Janesville woman finds meaning in loss by starting widows club

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Shelly Birkelo
Tuesday, January 14, 2014

JANESVILLE—Annette Little is motivated to share what she has learned in her eight years as a widow.

"I have now put my grief aside and choose to use the strength and support I have received from family, friends and widowed friends to help others," she said.

That's why the Janesville woman established the Janesville Chapter of the Modern Widows Club, which is part of a national group.

“It's a group of widows of any age started because of our likeness that we're all widowed. It's a safe, comforting place where you can explore possibilities of what is next after becoming a widow,” the Janesville woman said.

The mentoring group's goal is to help members find places to grow, evolve and thrive in this new life, she said.

After becoming a widow, Little didn't feel as if she belonged anywhere. She felt like a social outcast.

“I wanted a place where people can talk and discuss with someone who gets it, someone who's been there, someone who has had the struggles and someone who has gone through healing and growing after loss,” she said.

Establishing the group helped Little find meaning with her loss, she said.

"I'm a Christian and believe this is the direction God took me after becoming a widow," she said.

Little's husband committed suicide when he was 47. At the time, their children were in sixth, ninth and 11th grades. She was 46.

Many younger widows, such as Little, lose their hope with the loss of their spouses.

"So when you start grieving, not only do you grieve the loss of your spouse but the loss of what you were going to be together and as an individual. You're no longer a wife and no longer have plans for when you retire and when your kids will be out of the house. It's very difficult to find that new life on your own," she said.

The Modern Widows Club can help, Little said.

"You can do it together, ask each other questions and support each other during monthly social gatherings," she said.

"They are to guide widows into keep choosing life and finding joy now and after their loss," Little said.

Little said the local Modern Widows Club chapter is one of 10 nationwide.

"There are approximately 3.5 million widows between the ages of 25 and 65, according to the latest census," she said.

Although a young widow in Orlando started the Modern Widows Club, it is open to widows of all ages.

"These widows live among us and need our help as they often feel invisible and are silent," Little said.

"Modern Widows Club gives widows a voice and provides a place to connect with other widows who can empathize and encourage. It provides a place to share trials, successes and all that happens as we enter our new lives," she said.

Twelve widows attended the first social gathering and mentoring session led by Little and co-leader Sherrie Szemraj, also of Janesville.

Those who were comfortable told their stories. Some had recently lost their spouses still were in the midst of serious grief, she said

Little stressed the Modern Widows Club is not a grief group, Little said.

"It's a nurturing place to continue healing and to explore what your new life can be," she said.

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