Six months after being widowed at the age of 61, I heard God’s voice calling me to move from sadness to joy. I realized that all the love I had received from my husband over the twenty-one years of our marriage was meant to move me in a new direction. My heart was broken, but I felt called to take this brokenness and begin a journey to heal.
Reaching Out to Other Widows/Widowers
I felt God nudging me to reach out to others who had lost a spouse. I advertised in our church bulletin about a group to help widows and widowers to heal from our loss and rediscover the joys of life. And people responded!
We named our group Companions Sharing Our Journey. We began with ten members from four parishes and have grown to serve over forty-four people from seventeen parishes. Each month, we meet on three Friday evenings and one Wednesday afternoon. On Wednesday afternoons, we go out to a restaurant for lunch. On Fridays, we gather and share a prayer, light refreshments, activities and fellowship. Our activities have included:
- Monthly trivia
- Music performances
- Holiday celebrations
- Monthly birthday celebration with a potluck dinner with roses for the ladies and gift bags for the gentlemen
One week a month we do a spiritual activity. We have visited parishes, shrines, and basilicas for tours and Mass. At our first gathering, we each wrote our first name and an adjective to describe ourselves and swapped cards to become prayer partners. At our second gathering, we talked about our departed loved ones: we each brought a picture with our loved one and shared how we met, how long we were married and how our spouse passed. The pictures were posted on a trifold entitled, Celebrating our Love; these photos remain in the space where we meet. At Christmas, we send cards to parishioners who have been widowed in the last year along with an invitation to join us. We join together as we shed our tears and we find the Lord present in our pain and in new joys as we journey together.
Tips for Beginning a Group for Widows & Widowers
- Advertise the group, with its purpose as rediscovering the joy of life, rather than a grief share or bereavement group.
- Identify and celebrate the gifts of participants. For example, in February, we make hearts with each member’s name and circulate them so that others can write the gifts they see in this person.
- Invite participants to share about their deceased spouse. We had a gathering dedicated to sharing photos of our deceased loved one. When new members join, we ask them to bring a picture to the next session.
- Celebrate birthdays! We celebrate with dinner, cake, balloons, flowers, cards, and gifts. We give roses to the ladies; one woman shared that these roses the first ones she’d received since her spouse passed many years ago; another said this was their only birthday celebration.
- Plan fun activities to create laughter.
- Share members’ contact information (with permission) to encourage support (cards, phone calls, emails) on spouse’s birthday, anniversary of death, etc.
- Meet weekly or at least every other week. We have found that some people need to have a safe emotional place to feel our love weekly.
- Gather around one table or several tables put together so everyone can see each other. We’ve found this to be very important for creating community. We started with round tables of 8 at first and this did not create the comfortable and supportive space we needed.
- Have a box of tissues, or a few. You never know when someone will need to cry.