When Robert Swanson's wife, Elizabeth, died after 41 years of marriage, Swanson scoured the Internet for tips on coping with the loss. What he found were a bounty of widow support groups and books such as For Widows Only! and Financial Strategies for Today's Widow. What he didn't find was advice for widowers.
So the Largo resident penned his own, for himself and the 11.2 percent of men over 60 who are widowers, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.
Swanson, 80, lost his wife to rectal cancer on Nov. 5, 2005. Six months later, he began writing Lost and Found: A New Widower's Survival Guide, which he self-published in 2007.
"It was a catharsis," said Swanson, a retired filmmaker. But what distinguishes Lost and Found from the pack of woe-is-me memoirs is Swanson's practical, often humorous look at the return to bachelorhood.
He recalls his initial ineptness at grocery shopping and the shock of discovering sex manuals for the modern woman.
From his own experience and from consulting therapists, Swanson has plenty of tips to offer new widowers:
• Stay busy.
• Learn to do your own laundry, pay your own bills and cook simple, healthful meals.
• Hire a maid.
• Keep up with doctor's appointments.
• If you're thinking of downsizing into a smaller home, wait a year.
To move or not to move is one of the biggest decisions a widower faces, Swanson said, so it shouldn't be made when a man's emotions might impair his judgment.
Nearly three years after Elizabeth's death, Swanson remains in their 2,200-square-foot home, so he can savor the happy memories.
But he has adjusted in other areas.
"The last thing my wife told me was, 'You must find a new companion,' " Swanson recalled in an interview. "That's easily said but difficult to do."
He warns widowers not to search for a clone of their former spouse, and to wait a year before dating.
"The first year, you have this dichotomy of emotions," he said. "If you date, are you cheating on the memory of your wife? What do your children think of this? There's a lot of factors that a man has to sort out in his own mind."
A year after Elizabeth's death, Swanson said, he began playing the field. Having her blessing helped assuage the guilt he felt about dating, but it didn't make finding a new Ms. Right any easier.
At first Swanson dated acquaintances, but nothing serious developed. Then a psychologist friend suggested he try a more modern approach to courtship.
"She said, 'You must look into Internet dating.' I didn't even know what it was," Swanson recalled.
So he logged onto Match.com and posted a professional head shot of himself looking dapper in a dark suit and striped tie. He described his ideal mate as educated, well-traveled and — at the suggestion of his children — financially stable. His children, who are in their 30s and 40s, worried that gold-digging women would take advantage of their dad. (He advises widowers not to fork over their estate to a new love interest.)
Swanson estimates that in less than two months, he received more than 100 responses from interested women. In his book he relays this experience to help other widowers understand the first rule of online dating: What you see is not always what you get.
"I took one lady that was on the Internet out to dinner and found that she wasn't what she posted herself as," Swanson said. "She claimed she was an air hostess. I think she flew with the Wright brothers . . ."
About a year and a half ago, Swanson found love the old-fashioned way. He met his new sweetheart in a doctor's office waiting room. She's a 60-something divorcee who makes a mean chocolate cake, he says, adding that his children feel confident that she's not after his money.
Still, he's not sure marriage is in their future.
Wedding bells or not, Swanson enjoys having someone to keep him company at dinner besides the evening news. And writing Lost and Found has led Swanson to connect with other widowers, many of whom have become his friends.
"The main thing that I try to say . . . is your life is not over, and you can make the most of what's left of it," said Swanson, currently writing a book for both genders, Lost and Found II: A Grieving Widower and a Clinical Psychologist Offer Ways to Rebuild Your Life After Losing a Mate.
"Hang on,'' he advises, "because there is another life out there."
Dalia Colon can be reached at (727) 893-8717 or firstname.lastname@example.org.