When my wife died, one of the first things I noticed was the silence. Now there was only silence where she once had been. I especially longed to hear her voice; I still do. The house suddenly seemed large and hollow.
Soon after she died, my mind raced back to the days just before I met her forty-five years earlier. With her gone, I felt that I was alone like I was back then. I felt that I was starting my life over.
When you and I lost our wives, we were alone not only physically but also emotionally. Our friends couldn’t fully understand what had happened. Some of my friends didn’t know how to react to me and to my wife’s death. I wouldn’t have known how to respond if their wives had died. Forgive your friends if they seem to wander away from you and your loss too soon. They probably just can’t understand.
You may need a lot of solitude in the first few months after your wife’s. In the first few months after my wife died, I especially valued solitude at home. I didn’t hibernate and avoid all contact with people, but when my social and church events were over, I felt relief being surrounded only by my home. Not all grieving widow-men or widows feel this way. Some resolve their grief by travel, social activity, or volunteer work. Their aloneness gives them the freedom to do those things.
Being alone is not the same as loneliness. Loneliness comes when you feel her absence. Loneliness may rush at you when you are alone or with other people. It may seem to overwhelm you at those times. Some widow-men say they are suddenly “ambushed” by a sudden feeling of grief and loneliness.
When loneliness comes upon me, I sometimes just wait it out, or I tell myself it’s natural to sometimes feel sad at this point in life. After all, I have lost the most important person in my life. Sometimes I just make an unnecessary trip to a store to get out of the house, or I go to see someone for a short visit. Loneliness does recede, but my methods may not be yours. Find activities that turn your grief into peace. Scripture says our grief can turn to joy.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org
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.
Many of us have a natural inclination to do the things that we feel we do well. I, in many ways, have found aspects of widowhood very much like that. Last week I experienced what would have been my 19th wedding anniversary and the celebration of 25 years together with my late wife. Periodically I experience what I call one of my “sigh” days or moments. These are times when I feel a mix of sadness and extreme loneliness.
Normally on our anniversary, we would have planned to find a nice restaurant or based on how she was feeling, fix her favorite dinner as part of our celebration. Last week as I sat down in front of my McDonald’s quarter pounder with cheese and fries, I had a moment where I didn’t know whether to commiserate on how far I have fallen or embrace how single I have become. This describes an area where I find myself struggling from time to time in my life.
In many of the writings I have shared with you, I have lamented the fact that I don’t seek to find another Robyn (my wife) but am always curious about whether I will find companionship in the future. I have the pleasure of having a couple of female friends that I talk to almost every day at some point. I don’t believe that either of these relationships will develop into marriage but enjoy the conversation and the occasional company. But as I have shared with you before, the older I get, the more convinced I am that I don’t know anything about women! I knew my wife but little about women overall. When it comes to my expectations in this area, I often find myself caught in-between. It has been four and a half years since my beloved Robyn passed away, and I am no closer to solving the puzzle of what I want in a relationship than I was then.
There are certain qualities that I look for in a woman, that I am pretty sure of. However, the thought of remaining in what sometimes is the peaceful tranquility of singleness is very appealing. I don’t know if I have the patience to deal with disapproving children, judgmental family, and friends at this stage of my life. However, I find myself lonely every day and often feel like my life has a larger stage to play on than my current circumstance.
Of course, I have been afforded incredible opportunities, such as sharing my thoughts with you, my brother, twice a month. I have participated in book signings and workshops with next year looking, even more promising in this area of my life. But I often feel that there is just more out there than to settle for living a “special event” life! I find myself not enjoying these events as much as I used to, as I know I will be returning to an empty home with only SportsCenter waiting to greet me. I am not saying this to sound melancholy or even borderline pathetic, but to let you know dear brothers that finding peace is a process. I am ready to serve others through my writing and speaking and will find peace in serving others if that is what is left for me. But see, I was a very good husband and taking care and sharing this world with my wife was important to me. We had dreams and goals. We had trips to make and a few more personal goals to meet. Laughter was the background music that always played in our home even when illness tried to rob us of our joy. Taking care of my wife, providing for her and cheering for her recovery gave me a clear purpose. A purpose is what I still am searching to find peace with to this very day.
Living in-between is a frustrating place to be. It calls for patience and discipline. It calls for faith. It calls for many times, just being quiet and listening for the small still voice telling you what to write next or what project to pursue next. See, when I think about it, it’s been a long time since it has been about me.
So I am not in treading on unfamiliar ground after all. Whew! I feel better already. Wow! I am glad you have been here on the other side of these keys. Boy! I still have so much to live for! I guess I better get back to moving, because only by moving can I graduate from living in-between.
As always, I welcome your thoughts and feedback on my work. Maybe you feel that you are living in-between. Possibly you are struggling to find your purpose or as some call it, our new normal. But as the internationally known Pastor T.D. Jakes told me during a brief conversation 4 years ago. Just “keep moving brother, just keep moving”!
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 email@example.com, LinkedIn @terrell-whitener or through the Widow Support Network
When my wife passed 4 years ago, I first experienced shock and then numbness, after that anger and depression, and after that resignation and doubts about my future without her. It wasn’t until around my sixth month of grieving that I began to experience something unfamiliar to me since my 20’s and 30’s, anxiety… and I mean full-blown anxiety.
This coincided with my re-entry into life as I began to socialize again through a Meetup.com group called the Breakfast Club. I also started to date again via online dating services. My self-confidence was nearly non-existent at the beginning, so I had tremendous doubts about my ability to meet and engage with new people. Though I could put on a good front, I would go home after each meeting or date and question my every word and action. It was worse than when I was a teenager.
Soon, I met a widow whose company I really enjoyed, and who made me feel more at ease about the whole dating concept. However, I found that I would think that I had control and then would be overcome with euphoria and anxiety at alternate times (part of the hyper-emotional response). I did not have things under control. It was months before I saw how out of control I was during this period. Anxiety is a normal part of any relationship. While in a heightened hyper-emotional state, anxiety can become overwhelming and dominate your thinking day and night.
The ups and downs, the drama, and the uncertainty about what we really wanted doomed the relationship from the start. As our relationship evolved, I experienced increasing anxiety over possibly losing her, I am sure because of the recent loss of my wife. But I also had fear and anxiety about:
moving too fast,
saying the wrong thing,
how our relationship would impact my friends and family, and
her deciding it was too soon to be in a relationship again,
The anxiety only got worse as I had more trouble sleeping, causing me to spiral out of control. If you can recognize this anxiety for what it is and confront it before it ruins all your relationships, you will be way ahead of the game.
I first got some help from my therapist, and then from reading Brené Brown’s book, Daring Greatly, which challenges you to engage with your emotions and doubts, to face your fears and self-doubts, and to be vulnerable. However, this vulnerability actually led to more anxiety in some ways. I was still dwelling on past mistakes or shortcomings and fearful of what might happen in the future.
This led me to a spiritual philosopher, Eckart Tollé, whose central message is to stay in the present and turn away from worrying about the past or future. Tollé often quotes Lao Tzu: “If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present.”
Once I adopted some of his teachings that I thought useful and combined it with meditation, I began to calm down and learned just to enjoy the moment. You can find some of his talks on Youtube, which you may find helpful. Tollé is an intriguing character with a funny laugh and gentle way of speaking, but his messages often go to the core of feeling and thinking. (With someone like Tollé or Chopra, you don’t have to accept everything they say. Just take in what works for you and is in conformance with your own values and beliefs.)
Whether you decide to look up and adopt some of Eckart Tollé’s ideas or not, the key point is that I encourage you to look outside your normal belief systems and find ones that help you to deal with your grief and often resulting anxiety. Some may find solace in their religious beliefs, others may find help through meditation or yoga. When you go through the kind of trauma and grief that we all have had to do, sometimes the only way out is through a new path… one you have not tried before.
Learn to be courageous enough to try one. You may be pleasantly surprised and rewarded.
A few minutes with Dating and Relationship Coach, Christine Baumgartner
Friends Seemingly Lost
Among the many devastating changes that come with widowhood, one that often catches people entirely by surprise is the pulling away of one or more close friends.
Most married couples have a few (or many) friends who are also couples. The relationship between couples may involve:
· Going to dinner with each other regularly.
· Belonging to the same organizations.
· Doing things together with each other’s children.
· Even going on vacation with each other.
Perhaps this situation sounds familiar to you. There were friendship connections you’d had for years. And when your spouse died, some of these friends pulled away, and you don’t see them as often (or at all).
Sadly, this is not an uncommon occurrence. And, it ends up feeling like “insult added to injury” because these people could have been part of your support as you go through grief. They would be the perfect people with whom to share memories of your late spouse.
I’ve heard a variety of reasons for this kind of pulling away:
· The friends don’t know what to say. I’ve heard many people (who haven’t lost a loved one) say they’re afraid to talk to the widower about their loved one. They fear it will make you feel worse. What these friends don’t know is – if what they say is from their heart it will always be comforting, and that we who have been widowed usually can’t feel any worse by talking about our departed loved one.
· There’s a chance that the same-sex spouse may be worried their spouse might be interested in having a relationship with you. I realize this is their problem and doesn’t have anything to do with you. However, because it really does happen sometimes, I wanted to include it in this list.
· The friends don’t know how to handle your sadness. They want to move on with their life and feel happy again. Being around those of us who have been widowed may seem like a downer to them. The truth is – you may long to feel better as well, but that’s just not possible for quite a while because you’re the one whose spouse has died.
Hopefully, some of your longtime friends will stay in your life. This would be optimum. But if you start finding they aren’t as available, it’s helpful to find new friends. I realize there truly isn’t a substitute for longtime friends. However, making new friends will help you create an important new support system.
One of the places to begin, if you’re new to your grief journey, is to join a grief group. A well-respected national organization is GriefShare.org. I know that quite a few people have made friendships (and some have even found love) while attending their meetings.
Another group to explore, especially if you’re a little farther along in your journey, is meetup.com. You’ll find a wide variety of people participating in exciting activities. Look for something you already enjoy or would like to learn and attend at least three times to confirm whether or not you enjoy the events and the people attending.
Being proactive about spending time with old and/or new friends can be very helpful in your mental and emotional healing. I know this, not only through the stories of my clients but in my personal experience of widowhood as well.
Let me know if some of these ideas end up working for you. And, if you have suggestions to add, I’d love to hear about 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 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 then 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.
Recently I received the gift of a significant breakthrough in my life. But first, a little background. Fifty-two months ago, on a cold February morning, I was driving to the hospital, suitcase in tow to bring my wife home from another incident avoided. You see, I was very used to adjusting our routine with a possibly new or differing dose of medication and the signing of discharge papers. But this day would turn out different than the rest. The phone would ring in the car, and five hours later, I would leave the hospital with everything except my wife. It was over! Or was it really? In my book The First 365, I say that it was the end of one thing, but the beginning of everything else. Over the fifty-two months since that day, I have navigated many of the stages outlined by the legendary psychiatrist Elisabeth Kubler-Ross and enhanced by David Kessler. I have gone through, three of the five stages of grief that have become the cornerstone of the understanding of grief over the years.
Let me start out by saying that I was never in denial. From the time I walked in the room and did not see my wife turn toward me and the corner of her mouth turn up in the smile that always shone through the most difficult days, I knew she was gone.
I never bargained with God, as we were far too busy fighting to bargain. I was far too determined to win to tap out and bargain. No, I never cheapened the adversary of illness to bargain for a compromise.
I must admit that I was angry. Not at God for taking my wife, but at the blur of time, that I didn’t respect enough to demand that we take more vacations or the two hundred and fifty thousand more times that I failed to tell her how much I loved her. That is what I was angry about.
I even admit to depression. I often look back at the malaise that I operated in, a hollowed-out shell of my former self, searching to find a reason to give a damn again. I remember wondering if life would just be a series of stolen moments of happiness and never a constant in my life anymore.
But recently, I received the gift of moving into the realm of acceptance. Acceptance has long been a long time coming. I had some mourning to do, some growing up to do as well. Let me be very clear, I still miss my wife tremendously. I still haven’t completely closed the door on sharing my life with another person. But that relationship will not heal me, it will enhance me if it occurs. I will mourn the loss of my wife as long as I live. However, the space it takes up in my existence has settled into a healthy resting place. It has become vital to me that I emotionally allow my wife to rest in peace truly. Not that I determine that in any way but honor her by really being dedicated to living the quality life we came to know together.
This newly discovered maturity has a much more forward focused point of view than I have experienced in years. My life now consists of sharing my thoughts with my fellow widowed brothers. Starting to formulate thoughts for another book, looking forward to my son’s wedding next year, giving speeches, planning conferences, meeting new people, and discovering new ventures. I really feel relevant in a whole new way. Also, in my book, I encourage my readers to ‘do the work, it’s worth it.’ I really feel that I may be at the beginning stages of reaping the benefits of doing the work.
The wonderful thing about the Widowers Support Network * is that we are at many different stages of this journey. As I read the many posts and heartfelt welcomes and advice we extend to our brothers, I am often inspired by the sense of caring and concern shown. I am as well grieved by the pain I feel in the despair of others. For many, these words are premature, but I encourage you to believe. We will be here for you in any way we reasonably and responsibly can be. We care! If we could expedite the process, we would! Because we care that much. It is always my pleasure to share my thoughts with you all. I hope this gives hope to some and inspires others. I genuinely have rediscovered that I still love my life. It has been a life of many twists and turns, but as I said during a recent speaking engagement, ‘It’s just life.’
(* WSN also offers a FBook page just for men at Widowers Support Network – Members Only.)
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 firstname.lastname@example.org, LinkedIn @terrellwhitener or through the Widow Support Network.
It’s important to have a ‘lifeboat’ prepared for those hard times.
In a recent post, I talked about how I like to visualize my mood as a buoy in the sea. There have been times in my life when ocean waves would wash over my buoy, but then it would always pop back up. When my husband died, my buoy went complete under the water and when it finally came up again, it was listing on its side.
I’ve talked to lots of folks who use ocean imagery to describe their emotions. People talk about huge, scary waves breaking over them as they stand in the surf. Or how they’re feeling lost at sea, and desperate for some kind of lifeboat.
We all have hard things happen in our lives. How do we keep from drowning?
First of all, let’s talk about life triggers that can cause the waves to come. For example:
Breaking up with a significant other.
Death of a family member or friend.
The overwhelm from the waves is particularly hard when we’re vulnerable. For example:
In the middle of the night.
When we’re alone (and lonely).
After some kind of crisis happens in our day (doesn’t even have to be large).
I’ve learned by experience that, when I’m doing well, that’s the time to prepare my lifeboat (or repair my buoy). Then, it will be ready when the stormy seas arrive.
People ask me, “What should I do to prepare my lifeboat?” Here are some of the suggestions I’ve given over the years:
Call a trusted friend.
Call your therapist/sponsor
Go for a walk.
Take a bath.
Go to bed early.
Watch a movie (happy, funny, sad, intriguing, suspenseful – depending on what works best for your need).
These are the lifeboat supplies I’ve used and suggested to my clients. I hope they’re helpful for you too. I’d also love to hear what supplies you’ve put in your lifeboat.
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.
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.
From as far away as Australia to the British Isles, from Canada to Nigeria, the Widowers Support Network hears the cries of men who mourn the loss of their wife, their soul mates, their partners in life. Widowed men don’t ask for much, never have, never will. After all, men who mourn are expected to “get over it,” right? You know, be a man. Macho if you will. Unfortunately, that’s not the way it was meant to be.
It is said that to grieve, you first must have loved. For without love, grief does not exist. To have loved is among life’s greats joys. As such, it is unrealistic to think one who once loved doesn’t grieve when it is lost. And with grief, comes sorrow, tears, fright, despair, pain, loneliness, depression, aimlessness, and more. Each of these behaviors is dangerous. At times, life-threatening. Yet for some reason, widowed men continue to be held to a different set of expectations vs. widows when they experience the loss of their beloved spouse.
Following a speaking engagement in Connecticut, it hit me. “Men don’t think they have permission to grieve.” This is why they retreat to the shadows of our communities to mourn in private, many in total despair, for they wish not to be viewed as less of a man, then society would have them be. How sad for the widowers of the world; our fathers, brothers, uncles, nephews, grandfathers, neighbors, and colleagues.
In the Gospel of John (John 11:1–44), we learned of the story of Jesus’ dearest friend, Lazarus of Bethany, also known as Saint Lazarus or Lazarus of the Four Days. Jesus loved Lazarus. When Jesus wept after he learned of Lazarus’ passing. So painful was Jesus’ loss, he decided to perform one of his most prominent of miracles in which he restored Lazarus to life four days after his death. For those of the Christian faith (and I invite others as well), ask yourself; does anyone see Jesus as less of a man for his tears? Jesus’ reaction to the loss of his beloved friend reinforces the view that grieving is a natural extension of one’s love for another.
As we approach Christmas when all of the Christian world celebrates the birth of the Christ child, and presents are so bountiful, do so with a new awareness of the plight of the widowed man. You may know a widower who you are contemplating purchasing a gift. But what does one gift to a widower? The answer lies in this article.
From around the world, widowers have shared with me a listing of the gifts they would truly love to receive. Don’t worry about the cost. The presents widowers seek won’t cost a nickel.
Proactive Steps to help get you through the holidays
Last week I talked about the holiday season and widowhood:
About the widower who says with tears in his eyes, “Christmas was always her thing”.
About the grieving widow who tells me “he was such a big part of our family’s Hanukkah traditions”.
Depending on how long it’s been since your spouse passed away, your feelings are possibly still pretty raw. Especially in that first year when you’re probably in a fog. Perhaps the “first” holiday season is the most overwhelming, but I found I was still floundering on my second and third.
Not feeling sad around the holidays might not be an option for you. However, not feeling sad every minute of every day might be an option.
Some wisdom I learned along the way… if something funny happens (especially some of the black humor that comes with widowhood), go ahead of laugh. It’s not disrespectful, and it can be good for your soul.
If you momentarily forget your spouse is gone because your child or grandchild does something so cute, that’s okay and normal. And then, if your feelings of sadness come slamming back because you wish your spouse was here to see that cute thing they did, that’s normal too.
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. Here are things I found worked for me over the years.
Plan to go to someone else’s home, perhaps a very close friend or family member. Pick someone who you know will be okay with you talking and crying and laughing (sometimes all at the same time) about how you’re feeling.
Go out to dinner. It’s important to pick a restaurant where nothing will remind you of past holidays and other memories.
Contact a local retirement home or assisted living facility. Ask them if you can volunteer there. Giving to others can sometimes make our own hearts feel a little less heavy. You will also understand their pain if they too have lost a spouse.
Go on a trip locally or far away (once again pick a place that won’t remind you of past holidays). Staying at a hotel can give you a way of not feeling like you’re trying to have or not have your normal traditions at your house.
And to restate my advice from last week: “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.