In this episode we interview author Fred Colby about his personal grief journey as a widower, and the advice he delivers in his book “Widower to Widower: Surviving the End of Your Most Important Relationship”.
I pose the top three challenges I have seen widowers have to Fred to get his personal and professional take: everything from trauma and lack of sleep to making big decisions, and dating again.
Fred provides his own views along with insights from consulting with many widowers to deliver some important tools for healing and growth.
After the celebration of life, I was very fortunate in that I was able to escape to a cabin up in the mountains all by myself. And I will tell you, I took as much material as I could on grieving, because I had no idea what this thing was that I was going to have to go through. I didn’t find a lot, because there just wasn’t a lot out there for men. So I took what I could, but when I got up there, the thing that was most important was, I went outside and just screamed. I screamed as loud as I could and as long as I could because I was just stressed to the max in pain, like I hadn’t felt before. I had to express that side, I always recommend that if you can do that, do it. It is helpful. It’s not something you want to do a year later. But it is something you kind of need to do during those first few months. It’s just: let it out.
I’d say up to about six months, that my challenge of being able to sleep was horrendous. I’d have nights where I was lucky to get two hours just because I was so stressed about everything. And you already are emotionally totally messed up from the death of your wife. Now you throw in the lack of sleep, and it just accentuates it to the max.
… Because we just ruminate on the past, of all of the things that we might have had done: the regrets the guilt. And then if we’re thinking about the future, which is very uncertain at this time, you have to now live without your partner and you have many years left. There’s, there’s no comfort, going back and now you know, there’s a future that is obviously going to get you anxious.
So Tolle’s new book, The Power of Now, I cannot tell you how powerful that book is. And that’s another recommendation in our tool section. So we’ll include the link to it at the bottom of this transcript for those who are interested along with your book Fred.
So the sleep deprivation definitely wears on you. I love how you were able to escape up by yourself for a while and I think honestly, I was afraid to be by myself. I crave connection with people and essentially medicated in a relationship.
And then the other thing I did was I went back to old comfortable things, and for me work was something I always threw myself into, especially during the most despairing times in my life. I know a lot of men are like this. So you put on that stoic mask, you go back to work.
But what are you not dealing with? You’re not dealing with the reality of, “Hey, your world is just turned upside down”. And you probably haven’t let out the screens that you need to let out. You haven’t let out right here, the hurt, that you need to let out. Right.
So I think it’s so good that you were able to get some of that time to be by yourself and also that you went to “school”. That’s the other thing that I think folks should make sure they’re paying attention to in this journey, taking grieving books to find out “What is this? , What am I going through?, How can I get through it better by learning from other people?”.
And also not being afraid to go to a therapist as well, which I know some men in particular tend to be reluctant to do, right? We weren’t taught to ask for help. We were taught to get up, brush it off, you know, don’t don’t cry in front of anyone. Be stoic. So the thought of going to a therapist and letting out your true feelings and other things, I think this is something that I see a lot of widowers struggle with, as well.
…And so we have to learn how to ask people for support, to ask them to love us.
Yeah, definitely. And not being afraid to receive that hug because a lot of times we will push it away, will push the help away, will push the affection away, and we need it, especially during these times.
And then they wonder why after seeing the therapist, they’re just getting prescribed the antidepressant and maybe not moving to healing. They’re not getting the EMDR for the trauma and some of the other things that a grief specialist would recommend.
The generic advice that you hear everywhere is true. Don’t make any major decisions that first year, because there’s a good chance they’ll be wrong or regrettable.So if at all possible, just tell everybody “Listen, no major decisions for the first year, then I’ll hear you out”. or “I will think it through and I will make that decision after I’ve gotten through this thing”.
A lot of times. if we don’t have the mental tools or mental framework to put some of the things in perspective, I was dealing Fred with a lot of “Less Than” issues that had gone back to my Dad in my childhood and teenage years, and I needed to work on those because those were manifesting themselves post the loss of my wife, where I felt Less Than, “Hey, I wasn’t able to help save her… I was I was a loser. Right? Right?”. And so it brought up all of those old feelings. And so we did have to go back to address some of those issues because those were the ways of grief and how it was manifesting in me, which was this kind of defeatist attitude, like, oh, I had just lost lost the biggest battle of my life,
And I talk about that a bit from the other angle, which is to learn to forgive yourself. Absolutely. A lot of this is about learning to forgive ourselves. Because sometimes during our wife’s illness, we will feel looking back that we failed, that we did not get her to the best doctors, we didn’t get her to the treatment fast enough, we didn’t recognize when she was becoming ill, all of these things.
Well, the most important thing I tell guys, when I first talked to him is: know that this is perfectly normal, and that you are NOT going crazy. You’re gonna be okay. But ask for help. And accept it. I know you may think you don’t need it, but I’m here to tell you, you do. And it can help.
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