What does the research reveal about the loss of a spouse and your health?
In this podcast we interview Carolyn Moor, a widow and the founder of the Modern Widows Club. Through her community they have compiled some incredible research on loss and health, and she shares those findings with us here, along with her own experiences with loss and her creation of the largest women’s health group focused on widows (which we can leverage as a model to help us men heal too!).
Carolyn 7:15 – I think becoming widowed makes you a naturally more compassionate and empathetic person.
Carolyn 19:45 – Isolation and depression. Just the suffering around loneliness can be combated with community.
Carolyn 24:02 – I definitely think that there is something in the emotional relation, to understanding the struggles and understanding the triggers. Understanding the depth of emotions, and the fact that grieving is loving. Grieving someone does not take away the love that you have that’s new and different for your new partner.
Carolyn 28:08 – See, that’s the beauty of having a community. You know, what’s possible. There are so many successful stories like that. So I think that’s part of not giving up, if you’re looking for a partner. You need to be around other people who have been successful and found it whatever way that is.
Carolyn 32:51 – Well, I believe that lived experiences that are shared, especially in difficult times, creates wisdom.
My guest today is Carolyn Moor. She is the president, founder and development director of the Modern Widows Club. She was widowed on Valentine’s Day of 2002 with two young daughters to raise, and she did that solo, Carolyn struggled to find mentors and resources. And she needed a model for the healing and growth she desperately sought in the stage of widowhood that she was in.
This inspired her for her new purpose, which was to create the modern widows club. And she did that back in 2011. She’s going to talk about the success of that organization. And what that could mean for us maybe to model that as our mentor for the men and the widowers. She’s a successful speaker, author, a TEDx speaker. She is the thought leader of the healthy widow movement. And we’re here to explore some of her research and to learn from her on how to heal welcome, Carolyn Moor. Great to be here at home. Thank you so much. Well, first, I want to learn a little bit about Valentine’s Day 2000. And your personal journey with grief.
Carolyn Moor 1:40
Yes. Well, I don’t think anyone wants to lose the person they love on Valentine’s Day, I actually have met some other ladies who that has happened to. It’s been a very interesting part of my journey.
I think we all go out to a Valentine’s Day dinner and believe that we’re gonna have the best date of our life. I was fortunate. I was in a wonderful marriage and business partnership, actually, as a designer and him as an architect. But that evening, we were just right downtown Orlando, by the courthouse and where that S curve is. A hit and run driver crashed into our car. And it caused us to spin out of control ,as he was trying to control him coming into the lane. And we hit a light pole, and the pole came down and hit his head. So I ended up being the only survivor of the car accident. So it was extremely traumatic. I really up until that point had no real trauma happen in my life. We were 36 years old and had our dream life. Because I was a nurse in my 20s, I actually knew how to respond, triage in that moment, but you’re also a person’s wife.
You don’t even realize if you’re hurt or not. I honestly didn’t even realize I had blood on me until I got to the hospital. It’s interesting how the brain protects you in a lot of ways But just a complete shock.
I think my grief journey was as messy as it gets. I think that was ordained somewhat by God, that you’re going to have the worst experience, somehow setting me on to the trajectory of where I am today.
Gosh, it just makes me emotional just thinking about it. Because that’s how trauma works, right? You don’t want to go back to think about those moments, but they’re that close. And I think that’s what’s so hard about grieving people is that they work so hard not to make these triggers happen. And it takes a lot of mental fortitude and a lot of mental emotional regulation in order for that to happen. But it’s there. It’s always there. We’re simply working through it.
For me, losing my best friend and my business partner. My daughters were only two and four years old, and I have no family in town. We moved to Winter Park, FL to work here. And so it was shattering.I was scared of everything. I was a completely confident woman and in the next moment, it was like everything was obliterated.
I had no frame of reference for that tragedy, even remotely happening for me, even though my mother had been widowed two years before. I was clueless to the anguish that widowhood brings into your life, and how it touches every aspect of your life.
So nothing stays the same. As I always like to think of it as one of those mobile’s (child’s toy) where you move one thing, and everything moves. That’s what we are like. Everything is moving. And the anxiety and the stress that that causes.
And you don’t know where any of the pieces are going. There’s this randomness to it.
Yes, you were looking for this grounding, and you can’t achieve it because your life is spinning out of control. And so what’s that thing that can help with your grounding? For some people, it’s their faith. I was lucky, I went to New Hope for Kids in Maitland, where I was on the board there for 12 years. And I discovered a language for grief. But then, I left a year later, I was still in a brain fog. I didn’t know what I was doing.
Now that inspired you, though, because you were lost. You did have some resources. I’m sure your neighbors and friends rallied around you. But after a while, it becomes difficult because no one knows the situation that you’re in. And some of the resources that are valuable short term. They don’t help with the longer term healing. And so it was the same with me,
I looked around and said, “Okay, everyone was here through the trauma part of it. And now I’ve got this life to pick up, my kid’s life to pick up. Where’s the resources? Where’s the help?”.
That gap was an inspiration for you. Tell us about where you got the spark to start the Modern Widows Club and what it’s all about?
I think becoming widowed makes you a naturally more compassionate and empathetic person. I certainly am more now than I feel like I was before. I think I had a little bit of an arrogance about myself, and I knew how to do life, because I was doing it so well.
Then this comes along and it’s like, Okay, now. I’m a big people person, as we built a 50 person interior design firm, not only because we were talented, but because we knew people well.
And so I had that in my favor. And I thought, I just need to find other weirdos like me, raising kids running businesses, rebuilding their life. And I found that to be extremely difficult. Yeah. And, and so that’s where the hopelessness starts coming in. Because you, you don’t know where to find them.
This was before social media. I was widowed before September 11. So the idea of a young widow was one type: military. And so I felt like an alien. I thought, if I could find other women like me, then I could have hope. And I could ask them a lot of really hard questions. You know, about dating, babysitting, how do you bring men into your life, do you trust them with girls? Really deep, deep questions.
And it took me 10 years. I really didn’t find the mentors that I needed. I found a lot of women coming to me, partly because of being on TLC and Oprah, I had a lot of influx.
I couldn’t find what I needed, so I became what I needed, which was a mentor and a role model. And that’s really what happened. If there weren’t a lot of resources for me to reduce my own suffering, maybe I can reduce someone else’s suffering and that will bring great purpose and fulfillment and meaning in my life.
And it has. I just started with two ladies literally right here in my home. And when you see someone suffering, and you’re shouldering it, while you’re companioning them and holding the space, a whole new magical world you don’t know exists until you’re in those intimate conversations. There’s so much you don’t have to say in that environment. And there’s so much you can say, in a non-judgmental way. Outside in society and everywhere we go it can be difficult to connect.. And then you get into an environment of people where the hearts are beating at the same pace and it is like, oh, gosh.
For you and your mentors, just like for me, there was likely a lot of healing that actually came out of that service. For me, there where things that I didn’t process completely until I started to talk and mentor other widowers and suddenly realized, “Wow, I still have some work to do”. You’d learn almost as much from those situations and the sharing, as the gift of healing that you wind up giving as the mentor. So the mentee sometimes is helping the mentor as much as the mentor is helping the mentee.
Absolutely, it’s reciprocal indeed. And if you study resilient science, the giving back portion is the last part of the healing cycle. And so that is documented and studied.
So if you get to that point, and you step into that, then you’re going to receive blessings that you never even knew existed. So that’s why group is so important. Everything that I have learned, I have learned from widows, I’m always very clear about that. This PhD in uncommon knowledge that I have is directly from 10s of 1000s of widows sharing with me,
I love it and talk about the organization just a little bit. An overview of how it is organized, and how many women are a part of that?
We have about 50,000 women that we know of, in our organization. Modern Widows Club is really a women’s health organization focused on widows. And we really do a lot of awareness and advocacy around why women in widowhood would be considered a health crisis.
The human race social readjustment scale lists all these different life events and gives them a stress score. Losing a spouse is the number one stressor at 100 points.
If you look at everything on that list, if you have ever gone through a divorce, it is stressful indeed, but that came in as a 73 point stressor. Less than losing your spouse.
Losing a spouse is beyond all of the other studied stressors, but it is also compounded by additional smaller secondary losses, such as a financial stress, a change in where you live, or a change in your job, all of which can happen post losing your spouse.
If you get up to about 300 stress points, you have an 80% chance of becoming ill within the first two years of experiencing that stressor. That’s something to pay attention to.
Even if the primary loss and secondary compound stressors don’t add up to 300, even if it’s just maybe the loss of the spouse, plus one or two other stressors, which include moving from your home, maybe because you can’t be in the house anymore. A Job change, which a lot of us go through afterwards, with a job that wasn’t suitable for being a sole parent, the change of friend groups. All of these are stressor points that essentially add up, and reflect on not just your emotions and mind, but on your body and health. If the stressors compound just a little, to over 150, you’ve got an over 50% chance of getting sick and facing a health crisis yourself within two years.
So what you’re saying, and is proven in this research, is that not only is the loss of your spouse the most stressful event you can ever experience in your life, but it also has all of these compounding elements to it. And that then affects your health. And many of us have kids, and we have to be there for those children long term, or leave them without any parents left.
So, how do we get rid of those stressors? Carolyn, when I started to do some research, I looked on Amazon, to perhaps find some helpful and healing books. And I found only a handful. There’s more books on how to date a widower than actually how to heal if you are a widower. which I found really interesting.
Well, that goes back to the statistics.
Yeah. Definitely. And talk about those statistics a little bit.
I know that you do research at the Modern Widows Club and you’ve got some interesting facts not just for widows, but on widowers as well?
Anytime I go and talk to someone, I have to know how many widows are either in their county, at the city and state level, or if it’s national,
So I always like to start close to home. Think global, but act local. So if we can enact change here in our local communities, that exponentially is going to ripple out.
Thinking similarly for widowers, just here in Orange County, FL which is where we both live, there’s 8,418 widowers. Going back to the dating question here, you have 36.5k widows in the county by comparison. Here in the greater Orlando area, we have 20,000 widowers in Orlando area (compared to over 80,000 widows)
And there are 256,000 widowers in Florida as a whole, and for the women, there are 914,000 widowers, almost one million in Florida alone.
Let’s look at support organizations. When I research nonprofits on GuideStar, there’s hardly anything to support and provide help. there’s only 2,300 nonprofits registered to support widows. Almost half of those are not active, meaning they have no money, they’re not funded and they’re not operating.
In the state of Florida, we have 962 widows nonprofits, I do not know if they serve widowers. But out of these, 101 are inactive. And 23 of those are global. So there’s nothing in those organizations serving in this state or country. Then you’ve got 18 that are military, which I don’t actually know how many widowers are military. But I know for women, it’s 450,000 out of the 13 million widows in this country. So it’s a small group.
Modern Widows Club is literally the only organization serving in the state of Florida, this city in this county. And we’re supposed to serve those high number or widows in the demographics, and it’s just impossible. And so I think that if the widows organizations like ours can break through, and get the funding, we need to be able to serve more women. We can cut through and say men have needs too. In fact, we have a petition on change.org. And we talk about how Mother’s Day and Father’s Day were both inspired by a widow and a widower, and most people don’t realize that.
I didn’t even know that. Well we will certainly draft in your success. It’s great to have your help because we’re just learning as a new organization.
Now, I know that the biggest aspect of what you provide is community, through local groups and local mentors. Talk about why community and mentors are so important, especially for us as widowers to understand.
Isolation and depression. Just the suffering around loneliness can be combated with community.
But if there is a community then the community has to be led. What we found at MWC is yes, we want communities, but how do we run those communities? So we had to actually create an advocacy and leadership development program. We are literally the only organization in the world that has this element, and I just recently wrote my book about how important the mentoring and leadership is, and how to use your gifts.
So it’s evolved from “I’m going to reduce someone’s suffering”. To “Gosh, there’s a lot of people suffering”, to “how do we serve more?”. We need to have leaders in these particular areas. And then you create this ripple effect of advocacy and awareness.
It’s messy, because people are volunteers and they come and go. But the health impact is tremendous. We know that when widows come to our programs, we survey them, and 64% indicate an increase in being hopeful. That’s a big number. We underestimate the negative health impact of hopelessness, and hopelessness. It runs rampant in widowhood.
So if we can get people out, we can get them to places where they are in healthy environments. Not all. places, widows and widowers go are healthy, right? You have to define what is healthy.
You’ve done an extremely good job, actually. And when we first met, we met at Crosby because I was like, we’re gonna meet at my gym. Because that’s the life we know that you have to do that. And you get out, you do something healthy, you meet new people, you reenter life, that’s how you rebuild your life. So community is for me, at my church but there was no widows community, and, and the one lunch that I went to I was literally the youngest person there.
Yes, we’ve had other widowers share similar experiences with church groups.
Yeah, it wasn’t a fit for me. So that represented another level of struggle, where we need to make it all ages. For us. It’s all faiths. social economic status. There’s so many stories I could share.
But it’s the beauty is in the diversity of our community. I love that. And I think that’s probably one of the greatest gifts that I’ve been given is really to see the broader perspective, from around the world and from different cultures. Across it all, we have this innate ability to activate our resilience, and if you’re in the right environment, it comes naturally.
I love that, Carolyn. Now we briefly mentioned widow and widowers and dating potential.
A lot of widower brothers have expressed how it’s hard sometimes when you’re dating someone who’s been divorced, or maybe they haven’t been married before they may have challenged relating back to someone who’s a widow or a widower. That can be difficult for a partner, because there was still love for that person when they left us. And in a divorce situation, that love is, in most instances, gone. In fact, it’s often replaced with anger and a lot of other things.
So there are a completely different set of issues, circumstances, a lot of things like that. And a lot of the widower brothers have said, “Wow, I think dating a widow would be a lot better in some situations than dating someone who’s been through divorce or, or maybe has never been married before”. What are your thoughts on that?
I definitely think that there is something in the emotional relation, to understanding the struggles and understanding the triggers. Understanding the depth of emotions, and the fact that grieving is loving. Grieving someone does not take away the love that you have that’s new and different for your new partner.
Someone who’s widowed is going to grasp that concept a little bit quicker. We don’t have all the guilt and the anger that may be a result of the divorce situation. I’m not saying every situation is like that, but there’s usually a divorce where the separation is not amicable. Our separation was not optional. It was chosen for us. And so there is that sort of ground where you get to have that level of conversation between widow and widower.
This is why we have a dating club as part of the Modern Widows Club, specifically for this reason. The idea of becoming vulnerable again, which is what you have to do when you look into me, is scary. Because you’ve already been so vulnerable in your widowhood experience. You’ve already put up all these walls, you know, to protect yourself to survive.
A widow is someone who understands that fear. So I think they’re able to drop their ego a little bit, drop their pride a little and access that vulnerable side, and men typically need a partner to heal. Statistically, widowers marry in two to three years, that’s just based on US Census Bureau data. For women, they like to heal and then re-partner. Women remarry somewhere between six to seven years. So men heal differently.
It’s just the way we’re made. So re-partnering sometimes will produce certain experiences where it opens men up, right? Women, we would just cry with each other. We have no problems going there and being in the vulnerable space. I think it would be really great to do a study on widows and widowers at around the four and five year range and no such thing exists. But I think it would just be a very interesting study to do. And see what the benefits are. What about you?
I think that there’s definitely some challenges when dating, for your new partner to accept that there’s still love and still honoring, and still some of those things that need to be done. And there’s always this struggle, a push and pull between honoring the past, and making sure you’re not hung up on that, so you can advance to a new future, but also making sure that you’re still honoring your late wife, because it is such a big experience in your life, that still needs to be treasured, and honored and not forgotten.
A lot of times, you’ll get in a relationship and they want to wipe your past and past relationships clean, for various reasons. If it was ever possible to do that?
You start to do the math. It’s 20 some odd years ago for you, but I’m sure when you’re retelling your story, it’s triggering the synapses that make it appear like it was yesterday, and the same thing can happen to me five years on, so
Well, I’ve never actually dated a widower. I don’t know why. But I can tell you my experiences have been mainly with divorced men. And obviously single never married.
And there is this lack of understanding. For example, I have to attend my daughter’s graduation, because now they’re in a stage where they’re 20, and even though my partner may understand what I lost, it’s different for them and they might struggle with the event and honoring the lost person as part of the celebration.. So it’s not going away. You have to have a partner who really loves you. Through even those moments and the most successful relationships I have seen, or when the families from the deceased family and the new families coming together, all get together on are extremely unselfish. And they let the couple decide for themselves, and then they’re a really tight unit, and then everyone else has to align with them. And that’s what I have seen. I know it’s possible.
See, that’s the beauty of having a community. You know, what’s possible. There are so many successful stories like that. So I think that’s part of not giving up, if you’re looking for a partner. You need to be around other people who have been successful and found it whatever way that is.
And children are another big aspect that I know are near and dear to your heart, as you begin to look at the children’s health now as part of your mission. Talk about some of the things that you’ve learned there in the short time that you’ve been kind of starting to focus on that and your own experiences.
We host a Widow Empowerment event that we do every yea, and we have hundreds of widows come. We’d have the daughters want to come with their Moms who don’t want to travel by themselves typically, or stay in hotel rooms by themselves, or just in anything new for the first time. So daughters were showing up. So we’ve created a legacy club. They named it. We had 15 daughters come to our last event in Scottsdale. And I think it’s just going to continue to grow.
I was interviewed by a daughter yesterday from Hofstra University. She was interviewing me, but in the end, she taught me so much more. I got to see through her eyes what her mother was having to unnecessarily go through – all the pain, that helplessness of the people that love you, and your children, so support for them.
Honestly, I think if we’d go back to the spirituality of indigenous cultures, and what community actually really meant, it could so help those in distress. And you aren’t here to talk about death. You know, the immortality of this body and spirit is. It does have an expiration date. So let’s talk about it in a much more spiritual way, that it’s going to happen and how do we get better prepared, and I think that the daughters are getting to where they already are becoming more aware. They’re going to have different conversations with their partners and I’m proud that we’re a part of that. But it was really the daughters themselves that started speaking up and saying, my Mom needs this. How do I help my Mom, help me solve that challenge?
I love your perspective of community with the indigenous, and them not being afraid of having death conversations. Being able to embrace those who have experienced loss instead of not knowing what to do with them, which is how I’m sure we felt a lot of times through it.
God bless the people who wanted to help. But a lot of times I don’t think they knew how to, because as a community, we’re just not addressing it. So I love what you’re doing, Carolyn, and please keep it going. We look to learn from you and your mentorship, and what the Modern Widows Club is doing, mimicking that for the widowers.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d like to give to our widowers, our growth warriors today?
Well, I believe that lived experiences that are shared, especially in difficult times, creates wisdom.
Time and wisdom walking alongside someone in their pain brings immeasurable gifts. And so stepping into those spaces, you are going to be gifted. But if you’re not there and you’re not present, you don’t get the gift. And so that’s how we create really wise people, is that we embrace this whole life and death experience. And that actually activates our humanity.
So step into groups take that action, because that action will actually make you feel better.
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About The Host
Growth Evangelist / Growth through Grief Founder
Tom Pisello is a widower and the father of two daughters. Tom lost his wife Judy in 2017 after her ten year battle with cancer.
Tom founded the Growth through Grief site, resources and ministry to help share his personal experiences to grow through the grieving process, and to share with others to help in his own and other’s healing process. Through this process, Tom gained his sobriety, lost 60 pounds, gained a growth mindset and rekindled lost faith, now sharing these hard-earned lessons and the lessons of other widowers and experts with you.
Prior to creating Growth through Grief, Tom was a successful serial-entrepreneur, analyst, speaker, and author of the business books Evolved Selling and The Frugalnomics Survival Guide. He was well known as “The ROI Guy”, founder of Alinean and Interpose, a Managing VP of analyst firm Gartner, Chief Evangelist for Mediafly and founder of the Evolved Selling Institute and host to the popular sales and marketing podcast – Evolved Selling
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