Two months after his wife's death from cancer, George continued to talk about her in the present tense, and everywhere he went, he carried around a list of instructions she wrote out for giving away her possessions.
He also carried around a lot of anger. Anger at the friend who slyly hinted that he was now a prize catch in the marriage hunt. Anger at the daughter who urged him to buy a new electric blanket with single controls.And anger at the deceased wife, he told author Scott Campbell, "for what she did give me that I'll miss, and what she didn't that might still have happened."
But mostly George, a successful internist, carried around his own peculiar pain, "an ache in my stomach . . . a feeling sometimes that there's no inside to me."
The words are strangely discomfiting. Other groups of troubled people have gone public in the let's-air-your-personal-crisis 1980s but widowers somehow have managed to stay unprobed and largely unaided.
Two new books "Widower," co-written by Campbell and Phyllis Silverman, and "The Single-Again Man" by Jane Burgess may be the harbingers of a new psychosocial trend: sympathy for men who are left alone.
Both books let widowed men talk something men aren't known for doing. And they're evidence that, says Burgess, "men are as human as women.
"Deep down, good men are very much like good women . . . they grieve and experience the pain of their spouses' loss in the same way women do."
So why write a book about widowers, much less two?
Because men who outlive their wives typically are ill-equipped to deal with their loss, say the authors, and because society is ill-equipped to deal with them.
Widows and widowers alike must grapple with the intense emotional pain of losing a spouse, which, says Campbell, "is at the top of the list of life's most stressful events . . . (because) you have lost a friend and companion . . . (and) you are now single in a coupled society."
Widowers are usually better off financially than females and, outnumbered by widows five to one, they have a greater chance of remarrying. But, when it comes to everyday living, widowers are at a decided disadvantage.
In most cases, men rely on their wives to keep up social contacts and to take charge of the house and the children. When the wife is gone, the husband finds himself adrift and helpless. As Peter, the father of two small children, confided to Campbell, "It took me five different tries to boil the water for egg salad."
Still, the prevailing sense is that widowed men simply carry on, business as usual. "There is a widespread myth that men can handle any personal problems easily," says Burgess," . . . and a stereotype that plagues these men that they are sporty, half-crazed sex maniacs."
The reality, as spelled out by the 45 widowers who were interviewed for the two books, includes severe depression, insomnia, alcoholism, impotence, greater susceptibility to illness and even suicide.
But the two widower myths have a ring of truth.
Men are less likely than women to seek help, professional or otherwise, for any kind of emotional distress. "Most widowers do not ask for help," says Campbell, "and when they are successfully drawn into a helping situation, they are reported to be among the most recalcitrant and difficult of people to assist."
Says Burgess, "Women have girlfriends they can talk to. Men don't have any confidantes other than their wives. When their wives are gone, they're really alone."
The easiest way to cope with the loss of a wife, in many cases, is to get another wife. Fifty-two percent of all widowers remarry within 18 months of their wives' death. Not surprisingly, half of those rebound marriages end in divorce or abandonment.
Fortunately, traditional sex roles have changed, the authors report, and widowers have begun to seek solace from one another.
Many of the men interviewed in the two books joined local chapters of the Widowed Persons Service organized by the American Association of Retired Persons. All reported finding some degree of comfort in the company of other widowers and several signed on as volunteers to help newly-widowed men.
A month after his wife's death, having no friends to turn to, Roger made a suicide attempt and, in desperation, called the Widowed Persons Service.
Four years later, Roger was a volunteer counselor, helping 49 widowers cope with their grief, organizing weekly poker games and cooking classes.
Once, he told Campbell, a newly-widowed student trying to fry eggs "called me up and (said) he had managed to get the eggs in the pan but he didn't know what to do with them next.
"So I told him, well, hold the phone down by the eggs so I can tell how they're doing. Sometimes it gets pretty funny."
Widowers who help other widowers find "it is a great help in their own grief work," said Roger. "If they see someone else get better, it helps them heal themselves."