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The Widower's Notebook: A Memoir

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A moving, page-turning chronicle of a husband's loss and the loving, modern history of a marriage On a summer day Jonathan discovers his wife Joy gasping for breath on their living room couch. After a frenzied 911 call, an ambulance racing across Manhattan, and his ominous hours pacing Bellevue's ER waiting room, the doctor delivers the fateful news. Consumed by his loss, A moving, page-turning chronicle of a husband's loss and the loving, modern history of a marriage On a summer day Jonathan discovers his wife Joy gasping for breath on their living room couch. After a frenzied 911 call, an ambulance racing across Manhattan, and his ominous hours pacing Bellevue's ER waiting room, the doctor delivers the fateful news. Consumed by his loss, Jonathan desperately tries to pursue life as he always had--teaching writing at Pratt, social engagements, and working on his art--but finds it nearly impossible to admit to anyone, even his beloved daughter Doria, even to himself, just how much he is hurting. And as Jonathan grieves and heals, he must establish exactly what happened to Joy. It is over a year later when he finally finds the courage to return to the hospital and unravel the medical mystery. Written with great warmth and unexpected humor, The Widower's Notebook is the portrait of a marriage, an account of the complexities of finding oneself single again after losing your spouse, and of the enduring power of familial love.


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A moving, page-turning chronicle of a husband's loss and the loving, modern history of a marriage On a summer day Jonathan discovers his wife Joy gasping for breath on their living room couch. After a frenzied 911 call, an ambulance racing across Manhattan, and his ominous hours pacing Bellevue's ER waiting room, the doctor delivers the fateful news. Consumed by his loss, A moving, page-turning chronicle of a husband's loss and the loving, modern history of a marriage On a summer day Jonathan discovers his wife Joy gasping for breath on their living room couch. After a frenzied 911 call, an ambulance racing across Manhattan, and his ominous hours pacing Bellevue's ER waiting room, the doctor delivers the fateful news. Consumed by his loss, Jonathan desperately tries to pursue life as he always had--teaching writing at Pratt, social engagements, and working on his art--but finds it nearly impossible to admit to anyone, even his beloved daughter Doria, even to himself, just how much he is hurting. And as Jonathan grieves and heals, he must establish exactly what happened to Joy. It is over a year later when he finally finds the courage to return to the hospital and unravel the medical mystery. Written with great warmth and unexpected humor, The Widower's Notebook is the portrait of a marriage, an account of the complexities of finding oneself single again after losing your spouse, and of the enduring power of familial love.

30 review for The Widower's Notebook: A Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dorothy Greco

    I would have given this five stars had it not been for chapters 33-34. It's bizarre to rate a book that's a memoir because in essence, I'm not simply rating his writing style (which is terrific) I'm evaluating his life choices. (And what right do I have to do that? Probably none.) In the midst of an amazing book where the author bravely and vulnerably shares what he's learning after the sudden death of his wife, we descend into a scene where he and a friend are choosing hookers from a website at I would have given this five stars had it not been for chapters 33-34. It's bizarre to rate a book that's a memoir because in essence, I'm not simply rating his writing style (which is terrific) I'm evaluating his life choices. (And what right do I have to do that? Probably none.) In the midst of an amazing book where the author bravely and vulnerably shares what he's learning after the sudden death of his wife, we descend into a scene where he and a friend are choosing hookers from a website at lunch (he never hired one) followed by chapter 34 which details a brief affair with an ex-student who was his daughter's age. (She loved him and he did not share her affections.) Head tilt. I just didn't get how these chapters fit. OK the events happened and it's a memoir but it felt very disconnected from the depth and beauty of the remainder of the book. Had I been his editor, I would have encouraged him to leave those out.

  2. 4 out of 5

    Elizabeth

    I appreciated the vulnerability in this author’s very personal memoir. He admits to many flaws and shortcomings. But I just couldn’t bring myself to like this book. I enjoyed the beginning very much but it feel flat for me rather quickly. It was hard to relate to some of this as he spoke about his city night life and his country home and his trips to Italy and other countries taken during the time after his wife’s death. It felt somewhat elitist. I get that this is his life and I don’t begrudge I appreciated the vulnerability in this author’s very personal memoir. He admits to many flaws and shortcomings. But I just couldn’t bring myself to like this book. I enjoyed the beginning very much but it feel flat for me rather quickly. It was hard to relate to some of this as he spoke about his city night life and his country home and his trips to Italy and other countries taken during the time after his wife’s death. It felt somewhat elitist. I get that this is his life and I don’t begrudge him that, I just couldn’t relate to most of the experiences.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Renee Rosen

    Bravo. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Highly, highly recommended! Bravo. One of the best books I've read in a long time. Highly, highly recommended!

  4. 4 out of 5

    John

    Picked this one from the library New Books shelf as one that seemed interesting, and might be good as one that could be put down and picked up every few chapters. Turned out to be the case, and would recommend it, though with limited enthusiasm. I had only tried one book about a widower previously, not getting into it. Here, I appreciated the author's efforts to distinguish that widow and widower are different things, based on social roles and expectations. He does capture the sudden death experi Picked this one from the library New Books shelf as one that seemed interesting, and might be good as one that could be put down and picked up every few chapters. Turned out to be the case, and would recommend it, though with limited enthusiasm. I had only tried one book about a widower previously, not getting into it. Here, I appreciated the author's efforts to distinguish that widow and widower are different things, based on social roles and expectations. He does capture the sudden death experience of no longer being part of a couple well, common to both sexes. The bonding with his (only child) daughter didn't resonate with me; they were old enough at the time that their grief wasn't exactly fully intersectional (best way I can put it). Also, I don't recall a lot of reminiscences of their lives as a threesome, more about early on in the relationship, and after Dorie left the nest. Book is arranged well in terms of covering the initial traumatic events, as well as the aftermath thematically - her cat, the country house she loved, etc. Flowed quite well. I skipped the two "X Rated" chapters many reviewers disliked; honestly I wasn't wild about the R ones before those. Joy died shortly after coming home from routine outpatient surgery. So, there's a subplot regarding the cause of death, which reads like a thriller, although there is eventually a resolution. Author admits that even he isn't completely sure whether there was an effort to bury the details, or just lot of coincidental administrative bungling. He eventually hires experienced attorneys who are frustrated by the effort needed to overcome red tape and conflicting responses. That aspect is present a bit early on, gets set aside by the author as he tries to cope with her absence, then picked up as a key point fairly late in the story; not really a backdrop or subplot as such. Looking forward to the book Joy had nearly finished at surgery, which was finalized from her rough draft later: Food City: Four Centuries of Food-Making in New York.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    I had gotten my hands on an arc and read it during my mother's Shiva. death and mourning are so deeply personal and men are taught to keep their feelings in check. Jonathan's personal account of his wife's death and how he felt and dealt with the loss is touching and enlightening. I had gotten my hands on an arc and read it during my mother's Shiva. death and mourning are so deeply personal and men are taught to keep their feelings in check. Jonathan's personal account of his wife's death and how he felt and dealt with the loss is touching and enlightening.

  6. 5 out of 5

    David Falk

    Grief and loss seems to inspire a particularly powerful depth and eloquence in writers, perhaps this is why there are many truly great books on the subject. Add this beautiful page-turner of a memoir to that particular Best-of list. Writer and artist Jonathan Santlofer has spent his adult life professionally producing and appreciating art. For two years after losing his wife very suddenly and unexpectedly he could do neither. He couldn’t paint. He was in the middle of writing his next novel, but Grief and loss seems to inspire a particularly powerful depth and eloquence in writers, perhaps this is why there are many truly great books on the subject. Add this beautiful page-turner of a memoir to that particular Best-of list. Writer and artist Jonathan Santlofer has spent his adult life professionally producing and appreciating art. For two years after losing his wife very suddenly and unexpectedly he could do neither. He couldn’t paint. He was in the middle of writing his next novel, but he couldn’t work. He couldn’t even read. But he couldn’t stay in his apartment either, so every night he forced himself out in New York City, often dining with friends, and when he returned home, he chronicled what had happened during the evening in black-and-white marbled composition notebooks. He felt out of his mind, and the notebooks were his way of beginning to make sense of his new life. He hid all the family photographs from around the house; it was too painful to have them around, particularly to stumble on them without warning. But drawing snapshots as intimate line drawings, revisiting moments of his marriage, gave him control. He could look at a single photograph and see it formally as an artist, study the lines, the light and shadows, and figure out how to recreate it in pencil on paper. In both cases —writing in his notebooks, and drawing moments from his life with his wife, the process, the work itself, made it possible to stay close while allowing a bit of healing distance. The notebooks and drawings became the basis for this stunning story of holding on and letting go. The author is an acclaimed crime novelist, and here, a compelling mystery helps drive the narrative: how did his healthy wife die just hours after undergoing routine outpatient knee surgery? It's a very effective engine that keeps the reader turning the pages, engaged on multiple levels. Unflinchingly honest, deeply moving, and surprisingly quite funny at times, THE WIDOWER’S NOTEBOOK is a meditation on grieving, a tribute a 40-plus-year satisfying and loving marriage, and a lasting valentine to their only daughter. It is not only a salve for dealing with the trauma of loss, but a guide for weathering the many little deaths and losses we all open ourselves to when we love.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Wendy

    I find memoirs to be enlightening. Santlofer's book grabbed my attention because of the strangeness of his wife's death and I was interested how he would survive her death. The majority of the memoir is about processing grief. He is attempting to get through his wife's death, not get over it, but learn how to go on living without the person he's loved for four decades by his side. There is also their daughter to consider who is experiencing a relationship breakup just as her mother dies. The wri I find memoirs to be enlightening. Santlofer's book grabbed my attention because of the strangeness of his wife's death and I was interested how he would survive her death. The majority of the memoir is about processing grief. He is attempting to get through his wife's death, not get over it, but learn how to go on living without the person he's loved for four decades by his side. There is also their daughter to consider who is experiencing a relationship breakup just as her mother dies. The writing is beautiful; the sentiment is exactly what I'd hoped it would be. Then Santlofer ruins everything he's accomplished by including his friend's impromptu lecture on selecting prostitutes. Santlofer further tanks his work by describing in gross detail his dalliance with a 20-something (and he's pushing 70 at this time). Maybe these stories are meant to show his naiveté, or add humor. I was disgusted. The glimpses into their marriage are what I would expect (and hope to see) and the relationship between father and daughter is touching. What a shame the book crumbles when Santlofer shares what should have been left private. I only finished it because I couldn't find out how/why his wife died by skimming (believe me, I tried every trick I knew).

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lori

    I’ve heard it said that there is no way around the grieving process - only through it. Jonathan Santlofer gets through the loss of his wife by keeping a notebook. He’s hoping that the thoughts and stories that it contains will provide some knowledge or answers for others going through the same thing. Understandably, his life is altered after the death of his wife and he begins his journey infused with guilt, self-pity and depression. He addresses the gender stereotypes of grief, how men lock the I’ve heard it said that there is no way around the grieving process - only through it. Jonathan Santlofer gets through the loss of his wife by keeping a notebook. He’s hoping that the thoughts and stories that it contains will provide some knowledge or answers for others going through the same thing. Understandably, his life is altered after the death of his wife and he begins his journey infused with guilt, self-pity and depression. He addresses the gender stereotypes of grief, how men lock their pain behind a wall of silence, unsure how to express vulnerability or receive support. And so, he grieves in isolation, avoiding his friends by day and resorting to the numbing effect of pills to help him get through the night. An artist by trade, he turns to the transformative power of art and starts drawing images of his wife (and daughter) in the notebook. The drawings take on a feeling of life that helps the author heal. There are no rules to grief, no stages except our personal journeys. No definitive tasks beyond those we assign to ourselves. “The Widower’s Notebook” shows one man’s journey back to normality. A new normality that he uncovers through the grieving process.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Kayo

    This book made me cry and cry some more. Everyone grieves so different, and you could just feel it in how author wrote about his life with his wife. Beautiful book.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Christine

    I will never be a widower, and most likely, I will never be a widow. Yet, this book spoke to me. Perhaps because it is so powerful and so human as it raises points about the grieving process and how society judges people.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jaime

    I tore through this book because I simply couldn’t stop. On par with Didion’s books about widowhood and grieving, as well as JCO’s book A Widow’s Story, this is a finely-wrought examination of grief. Not precious in any way, the prose settles into your bones, surfacing long after you close the cover, jarring you into more thought about the book. Santlofer expertly captures the disorienting timelessness of grief and shock, the way time bends and slows and turns us into something else upon loss.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Sheree

    Brave and honest. Perhaps the best book on grieving that I have read. My own loss is over a decade past and, as this author knows, it is something you always carry with you. I thank him for sharing his story.

  13. 5 out of 5

    Katie

    Not what I was expecting. Just ok

  14. 5 out of 5

    Lesa

    Jonathan Santolofer's book, The Widower's Notebook, is a memoir. The author of The Death Artist and Anatomy of Fear did not write an instructional manual as to how to survive grief. It's a very personal account of the sudden death of his wife, Joy, and his own struggle with grief and his emotions around her death. Joy Santlofer was "only" scheduled for outpatient surgery on her leg, but a day later she was dying. What caused it is not the focus of the book, although it took her husband over a yea Jonathan Santolofer's book, The Widower's Notebook, is a memoir. The author of The Death Artist and Anatomy of Fear did not write an instructional manual as to how to survive grief. It's a very personal account of the sudden death of his wife, Joy, and his own struggle with grief and his emotions around her death. Joy Santlofer was "only" scheduled for outpatient surgery on her leg, but a day later she was dying. What caused it is not the focus of the book, although it took her husband over a year to learn what the cause of death was. And, that's an unusual story in itself. But, at the time Joy was dying, her husband could only watch in panic as the paramedics worked on her, rushed her to the hospital, and then she was gone. Jonathan Santlofer needed comfort after she was gone, but he couldn't ask for it. There was "a stance I maintained for months, the strong man who needs no one." He and their daughter, Doria, were united in loss, but neither could share their feelings. And, Jonathan shut down and used his art and his work to get him through days and months and several years. But, he never shared his feelings with friends. Santlofer says he had unexpected moments of paralysis, sadness, or confusion. He already had tendencies toward depression, so that was not unusual. He forced himself to "act normal". And, he had feelings of guilt, not just grief, because he had seen his wife dying, and wasn't there ten minutes earlier, and wasn't able to save her. Is death of a partner and grief the same for men and women? Everyone's is different, but Santlofer observes that women are allowed to grieve for a longer period of time, while men are told to move on and get over it. At a dinner party, he said men are stuck as "grieving men who are not allowed to openly grieve, yet condemned if they do not grieve enough". As I said, this is Jonathan Santlofer's memoir. He does make a few comments about those "friends" who don't acknowledge the grief or loss, who met with him, but wouldn't even mention Joy's name. He couldn't ask people to talk about her, but they didn't acknowledge the loss of the woman he had loved and been married to for over forty years. The Widower's Notebook is not a step-by-step guide as to how to get through the first days, weeks, months, years. It's one man's story. But, he has one point to which I will certainly agree. We all grieve in our own way. The words about "time heals" and "closure" may sound ridiculous, and cutting to a new widow or widower. Everyone has to cope in their own way. And, what he says should be a new mantra is the only point that pertains to all of us who have lost a spouse or partner. "You are doing the best you can."

  15. 5 out of 5

    Annette Chidzey

    I purchased this book during a recent trip to San Francisco and found myself hooked having read the first couple of pages while still standing at the book display shelf. “Do I start with the part where I am paralysed...Or, do I start, twenty minutes earlier,...when I come into the living room ... (when)I can see something is terribly wrong...” My interest was captured even further when the focus of his memoir was his late wife who had died unexpectedly immediately after having had surgery for a I purchased this book during a recent trip to San Francisco and found myself hooked having read the first couple of pages while still standing at the book display shelf. “Do I start with the part where I am paralysed...Or, do I start, twenty minutes earlier,...when I come into the living room ... (when)I can see something is terribly wrong...” My interest was captured even further when the focus of his memoir was his late wife who had died unexpectedly immediately after having had surgery for a ‘torn meniscus’ - a condition I have had myself. Apparently something had gone horribly and unexpectedly wrong post-up that resulted in her sudden and unexpected death. What was to follow was his struggle to come to terms with losing a woman who he had been married to for 40 years and his grief in living on without her. The memoir Johnathon writes from this point is very compelling- the writing is memorable and the reality he paints possibly resonates with me as I have been married for much the same length of time and find myself wondering at times what it will be like to be alone when one of us has to deal with that very real grief he explores so naturally in this account. As he comments, ‘between grief and nothing, I will take grief’ every time and goes on to discover that “I have learned that I can survive it (grief), learned how to let in pain and loss, how to lower my mask, and how to confront my denial, though I am not necessarily better for it.” He tells a close friend after three years post the death of his beloved wife, Joy, that losing her has made him consider his life and notes that he has come to discover that “to some extent we are all alone, no matter how much we have shared with someone...(and for all of us) there comes a time when we will be (alone). “Being alone in these circumstances is not so much about starting a new life as about finding a place where you can be less restless.” Sometimes we come across a book that speaks to us because of the particular stage we are in our own lives and I suspect this is the case for me with ‘The Widower’s Notebook’.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Mrs. Danvers

    So after finishing The Iceberg, I thought I should read something a little lighter but, in the words of some of our great thinkers, the heart wants what it wants and I landed on this one. How did I know that Santlofer would comment on The Iceberg in his book? Must have been kismet. This book shares many similarities with Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, in that Santlofer's wife Joy died suddenly and unexpectedly, so the book isn't about living while dying but is about living while grie So after finishing The Iceberg, I thought I should read something a little lighter but, in the words of some of our great thinkers, the heart wants what it wants and I landed on this one. How did I know that Santlofer would comment on The Iceberg in his book? Must have been kismet. This book shares many similarities with Joan Didion's The Year of Magical Thinking, in that Santlofer's wife Joy died suddenly and unexpectedly, so the book isn't about living while dying but is about living while grieving, which is a rather different thing. I kept expecting Santlofer to mention A Grief Observed, since Lewis's wife was also named Joy. One of the lessons that Santlofer learns is that you never "get over" a loss of this magnitude and he does a good job of talking about the contradiction of wanting the pain of grief to ease and yet not wanting to lose that connection. In the end, I think this wouldn't be the first book I would recommend to someone who is grieving, but that doesn't mean it isn't a good, thoughtful record of living after loss.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Yolanda Fleming

    I wanted to read this book for years before I allowed myself the indulgence of mourning the death of someone I don't know. The story wasn't all sad. It's very hopeful. Loved it! I wanted to read this book for years before I allowed myself the indulgence of mourning the death of someone I don't know. The story wasn't all sad. It's very hopeful. Loved it!

  18. 5 out of 5

    Tonya

    Jonathan Santlofer's memoir, The Widower's Notebook, encapsulated the surreal reality that one is dragged into when he or she loses a partner. After having lost my husband five years ago, I thought I was in a good place to read this advanced reader copy. Tears flowed as I walked with Santlofer through the pain of losing his wife and then trying to find himself again. It was an amazing, emotional read for me; I can't imagine what it was like to write it. Peace and love to Jonathan Santlofer. Than Jonathan Santlofer's memoir, The Widower's Notebook, encapsulated the surreal reality that one is dragged into when he or she loses a partner. After having lost my husband five years ago, I thought I was in a good place to read this advanced reader copy. Tears flowed as I walked with Santlofer through the pain of losing his wife and then trying to find himself again. It was an amazing, emotional read for me; I can't imagine what it was like to write it. Peace and love to Jonathan Santlofer. Thank you for sharing such a personal time in your life.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Mary Kenyon

    How do I rate a book that I did not finish but skipped to the end to find the cause of the wife's death? The author's writing talent is obvious. His ability to share raw emotion a redeeming value. The concept that writing and drawing could be a healing activity much appreciated. But when did I decide to abandon reading this book? Was it when the author tripped over the boots of the boyfriend of the former student he'd decided to fall into bed with? I was having inklings of doubt about the dubiou How do I rate a book that I did not finish but skipped to the end to find the cause of the wife's death? The author's writing talent is obvious. His ability to share raw emotion a redeeming value. The concept that writing and drawing could be a healing activity much appreciated. But when did I decide to abandon reading this book? Was it when the author tripped over the boots of the boyfriend of the former student he'd decided to fall into bed with? I was having inklings of doubt about the dubious advice of his "friends" before that, but I do think that was the final straw. No, dear author, in your own words, you did not "find God" in grieving your wife. But you could have, and I'm sorry you didn't. As a widow nearly seven years, I've read dozens of books on grief. I was seeking insight into the grieving process for men. While it's true we all grieve differently and the common refrain is that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, this is not a book I would share with a widower in the early throes of grief, except perhaps, as a cautionary tale.

  20. 5 out of 5

    Jane

    I liked this book - sort of. I can certainly identify with Elizabeth who wrote a review of this book earlier - it seemed to start off with promise. But then it just became flat or something. I guess it was like trying to explain your grief and all of the accompanying processes but the people who are reading the book may have had the same experiences but in entirely different ways. Just as the author had trouble understanding the opinions of friends and others because they couldn't identify with I liked this book - sort of. I can certainly identify with Elizabeth who wrote a review of this book earlier - it seemed to start off with promise. But then it just became flat or something. I guess it was like trying to explain your grief and all of the accompanying processes but the people who are reading the book may have had the same experiences but in entirely different ways. Just as the author had trouble understanding the opinions of friends and others because they couldn't identify with him, I believe that I (and maybe other readers) had trouble understanding Jonathan Santlofer's experiences because they aren't ours. Perhaps another time I will pick it up and read it again and it will have more meaning. But for right now, I think Mr. Santlofer is dealing with his grief in the way that fits him best and the rest of us are dealing with grief we may have in the ways that fit us best.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Joanne Gunter

    An excellent memoir about the sudden death of the author's wife. I have read many memoirs about loss and grief, but very few (any?) were written by men. Far more women writers explore the depths of grief and the myriad of emotions associated with it. Not only is this book very well-written, but it gives the reader a man's perspective on the difficult process of enduring the overwhelming grief of losing a spouse from a long marriage, of how utterly life can change in a matter of minutes, and of h An excellent memoir about the sudden death of the author's wife. I have read many memoirs about loss and grief, but very few (any?) were written by men. Far more women writers explore the depths of grief and the myriad of emotions associated with it. Not only is this book very well-written, but it gives the reader a man's perspective on the difficult process of enduring the overwhelming grief of losing a spouse from a long marriage, of how utterly life can change in a matter of minutes, and of how society's grief expectations for men and women differ. The author is also an artist and, as an added bonus, this book contains a number of lovely drawings he made of his wife, his daughter, and himself. Highly recommended.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jamie

    Not at all what I thought it'd be. I finished it mainly to find out the autopsy results but could have been just as happy quitting and moving on to another book. It started off with promise then kind of dwindled. Not at all what I thought it'd be. I finished it mainly to find out the autopsy results but could have been just as happy quitting and moving on to another book. It started off with promise then kind of dwindled.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Kayla

    This book just wasn’t that good. I couldn’t relate to the main character, and like many others, I thought it started off promising and then took a deep dive off a cliff. There really isn’t a focus to the book.

  24. 4 out of 5

    Bev

    I wanted to like this book more.... however there were parts that tugged at the heart... but the F word is thrown in there...really?

  25. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I was totally engrossed until he describes a fling with a woman young enough to be his granddaughter. I mean yay him he hooked up and apparently many women wanted to hook up with him. Sigh.

  26. 4 out of 5

    BOOKLOVER EB

    Jonathan Santlofer's wife, Joy, had a procedure done on her knee in 2013 that was, theoretically, "no big deal," and was expected to lead to a full recovery. Shortly after her outpatient surgery, however, Joy was resting at home and complained of feeling ill. Suddenly, she could not catch her breath and her husband called for help. The paramedics who responded to the 911 call and, later, the ER personnel who came to Joy's aid, could not save her. "The Widower's Notebook" is Santlofer's attempt t Jonathan Santlofer's wife, Joy, had a procedure done on her knee in 2013 that was, theoretically, "no big deal," and was expected to lead to a full recovery. Shortly after her outpatient surgery, however, Joy was resting at home and complained of feeling ill. Suddenly, she could not catch her breath and her husband called for help. The paramedics who responded to the 911 call and, later, the ER personnel who came to Joy's aid, could not save her. "The Widower's Notebook" is Santlofer's attempt to come to terms with the loss of his good-hearted, intelligent, and supportive wife of more than forty years. Jonathan was in shock, and believes that he got through the months following Joy's death thanks to his terrific daughter, Dorie; the help of cherished family and friends; and his work as an artist, teacher, and writer. Joy was a talented food historian who was still writing her magnum opus on the food history of New York City. Jonathan decided that he wanted Joy's book to be published posthumously, but a great deal of editing still remained to be done In "The Widower's Notebook," Santlofer (who is now seventy-two) relates his meltdown in stark terms. He could not sleep without the aid of pills, experienced PTSD and survivor's guilt, and had unsettling dreams. Jonathan impulsively removed Joy's photos from their picture frames, but kept her clothing and cosmetics exactly where they were. Much to his regret, Jonathan's legal documents were not in perfect order, so he could not move Joy's estate through probate smoothly and, although the medical examiner conducted an autopsy, her husband would not see the results until years later. Women tend to write memoirs of about widowhood, Santlofer says, because they are programmed by society to talk about their deepest feelings. Many men, and Jonathan is a prime example, try to tamp down their emotions when faced with a catastrophic event, and it would take a very long time for him to speak to his daughter openly about what they both experienced. This is a painful, candid, heartrending, and moving first person account that conveys some important lessons. Among them: Take nothing for granted; behave as compassionately as possible towards others; do not hold unnecessary grudges; forgive yourself for not being perfect; and there is no "one size fits all" when it comes to mourning. Santlofer pays tribute to Joy with beautiful and evocative prose, lovely black and white drawings, and poignant, as well as humorous, memories of their life together. After finishing this book, we feel as if we know Joy and Jonathan, and can well understand why the author still wears his wedding ring and misses his beloved wife so much.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Corey

    This is a book that you should press into the hands of anyone you know who has lost their partner. While I am fortunate to not yet be in that group, I have friends who are and what they have reported to me of their experiences is all here, unflinchingly laid out for all to look at. And even though you will want to look away at moments, Santlofer persuades you otherwise. Santlofer begins in the bewilderment of his widower status, unsure of how to start telling the unbelievable tale he must tell (a This is a book that you should press into the hands of anyone you know who has lost their partner. While I am fortunate to not yet be in that group, I have friends who are and what they have reported to me of their experiences is all here, unflinchingly laid out for all to look at. And even though you will want to look away at moments, Santlofer persuades you otherwise. Santlofer begins in the bewilderment of his widower status, unsure of how to start telling the unbelievable tale he must tell (and the reason his wife died is in fact unbelievable, another reason to keep reading). The book is structured like a notebook, vaguely chronological but not bound to be so, with moments that are observational, conversational even, interspersed among the narrative. It is not clear initially who his intended audience is, but soon it is apparent that he has written this for his daughter Dorie, who was subjected to her own grief which is different and of a heavier quality perhaps than his own. I think what I carry with me as I continue to reflect on this book is Santlofer's honesty in displaying the range of emotions we all know about, in a clinical detached sense, but that he experienced quite reluctantly and, as we discover, unnecessarily. He doesn't hesitate to talk about the mistakes and missteps he made while putting his life back together, nor does he spare his friends and acquaintances that same treatment. This is the sort of book that helps you not take stock of your own life and relationships--I think that is a bit too pat-- but reminds us all that we need to show up when our friends need us, and to remember those who don't. Ultimately, this is a sharp and stinging book, whole sections gripping while others passages I found myself holding my breath whilst reading. I don't have the courage to read Joan Didion's Year of Magical Thinking, and several of my widow/widowers friends have said the same. But I think this is a book of love more than anything else, a love letter more than a mourning memo, and is not to be missed.

  28. 4 out of 5

    David

    "notebook" is maybe too modest - it's a coherent narrative about his first 3 years or so of grieving after his wife of 40+ years died suddenly in the aftermath of ostensibly routine surgery. He takes on very specific [how drawing helped him cope with intense feelings of loss] to very general [insensitive stuff people say to the grieving; sex differences in expressing emotion] topics and shows himself to be a thoughtful, compassionate guide to an experience lots of us eventually have. my one small "notebook" is maybe too modest - it's a coherent narrative about his first 3 years or so of grieving after his wife of 40+ years died suddenly in the aftermath of ostensibly routine surgery. He takes on very specific [how drawing helped him cope with intense feelings of loss] to very general [insensitive stuff people say to the grieving; sex differences in expressing emotion] topics and shows himself to be a thoughtful, compassionate guide to an experience lots of us eventually have. my one small quibble is that he foreshadows a few times that there is something suspicious or shocking about how the death occurred, lets you a little ways into hospital foul-ups, hints at a malpractice lawsuit involving mix of meds they gave her, and then......drops the whole topic and gets back to the plans for a book party in his late wife's honor after he [author wouldn't say this, but to my mind heroically] pulls together for publication the book she was working on [food history of NYC] when she died. but in general, it's not a plot-driven story but more reflection on such issues as what in particular he missed about his wife [zipping thru art museums at a pace no one else will sustain with him, going to lots of movies......], how the loss affected his relationship with their adult daughter, misadventures in dating as a widow [he declines, and seems basically appalled by, friends' attempts to fix him up with seemingly suitable partners, sez he is just not ready.....and then has an affair with a much much younger ex-student of his who ends up inviting him to a threesome along with her live-in boyfriend, which proves to be the prompt to get him out of that relationship], his day to day routines and how they changed, and much more. not a didactic book about what you should do, and he doesn't draw a lot of bullet-pointed conclusions, but i could definitely see giving this to a friend if he found himself in this situation.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Sarah Obsesses over Books & Cookies

    4.5 stars. I'm not sure why I read this. I was at the library for a kids program and saw it on the spinning rack for books the library just got and I picked it up and started reading it. I'm not a widow. And i'm not familiar with the author who is an artist but I love a good memoir and I do love sad. This was both. But also darkly amusing. The books opens with the paramedics rushing at the author's wife trying to revive her, tearing her shirt open etc. She is dead. It's assumed to be a heart att 4.5 stars. I'm not sure why I read this. I was at the library for a kids program and saw it on the spinning rack for books the library just got and I picked it up and started reading it. I'm not a widow. And i'm not familiar with the author who is an artist but I love a good memoir and I do love sad. This was both. But also darkly amusing. The books opens with the paramedics rushing at the author's wife trying to revive her, tearing her shirt open etc. She is dead. It's assumed to be a heart attack or something like that although she'd just had knee surgery days before and had suddenly claimed to feel twitchy. The doctor's office was closed, it was a holiday weekend and now she is dead. This all happens within the first 2 pages. What follows is the authors moment by moment reaction. He had been married to Joy for over 40 years. They were both artists. They had a grown daughter. This man is going through the loss of his wife and we get to witness the raw and the sad and all the feelings in the between. He doesn't know how to talk about. He's finding that close friends aren't that close after all when it comes to an event like this. He also has friends who want to hook him up with someone because he "needs to get laid." He and his daughter's relationship weather the loss and deal with the aftermath and become closer. It's bittersweet. There is also a thread to the story of Joy's autopsy. The doctor who performed it - no one seems to know and there is no record of the autopsy. The author goes back and forth with trying to figure it out and ends up hiring lawyers. It's not some mystery that is the main part of the book but rather an interesting sub plot that is not anticlimactic. It's a quick read, short chapters with the bonus of beautiful pencil drawings done by the author of his beloved wife and daughter. I love the authenticity of his feelings and he's a great writer.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Chris

    There’s heartbreak and wisdom in “The Widower’s Notebook,” a memoir that never stoops to being maudlin as it explores the grief of losing a long time spouse and coming to grips with living again…alone. Author and artist Jonathan Santlofer and his wife Joy had that indelible, longstanding love affair that others marrieds envy. They were best friends and lovers, married more than 40 years, with an adult daughter, Dorie, they adored. Financially set and involved in careers they relished, a blip app There’s heartbreak and wisdom in “The Widower’s Notebook,” a memoir that never stoops to being maudlin as it explores the grief of losing a long time spouse and coming to grips with living again…alone. Author and artist Jonathan Santlofer and his wife Joy had that indelible, longstanding love affair that others marrieds envy. They were best friends and lovers, married more than 40 years, with an adult daughter, Dorie, they adored. Financially set and involved in careers they relished, a blip appears on the horizon. Joy has torn her meniscus and has to have knee surgery. Released from the hospital “nothing seemed out of the ordinary,” Jonathan Santlofer writes. Yet soon his wife struggled with breathing and had an annoying pain in her leg, troubling symptoms that prompted a call to the doctor’s office. They were assured there was nothing amiss. Soon thereafter, Joy died as her husband tried to calm her. “The Widower’s Notebook” is a slim book, a memoir packed with meaning, arranged in sections that reflect Jonathan Santlofer’s journey toward acceptance: “Before,” “After,” and “The Widower.” It doesn’t provide any easy answers—but offers an honest, painful treatise on experiencing grief with difficult-to-read-chapters on how we perceive, and react, or don’t, to those who have lost someone dear to them. With grace and sensitivity, Jonathan Santlofer opens himself up, allowing us to better understand what we can say or do to comfort others in their time of need.

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