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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org