When doctors told her in March 1994 that her husband did not have long to live, Madam Joan Swee thought she was mentally prepared for his death.
But when he died three months later, she became an emotional wreck. He was only 35 when he was diagnosed with cancer of the liver duct and it was already in a relatively advanced stage.
Madam Swee, now 50, recalls: 'My friends reminded me to be strong but it was not much help. They did not understand what I was going through inside as a grieving widow.'
It was not until the housewife met another widow, Madam Joyce Lye, at a Bible study group more than a year later that she found solace.
The latter is the founder of Wicare Support Group, which has provided emotional support and encouragement to more than 500 widows, of whom 200 are members.
Madam Swee, who has two sons aged 20 and 22, says: 'I found comfort when I met Joyce and a group of widows. Finally, somebody understood my emotions when I opened up to them.'
Formed in 1994 and registered as a voluntary welfare organisation in 1998, the group is celebrating its 10th anniversary at YWCA Fort Canning Lodge on Oct 1 with the launch of a self-help book titled Strength To Live.
Madam Lye's husband died in a car accident in 1985, leaving her to care for their two daughters, now aged 24 and 26.
She tells Life! at Wicare's office in Bishan Junction 8: 'We hope the book will reach out to those who are grieving alone. Over the years, we received calls from widows but they were not ready to meet anyone to talk about things.'
The book is also targeted at those who have lost a loved one such as a parent or a close friend.
'It will help them understand the different levels of grief,' she adds.
About 30 widows and widowers contributed to the 132-page book by sharing their real-life stories. It took three years to put the book together and the initial print run of 2,000 copies cost $10,000.
The book is sponsored by a few individuals who declined to be named.
It will be sold at $10 at the book launch and seminar on Oct 1. Thereafter, it will be priced at $15 at major bookstores.
Strength To Live covers a wide range of topics from grief management and case studies to financial management tips and dealing with grieving children of different ages.
One of its contributors is Madam Chan Toh Han, 52. The mother of three children, aged 24, 18 and 15, is also a Wicare volunteer. Her businessman husband died in a drowning incident in 1992 when he was 39 years old.
She says: 'The book advises widows not to suppress their emotions. It is okay to cry as it is part of the healing process.'
|LIVING THROUGH LOSS SEMINAR
|When: Oct 1
Where: YWCA Fort Canning Lodge
Tickets: $10 each, download registration forms at www.wicare.org.sg or call 6354-2475.
The book aims to provide hope for the widowed.
Madam Lye, 56, says: 'We want to let others know they are not suffering alone. Many of us survived our darkest moments because there were people to care and support us. This enabled us to move on with our lives.'
Wicare runs a bi-monthly talk at its centre where it provides free legal service to members. Although it houses a private room, volunteers such as Madam Swee and Madam Lye make house visits if widows do not wish to visit the centre.
Madam Swee, who is pursuing a master of social science in professional counselling, says: 'We are here to lend a listening ear. If they suffer from depression, we will refer them to the Family Service Centres for counselling.
'We keep in touch with them over the weeks. In a way, they know who to call if they need someone to talk to.'
This article was first published in The Straits Times on Sep 22, 2008.