By David Aaro

Being a widow is something many women never expect to have happen or even think about. It’s tragic and leaves many women at a place they never wanted to be — lost without their best friend.

In the northeast Florida area there hasn’t been a place solely for widows to grieve together and share their personal experiences.

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That is starting to change due to Ponte Vedra Valley Funeral Home and Cemetery, which has created the first grief and life support group for widows called Lilies of the Valley.

It all started with Rene Williams, a widow of seven years who started working at the funeral home in January. She approached the owners about the need for a such a support group after finding none in her time of need.

The roots for Lilies of the Valley started in Mandarin when Williams lost her husband to lung cancer. She felt solace after developing a friendship with her neighbor whom she had never met before. Her neighbor had lost her husband to cancer as well, so they developed a friendship through their shared experience to cope with their grief.

“Widow to widow we just had that understanding. She may call me crying and although she tells me not to come over, I would know she needed me. It’s like we got each other,” Williams said.

As a widow, Williams also believes there is a difference between losing someone you love and the love of your life.

“When you are in love and married to someone you are almost like one person and a team. When the team is broken up it’s like you lose a part of yourself. It’s like you are half there all of a sudden,” she said.

Williams found the benefit of having a friend who was going through the same hardships and battles as she was. The only problem was this resource wasn’t there for others in the area and from this need, Lilies of the Valley was born.

Williams said,“The support group doubled over the past couple months. We just want to get the word out. The first month I told my story on how it evolved. It started out with about eight to 10 people and at the last event we had 22 people; it’s certainly growing.”

Lilies of the Valley is structured to be a social support group to give the ladies the comfort and freedom to share their feelings. It includes a complimentary luncheon to encourage social time and opportunities to form new friendships.

While encouraging friendship with the widows in the group is the primary focus, help with dealing with other challenges widows face when losing their love, including financial management, socialization, relationships and faith is also available. Guest speakers are brought in to help with the grief process. A recent event featured Renee Stein, a clinical social worker and therapist, and the next event will feature a financial expert.

“After the funeral, the flowers, cards and phone calls, everyone just goes on with their lives and you are left with numerous challenges you aren’t expecting, let alone in the right state of mind to handle,” Williams said.

The most important aspect of Lilies of the Valley is for widows to know they are not alone. They can share their feelings in an open discussion that in many cases has created friendships for the women even beyond the support group.

“The widows have even gotten together to create a call line network among themselves so they never have the feeling of being alone,” Williams said.

The Lilies of the Valley support group luncheon is open to the public and meets on the second Tuesday of each month at 11:30 a.m. in the reception hall at the Ponte Vedra Valley Funeral Home. Call Rene Williams at (904) 285-1130 for more information.

Photo courtesy Mary Williams

Rene Williams, Renee Stein and Jacque Headrick at a recent Lilies of the Valley meeting.

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