When you’re a man grieving the death of your wife or partner, casseroles just don’t cut it. They have to deal with their loss and adjust to a different life. In the old days, if you were a guy, you toughed it out by yourself until you “got over” it.
Women more typically vent and share their anguish through established venues like support groups. Sure, men can attend too, but often don’t return, finding themselves outnumbered by females and uncomfortable opening up. There have been few all-male grief groups.
Until Sam Feldman. In 2008, his wife of 53 years died. Adrift, Feldman started a peer-led, male bereavement group on Martha’s Vineyard. That morphed into the Men’s Bereavement Network.
Last week, the group changed its name to the National Widowers’ Organization. (It wants to tackle widower-hood exclusively and found men contacting them with other kinds of grief problems.)
The organization connects widowers around the country, lists existing support groups nationwide, helps them start groups in the area, advocates for research to determine what their needs and issues are, and raises public awareness.
The national group deals with subjects beyond the immediate grief: perhaps an adult daughter who doesn’t want Dad ever dating again; the impact of the death on the rest of the family; and help transitioning into a new life sans wife.
The timing couldn’t be better. According to the organization, nearly 415,000 men in the U.S. become widowers annually. Since 1990, the number of widowers has increased 26% percent, from 2.3 million to almost three million.
Men are living longer and the deluge of baby boomers means a lot more husbands will outlive their wives. “We think there’s a huge, underserved portion of the community,” says Fred Spero, National Widowers’ Organization’s executive director.
Not that women don’t need more support, too. The all-male group is collaborating with the W Connection, a widow’s group in New York which shares similar values. Among them: the belief in peer-led support groups; the need for national support; and fresh research on those who lose their mates.
The National Widowers’ Organization hopes to hold a national conference for widowers within the next year and is rolling out a mentoring program. Men who don’t have time to join a bereavement group or have none in their area will be able to talk by phone with a widower. The group’s thoughtful approach is a powerful antidote to isolation. Thumbs up to brotherhood!
Here’s a list of the NWO’s most common asked questions.
What do you think: Do men and women grieve differently?
Photo courtesy of the National Widowers’ Organization.