A community of peers created by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation
After the funeral, newly widowed persons are often left alone in altered life circumstances for which there has been virtually no preparation. For those who have not had to work their way out of grief it is easy to assume that the church or social service agencies, mental health programs, or the medical and legal professions offer all the assistance necessary and that Social Security or government assistance programs, insurance, or pension provisions protect the interest of the widowed.
Yet, no more than 40% of our population today claim church affiliation and only 3% of the newly widowed look upon their church or clergy as a source of help after the week of the funeral. Also, when the diagnosis is grief, the staffs in social service, mental health, medical and legal groups seldom come up with a response. Financially, the newly widowed must then deal with a "blackout" period in the Social Security program and the realization that most pension programs do not protect the interest of the survivor. Add to that the fact that most individuals shy away from the newly widowed because of their own fears and insecurities.
Our society's value system, in general, rewards people who are young, married, self-sufficient, socially aggressive, and contain their emotions. When one is widowed, one's status in this married social system is disrupted. Even with years of life experiences, widows and widowers often are not prepared to cope with the immediate adjustments needed in housing, family relations, finances, legal requirements, and social demands. Many newly widowed are unable to release the emotional tension, the fear and apprehension, the feelings of guilt, anger, or resentment that well up inside. Often they are overwhelmed by the magnitude of their loss, their loneliness, and their isolation.
What About Family and Friends?
In today's mobile, often impersonal, competitive society, for many, much of their family and supportive social structure is stripped away, leaving them very much alone in times of personal stress. The unfortunate fact is that public attitudes, and our social, legal, health, and governmental structures tend to deal with death and survivors in abrasive, thoughtless ways. This posture drives the newly widowed toward even greater isolation, remorse, and fear than is necessary.
Experience over a number of years has demonstrated that widowed persons who have made a satisfactory life adjustment can provide a unique opportunity to help the newly bereaved. To this end, the American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) established the Widowed Persons Service Program (WPS).
WPS is based on the concept that significant help can come from those who have survived a similar experience and are willing to share the trauma with others. Widowed persons, men and women of all ages, who have adjusted to being widowed, help newly widowed persons. Experienced volunteers bring from their own life experiences new perspectives, hope, and understanding. Help is provided through outreach volunteers and mutual help groups.
AARP's Widowed Persons Service programs bring together the resources of local religious organizations, educational institutions, social service agencies, professional associations, fraternal and service clubs, health and mental health facilities, and AARP groups in a coordinated effort. The national WPS provides organizational, consultative recruitment and training assistance, as well as published materials for local programs and for the public. Each WPS program functions locally under the umbrella of the national WPS.
Not all communities follow the same operational pattern, but generally the goal in each community is to provide:
The heart of Widowed Persons Service lies in:
OUTREACH--This is an orderly process of contacting, to the extent possible, all newly widowed persons. Outreach volunteers who have adjusted to widowhood and have been trained visit the newly widowed and discuss openly, on a one-to-one basis, problems the newly widowed face.
TELEPHONE SERVICE--A local telephone number is widely publicized so that the community will know about the program and people can call for program information, or to request service from WPS.
MUTUAL HELP GROUP SESSIONS--Based on the needs of the community and avail-ability of qualified leadership, mutual help meetings are held. The purpose is to provide an environment where people with a common bond can discuss issues, learn how to help each other, and initiate social and personal contacts.
REFERRAL SERVICE--Through local organizations, public service agencies, workshops, and the media, the Widowed Persons Ser-vice program and the needs of widowed persons are brought to the attention of the community. Each community has organizations and professional personnel to whom widowed persons can turn. The local Widowed Persons Service program then develops a directory or manual to provide easy reference to local services and appropriate agencies or personnel.
For more information: Refer to your local telephone directory in the yellow pages under the heading "Senior Citizen's Service Organizations" or contact:
Widowed Persons Service
601 E. Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20049
Hi Janet, what a great program, sounds like something needed everywhere. thanks for posting, Chez