When Joy Santlofer died suddenly, the day after a seemingly minor knee surgery, her husband, Jonathan, felt, in a word, unmoored. “I had lost my anchor,” he writes. “I was at sea, floating and floundering.” Thrust suddenly into the unfamiliar and unforgiving world of all-encompassing grief, Jonathan found himself in need of help but unable to ask for it. After all, men are too often taught to be strong, to be stoic, or, at the very least, to act like it.
As Jonathan grieved and healed, he tried to unravel what exactly had happened to Joy, a journey that took him nearly two years of writing, drawing, and binge-watching Netflix into the wee hours of the morning. A story of love and loss, the enduring power of familial love, regrets and reinvention, The Widower’s Notebook
is an important addition to the literature of grief, and one that shines a light on an often-overlooked side of loss.
Questions and Topics for Discussion
1. The opening pages show how time and the world itself seem to collapse in moments of trauma. Have you ever experienced anything like this?
2. As Jonathan discusses in the book, men and women are often presumed to have different ways of grieving. Do you feel that this is so? Discuss the different ways we all grieve as well as the similarities.
3. If you have experienced loss, what did you find was helpful for coping and healing in your process?
4. Jonathan began to draw and write as two outlets of processing his grief. Do you have any creative outlets you turn to in difficult times, or what might you try as a new creative process to help deal with trauma or grief?
5. Jonathan’s friends proved to be a mixed bag when it came to advice and support. What do you think is the best way friends can support those who are grieving?
6. Lily, Joy’s cat, becomes an unlikely close companion in Jonathan’s days of grief. Why do you think it is sometimes easier to connect with pets and animals when we are going through difficult times?
7. The Widower’s Notebook has quite a bit of humor as well as sadness. How does Jonathan use humor? To express his grief, to deflect it, or for another purpose entirely?
8. “Do we overcome grief? The answer, for me, is not really” (p. 243). Reflect on this statement.