Archive for February, 2011
Eight years ago, Marathon Girl and I took each other by the hand and become husband and wife. There is no one I’d rather have by my side through the ups and downs that is part of life. I’m looking forward to spending the rest of our lives and eternity together. I couldn’t ask for a better companion.
Thanks for eight great years, sweetheart. Looking forward to the next eighty with you.
February 28th, 2011
An anti-governmnet demonstration, Sofia, Bulgaria, January 1997
The recent unrest in the Middle East has made me think back to Bulgaria. The first year I was there, the economy started collapsing. By January 1997 the country was faced with triple-digit inflation and food shortages; Bulgarians reached their breaking point. Mass demonstrations broke out and the people called for early elections. Though there was some minor violence when the demonstrations first stared, for the most part it was peaceful. The unrest went on about a month before the socialist government finally caved in.
It was an interesting time to live in Sofia. Watching people peacefully take their country back was something I’ll never forget and a reminder that a government can only exist so long as the majority of people are willing to recognize its authority.
February 27th, 2011
An emailer writes:
My [widower] boyfriend has a lot of feelings of anger/guilt/frustration/sadness that surfaces now a little more frequently than it did in the beginning of our relationship. I’m realizing he may not be ready for a relationship, sadly, just yet. However, in general, I do believe he could greatly benefit from grief counseling/therapy. I’ve mentioned this idea to him a couple times (as have many people), and he seems resistant to it. My question: is it a bad idea to continue to push this idea?
Don’t push it. Sending someone to grief counseling who doesn’t want to go is just as effective as a sending a drug or alcohol addict who hasn’t hit bottom to rehab. In order for any kind of counseling to even be remotely effective the person has to be willing to accept help. If your boyfriend doesn’t want it, pushing it is only going to make him resent you and others who are suggesting it.
I’m not a big fan of grief counseling. I think it’s been oversold as a solution to those who have lost a loved one. The loss of a spouse doesn’t make you a victim who requires professional help. Most people can work through the loss of their spouse without the help of a professional. Most people are better off without it.
From what I’ve read 6 to 12 months after a loss of a loved one, most people are doing just fine. Only 10% of widows/widowers will need some sort of grief counseling and generally they’re the ones who are still grieving after a year after their spouse passed.
There’s a new book by journalist Ruth Davis Konigsberg called The Truth About Grief: The Myth of the Five Stages and The New Science of Loss. Though I haven’t had the time to read it yet, Annie has read it and written a great summary of the book on her blog. From what I’ve read on her blog and elsewhere, it seems to mirror my own conclusions from 2005 that grief counseling doesn’t benefit most people and it could be holding some people back from moving on.
Update: A reader, Ted, sent a link from a recent Time magainze article by Kongsberg. It’s a good read. An excerpt:
Our modern, atomized society had been stripped of religious faith and ritual and no longer provided adequate support for the bereaved. And so a new belief system — call it the American Way of Grief — rose up to help organize the experience. As this system grew more firmly established, it allowed for less variation in how to handle the pain of loss. So while conventions for mourning, such as wearing black armbands or using black-bordered stationery, have all but disappeared, they have been replaced by conventions for grief, which are arguably more restrictive in that they dictate not what a person wears or does in public but his or her inner emotional state. Take, for example, the prevailing notion that you must give voice to your loss or else it will fester. “Telling your story often and in detail is primal to the grieving process,” Kübler-Ross advised in her final book, On Grief and Grieving, which was published in 2005, a year after her death. “You must get it out. Grief must be witnessed to be healed.” This mandate borrows from the psychotherapeutic principle of catharsis, which gives it an empirical gloss, when in fact there is little evidence that “telling your story” helps alleviate suffering.
February 23rd, 2011
Since this post is on memoirs, a bit of shameless self-promotion: I’m teaching a memoir writing class in Ephraim, Utah on April 9. Don’t have full details as to where the class will be taught but it is part of Write Here in Ephraim Conference that will include many other wonderful authors and presenters. Stay tuned for details. If you’re in the area and want to know the ins and outs of memoir writing, I’d love to have you attend.
Ever since The New York Times slammed Joyce Carol Oates memoir, A Widow’s Story, there’s been uproar in the widow(er) community about the review with many widow(er)s saying that the reviewer just doesn’t “get” what’s it’s like to be a widow. I haven’t read JCO’s memoir so I can’t say whether or not the book is worthy of the criticism it received. Thanks to a reader’s tip, I read an excerpt in The New Yorker. Though I was impressed with JCO’s prose, I found the telling of the last week of her husband’s life and first few hours of widowhood similar to what you might find on a recent widow blog. And, in my mind, that’s a problem.
Blogs aren’t memoirs. They have a different purpose and audience. When done well, blogs are vignettes that focus on one moment and give the reader some insight into that incident or person. Memoirs have more meat. Instead of focusing on a day or special moment, modern memoirs usually focus on a major event (or series of events) where the author learns something from the experience and shares it with the reader.
Maybe when I read JCO’s work in its entirety, I’ll feel different. But the little bit I read seemed like something lifted from a personal journal. It’s interesting if you know the person but utterly lacking the depth necessary to give the reader insight into losing a spouse. (I’m going to order the book later this week. However if any readers know of any more online excerpts, please email me or leave a note in the comment section below.)
So what does it take to write a good memoir? Five things immediately come to mind. (For those looking write a memoir on a different subject, just replace grief theme with whatever the crux of your experience is about. The suggestions below still apply.)
- Your story needs to be unique. You lost a spouse. So what. Millions of people lose a spouse every year. What makes your spouse’s death and your journey so different that other people will want to read it? You aren’t the first person to walk this path. To get the attention of agents, publishers, and readers your experience has to something unique about their story that makes it stand out from the crowd.
- You need to offer new insight on the subject. Many books have been written on losing a spouse. Most of them might as well be carbon copies of each other. What has your experience/journey taught you that may not be known by those who have written or walked down the same path? For example, most widow(er)s learn that life goes on and they can be happy again after losing a spouse. While that insight may be new to the writer, it’s not an earth shattering concept to most people. To make it worth the reader’s time, you need to offer some insight or unique perspective into death, grieving, moving on, etc. that other people may not have noticed.
- You need to be honest. With memoirs—especially grief memoirs—authors have a tendency to turn themselves look like a tragic hero for going through the experience. They don’t want to make themselves appear human. Big mistake. Even widow(er)s have flaws and make bad decisions. You need to appear just as human as the next person or the reader will feel you’ve been less than truthful and will blow your credibility. With a memoir you never want the reader to feel that way about you.
- You need to know how to tell a story. Good writers know what events to include and what events to leave out of their memoirs. For example, there’s no need to include the funeral of the late spouse unless something happened there that’s important to the story or can offer the reader some bit of insight into yourself or your culture that can’t come out in another part of the story. Otherwise you’re just filling up the book with pointless information and wasting the reader’s time. Good writers also know how to make quotidian events come alive and paint a vivid picture in the reader’s head. (Side note: This is one thing JCO is very good at.) They know how to take an event like death and widow(er)hood and make it interesting to the reader instead of it simply feeling like they’re reading something they’ve read a hundred times before. Being able to do this is a very difficult talent to master.
- Your book needs to appeal to a wide audience. Good memoirs will appeal to their target audience. Great memoirs appeal to a wider audience. If you write a grief memoir and get positive feedback from other widow(er)s, you’ve probably done a decent job writing what it’s like to lose a spouse. However, when you start getting good reviews and feedback from those who have no clue what it’s like to lose a spouse, then you know you’ve written a compelling memoir with the depth and insight needed (see #2) to get people to look at the world I a different way. These are the kinds of memoirs that agents and publishers are interested in.
When I do get around to reading, JCO’s memoir, the above five points are the standard I’ll review it against. Once it arrives via Amazon, it goes to the top of my reading stack.
February 21st, 2011
Back when I wrote for a college newspaper, there were a handful of staff writers that tried to sneak at least one double entendre into the articles we wrote. Ninety-five percent of them were caught by the editor or faculty advisor before the paper went to print. When they would get through, we’d get a good laugh out of it. So when I saw the headline in the Salt Lake Tribune below, it made me wonder if it was an honest mistake or if a headline writer got a good chuckle as he went to bed. You can visit the article here.
February 20th, 2011
Went snowmobiling in the back country of Utah a couple weeks ago. The above photo is taken near the peak of a mountain. Elevation about 9,000 feet above sea level.
And, yes, Utah has the greatest snow on Earth.
February 19th, 2011
I know that there are some people who have been following my blog for a long time while new readers are reading it for the first time. This Widower Wednesday post is for those who are new to this blog and/or dating a widower. The purpose isn’t to discourage you from dating a widower. Instead, it’s to answer some of the basic questions that come when dating a widower and help you discern those widowers who are ready to start a new life and those who are still grieving. I call it “Dating a Widower 101.”
- It’s normal for a widower to date weeks or months after his late wife’s death. Most men feel that their lives are broken without that special someone in their life. Dating is their way of “fixing” it. There’s nothing wrong with their desire to date again so quickly. Their timeframe may seem soon to you but it probably feels completely reasonable to them.
- Just because a widower is dating, doesn’t mean he’s ready to move on or make a long-term commitment to you. Widowers – especially recent widowers – are happy to have someone in their life and will jump into relationships that they normally wouldn’t get involved in. Keep your eyes open for red flags and other warning signs that he’s not ready to move on.
- Hold widowers to the same standards you expect for single or divorced men. If he treats you anything less than a queen, don’t put up with it. Grief is no excuse for bad behavior. If you tolerate their bad behavior, widowers will take full advantage of it and keep repeating the same behavior over and over again.
- It’s natural to feel curious about the late wife and their life together. Don’t be afraid to ask him questions about it. Not only will this give you insight into his past and how well he’s moving on, it can also help open up lines of communication that can address other widower issues. Open communication is vital if the relationship is to have any chance of working out.
- Widowers will get over their grief and move on when they find someone they want to start a new life with. They’ll take down shrines to the late wife, remove her clothes from the closet, sell their home or do whatever else it takes to make you feel like you’re number one in his heart. If he’s not showing signs of moving on, he’s probably not that into you. Consider moving on.
- The best way to make sure the widower is ready to move on is to take the relationship slow. Widowers who aren’t ready to move on or are just looking for someone to keep them warm at night can only put on a façade for so long. If you’re patient, their true selves will eventually emerge. If they’re not ready you can get out of the relationship with minimal heartache.
- Don’t be afraid to end the relationship you constantly feel like number two or the widower isn’t moving on. It’s hard to end things with someone you love. However, don’t get sucked into a relationship where you’re doing all the heavy lifting. It takes two people to make a relationship work. Not all widowers are ready to move on. Better to end things sooner rather than wasting months or years of your life with someone who isn’t ready to start a new life with you.
- Dating a widower isn’t for everyone. If there are issues that come with dating a widower you can’t handle, don’t continue dating one. This doesn’t make you any less of a person. We all have thing that we can or can’t put up with in a relationship. If a dating a widower is you don’t want to deal with, don’t trick yourself into thinking you you’ll adjust. You won’t be able to. Instead your life will quickly become a living hell.
- If you’re fortunate to date a widower who’s ready to make you number one in his heart, you’re in for a treat. Often this blog tends to focus on the negative aspects but I have received many success stories over the years. Widowers who are ready to start a new life generally don’t take life for granted. They realize how precious each moment in this life is and will make every moment with you special.
For those widowers and women dating widowers who have more experience dating a widower , is there anything else you want to add? Do so in the comments section below.
February 16th, 2011
The list of books on my nightstand piles up faster than I can read them.
Update: Since this photograph was taken, I did finish The First Rule. It has been replaced by The Hidden Man by David Ellis.
February 13th, 2011
For those writers and authors (or aspiring writers and authors) who follow this blog, a writer friend of mine has started a blog on writing and the business of writing called The Passive Voice. The blog consists of excerpts to news articles, blogs, and other resources along with my friend’s commentary on it. It’s a great resource for anyone with an interest in writing and publishing but, like me, doesn’t have a lot of time to search out various blogs and news articles on the subject. For those who are interested in these sorts of things, it’s well worth a once-a-day visit.
February 10th, 2011
One of the first dates I went out on after my late wife died was with a gorgeous redhead I met via an online dating site. We had exchanged maybe a dozen emails before deciding to meet and go out. Though she was aware of my widower status, it wasn’t something we had discussed in much detail.
We met at a local restaurant and for the first 20 minutes or so things were going okay. However, I noticed there were times it looked like she was trying to get the courage to say something or ask me a question. Since I was new to the dating thing, I wasn’t sure how to handle it. Instead of giving her some time to ask it or asking her what was on her mind, I kept asking her questions about herself or make small talk. Instead of helping, it just seemed to make her more uncomfortable.
Finally, near the end of the meal, she blurted out “How long have you been a widower?”
The question she had wanted to ask all night was finally out in the open. And, to be honest, it was the one question I didn’t want to answer—at least not on our first date.
I looked down and waited a moment before telling her. I wasn’t counting how long it had been since Krista died. I didn’t have to. Instead, I was trying to guess how she’d react when I told her that my late wife had only been dead five months. It seemed whenever women found out how soon I was dating a brief look of panic crossed their face and I could see them wondering how on earth a man could be dating so soon. (I didn’t blame them for feeling this way. I spent a lot of time wondering why I was dating so soon too.)
As much as I wanted to tell her that my wife had been dead a long, long time so she would feel I had adequate time to grieve, I knew that I couldn’t lie to her. If the relationship was to have any chance at turning into something serious, I’d have to tell her the truth.
I answered my date’s question honestly and from the way her eyes popped out of her head, I knew there wasn’t going to be a second date. We ended the evening with a handshake and I never heard from the redhead again.
I share this story because I had two emails this week that dealt with widowers either lying about their marital status or lying about how long their late wife had been dead. One woman who emailed me asked if she should be worried that the widower has represented himself as divorced instead of a widower. The second woman wanted to know if it was a red flag that the widower said his late wife had been dead a year when the truth was she had been dead two months. In both cases, the women had entered somewhat serious relationships with widower before the truth finally emerged. I suggested both women immediately end the relationship.
Successful relationships can’t be built upon lies—small or big. The truth always comes out eventually. While it’s possible these widowers were worried the truth about their marital status would ruin any chance at a future relationship, my gut says that wasn’t the case since they seemed content to continue living a lie until they were finally confronted with the truth.
If a widower can’t be honest about his marital status, there are probably a lot of other things he’s lying about too. While some widower infractions may warrant a second chance, widowers who build relationships on a foundation of deceit don’t deserve one more second of your time. It’s better to get out of these kinds of relationships as soon as possible instead of having to untangle yourself from a bigger web of lies down the road.
February 9th, 2011
To keep me honest about the creative writing goals I made at the beginning of this year, I thought I’d update you on the status of the Dating a Widower book.
I’ve got good news and good/bad news—depending on how you look at it.
First, the good news. Based on the feedback I received from beta readers last year, I rewrote the entire book last month. The book is now in the hands of a competent editor who’s going to make some final suggestions. I should have her feedback by Friday. I’ll review her changes this weekend and should have a polished manuscript ready to go by Sunday.
Now the good/bad news. My plan was to have the book ready and available by the end of February. However, under the terms of my current book contract, my publisher has the right to review the next book I write. So last week I shot their acquisitions editor off an email telling her about the book. Because the book is for such a niche market, I didn’t think it was something they’d want to look it. Much to my surprise the acquisitions editor said she wanted to review it once I had a final copy. So after I finalize the manuscript, I’ll shoot it off to the publisher to review. Having worked with them over the last several years I’m looking at about 4-6 weeks until I know whether or not they’re interested.
So when is Dating a Widower coming out? Well, if the publisher turns down the manuscript I’ll get the book on Amazon and other places in March or April—depending on how soon they get back to me. If the publisher accepts the manuscript and I choose to sign a contract, it will probably come out by the end of the year.
Again, nothing is set in stone at this point other than there’s going to be a small delay in getting it out to all of you. I’ll update you once I hear back from the publisher.
February 3rd, 2011
First, if you’ve emailed me in the last week with a widower question and haven’t received a response, please be patient. I’m in the middle of proofing the galleys for The Third. It’s a very slow and time intensive process and I’ve had to put all email replies to the backburner for the rest of the week. I’ll be catching up on emails next week.
Now on to today’s Widower Wednesday topic.
I receive two emails in my inbox about widowers wearing their wedding rings when they’re dating. One woman had just returned from a first date with a recent widower and noticed that he was still wearing his wedding ring on his left hand. The second was from a woman who’s been with a widower for several months. He’s been wearing ring on his right hand which hadn’t bothered the woman much until she learned it was the late wife’s wedding band. This made her feel very uncomfortable. Both women wanted to know if wearing the rings are a sign that these widowers aren’t ready to move on.
A ring is a symbol of his commitment to the late wife and their marriage. Once a widower has agreed to a serious, committed relationship with the new woman, the wedding ring should be removed from his finger put away. I would hope that most widowers would realize that wearing a wedding ring could cause a level of discomfort with the women they’re first dating and take it off beforehand. But not all widowers think of such things when the start dating again.
But is wearing a ring a sign the widower’s not ready to move on?
Well, it depends. I’m inclined to give the recent widower on the first date the benefit of the doubt. While I can see how that would make the woman he’s dating uncomfortable, I don’t necessarily see it as a sign that that he’s not ready to move on. The widower may not even give the ring on his finger a second thought. So, aside from the ring, if everything else went well, I don’t see a problem with going out again while keeping your eyes wide open for other signs he’s not moving on.
As to the second example, since the emailer made it sound like they’re in a committed relationship I think the ring should go. If the ring is the only red flags he exhibits, I’d be concerned but not too worried about it. I’d have a talk with him about the ring and let him know how it makes you feel. However, don’t ask him to take it off. That’s something he should want to do on his own. If he’s exhibiting other red flags in addition to the ring, I’d be more concerned.
As far as my experience goes, I never wore a wedding ring on my fingers when I started dating. Soon after my late wife died, I put it on a chain around my neck. I removed it once I realized it was coming between Marathon Girl and me. (Read Room for Two if you want the complete story.) I didn’t have a problem removing it and putting it in a box because I was ready to start a new life with Marathon Girl and couldn’t wait for the day I could wear a new ring that would symbolize our love and commitment to each other.
Widowers who are ready to start a new life shouldn’t have a problem removing it. While it’s just a public symbol, it is one that symbolizes a past life. Once they’ve started a committed relationship with someone else, it’s time to put the old ring away.
February 2nd, 2011