With Phyllis Silverman, PhD
A journalist and a social worker explore the grief process as men experience it. The book contains the oral histories of twenty men, ranging in age from 30 to 94, who have lost their wives to a range of causes including cancer, alcohol, murder and suicide.
Taken together the stories guide the reader through the journey of widowhood, from the raw despair of the early weeks to the resolved perspective thirteen years later, offered by the only true authority on the subject—the men who have survived it.
Each story is followed with a psychological analysis of the grieving process as reflected in that man's experience and with practical advice to widowers and to the people around them for coping with the loss.
Losing a spouse is at the top of the list of life's most stressful events. It is the event by which all other stressful events are measured. It is more than the fact that you have lost a friend and companion and mate, more than the fact that you are now single in a coupled society, more than the fact that you have lost a caretaker and social connector.
It is also the fact that you have been brought to the very brink of the Mystery, and then you have been left behind. It is true that men often look on women as somehow more attuned to the mystery of life because they bear life. And to the extent that is true for you, you may feel cut adrift not just from your friend and companion and lover, and from your social circuit, but from the whole human community, from the entire metaphysical cosmos. The loss of a mate can create an inexplicably potent sense of aloneness. It can even create in you a sense that somehow you have died.
"At first I was in shock. I was numb. I would find myself saying to myself 'Why did this happen to me?' But there was also an element of fascination with the adventure—I mean, to be a widower at the age of twenty-nine?"
"I cried for three days before I recognized it was she who was dying, not me. I met my own death for three days there, cried and grieved over my own death. So I have the feeling I've met my own death and there isn't anything left to fear."
"If you think of yourself as something that is constantly extending, the part of me that's her is not extending anymore. But it's still there...and it will always be there. It becomes a smaller and smaller part of the extending whole over time, but it's always there. It will always be part of me."
This is a book about loss. It is also a book about love. As much as it is about death, it is also very much about life and the living, about love and how it heals its own loss, about caring and dignity and growth. In the end, in its focus on death, it is a profound affirmation of life for those who are most in need of it. And we are always, all, in need of it.
Inevitably, when people who know me learn that I wrote this book they don't understand where it came from. Neither did I, until it was done. (I never know what a book is really about until I step away from it.)
It began in the early 1980s as a magazine article, or the intention of writing one, stimulated by a story in a newsmagazine that Senator Ted Kennedy was having some problems with his health.
Well of course, I thought; he's just been divorced; he doesn't have a woman to take care of him anymore. Which raised the question: what does happen to men when they suddenly don't have women to take care of them anymore?
When I started to research the piece I found that nobody really knew—there hadn't been much research done—so I decided that maybe it was time that I wrote a book.
I developed the proposal, engaged the help of an expert on widows (since there weren't any experts on widowers) and together we embarked upon a collaborative look at the issue.
I found the guys and interviewed them, and had the interviews transcribed, then together Phyllis and I sat down and went over their accounts, eventually developing a commentary on their experience.
The amazing thing about this book is that it wasn't depressing to write. It felt like an enormous privilege to talk with these guys so intimately and to witness the ways in which they worked their way through their grief. There's a good bit of stumbling and thrashing about in these stories, a lot of anger and all that, but in the end it was heartening to see how much they wanted to talk about it, how much they wanted to be asked but found that people almost never did.
It was only after I finished the book that I figured out why I wrote it. It didn't have anything to do with Senator Ted Kennedy. It had to do with the fact that I was absolutely reeling from the demise of a five-year affair—my first—and I wanted to know how the hell people got through these things. That's part of what I love about writing; the way the meaning sneaks up on you. And the way, in writing, you find answers to questions you didn't even know you had.
"Widower provides not only a valuable and practical guide for the bereaved but insight into the ways in which self-help programs can help ease the pain and help the mourner to live once again."
— Psychology Today
"The authors have drawn out common themes from individual experiences which touched every aspect of these men's lives, and have said as much about the nature of relationships as the process of grieving. This book should be of immense encouragement to bereaved widowers as well as enlightening to professionals offering support."
— Malcolm Williams, Principal Social Worker, St. Christopher's Hospice, Bereavement Care
"There are so few resources to help us males who grieve, or to help those who would help us through our grief understand what it is that makes dealing with grief so difficult. Every member of my grief group that has read this has found himself in one or more of the twenty grief experiences analyzed."
"I've read many books since my wife died on June 18th, most I thought would be helpful to a woman, but were of no use to me. I really thought this was a helpful book. Several of the stories really hit home with me. I think I most related to Bill, but I related to Hank, Mark, and Randy also. Some people I could not relate to at all. (Peter, George, Jan, etc.) It was really good that I bought this book."
"I've just completed this great book on the grieving plight of men who have lost their spouse. I'm currently walking that same path, only having lost my beloved wife a mere 13 1/2 weeks ago. I've read three books that deal with death/heaven, and so far this has been the best of the three. I plan on re-reading this again, particularly the stories about the men who are around my age (36) and how younger men deal with their grief."
"Most books seem to be written for and about widows, with perhaps a few pages about how the experience might differ for men. But this book is ALL about men—their words, their stories, and commentary by the authors. A particularly helpful list of resources in the Appendix."
"This book helped me look at different ways men handled grieving and I seen myself in some of the men. I seen that I wasn't crazy to have all these emotions and knew that I wasn't the only one going through this. It really is a great book for widowers to read and understand what they are going through."