The Impact of Empowerment Programs and Inspiring Communities for Widows
As women live longer in the 21stcentury, widowhood becomes a developmental stage of life that many women face in their lifetime, and yet, very few programs or communities exist worldwide to educate, inspire and empower these widows to lean into life, build sustainable resilience and then, turn around to release their potential in making a positive difference for themselves and in society. In an article at Health Psychology sponsored by the American Psychological Association, a study determined “After a three-year period of time passed, emotional and social functioning improved among most of the widowed women”, it also said, “These findings underscore the resilience of older women and their capacity to reestablish connections, but point to the need for services that strengthen social support among women who have difficulty during this transition”. Furthermore, providing evidence for the need for programming for this ‘gap in the system’ between grief and reconciliation that leaves a formidable widow often on her own, fending for herself, as she forges onward seeking to master one of the life’s greatest challenges. During this struggling transitional stage of life between a widows two worlds, who she was previously as a married woman and who she will become currently as a new widow, requires a new perspective that can only be found if she has access to positive new connections, communities, skills, and knowledge that are meant to champion her to thrive.
Currently, in modern society, widows are exclusively offered programs and services during the first few years of widowhood based on mental health and grief recovery. They are mainly focused on facing, managing, understanding, accepting and hopefully, healing their bereavement, feelings of sadness and many times, crippling depression. But the next phase, the phase that needs researching, includes the years beyond the initial shock of being widowed and instead focused intently on the reasons why it is vital to creating a new future and a renewed sense of identity. This phase, which I’ll dub as the ‘inspiration and empowerment phase’, matters greatly to not only her survival, but also, her ability to thrive and be healthy.
As a woman begins to recreate her life, having a community soon becomes the ultimate game changer to “bounce back after a certain amount of time”. Unfortunately, when few resources exist, the struggle is delayed, the mental and overall health of these women is threatened.
First, the foundation of educating others about the plight of widowhood would need to occur. Through social initiatives like International Widows Day, June 23 on a global platform, to monthly meeting at Modern Widows Club by widow leaders in the United States. Eyes have been opened about the plight of widows in the world and how all change begins with the intentional awareness that we are all connected in our experiences as humans. This is one powerful reason for educating others. You don’t have to particularly become widowed to understand what it feels like to know the painful feeling of losing a partner you cherished. You simply need to pay attention and be willing to be present with others, hold space with them in that pain whether in person or from afar.
Most people long for a real person to show them the way, someone they admire and who has experienced a similar path. They want someone to draw on their collective experiences and validate the complexity of their widowed journey; to console them when they failed, also, to celebrate their successes. Years after the death of their life partner, a widow begins to ask, “Who do I turn to?”and “Who do I learn from?”When I couldn’t find these resources a decade into being a struggling younger widow, I haphazardly became a mentor and, then, those I mentored encouraged and urged me to form a nonprofit to inspire and empower even more widows to lean into life. Since then, it has had a positive, affirming ripple effect for many widows.
By founding and launching the Modern Widows Club, a community of widows what society sees as ‘moving on’, a way to ‘carry on’, ‘it’s time to get on with life’and ‘keep busy’is in fact, true in some sense, but very different for the griever. ‘Moving on’is a term used for those who do not fully understand the journey, ‘moving through’is for those who completely understand the journey. But for every widow, the deeper question is always, ‘move onto what?’
As a widow seeks to find ‘inspiration and empowerment’ to ‘move through’ and therefore, lean into life, a bridge between traditional existing grief programs and programs to encourage inspiration, empowerment and healing are needed. This will require out-of-the-box thinking because as it stands now there are no such programs in existence. However, exploring how and why it should exist is a worthy endeavor. It’s time for this to change to benefit both widows and society.
We all love a good comeback story, and from the evidence found, widows have the innate potential to make this happen if they are shown compassion and given advanced and accessible resources like supportive communities and positive mentors because without programs, communities and people who care, a widow will continue to feel lost, invisible and forgotten, and in a way, she is at the moment. Repeating history or leaving this current situation to resolve itself is not the solution for widow awareness or the advancement of women.
With so many widows and so much opportunity to succeed, it makes sense that more studies, research and evidence in the hands of those able to develop these empowerment programs would benefit many cultures around the world. If anything, I hope my own life serves as a small example of how powerful finding a community and mentor can be for a young widow who found herself with feelings of hopelessness, yet instead, turned into one empowered, hopeful ‘change agent’. This positive impact is what every widow deserves.
Author: Carolyn Moor
Modern Widows Club Founder, President and Advocate