For months, Helen Fitzpatrick slept on the same sheets she had shared with her husband the week before he died of cancer. Childless, married 27½ years and isolated from relatives in England, she suffered as much as anyone can from the ache of widowhood. Six days after the funeral when friends and neighbors stopped calling, she dialled the phone number of a unique organization in Toronto called Community Contacts for the Widowed. It turned out to be the most important call of her life.
The woman on the other end of the line understood Fitzpatrick’s despair. She understood because she, too, was a widow, a fate that awaits three out
of every four wives in North America today.
“Widows here are totally stigmatized—this is a society that worships youth and denies death,” says Joy Rogers, a mental health consultant at the Clarke Institute of Psychiatry, who launched Contacts 3V2 years ago, after research revealed widowhood was too painful for too many.
In many cultures, widows are automatically thrown together as they don black and share days baby-sitting their village’s children. But like Hindu wives once expected to cast themselves upon funeral pyres, many of today’s widows in North America commit a sort of suicide of the spirit because of their forced isolation.
“Friends are a great disappointment to any widow,” recalls Eileen Brown, who lost her husband suddenly six years ago. “They avoid you because his death reminds them of their own mortality.”
Today 60 part-time workers and volunteers are on the telephone seven days a week and organize social gatherings. So far they have helped more than 1,300 widows and, for Helen Fitzpatrick, who clipped Contacts’ phone number out of a newspaper before her husband died, the program has been a lifesaver. “Without it, quite simply, my life would have ended with his.” Diane Francis'
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