From its beginning 7 years ago, starting with a small gathering of “widows and widowers”, the Widowed Friends community has continued to grow and change with the needs of its members.
Its mission is to “empower widows and widowers to take steps to rebuild their lives and create a positive future”, and the butterfly is its symbol because of its message of hope and transformation.
Today, with Stephanie Etherington as founder, Lesley Morris, Communications and PR and Penny Ryan, Events Coordinator, Widowed Friends continues to provide a safe place where widowed people can find meaning after loss.
Each of the three women knew what it was like to face a disruptive life change that none of them expected. Finding purpose in their lives again meant going through a transformation of their own, in order to find new purpose and meaning.
“We know many widows and widowers are sitting alone at home, looking for hope. But going through this journey by yourself is hard,” recalls Penny. “It can be scary”!
“We’re all about helping people discover a new life or find a new path when they feel like they can’t see one,” she adds, “and to do so through community, that is, talking and being with others who have experienced what we’ve also gone through with the challenges of loss.”
“We’re here to lend a hand of compassion and understanding,” adds Stephanie, “But most of all, we don’t want people to feel they’ve been left behind.
Ironically, just as the group was growing, there was another kind of disruption—a global pandemic.
Like becoming a widow or widower, managing through COVID also meant a future that was scary, and based on new assumptions and expectations. Like most business owners, Widowed Friends watched as their organization ground to a standstill.
“The first months of shutdown brought isolation and fear for many members,” recalls Stephanie, “we asked ourselves, is our dream for a widowed friends’ community over because we can’t meet face-to-face and run in-person events”?
There was sadness, frustration; and then, a glimmer of hope. It began with an inquiry from a widow living in the wider GTA who had found the group online. Next followed emails from widows and widowers in other parts of the province, such as Windsor, and as far away as Nova Scotia.
“As COVID transformed how people connect and form relationships, we started to reach a much wider audience,” says Lesley. “Across Canada and elsewhere, widows and widowers were interested in joining us, and we realized that we were connecting with a much wider audience virtually.”
All of this led to a complete re-thinking of the organization—a transformation‑for Widowed Friends, particularly in the way in which the organization connected with those looking for others to share their journey. “We realized that virtual platforms offered many opportunities to connect with existing and new members and provided a variety of services and support from social get togethers, guest speakers, sessions focused on loss and even virtual bingo games. To support all the new virtual activity, Widowed Friends, began a project to re-develop its website.
The new website provides information for widows and widowers from the newly widowed to those who’ve been on the journey for many years. In addition, as a member focused organization, the team developed a members’ only portal, so members can sign up for events (both virtual and in-person), find out the latest news and trip information from the Travel Club, explore what the Book Club is reading, or search for resources from grief counselling to home maintenance to recipes.
With a potentially much larger membership, based on virtual events and online connections, the group sees unlimited opportunities for helping widows and widowers in communities underserved with resources and support.
“Although COVID has been difficult for everyone, as a result of what we’ve experienced over the past 18 months, we’ve come back stronger, with a different focus and way of doing things,” says Lesley. “We’re no longer just Widowed Friends; we’re virtual and in-person widowed friends!”
If you are a widow or widower know that Widowed Friends community is here. Just being together as virtual friends brings new confidence, and with that confidence, a tremendous relief that it is possible to start again.
As Stephanie reminds her widowed friends, “Our lives are going to be different, there is no question. But this doesn’t mean we can’t find some happiness, some joy and make new friends. And it’s okay to feel that joy when it comes.”