For someone whose spouse dies, moving on can be awfully hard to imagine.
When Jill Kaufman Rose’s college sweetheart and husband of 38 years died of kidney cancer on Sept. 1, 2015, she was bereft.
“As a new widow, I couldn’t handle being on my own,” Rose said. “I called up my daughter and said, ‘I can’t stay here.’ ” This adult daughter – the only one of her three children with a guest bedroom – had just gotten married a month earlier.
Rose felt it imperative that she figure out how to “deal with loneliness.” And the more she dealt with it, the more important it became to her – a lifelong learner and doer – to share her experience and knowledge.
As part of the Chautauqua Women’s Club’s Chautauqua Speaks series, Rose will talk about “Navigating Widowhood” at 9:15 a.m. on Tuesday at the CWC House.
“I decided I needed to meet some other widows,” she said. “I went to my pastor and said I’d like to have a luncheon for widows and widowers in my church. I did, and there were about nine people, including one widower. My pastor said, ‘Oh great, now we have a widow ministry!’ ”
Rising to this challenge, Rose said she “read 50 books on widowhood,” checking many out from her local hospice grief center library or public library.
“Because I’m a data-driven person, I’m looking for other people’s ideas, so then I can figure out what I’m going to do,” she said. “At this luncheon, I shared some things I’d learned, and they talked about their experiences.”
From there, the group met for dinner at a restaurant once per month, then, for quieter conversations, it grew to incorporate a second meeting each month.
“I was on my widow journey, and they were,” she said. “Different things are challenging for different widows (and widowers) at different times.”
That was 2017, and Rose has facilitated the “Loss of Spouse Group” at the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church in Cary, North Carolina, ever since.
She also teaches “Navigating Widowhood” workshops through the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute program at Duke University and at her undergraduate alma mater, North Carolina State University. She said each includes five 90-minute sessions of lecture and facilitated discussion.
“You realize you’re not the only one,” she added. “Talk to 10 widows, and you get 10 widow stories,” she said. “But there are certain commonalities.”
Rose has faced and coped with the challenges of widowhood in step with her professional skills and accomplishments. She learned and refined many of these during her 32-year career at IBM.
Originally hailing from Texas, Rose spent a year at Emory University in Atlanta before earning a bachelor’s degree in computer science from NCSU. She had been inspired by encouragement from her father, who worked as a branch manager for IBM in Texas.
“I loved math and my dad thought computer science would be a great field for a woman,” she said.
At Emory, she met her future husband, who was also in his first year. She said he transferred to the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill at the same time she left Atlanta for NCSU.
They married immediately after their college graduations. Rose joined IBM in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, and her new husband began his doctorate in chemical research and technology at Louisiana State University. For 10 years, she provided technical support for IBM customers.
“At IBM at the time, if you were successful in what you were doing, they would train you,” she said. “I decided to move into telecom” with the company funding her master’s degree in telecommunications from Pace University in New York.
Returning to North Carolina, Rose said she worked in and taught about emerging technologies. She gave lectures and taught workshops to “IBMers” and IBM business partners, and at industry conferences.
“At one time, (when I was working) in Asynchronous Transfer Mode, a telecom industry mode, I had 70 technologists all over the world,” she said. “I had to let them know what was happening in technology. And they’d ask me to speak at their international conferences.”
Later, Rose “helped create the standards for sending healthcare information between hospitals,” and then between hospitals and physician practices.
Rose went on to earn a doctorate degree in management from the University of Kent in Canterbury, England, through IBM. Over a period of seven years, she undertook directed research part-time while she continued working for the company. Her research was overseen by two advisers – a professor in the University of Kent’s business school and another in its school of computer science – she was able to work with them remotely.
Then, as part of IBM’s new Software Group, Rose applied her knowledge of business and focused on start-up companies.
When she retired from IBM, she began working for a director of personalized health care at the College of American Pathologists. It was during this time that her husband was diagnosed with kidney cancer and died 18 months later.
“I wasn’t prepared for it,” she said. “You don’t train for widowhood. I had to figure out how to rebuild my life. I met with a grief counselor for a year, and that was great. But I was starting to look for how do you move forward in life and how do you build your life. I’m used to researching things, and I want to learn.”
Because she could not find all that she was looking for through books, Rose chose the curriculum for and completed a master’s degree in Liberal Studies at Duke.
She said the courses she took and the research she did there gave her much more material for the workshops she was running at her church.
“My whole career (I’ve been) learning something new, figuring out how to communicate it, and teaching it,” said Rose, who added that it helps she is a “people person” who loves teaching.
Tuesday morning, Rose said she anticipates having two audiences: One is widows and widowers — the community she has studied the most — who she hopes will leave with an idea for moving forward in their lives.
The other group is people who have family or friends who are surviving spouses, who she hopes will leave with an idea about how to provide support.