Jim Masek of Vineyard Haven is a 72-year-old widower who was a lost soul following his wife’s death in 2010.
He credits the work he’s done in the company of other men in the Island National Widowers Support Group and changes he’s made in his lifestyle as keys to a happier, more productive life. A social worker by profession, Mr. Masek now serves as coordinator of the men’s bereavement group that meets in his Taylor Way home several times a month. He talked about his experience and the group’s bereavement process in an interview last week:
“I was a caretaker for the last 10 years of my wife’s life. I know I was depressed for the last two years of her life. I started seeing a therapist who thought anti-depressants would help. The prescription indicated no alcohol and I had been using alcohol too much. Alcohol is a depressant, so I thought I’d stop drinking and see what happened.
“Then I read an article in The Times about the men’s bereavement group and thought it would help, and it did. I think our group helped me to reinvent myself. That’s our magic. Men who don’t go, or stay at the meetings seem to want to recreate what they lost. Some remarry too quickly and it becomes hard. On the other hand, we lose members because they get healthy. That’s probably good.
“There was a void when my wife died. I felt I needed to know more about my life. You put a lot in a relationship over 35 years. I asked myself and my therapist what my wife really thought of me. Questions I had like that were answered in the group.
“When I came to the group I hadn’t gone out of the house much, lost touch with friends. The group changed that. I had to make a number of significant changes in my life; First, I quit drinking alcohol, I’d been self-medicating. Part of that was a desire to follow a deeper spiritual life. I chose the Bodhi Path Center (in West Tisbury) and yoga practice. But drinking doesn’t go with that practice so I guess Bodhi Path is my Buddhist 12-step group.
“Our members’ ages run the gamut from 40-year olds to 90-year old. Older members in their late 80s and 90s tend to have more limited aspirations. But men are becoming long livers. What am I going to do with an extra 20 years? For me it’s a spiritual path, exercise, and a healthier diet, and the rewards are totally worth it.
“I think women who are widowed can get frozen in fear. Men tend to take action, even if it’s wrong. One of our members just remarried. He’s our poster boy. He did it right, turned over all the rocks, then planned for the future. But we have members who are treading water, muddling around, struggling to take the first step. That’s a catch-22.
“I was a special ed social case worker so I feel comfortable in the group’s environment. Men come in who have lost spouses to long illness to sudden death, some have PTSD symptoms.
“Everyone comes from a different place, but there are some common traits. Generally speaking, younger members are open with their emotions. Some cry. They are able to talk about their relationships with their wives. Older member have more difficulty accessing the emotional aspect of their grief. Some just stop coming, it’s so difficult.
“Relationship are slow aggregations over time, so we show up in different ways, but we all show up in shock and grief.”