Widowers are vulnerable. Very vulnerable! In fact, according to research performed by Dr. Justin Denney of Washington State University, widowed men have a 1.6 to 2.0 times the risk of death by suicide, compared to otherwise similar married men, and they’ll do so within two years of their wife’s death. Still, other research suggests the rate may be even higher. And that’s just the beginning. Widowers have an increased rate of diabetes, hypertension and more.
Widowers are at risk of being diagnosed with depression, which can negatively impact virtually every aspect of their lives. From raising children to maintaining their career, handling personal finances to ongoing relationships with others, and yes, dating, the challenges are many. Sadly, few men are equipped to handle any of these.
"If we're all going to die, why is it that we are so ill-prepared to deal with it?" said John Von Der Haar (68) who lost his wife Mary Jane in 2013. Good question.
While there is no cut and dry answer, there are clues we can point to which have contributed to the problems widowers face.
Social Norms About Men and Grieving
From the time little boys are learning to walk, they are repeatedly told how “boys don’t cry” or “Be a man!” Much like our fathers and grandfathers who came back from wars, and rarely spoke of their days in uniform, many widowed men don’t believe they are allowed to cry or grieve outside of the shadows of our society. It is as though they are seeking permission to grieve. Until they feel they can, they hold their feelings mostly to themselves, offering common phrases such as “I’m OK, just leave me alone with my thoughts.”
When family, friends, and colleagues leave a widower alone, they are contributing to the creation of an environment that is likely to make the widower’s grief more challenging to navigate. Frankly, it is the worst thing that can happen.
Widowers and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD)
Master Sergeant Chris Sweet - USAF (ret) has worked with military personnel who have been diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), the mental health condition that’s triggered by a terrifying event. When asked if he thought widowers are at risk of a PTSD diagnosis following the loss of their spouse, Sweet said, “Absolutely.”
Sweet should know, he lost his wife Danielle (30) who contracted Leukemia in 2009, after the U.S. Air Force deployed her to Afghanistan.
According to Sweet, “All of the symptoms PTSD sufferers experience are exactly what I went through following the passing of Danielle. It’s no different.”
Men need a purpose. To provide, protect and love their mate. When a wife dies, many men seem to lose their reason for living, providing the basis from which other problems can grow.
Limited Support and Resources for Widowers
With so many problems facing widowers, you would think there would be a host of self-help materials available for them. I felt so too when in 2008, I visited a large box bookstore retailer following the death of my wife, Michelle to pancreatic cancer. “Mister, we don’t have a damn thing for you.” These were the words spoken to me by the clerk after he had searched his store’s database for available titles.
The fact is, the publishing industry has abandoned men by their refusal to publish books which address the needs of men. Men don’t buy books,” multiple publishers have told me. My response: “Men certainly can’t buy what isn’t on the shelf.”
The Widower’s Journey - A Book For Widowers
For all of the reasons cited and more, I elected to leave my 38-year career in banking and dedicated my life to the comfort and support of widowers. After nine years of research and writing, I published The Widower’s Journey in 2017.
The Widower’s Journey is a self-help book for widowers and those who love them, featuring the candid advice and best practices as expressed by over forty contributing widowers. The book’s contributors hail from across America and represent a cross-section of social, economic and geographic backgrounds, as well as a variety of circumstances surrounding the passing of their wives. Supporting the contributing widowers is a team of experts from the fields of law, psychology, sociology, financial planning, religion and more.
If you are a widower, or should you know a widower that you want to comfort or assist, The Widower’s Journey is the perfect guide to give them. Available on Amazon.com in paperback and in all digital formats.
Widowers Support Network (WSN)
You will also find additional support available at Widowers Support Network, (WSN). There are four ways to access the resources WSN makes available, all of which are free.
1. “Register” on the WSN website at www.WidowersSupportNetwork.com. Loaded with helpful information, and a BLOG on its homepage where you are invited to present your personal questions or share one or more of your best practices with our community of widowers and their supporters.
2. “Like” Widowers Support Network on Facebook. Registered members on our website (#1 above) are invited to have their deceased spouse “Remembered” during the anniversary month of their passing on this Facebook page complete with your spouse's photograph.
3. Join Widowers Support Network – Members Only on Facebook. A private men’s only group page where widowers, caregivers and subject matter experts support one another. All participants must be males.
4. “Follow” us on Twitter @WidowersJourney - An excellent source for more healing resources. By completing all four steps, you will receive numerous comforting suggestions, time-sensitive grief recovery tips and best practices from widowed men and various experts. You are encouraged to write me at herb@WidowersSupportNetwork.com or by contacting my office at 615.579.8136.
About the Guest Author
Herb Knoll is an advocate for Widowers, a professional speaker and author of the breakout book, The Widower’s Journey, available at Amazon.com in paperback and all digital formats. Herb is the founder of the Widowers Support Network where all services are free.