Like countless others, I mourn the loss of Rabbi Abraham J. Twerski, M.D., a noted psychiatrist, author and descendant of several Hasidic dynasties who recently died in Israel at age 90. He touched and changed me not only through his books, but also through an article I was privileged to write about him for the Jerusalem Post in 1999.

In the interviews he was funny, inspiring, brilliant and humble. Revisiting that article, I found one part particularly poignant: “His wife of 43 years had served as one of his few confidants. They decided to marry two days after they met. Apparently they balanced each other out. He had the degrees, creative genius and public spotlight. Goldie had a sense about people that went beyond what one might glean from books.

His colleague, psychologist Sharon Eakes of Pittsburgh, said Rabbi Twerski told her that after Goldie died, he found notes to their children in the house saying he needed to remarry as soon as possible.

That loving, generous, selfless act was apparently typical of his first wife, who died of cancer in 1995. “It struck me as something Goldie would have done,” says Leah M., a friend and native of Pittsburgh, where Rabbi Twerski trained as a psychiatrist and founded Gateway Rehabilitation Center for alcoholics and drug addicts in 1972.

Helping the Surviving Spouse and Children

Leah, a veteran matchmaker on the Jewish dating website Saw You at Sinai, is all for helping widows and widowers to move on with their lives. She says parents should share their wishes with their children, just as Goldie Twerski did.

“People are not doing their children any favors not to share that information – whether about remarriage, living wills, funeral directives, or other sensitive topics,” says Leah.

She adds that doing so could make many difficult decisions more bearable for the children and surviving spouse. “Sometimes it keeps them from guessing, and lessens guilt or grief. It puts everyone on the same page.”

Leah sees many widows and widowers who were once happily married and facing crushing loneliness. Men seem to have a harder time of it than women, according to the matchmaker.

Malka, a teacher in Maryland, would agree. She lost her first husband after 40 years of marriage. “When I would visit my mother-in-law, she would always say, ‘You should get remarried.’ I told her, ‘Mom, I'm not going to find Yaakov again.’ She said, ‘No, you won't, but you'll find someone else who's wonderful.’”

Malka did. A few years later she met Shimshon, a fairly new widower. Says Malka: “It’s much harder for a man to be alone. He told his children he was going to get remarried. He said, ‘I want to bring Shabbos back into my home.’ A woman is still making Shabbos in her home.”

When Malka met Shimshon’s adult son for the first time, he said, “I can see you’re good for my father.” That vote of confidence deeply touched and helped her feel the relationship would work out.

The couple married four years ago and enjoy not only Shabbos and Jewish holidays, but also a large blended family of children and grandchildren.

Allow for Life Circumstances

Of course, many variables come into play when encouraging widows and widowers to find love again. “It’s not a simple thing,” points out Shalom Avraham, a doctor in Georgia who lost his wife of 20 years when their daughters were 6 and 8. “If you’re asking for adult kids to encourage a parent, it’s one thing. If you’re asking children, that’s something else.”

The girls fought over attention from him, their sole surviving parent, and needed his reassurance. A third party such as a girlfriend made it even more difficult. “That has changed over the years. When they grew up and went to college, lived by themselves, it was a whole different story. They weren’t in competition. Now they want me to find someone so I’m not alone,” he says.

Well-meaning friends also can offer support, but need to gauge their timing. Malka says that two weeks after her first husband died, a neighbor came to the door and insisted, “We’ll find you someone.” Malka knew the woman was trying to help, but she didn’t want just “someone”; she wanted her husband back.

“Everybody has to be respectful of when the person wants to start dating,” Malka emphasizes.

When the time seems right, friends should keep an eye out for possibilities. Leah, who has many matches to her credit, says it doesn’t matter if the suggestion fizzles. “It just shows that someone out there knows you’re lonely, you’re a good person, you want to find another good person. What’s the harm in asking?”

After losing Goldie, Rabbi Twerski met his second wife, Dr. Gail Bessler-Twerski, at a convention of Orthodox Jewish psychotherapists more than 20 years ago. Their blended family included children, grandchildren and dozens of great-grandchildren.

He once wrote this marriage prescription: “The secret of peace in the home is the awareness that husband and wife are not two distinct individuals living in a contractual relationship, but are one unit. If they love each other, they are also loving themselves, and if they respect each other, they are also respecting themselves.” (“Growing Each Day,” Artscroll Mesorah Publications, Brooklyn, 1992).