Herb Knoll’s reasons for writing
The Widower’s Journey
Helping Men Rebuild after the Loss of Their Great Love
SUMMARY: Immediately following the passing of Michelle Rene Knoll in March 2008, her husband Herb Knoll looked for help in dealing with his grief. To his surprise, little was available, even from his church, from the self-help book shelves of the local Barnes and Noble store or online. It was then Knoll decided to begin writing a book to comfort and assist Widowers with their grief. The book’s title…The Widower’s Journey.
To read the complete story behind the events leading up to Herb Knoll’s decision to write The Widower’s Journey. (See below).
“She’s gone.” These were the words a nurse spoke to inform me of the passing of my wife of sixteen years, Michelle Renee Knoll on March 7, 2008. Suddenly, the reality of the moment hit me. I was going to live the balance of my life in a very different state…that of being a widower.
A short three hours later, I found myself walking to my car in San Antonio’s Methodist Hospital park ramp. A walk that was by far the loneliness stroll of my life. I was 57 years old, a successful bank executive who was financially secure, yet I found the uncertainty of becoming a widower to be daunting at best. So many facets of my life were about to change. The prospect of living alone with no one to make small talk with, to discuss life with or to love flooded every cell in my body with emptiness.
I quickly realized I wouldn’t be able to manage the new challenges which faced me like I would a project assigned to me by my superior at the bank I worked for. I wasn’t going to be able to call for a “timeout in life” while I took an inventory of my surroundings and developed a response plan to counter the emotional and physical bombardment I had endured for 39 months during Michelle’s fight against cancer. I couldn’t delegate this problem to a junior staff member or a contract vendor. Not this time. Becoming a widower was mine and mine alone to deal with. And doing so would not come easily. I knew…the next phase of my life would be laced with many challenging questions and few obvious solutions.
My twenty-three year old stepson Jacques needed my help coping with the loss of his mother. Having had two previous open heart surgeries, Jacques would need my full attention. I recognized how my career could not be placed on hold much longer as my employer had already been more than generous with the time he afforded me to care for my ailing wife. I found myself dealing with not only the loss of a spouse…but the loss of the life I had…and the world as I knew it.
Going forward, everything would be different. Sure my family and friends were there for me…some more than others. And my colleagues at the bank at which I worked did their best to support me…but it seemed to me everyone became a bit guarded when speaking with me. Many simply didn’t know what to say or how to act around me. I noticed I wasn’t included in some activities or discussions I normally would have been included in. I also noticed how I wasn’t in the mood to laugh or be social.
Ten days after my wife’s passing, I returned to work. It was St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2008. Late that first morning, while seated in my corner office on the second floor of our bank’s headquarters in San Antonio, Texas, the bank officer walked into my office. As I looked up to greet him, he noticed I had tears in my eyes. Not knowing what to say (I’m assuming), he simply turned around and walked out of my office closing the door behind him. A mental note was taken.
As I drove home following my first day back to work, I knew my home would be notably different this time. I didn’t realize how right I was. As I exited my car, I suddenly experienced a sharp pain on my left side causing me to fall to the ground. I immediately knew I was in trouble. My son Jacques saw me buckled over in obvious pain and immediately helped me to his car. To this day, I think he set a new land speed record getting me to the hospital.
I can’t afford to lose two parents in one week’s time.
– Jacques Everly
With Jacques at my side and the doctors hovering over me, I heard Jacques say… “I can’t afford to lose two parents in one week’s time.” How poignant. What must my son be going through? I knew I had to survive so I could help him with his own grieving. As it turned out, I had a nasty kidney stone which was removed surgically four hellish days later.
Shortly after my return to work the second time, a female colleague of mine approached and asked a few probing not to mention personal questions which I found to be a bit peculiar at the time. She then surprised me by suggesting how she wanted to introduce me to her aunt. My wife’s memorial service had not yet taken place yet a well-intentioned bank employee was attempting to fix me up with her aunt. Are you kidding me?
It was then that I realized how most people didn’t know what to say or how to interact with a widower. The bank’s officer who walked out of my office when he saw the tears in my eyes because he either wanted to provide me with privacy or perhaps… he just didn’t know what to say or do. Having given his actions – or lack thereof – more thought, it occurred to me how if I had been a widow crying in my office when he walked in, he may have offered me a tissue or perhaps a glass of water to comfort me. His words may have sounded something like: “Are you ok? Can I get you something?”
The fact is, it’s easier to comfort a woman. The western world – and perhaps elsewhere – people are more at ease comforting women vs. men. Men are viewed as the hunters and providers. Men are expected to put their big boy pants on and shake-off any loss they may have experienced regardless of the venue or circumstances. And witnessing men cry just isn’t what people in the western world are comfortable viewing. Upon seeing a man cry, most people, men and women alike experience some degree of awkwardness, not knowing what to say so they usually just look away or they find reason to leave the room.
Following my wife’s passing, I received a package from MetLife which included the proceeds of her life insurance policy and some marketing materials designed to encourage me to consider investing Michelle’s life insurance proceeds in a MetLife annuity. But there was one major flaw in MetLife’s materials. The agent who sent the package to me used a glossy stock marketing folder with a woman pictured on the cover. The woman looked lost and alone staring into the sky but apparently seeing very little…clearly alone in her thoughts. MetLife sent me a collateral piece designed to be received by widow. But I’m not a widow. I’m a widower.
As a longtime believer in the mental health field and self-improvement materials, I knew what I needed to do to ensure my new life was headed in the right direction. To that end, and having been raised as a Roman Catholic, I reached out to the Roman Catholic Dioceses of San Antonio in search of some form of grief counseling. Given the size of the Catholic population in the San Antonio area, I was certain they would have a program to offer. To my dismay, they had nothing. Let me repeat…NOTHING. I was facing the most difficult stage of my life…and my church was not able to help me. To say I was disappointed would be an understatement.
I don’t have a damn thing for you.
-Barnes & Noble
I wasn’t about to give up my search for help. Off I travelled to the local Barnes & Noble book store. “Do you have any books for new widowers?” I asked of the clerk. The attendant typed my inquiry into his computer terminal following which he looked up at me and said, “Mister…I don’t have a damn thing for you.” Again…I was shocked. The clerk then suggested we go over to the self-help book shelves and see what we could find. As we panned the various available titles, the clerk offered, “As you can see, there are a lot of books here for widows but not a single title for widowers.” He went on to say how there may be some individual chapters in some of these books about grieving which may apply to my situation but there are no books exclusively written for widowers.
As I left Barnes & Noble that day, I decided I needed to write the book I would eventually title as The Widower’s Journey. Subsequently I did discover a few titles on the internet which speak to the needs of widowers, some of which were written by individual widowers offering their own accounting of their personal experiences. But there is little else available for men and certainly nothing available which was researched and written in a fashion even remotely close to what The Widower’s Journey will offer.
Widowers come in many forms. From a gentlemen who loses his wife suddenly from a heart attack or perhaps a car accident to one who loses his wife following a long and painful illness. Each are widowers and the fashion in which they became a widower as well as the amount of time they were afforded to ready themselves for the eventual passing of their wife will impact their recovery and grieving processes. In today’s world, and this is a new phenomenon for the United States, men lose their spouses when their wives join the military and are killed in combat. Still others are lost…yet they live among us. This occurs when a man’s wife develops Alzheimer’s. It doesn’t matter the age when a man becomes a widower. And it doesn’t matter whether the man and his wife were recently married or were married for fifty years or more. Becoming a widower is always painful.
Widowers are vulnerable. It is during the days immediately following a man’s becoming a widower that he can find himself to be over sensitive and misinterpet othewise well intended comments of others, resulting in damage to important relationships such as those he holds with family and friends. In some cases, careers can be harmed, perhaps even permanently. Some unethical people prey or in some way take advantage of new widowers. Many veteran widowers remain vulnerable for years if not forever. This is especially true in cases when the deceased wife handled most of the household’s financial affairs prior to her passing. The critical opportunity for widowers is in how they navigate the treacherous waters which surround them. The Widower’s Journey will demonstrate how its contributing widowers faced these deep currents, thereby allowing the reader to avoid the mistakes of those who preceded him in becoming a widower.
All Widowers possess a sense of faternity with one another.
The Widower’s Journey will present, in an easy-to-read format, the profiles of a select group of widowers, featuring real-life situations and challenges the widower faced and the lessons they learned in the process. Commenting on these lessons will be the concise summaries offered by The Widower’s Journey’s team of Subject Matter Experts. The Widower’s Journey will provide its readers action steps which they may then elect to employ as they address the challenges they face. With the help of the easy to use INDEX, readers will be able to identify the profiles of men who experiences parallel their own feelings or situations at a given moment. Reading the widower profiles contained in The Widower’s Journey will move its readers into a sense of fraternity with those who graciously provided their experiences for their collective benefit.
Excerpts: The Widower’s Journey profiles will include the story of one man from Buffalo, New York who was so lost without his bride at his side, he laid down on a sofa and died within 27 hours of his wife’s passing. Family and friends alike were not at all surprised to learn how this widower died of a broken heart. The Widower’s Journey will share with you the loving story of a gentleman who was in his 80s when he cared for his ailing wife’s every need since she was unable to do anything for herself. From bathing her to feeding her, this brave and loving husband provided for his wife’s complete care for the last three years of her life. Yet, when speaking with this widower a few months following his wife’s passing he offered how he would gladly do it again… beginning tomorrow if only he could have her back again.
Some have asked me why it has taken me five years to truly begin writing The Widower’s Journey. In actuality, I wasn’t ready. I wasn’t ready to revisit the pain so soon following the passing of Michelle. I wasn’t emotionally ready to engage the deep thought writing The Widower’s Journey would require. As described above, I knew early on how I needed to write The Widower’s Journeyin order to serve those who would eventually join the least desirable of all clubs…that of becoming a widower. And because I knew I would eventually write The Widower’s Journey , I began gather information to include in this important work. Stories offered to me by other widowers were most beneficial. Spending some time with my own memories and my own thoughts of what I would do differently helped me crystallize my own views.
Schools don’t teach “WIDOWER 101” But we can learn from others.
– Herb Knoll
I needed to learn what others have not… how to engage a widower… how to serve them. None of us ever completed a class titled: WHAT TO DO WHEN YOU BECOME A WIDOWER 101. Frequently, widowers don’t know what to do… and with the way our culture treats widowers today, it is difficult for a widower to find the answers they seek or learn of the best-practices of other widowers which could help them.
Over the past five years, I have spoken at length with many people about my intentions to write The Widower’s Journey . As a result, many people I have spoken with have indirectly contributed to The Widower’s Journey by way of their consoling the widower in me. I learned from the sage lessons they offered, lessons you will find laced throughout The Widower’s Journey .
The Widower’s Journey explores the experiences of a large pool of widowers, each were asked to complete a comprehensive survey followed by a telephone interview. The survey responses as well as the notes taken from the telephone interviews were studied, analyzed and compiled. Where appropriate, members of the Widower’s Support Network were offered their professional recommendations. This process alone made the writing of The Widower’s Journey unique.
With first hand accounts from contributing widowers written in an easy-to-read format, The Widower’s Journey is sure to provide the reader with invaluable assistance during what can be extremely difficult times.
While all widowers mourn the loss of their wives, The Widower’s Journey is not a book about the wives they have lost. Rather… it is a book about widowers and the lives their wives would have wanted him to live after their passing.