Jo’s husband Martin died in November 2012 from a very rare form of cancer. Jo was 49 at the time and their twin daughters were just 3 years old.
With no family locally and very few friends with children, Jo felt adrift. She had a limited network of people with children of similar ages to her girls and, although she attended a support group at the hospice where Martin had died, the majority of the other attendees were much older with adult children. Jo felt that they were at a different stage of life to her with her two very young girls.
Prior to Martin’s death, Jo had done some online research and so she knew about the existence of WAY and the support the charity offers to those experiencing bereavement. About 6 months after Martin died, Jo made contact with WAY knowing that membership of the group would enable her to meet others who had also lost a partner and, most importantly, also give her daughters a chance to meet other children who had experienced bereavement.
Through Widowed & Young, Jo met Karen and in Karen, Jo has found a friend who she now describes as a sister. The bond between these two women has been both reciprocally supportive and strengthening for them both. Both Karen and Jo have two children apiece and all four girls are very similar in age. The women share similar parenting styles and there is clearly great mutual respect and trust between them. They enjoy holidays, Christmases and birthdays with each other and with their children. They share the small everyday joys of their children and lean on each other during the tough times.
Being a bereaved parent can be lonely and as Jo said, “even if you are divorced or separated, your children still have two parents. When you are bereaved, there is no one to consult with in the same way”.
The community of WAY helps enormously with this. Although not everyone who belongs to Widowed & Young is a parent, there are a fairly equal number of men and women in Karen and Jo’s local group and a warmth and level of understanding between them that helps them all to cope as they rebuild their lives after bereavement and are dealing with loneliness. Jo says that she has found that getting insight from a male perspective can be really useful at times and being part of a mixed group means you can learn from each other.
Karen’s husband Russell died 5 ½ years ago after a very short illness and she describes WAY as a lifeline. Karen’s parents are no longer alive and although friends offered her sympathy in droves, they were not able to empathise in the same way as others who had been through similar experiences. So joining the WAY family was her salvation in the early days of her grief.
Karen is currently an area co-ordinator for WAY and as such, she welcomes new members and provides formal opportunities for the local group to meet up. Karen’s kind and friendly disposition inspires confidence particularly as many people find their self-esteem in shatters after bereavement. She says that the “level of understanding” WAY members have of how others may be feeling is the greatest strength of the group. The support that is offered really is all encompassing.
Jo told me the two most valuable pieces of advice about bereavement she has received have come directly from Karen. Firstly, that however you are feeling, that is normal. Secondly, that some things will get easier but some things don’t change and that’s ok.
Bereavement is never easy but both Karen and Jo say how thankful they are to be members of WAY. To feel that there are others out there who can relate to your experience, who want to listen to you and offer support unconditionally is a bright light at a time of dark despair and loneliness.
For more details, contact WAY.