Abel Keogh never expected the suicide of his first wife nor his terrible grief as a widower. Through God’s grace he experienced the power of second chances.
Abel Keogh: Why I Believe in Second Chances
Abel Keogh is a relationship coach and the expert on widower relationships. As a remarried widower he has successfully helped thousands of widowers and the women who date them know if they’re ready to open their hearts to a new relationship. He is the author of seven books for widower relationship guides, two novels, and a memoir about losing his late wife to suicide and falling in love again. He is also an avid runner. Abel and his wife Juliana live in the beautiful state of Utah and, of course, have the requisite seven children.
It’s hard for many of us to think that running is something we could ever enjoy, but Abel truly enjoys running. For him, it’s about getting up and releasing energy. Going for a run is the first thing Abel does each morning. Running clears his head and helps him think better. He says that any kind of exercise can do that for you, so you don’t have to like running! Find a type of exercise you enjoy, like biking or lifting weights and have that be your way of putting your body and mind in the place they need to be in order to start your day.
Life with Krista
Abel married his wife Krista in December of 1998. Everyone else said it was freezing cold that day, but Abel doesn’t remember the cold. Abel and Krista had practically grown up together, but didn’t start dating until college. They found out they were expecting in 2001. Abel remembers being very excited, but as the pregnancy progressed, he noticed Krista’s mood and attitude changing. This was very strange for Krista. She had always been someone who lit up a room and felt like your best friend. She was positive and upbeat. Abel says there wasn’t one specific thing that he really noticed changing, Krista just seemed more depressed with life in general.
Abel remembers people at work asking how his wife was doing with the pregnancy. He would say that she didn’t really seem like herself, and they would laugh it off and say that was just pregnancy. So he assumed it was normal. He couldn’t wait until the baby was born so that things would go back to normal.
Everything changed very quickly. They had spent the night at Krista’s grandmother’s house after moving into a new apartment, about 20 minutes away. Abel knew Krista didn’t want to run the errands that they needed to get done, so he told her that he was going to take care of them and he would be back in a few hours and then they could go to the apartment.
When Abel got back, Krista was gone. He figured she had gone to the apartment, even though they had agreed to go together. He called the apartment and Krista answered and told him not to come over. What started as a very strange conversation turned into a fight, ending with the slamming down of the phone and Abel saying he was coming over to the apartment.
As soon as he arrived at the apartment, he knew something was wrong. It was the middle of the day but the blinds were all drawn and the lights were off. Krista’s car was there though, so Abel knew she was there. He tried to calm down a little bit as he walked into the apartment. When he walked in, it was dark and quiet. Then, he heard a gunshot from the bedroom. Krista had shot herself.
Everything was a blur from that moment on. The paramedics arrived and kicked Abel out of the room. Krista was seven months pregnant, so he was worried for both her and the baby. Finally, he asked one of the officers if she was going to be ok. The officer told him that Krista was dead, but they were going to try and take her body to the hospital and save the baby. Abel couldn’t really understand what was going on. After a few more minutes, her body was gone and he was left at the apartment with some police officers.
The next few days felt like Abel was watching his life through someone else’s eyes. Nothing felt real. But most of his time and attention were spent on his daughter, Hope. Abel got to see her soon after she was delivered and then they flew her to Primary Children’s Hospital. He was going to the hospital every day to see her. There wasn’t much time left to process anything else. For nine days, it was just back and forth from his parent’s home to the hospital.
Hope was the first premature baby Abel had ever seen. He was so surprised at how small she was. She looked just like Krista, except her hair was brown like his. From the beginning, the doctors weren’t optimistic about her survival. She had been deprived of oxygen from the time Krista died until they got to the hospital. There was a lot of blood on Hope’s brain and she had to go through a series of x-rays and tests. After about a week, the doctors told Abel that Hope wasn’t going to live without life support. He had to make a decision.
Abel watched his baby hooked up to so many machines, helping her breathe, being monitored 24 hours a day. He realized that she wasn’t really living. He realized that she would have a better life in the next life. Even though he knew letting her go was the right thing to do, it was still an incredibly difficult decision for him to make. Abel says it was the first time he’d prayed since Krista died. He had felt so many feelings in such a short amount of time, but he knew he needed to pray. Finally, he felt a peaceful feeling. He felt that it was ok to let Hope go.
The Daily Cycle
For the next few months, Abel felt like he had nothing. He had his job, which he says he was very lucky to keep. He was out of it for a long time. But he didn’t feel like he had anything else.
His family was there, but it was different. He went home every day and it was just him. The hardest parts of his day were waking up in the morning and going to sleep at night. He would have to talk himself out of bed each morning. He knew how easy it would be to call in sick and just stay in bed all day. Internally though, he knew that if he didn’t get out of bed, he would be in some serious trouble. He knew that if he didn’t do anything to keep himself busy, he would go down a really dark path. So he would force himself out of bed and go running.
But then he’d also face a similar struggle in going to bed each night. If he didn’t do anything to mentally exhaust himself before bed, he would lay in bed and dwell on horribly sad and depressing things. So he would watch so much TV to the point where he couldn’t keep his eyes open so that he could just fall right to sleep. And then he would wake up and the cycle would begin again. This continued for almost three months after Krista died.
Lessons From A Widower
Lesson #1: Establish a Routine
As tough as it sounds, establishing and following a routine is actually what Abel would recommend for those experiencing the death of a spouse or a child. Keep yourself busy and establish some kind of a routine, even if it’s a routine of staying up late in order to get some sleep. The worst thing you can do is nothing.
Mornings are a little easier if you have a job to go to. The hardest times for Abel were the weekends because he didn’t have to work. He would go for a longer run on those days, but he would be done by 7:00 or 8:00am. He would still have 12-14 hours to kill. So Abel would often pack his weekends with errands.
Without a reason to get up and get going, it becomes even more difficult to get through each and every day. Structuring life helps. It gives you a sense of purpose again. A schedule helps you make it through until the end of the day, and then you start over the next day. Abel says that finding a routine isn’t going to solve your problems. It’s not going to make you happy. But it stops you from spiraling down any deeper.
Lesson #2: Turn to God–Even if you Feel Unworthy
While staying busy helped Abel from spiraling down and dwelling on negative things, his soul still needed healing. Although he didn’t feel worthy to be there, Abel went to church very regularly. At first it was just part of his schedule. It was something to do on Sunday mornings. But the schedule kept him going back. Eventually, there was a part of him that knew lying in bed wasn’t going to help him find any peace or answers. This realization prompted Abel to keep returning to church each week. He wanted to belong.
The reason Abel felt unworthy to attend church was because in the 24 hours leading up to Krista’s death, he received some promptings he ignored. He felt that if he had listened to and followed those, maybe Krista wouldn’t be dead.
It took Abel a long time to turn to God and talk to Him about those feelings of unworthiness. He felt like he was a kid again who knew he had disappointed his parents. That’s exactly what he was feeling in his relationship with God. As a parent, when your kid does something wrong you are disappointed but you still love your child. While Abel was technically a dad, he didn’t have that parent’s perspective yet. He didn’t realize how much love a parent can still have while being disappointed.
God still wants to guide you
Abel says it was actually dating and falling in love again which allowed him to realize God still loved and wanted to help him. He remembers being prompted to ask someone out and that was a big moment for him. Abel realized even though he had made a mistake and felt unworthy of God’s love, God was still willing to guide him.
God was giving him a second chance. Abel explained that when we don’t feel God’s love, “It’s not Him that’s putting those roadblocks up. It was me was me putting roadblocks up.” We all make mistakes, but give yourself grace. Don’t close yourself off.
Abel is extremely grateful for the second chance God gave him and that he continued going to church even though he didn’t feel like he belonged for a while. The church he attended had a lot of families and a few empty nesters, and then there was Abel. Eventually, he noticed a woman around his age who was also attending. He remembers that once when she walked past him, he felt an electric feeling.
When he asked someone who she was, Abel found out her name was Juliana. Abel started keeping an eye out for her and learned that she was a college graduate, had a great job, and she was absolutely beautiful. He was sure she had a boyfriend. For almost two months, he would watch at church to see if she brought anyone with her. Honestly he was waiting for a ring to suddenly appear on her finger.
When no boyfriend materialized, Abel decided he had to find a way to ask her out. He was very nervous thinking about Juliana and tried to figure out reasons not to ask her out.
Finally, the way to ask Juliana out fell into Abel’s lap. He was reading the newspaper one morning and her picture was on the front of the sports page. The previous day she had won the Ogden marathon. At first, Abel didn’t believe it. This news made Juliana even more amazing than she already was in his mind.
But then he got an idea. Abel thought to himself, “Well I like to run.” Maybe he could ask her to go running with him sometime. So that next Sunday, he finally got up the courage to ask her out. There were no excuses at that point. Abel congratulated her on running the marathon and then told her that he liked to run too. He invited her to run with him some time and the following Friday when they ran four miles together.
Lesson #3: Date, But Ensure You’re Ready
Abel says that most widowers start dating again within the first year, and many go on their first date even sooner than that. Abel actually felt the desire to date within two or three months after Krista’s death. But he chastised himself thinking, “What is wrong with you?”
Abel kept talking himself out of dating thinking he was just mad at Krista. Finally, at around the five month mark, he started going on dates again and having the requisite awkward moments. Most people, when they learn you are a widower, of course start to worry about how long it has been since your spouse passed. There’s a lot of questions going through your date’s head.
Abel says that men are wired to want to date. That can cause problems because they may not be emotionally ready for a committed relationship. Abel tells most of the people he talks with that there’s nothing wrong with going out and dating. But he tells them to avoid a serious relationship. Take a few dates with different people to reorient yourself. Odds are, things have really changed since you last dated. Take your time getting used to the dating world again. Don’t have any expectations of any kind of commitment. Besides getting reoriented, going on a few dates also helps you decide if this is really something you want to do. You are exposed to lots of different personalities and people.
At the beginning of the dating process, the perfect woman in your head is your late wife. But you can’t compare other people to her. You have the change to ground yourself and set your expectations.
Questions Dating a Widower
Abel had already been dating when he met Juliana, so he had already set those expectations and knew he was ready for a serious commitment. He knew on their second date that he could marry her. That didn’t make a lot of sense to him, and Juliana was really struggling with the fact that Abel was a widower. While Abel was hesitant, he was sure.
Juliana had a lot of questions, which Abel says are perfectly valid when you are dating a widower. Here are some examples of questions people have when dating a widower:
- Is he ready to move on?
- Is he really ready to open his heart?
- Am I just a placeholder?”
These questions and others were all things that they had to address. Abel knew that he had to give Juliana time to work things out. So he waited.
Abel was sure that eventually the euphoria would wear off after a few months of dating Juliana and he would realize he didn’t love her as much as he thought he did. But that never happened. The more time they spent together, the more time he wanted to spend with her. Instead of trying to distract himself, he found himself thinking about Juliana.
Running with Julia
Abel realized that Juliana respected him enough not to coddle him. On their first date when they went running, Juliana had actually gone on a training run that morning, and then did their four miles that evening.
Eventually though, she told Abel that she got up at 5 AM to do her training runs. Since it was still dark out at 5, Abel asked if she wanted someone to go with her. She said sure, but she wasn’t going to slow down for him. That first run, he kept up with her for two miles. But it was an eight mile loop. He lost sight of her but eventually wound up back at her apartment. She had been waiting for him for about 15 minutes. They have kept up that routine.
Lesson #4: Sacrifice for the people you love
Abel says these runs were a little symbolic for him. It’s not easy to fall in love again. When you are a widower, you don’t just flip a switch and become emotionally ready. You have to do the work to make a new person your number one. For Abel, getting up at 5:00 every morning was a reminder that he was making a commitment.
Every morning he continued getting up and running with Juliana made it a little bit easier to still have love with Krista but put her in a special place. He was working and sacrificing to show Julie how much he wanted to be with her. Julie would tell him about other boyfriends she had who would stop running with her after about a week. She told him that he was the only one who kept showing up, even though she was kicking his butt.
It was hard to run so much though. Abel can’t count the number of times he was dry heaving or throwing up on the side of the road, trying to keep up with her. But he was willing to keep going for Julie.
Abel coaches women who are dating widowers along with widowers. He tells them that men don’t sacrifice for women who they don’t love. If he makes sacrifices for you, he truly loves you. It’s easy for guys to take you to a nice dinner and do fun things with you. But true sacrifice shows you that they are really willing to put in the necessary work. That’s how you know a widower is really ready to move on.
Julie and Abel had discussed getting married quite a bit. Abel was very gung ho about it, but Julie insisted on waiting until at least a year after Krista’s death. Abel didn’t want to, but again, he was willing to sacrifice for Julie. He wanted her to be totally comfortable.
While Abel felt ready, he was still praying for some peace and closure from Krista’s suicide. He hadn’t fully forgiven himself, and he wasn’t sure that Krista had forgiven him. There were times he was still mad at her too.
One day in the fall, Abel was alone at home cleaning his kitchen. Suddenly, he had this incredible, peaceful feeling come over him. That was the moment he realized that everything was ok. He realized that God was ok with everything. It took a lot of work to get there, he had been praying and fasting and thinking and working on forgiving Krista and himself. He knew he couldn’t marry Julie if he was still angry. But that moment gave him the peace he needed in order to move forward without guilt.
Lesson #5: Find the Important
Abel has a quote from his book, “Room for Two,” which says, “Personal and spiritual development doesn’t come when life is good and unchallenging. It’s the hard times, the ones where we are forced to wake up every day and put one foot in front of the other, when the real growth occurs. I was learning that difficult times helped me appreciate the sweet ones. And if I let them, these trying moments would teach me what was truly important.”
In the long run, Abel learned that family and faith are the things which are truly important. It’s knowing you can have a second chance. Nothing else matters when hard times come. Abel remembers all the hard things he went through and nothing compared to those moments. He says that as long as he has Julie and his faith, he can handle whatever is thrown at him.
Lesson #6: A Special Place for the Past
One other piece of advice that Abel has is from another quote in his book, “One thing I had learned over the last months was moving on isn’t forgetting about the past, but knowing when to remember it. I needed to do my best to let those who are with me know how much I love them instead of dwelling on the past.”
Don’t Live in the Past
Abel explains that you have to focus on the present and the future. If you have ever been around someone who can’t get over something in the past, you know how awful that is. They can’t get out of the box they have put themselves in. Everything is defined by their past mistakes. Not finding a special place for the past is a big mistake that many widowers make.
Live in the Present
No one expects you to stop loving your late wife. Abel has a place in his heart for Krista, but 99.9% of his time and attention is focused on Julie and his kids. That’s his life now. That’s his second chapter.
He can go back and visit that special place in his heart for Krista every once in a while, but then he gets on with his day.
Abel compares life to a big and beautiful house. Your feelings for the past are in a box on a shelf. But you can’t carry the box around all the time. If you want to have a future and a happy life, you have to focus on the rest of the house and the blessings you have now. Your life is about making the people who are in your life now your number one.
Abel can’t dwell on the last words he said to Krista and wishing they were “I love you.” He gets to focus on the blessings of Julie, his seven kids, the books he has had published, and all of the beautiful parts of his life.
His life isn’t what happened 18 years ago. It’s what’s happening today. Chapter two can be just as wonderful as chapter one. We all get second chances, not just with relationships, but in anything. Do everything you can to make your next chapter even better than the previous one.
Advice for Widowers
1. Find your Support Network
One of Abel’s first pieces of advice that he gives to widowers is to find some male support. He says that’s not something men are very good at. It’s very different for women. Women tend to wait to start dating again until they are emotionally put together. They lean on their friends and sisters and moms. They talk about whatever it is that they need to talk about.
Guys don’t work that way. They don’t walk up to each other and talk about how sad they are. Often, the man’s emotional support is his wife, who is now gone. Many of the widowers that Abel talks to don’t have a strong support network. Abel says it’s important to find someone like a brother, father, someone you go hunting with, or just a male friend who you can bond with through shared activities. That’s how men bond.
Abel had a friend in Phoenix, Arizona who invited him to spend some time with him after Krista’s death. He went for a few days and they went hiking, shooting and watched movies. This friend was the first person Abel told about ignoring the promptings he had about Krista’s death. Telling someone was exactly what Abel needed. It wasn’t like they talked about it for a long time, but they had the opportunity to do things together and Abel felt normal again. Abel tells the widowers he coaches that they need to spend time with someone just to feel normal for a few days.
2. Listen to your Gut Feelings
Abel also says that it’s important to listen to gut feelings. This advice isn’t just for widowers, but also for those who are dating widowers. If you don’t feel the relationship is right, listen to your gut. Maybe you are feeling that this just isn’t the right relationship. Often you may try to convince yourself that you were recently widowed so of course it doesn’t feel right.
For those dating widowers, you might feel like a replacement or like you’re competing with a ghost. Don’t listen to the excuses. Listen to your gut. If your gut is saying, this is the wrong relationship then you shouldn’t be in this relationship.
Abel explains he didn’t have any of those feelings with Julie. The contrast was great. He tells the widowers he coaches that when you meet the right person, you just know. It’s not different the second time around. So if your gut is telling you that it’s the wrong relationship, it’s wrong. Hone in on that instinct, because otherwise you’re just wasting time on a relationship that isn’t going to go anywhere and you could be with someone else.
Favorite Bible Verse
Abel’s favorite Bible verse is John 14:26-27, which says, “But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you. Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.”
Abel says this verse isn’t just for losing a spouse, but can be applied to any hard time. We can always find peace, but it’s not going to be in the way that the world finds peace. Once you have the peace and assurance that you are on the right path, all those other cares and worries will go away.
The best way to find Abel is through his website, www.abelkeogh.com. His website has links to his books, you can schedule a coaching session, and you can email Abel through the site as well.