[Originally posted February 3, 2017]
For this month's blog, I wanted to do something different. I wanted to offer an unfamiliar sounding board for this month's posting, so I reached out to a widower. It's not often you get to hear the widower's side of things. They grieve too and Andre wanted to share his side of what he calls his 'horror' story. And for that, I'm grateful. Thank you, Andre. Meet Andre Cox, a widower from Teaneck, New Jersey.
BWWE: How long has it been since you became a widower? Andre: Vikki died on March 28, 2014, so it will be three years soon.
BWWE: What has it been like since being a single dad? Tell us about your kids. Andre: As a married man, I was so used to discussing things with Vikki concerning the kids, from dinner discussions, clothes to buy them, vacations to take, etc. When it came to the kids, decisions were predominately made together. I struggled at the beginning because when there was a decision to be made, I immediately thought to discuss it with Vikki only to discover she isn’t there to provide her input. I am okay with knowing whatever I decide for them is for the best. In the end, I did not sign up to be a single dad, but I am. It should be a mom and dad raising kids but here I am raising them the best I can. kids are now 26, 20 and 12. At the time of her death, only the two youngest were living at home as they were 17 and 9 years old while the oldest was 22. My kids handled the death way better than I did. My oldest did struggle with it; he was the first born and knew her the longest. She had a special place for him and he knew it. He has a creative spirit like she did and was willing to take chances in life to better his life. He enjoyed the fact that she went out of her way to make sure he had everything he wanted and he misses that connection. I am glad he is able to support himself and live on his own. I am proud of him being a young man trying to find his way and make a life. It’s refreshing to be able to have adult conversations with him knowing those 20+ years ago, he was this innocent looking child. My middle child is a junior in college on a football scholarship. My late wife and I always said he is low maintenance out of the three kids. He was hurting because he saw how she changed physically and could not help her. He would pick her up and carry her around the house so she wouldn’t have to walk. He brought her joy in his innocence and thoughtful ways. Although he seemed intent on injuring himself due to crazy stunts (she nicknamed him stuntman in training), he was just content to play outside.
My daughter who is 12 handled it better than all of us. Vikki and she were inseparable. Vikki called her, “my shadow.” She is such a happy, go-lucky child...always singing and loves to draw sing and has been playing the piano since she was six years old. She loves science, vowing to be a scientist who can draw when she grows up. She freely talks about her mom as if she is still here, referencing fond memories. She tells her older brother, “just because mom is not here don’t mean you can break her rules.” She is with me most of the time due to my son being away at college.
BWWE: What have you been doing to keep your mind off of your loss?
Andre: I struggled with handling it because after the house became quiet and the two were upstairs, I was left alone with just my thoughts. It hurt badly to not be able to do anything but think about her death. Nearly a year after she died, I continued to blame myself because I felt I failed her. Husbands are supposed to take care of their wives and kids no matter what; I had to keep busy. My priority from the time she first was diagnosed with breast cancer was to make sure the kid's lives were not disrupted. Because I ran around with them prior to her sickness a lot, it wasn’t difficult to keep it up. I just did not want them to be reminded, such as not being able to attend piano lessons because her mom has cancer so I made sure she went. I made sure my son went to practice and to his games because if not, he would think that it was because his mom has cancer. So because of my approach to making sure the kid's lives were not disrupted, I knew that I needed to make sure I was still around. I became more social by going out, attending family functions and meeting people. My family and friends helped a lot, checking in on me making sure I was okay. In addition, I personally took up bike riding more, which serves as a way to get back in shape plus it's therapeutic because I ride and think (good thoughts). Now that my daughter is getting older, I can get out more. Also, I always enjoyed cooking and am finding myself getting back into cooking. I have an upcoming trip to Mardi Gras in New Orleans coming up in February 2017. BWWE: Over 30 years ago, the five stages of grief was developed by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross. They include denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. How would you rate each one on a scale from 1-5, with five being the highest? Andre: 5 – Depression 4 – Denial 3 - Anger 2 – Bargaining 1 - Acceptance BWWE: As a black male widower, do you feel that you have experienced any unique challenges with your grief/mourning? How did you overcome them? Did you overcome them? Andre: Vikki’s passing was like a “horror show” except, unlike the movies, it was really happening. Dealing with her death I have learned, and am learning, that I have to live with it. I will never forget but always live with it. Sometimes we resist acknowledging we want to move on but that is how life is. We are born to die and all of us will experience this. I remember being happy in my life at times before she died so I am open-minded about finding happiness again. I am opening my mind about what life has yet to show me. In the end, I do not see my experience and/or challenges differently than others; it just plain sucks! I questioned less of the “why.” There isn’t anything I can do anymore about why. I feel it will not prevent me from moving on because, in a way, I feel that I have moved on. Regardless of me thinking about it or being reminded in some way, I am living for me. Also, I learned that the more I tell someone the story, the easier it is to tell it, thus assisting me in moving on, living life. Because of her death, I joined bereavement groups and had many personal therapy sessions with a therapist. It helped me open up and was able to publicly acknowledge what was wrong with me due to her death. I needed to know it was okay to share with others how I feel. I think I shocked some members of the group because first off, I was the only male of 30+ women in the group and I eventually opened up in discussing it. I shocked myself. I never felt I was suicidal, the thought never crossed my mind. Generally speaking, I do not think the overall experience as a black male cause any unique challenges. I do caution those who are married to have those difficult conversations about what to do if one dies like being prepared financially and if kids are involved, especially young kids, make sure you have a prepared plan in place to who will take care of them just in case both of you are gone. Having a will is the necessary evil and prevents making dealing with his or her death worse. BWWE: In the book, Widower: When Men Are left Alone (a book that interviewed 20 bereaved men and provides results), it touches on how men mourn differently than women, are less expressive, and often very reticent. Can you identify with this statement? Andre: As a male, in general, I feel men tend to keep things in so that we do not show we are losing it. Sometimes that 'testosterone macho crap' gets us in trouble. I have a tendency to keep things in and not share it but that is always how I have been. I have heard that widowers are likely to run out and find another woman to replace their spouse faster than women finding another man. I don’t know how true that is. I am not running around trying to get married so fast. I feel I can find love again, but willing to take my time and naturally let it happen. I can remember a family member telling me that I will find love again and remarry. I was so angry with that person at the time. Over time I realized that because I am here, life must be lived and part of that is finding someone.
BWWE: Thank you, Andre, for your transparency about your journey onward after your wife's passing. All the best to you and the kids and I hope you find solace and fun on your Mardi Gras trip!