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Widows, widowers find comfort in support group
By SUSAN GUYNN
The death of a loved one can be devastating whether it be a spouse, child, parent or friend.
“A lot of the emotions are the same, but the dynamics are different,” said Denise Watterson, a bereavement coordinator for Hospice of Frederick County. She is the facilitator for an eight-week support group for young widows and widowers currently under way at Hospice.
As with most Hospice support programs, there’s an educational component; this one focusing on the grieving process. “But young widows and widowers really need an opportunity to share,” said Watterson. Charlie DeWitt of Frederick lost his wife of 22 years to breast cancer on a September day two years ago. He attended a general bereavement support group soon after, but found that “going through situations where somebody has lost a child or parent, I didn’t have any way to relate to that, just as they didn’t relate to my loss.”
But meeting with other young widowers and widows, “when I say something, I know the people in the room can relate to it.”
His late wife, Christine DeWitt, battled the disease for three years and continued to work and care for their home and three children until about a month before she died. Having that time to prepare was “a saving grace, but it wasn’t easy to do,” DeWitt said. “It was really hard to talk about it.
“You can say you’re prepared all you want, but you’re not. The first month is numbing, like living in a fog,” DeWitt said.
With his 21-year-old daughter at college, DeWitt cares for his sons, 16 and 13. “I was the disciplinarian. (Christine) was more nurturing and helped with homework, coloring Easter eggs and playing games,” he said. “That’s not there now, though I try as hard as possible.”
DeWitt, 47, said the challenging part for him now is the “me” part. “I’ve been focused 110 percent on my children and family. It’s time for me to start thinking about me, personally.”
Laurie Moser, 50, said her family’s life changed forever in June 2007 when her husband, Rick Moser, was killed on the job in a state highway work zone. “The life we knew was gone completely. We’ve spent the last two years trying to find out who we are,” said Moser. Their children are now 22 and 12.
“In that time I’ve been effectively able to find purpose in Rick’s death,” said Moser, a FCPS teacher. Moser and her daughter, Rachel, have become advocates for roadway work zone safety awareness at the state and national levels. “That’s been healing, but there’s still a tremendous loss in our hearts and we’ll always feel that,” Moser said. “I don’t feel sorry for myself. That’s just the reality.”
With a daughter in college and a son about to enter middle school, Moser said she was drawn to this support group “to talk to parents about how they’re dealing with these issues.”
The group is also a place for building friendships and a social network. “After Rick was killed so suddenly, I could almost feel people stepping back. It was a reality no one wants to face,” Moser said. “Initially, it was isolating.
“But as I’m getting further on this journey I’m seeing things a little differently,” Moser said. “It was just too painful for people who knew us well. They were grieving a loss, too.”
Knowing that cancer would likely someday claim her husband, Ellen Baker said, “In essence, I was grieving before the loss. The reality sank in two weeks after he passed on” seven months ago.
Her husband, Doug, was diagnosed with a rare cancer five years before they met. “It was tough, but it didn’t control our lives,” Baker said. “It didn’t stop us from enjoying our life. With a prolonged disease, you know this is going to happen.” Having time to say the things you want to say was a gift, she said, “but watching him go downhill ... you’re never fully prepared. “Even though we knew he was sick, we were still planning a future. There are miracles,” Baker said. The hardest part is “knowing he’s never coming back.” Baker said that meeting other widows and widowers through the support group takes away feelings of isolation and talking to people who are further along in their grief journey is helpful. “There’s a uniqueness to losing your spouse if you’re young,” she said.
Watterson led a workshop for young widows and widowers last year and saw there was a need for a support group.
“They were planning to raise their kids together, grow old together, retire together, and now that’s gone,” Watterson said of the participants. If there are young children involved they become solo parents through a situation thrust upon them.
“Oftentimes, if the husband has died it can drastically change things financially. (The widow) has to find a job while she’s grieving and taking care of the children,” Watterson said. “For men, it may be taking on the more nurturing role and learning to do that. It turns their world upside down.
“It doesn’t matter if it was a lingering illness or sudden, until that last breath, it doesn’t hit that you’re alone,” she said.
For John McCarthy, 51, of Woodsboro, the emotions are still raw. His wife, Sallyann Trapane-McCarthy died of cancer Christmas Eve. Having time to prepare for her death was helpful but “it still hits you like a ton of bricks when it happens,” McCarthy said.
“It’s just good to know there are other people going through the same thing,” he said of the support from the group. “We have so much in common” and talking to others helps him get around obstacles in solo parenting and grief.
“I have to get up every morning. I don’t have a choice,” McCarthy said. “I have a 10-year-old (son) who needs me to take care of him. People in the (support) group have the same thing. You’ve got to get up and make it look like it’s a good day.”
McCarthy’s brother-in-law, Anthony Trapane, lives with them and helps care for his son, Emmett. “I want to make sure my son gets through this without undue suffering and that he has a positive memory of his mother.
“I’ve got things to learn and we’re going to learn them together,” he said.
Staff photos by Bill Green
Fans fill a section at Harry Grove Stadium for Christine DeWitt Memorial Breast Cancer Awareness night recently.