While being prepped for an emergency hernia operation four months after my wife’s death, I instructed the doctors three times that I wanted a “Do Not Resuscitate” order in place. I saw this as an opportunity to rejoin my wonderful wife of 45 years.
Many hours later ― I woke up! The immediate question that came to mind was, “What the hell am I supposed to do now?” The answer that came to me was, “Damn, I guess I am supposed to live and get on with my life. There must be more for me to do here.”
Stress and emotionally traumatic loneliness had contributed to my physical and near emotional breakdown. For many widowers, our grief journey is aggravated by the fact that most men have few friends they can turn to while in this state.
Women who become widows often have a built-in support circle that includes numerous close friends, family members, workmates, and acquaintances who are willing to physically embrace them and express love and support in many ways. Men who become widowers frequently are left to fend for themselves as they often have few close friends, much less ones willing to express love and support for them.
This exacerbates the sense of loneliness and subsequent stress that can lead to severe emotional, physical, and psychological challenges such as sleeplessness, sharp mood swings, depression, suicidal thoughts, and critical health issues. It is very common for widowers to encounter life-threatening health challenges, such as my emergency hernia operation, in the first year after losing their wife.
For widowers, all of this contributes to an increasing desire for companionship, particularly female companionship. While I firmly believe this is an emotional, psychological response, the fact is there often are physical side effects ranging from impotence to constant arousal. This can cause confusion, shame, and fear of one’s sanity.
For me, the best way to deal with these effects was to re-enter the dating scene several months after losing my wife. After 45 years of rewarding marriage, this was a scary new place for me. It was challenging and at times traumatic, but I pushed my way through until my emotional, psychological balance began to re-establish itself. This, in turn, improved my health as I was getting more sleep and stressing less.
I found the female companionship I so craved, regained my confidence as a man, and learned how to re-invent myself while retaining the values and good qualities instilled in me during my 45 years of marriage. Eventually, this craving settled down to just enjoying being with women friends again.
After a period dating platonically (romance and intimacy were not the goals), I gradually found a new equilibrium in my relationships. Ultimately this led to meeting a wonderful woman (also a widow) who brings added love and joy into my life.
Counseling, participating in a men’s grief group, and the support of my family were all critically needed during this transition. I encourage all widowers to face these challenges head-on, but not by themselves. Reach out and include others (friends, family, counselors) who can provide you with feedback, support, and encouragement during what can be a long bumpy ride.