The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life
Author: Michael Brezenski
A group of widowed fathers were brought together for what was planned as a six-session lecture and discussion forum. As it developed, the meetings became more like a support group and continued for nearly four years. From this experience, Dr. Donald Rosenstein and Dr. Justin Yopp have penned The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life. The doctors recount the personal stories of these fathers and their struggles with loss and raising their children alone.
It is a poignant thought that in 2013, while these fathers were meeting in Chapel Hill, just twenty minutes from where I live, I became a widowed father. I too was seeking support and searching for my way forward. I was connected to TAPS through the Survivor Outreach Services (SOS) at Fort Bragg, North Carolina. My daughters and I attended our first TAPS Regional Seminar in Southern Pines, North Carolina. There we found the needed support of those that understood the struggles of losing a loved one.
The Group attests to the healing potential of shared grief. The fathers each benefited by sharing their stories and hearing those of their peers. In the opening chapter, Neill, a reluctant and private person, identifies his peers as others who were “in the same awful boat.” This identification helps him to share a dilemma he was having about the upcoming angelversary of his wife’s death. He hesitantly sought advice from the group on how to handle the situation and they offered him their thoughts and encouragement. In this group, Neill found the strength to share a real-life family dilemma.
I empathized with the heart-wrenching stories and even cried a little remembering the tough times and the joys I experienced raising my daughters. I found myself nodding in agreement as I read about daily tasks that were easily accomplished with a spouse even though my daughters were already teenagers. It is difficult to balance the personal struggles of not wanting to get out of bed in the first days and weeks following the loss of a spouse with the needs of young children.
As I read, I felt a camaraderie with the other fathers enduring a life situation that we never expected to experience. No one chooses to be a widowed single parent—yet it can happen to any one of us at any time. How does one honor the memory and endure the agony of the loss? In walking the tightrope of personal grief as a surviving spouse and as a surviving parent, where do we invest our efforts? The drive to be present for our children is a powerful one. Where should I draw the line between my own grief as a widower, and as a sole parent guiding my daughters through the uncharted waters of grieving the loss of their mother? I was totally unprepared. This was not how I expected my life to be and I did not have a plan for raising our two daughters alone.
As the fog lifted and I began to function again, I looked for a therapist at Fort Bragg for myself and another therapist in Durham for my daughters, or for my daughters and me together. I already knew the benefits of therapy, so I did not give my teens a choice for the first three sessions. I told them that after the first three sessions, I felt they were old enough to decide for themselves whether they wanted to continue or not. We all continued for nearly two years learning how to communicate with each other in new ways. When my wife was alive, I was stationed 50+ miles away at Fort Bragg while my family remained at home in Durham. Irena did the daily parenting, so my daughters were not used to sharing their daily issues with me. After my wife died, our relationships strengthened over time as I learned to share more of my personal struggles and eased up on always being the strong one. They needed to see me be vulnerable so they knew it was okay for them to be vulnerable too.
I found The Group to be a comfortable, easy to read book of personal loss experiences that doesn’t rely on science/medical jargon. It is not a reference book or how to book – it simply recounts the stories of seven everyday fathers coping with a situation they felt totally unprepared for—going it alone raising their children. It provides an anonymous step for fathers navigating the grieving process that may lead them to investigate other support resources. The main message I took away from reading The Group was that a support group is beneficial in ways one cannot realize at first. By choosing to overcome initial apprehension to a therapy group, each father accepted help as well as helped other fathers - fostering friendship, confidence, strength, hopefulness and resilience.
Widowed Parents Survey Invitation
Widowed parents (men and women) who have lost a co-parent within the last three years are invited to complete a brief survey, conducted by widowedparent.org. Your participation will help foster better understanding of the challenges facing widowed parents.
Michael Scott Brezenski is the surviving spouse of Irene Brezenski-Jordaan and father to Isabella and Natasja.