Writing the Book on Survival for Military Widows They're the words every military spouse dreads: "We regret to inform you..." Authors Joanne Steen and Regina Asaro are trying to help a new generation of military widows cope with their losses and face the future.
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Writing the Book on Survival for Military Widows

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Writing the Book on Survival for Military Widows

Writing the Book on Survival for Military Widows

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This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

It's been a particularly bloody week for US troops in Iraq. So far the military reports at least 13 dead; some in combat, others in accidents. All told, some 3,000 American service members have been killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001, and the numbers only tell part of the story.

Many of the those killed left wives and some husbands back at home, spouses who answered a knock at their door to see sober officers in crisp, class-A uniforms and knew even before they heard the words we regret to inform you.

Today our focus is on a new survival manual for military widows that offers firsthand experience on coping with the military, with grief, with the kids, and the dumb things people say, and widow humor.

If you're a military widow, call and tell us your story, any advice you might have for others in your situation. And if you're close to someone whose husband died in the service, what did you do to help her get by? Our number here in Washington is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. The e-mail address is talk@npr.org.

Later in the hour, the FBI catches up with one of its most wanted, polygamy sect leader Warren Jeffs, and a look at the writing of Nobel Prize-winning novelist Naguib Mahfouz.

But first, military widows. Joining us in Studio 3A is Joanne Steen, co-author of a new book called Military Widow: A Survival Guide. She's a nationally certified counselor and a military widow herself. Thanks very much for joining us today.

Ms. JOANNE STEEN (Co-author, Military Widow: A Survival Guide): Thank you.

CONAN: We're going to meet your co-author in just a few minutes.

Ms. STEEN: Yes.

CONAN: But to begin with, you say that military death is especially complicated. Explain to us how military widows are different from their civilian counterparts.

Ms. STEEN: Well, I found out that military grief is complex actually by real experience. And I was widowed in 1992. My husband was a Navy pilot, and he was killed when his helicopter suffered catastrophic rotor-head failure and came apart in midair; and we lost a crew of seven that day.

What I was to find out was that the experience of being a military widow went far beyond the normal realm of sudden traumatic death, and I ended up starting a support group with another naval aviator's widow down in the Norfolk area. And in a very short period of time, we had 21 women and one man.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. STEEN: And we struggled with grief, and we struggled with feeling better. And we thought there was something wrong with us. We thought we were bad grievers because we weren't feeling better when the world was moving on.

CONAN: Well, as you point out, there are an awful lot of books about grief out there.

Ms. STEEN: There is. What we found, though, was that we were having a tough time with our particular circumstances with grief, and the only time we felt that we can communicate was when we were when - with each other. Excuse me. I ended up leaving my job after a few years, went back to school, got a master's in counseling, and found out at the time that what we were dealing with was sudden traumatic death.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. STEEN: And combined that knowledge with the knowledge that I had of working with military widows since my husband was killed. So if we look at military grief and we say that it's complex, it's complex for three reasons.

CONAN: Go ahead.

Ms. STEEN: Okay. First reason you have to look at is the life of - the life experiences of the surviving spouse. Most military widows are young. They're in their 20s or 30s. Because of their age, they're in a life-creating or life-affirming time in their life. Many have small children. Some are pregnant. Most are planning families.

Military widows are also living at a duty station, and they're going to be far away from family and friends, and all of us revert back to that sense of safety, comfort, and security when we deal with tragedy and trauma.

The next thing that happens is that their husbands will die suddenly rather than die of an anticipated death. And sudden death brings with it a unique set of complications, whether your husband's wearing a uniform or a business suit.

CONAN: Sure.

Ms. STEEN: Another part that complicates it is that their husbands are most likely going to die somewhere other than where they live, usually on a training exercise, on deployment, or in a foreign country - in this case with hostile action. When your death - when the death happens far away from where you live, you're getting the news secondhand, but you're also having no tangible proof that's delivered to you. All you have is the official word with nothing that you can hold onto to see or even go to the site for yourself.


Ms. STEEN: So this is just the piece of the young surviving spouse. You look then at the life and death of the service member. The diseased is going to be of comparable age. He's young. And at that point in our lives, we're all invincible, and it's a normal and predicted developmental stage. But it's also tougher on the surviving spouse because it offends our sense of immortality. We're supposed to live forever, or at least a real long time.

So we have a young spouse who's dying. We have someone who has a purpose. And when we lose someone who has a purpose in their lives, it's a loss - both a personal loss and also a societal loss, and it's tougher to accept the death of someone who is a contributing member of society.

CONAN: Hmm. Joanne's co-author on Military Widow is Regina Asaro. She's a psychiatric nurse certified in what's called thanatology, the study of death, dying and bereavement. She's worked as a national and international crisis responder and joins us now from the studios of WHRV in Norfolk, Virginia. Nice to have you on the program today.

Regina, are you there? And apparently she's having difficulty hearing me.

Ms. STEEN: Okay. Mm-hmm.

CONAN: We can hear her line, but we'll go on with you, Joanne, here in the studio, in 3A...

Ms. STEEN: Okay.

CONAN: ...until we get that set up. So we'll get back to Regina in just a few minutes.

Ms. STEEN: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: And I wanted to ask you, you talked about the circumstances of what makes widows different - military widows different.

Ms. STEEN: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: And I think the primary thing is - it's got to be the age. You were so looking forward to that length of life with your spouse.

Ms. STEEN: Yes.

CONAN: And suddenly that's gone.

MS. STEEN: Oh, absolutely. What happens is that young widows - and whether it's military or civilian - young widows have unfulfilled dreams. Older women -older widows have memories.

CONAN: Mmm. Let's get some listeners involved in the conversation, too. Our number is 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. Our e-mail address is talk@npr.org. And let's go to Eliza(ph). Eliza is with us from Provo in Utah.

ELIZA (Caller): Hi.


ELIZA: I'm calling because I almost feel like military widows - although I know they're - the grief and the loss that they've suffered is tremendous - I almost feel lost in the shuffle because I lost a fiancé. And I don't feel like I got to grieve appropriately. I don't feel like I got to experience - I'm jealous, I guess. (Unintelligible)


Ms. STEEN: Eliza, I understand that one, and if my co-author's there, Regina, she could speak to this one.

CONAN: Regina, are you there?

Ms. REGINA ASARO (Co-author, Military Widow: A Survival Guide): Yes, I am.

CONAN: I'm sorry about the technical problem earlier. Nice to have you on the problem today.

Ms. ASARO: Thank you.

CONAN: If you - did you hear Eliza's question?

Ms. ASARO: I did, yes. And I want to say, Eliza, that I'm very sorry that you lost your fiancé. And sadly, although you were the love of his life, there is no formal mechanism within the military to include people who are engaged in the formal process that follows in terms of benefits and that sort of thing. And that is one of the problems that very often happens is that a loss like yours is not recognized, acknowledged, or supported by society because they just don't understand.

So what we call this is disenfranchised grief. And again, I'm very sorry for your loss, and I hope that you will look to find good friends or perhaps a minister or a counselor who can help you to sort of sort through some of these issues because your grief is very important. You did have a very significant loss, and I hope that you can take care of yourself, because you need to and you deserve to.

ELIZA: (unintelligible)

CONAN: Eliza, did the people in your husband's unit reach out to you at all?

ELIZA: They contacted his parents who he actually kind of was estranged from, and so that kind of pushed the issue further, was that I felt like they should have come to me and instead they went to his family, which I was grateful - I'm grateful now that they did that...

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

ELIZA: ...because his - I know his mother needed that, and I know his family...

Ms. ASARO: Eliza, if I can make a suggestion for you...


Ms. ASARO: And that's there are other women like you out there who are in either a very significant relationship or who are engaged and just haven't gone through the marriage as yet. And I would suggest if you haven't as yet, that you contact TAPS, Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors. I can tell you there are several women in there who are in the same position that you are, and you don't have to go through this alone.

I'd also suggest that you perhaps look at some of the chapters in our book which deal with military loss and grief and work through those stages of grief. I think that would helpful for you. But again, if you contact TAPS, they would be able to hook you up with someone who is in your position, which is engaged and not married yet.

CONAN: Hmm. Eliza, again, our condolences on your loss. Thanks very much for call.

ELIZA: Thank you.

CONAN: Good luck. Let's talk with Mike, and Mike's calling us from Detroit.

MIKE (Caller): Hello.

CONAN: Hi, Mike. Go ahead, please.

MIKE: Yeah, I had a question as far as is there a difference in the way people have to approach widowers, being that this is kind of a relatively new thing I would imagine since we have more women in combat, you know, than, well, than ever.

CONAN: Yeah.

MIKE: Is that - is there - I mean are men expected to kind of just suck it up, or is this something that - what have you encountered as far as this goes?

CONAN: And, Joanne, your book is addressed to - specifically to women.

Ms. STEEN: Yes, it is. And, Mike, that is a good question. We opted to go with dealing with widowers and - widows, excuse me, in this case because we were going after the 98 percent solution. Right now coming out of Iraq, roughly two percent or less of the casualties are women dying in combat, leaving behind widowers. And what we are planning on is that in the next edition of the book, we will address it.

Men grieve differently than women. And while they hurt as much and it's as painful, they process their grief differently. And our goal was to get the book out and then address the very necessary subject of widowers down the road. Good point, though. Thank you.

MIKE: Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Mike. Indeed I was curious that there was no book like this already, and I gather you were surprised to find that out, too.

Ms. STEEN: Yes, I was. When I was widowed, there was no resource. And unfortunately, in the years that have passed and as I worked with widowers -widows, excuse me - what I learned was that the names and the faces changed, but the issues remain the same. And especially now with the start of the global war on terror, a military widow can go into basically any bookstore in America and find a choice of books on how to cope with the loss of her pet.


Ms. STEEN: But there wouldn't be a resource on how to survive the loss of her husband. And I've wanted to write the book for years. And when I came across Regina, we were the right combination to do it, and I'm glad that we did. I'm delighted that we did it.

CONAN: And interestingly, you told me just before we went on the air there were no similar books in Britain either.

Ms. STEEN: That's right. What we did was we did an Internet literature search and found that there was no resources either in the United Kingdom - and we have contacts with the Royal Naval who are also in Royal Australian Air Force -and their widows deal with similar issues independent of the uniform, the continent, or the country.

CONAN: Sure, yeah. We're going to talk more about surviving military widowhood when we come back from a short break, and talk about some of the other ways to get by, including the importance of widow humor. And we'll take more of your calls as well - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail us: talk@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about some of the unique challenges of military widowhood. There's a new book out, a survival guide for military widows and anybody else who may be close to someone who lost their husband. We've posted an excerpt of the book at our Web site. You can read tips on how you can help and find links to some of the groups that support surviving military spouses. It's all online at the TALK OF THE NATION page at npr.org.

Our guests are Joanne Steen and Regina Asaro. They co-authored the book Military Widow: A Survival Guide. Joanne is a nationally certified counselor and a military widow herself. Regina is a psychiatric nurse and is certified in the study of death, dying and bereavement.

Of course you're invited to join the conversation. If you lost your husband in the military, or your wife, give us a call - 800-989-8255, 800-989-TALK. E-mail: talk@npr.org. We'd be especially interested in any advice you have for other people who are now in your shoes - 800-989-8255.

And here's an e-mail we got from Chuck(ph) in Wichita. Chuck identifies himself as a retired U.S. Army staff sergeant. In my 30 years in the military, I've experienced the death of several comrades. The thing which seems to have affected people the most is that members of the military are required to stay in top physical condition. Their death is thus especially unexpected.

And, Regina, it gets to that sense of immortality that Joanne was talking about earlier.

Ms. ASARO: Mm-hmm. Absolutely. Sudden and traumatic deaths are much more difficult in many ways to work through, and I agree with the staff sergeant. When people are in the peak of health and they suddenly die, there's no time to prepare, there's no time to say goodbye, and there are a whole host of others things which complicate the grieving process for the family and the widow who are left behind.

And in fact I could tell you a couple of things which do make a death - a sudden death traumatic. And those are if the death is unexpected, if the death is random or perceived to be preventable, if there are multiple deaths at the same time, if there is violence involved with damage to impossible dismemberment or harm to the body, that makes it more difficult; and if the family has a shocking confrontation with the death or the mutilation of others.

And so along with the sudden death that the staff sergeant talked about, these are the factors which, according to Terry Randall(ph), make a death traumatic.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. And, Joanne, dealing with the military, a lot of your book is this collection of acronyms, if nothing else.

Ms. STEEN: Mm-hmm.

CONAN: But the culture of the military is one thing that you point is another thing that distinguishes military widows from civilians.

Ms. STEEN: Oh, gosh, yes. You know, when you look at the complexity of military loss, you take first the life experiences of that now young widow, you take -you look at the life and death of the deceased service member, and then what you do is you actually envelope that in the culture of the military and wrap that in the very fabric of our flag.

Most of America has at one time or another experienced the process of military loss. They've seen the notification scenes. They've seen the, you know, the beautiful and fitting rites and traditions of a military funeral. You know, they've witnessed the fly-bys; they've seen the roll call. These are all very fitting ways to remember a service member who's died in the service of his or her country, but they become actual symbols of death. And I own a white car. I had no idea of how many white cars there were on the road until I bought one.


Ms. STEEN: I had no idea of how many times these scenes are replayed on the news, in movies, and on television until I experienced it personally.

CONAN: Hmm. Well, one of the interesting things I read in your book is - and I'm not sure to which author I attribute it - but that grief comes not all at once but in loads of small slices.

Ms. STEEN: Mm-hmm. Reality comes in slices, and that's a part - that's actually a part of sudden traumatic death. And we are very resilient as humans, and we're programmed to take in just so much of this at one time. And so we take in as much as basically we can deal with, but reality comes in large and small ways. And I think it's a misnomer for America to believe that once you've buried your serviceman and received the flag that you've accepted it, because acceptance of his death comes weeks, months, and sometimes years later.

CONAN: And you're reminded all sorts of things.

Ms. STEEN: Absolutely.

CONAN: Christmas, his birthday.

Ms. STEEN: Uh-huh.

CONAN: Holidays.

Ms. STEEN: That's right. Memorial Day.

CONAN: Yeah.

Ms. STEEN: Veteran's Day. They used to be holidays, holidays for socializing, but they take on a completely different meaning when you know that there's a Boy Scout or a Girl Scout who's putting a flag on your husband's gravestone.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Delores(ph), Delores calling us from Phoenix.

DELORES (Caller): Yes, this is Delores.

CONAN: Yes, go ahead, please. You're on the air.

DELORES: Many years ago, in 1958, my husband was a fighter pilot with the U.S. Air Force. And he was on duty in California, and I was visiting my parents in Phoenix. The phone rings one night, and it's an Air Force officer. And his first sentence to me is we're calling to offer assistance to the widow of Captain Patton(ph).

Ms. STEEN: Mmm.

DELORES: And that's how I was notified.

CONAN: It's interesting. We did a show about military notification a couple of months ago, in fact, and those procedures have changed. And it's one of the things that you write about in the book.

Ms. STEEN: Yes, and I'm truly sorry to hear that, and...

DELORES: Well, it's such a long, long time ago. I'm certainly grateful they have changed.

Ms. STEEN: It is. But I also know that that's part of the trauma that's stayed with you, I suspect.


Ms. STEEN: Okay. And there's no easy way to lose a husband, and there's no easy way to be notified.

DELORES: That's...

Ms. STEEN: I am - I can tell you, though, that the process has moved along. And it's a process that's still in motion.


Ms. STEEN: But I - my heart goes out to you on that. I - that's not an easy -that's not a good way to be notified.

DELORES: No, it's not. But it actually would have been a trauma no matter how you look at it, so.

Ms. STEEN: That's right. There's no easy way to be told.

DELORES: That's true.

CONAN: Yeah.

DELORES: That's true. Well, thank you for your time.

Ms. STEEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Delores, thanks very much for the call. Appreciate it.


Ms. STEEN: Thank you for calling.

CONAN: Yeah. Obviously that was an unfortunate way to - but one of the things you write about - I was fascinated - the dumb things people say is a chapter in your book, and it addresses when people, with all good meaning, say something truly unfortunate.

Ms. STEEN: People try to fix your grief, and often the best thing to be able to do is to say I'm sorry for your loss and then be quiet. Regina, do you have comments about the - how people go on to try fix your grief and what they say?

Ms. ASARO: Well, actually, I think people feel quite helpless in the face of death. They don't know what to say, and in actual fact, there's nothing that they can say that will bring back your husband.

CONAN: Mm-hmm.

Ms. ASARO: So that's point number one. They try to make you feel better, but they're also trying to make themselves better - to make themselves feel better. And the other part of it is we have to recognize this with the military is that if it could happen to your husband, it could happen to them.


Ms. ASARO: And it is something that they have in the back of their mind, and, you know, you have to take that into account as well. So they're dealing with their own fear, whether it's recognized or not.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. You're young. You'll find another husband.

Ms. STEEN: I wish I had a dollar for every time I heard that.

CONAN: Yeah, yeah. I know exactly how you feel. My dog died last year. These are...

Ms. ASARO: I have to say something to this because when Joanne and I were sitting at my kitchen table one day reading this, a friend of ours came in and we - and I introduced Joanne. I said this is Joanne. We're writing a book on military loss, and Joanne is a military widow. And he - the next words out of his mouth were, yeah, I know how you feel. My pet died last week.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. ASARO: This is a true thing.

Ms. STEEN: Right. And what's interesting is that I am a widow, and yet when I work with other military widows, I will never say exactly how you feel - I know exactly how you feel because I don't. I've walked in their shoes, but I don't know exactly what they're feeling at that instance.

CONAN: Let's get another caller on the line. This is Melissa(ph), Melissa calling from Cleveland.

MELISSA (Caller): Hi, yeah. Thank you for the show today. I can really relate to everything that your speakers are saying. I was widowed in 1993 when I was 20, and my husband was a Marine going between bases was killed in an accident. And we had a seven - we have a seven and a half month old son at the time, who's now 13. And I have a really hard time relaying to him what his father was outside of just being a Marine. It seems like a lot of people, you know, are really eager to say, oh, he was a Marine. He was serving his country. This is what he wanted to do. But I mean he was also an individual outside of that. I wondered if you could speak to how to kind of present to my son the whole person.

Ms. STEEN: Yeah. Melissa, I am sorry for your loss. And I could identify. My late husband served in the Corps, also. But we touch in the book that how when we remember our loved ones, we want to remember them in very healthy and life-affirming ways, yet live in the present. And it's important that we remember the whole person. And that's the good and the bad, the soldier, the Marine and also the person. And the name, the face and the personality.

And so our memories do need to be realistic ones, and they need to also point out their faults, too. Because we have a tendency of sometimes canonizing our loved ones, and we need to make them into real people. Because if we make them into real people, then they could have an appropriate, healthy place in our life and still let us live fully.

MELISSA: Exactly. Thank you so much. I appreciate it.

Ms. STEEN: Thank for you for calling.

CONAN: Good luck, Melissa. Good luck with your son.

MELISSA: Thank you. Bye, bye.

CONAN: It was interesting, there was a chapter that also touched on this remembrance sort of thing. What do you do with your husband's I Love Me wall? That's the collection of all the photographs. You know, the various groups and the time he shook hands with the general and that sort of thing.

Ms. STEEN: Mm-hmm. Well, you have to be very cautious with what you do with it. As with anything else, there's a range of reactions and those reactions will change over time. And I've known some women - and I could probably fess up to doing this - is that you turn it into a memorial for a period of time.

And it is the place in your house where you remember and memorialize your husband. Rock solid advice, though, don't throw anything out. You're throwing out pieces of a life that has ended, and there's going to be somebody that wants it. And if you're uncertain about what to do, pack it up, put it in the attic or the basement, and wait for another time.

His parents, though, his brothers and sisters - somebody will want that stuff. And so don't throw it out.

CONAN: And Regina, you write in the book there will be a time when you will change that wall or take it down, and you will know when that is.

Ms. ASARO: Mm-hmm. Right. When it feels right, when you start to think, oh, you know, I'm okay with taking this down or maybe shrink it - make it smaller. But you'll know when the time is right. There's no set time. It's completely up to the individual.

And I wanted to go back to add something to what was said to the last caller -that as her son grows, perhaps some of the pieces of the I Love Me wall could be given to him. And, because you can never have enough pieces of things that were your father's. And so that might be something that could comforting for her son.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Andy in Oakland, California. We spoke earlier with the unacknowledged fiancé of someone who was killed.

It's good to hear about disenfranchised grief acknowledged by your guest. I know a number of gay and lesbian partners of service members. I wonder what your guests would recommend for the grief of those whose very existence could not be recognized.

Ms. STEEN: Excellent question, excellent question. It's the same thing in terms of - you're dealing with two issues there, because not only are you dealing with the loss of the relationship, but you're also dealing with a relationship that wasn't sanctioned by the military.

And so I don't know in California if there are groups of others like them, but there is real power and there is validation when you could find others who are like circumstances. And if they can find those with like circumstances, that's probably the most validating thing because then it eliminates the isolation that they're feeling.

CONAN: We're speaking today with Joanne Steen and Regina Asaro. They are the co-authors of the book Military Widow: A Survival Guide, which is available from the Naval Institute Press. If you'd like to join us, 800-989-8255. 800-989-TALK. E-mail us talk@npr.org.

And this is TALK OF THE NATION. You're listening to it on National Public Radio.

And let's see if we can get another caller on the line. And this is Eric. Eric's calling us from Charlotte, North Carolina.

ERIC (Caller): Yes I am, and I want to thank the two ladies for taking the time to write the book. One of the things - I was a first sergeant in the Air Force. I spent eight years doing that particular job. And one of the things I had to deal with when we lost a military members is we were trying to be compassionate and try and help that spouse that's left behind after the death, if they live on the military installation, unfortunately, they only have a limited amount of time that they can remain in housing. And oftentimes, they're at least hundreds, if not thousands of miles - and sometimes overseas - away from their families. Did you include anything in the book that will help with people in that situation to them deal with what they're going through in that grief situation? And I'll take the answer off the air. Thank you.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Eric.

Ms. ASARO: Yeah. I can go ahead and answer that. We actually have a whole chapter on that issue of where to live, because you're absolutely right. So many times, the spouses are overseas or indeed thousands of miles away from their families. And so they have a big decision to make.

Now, first of all they probably would have to move off the base - if they are in base housing - within a year. And that gives her a little time to think about what she might want to do. But they, the grief experts tell you not to make any major decisions for at least a year after you've had a major loss.

So in the book, we do include information about considerations that you need to keep in mind to help you to formulate where you might want to go. Do you want to be near family? Do you not want to be near family? Do you have other - does you family have other needs that they need to consider?

And so, yeah. That is a very important thing, and I thank the caller for that question.

Ms. STEEN: I think it's important to remember, though, that no matter where you move, you're going to take your feelings and your emotions with you. So you can't run. They go with you.

CONAN: Yeah. You also wrote about that moment, though, after the funeral when your husband's military family starts walking away from you.

Ms. STEEN: That's true. That's true. What's happens is this: is that you when you lose your husband, you lose literally what's called your military family. And it's not something that's deliberate. I think it's just a part of human nature, because you're now dealing with a different set of circumstances.

While the unit is moving forward - and they are in those life-affirming moments whether it's children, PCS moves, you know, transfers…

CONAN: Permanent Change of Station.

Ms. STEEN: Yes. Thank you, thank you. You know, the transfers, the promotion parties. You're dealing with issues that are not really comfortable for the normal world. You're dealing with accident reports and autopsy reports and funerals and things like this.

And after about three months, you do start to separate. It's difficult because you may still think of yourself as a part of that unit, but you're really not. What you end up being is a dependent without a living sponsor. And as a result, the military widow really doesn't have a place.

CONAN: I wonder, you talked about meeting that group of widows so long ago. Is that where you've began to get your impression of widow humor?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Ms. STEEN: Yes it is. And we would get together and - my little support group that we had, which was eventually sanctioned by the Chaplain Corps for the Navy. And we would talk about things, and there were things that we would laugh about. And I realize now looking back that it was a form of control, and it was actually a good thing. Because as much as tears and grief are emotions, so is laughing.

CONAN: And if it takes a dead husband joke to make this come to life?

Ms. STEEN: Absolutely, absolutely. Now what we found - and we found this out the hard way - is the lesson learned here, is that the world doesn't expect that from you. So this is viewed as irreverent and something - you have to be very cautious, in fact. Even among other widows, you have to be very cautious. But it is something I think that kind of gives the widow a sense of control when nothing else in her life she can control.

CONAN: We're going to take a short break. When we come back, we'll continue our conversation with Military Widow: A Survival Guide. Plus, the FBI gets its man. Polygamy sect leaders Warren Jeffs is arrested. And we'll remember the words of the first Arab writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's the TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

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CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines from some of the other stories we're following here today at NPR News.

Israel has rejected United Nations demands that it immediately lift its sea and air blockade of Lebanon. Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert has indicated that Israel would only comply after the full implementation of a U.N.-brokered cease-fire.

And direct U.S. government support for public education in Iraq will end in September. Since the occupation of Iraq began in 2003, U.S. funds have paid for teacher training, textbooks and repairs to school buildings.

You can hear details on those stories and of course much more later today on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, after Paramount Pictures public breakup with Tom Cruise, we'll talk about whether Hollywood's star system is still a workable business plan. Plus, the grand finale of our summer movie festival. What movie do you watch over and over and over again? E-mail us with your nomination: talk@npr.org. That's tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

In a few minutes, the arrest of polygamist church leader Warren Jeffs, plus a look at the words of the late Egyptian novelist Naguib Mahfouz.

But we'll continue now our conversation about the survival guide for military widows. Our guests are Joanne Steen and Regina Asaro. They co-authored the book Military Widow: A Survival Guide. Joanne is a nationally certified counselor and a military widow. Regina is a psychiatric nurse and certified in the study of death, dying and bereavement.

Now let's get another caller on the line. And this is Barbara. Barbara - excuse me - Barbara calling from Cordova, South Carolina.

BARBARA (Caller): Yes, that is correct. Yes. I lost my husband back in 2004. He was with the National Guard. He was deployed to our Johnson Seymour Air Force Base in North Carolina. And, of course, he died all of the sudden. They stated that he had cardiac myopia, which basically is an enlarged heart.


BARBARA: But prior of that, of course, no type of physical ailment, nothing. Perfect health. He was only 38. And, as I said, this happened back in 2004. And to say he was a great guy would definitely just be an understatement. I had known him all my life, we had only been married four years.

And I just haven't been able to - I still have his suitcase with his clothes that's in there. His, you know, T-shirts and all his stuff. It's just so difficult for me to move on even to put his things away. And I wanted to, you know, ask the ladies there - I noticed earlier they were saying it takes time. Everybody, you will know when to, you know, move - put things away or move your, remove your memories.

But how do you remove your - or move on from a memory of a guy who was just, you know, the greatest guy. I mean, someone that, you know, you waited and prayed for. And then for him to just go all of the sudden and just, you know, how do you - where do you begin? And, you know, I just don't know how do I move on?

CONAN: Well, Barbara, let me begin by saying how sorry we all are for you loss.

BARBARA: Thank you.

CONAN: But let me turn it over to the experts.


Ms. STEEN: Barbara, I am sorry also. I can hear - I could still hear your anguish in your voice, and I could appreciate that. And one of the things you have to remember is that term moving on is sort of a misnomer. Because for all intents and purposes, your old life has ended. And what you have to do now - and you lost a great love. And when we lose a great love we need to mourn well. And in the process of mourning, it'll help you to work through the pain of losing a great love.

That's the price we pay for a great love is great pain. And what I would suggest - and I would suggest you get our book, you look over the chapter on grief work.


Ms. STEEN: And there's some very gentle things that you can do. It'll help you to understand.

2004 is not an altogether long time when you deal with sudden death.


Ms. STEEN: But now is the time for you to grieve and mourn. And moving forward, though, you have to do it at a pace that you're comfortable with. If you feel that you're stuck - and we do list some areas in areas in there, questions for you to honestly ask yourself - you may want to talk with someone. Be it your clergyman or doctor or a counselor who has a good background on grief.

BARBARA: Okay. All right.

CONAN: And good luck to you, Barbara.

BARBARA: Thank you all so much.

CONAN: Bye, bye.


CONAN: Here's an e-mail question we got from Joel in Tucson, Arizona. Given how contentious this war is, do you have any advice for widows who are confronted with anti-war sentiments directed at them and their loss? Do you have any advice for friends of those widows?


Ms. ASARO: Oh yeah. We have all heard in the news, you know, different issues being raised. But I think that it would be important for people who have lost someone in the military to remember the reason why their loved one joined up in the first place, that they felt that it was a higher calling to do something for their country. and it's very sad when someone dies in the line of duty, but to remember their loved one and their reason for signing up in the first place.

CONAN: Mm-hmm. Joanne?

Ms. STEEN: Yeah. I think also, you know, funerals are very - funerals and memorials are a public time to grieve and mourn. And I think for those that are publicly grieving and morning and sometimes being faced with opinions other than how they feel, that could be difficult. But I would ask those that are loss of this soldier, sailor, airman, or marine to remember the words that are used when the flag is presented to the surviving family member. And that's when they take the flag off the casket and they meticulously fold it and they give it to the family member. They say please accept this flag on behalf of the president of the United States and a grateful nation. And I think more of the nation is grateful, and they need to focus on that.

CONAN: Joanne, thanks very much for being with us today. We thank you for your time. Joanne Steen, a co-author of book Widow: A Survival Guide and a nationally certified counselor. She joined us here in Studio 3A. Her co-author is Regina Asaro, a psychiatric nurse who is certified in thanatology, the study of death, dying and bereavement and is also a national and international crisis responder. She joined us today from the studios of member station WHRV in Norfolk, Virginia. Thanks very much for taking the time to come in, both of you.

Ms. STEEN: Thank you. We appreciate you having us.

Ms. ASARO: Thank you for having us.

CONAN: And when we come back, we'll go to Utah and the arrest of a polygamist leader.

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