Peer support saved my life when I was widowed with a young child. And while the internet is great for “cybergrieving,” there are many advantages to seeing other folks on similar journeys in the flesh, or, as we’ve come to call it, “in real life.”
Young widows (under 55) tend to be rare enough that most of us don’t have someone nearby or even access to a support group. We’re usually left with our websites, bulletin boards, blogs, and Facebook. While there are invaluable, you shouldn’t forego a chance to see – hug – exist together in a room with dozens of others like you. And actually -- even with those of different ages, different paths of life, different parenting statuses: the connection of losing a partner overcomes the differences between us.
It’s odd to me, an agnostic, that I must use religious language to describe this: I say “witness,” “testimony.” The first time I met a young widow – before Gavin died – I was in awe simply that she existed. This was hope to me, and healing: to SEE someone ALIVE after a similar ordeal, including the next bits, which I couldn’t imagine, and would surely be much worse: her husband was not just ill but had DIED. I was still in denial, but meeting her helped me see that his death was possible and my life after was likely. Why? I don’t know, it’s magic. But there is more powerful to touch than to read: even though sometimes we find a friend, sister or twin from reading the words of a widow we can be changed being faced with a real widow who you can hug or ask a question (“are you real?”). Maybe it's more "real." Whatever makes it so, presence matters.
So Camp Widow is a unique chance to witness the hope and healing of a hundred people like me, like you, each different – but with similar challenges and a commitment to get through them. This is the second year of this exceptional event, which will be held August 6-8 in San Diego. Camp Widow is hosted by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, a non-profit, non-sectarian organization which publishes the exceptional blog, Widow's Voice.
This year I’ll be presenting a session about how we share online. But it wasn’t my online friends that got me out of my rut: real widowed people in a real-life peer support group were my rock and my energy drink, combined. So I have been talking about Camp Widow a LOT on Facebook and Twitter, where I connect with a few thousand bereaved people and those who love and support them.
And you know, I hear objections, obstacles, and problems. Like:
I don’t want to be in a room full of strangers.
That’s funny, because some of the people who attended last year said it was one of the few times they felt they were NOT alone:
“Last year I went on my own. Hadn't talked to any other widows online that were attending, no faces to look for, no previous connections. As soon as I walked in the room I no longer felt alone.” (Jerilynn)
“Everyone was on the same page. It was as if there was an unwritten code that we could talk freely with one another without fear of being judged or criticized. Everyone was so supportive. Nothing was ‘off limits.’ The weekend wasn’t a pity party, but one of support, validation, and laughter…I felt comfortable. I felt understood. I felt accepted....” (Mary)
This year it will be even easier to fit in. A cadre of extroverts will serve as “ambassadors” and make sure no one is hanging back. If you need an introduction, a hand to guide you, or some help choosing from the 24 amazing workshops, an ambassador will be there for you!
The last thing I need is to be around a bunch of weepy depressing old ladies.
YOU have obviously never been around a group of bereaved people in their natural settings.
“Widows know how to party. … It was powerful to be with 150 people who have at one time cried like I cried, curled on the floor in desperation, and believed that we would never stand again. … What connected us was not death, but it was having had to consciously decide to live.” (Melodie)
“You probably would not picture a whole bunch of crazy ladies at a Pops-in-the-park concert getting shushed and then ignoring the shushes by jumping up in seats, screaming, dancing and waving their arms wildly to the music … Such aliveness you never did see.” (Abby)
All right, I’m fun. But there will be no one else like me.
There will be: Men. Women. Widowed people of ALL AGES. LGBT widowed people. People who are actively parents, and those who are childless. Americans. Canadians. Married, umarried, partners of all legal status, and REMARRIED widowed people AND their partners. People of color. Writers, bloggers, artists. People who want the world to change. People who are grateful for today. We’re all different, but we can ALL learn from each other.
“It took about 10 seconds meeting widows at the first Widows Conference last summer in San Diego to get that we do get it; we get each other; we understand the journey; the diversity of the stuff and oh how we wished each other the most authentic of all good stuff to happen.......” (Sandra)
“The bottom line is we all fit into each others shoes. That was the magic.” (Carole)
I’m doing just fine… dammit!
I’m sure you are, honey. But you know? You don’t have to say that around us. We’ve been there… or as close as it gets. You’re an extraordinary person with inner strength and a really supportive community and a freezer full of casseroles. You can do it all on your own.
Grief is not an illness. It can’t be “fixed.” But it’s a lot easier to get through with energy, ideas, and the kinship of others who’ve been there. Yes, each path is different and there are parts where you must walk alone: but we need all the help we can get – and when that help is fun, who can say no?
“Words can't begin to describe what a wonderful time I had in San Diego this past weekend! I learned and healed more than I have in the last 1 1/2 years, and I can't tell you how much I appreciate the opportunity to go and be a part of this experience.” (Deborah)
“I have made some close connections that I know will stand the test of time. The other thing I saw happening is that women in the throes of grief were able to see, feel, and touch hope.” (Mie)
Fine! I’ll come. But I hate hugs!
No problem, dude/ette. We’re making a special badge for you. It smells really bad and should keep away unwanted physical affection. We’ll still be happy to see you – just stand over there, please!
But I don’t want to be a widow. Maybe I’ll come next year. Wait, next year I hope I really won’t feel like a widow.
The last word is from Melodie: “I felt... normal. I love these people now, because over these years we shared the most intimate and profound of life experiences. …Who would have guessed that it would take a widows' conference to enable me to stop feeling like a widow?” (Melodie)
Camp Widow details
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