In the Israeli National Insurance system the department in charge of widows and widowers, regardless of their age, is the “Service for the elderly.” Apparently the rationale behind it is that most women and men will lose their spouse later in life.
But we all know that this is not always the case. When I became a widow at the age of 52 and inquired in National Insurance about the support available for someone like me, I was surprised to discover that although support groups for the widowed were offered, they were aimed for much older widows and widowers and most of them were already retired.
The head of the department of service for the elderly was sensitive to my urgent need and came up with a solution. For a whole year, once a week, I met with a volunteer, an experienced social worker, who helped me through that horrible first year, it was literally a life saver.
Sadly most widows and widowers who lose their spouse earlier in life are not that lucky, in that respect as well, and they do not get the proper response from the National Insurance.
Because of my personal experience, and in order to do something about this void, I opened, six months ago, a group on Facebook for Israeli widows: “Widows Move On.” I wasn’t sure that a Facebook group could really work as a support group, but as there are countless thriving groups on social media, I decided to give it a try.
In the description of the group I wrote: “Widows Move On is a closed group for widows and widowers. It is a safe place where we could deal with issues relating to the loss, the changes, the family and what comes next. It is a group where we tell our stories and share our difficulties and also our success stories.”
An important characteristic of a “real” support group is the human contact, and this of course does not exist on Facebook. Still the virtual group also consists of people with a similar loss who get together to tell their story, express their feelings and get empathy and warmth from the group. But since the interaction is only in writing people have time to consider, and even edit, their responses and thus to be kinder and more considerate than in real life.
There are other benefits to a virtual support group. For example, there is no set time for meetings, and the discussion is ongoing: thus members could write their messages whenever they feel the need, and go back and read and reread older posts. .
As of today there are over sixty members in the group, for me this is an indication that such a service is needed. However, I don’t believe that a virtual community on Facebook could, or should, replace professional help.
National Insurance Institute in Israel is in charge of helping all widows and widowers, and many of us need grief workers to help us through the first year. In my case the head of the “Service for the elderly” was sensitive and flexible in finding a creative answer. This is exactly what is needed when dealing with loss. National Insurance has the right infrastructure, trained professionals and a body of volunteers, it is time that it reviews its policy and provides a suitable solution to the problems of so many young widows and widowers.
P.S Today, almost eight months later, there are already over a hundred members in Widows Move On