I Heart Camp Widow
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.
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