September Smiles The young widows of September 11th

"Pay It Forward"

Kim Statkevicus had it all. A successful, loving husband, a great house in the suburbs, a 13 month old son and another child on the way—the picture perfect American dream. But on September 11, 2001 Kim’s husband, Derek was among the many killed in the World Trade Center. As she began to mourn the loss of her husband complete strangers came rushing to her aid. “Derek died in a very public way,” she said in a recent phone interview, “so the outpouring of support for me was immense. Because I was pregnant I received so much stuff, and it just kept on coming in. While I was very grateful, I also wondered what I was going to do with [all of it], much of which I didn’t need.”

Kim (pictured above with her children) ended up meeting other pregnant women whose husbands were killed that fateful day who were faced with the same great problem: an American public who was overly generous and empathetic with their plight. Eventually this group of widows decided to form the non-profit September Smiles, an organization aimed at helping young widows. The group formed under the guiding principle that in any other circumstances, it was quite possible that no one would have even known to offer assistance.

A Very Public Death

Statkevicus notes, “Derek was an executive, so I was pretty well off financially and he died in a national tragedy that touched the whole country. How many women out there have a spouse die that don’t have the financial base that I had or the publicity that Derek’s death had. Those are the people that we really want to try to help. We were so grateful for the support we received that we decided to pay it forward.”

The first year, September Smiles gathered all the stuff that people had sent to the widows of September 11 that went unused. “The number of baby blankets that people sent alone was enough to get us started,” Statkevicus notes. “That was a major project and really all we did the first year was give away things and store things for future widows.”

“Most of the women there were upset that they didn’t make it to their 50th anniversary. And here I was, someone who didn’t even get to say goodbye, make it to my tenth anniversary, or even have the memories of raising children into old age.”

September Smiles has extended far beyond gathering gifts. The organization coaches families through their first year of mourning and beyond by providing consultations with financial planners, and developing a database of national and regional resources for those who face the uphill battle of providing for their families in the aftermath of their spouses death.

The group even authored a book entitled, What Am I Supposed To Do Now? A Practical Guide To Your First Year of Widowhood. In the book you’ll find vital information detailing all the things one needs to take care of after the sudden and immediate loss of a spouse. “It’s all a bit overwhelming,” Statkevicus notes. “I found when I was going through this that there was so much to take care of—financial stuff, funeral plans, all stuff that I had no clue about—and none of the information was centrally located. With the book, we tried to get all of the information that someone would need in the event of a sudden death all in one place.”

Young and Grieving

In many church-based bereavement groups for widows or widowers there is a huge disconnect because these groups are largely made up of older women or men who lose a spouse in their golden years. Kim found this to be the case in her Connecticut parish. “My pastor seriously went above and beyond the call of duty and was really there for me as much as he could be. The parish’s bereavement group certainly welcomed me, but I just couldn’t relate. Most of the women there were upset that they didn’t make it to their 50th anniversary. And here I was who didn’t even get to say goodbye, make it to my tenth anniversary, or even have the memories of raising children into old age.”

There’s little support for a young person who loses a spouse as Statkevicus mentions, “The simple fact is that there aren’t enough young widows or widowers in one central location to justify starting a “young widow(er)s group. I mean, you’d only have maybe one or two members. Quite often, priests are also so overworked that they can’t give these people the attention they really need. My pastor was exceptional. He really helped me work through a lot of my grief and anger. But I really needed peer support too and that was a lot harder to find.”

September Smiles is hoping to change all that by becoming the one outlet especially for young widows to turn to in dealing with their loss.

In the Bible, widows are often referred to as people who society is bound to care for. There is no better example of this, for all of us, than September Smiles.