“Not everyone knows or understands what widows go through.”
The group assembled at Monsanto Park in Luling Thursday each let go a balloon, some doing so to show support for a friend or loved one, others to symbolize the letting go of inner pain inspired by a tragic loss — and all to show solidarity with one another.
They were assembled there for National Widow’s Day on May 3. The event was organized locally by Janice Charles of Luling, who lost her husband, Lervern, in 2017. She displayed a picture honoring him as she led the event. He was in uniform, a photo taken of him 30 years earlier in the military.
“There are 11 million of us out there,” Charles said. “Widows keep it inside of them because they’re struggling and they don’t want people to know they’re hurting. But if I hurt, I know they hurt. And so this was something the Lord put in my heart.
“Even if it had just been me out here, I’d have been here. I know what it is to lose a spouse. It’s no joke.”
She said she hoped she could channel her pain into something that helped others cope with their own losses.
“From hurting and being at home, this was a way to do something,” Charles said. “Not everyone knows or understands what widows go through. I know I didn’t until it happened to me.”
For Charles, her husband’s death was a second devastating loss after their son, Lervern Jr., who was shot and killed in Lafourche Parish in 2004.
Yvonne Berry of Luling has known Charles for years, and the two have shared their pain — Berry is also a widow and she said an event like last Thursday’s has been a long time coming.
“I wish it had been sooner, honestly,” Berry said, tears welled in her eyes. “Because people don’t know what we’ve been though. It helps being around others who know. I think it should help others as we go on.”
Wilbert Diggs of Boutte lost his wife on Jan. 1 as the two were vacationing in Dallas. He knew Charles as she was a good friend of his wife’s, and he said the gathering represented a chance to speak with Charles about their respective losses, as well as with others.
“People need to talk to others and see how they’ve dealt with it,” Diggs said. “I know it gives me comfort and gives me peace to know I’m not alone, not by myself. It lets me keep my head up. You know you’re going to miss her and grieve, but she’s in a better place. I know that now.”
The gathering was not the first event Charles has done to help widows connect. She meets with a group for dinner twice a month—“We laugh and we cry and talk and eat, and it brings us healing,” Charles said — and that morning delivered balloons to widows who are sick or can’t get out the house.
The releasing of the balloons, she said, was a practice she began after the loss of her son.
“I needed a way to release my feelings,” Charles said. “I kept up with it all. It’s kind of my little trademark. It’s like releasing all of the hurt and the pain. Next year I’m going to get some people to help me and deliver more of them.”
She also noted the upbeat feel of the event after the balloons were released.
“Who doesn’t like balloons?” she asked. “You see how people are after letting them go. People are enjoying (the day) and that makes me feel good.”
Diggs called it a great experience, adding that it’s a helpful lift during an extremely difficult process. While he said he’s come to grips with his wife ultimately moving on to a better place, acceptance will certainly never be confused with forgetting.
“I find myself going places we were planning on going, doing things we were planning on doing … we had so many plans,” Diggs said with a wistful smile. “Sylvia ‘Mamie’ Diggs. I still miss that woman every single day.”