Now Or Never·First Person

My husband died when I was 40. I found solace and friendship with young widows

When her husband died from an opioid overdose, Sarah Keast writes she found herself searching for women her age who'd understand her grief.

In 2016, Sarah Keast lost her husband to an overdose and found herself searching for 'widow friends'

Sarah Keast (second from the right) found a community and understanding in other young widows like herself. (Submitted by Sarah Keast)

This First Person column is the experience of Sarah Keast, who found strength and companionship with young widows who had also lost their spouses. For more information about CBC's First Person stories, please see the FAQ

In August 2016, my life was blown apart when my husband died unexpectedly from an accidental opioid overdose. I became a widow at 40 years old. In an instant, my life was changed irreversibly and I found myself alone with two young kids to raise and an immeasurable amount of grief to shoulder. How would I survive this?

But when my husband died, I couldn't really talk about it with people my age. My friends were still happily married (the divorces would come later), and all of their partners were still alive! My friends couldn't understand me in the way I needed them to. I cried to my grief counsellor that I just wanted to find another person to laugh and cry with about our dead partners while we drank cocktails. Was that too much to ask? Turns out, it was a big ask.

All my late-night googling turned up nothing: there is no app for young widows looking for widowed friends. The only support group in Toronto I could find was for widows aged 55 and above.

'I couldn't tell them my darkest thoughts'

My friends and family were showering me with love and kindness but I couldn't tell them my darkest thoughts. What if they thought I had gone off the deep end because my grief looked so different than what grieving was "supposed" to look like? What if they judged me for the way Kevin died, or the way he had lived? I was angry at the world and even angrier at my husband and his addiction. I was drowning under the weight of parenting grieving children.

Kevin and Sarah share a laugh together. (Submitted by Sarah Keast)

I had no idea how to rebuild everything. I needed help finding my way, and yet those around me couldn't comprehend how lost I was. I needed to find a widow friend.

I met my first widow friend just after Christmas the year my husband died. I was a member of a local parenting group on Facebook and when another group member lost her husband unexpectedly, her neighbour reached out to me to solicit advice on how to best support her friend. I gave some suggestions on what might be helpful. Then, I quickly jumped at this chance. This new widow was young, had kids and lived in my hometown? We were a match!

So I slid into her DMs and asked her if I could bring her some food to help her family in their early days of grief. Luckily, she agreed to let me, a stranger on the internet, bring her some food. 

Days later, I was at her door, chicken pot pie and cupcakes in hand. I must have looked wild-eyed, still early in my grief, standing in her doorway, shoving food at her, desperately seeking her friendship. We hugged hello, shed some tears and felt instantly comfortable. 

As I drove home after meeting Alexie, I realized I felt more connected to her than I had to anyone since losing Kevin. We've texted each other every day since this chicken-pot-pie-fuelled meeting almost 5 years ago.

Finding more widow friends

Within a few months, two more women — Shannon and Janice — joined our group. Facebook sleuthing, DMs sent and eventually 'first dates.' With both, the connections were instantaneous and the deep friendships were immediate. 

Beach party in Prince Edward Country, August 2021. (Submitted by Sarah Keast)

Nearly five years later, we still have regular get-togethers, and these events are both joyous and sad. Our children run wild around us while we laugh for hours about funeral home etiquette, dating app tips and all the weirdness of young widowhood. I have found the women I had desperately longed for so many months ago.

Over the 4½ years we've been friends, we've seen each other through endless tears, painful milestones, infertility, more deaths, a global pandemic… the list goes on. Through it all, we have met each other with compassion, empathy and an understanding that while things can be shit at times, we can do hard things.

Our children have even formed a "Dead Dads Club" that is filled with as much laughter as our widow gang. This integration of our grief and our children's grief into our lives has been so instrumental in our healing and in our strength.

The 'Dead Dads Club' cemetery visit on Father's Day, 2018. (Submitted by Sarah Keast)

Healing doesn't happen in the shadows. It happens in a community with people who love and care for you, and it happens when openness and vulnerability are a cornerstone of that community.

Our beautiful friendship exists because four men lost their lives at an early age. We miss them desperately but at the same time, we are so happy to have built what we have from the ashes of our losses. Happiness and sadness can co-exist. Our widow gang is a testament to this powerful duality.

Crying Out Loud launch party in October 2019. From left to right: Shannon, Alexie, Sarah and Janice. (Submitted by Sarah Keast)

Sarah Keast is one of the co-founders of Crying Out Loud, a Toronto-based mental wellness brand. She is also a writer and public speaker and her writing has been published in Chatelaine, Today's Parent, Good Morning, and She Does the City. She has appeared on a number of podcasts as well as delivered a TedX talk on the power of empathy and compassion in the face of the opioid crisis. She was honoured by Chatelaine magazine in 2019 by placing her on their 'Women of the Year' list. 

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