In an instant, a Columbus woman’s identity changed — and loneliness pulled up a chair.

She went from being part of a team to facing life solo. And she knew she needed to reach out to others navigating the same path.

Bertie Oyler still remembers losing her husband Michael to skin cancer nearly 34 years ago in Berlin, Wisconsin. She was raising four children.

“When I was first widowed, I was shocked to find how my place in society changed so much,” the Washington Street resident said.

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Eventually, shock gave way to action, and in time Oyler launched a Christian widows support group that regularly attracted more than 100 women in Sheboygan, Wisconsin.

She returned to her native Columbus in 2015. In September, she launched Widows Walk, a local Christian support group meeting at 1 p.m. the first Monday of the month at area restaurants. Although the informal, two-hour gatherings include a Biblical lesson, the meetings are open to anyone, regardless of beliefs.

What began with just four people now has grown to 11. The bottom line of the group is simple.

“Our Lord loves widows and wants to help us,” the 74-year-old Oyler said.

She believes that one way God does that is by connecting widows to each other. By using their listening ear for others’ heartache. By compassionately allowing them to reassure one another that so many of their worries and fears are normal and common.

For instance, one woman told her peers that she could walk into a room in her home and swear she smelled the pipe tobacco of her long-departed husband. She thought the idea was crazy — until another widow told her that strong memories can manifest in such a manner.

“That can be a very normal part of grief,” Oyler said.

She believes Christian widows face one particular obstacle.

“Sunday can be a really hard day for widows,” she said. “When you go to church, it can remind you that you are alone.”

Carol Kindy, 82, of Columbus suddenly lost her husband of 61 years in January 2014. She faced extreme loneliness. She first joined a widows group at First Christian Church.

But she has been attending Widows Walk since it began, and loves it.

“It is so helpful to be around other people who have gone through the same things you have,” Kindy said. “There are still times when certain songs or other things bring back parts of the past. But I am doing much better. I was very angry at God when my husband first died.”

Kindy credits the work of both groups for her positive changes.

The Widows Walk support need not be confined to the monthly group lunches because members share their contact information with each other so friendships can bloom.

“Pretty soon, we get pretty close,” Oyler said.

Years ago, when Oyler first began dating again, she considered the possibility of remarrying.

“But a lot of the men who dated me back then mostly were looking for someone to take care of them,” she said.

Oyler knows of other grief-related and spouse-loss programs locally, and likes them and sees their purpose. She even has attended one. But she also saw an unfilled need for a faith-based group like hers.

Why can women facing spouse loss find hope with Widows Walk?

Oyler’s answer is straightforward: “We know better than most what you have lost.”

And what might they gain? Oyler is resolute.

“I want them to have a new outlook on life,” she said, adding that God needs widows to serve others in some way. “We’re not supposed to just sit around and wait to die.”

About the group

What: Widows Walk support group

Meets: at 1 p.m. the first Monday of every month. The next meeting is July 3 at a location to be determined.

For: Any woman who has lost her husband.

Includes: A Bible lesson/brief study led by group founder Bertie Oyler.

Information: Oyler at 812-378-2075 or email to oylerblo2003@yahoo.com.

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Brian Blair is a reporter for The Republic. He can be reached at bblair@therepublic.com or 812-379-5672.