It's 8 p.m. on a Wednesday. The room sways to a duo crooning Frank Sinatra's "Nice and Easy" under the golden glow of the chandelier. Some people chat and laugh as they dance. Some, like Debbie Towey, above, of Marco Island, close their eyes and breath in the moment.
A common experienced binds everyone here. They have all lost a husband or a wife. They are the Widows and Widowers Association. And every six weeks this group gathers for a dinner and dance at a local country club.
Barbara Larson, president of the Widows and Widowers Association in Naples, lost her husband of 45 years, Bill, to cancer in June of 2002. She found herself in a fog. She went through bereavement counseling. But the loneliness of life without Bill swallowed her. Larson said she would tear up upon seeing a man put his arm around his wife in church. After the service, she would sit in her car and sob.
"I wanted Bill to be there and put his arm around me," Larson says.
"The first year after you lose your spouse your friends will stay with you," Larson says. "After that they think a miracle happens and you grow strong. I'm not strong."
After an awful experience at a local singles event, Larson heard about the Widows and Widowers Association through a friend. She overcame her apprehension and decided to attend a dinner and dance. There she met a group of people with no agendas and no expectations. They welcomed her. Nobody dwelled on his or her loss. Yet everybody openly talked about their memories and late loved ones. She danced. She laughed. She made friends. And she remembered how it felt to live life.
Larson says it was the bond of "knowing that we all lost the love of our life. And we are doing are best to still be energetic and enthusiastic about life."
Now, eight years later, Larson organizes social functions for the group. She says that above all, she wants people to feel welcome and engaged from the start.
"We talk to them and make them feel comfortable so they're not standing there by t