A few years ago, Debbie, a recent widow, was supporting two young daughters and working full time when a grief counsellor suggested a community social group called Widowed Friends. Widowed several years, Debbie didn’t have a lot of extra time for outside activities, but she liked the idea of meeting new friends whose experiences were like hers. She joined what was a small group at the time in 2015 and began attending weekly socials.
“When you’re tired after a day’s work and have other responsibilities,” Debbie explains, “it’s sometimes hard to find people who are free when you are, and who also understand how you are feeling.”
“One of the things I really appreciate about Widowed Friends is that you never have to explain yourself. Everyone understands loss and grieving and is comfortable talking about it, even if you are having a bad day or just want to share feelings or experiences.”
Everyone experiences grief in their own way. It doesn’t matter how “you’re doing” that day—other widowed friends understand.
The idea of feeling connected and included is likely one of the reasons Widowed Friends caught the attention of other widows and widowers like Debbie seven years ago this coming May 14th. Celebrating its seventh anniversary, the group has become a place—in person and virtually— to find meaning again within a community of friends who understand loss at a deep, personal level.
Christine certainly felt that way, joining Widowed Friends in 2020 just prior to Covid.
Widowed in 2019, she particularly identified with the loneliness of being widowed, recalling that “Covid on top of loss made for a very sad and isolating experience for many people.”
When COVID arrived, like the lives of its members, Widowed Friends found itself faced with huge change and transition. “With COVID and an increase in uncertainty and anxiety, we realized that social connections were more important than ever to our members,” says Widowed Friends Founder Stephanie Etherington, “We had no choice but to adapt as Covid evolved.”
Widowed Friends turned to Zoom’s online platform to stay connected and to refocus as much as possible on more positive things in the face of uncertainty. A telephone tree kept members connected during lockdowns and a weekly newsletter provided news and event updates. A redesigned, user friendly website, widowedfriends.ca launched in August 2021 with an exclusive members portal for easy registration for events and access to information and resources tailored specifically for widows and widowers.
Widowed Friends with its new virtual platform was an ideal antidote for members like Christine and Debbie. “The almost daily zoom chats and guest presentations helped create a welcome break in the long Covid quarantine,” Christine says.
“You can’t change the past or predict the future,” says Christine, “so we must make the most of today. Widowed Friends helped me through the pandemic and loneliness right at the point in my life when I was at my lowest. By chatting with new friends and taking part in many of the online Widowed Friends’ activities, I was able to find support and hope through the isolation and vulnerability of loss.” Now that Covid restrictions have begun to lessen, she is looking forward to the weekly walking group, and meeting members for patio visits at restaurants.
Members like Debbie responded positively too. “When Widowed Friends went online, so did I!” she says. “We joined via zoom for almost daily social chats, special guest presentations, game nights and trivia quizzes! It became a fun mix of learning and getting to know other members in different ways while still focusing on a positive future.”
As Widowed Friends stretched its influence online, interest grew across Ontario. By fall 2021, virtual memberships expanded across Canada. “It’s been great meeting members from outside our geographic location, and including them in our community, and learning about their experiences.” Debbie adds.
Christine’s and Debbie’s experiences represent many members who found Widowed Friends was there for them, providing hope and connection in their lives. “ We wanted the focus to be on the importance of friendship and connecting , which is what we’re all about”, says Etherington “Being a widow means things aren’t going to be the same, but collectively, we can adapt and move forward together.”
To find out how you can become a member check out the Become a Member section of this website here.