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The Modern Widows Club Is Helping St. Louisans Turn Grief Into Hope

Destiny Klimaszewski (at left) and Cyndi Williams are the co-leaders of St. Louis' Modern Widows Club. They joined Wednesday's talk show to share their stories and how the organization helps foster growth and process grief for young widows.
Evie Hemphill | St. Louis Public Radio

In 2013, Cyndi Williams found herself a sudden widow at only 38 years old. While she was out of town, her husband, Joe, passed away due to an undiagnosed heart condition. Friends, co-workers and family gathered to accommodate and help Williams during her grieving period. But while she found support among her loved ones, she never quite found understanding. 

She tried to attend support groups for widowed women, but quickly realized that she was in a different place than others, facing different challenges. Most of the women were over 60 years old, retired, had older children and had already worked out their grief — leaving Williams still misunderstood.

It wasn’t until she met another young widow that Williams said she felt like she found a soulmate. She realized those were the women she could relate most to. 

Destiny Klimaszewski became a widow in 2015 at 21 years old, when a drunken driver crashed and killed her husband and 15-month-old baby. Like Williams, she found herself supported by friends and family but sought out others she could relate to. 

Klimaszewski and Williams became friends in 2016, after meeting online through a widows group. Around that time, Williams had also come across the Modern Widows Club and knew it had to be brought to St. Louis. After being in touch with the national organization’s founder, Carolyn Moor, Klimaszewski and Williams were invited to attend the organization's conference in October 2019 and soon started a local chapter that now meets once a month.

On Wednesday’s St. Louis on the Air, the two co-leaders of the St. Louis chapter joined host Sarah Fenske to talk about how the club helps foster friendships and connections between widows of all ages through regular meetings, community education, service and outreach.

Both women shared the details of the devastating moment they lost their partners. 

“These kinds of stories are the moment where you look at another widow and they get it — and everybody else looks at you with horror, like, ‘I can’t imagine.’ And it’s true, I don’t want anybody to imagine,” Williams said. 

Widows are often in a vulnerable state after they lose a loved one when there isn’t a strong system of support in place. They can be prone to illnesses, risk being ostracized by family, get taken advantage of in the dating world or financially, and have to help their children process their loss and trauma.

“[Widows] are losing 50% to 100% of their income, and they’re supposed to jump back in while they're grieving, [but] it takes time and it's hard, and it’s one of the most stressful things they’re ever going to go through,” Klimaszewski said. “We want to be that place where they can find hope and they’re not losing everything that they once had.” 

Through fundraising, the St. Louis Modern Widows Club aims to start a crisis fund to help pay for unexpected expenses, such as funerals, and prevent women from losing their homes or cars or falling behind on bills. 

“We’ve told our widows from the start that we’re not going to support a widows organization on the backs of widows,” Williams said. “I’m born and raised in St. Louis. I know we have some of the philanthropic, generous, loving people as our neighbors. 

“And I think that once they know the need, they will step out in amazing ways and really meet those needs of these ladies beyond just giving them coffee and cookies at the meetings, but being able to really make an impact on their lives, especially [for] those that are devastated.”

The club recently had a surge of new members after the organization was featured on KSDK— from 30 to around 160 members, showcasing how important of a need this support system is addressing for St. Louisans. 

Listen to the full discussion: 

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill, Lara Hamdan and Joshua Phelps. The engineer is Aaron Doerr, and production assistance is provided by Charlie McDonald.

Send questions and comments about this story to feedback@stlpublicradio.org.

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Lara is the Engagement Editor at St. Louis Public Radio.