Thursday, December 5, 2013

The Widowhood Effect: Author Thelma Zirkelbach Believes Grief Should Not Define The Future

Thelma Zirkelbach’s highly acclaimed book, ‘Stumbling Through The Dark’, is a powerful story of love, loss and unexpected courage

A recent Harvard study pinpointed the “widowhood effect,” suggesting that during the early months after the loss of a spouse, the surviving spouse faces a higher risk of dying.  Thelma Zirkelbach, author of ‘Stumbling Through the Dark’, a memoir of her husband’s final year and her early months of widowhood, notes that in 1967 psychiatrists Thomas Holmes and Richard Rahe, who studied and rated life stressors, found that loss of a spouse is the most stressful event in one’s life and that grieving individuals are at risk for some type of physical illness during the year after their partner’s death.

Is it possible to mitigate the widowhood effect?  Zirkelbach suggests that widowhood results in both emotional stress and stressful events of daily living.  While no one wants to “prepare” for widowhood, the fact is that one member of every couple will be widowed.  After her husband died and she had to cope with searching for his business accounts, IRA, car title and numerous other papers, she bought a small briefcase, filed all her papers in it, labeled it When the Time Comes, and showed her children where to find it. Fortunately for all of us who will face this issue someday, she also decided to write a book.

“The writer in me,” Zirkelbach stated, “compelled me to recount Ralph’s and my final year together with all its anger, beauty and pain.  ‘Stumbling Through the Dark’ is the result. The book begins at the end, with Ralph’s funeral and then circles back to chronicle the year leading up to his death.  That year of his diagnosis and illness begins with fear and hope and ends with grief and loss.  It was a dark time, but there were moments of laughter and shared memories.  I believe, with the poet Wendell Berry, that “dark, too, blooms and sings.”

“I remind myself, and those of you who are reading this, that grief and loss are part of life.  They are as old as time, but every loss is new.  Everyone handles grief in their own way.  In ‘Stumbling Through the Dark’ I talk about finding my own way through grief–twisting, turning, backsliding and forging ahead.”

Zirkelbach wishes she had learned more practical things while her husband was still alive.  She advises spouses to learn to do each other’s usual jobs while the other is still around to teach.  Some things can’t be taught. When Zirkelbach woke alone in the middle of the night and found a large possum in her bathroom, she realized her husband wouldn’t have known what to do any more than she did.  She slammed the door, went back to sleep, and called an animal rescue service the next morning.

Emotional stress is harder to ameliorate.  “I knew in my head that he was dying, but I didn’t really believe it until it happened,” Zirkelbach said.  “Even after the doctor pronounced him dead, I was certain I saw his chest moving.”  Loneliness and grief are difficult to overcome. Having the support of her children and good friends helped.  She never felt uncomfortable about calling when she needed company or a listening ear.  She believes too many widowed people wait for others to make the first move.  “Don’t,” she advises.  She was also fortunate that she and her husband each had their own interests and friends as well as those they shared.

She found reading about how other widowed individuals got through the early months was helpful and seeing a therapist when she was overwhelmed with grief gave her emotional support.  “Everyone grieves differently,” she says, “but you have to believe there is light at the end of the tunnel.”

Thelma Zirkelbach is available for media interviews and can be reached using the information below, or by email at All of Thelma Zirkelbach’s works are available at Amazon. More information is available at Zirkelbach’s website at

About Thelma Zirkelbach:

From the time Thelma Zirkelbach was four years old, she knew she wanted to be a writer.  She first became a speech pathologist, a career she still pursues.  She graduated from the University of Texas. She then worked for the Houston Independent School District and retired to become a Fifties homemaker. She had two children, baked cookies, played bridge, drove carpools and lived in suburban Houston.  Divorce sent her out into the wider world.  She went back to school, got a Master’s degree and became a working mom.  Along the way, she met Ralph Zirkelbach, the love of her life, who became her second husband.  Together they raised a family. She continued working and eventually began a second career as a romance novelist, finally fulfilling her dream of becoming a published author. She books can be found on Amazon, one written as Thelma Zirkelbach, several written as Thelma Alexander, and others as Lorna Michaels.


Thelma Zirkelbach