Helping Your Children Communicate


As a widower, you know that you are not the only one grieving.  Following the loss of your wife, pain is felt by many others, such as your wife’s parents, siblings, relatives, neighbors, co-workers, fellow parishioners, or friends. It can be just as intense as what you experience, and this is especially likely for children.  Being the surviving parent of grieving children is yet another challenge you may face, and sometimes it is the most challenging role of all. You need to understand that role and help tend to your children’s grief while you tend to your own.  It may be especially critical for men who are fathers to young children.

The challenges are many, from communication to obstacles you may face, to how to handle questions or issues your children may have if you start dating. And there are many others so be prepared as they are sure to arise.

Just as there is no single way to grieve, there is no one way to become a single, supportive parent.  But I will propose one hard-and-fast rule: Be open.  Men who suppress their emotions hurt or permanently stunt their recovery.  And experts tell us that as you deal with grief yourself, openly and honestly, you are also helping your children.  Nothing is gained by suppressing or hiding your own recovery - in fact, that can be detrimental. Says clinical psychologist Edward Zimmer: “If the widower cannot allow for expressing and processing his own grief, then he will inhibit that process for his children.  This unresolved grief will have emotional consequences for both of them later in life.” 

And if that isn’t motivation enough, there is a silver lining to sharing.  Professor Deborah Carr of Boston University says the death of a mother can bring fathers closer to their children. “Women are usually the ones who make the phone calls and that the kids lay their hearts out to.  Often a husband will just say, ‘Talk to your mother.’ But when the mother is gone, they may see a real increase in the level of closeness with their kids.”

That was the experience of widower Chris Sweet, who said playing dual-parent roles was difficult, but it bought him and his three children closer. “I was close with my kids before, but we bonded further.  It was a tough time for us, but I always made sure that we enjoyed our time together.  We were able to laugh, and we had as much fun as we could have.”

Of course, how you support your children (or how children support you) varies based on the child’s age.  Here’s one good example.  While adult children are often a source of support for older widowers, young children are often confused, traumatized, or scared by a mother’s death.

Dr. Bruce Perry, M.D., Ph.D., of the Child Trauma Center in Houston, Texas, and an authority on brain development, writes “Most children do not know what to expect following the loss of a family member or friend,” and he encourages people not to be afraid to speak with the children. “When discussing this issue with children, be sure to use age-appropriate language and explanations.  As the child gets further away from the event, he or she will be able to focus longer, digest more, and make more sense of what has happened.

Not all communications with children go as planned.  Should a widower’s interactions with their children break down, the widower may want to seek professional help.  “Some families may benefit from family therapy,” says Dr. Carr, “as it gives them a safe space to have a conversation led and moderated by an expert.  

Remember, if you are a widower, you are not the only one who is grieving.  By proactively engaging your children in their grief, you will actually be contributing to your own recovery.

About the Author

Herb Knoll lost his wife, Michelle, to pancreatic cancer on March 7, 2008. Knoll is a retired bank executive, marketer, and professional speaker turned widower advocate. He founded the Michelle’s Angels Foundation, Inc., a not-for-profit organization with a mission to “provide love, hope, compassion, and comforting music to those who quietly suffer” (MichellesAngel. com). Knoll also founded the Widowers Support Network in 2014 (, so he could better serve, comfort, and assist widowers.

Knoll has previously served as a weekly columnist for the Rochester Democrat & Chronicle, a contributing writer for Sales & Marketing Management and Marketing Times magazines, and as an on-air talent for television commercials. As the former director of public and media relations for KeyBank (NY) and later as president of Marketplace Bank (FL), Knoll frequently appeared as his bank’s spokesperson on radio and television. PBS affiliate WNED produced and aired three-part series Today’s Executive, featuring Herb’s business insights, which were featured in his 1985 book, The Total Executive.

An inductee of the Buffalo/Niagara Sales & Marketing Executive’s Hall of Fame, Knoll went on to serve as the Executive Director of the 10,000+ member Sales & Marketing Executives International and was a charter member of the board of directors for Nap Ford Community School in Orlando. A former U.S. Army Reserve Drill Sergeant (E-7), Knoll is a proud member of the Knights of Columbus. Knoll lives in Lake Mary, Florida, with his wife, Maria.

As a bank executive, Herb Knoll was known as a man who could get the job done. But when Knoll lost his wife to cancer he found few resources that could help him recover. And the more he learned about the plight of widowers, from high suicide rates to physical and emotional problems, the more he became motivated to write a book with fellow widowers, for fellow widowers.

Knoll’s The Widower’s Journey tackles tough questions and provides advice on many topics, including:

how men can process grief keeping healthy during stressful times managing a career while coping with loss drawing strength from your faith reentering the dating world dealing with the issues that sex, dating, and marriage create parenting as a widower solving financial and legal problems preserving your late partner’s memory for yourself and for family and friends

Knoll breaks down barriers that block men in their journeys to recovery. He encourages men to seek out the fellowship of other widowers, and he provides resources that men need to move forward.

He also identifies how society fails widowers, and spells out how institutions need to change so widowers can receive the support they deserve.