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Widowed Fathers Share Story Of Resilience

Two psychiatrists at the North Carolina Lineberger Comprehensive Cancer Center work closely with patients near the end of their lives – and with the family members left behind. Throughout their careers, Dr. Donald Rosenstein and Dr. Justin Yopp have supported many young widowed mothers whose husbands passed away, but they noticed there were far fewer resources for widowed fathers who were raising children alone.

So they decided to create a support group for these men, which was the first of its kind in the country. A group of seven widowed fathers met once a month for four years to discuss grief, transitions, and their occasional struggles to do routine things to keep their households running. As time went on they also discussed new challenges, like dating and moving past their sense of loss.

The new book “The Group: Seven Widowed Fathers Reimagine Life (Oxford University Press/2018)”documents their story. Guest host Adam Hochberg speaks with Dr. Donald Rosenstein, co-author of the book, as well as two of the fathers who participated: Karl Owen and Joe Ciriano. Drs. Rosenstein and Yopp will be at Flyleaf Books in Chapel Hill on Feb. 1, and at Park Road Books in Charlotte on Feb. 7.

Interview Highlights

Dr. Rosenstein on the advantage of having a group just for men:
One of the beautiful things that can happen in any group is when people get together, and they may not seem like they have a lot in common, and over time they connect around common struggles that they may not have known that they had, or see each other in different lights. That can be really quite remarkable. On the other hand when people get together around a specific problem, I think it helps bring together … The group cohesion in a different way. So for the men in this group, it was obvious their worries about their kids — worries about how they're going to grieve their wives and move forward — that brought them together immediately.

Joe on opening up to the group:
If you had a mixed gender group, I think for me personally, it would have been much harder to open up. These were seven guys sitting in a room. We'd all cried in front of each other after the first day, so you knew there wasn't any judgment. And we're all fairly close in our cycle of grief — our spouses had passed away within several months of each other — and so I think it's easy to get into it. It's easier to talk when you've got people that you know truly know what you've been through, and that's the difference between someone trying to empathize with you and people who have walked in your shoes.

Karl on the group's effect on his parenting:
The group had a profound effect on my parenting because one of the things I had to do was learn that I needed to parent my kids out of love and what I thought was best for them, not out of pity or sorrow for them for having lost their mother. And that is something that my fellow members of the group — and that [Dr. Rosenstein and Dr. Yopp] — helped me realize over time and helped me change what I was doing.

Dr. Rosenstein on how he hopes this book will help people:
A lot of people experience loss and trauma and have to make adaptation to that for all sorts of reasons. It just so happened that the book is told through the eyes of these men and their stories. But we're hoping that anyone who's really struggled with something that has dramatically altered their imagined future trajectory can take some comfort and help and practical advice and inspiration from this book.

To learn more about Dr. Rosenstein and Dr. Yopp's work, visit


Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Adam Hochberg is a journalist with more than two decades experience with national news organizations. Hochberg spent 15 years as a correspondent for National Public Radio. His work also has been featured on CBS, ABC, and the PBS Newshour.