PHILADELPHIA -- Susan Gross wasnt ready to be a widow.
Her husband, Alan, had been sick for a decade with diabetes and complicated back problems, but he wasnt dying. Nobody ever said he was dying.
And then one day he was gone, and she was alone, trying at age 60 to make sense of a new and unanticipated life.
Its overwhelming, making decisions, and (figuring out) finances, and you just want to be left alone, Gross said.
Today, 11 years after her husbands death, shes sharing her hard-earned wisdom with new widows, organizing the Philadelphia chapter of a growing volunteer association called W Connection.
Its not bereavement counseling. Its not a 12-step program, religious practice or mental-health service. Its instead a place for widows to share private thoughts, fears and hopes, and most of all to get support in figuring out how to go forward. The association provides ongoing training and mentoring for women navigating one of lifes most profound challenges.
About 15 belong to the Philadelphia-area chapter, a number sure to rise in a nation where women continue to outlive men by an average of five years.
The United States is home to 11 million widows -- 9 percent of the adult female population, according to Census data. Projections show that 75 percent of all women will be widowed at least once.
Thats where W Connection tries to make a difference.
What began in 2010 as one small group in New York has grown to eight chapters in the Northeast, with prospects for expansion in the South and West.
Theres no support out there for the women who have to make this huge transition, said W Connection cofounder Ellen Kamp of Long Island, N.Y., who spent her career helping lead financial-services firms. Ive heard more and more women say, This is giving me my life back.