The death of a spouse means losing your lover, best friend, confidante, and co-wrangler of bills, children, household tasks and life. In addition to the heartache of missing the person closest to you in the world, the isolation of losing a spouse can be devastating. Friends and family are nurturing and helpful in the first few weeks after the death, but are not always available when you need support. Online resources will help you connect with other widows for advice and sympathy, where you can share your feelings anytime of the day or night, and find local support groups for help with the work of grieving.
Not all grief websites are equal. Some are well-intentioned but so out-of-date as to be useless. Others are designed to support a small, specific population and may not be best suited to your needs. You may find some websites very useful in the early stages of your grief, but find that your needs for community change as you begin to build your "new normal" without your loved one.
Some of the best online resources are those that can help you find local support, in the form of regular meetings or discussion groups. My friend, Beverly, found such a group shortly after her husband, Steve, died from Stage IV esophageal cancer. She didn't know how to deal with the pain and all of the feelings she experienced after his death, and realized she needed help. She attended "Stepping Stones on Your Grief Journey," founded over a decade ago by Father Padraig Greene, and sponsored by the Catholic Community of Pleasanton, California.
The group has helped thousands of people with different types of losses. Many support groups are located in churches, but are open to everyone regardless of religious affiliation. Feel free to ask questions to find out if a group is right for you. Healthcare professionals, or clergy, may lead some support groups. Others, like Pleasanton's, feature peer-to-peer counseling, facilitated not by professionals but by those who have experienced loss and undergone vigorous training to lead groups with those who have experienced similar losses. Beverly found that by attending the support group, she learned how to lean into the pain, and that only by experiencing it could she heal from it. She said she realized that she hurt so much because she loved so much. "Talking about the pain freely, with people who are compassionate and understand, helps heal the pain because they have also experienced it, and survived," she said. Each grief journey has its own timeline and pathway, but there are stepping-stones along the way that are similar for each grief journey. Like Beverly, you may find it helpful to have companions on your journey who have walked these steps before.
Soaring Spirits: "Soaring Spirits is an inclusive, secular organization focused on hope and healing through the grieving process. We are positive, and forward-thinking, while offering our community members the tools and resources they need to rebuild their lives in the aftermath of the death of a spouse or life partner. We provide both online and in-person opportunities for finding peer support."
GriefNet.Org: "Our grief support groups operate 24-hours/day, 365 days/year. Members participate when they wish and are able to, not at a set time ... All of our grief support groups are monitored by trained volunteers who make sure that the groups are running smoothly. Overall supervision is provided by Cendra Lynn, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and traumatologist."
Meetup.com: While Meetup is not specifically for grief-focused groups, there are many widow groups across the country on the site, and it can be a great place to "find your people."
The Widdahood: The Widdahood was created by Catherine Tidd, whose goal in creating the site was the make a place where "I can log in at any time of day and get support from people who know the daily struggles of widowhood. I can chat, participate in discussions, read blogs from other widow(er)s, find resources for myself and my family, and search for members who might live near me and want to grab a cup of coffee sometime. I can share my own burdens and also my achievements -- whether it's just making it through another day or figuring out something on my own that I never thought I could."
Social Security Administration: While this is not a therapeutic support site, it is important to make sure you are financially secure after the loss of a spouse. Find out which benefits you are eligible to receive.
National Widowers Association: "The National Widowers' Organization educates the public about the special needs of men who have lost their spouse or life partner. We do this by promoting the development of support groups for men to manage their grief and adjust to a new life and by advocating for research into men's unique needs to deal with grief and spousal loss."
The Liz Logelin Foundation: The foundation was formed to honor a young mother who died, and awards financial grants to young widow[er]s in need. "We are dedicated to providing support to grief- stricken young families in their time of deepest need. When a parent dies the financial burden can be huge. The LLF awards monetary grants to meet families' emotional and financial short-term needs."
Acts of Simple Kindness: Provides grants to help children who have lost a parent continue with extracurricular activities. "The loss of a spouse and parent is difficult enough without worrying how to continue paying for programs that support their child's interests, brings them happiness, provides healthy coping skills and helps restore a small amount of normalcy in their lives."
W Connection: With online and local support programs, and an annual fee of $40, "The organization was founded with the simple yet challenging goal of making life easier for women who have lost a spouse." "The W Connection provides peer-to-peer emotional support from women of all ages who understand what it means to lose a spouse. This network provides the personal experience, as well as access to proven outside resources that help navigate your loss."
Open to Hope: I may be biased, but I truly believe that reading and listening to stories of others who have experienced a loss can reawaken your hope. "Open to Hope is an online community offering inspirational stories of loss, hope and recovery. We believe hope is the bridge between loss and recovery."
If these sites do not meet your current needs, seek out suggestions from message boards, or your doctor or church leader. Investigate thoroughly before joining sites that require a fee, and remember that it is never a good idea to send money to a person you have met online, even if you feel a close bond. Take a risk and reach out for support -- there are so many resources available! Sometimes just knowing you are not alone, that what you feel is normal and you are not going crazy, can be a lifeline for hope in a sea of overwhelming sorrow.