Clinical social worker and author
Interviewed by Jackie Headapohl
Photography by Jerry Zolynsky
Birmingham resident and clinical social worker Kristin Meekhof, 41, is no stranger to tragedy. In 2007, her husband of four years, Roy, had a persistent nagging cough. He sought treatment at the University of Michigan, where he was diagnosed with adrenal cancer. Eight weeks later, he died.
“Nothing prepared me for it,” Meekhof says, “or the intense loneliness I felt.”
She found comfort in gratitude.
“Before we were married, my husband and I would exchange gratitude lists,” she said. During his treatment, they saw a young boy in a wheelchair in the elevator on his way to cancer treatment. Seeing this young child face a similar battle had a great impact on them. “We decided to start doing our gratitude lists again. Gratitude, for us, was the answer to every question.”
After her husband’s death, Meekhof continued doing her gratitude list. “It was through this lens that I was able to move forward without being bitter or angry.”
Eventually, Meekhof wanted to provide a resource that she didn’t have when faced with becoming a widow. She began researching a book for widows. She spent nearly four years talking to widows from across the country. She shares their resiliency, their wisdom and knowledge in her new book, A Widow’s Guide To Healing ($14.99), written with James Wendell. The book provides healthy ways to transform a widow’s life after a devastating loss.
What did you learn from the widows you spoke with? The first widow I knew was my own mother. My father died when I was 5. My mom is a strong woman, and I think her example helped me to know that I would be OK eventually. For the book, I spoke with Christie Coombs, who lost her husband on 9-11. I spoke with a widow from Montana who had lost her husband in an avalanche. All were so generous in sharing their stories in the hopes they could help someone else. I spoke with young widows, older widows, those with adult children, young children and no children, and there were always common themes: challenges with managing finances and financial planning, challenges with interpersonal relationships and trouble integrating into the community. That’s why I sought experts on those topics for the book.
What advice would you give to people who know someone who’s recently been widowed? Be honest. If you don’t know what to say, admit it, but also tell them that you will be there for them. And then do it. Take them to a movie. Bring them a meal. Help with cleaning. Don’t ask, “What do you need?” They are so overwhelmed they don’t know what they need. Hug the person. A hug means a lot coming from someone who cares.
What advice would you give to widows? I would tell them, “You are stronger than you think you are.” And I would tell them the pain they are feeling will not always be so intense. Eventually it will become bearable. The loss will always be there, but the pain will come and go.
I would tell them to be patient with themselves. They are in uncharted territory. I know they don’t want people feeling sorry for them, but they should accept help, even if it’s difficult.
How would you describe your life now? Where do you find joy? Now, my life is filled with many beautiful people whom I met as a result of my research for my book. These are deep friendships and a source of joy. Unbounded gratitude is also the foundation for joy.
What is something about you that people would be surprised to know? I’m a late bloomer when it comes to athletics. I started running in my late 20s, and I’ve run several half-marathons now and a marathon. I was the last one picked to be on anyone’s team in gym class. NS
Meekhof will have a book signing event at 2 p.m., Nov. 7, at the Barnes & Noble at 396 John R in Troy. Call (248) 577-5056 for information.