Dennis L. Disselkoen
Reviewed by: John M. Fikkert
Losing a Spouse: A Widower’s Way, by Dennis L. Disselkoen. Advantage Inspirational, 2020. Paperback, 190 pages, $16.00 (Amazon). Reviewed by OP minister John M. Fikkert.
A book written for Christian widowers is a rare find indeed. Dennis Disselkoen, a retired OPC minister, writes from his own experience of losing his wife, Grace, to terminal cancer after more than forty-six years of marriage.
The book helpfully walks through the author’s own journey, from the time of his wife’s diagnosis to the experiences at her death, and beyond to what life looked like for him as a widower. He also includes excerpts of interviews he conducted with ten other men who lost their wives, each with their own unique circumstances.
In addition to providing an invaluable window into the personal experiences of widowers, Disselkoen provides specific and pragmatic advice on a wide array of topics, such as what to expect from hospice care, planning for funerals, managing financial concerns, considering remarriage, setting new routines, and re-engaging socially as a widower. He also addresses how to manage loneliness, a primary concern for all spouses who lose their partner.
The underlying strength of the book is its pastoral wisdom. More than just a travelogue through loss or a reference book of essential tips for widowers, Disselkoen’s heart as a minister shines on page after page. For example, he states, “Death is not the end; it is a deplorable interruption that causes great pain; but it is not a time of hopelessness; it is a time to express hope that is based on God’s word.” At another point he writes to widowers newly adapting to their loss, “During this life is the only time we can get prepared for the next. Are you prepared? As long as your life may be, it is but a single drop in the ocean of eternity. What better time than now to turn to God in your grief.”
Chapters 12 and 13 are worthy of special mention as thoughtful and well-researched chapters on grief and loneliness. Disselkoen normalizes an internal sense of loneliness common for widowers, and contrasts that with those making intentional choices to isolate socially. He discusses emotions in men and how they are expressed (or not). This section also offers an insightful critique on the limits of the stages of grief model popularized by Kübler-Ross, and he provides a useful alternative for understanding experiences of grief. At one point he concludes, “Christ was the supreme sufferer. He is God’s answer to our grief, and our hope is in him. With this as our perspective, even in our grief we may glorify God.”
The potential audience for this book goes beyond the demographic of Christian men who have lost their wives. Disselkoen’s description of a widower’s experience is a unique way to consider other kinds of loss, grief, and singleness. In that vein, pastors and elders would do well to read it as they seek to shepherd well those in their flock who undergo various kinds of grief, including but not limited to the loss of a spouse. Likewise, the book can be profitably read by church members who want to encourage their brothers and sisters in Christ who are dealing with terminal illness or the loss of a loved one.
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