Young Widow Support Groups, 1: Basics

[Important notice: I'm not a professional. I have ZERO background in social work, psychotherapy, or sociology. My widow wisdom was earned "on the street," not from books. I've been there, I came out the other side, but my friendship and words can't substitute for formal counseling. Many young widows and widowers suffer from depression in addition to grief, and some of us "self-medicate" with substances. If this is you, no amount of comradeship is going to get you out of the hole unless you receive support on these (medical!) issues too. I give what I can because this shit is hard and we all need as much help as we can get. Got? Good.]

The number one factor in my healing from the loss of my husband was my weekly attendance at a free, peer-run, open-format support group specifically for people around my age who had lost a spouse. So I tell everyone to do it. My group saved my sanity, my life, and my child’s life.

But I know people who “don’t do” groups. I hear so much resistance - and I’ve heard stories about bad experiences.

The bad stories I’ve heard about groups have been, almost without exception, the result of bad fit: people going to a group with people they simply couldn't relate to. They come to me saying: “There was an 80-year-old woman grieving the loss of her cat.” “I felt like I was being rushed, one week for each stage of grief!” “None of them were working or raising kids. They were all retired.” It helps a lot if you and the people in your group are at a similar stage in life... it's not necessary, and you shouldn't expect them all to be people you love instantly or even similar to your other friends. But having shared priorities, spending your time in similar ways, helps you feel among your peers.

It shouldn't matter, experts will tell you. There is a truism that "all grief is the same." In a way, this is true. But it doesn't matter: grief is also not the only thing in your life and not the only thing you will talk about. I would not have been able to stand my group if it had been all grief education, all sharing of tears, all Kleenex-all-the-time.  No one wants to attend a pity party and fewer really wish to host one.

A good group, though, is not strictly a "grief group." You talk about your lives, your feelings (which are contradictory and rich in grief, as they are at many other times in life), your memories, and your dreams of the future. You talk about your communities and your faith and all the changes in you and around you. It's not simple. It's not boring. It's who you are. 

Don't let anyone cut your group down to a place where the “five stages of grief” is the only acceptable topic. That can be helpful, but you will still be a widow when you are at work, watching a movie, and when you start to consider what happens next in your life. Grief isn't simple, and neither is your life.

And finding a group of diverse people who "get" at least a little bit of your experience and your feelings is a good start to getting a grip on what you'd like to do next. Seeing them in person -- being in a room together -- is an immensely powerful force and one that Facebook cannot provide. There are ways -- I'm sure you can imagine! -- that connecting with two or three people can be much more meaningful than connecting with hundreds. You need rich data. You need real life. You need some people near you to hand you the Kleenex.

And once in a while, it's awesome to get out of the house.

In Part 2, I’ll share with you the “top 10 ways my young widows support group helped me.”
In Part 3, I’ll help you find a young widows support group – or another way to reach peers in grief.


Widow in the Middle said...

The grief group I joined a few months after my husband's death was comprised of a large number of extremely bitter divorced moms and then just two of us who'd recently lost our husband's to death. It was a terrible fit - we should never have been put together. The other widow and I ended up sitting next to each other and holding on for dear life during the meetings.

There is one session I remember in particular where the divorcees kind of attacked the other widow and I telling us we were better off because our husband's were dead, while they had to still interact with their deadbeat ex-husbands. Overall, looking back it was a kind of surreal experience.

You raise some good points about bereavement groups - I should have looked for another but got kind of caught up with the only parenting tasks. By then it was 7 months since my husband's death and you know how that goes - everyone thinks you're over it - "Why should you need another group? Didn't you just finish one?" Of course, we both now know, seven months is nothing!

Supa Dupa Fresh said...


Ugh, to be lumped with divorcees -- what a joke. Yes, it's still grieving, but give me a break.

You might still benefit. I know you've found some validation online but in-person contact has its advantages too. If I were in your shoes, I'd still participate if I could find an appropriate group.

Like you, I was a caregiver after LH died (to my MIL) and that definitely made things more complicated.




annie said...

There was a younger widows group (WET:Widows in Transition) in the Des Moines area. I went when I could scare up a sitter. One of the complaints about the group was that mothers of young kids were automatically left out b/c we couldn't bring our kids along.

Anyway, it was newly to five and more years out. What always made it hard to go and sit was that fact that it was often those years and years along who were grieving the most. I remember listening to a women who'd been remarried for two years already sobbing out her story and lamenting her new life.

It was so not helpful. At less than a year, I wanted hope not the promise of a life of discontent and looking back over my shoulder.

And it was so out of line from what I knew. There were many widowed folk in my life as a child and onwards - uncles, aunties, neighbors, parents of my friends. I was used to seeing people who rebuilt and were genuinely okay with who they were and where they were.

My own feelings are that it is good to get emotions out and it's helpful to tell your story as an example to those coming up behind you, but when it becomes a way of hanging on to grief because that is really easier than moving on and starting a new life - it's detrimental, to you and to the others in the group.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Sounds like you did what was totally right for you, of course. Young widow groups are so rare that I doubt this scenario is very common, but many groups are just a "bad fit" for who we are at any given time.
I often wonder how much of what I do consists of hanging on and how much of it is that this is my mission in this new life. I think Mr. Fresh will keep me honest, but it's something I keep an eye on.

annie said...

It wasn't a bad fit as much as it was a backward step. I was ready to charge ahead and most of the women in this group lived in the past - even while existing in what some of us might term "new normals" (which is a truly stupid term b/c "what is normal, exactly?").

I think that being a "widow mentor" as I have heard it termed is to walk a fine line and I suspect some people chose to work with others who are just beginning their journeys (after whatever tragedy - it's not just widows) because they don't want to let go of that time. It would be absolutely critical to have an anchor/touchstone to keep oneself from getting stuck and not moving on.

Hira Animfefte said...

One thing that makes me hesitate is that a widow group might decide that I don't fit their widow criteria. Since I hadn't put a ring on it (yet...which became never...). I have heard tell of that happening. And then there are more general grief groups. But I guess anything would be better than nothing. Right?

There's always the internet.

Oh, and Supa? You rock.

Hyla Molander said...

Supa, you words and powerful energy help so many. Great post!!!

Michelle E. Vasquez said...

Supa, this is a wonderful thing you do. I want to form an in person support group in Orange County and so far I have 2 interested widows.

When I was first grieving and 40 years old, there was one grief support group in San Antonio called the Sacred Circle. It would have been perfect for me except that as a therapist I had referred so many people to that group that I effectively barred myself from it. As a grieving widow who was also a professional I was not supposed to "socialize" with clients (dual relationship).

Other options included grief groups in which the median age was 70. So I am really glad that you are forming such a group. I still recommend that group to anyone living in San Antonio.

I am so glad you are doing this; so many resources have formed since social media has exploded. We are able to connect and get the support we need. Thank you, Supa!


Andrea said...

I joined a great group called 'Young Widows and widowers of sudden death'
It's a great group, there are 7 of us in it and it runs for 18 months.
I found this group through Our House in Los Angeles.

Andrea said...

I joined a great group called 'Young Widows and widowers of sudden death'
It's a great group, there are 7 of us in it and it runs for 18 months.
I found this group through Our House in Los Angeles.

Hira Animfefte said...

I've found a grief group through a local church in the area. It's run by my father confessor and a social worker. (The social worker is a better group facilitator, but to be fair, she had training in it, and Father didn't.) It's a small group, and we've all bonded. I have dinner with two of the members every couple weeks. It's been such a blessing. The people who come to every meeting are my fellow widows. The oldest widow is hesitant to call me one, but the other two (the ones I have dinner with) totally do. We've had people there for reasons other than widowhood, but they don't seem to come as often.

They're my peeps! :)

Oh, and I'm the youngest of the widows, but it doesn't bother them, and it doesn't bother me. So it's cool.


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