire floor misses your laughter.” WHOA!  Say that again. My wake-up call had arrived. My behavior following the passing of my wife was precisely like that which I now routinely witness in others as I lead the Widowers Support Network. 

It’s as though grieving men become comfortable in their grief, seldom accepting invitations to join others attending a gathering of one sort or another, refusing to see a doctor when they experience aches and pains, including what they know to be behaviors symptomatic of one who is depressed and is at risk. Yet they will continue offering lame phrases in their own defense. Some believe they can’t expose their vulnerability and are waiting to be rescued. One widowed man once said to me, “It’s not manly to talk with you about my grief.” How sad.  

J. Scott Janssen, MSW, writing for Social Work Today offers, “I’ve known plenty of men who fit the stereotype: emotionally controlled, disinclined to talk about matters of the heart, as apt to seek out solitude as connection, focusing on action rather than talk.” Janssen adds, “there is evidence that men are more likely than women to remain silent or grieve in isolation, engage in action-oriented forms of grief expression, or lose themselves in distractions such as work or throwing themselves into a new relationship. And you have to know, more than one man has become the victim of a predator woman. 

Given time, many widowers will relive portions of their past life with their wife, including the days they served as caregivers, mentally cataloging all of the ways they failed their deceased wife, convinced she left this world thinking their husband must not have loved them. Guilt sets in… giving the widower even more reasons to cocoon, almost barracking themselves behind the draped covered windows of their home.

Yes, widowed men practice 1cocooning, a term coined in 1981 by futurist and best selling author Faith Popcorn; defined as “staying inside one’s home, insulated from perceived danger, instead of going out.” Widowed men will frequently retreat to the confines of their fortresses (aka residences), opting to “tough it out alone.”  

Men electing to cocoon place themselves at risk, of isolationism from critically needed relationships and significant health risks, increasing the likelihood of self-abuse, including the use of alcohol, legal or ill-legal drugs, and more.  As if those risks were not enough, research has shown how 65% of widowed men and women are likely to have a life-threatening illness within one year of their spouse’s death. Still, more research suggests how widowers have a suicide rate 3-4 times that of married men. Beneath these risks is the notion, many widowed men hold that their new life is devoid of relevance

Widowers and those who are concerned about a widower who may be cocooning have several options they can call upon while in search of answers.

When widower John Von Der Haar was asked, “What was the best thing that happened to you during your grief journey?,” John replied, “When I told my family and friends, ‘I’m fine, leave me alone with my thoughts, they ignored my instructions and forced their way into my life and I am so grateful they did.’” Friends and family take note: don’t let a widower cocoon.  Force your way into their life if necessary. 

Commenting in my book, The Widower’s Journey, Dr. Deborah Carr of Boston University said, 

2 “The importance of social support cannot be overstated; for widowhood as well as many other stressors we face in life, having a confidante – even just one close friend – can do a world of good.”  Carr continued, “Both close-knit friendships and confidantes can be useful for heart-to-heart talks, but we also benefit from more-casual acquaintances that are just fun.  These can be clubs, men’s groups, sports teams, and the like.” As an example, my stepson, Jacques (23 years of age at the time), and I went to a minor league baseball game with my colleagues from the Farm Bureau Bank.

Not only are activities great for social contact but they can also be a great way to establish a new identity or rediscover an old identity that might have been put on the shelf while the widower was caring for their dying wife.  For instance, widower Keith Merriam got back into the Society for Creative Anachronism, an international history group that studies and recreates Medieval European cultures and their histories. Keith also sought out and joined a community theater group.  If you enjoy painting, take an art class.  Love to read? Join a book group. Athletic? Find a softball or basketball league you can join.

Other recommended options are for you to volunteer in support of the efforts to help others stricken with the same ailment your wife suffered from. Help organize a walk/run to raise needed research funds or visit hospital rooms of those who have no one to visit them.

Still struggling with the notion of venturing beyond your front door, let your supporters know you would welcome their involvement in discovering what works for you. Remember, allowing someone else into your life, allowing them to be of service, helps them grieve too.

If you find yourself barricaded behind your four walls still, you may want to see your primary physician as you may suffer from a medical condition that requires attention. Enroll in a grief group like GriefShare.  Their program is widely available across America.  If you’re a bit shy, consider viewing Walking Through Grief, an educational nine-disc DVD series offering hope to the bereaved that you can watch in the privacy of your cocoon. See www.thegrieftoolbox.com.   

But whatever you do, cocooning widowers need to get up off their sofas, open their blinds and walk outside. 

  1. Wikipedia
  2. The Widower’s Journey 

Herb Knoll is a retired banking executive, an advocate for Widowers, professional speaker and author of the breakout book, The Widower’s Journey.  Available at Amazon.com in paperback and in all digital formats. Herb is the founder of the Widower’s Support Network (WidowersSupportNetwork.com) featuring the Widowers Support Network Members Only, a private Facebook group page for men only, and a second Facebook page which is open to the general public at Widowers Support NetworkContact Herb at herb@WidowersSupportNetwork.com.     

Categories
Emotional Suppression Grief/Dispair Mental/Emotional Health

Widower: Healthy vs. Unhealthy Grief

Fred-18

If you love someone and you lose them, you are going to grieve… there is no getting around it!

But, is there a way to grieve that is healthy for you? Or a way that is unhealthy? Based on my own experience and what I have heard from hundreds of widower, the answer is a YES!

To put it bluntly, we NEED to grieve to acknowledge our loss, to express our love for our lost companion, to honor them, and to process all the resulting emotions, physical effects, and psychological impacts.

Almost all of us will experience both the healthy and unhealthy aspects of grieving. The following explains what I mean “healthy grieving” and “unhealthy grieving:

Healthy Grieving can include:

  • Crying, sobbing, and even screaming at times
  • Physical pain such as feeling like someone punched you in the stomach
  • Sleeplessness, anxiety, anger, fear, doubts
  • A need to tell you and your wife’s story over and over again
  • Trying to fill every moment with activities to avoid your grief
  • Extreme loneliness, and a feeling of abandonment
  • A craving for companionship to fill this void
  • Impotence or constant arousal
  • A desperate need for answers, some explanation of why her and why now?

Unhealthy Grieving can include:

  • Guilt or Regret over things like:
    • I should have known she was ill sooner.
    • We should have gotten her better and earlier treatment.
    • I could have made her last days more comfortable.
    • Inconsiderate statements you made.
    • Why didn’t I spend more time with her before her passing?
    • Why didn’t I show her more love while she was with me?
    • Did I give her too much morphine during her last day(s)?
  • Condemning yourself for her illness or death.
  • Feeling bad about still being alive, wondering why she went first.
  • Always agonizing over mistakes made during your marriage.
  • If and when you start to think about having new relationships with other women, you may have second thoughts about yourself, how she would feel about it, etc.
  • Drinking too much or taking drugs to try and forget (this only makes the grieving worse)
  • Increasing your isolation from those who love and care about you
  • Making significant decisions (e.g., re-marrying, moving, major financial decisions, etc.) too soon before your psycho-emotional state is more balanced and able.

Most of us will experience some of both categories of grieving. The degree to which we experience each will in part determine how long we grieve, whether we drive everyone away from us, and how angry and unreceptive we are to accepting help from others.

The “healthy” grieving elements are absolutely needed for us to process our grief, while the “unhealthy” elements only make our grief more painful, more long-lasting, and less healing.

Unhealthy grief can lead to self-condemnation and a downward spiral of repeatedly revisiting all of the negative thoughts. Anger and depression can then dominate your thoughts and prevent you from healing and re-engaging with life again. This can lead to wallowing in your grief, to striking out at those who are trying to help you, and even to suicidal thoughts.

If you want to engage in life again if you’re going to heal… then it is up to you to identify the “healthy” aspects of grieving and embrace those elements, while also recognizing the “unhealthy” elements and weeding those out of your thoughts. Healthy grieving will help you to maintain your relationships, to build new relationships, to re-engage with life, and to find new purpose and meaning for our life.

However, if you continue to struggle, I strongly encourage you to do as I did… reach out to others, visit with a grief counselor, and attend Men’s Grief Groups if they are available.

Categories
Emotional Suppression Mental/Emotional Health Moving Forward

MOVING FORWARD

Christine-14

MOVING FORWARD

When widows and widowers try to move forward with life, a multitude of feelings can suddenly make themselves known. These feelings vary a lot, depending on personality and situation. Here are some examples. See if any of these apply to you.

Completely stuck

You have the best intentions, but repeatedly find yourself stuck. You don’t feel like there’s any hope. You don’t have any moments when it’s “not awful.” 

My heart goes out to you. It must be such a terrible feeling to have to keep living this way. When I talk with people in situations like this, I often recommend grief counseling. I’ll also ask (very gently) for them to imagine how their deceased spouse would feel seeing them in this hard place. What would he/she recommend?

Avoiders.

You believe you should try never to feel bad. You don’t want to dwell on it. You put enormous effort into carrying this off, with the idea that it’s best to do things this way. 

Again, my heart goes out to you, because I know how hard this can be on your overall health. It also makes it difficult for others to be around you (especially those who loved him/her as well). Bottom line, everyone (including you) needs to be able to express their true and honest feelings. And, unfortunately, you can’t cut off an emotion (like sadness) and still keep the other feelings (like happy ones). You’ll find that your enjoyment of life eventually leaves. 

I tell my clients to “practice” trying out sadness for short periods. You could decide “I’m going to feel awful for two hours,” and go watch a movie that will make you cry for two hours. Or, you could set a timer for an hour and think about the happy things (that now make you sad) that you celebrated over the years. For example, your marriage ceremony, kids, milestones, anniversaries. Then set a timer and do something that you know will bring you pleasure for a specific amount of time. Go for a walk, call a friend or family member, play music (and dance or sing along), or watch a funny movie. 

These exercises are all about finding balance through the emotional journey in your widowhood.

Doubters

You’ve taken steps forward, but then you have a bad afternoon. You ask yourself, why do I still feel bad? You start to doubt your previous growth and your future stability.

I tell my clients that this is pretty normal. After all, your spouse/partner died!

As an example, I’ll tell you about Bea (not her real name). Her husband of 70 years died a year ago. She has been able to rekindle her interest in life (hobbies, social events, children). But, last month, she was walking by their bedroom and was overwhelmed with sad feelings. She says to me, “Isn’t that weird?” I tell her it’s completely normal. After 70 years with someone and then one year without them, we’d all wonder if you weren’t sad now and then.

I do tell people to pay attention to these periods of sadness. How often do they occur (once a day, twice a week)? How long does each one last? Is it affecting your overall quality of life? You can review this with a trusted friend. Together you can decide if (and when) you might need some outside help.

Handling memories.

Are you someone who is wondering about memories? How to “bring them with you” without them becoming a ball and chain that drags you down? Doing this can make you feel like you’re trying to move forward with a big weight. But it doesn’t have to be a big weight.

A couple of examples from friends and clients:

  • A widow and widower who have now become a couple just moved into a new house. On their fireplace mantle is the urn of her deceased husband and an urn of his deceased wife.
  • A widower who has a special “memory” table in his house. It contains her urn, pictures of her, and mementos of their life together. It means a lot to him. He asked, “Do I have to put this away when I start dating?” My answer: Only put your physical memories away when you’re ready. Also, when you find the right person for you, having those memories on your table won’t matter to them at all. 

Taking personal inventory.

Did you find descriptions of yourself as you read this? If so, I’d love to hear from you.

Hopefully, you now realize what a wide range of feelings shows up in widowhood. And that staying aware of how you’re handling your emotions is one of the best ways to ensure you’ll have a high quality of life. 

Categories
Emotional Suppression Giving Support

Boy’s Don’t Cry…right? WRONG! And That’s Okay

by Herb Knoll

Author: The Widower’s Journey 

From the time little boys are first able to walk, in some cases even before they can walk, parents begin shaping the psyche of their sons by telling them, “Boys don’t cry. ” Oh really… who says so? Whoever it was, they should be picked up and prosecuted for the harm they have imposed on to men, young and old alike.     

Who among us doesn’t know a man who when faced with a painful situation such as the loss of a spouse or life partner, turned to tears, only to quickly apologize for having shed them? Why is it society holds men to a different set of emotional standards vs. women?  

Men Do Not Believe They Have Permission To Grieve.

A few years back I was asked to lead a widowers grief seminar in Connecticut.  The audience comprised mostly of retired widowers gathered to share their grief.  Suddenly, the room took on a life of its own.  Once presented with an environment in which they were permitted to express their sorrow, the participants opened up with both barrels. There before me, a gentleman who lost his wife nearly two years earlier cried openly, and he screamed his loving words of sorrow about his loss and did so in front of men he didn’t even know.  I witnessed another attendee, reach out to the crying gentlemen with gestures and words laced with warmth and understanding about the pain a widower may experience.  

Immediately following the dynamic exchange, it came to me. Men do not believe they have permission to grieve.  At least not in a public forum or where their ego-strength may go into harm’s way.  After all, they are men.  And men aren’t supposed to cry for to do so would raise the critical eye of family, friends, colleagues, fellow parishioners at their house of worship and even strangers.  Employers may suspect a man who cries is weak, and can not be trusted with select responsibilities. Sadly, the careers of some men have suffered for this very reason.    

When Ashley Altus of the Baylor Lariat asked Baylor University’s Dr. Mark Morman, “How are boys forced to prove their masculinity in today’s society?” Morman replied: “The obvious is control your emotions, don’t be seen as emotional, don’t be seen as open, vulnerable, keep it under control.”  Dr. Morman went on to say how even the jobs we pursue as men reinforce our identity with those… “kinds of masculine things.” 

Not surprisingly, the double standard society applies to the behaviors of men vs. those they hold for women is not as prevalent among younger males. Clearly, baby-boomers and perhaps those generations that immediately followed are more likely to keep the belief that men should clothe their tears in what shadows are available. Suppression of one‘s emotions has been a long-standing behavior adopted by most men.  Seclusion is another; where men who are grieving opt to remain out of the public eye, adopting a lifestyle of cocooning within the confines of their home, rarely venturing out where they could risk embarrassment should let their emotions be stimulated by a triggered memory.   

Charles Dickens once said, “Heaven knows we need never be ashamed of our tears, for they are rain upon the blinding dust of earth, overlying our hard hearts.” Dickens wrote this in 1861.  Yet, over 150 years later, there remain those, including members of our own families who shy away from a man whose grief transitioned to tears running down his cheek.    

“Get Over It!” 

An excellent example of this occurred when a friend encouraged me to contact a local veterans organization whose membership included many widowers. As I outlined the programs and materials available from my ministry, the group’s program director, himself a widower interrupted to say, “I’m a widower, and I got over it. They’re just going to have to get over it on their own.” Huh!  Widowed members of his veterans organization are grieving their loss, and his only offer of support is to tell them to “get over it.” Old habits die hard. 

Men Have A Place Where Crying Is Viewed As Manly 

Among the communications channels employed by the Widowers Support Network are its website, WidowersSupportNetwork.com and two Facebook pages. The first Facebook page is titled Widowers Support Network.  After a couple of years, I noted how this Facebook page attracted both men and women alike, but it was the women who were commenting and contributing the most.  That caused me to establish the second Facebook page.  Its title is Widowers Support Network – Members Only or WSN-MOWSN-MO is a private members only page for men who are either widowed or are serving as caregivers for seriously ill spouses or life-partners.  First opened in March 2018, today WSN-MO is approaching nearly 500 registered members from 19 countries including the United States, England, India, Nigeria, Canada, France, Australia and beyond. It did so without the help of any advertising; instead, membership grew organically, a direct result of referrals made by WSN-MO’s members.  WSN-MO boasts members from all walks of life and social and economic backgrounds. From corporate officers and laborers, truck drivers to retirees, young professionals to military officers (including a couple generals) no one is denied membership. On WSN-MO, all who grieve are treated equally.  

On WSN-MO, grown men cry, and they do so daily and openly. And they do so without the risk of ridicule from their fellow widower. Instead, they are encouraged to express their most private of feelings and emotions, this they do without hesitation. Members speak of their sorrow, their regrets, their failed dreams, and their cherished memories. To my delight, the brothers (the title they use to refer to one another) run to the emotional aid of those who may be having a bad day. They also laugh, kid one another, share memories and stay up to date on sports, cooking for one, personal finances, dating and so much more.  Best practices are routinely shared, and no topic is off limits. When one member celebrates a win in life, no matter how small, they all take a bow. And no one is shunned for their manly tears… for to cry is first to have loved.  At the Widowers Support Network – Members Only on Facebook, men of all ages have permission to grieve… and to shed a tear if they wish to do so.   

Herb Knoll is a retired banking executive, an advocate for Widowers, a professional speaker and author of the breakout book, The Widower’s Journey.  Available at Amazon.com in paperback and in all digital formats. Herb is the founder of the Widower’s Support Network (WidowersSupportNetwork.com) featuring the Widowers Support Network Members Only, a private Facebook group page for men, and a second Facebook page which is open to the general public at Widowers Support NetworkContact Herb at  herb@WidowersSupportNetwork.com.  4

Attention Widowers and Men who serve as Caregivers

Apply today to join the Widowers Support Network – Members Only (WSN-MO) on Facebook. WSN-MO is a FREE private page exclusively open to MEN who have lost their wife or life-partner; men who are currently serving as caregivers for a seriously ill spouse or life-partner; and other good-hearted men who wish to help assist and comfort them.  

Copyright 2019  Widower’s Support Network