A warm wind whipped across the sand beach at Unity Pond as white clouds billowed in a blue sky.

Arnold Carter, 85, sat in a comfortable chair at an outdoor table, enjoying a picnic and chatting with friends in a widows-and-widowers’ group.

“My wife died in 2007,” Carter said. “I’ve probably been part of the group eight years.”

Carter, of Winslow, recalled that he became despondent after his wife died. A school secretary, she had rheumatoid arthritis and other health problems. They had married late, in their 40s.

“She was a beautiful girl,” Carter said. “I miss her.”

But Carter, who retired in 1993 as director of environmental services in healthcare for ServiceMaster Co., is happier now and the pain of loss has waned. He was fortunate that, after his wife died, a woman at a local hospital recommended he attend a grief group, which he did. There, he met George Fowler, who at the time was group facilitator. Fowler also had lost his wife, and later he formed the widows-and-widowers’ group.

Based in Waterville and in existence about 10 years, the group meets the first Saturday of each month for a potluck lunch at a member’s home. On the third Saturday of the month, the members eat together at a restaurant and each pays for his or her own meal.

“This is the greatest,” Carter said of the group. “I like the camaraderie and we’re all in the same boat, as they say.”

On this particular Saturday, the group met at Big G’s Deli in Winslow and carpooled to Unity Pond in Burnham, about 20 miles away, to picnic at Leroy Starbird’s family camp.

Starbird, 91, lost his wife a few years ago and joined the group after she died. He and his family have hosted picnics at the camp a handful of times.

About 20 members brought food to share and they sat at tables, chatting, enjoying the summer air and watching geese in the water. Some took rides on a pontoon boat.

They were a lively group, warm and welcoming, and ranged in age from about 60 to into their 90s.

Sisters Maxine Bouchard, 77, and Gail French, 75, of North Belgrade, sat across the table from Carter. The women said they have been with the group several years. French’s husband died 15 years ago. Like Carter, she attended a grief group, then learned about the widows-and-widowers’ group and joined.

“I didn’t come at first, because I didn’t know anybody, but eventually I came and I was glad I did, because I like everybody,” said French, a hairdresser.

Bouchard, a former hospice volunteer who is retired from a 25-year job at MaineGeneral Medical Center, said her husband died 17 years ago. She was not a joiner of groups, but she was talked into joining this one and she is glad she did. Two years ago, she started dating her late husband’s cousin, whom she had known many years; and in December, they became engaged. Her fiance attended the picnic.

“It’s a wonderful group and everyone gets along really great and enjoys each other,” Bouchard said. “It’s just really great.”

Some members, including Gloria Philbrick, 74, of Clinton, have married since they joined but continue to attend. Philbrick’s husband died nine years ago. She remarried about six years ago — and Fowler officiated.

Starbird sat on the steps of the Burnham camp, which he built with his own hands, beaming as his friends helped themselves to plates of food and sat together at tables, talking, laughing and telling stories.

A World War II veteran, Starbird was born in Pittsfield, grew up in Burnham and has lived many years in a house he built in Clinton. He entered the Army when he was 18 and was a gunner operating a 155 mm howitzer and served in the Battle of the Bulge, he said.

He recalled being in Berlin after the war ended. He was guarding a field of equipment in the dark of night. It was winter and he had been dumped off there to stand guard until a new shift arrived around 4 a.m. There were no lights illuminating the field and he had no way of communicating with others.

It was snowing lightly and he heard something hit a fence. He waited a moment and then heard guns firing in Russian territory.

“Finally, a woman came into view. She had torn her leg on the barbed wire fence. The Russians had been chasing her, but they didn’t pursue her beyond the fence. She was German. It was cold. We had a fire in a 50-gallon drum. If you stood right up to it, you could get some heat. I kept her there for four hours until the next shift came, and Americans took her to medics.”

Starbird said he feels a sense of connection in the widows-and-widowers group.

“It breaks up the monotony,” he said. “I recommend it very highly. I’ve always been happy here.”

Fowler, who started the group, is a retired United Church of Christ minister, and he cares about each member. Some were widowed as recently as a couple of years ago; others, many years longer.

Fowler, 85, of Waterville, strolls about the picnic, stopping to talk with everyone and share a story or two. He said widows or widowers interested in joining the group are welcome to do so and they may call him at 872-8413.

“The only rule is you act like a lady and a gentleman and you just enjoy yourself,” he said. “The idea was to offer a resocialization experience to people who are widowed. You know, old friends don’t call when you are widowed, so what you do is go out and meet new friends. It’s understandable that old friends stop calling. When you are a couple, you get invited to play couples tennis, canasta, bridge. All of a sudden, you’re widowed and you’re not a couple anymore, so you’re not invited. Some people take it personally, but they shouldn’t. The answer to that is, meet new friends. That’s what we try to do, introduce people to other people in the same boat, in different stages of grief.”

Amy Calder has been a Morning Sentinel reporter for 28 years. Her column appears here Mondays. She may be reached at [email protected]. For previous Reporting Aside columns, go to centralmaine.com.

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