Monday, July 23, 2007

How to Talk to a Widower--Grieving and Drugging

Maybe it's not terribly intellectual and it reads like a comic book without the depth, but I loved a book I wasn't supposed to be reading.

It's not what you think.

I have a friend who reads advance copies professionally. Anyway, I happened to be hanging around her house and the book happened to be on her coffee table and she happened to be on the phone, and you know these books take about five minutes from cover to cover . . .

Actually, I took it home.

Have I blogged yet about grieving and drugging? No, I don't think so. I know I've talked quite a bit about grieving, facing end of life, that sort of thing, and I've surely talked about drugging and alcohol, America's favorite drug.

So put them together and you have the subject of Jonathan Tropper's upcoming book, How to Talk to a Widower. The sticker on the cover said it was due for release in July in hardcover (Delacorte Press).

If it's out, pick it up or get it at the library, because despite what I said about comic book depth, the stuff on how to talk to someone who has lost someone tragically is wonderful. I've never read anything close to it and if I weren't so against plagiarism I'd have copied those chapters just to keep them for myself. I'd make copies for patients.

You should just go ahead and buy the book if you want to improve your communication skills exponentially (most of us do). I haven't read Mr. Tropper's others but intend to.

How to Be a Widower is a laugh out loud fast read. It surpasses all the chick lit novels I've ever read. Seriously, that's an exaggeration, but I've read quite a few between the dry research intro books I'm making myself go over to be ready to teach in September (we'll talk about that another day).

This book is as dead-on as you'll ever get for depicting emotions following the loss of a spouse. Jonathan Safron Foer's Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close does that for kids who have lost parents. Foer's book is unbelievably, extremely, incredibly good, cover to cover. Nothing chicky or prurient, nothing shallow or silly about it.

Still. I could swear Mr. Tropper lost his wife having read this book. That or he's one of the cloth, a therapy doc who has talked to people who have lost their better half. Neither is true. He teaches writing at Manhattanville College.

His advice is great, but honestly, I feel I'd ruin the book if I told you more about it than that.

But I will tell you about the Jewish custom of sitting shiva, which is unbelievably sublime and therapeutic. People who visit mourners the first seven days following a funeral are supposed to behave in certain ways.

The mourner is sitting on a low chair and isn't supposed to fix meals or do any work. Visitors and friends take care of him. Briefly and most generally, it goes like this:

1. You're not supposed to speak to a mourner unless the mourner speaks first, addresses you specifically or looks your way with a certain acknowledgment of your presence.

2. You're not supposed to talk about yourself. At all.

3. If you do talk, it should be to ask the mourner about the person he or she lost--if anything. Even that can be very intrusive.

3. You can offer the mourner something to eat of drink.

4. Mainly, almost anything you say to someone who is mourning can and probably will be shallow and inappropriate, so try not to say much more than perhaps pass on a happy memory of the deceased. And even then, only if it seems the right time.

5. Never interrupt the mourner if he or she is speaking.
A very nice thing about Tropper's book is that he shows how a person who has lost someone can change dramatically within a year. It also shows how abusing alcohol can slow down the grieving process even though it feels really, really good at the time. The alcohol abuse makes the loss even worse.

So for me? Two thumbs up on this book. Thanks Mr. Tropper. Sure, I'll try another advance copy any day if you're offering.

Copyright 2007, therapydoc


Just Suzanne said...

Thanks for the review. I am a widow myself, married to a widower. We've had many conversations about how people treat the grieving, and all the misconceptions and ignorance there is about the process.

The Jewish tradition of sitting shiva is something I wish could be extended to us all. Personally, I also feel that wearing something to indicate one is in mourning would be useful, though, these days, impractical.

Thanks again for the tip about what sounds like a great read.

therapydoc said...


I'm sorry about your loss. Mourning is something that should be addressed more often.

Wearing a symbol would be a good idea. I think in some cultures a mourner never gets out of black.

Jews tear a garment and wear the torn shirt for 7 days. The whole year is considered a year of mourning, no new clothes, no music, but only for grieving parents. A sibling or spouse grieve a month. (I'm pretty sure).

There are reasons for everything.

Anonymous said...

Having hit one of those patches where clusters of souls are leaving the planet, I shall be on the lookout for this book.

If only all religions had shiva.

therapydoc said...

AUTHOR: A good shiva. That's what the psychologists are talking about, one that focuses on the person who passes away, not just getting through the week, avoiding the hard part.

Anonymous said...

Thanks so much for reviewing this book---it sounds like something everyone should read!

Anonymous said...

I have taken care of two people who were terminally ill with cancer so I am familiar with grieving from my own perspective and by observing others. Recently, I was contacted by a widower on a singles website. He said that his (deceased) wife gave him signs if he started to date someone she didn't approve of. Yikes! Is it just me or is it a sign of very poor judgement to say this to a prospective date? What's funny (scary) is that the next day, I could not get the stench of a skunk out of my car and immediately thought of this guy. : ) And, yes, I cancelled our first date!

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