By Melissa Simon
More than a dozen women chatted about life on a recent Sunday afternoon at Sally Lefton Wolfe’s Simi Valley home.
The room was filled with smiles and laughter. No one would guess the women were brought together through sorrow: Each has lost her husband.
Known as the Merry Widows, the support group was formed a year ago after the death of the husband of one of Lefton Wolfe’s friends.
Lefton Wolfe herself was widowed in 2007 when her first husband, Jack Lefton, died suddenly at the age of 58. She was 51 at the time and was left to care for their 10- and 16-year-old sons. She married Sam Wolfe in 2013.
“My friend was so sad that she felt like she couldn’t breathe and that she would never make it. But I wanted to show her that we can be happy again,” said Lefton Wolfe, 61.
“So I got 10 widowed women I knew together, we had lunch, and my friend was able to see that you don’t just die because your husband passed away. Sure, it stays with you, but your life isn’t over,” she said.
What started in June 2016 as a word-of-mouth group with 10 members has grown to about 25 women who get together monthly to talk about life’s ups and downs. While the core members are from Simi, Moorpark and Thousand Oaks, some women from Westlake have also joined.
Although most of the women are in their 50s and 60s, Lefton Wolfe said, the group is open to all ages, whether remarried or still widowed.
“Merry Widows is all about learning to be happy again,” she said. “We took the worst possible thing that happened to us and we’re trying to make the best of it. We’re all vibrant, surviving and supporting each other.”
Network of friends
Maureen Rankin, 55, of Moorpark is one of the original members of Merry Widows. Lefton Wolfe shared the idea of the support group with her while the two friends were headed to the gym one day. Rankin’s husband, Steve, was 54 years old when he succumbed to melanoma in 2010. Like Lefton Wolfe, a then 48-yearold Maureen Rankin found herself alone raising two daughters, who were 11 and 13 at the time.
“The first time (the group) got together, it was so empowering to be around people who just get what you’re going through, especially in our age group when we’re married and all of a sudden find ourselves not fitting into that demographic anymore,” Rankin said.
“All these women have had that same experience of not being able to have their happily-ever-afters with their spouses. There just aren’t a lot of grass-roots groups out there like Merry Widows that are relaxed. And we’ve all become such great friends.”
For Teri Brown, 53, of Simi Valley, that camaraderie was what she’d been looking for most in the years after the death of her husband, Chris. He died in 2003 at the age of 40 from lymphoma. Brown, then 37, found herself a single mother of 4- and 9-year-old daughters.
“I tried going to therapy and getting antidepressants, but I still cried every morning on my way to work. I mean, I had just lost my best friend of nearly 20 years,” Brown said.
“But being here (in Merry Widows) has really helped me create strong new friendships with women who really understand what I’m going through. We give each other ideas on how to keep moving forward, and I just love the difference being in this group has made for me,” she said.
Rankin said watching the support group nearly double since last year is a “mixed blessing” because no one should have to go through losing a spouse.
“At the same time, it’s very heartening to bring new people into the group and watch them realize that this is a safe place to talk about all these crazy emotions. . . . Here, it’s OK for us to just hurt,” she said.
“We need each other, and being in the baby boomer generation, there are more and more widows every day. There’s just so much compassion and love that’s borne out of a loss that we’ve all shared.”
For more information about the Merry Widows support group, email Lefton Wolfe at firstname.lastname@example.org. New members are welcome.