Production Diary: the Secret Maps Research

Still in pre-production and research. I’m very much enjoying, if that’s the right word, Widower, by Scott Campbell and Phyllis R. Silverman.  It’s a great book for research for a film in that documents in interviews (just like a doc!) the experience of over twenty widowers in different phases of the grief.  Some of the book’s subjects are speaking only months after their loss, others more than a decade afterwards.   In the ten months that I’ve been working with my own bereavement group, I’ve had no clue what goes on with straight men when they lose a loved one. Widowers don’t come to group to sit around and talk with us ladies!  My big takeaways so far:

  • Men deal with many of the same bugaboos that drive women crazy after loss:
    • The feeling that everything sets everything else off (especially early on)
    • Useless advice, platitudes and indifference/impatience from family and friends  (One widower in the book, Bill, specifically identifies his need to “re-people” his life with new acquaintances after being treated roughly by those upon whom he thought he could rely.  As he says, “I know them for they are now.  I call them friends but I know they are not.  I forgive them for what went on but I don’t forget.”)
    • Social isolation (Although men seem to experience this more in the physical sense as being untouchable)
  • Some of the ways that men’s grief experience differs from women:
    • They are more like to face the expectation from others that they will rise above their feelings in some regard
    • Widowers are surprised that they are impotent for a period after their wife dies.  …This one was kind of peculiar to me for a variety of reasons.  The first being that pretty much ALL of the men who have lost their wives experience impotence but they are ALL a bit surprised when it happens to them.  This points perhaps to how little they talk amongst themselves about these major life events and how slim the shared knowledge.  (Hopefully, making a film and getting more men’s bereavement groups going can address this.) The other aspect that is interesting to me as a woman is that this is a thing at all.  Death and the shock and grief of it kills a person’s sex drive.  Period.  Man or woman.  Women who lose their husbands have no desire for another man when grieving either.

The sex-drive-in-grief thing was one of my complaints about Silver Linings Playbook.   It was so right-on with so much of the depiction of bi-polarity that the fact that the Tiffany character became wildly promiscuous in her grief and slept with everyone in her office was a giveaway to me that the film was scripted by a man (even if it was simply a plot device needed to give her a “problem”.)  I don’t know ANY women – and I now personally knows tens of women who have lost a spouse – who have turned to sex for comfort or acted out sexually in their grief.    I’m not saying a widow who uses sex for comfort and/or distraction is like a unicorn but its very uncommon to turn to sex indiscriminately if you weren’t already a person who comforted yourself that way beforehand.

Anyway, still have about a third of Widower left.   And a continually growing pile of other research.