In 2016, Nadine Hawley’s husband, John, unexpectedly passed away. After 46 years of marriage, her abrupt entrance into the world of widowhood was overwhelming.
“You go into grief-widow brain,” she said, describing how she felt as she navigated the uncharted territory.
One day while scrolling through Facebook, she happened on a page called One Fit Widow. The group founded by Michelle Steinke-Baumgard, author of “Healthy Healing,” aims to help grieving widows find life after death.
“Michelle was so relatable,” Hawley said. “Her thought was when she was active and exercising, she didn’t experience grief as badly. She decided to live out her husband’s bucket list.”
That led to a subgroup, My One Fit Life Adventures. “She created adventure weekends in various parts of the world and the U.S.,” said Hawley of north Spokane.
In 2018, Hawley summoned the courage to join an adventure group in Sedona, Arizona. “My husband and I had been there once, and I always wanted to go back,” she said.
At first, she was nervous to travel with a group of strangers led by a woman she’d never met, but she quickly felt connected.
“When you’re with other widows, they get it,” she said. “You don’t have to explain the random tears.”
Since that first trip, Hawley’s adventures with the group have taken her to Montana, Utah, Italy, Bali and beyond.
“Through these weekends, I’ve met people from all over the country who understand how becoming a widow affects you,” she said. “It’s important to get involved with things that bring you joy, to live life while you can.”
Then COVID-19 hit. Trips were canceled. Adventures were postponed. And for many widows, the sense of isolation they’d struggled to overcome descended with a vengeance.
Jaylene Olin, a young widow from Colorado whom Hawley had met on that first trip to Sedona, reached out. Widowed in 2014 when her son was just 2, she also found One Fit Widow through Facebook.
She’d been on many adventures and relished the friendships she’d made. “Being around other widows is a huge gift,” she said. “We can talk about our husbands without awkwardness.”
COVID-19 reminded her of the early days of her widowhood – the uncertainty of learning to live with a new normal – so she posted on the adventure group page inviting others to meet via Zoom.
Initially, Olin led three calls a week and had planned to do it for a month. That month became six weeks. Then they moved to just Sunday mornings, and a year and a half later, the Sunday Connection is still connecting.
“There are around 12 of us from around the country who have participated consistently since April 2020,” Hawley said. “We’ve cried, laughed, shared our triumphs and losses, serious health issues, and one of us even got married and shared the ceremony over Zoom.”
The weekly chats became a lifeline amid the isolation of COVID-19. “We have so much to talk about,” Olin said.
With participants from locations including Colorado, Montana, Illinois, Texas, Oklahoma, New Hampshire, Michigan and more, the women also got a glimpse of how people across the country were coping during the pandemic.
“The weekly connection made a big difference,” Olin said. “We have a common resilience.” As the country began to reopen, the friends yearned to see each other in person.
“A few months ago, Denise in Michigan said she needed to get away – she was going stir crazy,” Hawley recalled. “So, we decided to plan our own adventure getaway.”
In June, nine members of the Sunday Connection met in Breckinridge, Colorado, for four days of adventures. They biked, explored and shared a picnic lunch by a stream.
Olin brought her 8-year-old son Chance and said he loved his time with the women in Breckenridge because she’d shared their stories with him.
“Young widows worry about our kids, but the truth is our kids learn empathy and resilience. It teaches them a depth that they wouldn’t have otherwise,” she said.
The trip was such a success that they’re already planning another outing. Until then, they know that they’ll be able to catch up with each other every Sunday morning.
“Sunday Connection gives us something to look forward to,” Hawley said. “It’s a sisterhood of shared tears and shared laughter, and that is so valuable.”
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