SINGAPORE - When her husband died of lung cancer three years ago, Madam Quek Puay Swan felt so bereft and lonely that she would cry on her drive home from work.
The quantity surveyor in her 50s said the first year after her husband's death was the hardest. "It's heart-breaking. I miss my husband so much. Grief has no end, it's how well we cope with it," said Madam Quek, who has two children in their 20s.
But she found her spirits lifted after befriending other widows from the Wicare Support Group for widows, a charity which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year.
In December last year, Madam Quek also attended the Wishine programme, a new initiative to help widows cope with grief and find support from others who have been in their shoes.
"Wishine has also helped me to heal. I know we can express our feelings freely (during the sessions) and others in the group will understand me," she said. "When I talk about my husband, my family will try to change the subject, afraid that it will trigger sadness in me. But I want to remember him."
The new programme was developed by the National Council of Social Service (NCSS) together with Wicare, which started running the programme last September. It is offered free of charge, said Wicare's chairman Lim Poh Hong, a widow herself.
The nine-hour programme consists of individual counselling and support group sessions targeted at widows aged 50 and older.
Most of the widows from Wicare fall in this group, Madam Lim said, adding that Wishine is the first structured programme in Singapore to help widows cope with their grief.
NCSS deputy chief executive Tina Hung said: "Grief and bereavement are often seen as private issues. Furthermore, death and dying tends to be taboo in our culture. Seniors in their grief journey often experience uncertainty, regret and pain and they may be unable to find closure without external help."
A NCSS spokesman noted that older widows are also at risk of falling into depression or becoming isolated from their community.
In 2016, the NCSS spoke to 35 widows, who were mostly over 50 years old, to find out their needs. The widows said they found it hard to share their grief with family and friends, whom they felt were unable to understand or empathise with them. They also highlighted the lack of support programmes for widows.
The number of older widows has risen in tandem with Singapore's rapidly ageing society.
In 2016, there are 140,100 Singaporeans or permanent residents who are widows aged 50 and older, according to the Population Trends 2017 report. This is up from the 108,241 listed in the General Household Survey 2005.
So far, about 30 widows, aged from 50 to 78, have gone through the Wishine programme, said Madam Lim from Wicare. Many of their husbands died less than three years ago.
Madam Lim said they had expected about 50 participants by now, but felt that the lack of awareness might have contributed to lower than hoped for numbers.
One key benefit for widows joining the Wishine programme is the support they find from other fellow widows in the group.
"When they make friends, they feel they are not so alone. They learn what they are going through is normal, that it's okay to laugh or cry," Madam Lim said. She noted that a support group is important as most do not know how to react when someone says she is grieving.
Some members of the group who have received help from other widows go on to befriend new widows to help them cope.
Take Madam Julia Ng, in her 50s, who attended the Wishine programme to learn how to better respond to grieving women.
She recalled how she was overcome with grief when her husband died suddenly of a brain haemorrhage 21 years ago.
"When my husband died, I felt so alone. I didn't feel like doing anything, except to cry," said Madam Ng, who joined Wicare about 18 years ago. She has a 28-year-old son.
"But I found so much support from other widows at Wicare. I'm also here to make new friends, as we feel lonely when our children are grown up," she added.
To find out more about Wishine, call them on 6354-1941 or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org