I Heart Camp Widow

Of course I had to redo my Powerpoint at the last minute. Friday evening
in the hotel bar I told Andrea how I derived the name "Supa Dupa Fresh"
and she nearly fell asleep. "Fine, we'll say I took that name
because 'I like soup,'" I conceded. And so, a legend was killed.

Camp Widow, a weekend of events in San Diego hosted by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, was the highlight of my year. I spent many months preparing my presentation on widows in social media, “Grief? There’s No App for That!,” and helping promote the event to my widowed friends and followers on Twitter and Facebook. I relished the chance to meet in person many folks who’ve become close friends online over the past few years. And I was honored (and totally shocked) to receive an award from SSLF for connecting so many people with resources with each other.

Even though I started with a serious lead, I can’t make this into a comprehensive article about this outstanding weekend. There are so many other perspectives – Candice has listed most of the blog posts, and others are here and here (and more here, here, here, here, here and here -- Holy crap this list is getting ridiculous!), along with two articles in USA Today, including one in which I was quoted.

Instead I’d like to share a few observations. First, the connections are so wonderful to see. If you are widowed, you already know the tremendous power of meeting others who’ve “been there,” how liberating it is to not have to explain yourself, to find those who understand your dark jokes. For many of the 200 attendees this was their first time close enough to hug someone their own age who’d lived with loss. Before Camp, I'd already met scores of my peers in person, and hundreds online, and I know I’ve been exceptionally lucky. This kinship is so validating, such a source of encouragement and conviction – I was a little envious of those discovering this place in themselves, this feeling of not being alone. I was moved to say something new agey: “All these hearts opening up – it’s lighting up the room.” (And then, strangely enough, there were actual fireworks over the harbor.)

And then, through the weekend, I felt a little distant. While I’m still in transition in my life, my emotional needs are much simpler, much less urgent, and not so much about grieving. As my friend Ellen Gerst said, this is a good sign for the rest of you. The weekend was not without pangs: it’s shocking to me, though I know so many of them online, to see in person widowed parents younger than me, some MUCH younger (one with a baby in attendance). And I was inspired by the courage of those who showed up in a strange place, knowing not a soul, in the early days after their loss – many with “0-6 months” on their nametags (each guest selected their own).

Second, the role of social media in making the connections. I loved witnessing the rich and dense web of friendships that had started online, many through my own Facebook activity. One woman told me, “when you friended me you were the only widow I knew other than my great aunt, and now half of my friends list is people like us.” Others toasted (with mashed-potato cocktails) the real faces of people they’d grown to love as sisters from tiny avatars.

Aside from a posse from Widows Wear Stilettos, the largest contingency (23 people) was definitely bloggers: not just the seven from SSLF’s flagship Widow’s Voice, who appeared on stage in a group, but also Candice, Abby, Matt, Andrea, Sarah, Chelsea, Mel, Dan, Boo, Deb, Wendy, Jennifer, WnS, my dear sister Hyla, and the hilarious, stunning Carol, who had the second-most beautiful shoes in the room.

My presentation on social media went “fine” (as we perfectionists say). It had to, given the number of cocktails I passed up throughout the weekend in order to “finish it.” I was trying to be analytical and high-level when people were looking for support and laughs: which you can get online, but perhaps not talk about.

Like so many other aspects of the weekend, the proof was in the pudding: I could see evidence of social media’s value in the connections all around me (and in the award and the attention of USA Today reporter Sharon Jayson), so the Powerpoint was almost beside the point.

Third, the ordinariness of our group: how, when you take away the “drama” the rest of the world invests our “stories” with (to paraphrase Matt, that’s no story, that’s my life!), when you remove yourself from the people Alicia calls “civilians,” the sadness and surprise of our youth and existence and laughter – all the reactions – we’re free. Black or white, fresh or seasoned, young or old, gay or straight, widowed people look like any other group of people: some shy, some giggling with roommates, most with a deep bond to at least one other here, all learning. As I walked back to the elevator after the gala, the “fresh widow” label on my wool shawl invisible as it protected my lucite award, I looked at the gaggles of conversation groups on square beige couches in the hotel lobby: it wasn’t easy to tell who was with our group, and I might have fit in to any of them, too.

I didn’t have a scarlet "W" on my forehead, after all. The role I play was put into relief: I have been widowed, and I can offer hope and share with those in the depths of it, but as a sister and an advocate I’m a handhold* for others.

* To understand this reference and also to be human and delighted you must read or preferably listen to Michele Neff Hernandez’s keynote.

* * * Please connect! I love comments! * * *


Paula Tamburro said...

It was lovely to meet you in person. I cannot tell you how this camp helped me. I feel like I really turned a corner.

Mama_Bear_Sarah said...

GREAT post! the word that keeps going through my head in regards to the weekend is "validation." besides meeting me online peeps in person this was the second most valuable thing to take away. i needed to know (and hear) that what i had been told or felt projected onto by others (specifically the in-laws) was indeed b.s. and my feelings/emotions/concerns were completely accurate and shared by others.
and for the record, i coulda sat in on your presentation for at least another 2 hours to explore the value of social media in situations likes this. i.e. none of my fave widows even live in the same state as me but through the internet and phone, they're as close as i need them. and meeting those people and getting to actually hug them and be there to physically comfort them when they needed it was amazing.

Anonymous said...

You bet you are a "handhold" lovey! Wish we had a camp widow here in Oz...

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Paula, great to meet you, too.
Sarah, I agree that validation is so important. Thanks for your kind words about my presentation; I think it's so interesting intellectually how we all relate online and IRL, but dang, yes, those real hugs are yummy.
Corymbia, Perhaps Australia is ready for a new organization like SSLF or WAY (UK)?
Thanks all!

Andrea Renee said...

Holy cow - I didn't expect to see my face when I opened this post! That's almost as bad as hearing my voice on the answering machine...

It was so wonderful to finally get to meet you! I didn't mean to kill your legend, though - it's just that I have a short attention span. And apparently no short term memory - I can't even quite remember what your explanation was (I probably shouldn't admit that)... I just always thought Supa Fresh Widow meant that you're Super Fresh because you're super cool, and you happen to be a widow! Love ya!

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing; I too attended Camp Widow and it was amazing. I wasn't really sure what to expect, and it was even greater than I could have imagined! I was not THE widow in the room or the one being whispered about. And the dark humor shared... oh, my... too funny. :)
Jenn W.

Bridgett said...

Great post! I wanted to attend Camp Widow but already had vacation plans when I found out about it. Hopefully I can go next year.

JoAnne Funch said...

Great report, I know the power or social media and how it has brought together a kinship that most cannot understand. I'm sorry I couldn't make it this year, but treasure the experience I had when I attended the year before. Keep up the great work supporting widows.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

Jenn, glad to connect with you on Facebook too (did we meet? Do you want a pin... I have a few left.)

Bridget, thanks, hope you get to come next year -- in the meantime I have an eye on your blog!

JoAnne, thank you for YOUR great work supporting widows!



Boo said...

Thank you for having such a huge heart and for helping your widow community, above and beyond "the call of duty". I enjoyed our chat on that last morning. You made me feel chilled before I left the Marriott. I hope I have your energy in a few years ;-)

Mrs P said...

I always want to get more involved, knowing more widows is helping me through this journey - I will definitely be checking out resources (and coming back here!)

Theresa 0-6months said...

I have lost half a workday told reading ur blog and checking in on all the links you have. Camp Widow? never heard of it til now and I am grateful. I appreciated the acknowledgement too that u don't have to be married to widowed. <3 i was worried i wasn't gonna make the cut.

Supa Dupa Fresh said...

LOL, of course you count... you're welcome on Widowed Village: we even have a group for unmarried widowed with 31 people in it! http://widowedvillage.org/group/unmarriedwidowed
Thanks for your kind words.


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