The holiday season is upon us, which brings a multitude of emotions. Most of us will be spending time with loved ones who are family or friends, just like family. I consider myself extremely blessed to have people in my life that mean so much to both Grandpa and me.

Unfortunately, though, not everyone is feeling the same holiday spirit. Life has a tendency to take over, putting roadblocks on one’s personal streets of joy. For those who have lost a spouse or partner, it can be a very difficult time of year — more so, perhaps, than any other time.

I had the privilege of meeting with a very kind lady named Mary Ann Smith, one of the facilitators of a local widow/widower support group. Smith, who lost her husband, Don, after 51 years of loving marriage, knows all too well what this feels like. She was gracious enough to fill me in on the various subgroups under the Ministry of Caring at Brentwood’s Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church. Every week on Thursdays, from 5 p.m. to 6:15 p.m., the group meets in the library at the church.

She says, “If I can survive, they can, too. We just try to support each other and make it easier.”

This support can be a lifeline to those who feel alone after the passing of a spouse. You go from a “we” to an “I,” and for most, it can be devastating. Smith says there are anywhere from 10 to 20 who attend, and several will go out to dinner afterwards. It’s a safe and comforting way to get out of the house and be with others who share some of your story. The meetings are non-denominational and all are welcome.

The group was started by local resident Sandy Heineich about 14 years ago, and it has been a true godsend to many through the years.

Smith says after finding the restaurants a tad noisy, she decided to invite the group to her home for a more informal gathering. She says that now, twice a month, she hosts a potluck or happy hour to encourage others to relax and speak more freely. Although there is no set time, Smith will let the group know when the two gatherings are scheduled each month.

Smiling, she tells me everyone has to participate in the food part of the potluck, and even if someone doesn’t cook, they can bring a bag of chips and a dip. Although this is not a dating service, there have been a few romances that have sparked.

There is also a group called the Golden Agers for seniors to gather and socialize on the third Wednesday of each month. They begin with an 11 a.m. Catholic mass with Father Quang Dong, followed by a free soup lunch made by The Crafty Quilters. After lunch, there’s usually a scheduled speaker with topics all over the board. Smith says there have been authors, police officers with good safety information for seniors and even a magician, to name a few. There’s no charge for this and, although most guests are invited by a parishioner, all seniors are welcome.

Another group started by Heineich supports parents who have lost a child. A former nurse, Heineich felt this was also needed, especially at this time of the year. Grief has no rules.

Some long-lasting friendships are continually being formed in the widow/widower’s group. They had a dinner dance at Summerset 2, and it was a great deal of fun. Smith reiterates that going out on your own after so many years as a couple can be daunting, to say the least. She now gets joy watching her newer group members evolve and reconnect with life outside the four walls of their homes. Those who have gone through the grief process share with the recently widowed during their search for the new normal, says Smith.

Enjoying the holidays instead of coping with them is crucial, and these groups are so important. If you would like more information, feel free to call Mary Ann Smith at 925-240-1706.

Immaculate Heart of Mary Catholic Church is located at 500 Fairview Ave. in Brentwood. For more information, visit

Marla Luckhardt is a Brentwood resident who works with several local senior care and advocacy groups. Reach her at