“The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life” by Donald L. Rosenstein and Justin M. Yopp
c.2018, Oxford University Press
$24.95 / $32.95 Canada
‘Til death do you part.
Did those words give you pause when you said them in front of an officiate and a handful of friends and family? Did you even hear them, in your nervousness and joy? Or, as in the new book “The Group” by Donald L. Rosenstein and Justin M. Yopp, were they things you put aside, hoping they’d never come true?
As far as they could tell, it had never been done before.
In their work at the Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of North Carolina, Rosenstein (a psychiatrist) and Yopp (a clinical psychologist) “often consult with patients nearing the end of their lives.” Their work sometimes includes patients’ families, but Rosenstein and Yopp noticed something missing: there were few support systems specifically for widowed fathers. To fix the issue, the doctors organized their ideas, created a format, decided on topics for discussion, and hung a sign-up sheet; five men joined (Joe, Karl, Bruce, Neill, and Dan), and two came in later (Steve and Russ). Single Fathers Due to Cancer began with the original intent to meet once a month for six months.
At first, the sessions included lectures followed by open talk, but the format was altered immediately: instead of lectures, the men needed to examine thoughts and ask questions. They talked about their own grief and that of their children, while learning to overcome societal expectations of stoicism. They discussed experiences of being alone early in a marriage, and they tackled the subject of clueless-but-well-meaning friends and relatives. Through the realities and situations they shared, the seven men changed – and they changed Rosenstein and Yopp’s way of looking at patients with terminal illness and the spouses they leave behind.
They were only supposed to meet six times. More than three years later, they were still meeting.
While this may seem like a book for clinicians and hospice workers, I saw it differently: as much as it is about dying, “The Group” is also about friendship and finding the people we need to lean on.
Yes, there are things here that grief professionals will appreciate, including new studies on loss and a deep look at how Elizabeth Kübler Ross’ five stages of grief has expanded and altered with better understanding. That’s information that lay-readers can surely appreciate, but they’ll be just as fascinated by the journeys that authors Rosenstein and Yopp shared with the seven men who taught the doctors so much.
There’s sadness inside this book but, moreover, there’s hope and healing, resolution and honesty, eye-opening observations that may surprise you, some unexpected chuckles, and tales of ultimate peace with a situation that nobody ever wants to think about. Also, be sure you read all the way to the end, to catch the sweetest, most satisfying closure you’ll ever find.
For men who are facing the unthinkable, this book will ultimately be a valuable resource. For professionals, absolutely, “The Group” is a book to read. And if slice-of-life stories enhance your days, be sure to make this one a part.
Terri Schlichenmeyer is based in Wisconsin