What’s it like for a man to lose the person at the very center of his life — his wife? Maybe you know firsthand, because you’ve lost a spouse yourself. Or maybe you know a friend or family member who’s a widower, and have wondered what he’s going through and how to help him. Or maybe you’re just curious about what this journey is like, should you, heaven forbid, become a widower one day yourself.
No matter which group you fall into, we could all benefit from understanding more about the journey widower’s take through loss, grief, and the effort to establish a new life.
Here today to walk us through this process is Herb Knoll, who lost his wife himself and has dedicated his life to helping his fellow widowers. Herb is the founder of the Widower’s Support Network which provides free advice and resources to men who’ve lost their spouses, and the author of the book The Widower’s Journey. Today on the show, we discuss Herb’s own experience of becoming a widower, how and why he found that there were few resources available specifically focused on helping men deal with the loss of their wives, and how that catalyzed him into creating such resources himself. We then get into the different issues widowers face, including loneliness, isolation, depression, a decline in their own physical health, and poor decision making, and how and why these issues can manifest themselves differently in men than women. Herb also shares tips on what family and friends can do to support a widower in the months after his spouse dies. We then discuss what dating and marriage is like for a widower, including when the time is right to start dating again and how to handle a second marriage with kids, both financially and psychologically.
- Herb’s experience becoming a widower
- Why there seem to be more resources for widows than widowers
- What the death of a wife can do to a man’s health (both physically and emotionally/socially)
- Do men grieve differently than women?
- What sort of support groups are out there for widowers?
- How can friends and family help widowers? What should you say or not say?
- The dating process after becoming a widower
- Does time really heal?
- Does age make a difference in the widower experience?
- Why younger widowers often have a harder time dating/marrying again
- Are there practical considerations involved when re-marrying
- The importance of having your legal affairs in order
- How widowers can help their children grieve
Resources/People/Articles Mentioned in Podcast
- The Dying Experience — Myths and Answers
- AoM series on male depression
- 5 Stoic Tactics for Modern Life
- What Man Understands That He Is Dying Daily?
- How to Protect Your Legacy: A 3-Step Guide to Estate Planning
- Soaring Spirits International
- The Goodbye Book
Connect With Herb
Listen to the Podcast! (And don’t forget to leave us a review!)
Recorded on ClearCast.io
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Read the Transcript
Brett McKay: What’s it like for a man to lose the person at the very center of his life, his wife? Maybe you know firsthand because you’ve lost a spouse yourself. Or maybe you know a friend or family member who’s a widower and wonder what he’s going through and how to help him. Or maybe you’re just curious about what this journey is like should you, heaven forbid, become a widower one day yourself.
No matter which group you fall into, we could all benefit from understanding more about the journey widowers take through loss, grief, and the effort to establish a new life. Here today to walk us through this process is Herb Knoll who lost his wife himself and has dedicated his life to helping his fellow widowers. Herb is the founder of the Widowers Support Network which provides free advice and resources to men who have lost their spouses and the author of the book, The Widower’s Journey.
Today on the show, we discuss Herb’s own experience of becoming a widower, how and why he found that there were few resources available specifically focused on helping men deal with the loss of their wives, and how that catalyzed him to creating such resources himself. We then get into the different issues widowers face including loneliness, isolation, depression, a decline in their own physical health, poor decision making, and how and why these issues can manifest themselves differently in men than in women. Herb also shared tips on what family and friends can do to support a widower in the months after his spouse dies. We then discuss what dating and marriage is like for a widower including when the time is right to start dating again and how to handle a second marriage with kids both financially and psychologically.
After the show is over, check out our show notes at aom.is-widowersjourney. And Herb joins me now via Clearcast.io.
Herb Knoll, welcome to the show.
Herb Knoll: Well, thank you so much. It’s good to be with you today.
Brett McKay: So you published a book, The Widower’s Journey. And you’ve also become an advocate helping other widowers navigate this transition to becoming a widower. Before we get to that, let’s talk about your story of when you became a widower. What happened there?
Herb Knoll: It was December 2004, on the 23rd of the month. My wife … it happened to be her birthday … she was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. She was 49 years old. And our lives changed forever after that. It included 39 months of surgery, chemo, radiation, trips to places like MD Anderson in Houston and Vanderbilt Medical Center in Nashville. And at the end of 39 months, we lost her. She was 52 years old. And she lasted actually quite a bit longer than the average pancreatic cancer patient does but it caused me to take a journey that I never wanted to take. And I took a lot of notes, mental and otherwise.
And following all of that, I went looking for help one day. I did so because … I was in the banking field and I had an employee walk into my office four months after my wife died and she looked at me and she said, “The entire floor misses your laughter.” And then, I realized that I probably needed some help. I was going in at 4:00 in the morning and going home and 8:00 at night, and that was pretty much my life.
So I went to my church. I went to the Veteran’s Administration because I’m a disabled vet. And I went to Barnes & Noble. And I asked the gentleman at Barnes & Noble, what do you have for a widower? He typed widower into his search engine and looked up at me and said, “Mister, I don’t have a damn thing for you.”
Well, following all that, I decided somebody better write a book for men. And actually, he was wrong. There were some books out there but there was nothing that satisfied my thirst. And very few written by men. So I, within a few months, decided to leave my 38 year career and rededicate my life to serving widowers and those who love them. And it’s been an interesting journey and a rewarding journey ever since. And frankly, it’s the best thing I’ve ever done.
Brett McKay: I imagine that. And I thought that was interesting … You talk about in the book that yeah, you went to Barnes & Noble looking for books and there really wasn’t anything out there for widowers. I’m curious. Are there books out there, a lot more books out there, for widows than there are for widowers?
Herb Knoll: Oh absolutely. In fact, I spent the next nine years researching my book and had an agent out of New York and all that. And we paraded a manuscript around to over 30 different publishers. About 18 of them showed some level of interest. But a couple of them were interesting. They were candid enough and honest enough to say, “We don’t think men buy books so we’re not going to do a book about widowers. We are going to do another book this year for widows, however.” So they think that the widow market is much stronger. My response to them was men certainly can’t buy what’s not on the shelf.
So as it turns out, I self-published. And there’s lots of reasons why you want to do that instead of having a publisher anyways. And that was a good decision as well. But there’s very little out there. A lot of it’s written by academics from some university perspective, some think tank somewhere. Or it’s one man’s journey. He tells his story, his journal. That, to me, is not what men want. What men want is answers. Men act because they’re fixers. They face a problem and they want to put a remedy on it.
And I love telling the story of my brother. My brother, Don, was traveling with his wife, Kathy. And Kathy said, “The little boy behind me is kicking the back of my airline seat.” Well, my brother did what every man would do. He leaned over the top of the seat and told the young man behind him to knock it off. Well, Kathy leaned over to my brother again and said, “What did you do that for?” He said, “You said he was kicking your seat.” And she said, “Well yes. But I didn’t want you to do anything. I just wanted you to know about it.” Well, men aren’t like that. Men want answers. Even if they’re 80% right or 70% right. They’ll try it. And it’s a little bit risky because men are vulnerable when they become widowers because of that very behavior.
So when I wrote my book, I didn’t attack it as my story, my journey, or that or any one person. Rather, I took on the issues of the day. And I had 40 men from across the country who were brave enough to share their stories with me and share their innermost secrets and their tears and their grief and their best practices, and we dissected the issues of the day that widowers face. And then, we elaborated by sharing how that one problem whether it be financial or religion or health or relationships or their career or whatever the issue is, how it impacted a few men. And then, on top of all that, we brought in a team of experts who made even further analysis of what that issue was all about and how men can go after it. And it’s been very successful as a result of that. So, it’s a very tactical book. It’s a very strategic book that men can pick up, grab an idea, and put it back down and pick it up again in a month from now when they have another problem.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about the need for a book like this or a resource like this for widowers because you start off the book talking about some of the unique problems that widowers face. You list all these statistics. Can you walk us through some of those numbers …
Herb Knoll: Sure.
Brett McKay: … and talk about why widowers have those problems.
Herb Knoll: Well, depending on what research you look at, there’s approximately 2.7 million widowers in America. There are 420,000 new widowers in America alone each year. And it’s interesting. Very few people can name even one widower. They’ll pause and then they’ll say, oh wait a minute, I do know one. And he lives down the street or he’s in the next apartment at work. But they don’t come top of mind because widowers live in the shadows. They’re not out front. They’re more reserved because basically they’re told that boys don’t cry since the time that they were able to crawl and walk. And they go off to war. They commit horrific acts in conflict. And they don’t even talk about it when they get home. Because men don’t think that anybody cares and that it’s not manly to reveal those kind of feelings.
So some of the other facts are that the suicide rate among widowers is three or four times greater than that of married men. They have an increased rate of diabetes, hypertension, and heart attacks. Because they abuse themselves. After all, it’s the wives that keep us healthy. It’s the wives that make sure we eat right, that we get exercise, that we get our PSAs checked once in a while. It’s the wives that do all that. And if the man happens to be a caregiver of a terminally ill wife, then he’s even less likely to get medical attention if he feels an ache or pain. And then finally, when the aches or pain get more severe, it may be too late. Now he’s got a problem. So, men abuse themselves on their health and that’s a big risk for men. A very big risk.
Brett McKay: And also, going on that statistic of depression and suicide, a big factor in that is widowers become very lonely because the wives are often the social linchpin. They’re the ones that created the social life.
Herb Knoll: Oh, that’s no question about it. Wives keep the social calendar. Sometimes we wish they wouldn’t. Sometimes they overdo it and they line us up on their calendars for things that we don’t even want to go to. But we follow along. Well, when that’s gone. There’s nobody to do that for us. And after a week or two, maybe three, after the passing of your spouse, all the well wishers, the ones who ran to your aid, to your side, at the dark moment, suddenly go back to their lives. And suddenly, it becomes very, very quiet.
One of the men in my book … There’s 40 in all … used to be a Lieutenant Colonel in the Air Force. He was a career officer. And when his wife died, he was a man of great faith. And I asked him … Oh, he became a priest … So, I asked him, “What’s the worst part about being a priest?” He said, “The same thing that’s the worst part about being a widower. When you go home at night and it’s dead silent.” He said, “The same thing happens in the priest world.” Actually, he said the priests are fussed over by everybody all day but when we go home, there’s nothing.
There’s one man who’s in my book, he tells me that he plays cooking shows in the background in his house all day, the cooking channel, the Food channel or whatever those channels are called, because he doesn’t want drama in his life and he can’t stand the silence so he listens to cooking shows. So the silence is deafening and that helps depression and other things happen and a lot of them aren’t very good.
Brett McKay: Was that pretty … Did you notice that silence right away when your wife passed away?
Herb Knoll: I noticed … Oh Brett, I’ll tell you. My wife died at 9:15 on a Friday night in San Antonio, Texas. We had just moved there about six months earlier. I had changed jobs with another bank. And the nurse comes into the room 15 minutes later and says, “What are you going to do with her remains?” And I said, “I don’t know. I just moved into town. I’ve got to figure it out.” And the nurse said, “Well, you have to remove her remains by midnight because your insurance doesn’t cover her after midnight.” I said, “Well, don’t you have a morgue?” And she said, “No.” So I literally, in 2008, got a phone directory out and went through Yellow Pages looking for somebody to come and pick up my wife. And when I left that hospital that night and I walked across that parking lot to my car, it was the loneliest walk I ever made. And when I walked into my house that night and I could still smell her perfume in the house, but I caught the silence right away. And it was unpleasant and stayed that way for a while.
Brett McKay: Let’s talk about that grieving process. As you talked to the men in this book and also the experts, did you discover that men grieve differently than women do or do widowers grieve differently than widows do?
Herb Knoll: The professionals will tell you … and in full disclosure, I’m not a licensed anything. I’m just a widower … But the professionals will tell you that grief is grief. But the difference is that ladies are more social and that men have egos and they get in the way. And as a result of that, they become isolated.
My ministry became the subject of a play. A two act, 15 scene play, that actually I was very pleased to see win Best New Play of the Year in Update New York last year. And the most impressive scene in the play is a man sitting in his recliner looking at his TV, changing the station with a TV dinner laying on his belly and he falls asleep that way. He never speaks a word. That’s his life. That’s his life. He goes home to an empty house. And he’s reluctant to ask for help because after all, he’s a man. He shouldn’t need that. And people say things like, “Well, why isn’t he back in the game yet? Why hasn’t he gotten over it? After all, it’s been three weeks or four weeks?” Many people say ridiculous things.
So these men become very isolated, very quickly. And I’ll tell you, in addition to the 40 men that were in my book, there were three men who backed out. And you know, I was calling them regularly over a nine year period doing my research. And my editor said, “Let’s find out why these three men backed out.” So I called the first one and he said, “Herb, it’s just simply too painful to have these conversations with you.” I understand. The second gentleman says to me, “Herb, my new girlfriend doesn’t like it when I even talk about my deceased wife.” So, I told him to get a new girlfriend. The third man actually said to me, “It’s not manly to have these discussions with you.” And therein, lies the problem. That men don’t feel like they have permission to grieve.
In one of my speaking engagements in Connecticut, one of the men in the room was a former captain of a nuclear powered submarine. And yet, when he lost his wife, he needed to talk to somebody. He could run a submarine, an attack submarine, but when he lost his bride, he needed help. And it’s so hard for men to ask for that help. And that’s what I do all day long is I help men, actually, beyond North America now. And I do it free of charge.
Brett McKay: I mean, are there support groups out there just for widowers?
Herb Knoll: Mine is for widowers and those who love them. So if there’s a child, I have children that call me and they’re worried about Dad. I have ladies that call me who are dating widowers. I have siblings call me.
I’ll tell you a funny story. There was one lady who called me and she didn’t like that the man she was seeing goes online and leaves messages for his deceased wife in a chatroom. And I said, “Well, does he take out billboards along the highway talking about his deceased wife?”
“Does he talk about her in front of other people at parties and other places?”
And I said, “So, he found his little place where he can grieve. And he can do it discreetly, privately. He’s grieving. You can’t expect the grief to go away just because he found you. There’s still the pain. You still have the loss.” And after a while I said, “Actually, I think he should have more questions about you.”
And she said, “Why is that?”
And I said, “You were married before and your marriage ended in divorce. He loves his wife to the end. He cared for his wife to the very end. That’s an attribute that I think most people would like to have in a mate.”
And she said, “You made your point.” And she dropped her concern.
So, I’m sorry, the last question was?
Brett McKay: Just are there support groups for widowers? And it sounds like there are.
Herb Knoll: Oh yes, sorry. There are and a lot of them are faith-based. You can go to churches. Different places like hospice have support groups. But there aren’t a lot for men. Men have to search a little bit deeper. But they are out there in small numbers. I’m certainly available to anybody and I’m happy to be of service. But they can go to places like Grief Share which is a well known program that’s all over the country. It’s in most Christian churches. The men will find that for every man that attends, there will be four or five women that attend, so they’ll be outnumbered. The challenge is will the men open up in front of women? And men tend not to do that. They go and they sit there and they let the women do all the talking. And most of the instructors are ladies. And sometimes men are slow to take instruction from a lady, even though it may be good instruction. But there’s just the sense that she doesn’t understand.
So men like to come to men and I recognized that earlier this year like never before. And while I’ve had a Facebook page for a long time for my organization, which is the Widowers Support Network. I created a second Facebook page just for men. And the only men I allow on there are either caregivers of very seriously ill women, widowed men, or good hearted men who want to help these gentlemen. And we don’t let any women have access to that Facebook page. And I can tell you, it has been a major hit. The men open up. They share their deepest concerns, their most private concerns. And other men who are in the same boat, rush to their rescue and encourage them daily. We have interactions with these men every single day. I have men in Nigeria, in Turkey, and as far away as Australia on that Facebook page. And they are constantly helping each other.
And we talk about everything. We talk sports. We talk money on Mondays. We talk about their health on Wednesday. We have music videos. We talk gardening. We talk about cooking for one. We talk about estate planning. We talk about grief. We talk about religion. Not that we preach to anybody, but in fact, we celebrate all faiths. On Friday, we celebrate the Jewish community. On Sundays, we celebrate the Christian community. And we turn nobody away and no topic is off limits and the men just love it because it’s only men that they’re talking to.
Brett McKay: I imagine, okay, if you are a widower, first step is reach out, find some help, don’t try to do it alone. But let’s talk to the people who may be friends and family of a widower, what can they do to help and support? And a lot of times, even with just death in general, when someone dies, people are just really reluctant to reach out because it’s death. It’s awkward. People just don’t know how to handle it. What can friends and family members of widowers do to help and support these guys?
Herb Knoll: They can do a lot, first of all. And I will tell you, people do say silly things. I had a vice president in the bank where I worked walk up to me and she asked me a few questions following my wife’s passing. It was my first day to work, 10 days after my wife’s death. And as she’s getting ready to leave me, she says, “I want to introduce you to my aunt.” Well, my wife’s memorial service hadn’t even taken place yet. So I said, “Well, that’s not going to happen.” And I walked away. In retrospect, I know she was well-intentioned and she didn’t know what to say, because for some reason, in our society, we don’t talk about death. We don’t talk about being prepared for death.
And in fact, one man in the book, again, John Vandahar, John said to me one time … I asked him, “What’s the best thing that happened to you when you were grieving?” And he said, “When I told my family and friends I’m fine, leave me alone with my thoughts. They ignored my instructions and forced their way into my life and I’m so grateful that they did.” People think men are different than women and that for some reason, we don’t need help. We need a lot of help because we’re extremely vulnerable and we’re making impulsive, bad decisions. Again, because we’re fixers.
And I’ll give you another example. There was a gentleman who attended one of my talks and I was talking about predator women and he comes up to me afterwards and he says, “I need to share something with you and your readers.” He said, “I am a victim of a predator.” He said, “After my wife died, I remarried too soon and the woman I married spent $1.2 million of mine in 24 months.” And they ended in divorce. But again, he was isolated and vulnerable so the family members … It’s in everybody’s best interest to reach out to that man, to knock on that door when you think otherwise, I don’t want to bother you. No, please do. Please do stop by.
You’ll also find out that a lot of men don’t get invited to things whether it be parties, even from close friends, because they feel like they’re the third leg on a stool. Well, you need to invite them out and let them find their own comfort zone. You need to talk about the deceased if that’s what he wants to talk about. Celebrate her life by living his life. But get it … I try to get the man to, frankly, practice his faith, if he has a faith. Talk to professional counselors. Make sure that he’s healthy, that he’s not run down, he’s not depressed. The number one thing I tell every widower to do is to see a medical doctor because chances are very good, he’s abused himself in some fashion. Either through neglect or else with purpose like alcohol or illegal drugs or something like that. And that’s why you can’t leave a widower alone because they are too vulnerable.
And I would encourage employers, society, family members, neighbors, everybody needs to do their part. And today, it’s not going to happen all by itself. Not unless somebody decides it’s going to happen. Because of just the way society is built. In corporations, as an example, if you have a loss in your family, if you’re grieving, whether it be a spouse or a child or a parent or whatever, corporations send you off to their EAP program and you go see a psychologist three times for one hour. Well, that’s not going to do it. That’s not enough. They need more than that.
And then, corporations wash their hands of it and want to know why the person isn’t performing top of their game on the job. And I’m even working on a study right now where I work with the International Grief Institute. And we figured out from other research that corporations lose $75 billion a year on grief because they don’t address it properly. And there’s lots of different discussion points on that. We can chat about that another time if you like. But by all means, the men are vulnerable and nobody should leave them alone. They’re at risk.
Brett McKay: And I imagine, the thing friends and family need to really be cognizant of is I think they might give a lot of attention right in the aftermath of the death of the spouse, but then months later, like you said earlier, people just … Lives move on and they just forget about this guy. You can’t forget, right? Because he still needs help.
Herb Knoll: He still needs help. And grief doesn’t go away. Grief takes on new dimensions, new forms. As an example, I found love a second time and I am happily married. I am a fulfilled man and I love my wife … her name is Maria … as much as I loved my deceased wife. One love does not take anything away from the previous love. It doesn’t diminish it one iota. If people don’t believe that that’s possible, look at all the people that remarry after a divorce. Well, they loved their divorced partner at one point and they learned to love somebody else later.
So the human heart will heal over time and it takes effort on the part of the man. And a lot of men, like I said, they’re reluctant to ask for help and they’re impulsive and they make a whole bunch of bad choices.
Brett McKay: What were some of the surprising challenges you encountered as you adjusted to becoming a widower? You thought about … I didn’t think I’d have this problem but you had that problem.
Herb Knoll: I’m pretty domesticated so I’ve been living on my own since I was 18 I’m pretty … So, I can handle it but frankly, a lot of men can’t. The thing that also surprised me is universally, every single man I’ve talked to has some level of regret that they’re living with. I have regrets about my wife and I wish I would have done different things on different days. Whether it’s you tell her you love her, whether you take her to her favorite restaurant, whether you paid attention to her when she was talking or complaining about her aches and pains. I have one man right now who says I’m not convinced I got my wife or found the best medical care possible for her and I’m living with that guilt.
Every single man has some level of guilt and you can’t erase that. So that’s always going to be in place. And over time, I’ve discovered that the bad memories become less noticeable. They fade into the background. And center stage becomes the favorable memories. But you’re always going to have triggers, Brett.
As an example, I happen to move back into the same town that I once lived in with my deceased wife. Every time I drive down Lake Mary Boulevard in Lake Mary, Florida, I pass this one restaurant and I can tell you what dress she had on, who we were with, and what she ordered. And every time I pass that restaurant, my eyes shift in that direction to look at it because it’s a trigger. It’s a trigger of a memory that I can’t recapture. I can’t go back in time. It’s over. But it’s a trigger and we all have triggers. And it could be a meal. It could be a song. It could be a movie. It could be a friend. It could be a location. It could be almost anything that will take us back and if it’s a sad moment, hopefully, it becomes overpowered by the better memories. And I have found that the human mind is able to handle that pretty well. The good memories will emerge over time.
I don’t necessarily accept the argument time heals all wounds. But I think you can have grief. It’s a phase of life. We don’t talk about it but we all have to deal with it. In fact, one of the men once said to me, “Since we’re all going to die, why do we have such difficulty dealing with it? Why are we so ill prepared?” Because we don’t talk about it. Most people die without a will and then they’re at the mercy of the courts. There’s so many issues here because in our society, we don’t like talking about death. Other societies do a much better job than we do.
The other surprises that I’ve found is that besides the grief that all men have, besides the regrets that all men have, the impulsiveness is almost universal. They all want to make choices. They want to relocate. Sell their house. Change their job. Go on a trip. They all want to pull triggers. And I always encourage them to slow down. Let’s get your health squared away. Let’s hope that the medical doctor refers you to a mental health professional just to be sure. And let me reinforce that. When my wife was sick, we were living in Nashville, Tennessee. I went to Vanderbilt Medical Center and I had an examination with a psychiatrist. Now everything was fine at that point except my wife’s diagnosis. But I wanted to be sure that I was properly anchored as I cared for her. I wanted to be sure I wasn’t making bad choices with somebody else’s life. The good news was I got the green light. I was doing okay.
But four months after she passed and I went and saw VA, there I saw a counselor and the counselor was extremely helpful to me. And I was put on an antidepressant for four weeks. And I’m not ashamed of that. There’s a reason why they give these people PhDs. There’s a reason why the medical community has this help available. And it helped me get through a very difficult period. But so many men hold themselves up because of their ego and what they think others expect of them. And they need to cast that aside and just deal with what they need to deal with. And these are some of the issues that we talk about in the book, some of the issues that we talk about on my Facebook page, and elsewhere. And we’re having a lot of success with this. I’m really pleased with the work that we’re doing and the results that we’re receiving.
Brett McKay: I’m curious, with all your work with widowers, and I’m sure you’ve worked with older widowers, middle-aged widowers, and also younger widowers. But I’m curious, are there different challenges that say a younger widower faces compared to say a man in his 60s or 50s? So I’m talking like a widower in their 30s, early 40s?
Herb Knoll: Yes, let me give you some examples. None of this is absolute but I can give you some examples. There was a man in Buffalo, New York who was on the phone with his wife. 15 minutes, he hung up the phone. 15 minutes later, the phone rang again. He saw it was his wife. He said, “Yes, dear.” And it was a man’s voice. And the man said, “It’s not your wife. I just picked up her phone. She just got struck by a car.” And five hours later, he had to disconnect life support and left him with three children that he needed to raise. So that’s one example of a younger man. Frankly, I have many. There’s a man in Rochester, New York, whose wife died at the age of 28. I have a man whose wife was in the US Air Force and she was serving in Afghanistan. She died and left him with two children. So there’s lots of cases of younger men as well. There’s a man in Los Angeles who came home and found his wife dead of a heart attack. He was in his early 40s. There’s just a lot of them.
But the older men are interesting. The older men are either frightened that they’re going to live alone. The older generation aren’t as versatile in their skills and being able to care for themselves, cook for themselves, do the laundry, all the domestic chores. They’re not very good at that. Some of them don’t even know how to pay the paperboy. Does he get a check or credit card or do we go online? They tend to panic more than the younger men, at least from my experience. They want somebody in their life and a lot of times it’s the first woman they say hello to. They, again, make bad choices and I always encourage them to take it slow. Be aware of your circumstances. Don’t rush to use the L word. Things will work out.
And there’s also financial considerations. Some men are afraid of, perhaps, getting seriously sick themselves and having somebody to take care of them. And there’s a saying in the industry, are we going to replace the wife that we lost or are we going to fall in love with somebody and marry them? Some men don’t care. They literally just want someone in their life. And frequently, that ends badly, either in divorce or a breakup of some type.
The other issue that comes into play are financial. Because of the tax code in the United States, married couples … or older people who marry, if one of them gets sick and are hospitalized or sent to a nursing home, their spouse’s life savings could be put into the pool of available resources to pay for that. And that surprises a lot of people because they think they have a little nest egg that they can leave their children or whatever, but if they marry, they are assuming financial responsibility for their married partner. That’s why several of the couples that I work with never married. They just moved in together. And it’s a shame that the tax code actually encourages that but that’s a reality.
Brett McKay: So I imagine, there’s that one challenge for older widowers. That fear of being alone. I imagine for younger widowers, oftentimes, there’s young kids involved. It’s like suddenly they’re also a single dad of young children that they have to take care of by themselves.
Herb Knoll: Yeah, for every case that I’m involved with that works out well, there’s another one that works out very badly. And sometimes, the children of the deceased are not sympathetic to Dad’s needs. And at the same time, Dads can’t be too aggressive in replacing Mom. It needs to make sense. And sometimes Dads don’t care about what the kids think. But there’s a lot of turmoil among widowers who find another woman in their life that doesn’t satisfy that kid’s impressions of what should be. It’s tragic. And they need counseling is what they need. They need to understand each other better.
In my case, I will tell you, I went to my stepson and I asked him, “Do you think I loved your mother?” And he said, “Yes.” I said, “I did and I still do. But I’m going to try to find a new life for myself and that’s going to include introducing myself to ladies.” And his response to me was a blessing. He said, “It’s about time.” So I’ve had my son’s blessing from day one. And unfortunately, siblings of widowed men, parents of widowed men, even with children think he’s got motives. He just wants somebody to take care of his kids. People can draw a lot of cruel impressions but that’s why you can’t just rush into these things. You have to think it through because there are ramifications. And a lot of them are hurtful and a lot of them become permanent.
Brett McKay: We’ve been talking about this relationship after being a widower. How do you know … How does a widower know? Because this is something I think a lot of people are curious about. How do you know when the time is right to start dating again? Because if it’s too soon, that just looks bad. If it’s too long, well, something’s wrong there maybe. How do you figure out that?
Herb Knoll: This is, again, every man’s journey is unique to itself. And I actually have … One woman called me from Quebec and her father asked a woman out at her mother’s funeral. And I spoke with the father and the father said, “I took care of my now deceased wife for five years.” Or whatever it was. It was a long time. And he said, “I’ve done all my grieving.” And I sort of get that. I sort of get that because every morning for 39 months before I opened my eyes, I knew … I could feel the presence of my wife next to me and I thought to myself privately, “She’s dying and I have to give her another good day.” And I did my very best to do that. So I sort of understood this man but it just was in poor taste. And it wasn’t a good move on his part.
But I would answer it this way, the man is ready to date when he feels he is ready. He shouldn’t be concerned about the instructions … He doesn’t need to meet anybody else’s expectations. But he does need to be mindful that other people are entitled to inform opinions and he’s going to have to live with those opinions. So he may want to be somewhat tactical in how he goes about doing things and being sensitive to others. He’s not the only one that’s grieving. There could be children involved, siblings involved, neighbors involved, coworkers involved, who are also grieving the loss of the same woman who happened to be his wife. And if he wants those relationships to be solid into the future, he needs to have some sensitivity too. It’s not all about him.
Brett McKay: I guess one thing I’ve wondered about is all right, if you’re a widower, you might have been married for years, decades. So it’s been a while since you’ve been in the dating scene where you’ve been trying to court, right?
Herb Knoll: Yeah.
Brett McKay: That’s a skill and you haven’t used it in possibly years or decades. You’ve lost your game, basically. So how do you get it back? Is it awkward? Is learning how to date again a challenge that some widowers have?
Herb Knoll: Absolutely. I mean, all sorts of things have changed. Hairstyles, or the presence of hair. A lot of men’s self-esteem have suffered. Maybe their weight has shifted. Maybe they don’t have the physique or even the teeth that they used to have. I mean, there’s just all sorts of things that they’re self-conscious about, right? And I understand that completely. But if they’re themselves, and frankly, not to preach because I would never want to do that but the men should pray over it. My mother used to say to me when I was a young man, you want to meet a nice woman? Go to church. Okay. But there’s a lot of nice women out there. The ratio is about five to one, widows over widowers. So there’s a lot of ladies that would love to have a relationship again and are mature enough and sensitive enough to the fact that you had one before. And they’re understanding that maybe your physique has been modified and your hairline may have receded and whatever else. And they understand it and they look way past that.
I just wouldn’t rush it. I just wouldn’t rush it at all. Let it take its natural course. And don’t be that impulsive male that wants to pull triggers. Unfortunately, I have guys who have proposed within … In fact, in this past week, I have a guy … I’m helping him, coaching him, and his wife has been deceased for four months. And he met this woman and now he’s referring to it as a relationship. I said, “You’ve had one date. You’re calling it a relationship?” I said, “It’s not. You just barely said hello.” So guys seem to rush and the older men are even more insistent about rushing, unfortunately. And I’m sure it’s because they’re lonely and they’re scared.
Brett McKay: And I imagine going back to this difference between older widowers and younger widowers. An older widower, the chances of him finding another widow are probably better than say a younger widow, a guy in his 30s. So if you find a widow, you have that in common. You both have had, or possibly, a happy relationship.
Herb Knoll: Right, right.
Brett McKay: And so, you understand each other. But for a younger widower, he’s in his 30s, early 40s, he might get out in the dating scene, he might find a woman who’s never been married before, right? And so, she doesn’t really understand what he’s gone through. How does that play out in your experience?
Herb Knoll: Okay, with my experience, it’s much harder for the younger widower because there’s a good chance there’s children involved. Good chance that the lady is not going to be a widow. Good chance she’s going to be divorced so there’s going to be an ex-husband involved. There could be financial considerations involved if there’s a divorce in there somewhere. And the children … you have to protect the children. That’s when you need to bring in professional assistance to talk things through completely because if the children don’t buy in and especially if they’re young children, you are asking for trouble for the rest of your life. And most of the men that I work with who have children have not remarried.
Brett McKay: So we’ve been talking about the dating scene, getting back into that, and the different challenges older and younger widowers might find in that situation. But marriage also has its challenge. Let’s be a little more tactical here. So one thing that widowers will probably have to consider this time around when they get married the second time is the legal ramifications of marriage. Maybe they might have to do a prenup agreement that they might not have done with their first spouse because he married her when they …
Herb Knoll: If you’re-
Brett McKay: … because they got married when they had nothing. And now, he’s in his …
Herb Knoll: Or minus.
Brett McKay: Yeah, minus. Right now, he’s in his 60s and has accumulated some assets.
Herb Knoll: I highly recommend prenups particularly if there are children involved. It’s the right thing to do. And if the person that you’re involved with says I won’t sign one, then I would walk away. I would walk away because your deceased spouse had expectations that you would take care of your children. And that doesn’t mean you share whatever the two of you worked for to give it to a third party. Now some parties may say they can work it out and maybe they do, and God bless them that they can make that happen. But you need to protect the children. Because then, if anything happens to the male later on, who’s to say that the surviving children of now both children being deceased are properly taken care of by the next husband and their stepmom. I mean, you have to protect the children. It’s just the right thing to do.
Brett McKay: I mean, something everyone should consider even if their wife is healthy and happy, estate planning, right. Do a trust. Do a will. Get that in place so you don’t have to think about that whenever you have to make that decision.
Herb Knoll: Absolutely. I spent 38 years in the financial service industries and banking. And it’s scary how few people are prepared for difficult times. I think it’s something like some ridiculous number like 70% of Americans have less than $10,000 and they can barely handle even a small crisis. And yet, they go into retirement depending almost … and sometimes solely on Social Security … and when you are widowed and let’s say your wife had a pension or she had a check coming in, now that’s gone. Now what do you do? Can you even afford the house that you’re sleeping in? You might have to sell. Then you have a fire sale, and what if it’s a down market? Then, you have a double hit. But you lost on the market conditions and you lost because you’re moving.
I mean, there’s so many considerations and that’s one of the reasons why I also work with caregivers of terminally ill or seriously ill women because if I can get to them before they’ve experienced the loss of their spouse, I can possibly prevent some bad things from happening down the road financially. And that will help me help them avoid future regrets because if they don’t take care of things whether they’re distracted, they’re scared. Their wife’s in trouble. And they just say to hell with my health, to hell with my financial affairs. I can’t deal with it now. I’ve just got too much on my mind. I get it. But unfortunately, the business world, the financial world, doesn’t wait for anybody. And if the wife passes and those documents aren’t in good order, you could have an awful lot of regrets later on that would prevent you from even taking care of yourself and your children, the children of the deceased.
So, I recommend that every man get with an appropriate attorney and get your financial affairs and get your legal affairs in proper order because it can happen to anybody like that poor man that lost his wife who was hit by a car.
Brett McKay: And then, we’ve been talking a lot about widowers themselves but another issue that widowers are often thinking about when there’s kids involved, how do they help their kids grieve their mother? What have you found that widowers … What’s helpful for widowers to do to help their children as they go through their own grieving process?
Herb Knoll: First of all, there is a lot of resources available for children. When I entered this industry 10 years ago, 11 years ago, I was actually surprised and delighted about some of the materials that are out there. And if you go to my website, which is the widowerssupportnetwork.com, you’re going to find a list of links of a lot of different organizations that you can turn to including Soaring Spirits and the Grief Toolbox and others that specialize in programming for children. The founder of the Grief Toolbox, which is out of New Hampshire, he tragically lost his son at the age of four. So he has a lot of material for children and parents who have children who experienced a loss.
But it’s because there’s such great resources out there, nobody should assume that they somehow magically inherited all the skills needed to be a parent times two. It’s a difficult assignment and not everybody can do it. Years ago, there used to be a TV show called The Courtship of Eddie’s Father. And it was a glamorous story about a marketing executive who lost his wife and he was raising his son and he dressed really cool and he had a lot of cool girlfriends. It was Bill Bixby was the star of the show. And it glamorized being a widower. Well, it’s not like that. It’s difficult. It’s down in the trenches and you’re cooking meals and you’re going off to PTA meetings and you’re taking kids to their football practice. And the little girl misses their mom and the man doesn’t know what to say to the little girl as she’s going through critical points in her life. That’s why men need to tap into the resources that are out there. And there’s plenty out there for the children if the men would only take it.
Brett McKay: Right. So again, widowers with children, reach out for help.
Herb Knoll: Exactly.
Brett McKay: Well, Herb-
Herb Knoll: And we can help direct them. If they want to call on us or just Google it. You’ll find a lot of different resources for children. There’s some terrific books. There’s a wonderful book if you have a very young child called The Goodbye Book and it’s a story of a fish who lost its friend and what feelings the little fish went through. It’s a terrific piece. And I think it was a New York Times bestseller. So you’ll want to look for that.
Brett McKay: Well Herb, this has been a great conversation. Where can people go to learn more about your work?
Herb Knoll: Well, there’s three different places that I would encourage them to take a peek at. One is the website which is the widowerssupportnetwork.com. And there’s an S on widowers, plural. So widowerssupportnetwork.com. And on Facebook, again, there’s two Facebook pages. There’s one for the general public which is Widowers Support Network. The second one is for men only and it’s Widowers Support Network-Member’s Only. And all of our services are free. We don’t even solicit donations. It’s not what we’re about. We’re about helping men who have few places to turn and we’re proud to be here for them.
Brett McKay: Herb Knoll, thanks so much for coming on the show. This has been a pleasure.
Herb Knoll: Thank you so much for the opportunity.
Brett McKay: My guest today was Herb Knoll. He’s the author of the book, The Widowers Journey. It’s available on amazon.com. Also, check out his website, widowerssupportnetwork.com where you can find more information, more resources to help you. Also a link to his Facebook group should that interest you as well. Also check out our show notes at aom.is-widowersjourney where you can find links to resources including all the stuff that we mentioned throughout the show so you can delve deeper into this topic.
Well, that wraps up another edition of the Art of Manliness Podcast. For more manly tips and advice, make sure to check out the Art of Manliness website at artofmanliness.com. And if you enjoy the show, you’ve gotten something out of it, I’d appreciate if you’d give us a review on iTunes or Stitcher. It helps out a lot. If you’ve done that already, thank you. Please consider sharing the show with a friend of family member who you think will get something out of it.
As always, thank you for your continued support and until next time, this is Brett McKay telling you to stay manly.