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TODAY’S TOPIC: Widow-To-Widow Phone Line Helps With Grief

August 29, 1985

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Sometimes it was a knickknack he gave her one long-ago Christmas. Sometimes it was his sweater or some of his scribbles on a pad. Once it was a weed in the garden.

Five years ago, little things held just enough memories of her dead husband to send Winnifred Piper into another crying spell.

Today, however, Mrs. Piper is a stoical role model for recently widowed women, sharing her experience as a volunteer on a widow-to-widow telephone line.

The project, organized by the Hartford Region YWCA earlier this year, pairs half a dozen women who have been widowed five years or more with those who are newly widowed.

″I know there are other Y’s across the country that have support groups for widows,″ said Marilyn Turner of the Hartford Y. ″But no one has this idea, where we match widows by phone.″

The telephone concept grew from a support group for widows at the Hartford Y, said Cheryl Sharp, another spokeswoman who is also a widow.

″The women expressed an interest in getting a support network going,″ she said. ″The widows themselves came up with the idea.″

A telephone confidante is appealing to many recently widowed women, ″especially older women who have never learned to drive. Many older women were very dependent on their husbands,″ Sharp said.

For Mrs. Piper, who says she’s in her 70s, the telephone line is an idea that’s five years overdue.

″When my husband died so unexpectedly, I was desperate to talk to anyone who would listen and could understand,″ she said. ″I had to pull myself together, and during that time I heard so many things that widows don’t want to hear, such as ‘Time will heal all.’

″Now I know I can just be a listener to other widows. All they need to hear is, ’I know what you mean.‴

Relatives, friends and clergy meant well, Mrs. Piper recalled, but none had the compassion and understanding of a woman who had suffered the same loss.

″I read every book on widowhood that I could find,″ she said. She also joined groups for widows, but found that the members had been without husbands for quite some time ″and all they wanted to do was talk about refreshments. No one wanted to talk to me.″

Eleanor Rodrigue, 43, of Farmington, had a year-old son and was pregnant with her daughter when her husband died 17 years ago. Parents Without Partners was not enough, she said, because most of the group’s members were divorced.

″At times I thought I was losing my mind,″ she said. ″The anger was really the worst, because I expected I’d always have a husband to be there and help me raise the kids.″

Both Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Rodrigue have stories to tell widows about changes to expect. For instance, both said their women friends suddenly resisted inviting them to make up an awkward ″threesome.″

″I’m invited to lunch a lot more than dinner, or my friends will call and say, ’My husband’s away for a few days, so why don’t you come to dinner?‴ Mrs. Piper said.

There’s also the shock of running a home alone.

Mrs. Rodrigue said she had to take a course on auto mechanics because ″my husband simply used to say, ‘This and this needs to be done,’ and I’d take it to the garage. After he died, my car became my link to the outside world, so I had to keep it running.″

Telephone line volunteers are asked to contact the new widows for at least one hour each week, Sharp said.

″Calls ar also usually made at crisis points such as an anniversary, a birthday or a holiday,″ she said.

Both Mrs. Piper and Mrs. Rodrigue have exchanged phone numbers with the recent widows they call, although they are not required to do so.

″Some women can get rather dependent on the caller,″ Sharp said. ″The volunteers could start to get calls in the middle of the night.

″But by and large, most women exchange phone numbers, and some decide they even want to meet in person.″