Beverly Dannemiller was devastated when she lost her husband of 58 years, Richard, more than a year ago.
Although she attended grief-support classes, she still experienced loneliness and wasn’t sure where to turn for help in getting on with her own life.
That help came via a visit from Marlene Dunford, founder of the Widows of Faith, Hope & Charity ministry.
“I felt that the Lord had sent her to me,” said Dannemiller of Tallmadge and a parishioner at Our Lady of Victory. “She had been where I was and understood what I was going through. Her visit meant so much because it showed me that someone from the church cared.”
Dunford, a widow herself, started the ministry two years ago as a way to reach out to widows.
“The research shows that there are 11.4 million widows in the United States and when I looked around the church, I didn’t see any ministry for them,” said Dunford of Tallmadge and a parishioner at St. Eugene’s in Cuyahoga Falls. “The Widows of Faith, Hope & Charity isn’t a support group or a bereavement group but it is a lay ministry that brings widows together to remind them that they are not alone.”
While the ministry is rooted in the local Roman Catholic Church and based at St. Eugene’s, it is open to all widows. A special Mass is celebrated at 9 a.m. on the third Tuesday of every month at St. Eugene’s, 1821 Munroe Falls Ave. A presentation of some kind is typically offered after the Mass.
On Tuesday, Susan L. Straus, a registered nurse who chairs the American Heart Association’s Go Red for Women Passion Committee and manages cardiovascular services and lung health at Summa Western Reserve Hospital, will discuss women’s heart health.
“The speakers are always so informative. I always leave with some new information and feeling more inspired when I attend the Mass and the gathering after,” said Maryann Washnock, who lost her husband, John, on their 49th wedding anniversary in 2011. “This group has helped me start living again. It was just what I needed, after going through grief-counseling sessions.”
Washnock, a parishioner at Blessed Trinity in Akron, said that in addition to developing new friendships with other widows, the group has given her an opportunity to give back.
The Charity portion of the group’s name represents the outreach component of the ministry. The group ministers to recent widows by visiting them and presenting them with a gift bag that contains two books: Prayer Book for Widows (Our Sunday Visitor Publishing, 2004) by Kay Cozad and Widow to Widow (DaCapo Press, 2004) by Genevieve Davis Ginsburg.
The group also participates in other projects, like an upcoming “pack a suitcase” for the local Battered Women’s Shelter.
The Hope in the group’s name represents its foundation of trusting in God and Faith reflects the group’s commitment to daily prayer, particularly for the nation and its leaders.
Delores Smith of Cuyahoga Falls said she experiences joy every time she visits a recent widow and gives her a gift bag. Smith of Cuyahoga Falls and a parishioner at St. Eugene, lost her husband of 60 years, Thomas, in 2010.
“The women are always very appreciative. They seem especially touched because they are getting a visit from someone from the church,” Smith said. “There is a big need for what we do. Widows need to know that the church cares about them.”
The Widows of Faith, Hope & Charity also sponsors a tea at parishes that show an interest in participating in the ministry. Since its founding two years ago, the nonprofit organization has grown to include widows from five parishes in the Catholic Diocese of Cleveland and has distributed 56 gift bags to recent widows.
Betty Tatton, who has been a widow for 22 years, describes herself as the “senior” widow of the group. She lost her husband of 34 years, Robert, in 1990.
“We offer comfort on a one-to-one basis. It’s a personal comfort,” said Tatton of Cuyahoga Falls and a parishioner at St. Eugene’s. “I like to be available to listen and share my own experience if it will help someone else. Everybody grieves differently and in their own time. Because we have all experienced the same kind of loss, we understand that life goes on, just differently. The group helps us move forward in living our lives.”
Widows are invited to attend the third Tuesday Mass and presentation to learn more about the Widows of Faith, Hope & Charity. Information can also be obtained by calling Dunford at 330-633-4985 or by email at MarleneDun@msn.com.
Colette Jenkins can be reached at 330-996-3731 or firstname.lastname@example.org.