What Do Widows and Widowers Think of Go On?

I've done a couple of reviews for the TV show Go On. I’m not going to add any more to those right now because, as of now, the show is still going strong. But if you want to know what other widows and widowers think of the show, you can read their reviews below. There’s a wide variety of opinions out there.

  1. Abel Keogh (me), first review, and second review
  2. Kim Go, Alive and Mortal
  3. Julia from Glow in the Woods
  4. Fresh Widow
  5. Widdared
  6. JoanneF
  7. Marsha
  8. Jacuser
  9. Honeyspuddin
  10. Sandy, FlyingWG
  11. Janine, One Breath at a Time
  12. EverydayMorning (Sam)
  13. Choosing Grace Today
  14. Missing Bobby

Enjoy!

Widower Wednesday: Memorial Tattoos

In the spirit of walking the walk when it comes to putting your spouse first, Marathon Girl and I took a trip to southern Utah, without the kids(!), for three days last week. It was a great chance to rest, relax, and put each other first. Our relationship is stronger because of it. I highly recommend planning a getaway with your own spouse if you feel the relationship needs it.

***

Last week I received an email from a woman who is dating a widower (wife died 2 years ago, they’ve been dating 15 months) who is doing everything right. He’s made her feel like #1 through his actions (as opposed to his words), and done everything he can to provide a safe, loving home for her and her children, and recently proposed. She’s looking forward to a long and happy life with this man.

There’s only one problem. There’s a small memorial tattoo (a heart with the late wife’s initials inside the heart) on the widower’s chest. Every time the woman sees the tattoo it serves as a reminder of his past love and life with her. Though she’s accepted his past and past marriage and the fact that he will always love her, the constant reminder is driving her crazy.

She’s talked about the tattoo with the widower. He doesn’t see a problem with keeping it. He says it was something he got when he thought he’d never love again and doesn’t think it’s something that needs to go. He also doesn’t want to go through the pain of having it removed.

The woman doesn’t want to lose this great man but doesn’t know if she can live seeing the tattoo every day for the rest of her life and wanted to know if she should learn to live with it or cut and run before she goes nuts.

My thoughts: If the tattoo bothers you that much, then maybe it’s best to move on. You’ve had 15 months to adjust to the tattoo and apparently it’s bothering you more now than the first time you saw it. Just keep in mind that you might be losing an otherwise great guy. I’m not faulting you for feeling this way (Marathon Girl wouldn’t have married me if I had one) just asking you to weigh the pros and cons of ending things over the tattoo.

However, I’m wondering if a compromise can be reached. Have you asked him about altering the tattoo? What if he filled in the heart or altered it in some other way so it obscures the late wife’s initials or doesn’t look like a memorial tattoo. Seems like that way he keeps the tattoo but turns it into something that’s not just a reminder of his past life. Maybe the two of you could visit the parlor where it was done and see if the people there have some ideas or options for the two of you to consider.

From your email, he seems like a great guy—a cut above most widowers who start dating again. If it’s just the tattoo and only the tattoo issue that’s bothering you then I’d try to find a way around it. It sounds like you have a relationships where you talk to each other, bring it up. See if the two of you can find a solution that makes you both happy.

***

I know there are women who read this column who are with or dated widowers with memorial tattoos. How did you guys deal with it? Any suggestions on how to resolve this issue?

Widower Wednesday: Grief Counseling

 

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.

How to Write a (Grief) Memoir

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.)

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.

Widower Wednesday: Dealing with the Late Wife’s Family

A common issue that comes in my inbox is how women dating widowers should deal with the late wife’s family. Generally the widower is in regular contact with his late wife’s family and somewhat regularly attends her family events. This usually brings up two problems. The first is how to handle those related to the late wife are standoffish, rude, or vocally upset that the widower is dating again. The second concern is that many women feel like the widower spends too much time with the late wife’s family instead of trying to build a new relationship with her.

As to the first issue, there’s nothing you can do about the thoughts or actions of others. All you can do is choose how you respond to remarks or the cold shoulders others may give you. Kind words and loving actions are usually the best way to handle these situations. Love and kindness may not be the easiest response but they’re the ones that win people over in the long run.

Don’t take their comments or actions too personally. Those who have a hard time seeing the widower with someone other than the late wife are usually those who are still grieving the loss of their daughter, sister, or friend. They’re have a hard time accepting the fact that the widower’s is moving on.

The other thing you want to look for in these situations is if the widower stands up for you. If he knows how their treating you and does nothing to stop them, you need to decide if you can have a relationship “weenie widower” as my friend C calls them. If he can’t defend you with the late wife’s in-laws, there will be other situations where he won’t defend you either. Having a widower with a spine goes a long way to make these situations easier.

As to him spending time with the late wife’s family, you shouldn’t expect him to cut off contact completely with the late wife’s family. Unless he had a bad relationship with them when the late wife was alive, odds are they’re going to be part of your relationship with him—especially if he and the late wife had kids. Having the late wife’s family as part of your relationship with this is something you need to decide if you can live with.

Where I’d be concerned is if he spends so much time with the late wife’s family that you feel he’s neglecting your relationship. Often the late wife’s family will help him get through the tough times by watching kids or just being there for him. This can create a bond that is difficult to sever.

However, part of starting a new life means putting the old one behind you. A widower who is serious about moving on and starting a new relationship should spending less time with the late wife’s family and more time with you. If he had a hard time doing this, I’d worry whether or not he’s willing to fully commit to you.

As always, if you’re having difficulties with the late wife’s family or are concerned with how much time he’s spending with them, talk to him about your concerns. Couples with strong relationships all have the ability to talk openly and honestly one with another. Strong communication skills are vital if your relationship is going to have any chance to work out.

***

The holidays are coming up. If you have any particular widower-related holiday issues you’d like discussed on Widower Wednesday, send me an email. I’ll be posting holiday related topics staring on November 24.

Up with Grief

Up: Carl & Ellie

Note: This post was written for and posted on the Open to Hope site. You can see the original post here.

It's hard to find movies for adults that adequately deal with the death of a spouse and putting one's life back together. Fortunately, one of the movies nominated for the Best Picture Oscar does a great job of dealing with the subjects of death, grief, and moving on better than any other film in recent memory—and it's target audience is kids.

The movie? Up.

In the first 20 minutes of the film we see Carl Fredricksen as a boy meeting his future wife, Ellie. When they grow up, they both want to become explorers and journey to faraway lands. Ellie shows Carl her adventure book that contains a few notes and drawings of things she's done. Most of the pages in the book are blank, and Ellie tells Carl that she's going to fill the rest of book with photos and of all the exciting things she's going to do.

Then the audience is taken on a short silent movie journey of their life. They get married and start careers. They decide to have a family only to find out she's infertile. Though the news is tough to swallw, they both decide to keep working and save their pennies for a trip to Paradise Falls in South America. But as the years pass, they keep raiding their savings to pay for car repairs and other life emergencies. They grow old, and one day Carl realizes that they've never taken the trip they dreamed about. He throws caution to the wind and buys tickets to Paradise Falls. Only they never make the trip. As he's about to surprise his wife with the plane tickets, she falls ill and dies.

The next time we see Carl he's a grumpy widower. Fed up with life and facing a court-ordered placement in a retirement home, he decides he's had enough. As a former balloon salesman, he rigs his Victorian house with thousands of balloons and launches it into the sky, determined to finally visit Paradise Falls. The only complication to his trip is that Russell, a neighborhood kid and wilderness explorer, has unwittingly come along for the ride too.

During the journey to the falls, the Victorian house becomes the symbol for Ellie. Not only does the house contain photographs and other reminders of Ellie and Carl's life together but, at various points in the journey, Carl looks up at the house talks to it, wondering what Ellie would say if only she were there with him.

As he travels with Russell, the house becomes more of a hindrance than a help. Carl's so determined to take the house to Paradise Falls that he's unable to form a relationship with Russell or even think about getting them both home safely. At times Carl seems more concerned about damage the house receives than the danger Russell and himself find themselves in.

Carl doesn't realize how much the house is holding him back until he finds himself browsing through Ellie's adventure book. As he turns the pages, he's surprised to discover that the blank pages she showed him years ago are filled with pictures of his and Ellie's life together. Suddenly Carl realizes that even though he and Ellie were never able to visit the Paradise Falls together, they did have a wonderful, fulfilling life as husband and wife. It doesn't matter that they never got to visit the falls together—the real adventure in life was the years spent with Ellie.

Armed with this new insight Carl is able to literally let go of the house in order to get he and Russell home safely. As a result, he's able to move on with his life and start a new and fulfilling chapter as a father for Russell. It's a message that anyone who's struggling to move on after the death of a spouse could use.

Don't let this beautifully animated film trick you into thinking it's for kids only. There's plenty in Up to keep kids entertained but with its unique plot and adept handling of more “grown up” issues, this life-affirming film deserves the Best Picture of the year award and is the new high water mark in movies that deal with grief and the loss of a spouse.

Widower Friends

Widower Needs A Friend

In the comment section of 10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers, Tyler writes:

I have spent a lot of time online getting information on grieving, etc. After a wonderful marriage of 21 years, I have found myself as a widower of a big six weeks. NO-I am not ready to move on! That is a long way off. I happened upon this site as I was searching other information. As I have read these articles, however, a question has been raised in my head.

I understand that the lonliness [sic] and emptiness is a big part of the grieving process. Is longing for a friend to talk to necessarily a bad thing? As noted in some of your articles, I understand that widowers are no different than other singles in how we need to treat women. (Quite frankly I am shocked that this would have to be said.)

As with many single people who are not looking to become involved but want to be active rather than festering at home, is there an appropriate way to approach this situation? Looking at it from the opposite point of view, if I were a woman approached by a guy like me wanting a "friendship" after 3-4-5 months of widowerhood, I would probably run away as fast as I could!

In my case there will absolutely be no intimacy until marriage, so that is not the issue. I would also never even approach someone even as a friend without my children's knowledge and approval.

Thoughts about approaching a "friend"?

I highlight this comment because Tyler’s comment reflects a lot of the emotional state recent widowers (including myself many, many years ago) find themselves in: they’re not ready to date or even form a serious relationship but they want to reach out to someone (preferably female) who they can talk to and connect with. Even if they aren’t intending to get serious with someone, they’re trying to connect on an emotional level that’s bound to lead to some kind of emotional/romantic attachment on his part or the woman he becomes friends with. The result is going to be an emotional disaster for one or both people involved.

So for women who are dating widowers keep Tyler’s emotional state in mind as you start a relationship with a widower—especially a recent one. Yes, some widowers are ready to move on but a lot of them are looking to rebuild the emotional connection they had before their wife passed away. This means you need to keep your eyes wide open when you date a widower. And if you feel the widower’s not ready to move on, don’t be afraid to end the relationship and let him know that you don’t feel he’s ready for a serious relationship.

For widowers who feel like Tyler, I can understand the need to talk to someone about what you’re going through. And if you don’t have a friend that has lost a spouse, finding someone who can relate to what you’re going through can be very, very difficult. That being said, if you don’t feel that any of your current friends are the sounding board you need, get some kind of counseling. Sure, it costs money, but you can get stuff off your chest without the risk of becoming emotionally involved with someone. Friendships become strong when they’re based on enough common interests to grow and develop. Loneliness and a broken heart always make for a poor friendship foundation.

Update:Due to some comments on this post, here's the response I sent to the poster:

What is the purpose of this “friend?” you seek? Are you looking for someone you can talk to about your grief or someone you can just hang out with occasionally?

In either case, why does this “friend” have to be a woman? Don’t you have any guy friends now that you can hang around with on occasion?

Instead of seeking out an individual person, why not join a club or some other group where there are a lot of people and start making friends that way.

Friendships develop when there are enough common interests to build something on it. Loneliness and a broken heart always make for a poor foundation to find a friend.

Death do us part; then on to Match.com

Dating a Widower I got a brief mention in a Florida Weekly dating column on widowers making the transition to a new relationship and the challenges that come with it. My "Dating a Widower" Facebook group even got a mention. :-)

Vicki Kennedy makes for a striking widow. Now that she's said she won't fill her husband's senate seat, she has stepped firmly into the national conscience as a public figure of grief. The First Lady holds her hand at presidential conferences and liberals everywhere speak her name at prayer circles. At 55, she might some day remarry. But the odds are against it.

If things were different and Vicki passed before Teddy, chances are he'd be married this time next year. In fact, men are four times more likely to remarry after losing a spouse; 61 percent of men start dating within the first two years, compared to just 19 percent of women. It's ironic that the same men who hem and haw about being dragged into marriage — there's a reason women set ultimatums — are the ones who rush to find a ball and chain so soon after losing their spouse.

You can read the entire article here.

Should I Dump the Widower for Lying or Dating too Soon?

Dating a Widower

Originally published here.

Julie asks: I recently began dating a widower who told me his wife died a year ago. I've just learned she actually died 4 months ago. I like this man very much and we enjoy each other's company. I don't know details of how long she was ill, but he did say some of his kids (adults now) don't approve of his dating. Should I stop dating this recent widower for not telling the truth or simply because it's too soon, or both?

Abel Keogh responds:

To paraphrase an old saying: If you see one cockroach, there are 100 more you can’t see.

The fact that the widower started dating months after his wife’s death isn’t a big deal. Some people are ready to date again after a few months of grieving. For others it can take years before they’re ready to start a new relationship. When dating a widow or widower what’s important is that they’re moving on with their life and making you feel like the center of their universe.

What’s disturbing is that the widower lied about when his wife died. He may have done it thinking that the truth would scare you away. I started dating 5 months after my wife’s death. It was very hard to tell the women I was dating that my late wife had died a few months earlier. Even though I was hesitant to answer the question when the subject came up, I always told the truth – even if the truth meant I didn’t get a second date. I don’t condone his lie but, if he did it because he thought the truth would end any chance of another date, I can at least sympathize with why he did it.

Keep in mind that solid, long lasting relationships can only be built on the truth. I would seriously re-examine the relationship from top to bottom and decide if it’s worth continuing. If you choose to continue the relationship, don’t be surprised if more cockroaches surface down the road.

My Life: Seven Years Later

My latest post on the OpentoHope site was posted today.

November tenth is a day that creeps up on me now.

It wasn’t always this way.

In past years it was a day heavy with memories, emotions, and unanswered questions.

Now it’s a day just like any other.

This year it wasn’t until after lunch that I looked at the calendar in my office and noted the date. Suddenly, I realized what day it was. I pushed my laptop to the side and looked out the window at the green grass and sunshine. In seconds the memory of hearing a gunshot from our bedroom and finding my late wife’s lifeless body flashed through my mind followed by a tinge of the raw terror that flowed through my body that afternoon.

You can read it in its entirity here.

Blogging for the Open to Hope Foundation

A couple months ago I was approached by the Open to Hope Foundation about writing a blog for those who had lost a spouse. (I was a guest on the foundation’s radio show last November. You can download the MP3 of the program by right-clicking here.) I was hesitant to accept. Between my widower blog (no longer updated) and Room for Two I didn’t think I had anything left to say on the matter. Besides, I’ve been happily married to Marathon Girl for five and a half years. I haven’t thought of myself as widower since the day she agreed to marry me. In a lot of ways, I’ve put that sad chapter of my behind me. Thought thoughts of the late wife and daughter occasionally enter my mind, 99.9% of my thoughts are on making a better life for me and the family I have now.

I also have a novel and other writing projects that take up most of my free time. Even if I had something to say, I was unsure I’d have the time to write regular blog posts.

Then I checked my email.

There were three new emails in my inbox. Two were from women dating widowers. One thanked me for writing an essay that helped her see that her widower boyfriend wasn’t ready to commit to a serious relationship and she was going to finally end it. The other was from a woman asking for advice about her widower boyfriend’s behavior and whether or not she should be concerned about it. The third was from a young widower who thanked me for my website and telling me it had given him hope that he could one day again be happy.

These kinds of emails flood my inbox every day. (I’m not complaining about them – just stating a fact. If you have something to say, you can contact me here.) In the back of my mind, I thought the number of widower related emails would stop after my book came out and this blog focused on other things than widower related issues. But every day there are new emails in my inbox similar to the ones above and I realized there are a lot of people that are hurting out there.

And I thought back to a wintry afternoon six years ago. I had just spent most of my Saturday afternoon searching for something – anything! – online that would make me feel that I wasn’t the only young widower in the world. Something that would give me hope that tomorrow would be a better day and if I just put one foot in front of the other and stuck with it.

I found nothing.

And in that brief moment of grief and anguish I vowed if there was some way I could help someone else from feeling the pain and loneliness I felt at that exact moment, I’d do it.

So I called to the foundation’s director and expressed my concerns about writing a blog and we came to mutual agreement. I will write an occasional blog post (three or four times a month as time allows). And instead of making it a traditional grief blog, I’m going to focus on putting your life back together and moving on instead of becoming bogged down with self pity and the “woe is me” attitude that infects so much of grief literature and makes it completely worthless – often hindering people from putting their lives back together.

It’s going to be very different from typical grief blogs. It’s going to have an attitude.

So be warned.

If you’re content wallowing in grief and self pity then the blog’s not for you.

If you don't want to think of yourself as anything other than a widow or widower, then find another grief blog to read.

If you don’t want straight up advice about learning to put your grief aside, making the most of your life, and becoming happy again, then do not read it because I’m not going to mince words.

Finally, though I have permission to do so, I won’t be reposting the content on this blog. However, I will post the first paragraph or two and link to the latest entry for those who are interest in reading it. (As soon as I complete some other projects, I will create a URL on this website for them, however.)

Also, I have about 30,000 words of material that I cut from Room for Two before it was published. Some that content will probably find a home there – in a slightly modified form. (My first entry is a part from my book that was cut from the book and tweaked for the blog.) For those who have read the book and want to read vignettes that were cut between the first draft and the published manuscript, I’ll let you know when those are posted too.

The website I'll be writing for can be found here.

You can read my first entry here and my second one here.

I’ll let you know when the third one is up.

Questions from Weber State Univesity Students

Weber State University

Yesterday I had the wonderful opportunity to talk to a literature class at Weber State University that is using Room for Two as one of their books. I was very impressed with the students and their questions, comments, and insight they had. The following are some of their questions and my answers I thought others might find interesting.

Q: What audience did you have in mind when you wrote Room for Two?

A: I was trying to write for a very broad audience. I wanted to tell my story in such a way that even those who have never lost a spouse, child, or had a friend or loved one take their own life could enjoy it. It seems to have worked. Though I’ve received a lot of positive feedback from young widows, young widowers, and suicide survivors, most of the emails I receive have been from people who don’t fall into any of those categories. No matter what group the reader falls in, however, the vast majority of respondents tell me the book has touched their lives in very positive ways.

Q: Why did you write Room for Two?

A: The biggest reason was that I read or, rather, tired to read a lot of “memoirs” about losing a spouse soon after my late wife’s death. I found most of them to be completely worthless. Most of the time the writer would try to make him or herself out as a “wronged hero.” I felt authors were being less than honest about their experience and were hiding their own faults and imperfections. Because of this, I had a hard time relating on any level to the story they were trying to tell. I wanted to write a book that, in my opinion, showed the human side of the surviving spouse as well as the pain that that accompanies the death of a loved one.

In the case of books that dealt specifically with losing a spouse to suicide, I thought the authors were trying to make excuses or justify the actions of their loved ones that killed themselves. Some of the books went as far to romanticize suicide. I find that to be extremely dangerous. The reasons people take their own life is very complex and trying to rationalize or validate their actions is impossible without being able to talk with that person. And since they’re dead, that impossible. Instead of justifying the actions of my late wife, I tried to portray the devastating effect suicide has on those left behind.

Q: There’s a strong religious undercurrent in Room for Two. After reading the book, one can tell that you’re very religious but you don’t much in the way of specifics about what faith you belong to. Was that intentional?

A: Yes. Outside of the mountain west, most people don’t know much about the LDS (Mormon) Church. I didn’t want to alienate or distract readers who are unfamiliar with the church. Hence the reason I used very generic terms to describe my religious affiliation. Those who are familiar with the LDS church will, I think, know what faith I’m a member of rather quickly.

Q: If you were to rewrite Room for Two for a Mormon-only audience, what would you change?

A: Nothing.

Q: How did you come up with the title for your book?

A: The working title of the book was Running Forward. However, that never seemed to fit with the story I was telling. One day I was editing a part of the book where I was struggling with making room in my heart for another person. Though the exact phrase “room for two” doesn’t appear in the text, while reading that paragraph, those words formed in my mind as I read it. I immediately knew I had the perfect right title for my book.

Q: I really enjoyed reading your late wife’s poem “Ten Toed Children of Eve” that was in Room for Two. Have you considered about publishing the rest of your late wife’s poetry?

A: I’ve thought about putting a website up that contained her poetry and some of her other writings. Right now it’s more of a time issue. I have other writing projects are more pressing.

Q: Which writers have influenced you the most?

A: Orson Scott Card, Ethan Canin, and my dad.

Q: How do you find the time to write?

A: I make time. Once my kids are in bed, I spend some time with my wife and then write until I can’t keep my eyes open. It’s easy to talk about being a writer but hard to actually put in the hours required to write something worth publishing. I went to school with a lot of “writers” that were more talented than me. However, I’m the only one with a book. Though talent has something to do with getting published, most of it has to do with dedicating the time to writing, editing, and rewriting your manuscript.

Q: Are you writing more books?

A: I’m currently writing a work of fiction. If I can hold to my self-imposed deadlines, I should have a publishable manuscript sometime this summer.

Q: Do you have any plans to write a follow-up to Room for Two?

A: Yes. After I complete this work of fiction, the plan is to write another book that picks up where Room for Two left off. The main focus will be on the early years my marriage to Julie. The working title is Seconds because the book is going to focus a lot on second chances, second marriages, second loves, etc.

The Broken Hearts of Widows and Widowers

The Broken Hearts of Widows and Widowers

HitCoffee posted a link to a news story about the affect of grief on one’s health. The article states:

Doctors have long understood the impact of grief on one's health. Now, a new study has revealed how fragile a broken heart can really be. Researchers in Britain have found that bereft people face the risk of death in the first year of being widowed.

In fact, men are six times more likely to die of a broken heart than women. According to lead researcher Dr Jaap Spreeuw of the Cass Business School in London, the study has confirmed the existence of 'broken heart syndrome.

"We all know that the death of a loved one will have massive impact on the life of the husband or wife left behind, but this shows it will have direct impact on their mortality. It statistically proves that people can die of a broken heart during the earliest stages of bereavement," he said.

"The effect is stronger for older people who have been married longer. The good news is that after the first years of mourning, the chance of dying goes down," Dr Spreeuw added.

My first thought was that I already knew this. In fact I remember reading about a similar studies of widows and widowers in college though I don’t recall that study specifically mentioning men as being more venerable than women of dying after the death of a spouse. But I do remember it mentioning that people who were married longer, say 20 or more years, did have increased odds of dying soon after their spouse than those who had been married five years.

That being said, I think anyone who has lost a spouse can understand how easy it could be to die of a broken heart. In Room for Two I wrote:

In a college communications class, I had read about couples who spent most of their lives together. After one died, it was common for the other to pass on soon after, even if he or she was in good health. At the time I couldn’t comprehend how someone could lose their will to live after their spouse was gone. But I began to, at least partially, understand how they felt. Krista had been a significant part of my life for seven years—four as my girlfriend and three as my wife. My life had become completely entwined with hers. Now that she was gone, I didn’t feel complete. I had to force myself to live.

Things I had done willingly before Krista died, like going to work, became a chore. Though my job hadn’t changed, without the prospect of supporting a family, work was boring. There was no incentive for me to put extra effort into my projects. I did just enough to get by. I didn’t care if there were any raises or bonuses in my future. I resisted the urge to walk into my supervisor’s office and quit only because I knew being unemployed and doing nothing would ultimately be worse.

The other thing that intrigued me about the study was how after the first year of a spouse passing the odds of dying from a “broken heart” decrease.

For my own experience, there was something psychologically helpful about making it through the first year. It wasn’t just because Marathon Girl was now a major part of my life (though that was part of it), but there was something about having gone through holidays and other special dates without the late wife once that helped me realize it was only going to get easier the second time around.

Getting Over Grief and We Are Marshall

 

Anyone looking for a good DVD to rent this weekend might want to consider the recently released We Are Marshall.

For those who are rolling your eyes thinking that We Are Marshall is just another sports movie about a team that has to pull together and win, you're only partially right. The movie is about building a new football team from scratch after most of the players and coaches of Marshall University are killed in a tragic plane crash in November 1970. But that's just the setting of the movie.

We Are Marshall is really a movie about dealing with death and loss and how individuals and communities cope with the loss of loved ones. It's a movie about those who choose to move on and those who want to let the past hold them back.

And the desire to be held back by some sense of mourning is tempting. The university considers canceling the football program but only the quick thinking of one of the surviving football players convinces the board of trustees to let the football program continue.

Then there's Red Dawson (Matthew Fox), the only member of the coaching staff who wasn't on the plane because he opted to drive home and make a recruiting stop on the way. He's wracked by survivor's guilt, the loss of his mentor Marshall's head coach Rick Tolley (an un-credited roll by Robert Patrick) -- and the fact that he personally recruited many of the players who died after promising their mothers he'd watch after them while they were on the team.

After the program is reinstated, Dawson is offered the head coach job. He turns it down and spends his time building a shed in his back yard. Returning to football -- a game that he loves -- is something he doesn't want to do.

Jack Lengyel (Matthew McConaughey) takes the job that no coach in the country wants: building a football team from scratch in the shadow of dead players and coaches. Not only does he have to field a team, he has to help Dawson (who finally agrees to be an assistant coach for one final year) and the university president, other players, and members of the community to know that the best way to accept their loss and climb out from under the shadow of the dead is to play football.

In one emotional scene following the blowout loss to Morehead State, Dawson tells Lengyel that they aren't honoring the dead because he thinks the team is playing poorly and losing. Lengyel fires back that the Marshall football program isn't about winning right now but healing the community and the individuals who are still mourning over loved ones. He tells Dawson that building a football program, even one that's only marginally successful is about giving the people a chance to rebuild their lives. He tells Dawson:

One day, not today, not tomorrow, not this season, probably not next season either but one day, you and I are gonna wake up and suddenly we're gonna be like every other team in every other sport where winning is everything and nothing else matters. And when that day comes, well that's...that's when we'll honor them [the dead players and coaches].

In another scene, the morning before Marshall's home opener, Lengyel takes his team to the resting spot of six unidentified players. He gives them an inspiring speech about the dead players and coaches but at the end proclaims, "The funerals end today!"

His message is clear: stop living in and thinking about the past. Instead start doing what you were put on Earth to do and start living again.

Despite the dark and sad feeling that penetrates the movie, we see how players, individuals, and the community are slowly moving on with their lives.

We see an unopened case of beer that was to be used to console the players before 1970 teams' win before the fateful crash, sitting untouched until a new player opens a can and is joined by others. We see the fiance of one of the dead players take the advice of the should-have-been father-in-law and leave Hunington, West Virginia to move on with her life and not be held back by the past. And we see how the community celebrates the re-built team's surprising victory against Xavier by staying on the field for hours after the game.

Sadly, not everyone makes the decision to move on and we are shown how their decisions contrast with those who move forward.

Losing a loved one can be difficult and We Are Marshall portrays that agony in very heart wrenching scenes. But it contains a message of hope and shows how an individual and community can move on after the tragic death of a loved one -- even many loved ones -- and become stronger in the process.

We Are Marshall

How to Talk to a Widower

Note: Though I wrote this, the real author of this piece is Marathon Girl. Most of the insight in this essay comes from her. When you're in a relationship with a widower, some widower-related issues are bound to arise. For example, the widower might seem like he's having a hard time moving on. Maybe he spends an inordinate amount of time thinking or talking about the late wife. Perhaps you've become quite serious yet his home still looks like a shrine to the deceased. Knowing how to approach and talk to him about certain subjects can be difficult. Below are some suggestions to be able to effectively talk with the widower about problems that may be hindering your relationship.

Pick the Right Time

Finding the right time to talk to the widower is critical. Don't do it when he's upset or otherwise in a bad mood. Wait until he's in a good frame of mind. This will help him be more receptive to what you have to say.

Marathon Girl is very good at knowing when to talk to me about anything that needs to be addressed in our relationship. If I've had a stressful day at work, she knows its best not to talk about it until I've had a chance to unwind. She knows I'll listen better and be more receptive to dealing with the problem if I've had an hour or two to play with the kids or write. She also knows that if I'm in an extremely good mood (say the Detroit Tigers just won the World Series) that it's probably best not bring up a serious subject until I've had time to celebrate.

The key here is patience. Most issues don't have to be addressed immediately. Just wait for the right moment to bring it up. If he's in an agreeable mood, the widower will be more likely to listen to what you have to say -- an important first step to resolving the problem.

When Talking About the Late Wife, Don't Act Jealous

Sometimes widowers say and/or do things that make you jealous. Maybe he tells a story about a trip they took or a fond memory of her. Maybe he keeps a lot of photos in the house of her despite professing his love to you. Whatever he's doing, it's driving you crazy because you feel like you're competing with a ghost.

When you talk with him about this it's very important that you do not come across as jealous even if that's the only emotion you have at the time. You can't expect the widower to stop loving his first wife. (You should, however,expect him to treat you like the number one woman but that's another essay.)

You need to tactfully let him know that you want a strong, loving relationship with him but it's hard to when he keeps talking about or doing things that show his love for the late wife. Let him know that you're not resentful of the love he has for her but that you need to know he feels the same way about you. Nine times out of ten the widower is unaware how his actions are affecting you. Not coming across as jealous will make it more likely that he'll listen and change his behavior.

Know What Problems You Need to Solve on Your Own

There are going to be some widower-related issues you need to deal with on your own. This doesn't mean you can't tell the widower about them but if you do, you need to let him know that he can't help solve them.

After Marathon Girl and I became serious enough that we were discussing the possibility of marriage, she let me know it was sometimes hard for her to think about marrying me because a lot of the things that would be firsts for her (marriage, honeymoon, buying a house, having kids, etc.) were going to be seconds for me. Even though she told me about her feelings, she also let me know that this was something I couldn't solve for her. She told me it was an issue she had to work through on her own and would let me know from time to time how she was dealing with it.

I really appreciated her doing this. Not only did it let me know what was going through her mind but it set an example for me. If Marathon Girl was willing to put the time and effort into working on problems, I should be willing to work on mine as well.

Solve One Issue at a Time

If there are multiple issues you need to discuss with the widower, pick the most important one and work on that first before bringing up the others. No matter how much a guy loves you, he hates being dumped on. Men are much better at being receptive to what you say when we only have to deal with one problem at a time. When you start going off on multiple issues, we start blocking out a lot of what you're saying or start thinking of you as a nag.

Back when we were dating, there were times when Marathon Girl had several issues she wanted to discuss but wisely picked one at a time. When she felt the time was right brought up another one and we worked on that. She knew that telling me all the issues at once would make me defensive and make it less likely that they could be resolved.

Effectively communicating and working on the unique issues that arise with a widower can make or break the relationship. Knowing a little widower friendly psychology can be a good first step in having not only having open lines of communication one but a successful, loving relationship.

***

Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to Abel's e-mail updates and be the first to learn about upcoming books, essays, and appearances.

More widower-related articles by Abel Keogh

  • Up with Grief NEW!
  • Dating and Marriage: One Regret NEW!
  • Widowers: They're Still Men! NEW!
  • 10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
  • Photos of the Dead Wife
  • 5 Signs a Widower is Serious About Your Relationship
  • How Vice President Joe Biden Dealt with Grief
  • Life with a Widower
  • Dating a Widower
  • The Grief Industry
  • Suicide Survivor
  • A Letter to Elizabeth
  • Sex and Intimacy with Widowers
  • The Widowerhood Excuse
  • How to Talk to a Widower
  • Red Flags to Watch for When Dating A Widower
  • Suicide Survivor

    About a year ago I became acquainted with a new term: suicide survivor. It was in an email from a woman whose husband had recently killed himself. She had read both my current and old blog and was looking for advice to help her make it through another day as a suicide survivor.

    I found the term suicide survivor confusing. But with a little research I realized that the term didn't refer to one who attempted suicide and survived; rather, it refer to the loved ones left behind.

    I reread the woman's email, and pondered what to say to her. Usually I can find some pearl of wisdom or my own experience to be of help to those who email me.

    But this time my mind was blank.

    After a few days I emailed her back. I can't remember what I said but I was left with the feeling that my words wouldn't be of much help or comfort.

    Then a few months later another email arrived from a different suicide survivor. I replied but again felt my words would be of little comfort.

    But the emails kept coming. Every few months another suicide survivor contacted me wanting to know how I put my life together. And every time I'd shoot off an email and think I really had nothing to say.

    The emails from those suicide survivors lurk around in my mind and during an occasional quiet moment, I ponder what I could have shared with them that would have been of some value.

    Though it's taken awhile to gather some thoughts on the subject, I finally have some words to share.

    So to those suicide survivors who have wanted to know how I put my life back together and I learned to live again, this is for you.

    Suicide Survivor

    It's been said that time heals all wounds.

    That may be true in matters of love. But the suicide of a loved one is a unique monster. The scars remain long after the person had died. Anger, feelings of betrayal, and lingering questions can last a lifetime.

    It's been four and a half years since my first wife killed herself.

    I can still hear the sound of the gunshot echoing from our bedroom. The acrid smell of gun smoke still stings my nostrils. The memories of that day are just as vivid as the moment they happened.

    Memories of that day will never fade.

    That is probably for the best.

    ***

    After my first wife died, I labeled myself a widower.

    I was no longer Abel. I wasn't a brother, a son, or a friend. I was a widower – a victim of my first wife's suicide. And for a long time, I thought I'd never be anything more than someone whose wife had died when he was 26.

    Looking back I see the widower label hindered my ability to grow emotionally. And I started thinking that everyone else viewed me as a widower instead of Abel.

    When I started dating again, I worried that the women I dated would only be able to see me as a widower. I never thought that someone out there would be able to see the positive things about me.

    But someone did.

    As my relationship with Marathon Girl become more intense, I realized a choice needed to be made. I could continue to think of myself as a widower, or I could become Abel again.

    I chose to become Abel.

    And with that choice came emotional growth, a wonderful relationship, and a more positive outlook on life.

    So what does that have to do with being a suicide survivor?

    Labeling yourself a suicide survivor is will stunt your spiritual and emotional growth just as much as labeling myself a widower did.

    You're not a suicide survivor. You're a friend, a son or daughter, a brother or sister, a husband or wife, a mother or father. Think of yourself as James or Betty – whatever your name is. Think of yourself as anything other than a suicide survivor.

    You didn't become a suicide survivor by choice.

    So don't let the unfortunate actions of others define who you are. Don't let their bad decisions stop you from living your life.

    ***

    Before my first wife took her own life, I never knew anyone who had killed themselves. Suicide was one of those things I thought was something reserved for depressed teenagers, the businessmen who had lost everything and couldn't live with the debt they had incurred, or those who were severely mentally ill.

    Occasionally I heard stories about a friend of a friend of a friend who had committed suicide. These stories always seemed to be told in hushed tones as if to indicate they were never to be repeated. But in reality, the whispered conversations only emphasized to me suicide wasn't something ever to be discussed.

    It wasn't until after my first wife died that I really understood why the someone's sucidie, was discussed in quiet way: no one really knows why a person would take his or her own life.

    In the weeks or months that followed my first wife's death, I saw that very question in the eyes of family and friends: Why had my first wife killed herself? Their sad expressions pleaded for an answer that I didn't have.

    Four and a half years later, I still don't know why my first wife killed herself.

    And I probably never will.

    It was difficult to learn to be okay with not knowing answers I desperately sought. When bad things happen, we want some justification for our lives being upended. For months I pondered my first wife's family history of mental illness or the incredible stress she was under in the weeks leading up to her death.

    I soon learned that thinking about the reasons for her suicide were pointless.

    Why?

    The truth won't change what happened. Agonizing over the past would not bring my wife back from the dead.

    Instead thinking about questions that could never be answered in this life, I started thinking about what I could learn from the experience and turn a negative into a positive.

    Do the same.

    Don't dwell on what you don't know.

    Concentrate on your blessings and lessons learned.

    ***

    Those who have lost a loved one to suicide and read my old blog always seem to have the same question: Where was my anger? Was I not upset that my wife killed herself?

    The answer is yes, I was angry. Very angry.

    The reason my anger doesn't appear in that blog is because I couldn't write when I was angry. But that doesn't mean the anger wasn't there.

    I never knew what it was like to truly hate someone like I hated my first wife in the months following her death. I was mad that she killed herself and furious that she shortened the life of our unborn daughter in the process.

    The anger was so intense that my first wife was blamed for anything that went wrong in my life.

    Bad day at work? I blamed my dead wife.

    Car problems? I blamed my dead wife.

    The Broncos lost a football game? I blamed my dead wife.

    My anger was so bad that I couldn't even write about how my first wife died on my old blog. Every time I tried to write about her suicide, I found myself typing out some drivel that I ended up deleting.

    So for nine months I hid the manner of my wife's death from the readers of my blog just so I could write a coherent sentence.

    At some point, however, I realized just how unproductive all that anger toward my dead wife was.

    And once I could put the anger aside, I found my outlook on life improved. I found a richness to living I hadn't noticed before.

    I'm not saying anger is a bad thing. I think anger toward someone who has killed themselves is beneficial. It's a natural emotion and part of the healing process.

    But prolonged anger will eat at your soul.

    So be angry at the person who took their own life. Scream your hatred into a mirror. Dance on their grave if it will make you feel better.

    Then get over it.

    Clear your soul.

    Move on.

    ***

    Let's go back to the beginning. The part where I mentioned it was for the best that memories of my first wife's suicide are still a vivid part of my memories.

    Those memories remind me how short life is and how fortunate I am to be blessed with a second wife and two wonderful children.

    The memories remind me to live every day to the fullest, to take nothing for granted and let those whom I love know how much I love them.

    So to those who have lost a loved one to suicide, I'll say this: go and live your life. You live in a beautiful world that offers endless possibilities.

    Don't wallow in misery, sorrow and anger.

    Embrace life and choose to live.

    ***

    Enjoy what you read? Subscribe to Abel's e-mail updates and be the first to learn about upcoming books, essays, and appearances.

    More widower-related articles by Abel Keogh

  • Up with Grief NEW!
  • Dating and Marriage: One Regret NEW!
  • Widowers: They're Still Men! NEW!
  • 10 Dating Tips for Widows and Widowers
  • Photos of the Dead Wife
  • 5 Signs a Widower is Serious About Your Relationship
  • How Vice President Joe Biden Dealt with Grief
  • Life with a Widower
  • Dating a Widower
  • The Grief Industry
  • Suicide Survivor
  • A Letter to Elizabeth
  • Sex and Intimacy with Widowers
  • The Widowerhood Excuse
  • How to Talk to a Widower
  • Red Flags to Watch for When Dating A Widower