“Who are we? We are the invisible among you — the widows. I am one. I am a part of the fastest growing demographic in the United States as baby boomers age. We lose 75 percent of our friendship network when we become one. Sixty percent of us experience serious health issues in that first year. One third of us meet the criteria for clinical depression in the first month after our spouse’s death, and half of these remain clinically depressed a year later. Most experience financial decline.

Nancy Gagne’s voice cracked with emotion as she struggled to read this excerpt to the congregation at East Auburn Baptist Church in Auburn last February. The reading, from Miriam Neff’s “The Widow’s Might,” conveyed the inner turmoil Gagne felt for more than 25 years but had been unable to fully express.

Widowed at age 38, with two young children to care for, Gagne constantly fought to keep her emotions in check and stay strong for her family during the early years of her widowhood.

“I was hurting and lonely but I would not give myself permission to grieve properly for many years,” said Gagne, who, at times, questioned her faith in God. “Back then, I felt like if I gave into my feelings of loss, I would break down and never recover. So, I stuffed my feelings and just kept moving.”

Today, Gagne, 61, of Auburn, knows better. She now is embracing both her widowhood and her faith to reach out to other widows — not as a woman who has it all together but as woman who can relate.

Gagne found her voice as an advocate with the founding of a widows group at the East Auburn church in 2007. But Gagne soon discovered the need went far beyond her own church.

This weekend, she will be part of the “Making the Widow’s Heart Sing” conference, hosted by the East Auburn Baptist Church. The event on Friday and Saturday at the church will offer training and networking opportunities for widows and individuals who wish to serve them as volunteers.

“I don’t know of anything like this being offered in Maine,” said Gagne, who proposed the conference after attending a similar event in Tennessee last year.

“We have built a really great ministry for widows at the church, offering monthly outings, an annual banquet honoring them and lots of outreach to provide home visitation and transportation to those who are homebound,” said Gagne. “Now we want to offer an event that opens the doors for other churches to fulfill the Bible mandate in James 1:27, to “look after orphans and widows in their distress.”

Tammy Stowe, 50, of Auburn lost her husband of 30 years two years ago and credits the widows support alliance for helping her move forward.

“Being a widow can be a struggle,” said Stowe. “I have grown children and grandchildren, who are here for me, but it’s hard when you don’t have your husband to lean on.”

Stowe was reminded of her loss while out stacking wood and preparing for winter last week. But Stowe is not completely alone in the work. Members of the East Auburn church’s New Commandment Men’s Ministry are helping widows like Stowe complete their “Honey Do” lists of household chores that are beyond their capacity to deal with.

Associate Pastor Tim Howard oversees the men’s ministry that sends crews of two to four men to do the work each month.

“These men are providing more than just physical labor,” said Howard. “They are building lasting relationships.”

“And, we are gaining something too,” said Howard. “These women still have so much to share from their experience.”

Joanne Blue, 72, of Turner is a prime example. Widowed since 1993 after 34 years of marriage, Blue has been a member of the widows ministry since its inception and cites her affiliation with the group for helping her get back into life.

In the past several years, Blue has been doing her part to fulfill that same biblical mandate to care for orphans during faith-based trips to Turkey, India and Nigeria.

Marie Howard, mother of Pastor Tim Howard, also found the group to be an essential part of her healing process.

For Howard, the hardest part of widowhood, after 47 years of marriage, came at the end of each day, when she would return home to an empty house and an empty bed.

“That was so difficult,” said Marie Howard. “I did everything to avoid bedtime, busying myself with paperwork or other things until I was too exhausted to keep my eyes open.”

“This ministry is just what I needed,” she said. “Not every outing is for everyone, but this group offers us all a place to connect and bond by what we have in common. I think this is something every church should offer and the convention is a good starting point to find out how.”

 

Staff Writer Deborah Sayer can be contacted at 791-6308 or at:

dsayer@pressherald.com