Say his name: the #1 tip, and my reality

A long time ago, I wrote this post in draft. It didn't get very far.

But the topic is MY NUMBER ONE TIP for how to help a widowed person: SAY THEIR NAME. And it's also why I HATE that everyone ELSE thinks the number one topic on "how to help" is what NOT to say to a widowed person. Everyone publishes the list of what not to say. Because it's good SEO. People WANT advice. Magazine editors think it's "not as depressing" as the actual articles about our lives after loss (WTF?). Even grief counselors and "community leaders" dig into this topic with zeal.

Which SUCKS because it spreads the idea that you should be afraid of saying the wrong thing about a widowed person, when the chief problem of most widowed people after about the first two months is that NO ONE WILL TALK TO THEM.

In general, widowed people feel isolated. Sometimes, they feel they must have leprosy because so many people avoid them. (Don't think we can't tell. For a while we're in a fog, but we can be very perceptive, too, and more than a little paranoid.) I often hear from friends and neighbors who "would like to help" that they are sure the widowed person's close friends and family are in some kind of inner circle and stick around and support the widow. Sometimes, the closest people feel the most threatened or fearful. Widowed people describe their communities "disappearing" around them after the casseroles end. It's not universal, but in the U.S. and Canada, the rearranged rolodex is THE most common complaint by far.

Well, it underlies the most common complaint: people acting awkward and saying stupid things. But the lists of "what not to say" don't help.

I, for one, do not want to encourage people to be frightened of someone who has lost a partner. Many widowed people (not most) know that stupid things are not intended to hurt them, but they feel pretty damn alone when they hear "He's in a better place," or "At least you had a chance to say goodbye." (Let alone, "did he have life insurance?")

So why did I make the "Shit People Say to Widows" video? Because it does unite us as a community, because I thought it was a chance to see the topic through each other's eyes for 3 minutes, and because it was fun as hell and funnier than.

Back to the topic: SAY HIS NAME. I felt I couldn't blog in an honest way about it because I was a pseudonymous blogger.  (Maybe I overthink things a little? RILLY?) Plus, the tips are really part of another project that isn't public yet. :-) Now I have done enough for the widowed community that I have a name, a real name, as myself: not just as Supa. (Though many people call me Supa anyway.)

So I'm "coming out." My name is Robin Moore (for the few of you who don't already know me). My first husband was Kevin MacDonald.

So, SAY HIS NAME, or her name, a lot. Say it a week after they died. Say it a month after they died, and a year, and two years, and ten years. Say it when you think of it. Say it in front of the widowed person, say it in front of their children. It's okay; it won't "remind" them of the loss. No one loses a life partner and just tries to forget it.

When people don't say his (or her) name, it makes the family feel like they are the only one who remembers their loved one. (I'm going to stop saying "or her" but I hope you know I mean widow OR widower and him OR her, and they didn't have to be married or straight to have a similar set of feelings or experiences after losing their partner. Do don't back out on some legality.)

Write his name in a card and you share a memory, whenever you think of it, even if it's years later (it will be less likely to get lost than it would have been right away!).  Write his name in a card for the anniversary of his death, or on his birthday, or on their anniversary, or call and say his name. Most people like to not be the only one remembering these dates, and they can't help but recall the dates because seasons keep changing and other dates keep appearing and you can always smell and feel when it is in the year in some vague way. Remembering is not an act of will, or from the brain. Time and life are all around us everywhere and if we are well, they are in our bodies. 

So, share a photo if you find one while cleaning up. Share a song or a silly story on a holiday. Call, email, or write a real note. Even if you have been out of touch in a while. Even if you USED to be scared of the widowed person.

As time goes by (and when I say "time," I am specifically talking about periods of more than five years), the traumas turn to memories, the sad memories become fond ones, many details get lost, and with enough time, the widowed person might even forget the date of their anniversary. That doesn't mean they will think it never happened; it will not remove the events of their life "before" from their life. And every experience will include the absence of that loved one, even if it not quite the first thing to come to mind. And no -- these memories do not threaten my new husband, any more than his ex-wife's name threatens me.

So, say his name. Show your friend that you remember him, too. He's not just a loss. He was a person and a very big part of your friend's life for a pretty long time. He didn't just disappear when he died (though it can feel like a disappearance for a little surreal while). He changed the people he loved. (This is true in divorces, too. You can't just "un love" someone or "un live" the life you already shared. Let's be human, please!).  

I'm sharing, above, the memorial quilt from my church, on which I embroidered his name during support group one night. I thought I was doing a terrible job, and I switched the thread midstream because I thought it came out too lumpy. It looks fine to me now. Every time I'm in church the quilt faces me. His name is among hundreds of other names. Each quilt records decades of love -- fathers, mothers, lovers, grandparents, and children. We have a whole quilt devoted to children who died, and it's comforting to see the range, from newborns to M.D.s.

They can't be forgotten. They won't be forgotten. Don't you act like you forgot.

Say his name.


Kids and the School Shootings: 7 Tips Left Out of EVERY Article I've seen

I couldn't keep silent.
Tell your kids you don't understand, either.

There are some VITAL points being left out of EVERY article I've read about "how to talk to kids about the school shootings in Connecticut." Yes, my heart is heavy; yes, it's terrible, and yes, many of us are having knee jerk reactions about gun control, religion in schools, and so on.

But, as a widow and parent of a sensitive, resilient 8 year old, this is in my wheel house, it affects you TODAY, and it's important. So I'm just going to write about those bits that have NOT shown up in the many articles shared by my more than 2000 FB friends, on my neighborhood, PTA, official school, and church list servs.

In general, these tips will help you with elementary school age kids but they may be useful for your own emotional health or with talking to older kids or even adults. Every child is different -- listen to your instinct and your experiences about your own individual child and do what works with your own parenting style. If you recognize something negative about your parenting style from what I say... well, crises can teach us things, and today is a new day. 

So listen up.
  1. Make your words honest and age appropriate. DO NOT LIE to your kids and do not try to conceal what happened. You WILL learn a lot if you listen well to their questions FIRST and this in some way works best if you talk less, and if you don't start the topic. You do NOT need to give them more details than they ask for. Many articles have been saying, "don't bring it up" and I hear a lot of parental discomfort with this point. Well, this does depend on the context. You may feel the need to control the story -- and at some ages, in some school situations, this may make sense. I find if I keep in mind that phrase -- honest and age appropriate -- it helps A LOT.
  2. Be honest about your own feelings. OK, this is mentioned in SOME of the articles but it's too important for ANYONE to skip -- and it is the one, that, in my experience, parents are most likely to be uncomfortable with. One of our most important tasks as parents is to demonstrate to kids that feelings -- sadness, anger, fear, helplessness -- can be overwhelming. It is not their fault, it's not only them, and it's part of being human. As they grow, they will learn (from you!) how to manage this sense of overwhelm... which is VERY scary, especially at younger ages. DO CRY in front of your kids. If they don't like it... help them understand it's natural and you can't control it (or maybe, you might say, "it's dangerous to cry while driving. Mommy's going to pull over for a minute." It is also up to you to model for them how to handle this intensity. 
  3. Share also HOW YOU DEAL with intense feelings. Do you hit, clam up, try to shove it down? Your kids can tell EXACTLY what you are doing. My daughter notices from tiny movements of my eyes or lips when my thoughts or emotions have shifted. Don't think you'll be successful at hiding your feelings from your child. If you're in a bad mood, you can say so. If you're sorry you reacted a certain way, say so. DON'T apologize for your feelings or for healthy manifestations of those feelings. Play loud music, go for a walk, have a comforting snack. Drink water to remind yourself to take care of yourself. Breathe to calm down. These are sophisticated tools peddled by gurus, but you know them. SHARE your good ways of coping with your child. (If alcohol is part of your coping, you probably want to hide that, okay?)
  4. Depending on your child's age, share your uncertainty. An important part of your message is that you, as parent, are not able to control what happens outside in the world but you will always listen and you will always (poof!) be honest. Caveat: this is less useful for younger age kids who may feel scared. You should reassure them that they are safe and that you and everyone (school staff, police, local and national government) is doing everything they can to keep kids safe -- and that these terrible things do not happen very often. A side effect of providing this reassurance is that it may remind you, too, of a larger perspective and your real safety.
    If your child asks a question you can't answer, say "I don't know" or "I wish I understood, too" or share something from your faith tradition. DO NOT TRY TO CONTROL THE STORY and do NOT force your point of view (religious, political, whatever) on your kids. This makes you look "shut down" to them when you MOST want to be open to their questions.
  5. Give kids time to process. Understand that kids learn things AS THEY GROW. We often explain children's grief -- and many other topics in emotional and cognitive development -- as "like peeling an onion." Children's feelings and thoughts unfold in layers. You may have a concise and terrific talk with your kids and they don't ask questions. You may be disappointed or push them. Let them lead you -- they may just want to go off and play. They will ask more questions later IF you make it clear that you are listening, not terrified of the topic, not reactive, do not have an agenda, and that you are fine with them being "slow to understand." (They're not slow -- but parents are often impatient). Big topics tend to unravel slowly, to be understood over time. New contexts, other developments in their lives, and the cognitive growth that is the main quality of childhood, will mean that they ask you similar questions over time (take each one seriously... they are actually asking something different). It will mean that a question pops up when you least expect it or when some rigid family member is visiting. You can handle it by being....
  6. I'll say it again: HONEST AND AGE APPROPRIATE. Keep this in mind, because every few months, as your kids grow and learn, and the new questions come up, the meaning of "honest" and of "age appropriate" will change, too. 
  7. Respect your own feelings and understand that your experience of this may be completely different from your kids' experience. It's okay for you to take care of yourself, too. Get comfortable with the fact that you can't control the world and that our own feelings can sometimes feel like "too much." Your comfort level will enable your children to "hear" that you are open to questions -- even though we know you don't want to handle this terrible topic AGAIN. Dealing with "shit that happens" (in all forms) is part of parenting and part of our world and you can handle it.
Okay, end of lecture. No, not quite:

I learned this stuff from being a widow and parenting my grieving child. BUT, the more I learned... the more it was really about my own spectrum of emotions and accepting responsibility for parenting in an uncertain world. Parenting a child through this kind of crisis is not all about "grief" -- a topic that too many people find intimidating or frightening. Most of these tips are really about life. When you really think about it, there is very little in our kids' lives we can control. But we CAN help them through it, and we can learn from them.

I know these tips are not concise. I know there is a lot of intermingling and melding and overlap between them. I wrote this quickly and when have I ever done that?

And it's not complete. I'm assuming you've already read at least 6 articles. I still hope it is helpful.

Please, share. 


Everything Possible: video and thoughts on marriage and death

In our state, we will be voting a referendum on whether same sex couples will have the right to marry. My church's denomination has been a big advocate for marriage equality, and yesterday we sang this song in hopes of the referendum's success tomorrow.

What struck me this time, again, was how intrinsically linked are the right to marry and the legacy we leave after we die. As the song goes:
... The only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done 
(The rest of the lyrics and the credit are at the bottom of this post)

After all, Gavin and I married in the shadow of death, nine years before he died. After complications from a heart valve replacement, he had several dangerous cardiac incidents and we thought he might die... it was in that light that I felt it was important to bind my life to his in that public and peculiar way we call marriage. (I had never, I don't think, figured I'd marry.) But leaving a record was important.

Eight years later as we endured multiple hospitalizations fighting kidney cancer, I found another reason the marriage certificate matters -- without it, I would not be allowed to visit ICUs. I saw five ICUs in those 22 months and he could easily have died in one (we moved to hospice at the last minute -- four days).

How much more unbearable would that time have been -- and afterward -- if we'd not had the right to marry?

So I learned first, that marriage does matter, and second, marriage is an essential right.  I hope if you live in a state where similar initiatives are up, that you'll consider supporting marriage equality. You know how I like to say that "we widows 'get it!' "


Two more videos that also tell this tale, if you are not convinced:

1. A young man loses his partner AND SO MUCH MORE because his rights aren't protected by law:

2. Republican Maureen Walsh, a widow, testifies why marriage matters:



* Here are the rest of the lyrics with credit: 

Everything Possible
Words and Music by Fred Small Copyright 1983 Pine Barrens Music (BMI)

We have cleared off the table, the leftovers saved
Washed the dishes and put them away
I have told you a story and tucked you in tight
At the end of your knockabout day
As the moon sets its sails to carry you to sleep
Over the midnight sea
I will sing you a song no one sang to me
May it keep you good company

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still

You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done

There are girls who grow up strong and bold
There are boys quiet and kind
Some race on ahead, some follow behind
Some go in their own way and time
Some women love women, some men love men
Some raise children, some never do
You can dream all the day never reaching the end
Of everything possible for you

Don't be rattled by names, by taunts, by games
But seek out spirits true
If you give your friends the best part of yourself
They will give the same back to you

You can be anybody you want to be
You can love whomever you will
You can travel any country where your heart leads
And know I will love you still
You can live by yourself, you can gather friends around
You can choose one special one
And the only measure of your words and your deeds
Will be the love you leave behind when you're done.


Blog hop master post: Widowed people review "Go On," new NBC Matthew Perry sitcom about grieving people

About a week ago I posted a call for entries for a blog carnival of reviews by widowed people of the new Matthew Perry sitcom "Go On," on NBC.

Here are the folks who have written about the show so far! (I've also included posts written before I announced the blog hop). I'd love to include YOUR post, either on Widowed Village or on your own blog (it's not a very hard deadline!), but please email me so I know to add it to this list!

I will be hosting an hour-long Chat Event on Widowed Village next week about the show where everyone can share their thoughts and feelings, not just those who wrote posts about it. All widowed people are welcome to this Chat but you must join the site first (approval takes about a day). You can sign up here
  1. Abel Keogh, first review, and second review
  2. Kim Go, Alive and Mortal
  3. Julia (a childlost Mommy) from Glow in the Woods
  4. Fresh Widow (me)
  5. Widdared from Widowed Village
  6. JoanneF from Widowed Village 
  7. Marsha from Widowed Village
  8. Jacuser from Widowed Village.
  9. Honeyspuddin from Widowed Village.
  10. Sandy, FlyingWG
  11. Janine, One Breath at a Time
  12. EverydayMorning (Sam) from Widowed Village
  13. Choosing Grace Today
  14. Missing Bobby
  15. You? ... or leave your thoughts in the comments, below!
This has been pretty fun, actually, and I'd like to do it again... how about the movie "Best Exotic Marigold Hotel?"


Review: “Go On,” new NBC/Matthew Perry sitcom about a young widower, is not crazy

Earlier this fall, NBC premiered “Go On,” a new sitcom featuring Matthew Perry (of “Friends” megafame) as a young widowed man. There’s been a low buzz in my communities about our being “represented” in prime time, but I don’t watch much TV and never liked “Friends.” I tried to sit out “doing something” to engage widowed people on the show. But the din grew too loud, and much of it was from outside: “What do widowed people think of Go On? Is this a realistic look into what your life is like? And are community-run grief groups really full of nuts?”

I had to get involved. My weekly peer-led support group saved my life, after all. Reviewing the show would at least be a great opportunity to discharge more of the myths about grief and grieving people in the world. And I could engage my communities to review it and discuss it (in Chat) and you know what… it would be fun.

So I announced a blog hop a few days ago. That post, with the list of participants and links, will be published tomorrow, Thursday 10/4. I’m sure there will be people posting reviews after the deadline, too, so please check back.

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Review: “Go On,” new NBC/Matthew Perry sitcom about a young widower, is not crazy

We’re a small minority, we people who lose a partner to death during our productive years. For the most part, young widowed people don’t “belong.” Our world doesn’t have room for us: our friends and family wish to rush us along into happiness, often out of genuine concern and love; our old friends are often frightened by us; most of us don’t belong to churches or communities that are cohesive or do belong to ones that respond inappropriately; and our cohorts in loss are overwhelmingly people who’ve been through divorce.

So the news that a major network was debuting a prime time show about “one of us” caught our attention. That the show is a sitcom added provocation… could “our” humor be funny? (We know death can be funny…. “Civilians” must have found the announcement of a “funny show about a grief group” even stranger than we did). And the fact that the show starred popular favorite Matthew Perry of Friends said that the network felt (likely) that the show was a worthwhile investment.

Very, very curious. I think a lot of us expect to be disappointed and alienated yet again. After all, it’s TV.

I have watched the five episodes of the show so far, and there’s no question that the show is “TV-like.” When I saw that Ryan King, the young widower (an abrasive radio sports personality), attends a general grief group (one for all kinds of losses, including pets and abilities!) I figured things would go false right away. The cast of characters is a “bomber crew” of lovable oddballs: one latina, one lesbian, one old guy, one blind guy, one nut. Yeah, there are stereotypes, and I think, “Wow, how awesome to have two black guys in a group. I wish I could do that.” (Not my topic today.) As I watched, I kept wanting the two with spousal losses — Ryan and Ann (the lesbian) — to go off and talk on their own. I felt, those two would hit it off. (Sure enough, a later episode has them attending a wedding on a “friend date” and providing real support to each other in that “peer but not best friend” way I know so well.) In “Go On,” of course, the group’s diversity becomes a strength and they each learn to support each other in their own ways. Maybe that’s a “TV” part. Loss does unify people and I suppose somewhere in the world there’s a grief group where the widower didn’t quit right after hearing that one member is there because her cat died. But I’m not going to complain that a TV comedy is too much like a TV comedy. Did they look like my grief group? No. Did they work like my grief group? Absolutely.

The oddest things about Go On are what it doesn’t get wrong. * In “Go On,” the light is in the details. A sequence in the first show shows each of our grief group “characters” coping, alone: facing an empty bed, swinging an idle cat toy, flinging flowers at a headstone in rage. This sequence is touching and real without being maudlin. It can’t be easy, in a 24 minute show, to tell the small quiet stories that are so important in life, but “Go On” manages to include them without too much disrupting the overall sitcom tone and goal.

“Go On” manages to illustrate some real ways that grieving people ask and work through real questions in their life. An entire show revolves around Ryan giving away his wife’s sewing machine. Is this a way of making his space more his own, or is he refusing to cope? When is one “ready” to date? Does having sex again “fix” your loss? What is the “new me” like and can it compete with the “old me,” when my life’s plan is blown? These are typical and non-trivial questions and it’s sweet to see the characters coping with them in their own unique ways. Maybe being a “character” is not so constraining after all.

The show generates a certain humor and satisfaction from Ryan’s “manly” way of coping: he focuses on action. Yet he also admits he has feelings, and “plays along” with the grief orthodoxy of “share it and face it to get better.” Perry’s face, its paroxysms in focus, shows the kind of elasticity you expect from a sitcom player, but he’s also capable of displaying some understated moments like admitting that “a baby bird alone, a hat flying off an old man’s head” are among the many things that made him cry. It’s not a cartoon, and it could be.

One thing I absolutely admire about the show is that they have been willing to make jokes about some of the more unacceptable behaviors of grieving people. For example, the “grief olympics.” It’s not acceptable to “compare” losses, but it’s also not possible (being real here) to avoid comparisons. Ryan notes this at this first session and brings it to a loud and real competition, tracking semifinals on a whiteboard. In this game of “March Sadness” (verrry clever), because each player gets just 5 seconds to make their case, the lady who lost her cat wins over the lesbian widow. It’s the show’s best line: “On a technicality… feline death beats human one,” and it’s pathetic, but damn, it’s fair.

Other real tendencies the show captures include our desire to showcase our special status without actually wearing Victorian weeds (the show's version is DED WYF vanity license plates... and variations... another very funny touch) and our navigating new worlds (Ryan's first attempt to negotiate a grocery store as part of "taking care of himself"). Not to mention, that general sense of being different, out of place, and half in a another world (signs and visitations, anyone?) that most widowed people live with.

I’m not sure the show is really that funny. It can’t possibly be as funny as the humor widowed people engage in with each other. I would argue that it’s hard to actually be more funny than real life, lived fully and in a very particular context. Should it even be a “black humor” show? Does death have to only be the subject of black humor and maudlin sentimentality? Maybe life is really a cast of oddball characters and quick lessons. As long as Go On keeps including quiet moments, real questions, and signs of growth, I'll keep watching.

Should I extrapolate a larger meaning? (Would I be me if I didn’t?) If humor is really a way of deflecting pain, as the show’s facilitator character insists, the show should not succeed. But I don’t think that’s true — we, the widowed, are hilarious. “Go On” manages to be both funny and — a little — illuminating.

What do I think overall? I wonder if people earlier in their grief will find the show “validating.” (Part of the reason I’m encouraging others to review it). I think it’s interesting and more than a little brave to tackle death with humor in prime time. TV comedy is not known for being insightful. I think the creation of “Go On” indicates that death and loss are gaining in consciousness in our culture today… they’re emerging as necessary, acceptable topics. “Go On” is a sign of the times.

Whether it will be popular, or result in any greater understanding of what our experience is like, will depend on the quality of the writers and on what non-widowed people think of the show. Will “Go On” scare people away from grief groups? (I’d do anything to avoid Mr. K, the nutty one). It seems at this point like the in-person support groups are dying out while sites like my WidowedVillage.org and scores of Facebook groups are growing every day (but that’s for another post). It’s probably not in the power of a TV show to change where, when, or how we find each other.

Because while we may be a small group, we learn when we “discuss among ourselves.”

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What do you think? It’s not too late to join your post to our Blog Hop.


Join the blog hop: Widowed people review NBC's "Go On" sitcom

A new NBC sitcom features Matthew Perry of "Friends" mega fame as a young widowed sportscaster. People keep asking me, "what do widowed people think of the show?"

I don't want to say too much about my personal take on the show -- yet * -- but there have already been a few blog reviews by members of my communities and circles so I thought it would make sense to do a Linky, blog hop, blog carnival, or whatever of our thoughts on the show.

I'll be creating a new post in the next few days that contains all the links to those who post. If you're working on a review, please do let me know by THURSDAY OCTOBER 4, when I will publicize that post with everyone's link in it. So, subscribe using the email link over there -----------> or email me direct. If you're not widowed, just state that in the first paragraph of your post.

I'm inviting members of WidowedVillage.org, my online community, to participate. This will be a new thing because many of them aren't used to readers from "outside" even though the site is public.

Looking forward to seeing what a whole roundtable thinks of the show... really! There are some good gags in it.

Here's a quick clip from the show. * * *


* * Dammit, I leaked. OK, I'm saving MOST of it for the review next week!
* * * This is not one of them. * * * *
* * * * I'm signing off before I do any more damage.... 


Dating a Widower, more thoughts

A while back, I published a whole post explaining why I typically defend widowers who are dating against the advice of columnists who specialize in the particular foibles and hazards of dating widowers.


That doesn't mean I think widowed people (men or women) deserve any kind of special consideration when dating, either.

Too often I hear young widows (we usually say "under 55" just to have SOME answer) speaking wistfully of dating someone who "gets it," meaning, in our code, someone who's also widowed. It seems like it would be easier than "cleaning up" one's grief for the dating market or dealing with divorced men (about whom we can be quite judgmental). We get misty eyed thinking that this widower would understand the troubles we've seen and that there would be so much less guilt involved in the new relationship.

Well. This is as Hollywood as it gets.

Widowed men are only human. They can behave badly when dating. Maybe not worse than other men, but if a woman enters the relationship with misty rose-tinted gaze, when she's most vulnerable (and especially if she's decided to short cut knowing whether she's ready and committed to dating... because after all he's "just like" her)... it can get ugly. Widows are vulnerable enough... don't make yourself MORE vulnerable by dating someone who you feel is owed any special treatment. His loss is no more romantic than yours, after all.

Yes, you can live happily after after (once per person). But don't overlook the practical aspects of your situation: there are far, far fewer widowed men available at young ages, and no matter your age, there will always be fewer widowed men available. Dating is -- for many of us, at many times -- a numbers game. You need to have the largest pool available... and the clearest idea of who you are (not JUST widowed) and the most critical perspective on who you're considering to share your life.

Don't get all fairy-tale on this... a widower is just another man to be considered for his own merits and flaws. I'm suggesting that widowed women are more susceptible to this, but Abel's column (and the other Dating a Widower sources) tell me that widowers are getting the same kind of affirmative action from single and divorced women in the marketplace. Preference that I doubt is ever given to widowed women when they date.

Everyone deserves love, but everyone also deserves the right partner and to be taken seriously enough that they can be seen for who they are.


Butterfly metaphor: the leftover goop

We LOVE to use the butterfly when we talk about people dying or people being transformed in huge ways. But nobody talks about the bloody goop that's part of the process of metamorphosis.

Because, I guess, it's pretty yucky.

On the face of it, if you look at the big salient bits, it's a nice image: caterpillar becomes butterfly. MAGIC. NATURE. Faith. We have lots of explanations.

So the living person is transformed into -- so much more beautiful! -- a soul. And the person who's being transformed -- hoorah! gets some rest time inside their chrysalis. We can use that. It's a good metaphor.

My daughter got a butterfly kit for her birthday, though. It was upsetting enough to me that she wanted to keep the butterflies indoors as pets, and didn't care that this would shorten their lives. Kids are cute, right? They have to learn their own lessons. OK, I chose not to fight that battle.

We watched most of it happen and it was some damn metaphor, really.

It was also gross. I have heard that the creature inside the chrysalis is a sort of chimeric soup... neither caterpillar nor butterfly. I tried, hard, not to visualize what it was doing in there, the pretty capsule that it wove from its own excretions. None of this, of course, was covered in the friendly brochure packed with the kit.

I knew my daughter was fascinated that seeing the wings emerge and dry would be something like seeing a human being born. But I had no idea the image would actually be fairly complete.

Because no one told me to expect the trail of bloody, mucus-y gook that would trail from the cocoons down the mesh of the butterfly habitat, leaving a brutal stain over the adorable pink flowers on its floor. 

Then the little light went on. I thought, how like my life.

It's been six years and I'm not a butterfly yet. There's a long period of living as something indeterminate on the way to whatever it is that's new. Living through loss and reaching middle age gives me access to the drudgery of deep work on who I am and how I was formed, that I might have avoided if Gavin hadn't died. (Maybe. Probably not.)

I can't be afraid of things being messy. I shouldn't be surprised that it takes a long time to change... if I really pay attention, I know I'm pretty different than I was 20 years ago (really substantially) and that there are more than three stages of growth, that caterpillar-chrysalis-butterfly was never really MY story.

And I'm not in such a murk, really. I get things done, I have a good life, life is immeasurably easier than it was during infertility, Gavin's illness, single parenting, or forming a new relationship.

I guess what I'm really saying is, it would be great if the common myth was, not that you change into a butterfly (or anything magical or natural sounding like that) but that human growth is big and slow: if the common wisdom was, not that it takes a year and then you fall in love and grief goes away, but that it takes five to seven years (at minimum) to build a new life after loss. And that it takes five to seven years for a step family to begin to gel.

It's slow. It has a bunch of stages, and some of them are dark and some of them are drippy. Sometimes a natural metaphor that you really like just doesn't fit. And it doesn't happen on its own.... it kind of hurts to grow.

And that goop is perfectly natural, you know you will leave some things behind and you won't always be pretty.  It's not a bad thing to be fascinated with it or to be pissed that the brochure didn't give you the whole story. You have to live with ambiguity, with muck and darkness. And someday, you will even fly, drink from flowers, and rest on dewy leaves, your true colors unfurled in the sunlight.

At least, if a scientifically-inclined 8-year-old doesn't insist on keeping you in the guest room for all 3 weeks that remain of your life.

Epilogue: After a fair amount of motherly nagging, my daughter agreed to let the last three butterflies "smell the air outdoors" from inside the habitat, and eventually gave two their freedom. (They probably got a few days.)


Another chance to WIN Camp Widow registration!

There's another chance to win the registration for Camp Widow, which will be held in gorgeous San Diego in less than three weeks!

Just leave a comment on this post at Live from the 205, @Kimt205's blog. She will pull the name of a random commenter on Thursday night, July 26!!

Learn more about this life-changing weekend for widowed people of all ages, at all stages of their loss, in my several blog posts here and also on the official website, which gives all the details about making hotel arrangements, what meals are included, and so on.

Please read the conditions carefully ... winning this (a $375 value) will HELP you get to Camp, but it won't do the whole trick. And obviously, you must be widowed to enter. 

Two "Camperships" have already been given away by bloggers: SNICKOLLET andJANINE (@Txmomx6) pulled names on Tuesday night.

YOU COULD BE THE NEXT WINNER! Membership in this club doesn't have many privileges, so be sure to take advantage of the few there are. Why not meet some friends, and share in a healing and learning environment, to ease your long travel along the road toward a new life? 

If you're not widowed, or if you'd like to help support scholarships to Camp for folks who have asked for some help, please consider making a tax deductible contribution of any size here.



Come to Camp Widow or help someone get there... THREE giveaways!

Yes, @KelliDunham, we use the little sticks font!
Wow.... I started a little avalanche.... I offered one scholarship to Camp Widow. Then someone offered to fund another one. And then a third showed up out of nowhere! So you now have THREE blog giveaways to enter if you want to win free registration to Camp Widow, August 10-12 in San Diego!

You can learn more about this life-changing weekend for widowed people of all ages, at all stages of their loss, in my several blog posts here and also on the official website, which gives all the details about making hotel arrangements, what meals are included, and so on.

PLEASE enter any of these blog giveaways if you can come to Camp! I would LOVE to give you a real hug... so much better than one of (((these crappy ones)))! All you have to do is leave a comment ... winners will be chosen at random. Please read the conditions carefully ... winning this (a $375 value) will HELP you get to Camp, but it won't do the whole trick.

You've already "paid" for membership to widowhood... the exclusive club that no one wants to join. Why not meet some friends, and share in a healing and learning environment, to ease your long travel along the road toward a new life? 

The first two giveaways end tomorrow... Friday July 20. So enter today... and tell your friends!
1. SNICKOLLET 's blog (ends Tuesday, July 24)
2. JANINE (@Txmomx6)'s blog 

The third... will be up any minute at
3. Live from the 205, @Kimt205's blog. I'll update this post with the closing date once I know that but it will be later! For you slow readers :-) 

If you're not widowed, or if you'd like to help support scholarships to Camp (Camperships!) for folks who have asked for some help, please consider making a tax deductible contribution of any size here. Read what I've written about this event (repeat of link in the second paragraph above!) if you need to be reminded why this event is so important and helpful for widowed men and women.


Dating a Widower, compared to Dating a Divorced Man

My friend and colleague Abel Keogh writes a popular column on his blog, and runs several areas on Facebook, about the perils and pitfalls experienced by women who choose to date widowed men.

I have various quibbles with this topic, which he and I have discussed many times. To me, the Dating a Widower movement, such as it is, looks like it's just based on following Google to high readership. Just because people ask a question, doesn't mean there is a substantive answer to be found... though it can be created by someone inventive, responsive to readers, and with tremendous knowledge of the subject... as well as first hand experience as a member of the population in question. Abel is far from the only author tackling this subject: in addition to his two books, Dating a Widower and Marrying a Widower, there is Julie Donner Anderson's Past: Perfect! Present: Tense! and her associated forums and other activities.

I'll admit that those who date widowed people is not a group I have chosen to speak to or for... and that knowing how few men under 55 are widowed compared to women (at one time Social Security told me it was 1 man to 7 women) makes me quite skeptical... but some of the stories Abel and his readers share are pretty dreadful.

Many of the men in question seem to have significant trouble living comfortably with their past lives and experiences. Perhaps some of them were even a little nuts before they were widowed (we are changed by our losses... but not that much).

I also think that widowers with children still at home (most of the widowers I know fall in this category) are a bit more justified in hanging on to "stuff" from their past lives and sharing family (like in-laws) and memories a bit more actively. This is a giant set of exceptions that negates, for me, a lot of Abel's advice.

To be honest I have been pretty suspicious of these areas in part because when I was dating, at 40 ... I looked only at men who had been married. To me, the only relevant person to compare a widower's baggage to was... a divorced man. (I mostly restricted my searches to men who had been parents, because I had a young child and needed someone who'd understand that if I cancelled a date due to flu that he shouldn't take it personally... and I considered never-marrieds undateable... prejudices which had been confirmed by experience.).

I do not doubt that many women DO ask these questions and that people are confronting some difficult situations with this "baggage." But emotionally unavailable men come in many flavors. And it seems too easy to me to provide advice to women who are dating... probably the most insecure people in the world. What makes widowed men so much more "difficult" to deal with than, say, divorced men? Or men who reached 40 without ever marrying?

So let's do a comparison of baggage. I married a divorced man and we spend more time dealing with his feelings about his 23-year marriage disintegrating and their divorce than we do with Gavin almost literally disintegrating before my eyes and his death. (Although the score does even out a bit if you start counting the time I spend on managing his posthumous career as an artist and the fact that I spend tons of time on volunteer work for widowed people like Widowed Village and the Soaring Spirits board. )

I've always wanted to do a comparison that went beyond "my husband didn't WANT to leave me." Abel has just published a huge list justifying why this is a legitimate area... some of the ways that widowers behave badly in the dating market. So let's tear in and see what we find!: 

Some widowers ... 
Do divorced men do something similar?
Have shrines to their late wives in their living room or large portraits in other places in home or office.

No. Often the ex-wife has been cut out of the family photos and pictures are spookily absent. Sometimes this means there are no pictures of the kids, either, or that the divorce lives in hotel-room-like impersonal environment. Having some amount of old photos on display is a good idea if he and the late wife had kids. Advantage: widower.
Hold the late wife as a perfect saint who can never be spoken ill of.
Frequently bring up the ex-wife as a demon about whom no good can ever be said. Advantage: widower.

Keep the late wife's clothing in the closet or toiletries in the bathroom, or offer the new girlfriend their late wife's jewelry, clothing, etc.

No, sometimes the ex-wife's possessions have been burned or tossed from a window, though, or sent to storage without her knowledge. Advantage: widower.
... same for lingerie or sex toys.

Just.... ew.
Want to be buried next to their late wives.
Well, it would be nice if the widower would at least pretend that this choice got complicated. If they had kids, the old plan MIGHT still make sense. Advantage; the fresh start of the divorce'.

Have a bedroom in their home dedicated and reserved for the family of their late wives.
If it's a huge house and they had kids together... maybe. I think I'd find it hard to complain about living in a house with that much extra space.
Talk about how their late wife was a great athlete, professional, mom, and an all around perfect human being
Frequently divorced men share with their dates their feelings that their ex-wife was a skank, dumbass, or spendthrift. Both behaviors are tacky and unnecessary in most situations. Both widowed and divorced men should be able to talk about people in their past without cartoonish characterizations. Advantage: widower.

Organize and participate in 5ks or other charitable events in the name of their late wife
No, but sometimes people who've lost a child or parent or friend to a disease continue these activities, and is that weird?
Wants to be reunited with their late wife in the next life
Okay that is pretty weird, but isn't it a question of theology, like, are you healed when you get to heaven? Even if you had an amputation? (Sorry. Not my personal set of beliefs so I don't quite "get" it.) And it doesn't apply to divorce anyway, unless the ex-wife has also died.

Have the late wife's pots, pans, dishes, spices, etc. in the kitchen

Well.... yes. We use a lot of items that belonged to Mr. Fresh's first wife. Wasn't most of it joint property? Are we expected to replace EVERYTHING? (Plus we live in their house but dude, I KNOW that's weird, and it was equally my choice.)

Have the late wife's voice on their answering
Okay, I personally think that should be taken care of before you date, at least, by the time that person calls your home number. Advantage: Divorce.

Live in a house that has their late wife's touches everywhere
See pots and pans, above.

Have tattoos of their late wife that they’re not willing to get rid of
Blech, but isn't a tattoo supposed to be permanent? I have mixed feelings about tattoo removal... because what is a commitment anyway? Unless he's out of space for a new one with your name on it.

Constantly compare you or have family members that constantly compare you to their late wife

People "compare" me to Mr. Fresh's first wife all the time, and they compare him to Gavin all the time, but kindly, and without excessive characterization. We both do it, too, but again, most of the time, we do it gently and usually we're talking about behavior and not, say, waist size. It is hard to avoid, but "constantly" would piss anybody off. Mr. Fresh and I have had our issues with it.

Wear rings that symbolize their love for their late wife
See answering machine, above.
Make a giant six-acre heart-shaped meadow for their late wife

No. As stated in many examples above, divorced men do not tend to have fond memories of their ex-wives. I believe however that new partners benefit from displays of love like this.... not to mention tourists: the Taj Mahal was built to remember the Shah's late wife. (History does not record for us how that affected his next relationship or the other concubines, concurrent or subsequent.) Isn't it possible he would do something like this for you, too? Advantage: Widower.

I have to admit my "baggage comparison" isn't really as decisive as I might have wished. I realize that it's probably not reasonable to compare dating a widow (a nice normal one like me) with dating a widower, but I think widowed people generally are treasures in the dating world. (I only managed to find one widower when I was dating. It didn't go well, but it had nothing to do with his loss.)

So I tend to wonder, why is there no comparable community (and books) for those dating widowed WOMEN,given that they are 7/8ths of the widowed population? (Annie and Able share their thoughts on this here). "Dating a widow" is probably an even more popular Google term than "widower," but leads you only to spam, irrelevant or disreputable dating sites, and p0rn ... not to an entire movement. While there is some discussion of dating widowed women, most of it is pretty low quality and it doesn't seem to have any traction. Nor does it seem to generate this much controversy, even though widowed women talk about dating a lot. (A LOT lot.)

It still seems like an insult to my friends who are widowed men (who are frequently outraged by these blogs) to admit that there is something there... but surely there is. Perhaps men are more frequently bad daters, overall? Who knows.

There is certainly scads and scads of material about dating divorced men... but those men are so prevalent it would be impossible to avoid them. Which I suppose is part of the peculiarity... it IS possible to avoid dating widowers, and look at all this advice on WHY.

What do you think?


Note from Evelyn on an anniversary

The End of a Long Day, 1982, by Kevin MacDonald

On the anniversary of Kevin's death a year ago I posted a request for memories on Facebook. (I'm writing this almost exactly a year later. You know I'm busy....) Though I have sometimes compared Facebook friends to "real life" friends this was the most powerful sharing I received, and she is a "before" acquaintance, not an "after" friend.

Which just goes to show you... what? That sometimes when you think people have failed you some gigantic triumph shows up right when you need it. Five years later.

And you should be as patient with yourself as you are with the world, and more with both.

At least, that's what I take away from this slow, late lesson in generosity and love.
Hi Robin,

I see I just missed remembering Kevin by a minute. It's 12:01 a.m. It's funny, but I was just thinking about Kevin - and you - this morning, while driving my car home from grocery shopping. Before I knew this was the anniversary of his death. I was thinking about Kevin's passing and that I never contacted you. I'm sorry. Although I was (and am) out of touch with everyone -- Phyllis and Paula and Linda -- I did get an email and was so sorry to hear that you had lost your husband and your love, that you were now raising Irene without Kevin. How hard that would be. Sorry it's taken so long to give you my condolences.

I didn't know Kevin very well. But he was so comfortable, so I always felt very comfortable with him. He was easy to talk to and he was so lovely. When you two got together, I felt like a jewel was shown off to great advantage in a gorgeous platinum setting. I think you really added to his allure. I also felt, in his connection to Alex and a few other artists, something very masculine. That's probably a weird observation, but I love Alex and I sensed their shared history and appreciated the reminder of the DC art community in its earlier, wilder days. They felt a little like frontiersmen with mud on their boots.

I love Kevin's work. I feel like he must be Buddhist to achieve what he achieved in his pictures. I adored his architectural subject matter and the paintings of houses. I feel, when I look at Kevin's work, that he listened his art into being instead of drawing or painting it. Pictures full of listening. When a review came out in the early 2000's, I showed it to Tom and said it would be wonderful to have one of Kevin MacDonald's prints in our house.

I also remember running into you at Whole Foods when you told me that Kevin had cancer. I gave you a ride home, and I was just bowled over by your optimism and your taking it one day at a time, savoring what you had. I think Kevin was really lucky to have you, Robin. You hold his memory so constantly and your love for him so beautifully.



Do you know how much more it means to me that this came when it did... rather than right away? I would have lost it, not heard it... at 6 years... what a kind gift.

What a bonus too that it's about ME and not HIM, really. That is a memory worth holding on to. 


Camp Widow East 2012: linky/list of all the blog posts

Let's create a master list of links to all the review of Camp Widow 2012. Please send me your blog links by email or in a comment. Thank you!

Posts about Camp Widow East:
  1. Fresh Widow: Camp Widow, first East Coast event, review and Camp Widow East: I sent a note to the sea AND Me Reading at the Blog Slam
  2. Connie's Project Reclaim: Camp Widow East, the glass is both half empty and half full and The widowed blog slam AND Learned Optimism
  3. Greggie's Widow: The desire to try something new
  4. Janine TXMomx6: A Long Goodbye
  5. Crazy Widow: From Camp Widow and Beyond
  6. Cyna (27): Camp Widow and Part 2: Lessons in Loss and Living
  7. Reduced Shakespeare Company interview with Matthew Croke, Episode 284: The Widow's Voice (podcast for download, 20 minutes... but very good!)
  8. Yours?
Posts about Camp Widow West: 

It hasn't happened yet! You can still join us. Read more.

(Possible) Cover of the Rolling Stone: Old Beastie Boys Pix

That kid is so pissed.
Some more photos of the Beastie Boys from 1982... never-before-seen:

I remember when I took these photos, which were part of a long session we did for Cooky Puss, in Washington Square Park one late winter day. The boys (and girl) were in costume from playing modified Candyland at Kate’s place, and they had some concept that the park would be like the game board. They wanted pictures of them skipping down the asphalt paths in the park. Eventually one of these skipping shots was used, in silhouette, on the paper center label of the Cooky Puss 12”.

You don't see something boybandish?
I don’t remember if it was my idea or theirs to shoot them looking down through the monkey bars, and on top of a phone booth and in other silly places. But I remember that I was going for a certain Beatles-type cliche: 4 adults staring down through a network of handbars, and I recall vaguely that they did not particularly enjoy this. I had fantasies, somehow, that I was Annie Liebovitz, pushing her subjects a little too far for the sake of that perfect Rolling Stones cover. I was 15 years old.

Which makes it a little weird to be responding to both an editor and a photo editor at Rolling Stone about a possible, actual real life cover image.


(Visit my Flickr if you want to see all my shots of the early Beastie Boys in higher resolution.)

I’m sure talking about my photography seems off-topic for this blog, unless you’ve been reading for a very long time or dredged through the archives (poor you) to read the origin of the blog name. Which is:

Marcel Duchamp did a piece called “Fresh Widow” in 1920. All you really need to know is that it’s a French window. However it’s miniature, it was an open edition and almost a “ready made” except for black leather applied over each window pane so you can’t see through. The piece comes with a command that the leather be polished every day. There’s one in the MoMA (which I grew up with) and one at the Philadelphia Art Institute. It’s perverse in more ways than one; look up interpretations if you’re intrigued.

Duchamp, handsome American living in Paris and mingling with the mostests, has been one of my lifetime idols. Not least of all because late in life he insisted he’d given up art and was only working to play chess (though he was lying about it). He seemed gentlemanly and unsloppy in most every way, and he was always funny and upsetting. My man, right?

I thought, as a newly minted widow, that I might open that toy black window. I thought my hair would fly back in the wind. I thought of what you can see when your eyes are closed, or with the lights out, or when your own light goes out, and I knew there was an exhilarating truth to it.

I wanted to own that, so I took its name.

(The silly “Supa Dupa” part came when I added the Pillsbury Doughboy and Missy Misdemeanor Elliott to the mix. I thought you had to have a fake name in addition to your blog name, some kind of rule.*)

So although I have spoken only of my widowed life and grief and mostly closely related topics, I hope you can see I’ve been leaving stuff out. For various reasons… and this has never been a daily-life-as-it-happens blog, never been totally “the real me,**” never been my place to drop today’s dump. I do enough in social media I don’t feel I can do too much of that anymore, anyway. And I’ve tried to do a “real” blog for my professional life but that hasn’t been too effective because the community work I do with widowed people is the vast majority of the work and where I get most of my credibility.

The full picture of me includes not only today (remarriage and all), not only venting, but also my history as an artist and my future as whatever I end up doing for work tomorrow.

I am an artist at heart… I was raised by artists (wolf artists, apparently) and spent most of my time with artists doing art things. I have abandoned being an artist at least ten times in my life: for my mental health, for an education, for health insurance, for money, for a good marriage. I never went far… each job until the last one had a strong visual component, and my late husband was an artist. I felt close to working by supporting him in his work, for many years.

But it wasn’t the same. Though I’m still at a turning point in my professional life — how long has it been? — Creating and working with images will always be part of my process of understanding the world and my place in it, whatever form my work takes in the next few years. And even if I don’t actually keep MAKING stuff, saying “no” to it over and over again was pretty bad for me.

How can I encourage you to be true to your grief and your truth if I can’t even listen to that obnoxious little punk, my artists’ soul, screeching at me? She sings, lovely, if I listen closer.

So  I’m back to listening a bit more. Which is good, because the phone is freaking ringing about a whole nother set of photos that I took when I was a teenager before I considered health insurance, money, or true love at all.

And I gotta go pick that up.

* I am kind of famous for thinking life has rules for things that are simple and ungoverned.
** Though by now, anyone who cares does know my real name.


Grieving Adam Yauch: An Inside/Outside Perspective

IMG0020 Because I was in the circle of the Beastie Boys early in life, I am in a few Facebook groups grieving the loss of Adam Yauch. I was not close to him, but we had several close friends in common, and I photographed the band at early gigs, backstage, in “photo shoots” and just hanging out. And as a widow, I know that when the time is right, our community can help support Dechen Wangdu, his wife, as she looks ahead as a woman and a parent. I am observing the grief from several angles because I am in several positions around it.

This time, I'm experiencing this loss in a different way than any of the others I’ve been through. I can see where the community and the widow diverge and why. It’s not what you think.

We widowed people, at first, are overwhelmed by the love showered on our loved one. We are torn open but we feel grateful for all this pouring in of feeling and sharing (and casseroles). And then after a year or two, we wonder: why did those jerks send casseroles? Why did they send a card and then do nothing else? Why have I been alone since the memorial service? And when is someone going to bring me dinner or ask how I feel? Are they afraid of me?

We figure that people are too afraid of death, our new status as single, or cancer or crying or whatever. We don’t need people like that in our lives anyway. And so the friendships are dropped, one by one. I’m not saying that isn’t true: to a large extent it is the reason for this perceived abandonment. But the end result is bad for us: more isolation, bitterness, the burden of building one more thing from scratch. 

Those factors of death-a-phobia and widow leprosy are real but they are not the only factors... These factors also present the most unkind perspective on the world. To look at it in a less loaded way, many people send a condolence card or food because they want to do something. Most people are compelled to and they know they "must." But it's a limited intervention because they know that the widow’s space is not theirs. They give these things from the heart, but they respect the most intimate, most strong pain and grief… they wish to give you room that you need. In the first few weeks, you can’t hear them if they do more. All you can do is to keep eating, keep drinking water, and try to get some damn sleep (or try to get out of bed. One or the other.). That space is natural and becomes part of your healing and anyway, it's all you can possibly stand.

I know that's not all the widowed person needs... the community doesn't know what you need either. That's another story. But doesn't the world look better if you realize that this simple space is not entirely cruel to you at this one point in time? 

I have been watching this dynamic in the private Facebook groups that grieve Yauch. For the most part, these folks want — desperately, kindly, generously — to cry on each other’s shoulder. They want to grieve their loss with others who knew him. Most of them don’t know Dechen. Of course they wish her well. But they know they are in a different department. Their need to grieve is also real, and it is also intense. They can still get together now and share without -- honestly -- burdening her.

In the big losses in my life — of course — I was at the eye of those hurricanes. When my father died, when my husband died, I didn’t notice or care much about what the community was getting out of the memorial service or out of supporting me with limited interventions (though I went to the mailbox compulsively [people still sent cards back in 2006] and greedily took any food that came by). Earlier losses I don’t think I understood at all… I was too undeveloped. And most of the losses I’ve been through since Gavin died, I’ve seen through my “widow” lens, which is invested in changing the picture and making folks aware of the widowed person’s real needs and real world in a real (and really long) timeframe.

Observing the grief and loss around Adam Yauch, in addition to that agenda (which matters!) I am also a member of the larger community. I’m not close enough to be overcome with my own emotion and sadness (though I am sad… but compare this to when Amy died, when I was cracked and off balance for weeks).

I think I’m getting closer to a healthy perspective on not only my own loss and grief, but what is really going on outside, without losing the benefit of my experience from the inside.

And I think that’s another new milestone. Next thing you know, I’ll start giving a crap about people’s kitchen renovations. (I might even get a custom tile backsplash!)


Camp Widow: First East Coast Event. A review.

This was the first time we held Camp Widow on the East Coast. It can be hard to explain what we do there, and the words "bonding" and "learning," while true and important, just seem so pale. To give you some idea of the impact of bonding and learning in real life, it might help if I tell you the most common phrases in the event reviews tend to be "life saving," "totally amazing," and "thank you." Or I could give you the numbers:
  • Five: Camp Widow West this August will be our fifth event in 4 years.
  • One hundred and nine: Camp Widow East was experienced by 109 widowed people, ages 23 to 82. Their losses were very recent (just a few months) ranging to 20 years ago. 
  • Forty: This year Campers will choose two full days of programs from more than 40 presenters. These include experiential classes (yoga), creative ones (blog slam, writing intensive), and learning opportunities (childhood grief, dating, spirituality). Camp Widow programming evolves every year.
  • Half: More than half of Camp attendees are also members of Widowed Village, Soaring Spirits' online community, which I founded. They entered the weekend with a few familiar faces already, and able to continue to share after the weekend ended.
  • Fifteen: For those who enter "fresh," knowing no one, we now have two orientation events in the first few hours of Camp and our kickoff cocktail party included a fun "15 seconds" icebreaker event. (Not the "fun" kind you do at professional retreats... one that is actually fun). 
Me at the WidowedVillage.org booth

And what do you do at Camp? What does it look like? Maybe some pictures will help fill it out.

Camp Widow Snapshot: Here's me at the Widowed Village booth, with visual influences ranging from Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip and a bedspread hand-embroidered on the steppes of Uzbekistan.

We gave away chocolate and wi-fi (most of the time) and free bookmarks. (The kind you stick in books.) (Paper books.) 

A lot of what Camp looks like is like any event at a hotel, except: that a lot of people are crying, especially in front of their Tribute Tiles. Unlike events in the real world, no one is avoiding the people who are crying.

Some people are listening very intently... others are silent. Some stand around in groups. They laugh or hug... No one looks weird at the people who are laughing. Some sit down exhausted on a chair and check their phones.

There's room for anything, including skipping out for a walk on the beach or some time alone. But that is hard when everyone has something to share and the surprises of commonality are everywhere.

In the workshops (huge array, did I mention?) some cry, others laugh. Some people raise their hands and share. Others listen intently. This is a different environment. Since we've all had the air sucked out of us at some point in the not-too-distant past, since many of us have forgotten how to walk at least once, we're forgiven if we're wobbly or if we've forgotten how to breathe, again, for a moment.

It's not completely touchy-feely (and not at all earthy-crunchy) but the environment IS a new one and we are all getting used to it.

Photo by @Connie_UW
Camp Widow Snapshot: I stuck these red signs up in the bathrooms. They're derived from an Internet meme but I thought real life needed them.

And the ritual... our letters to the sea. There's a whole separate post on that.

The best thing as always about Camp Widow is the people and the amazing connections... and somehow (through an incredible amount of work by a small team of volunteers, one staff member, normal good-hotel procedures and a bit, I'm sure, of magic) the time and place becomes a home for everything that one could need.

Camp Widow Snapshot: I met someone special (a met a lot of special people). But I really like my new friend Betty, widowed a while back, who came to Camp Widow with her daughter, also widowed. All weekend Betty said "I'm just here to support her" and pointed to the smiling lady next to her... who rolled her eyes gently ... but every time I looked, Betty seemed to be having her own conversations and making her own friends. The very last event at Camp is the Sunday morning breakfast and Betty, after scouring the very well appointed buffets, asked me quietly, "Do you think I could get a cup of hot chocolate?" We called aside a gentleman in Marriott uniform and he assured us of course, he could.

Betty (r) and her daughter.
She shared why: When her husband died, it was a terrible car accident, and she was badly hurt as well. He did not make it, but she did. In her bed in that same hospital she was looking at a long recovery herself, and was in and out of consciousness. One morning the staff said she woke up hysterical, screaming, "Take it away! Get it out of here," over and over. They thought it was just hallucinations, but when they moved the coffee out of the room, she calmed down. And eventually she regained most of her health and came home, and years later, joined me at this breakfast buffet.

"You see, my husband used to bring me my coffee every morning. And I would make him up a cup of tea, just the way he liked it [I wish I could convey the proud ring in her voice as she told me this]. That was what did every day for all those years. And I knew the smell even when I was unconscious... I hated that the smell was here without him. To this day I cannot stand the smell of coffee, so I have hot chocolate every morning instead."

Her chocolate arrived and we smiled together at her "after" life and a simple need, satisfied. Her daughter shares with me via blog all the time... Betty and I had a few minutes standing at a buffet.

I think there must always be some kind of "hookup" at Camp.... any time you get a lot of big hearts together, a few will spark. But don't get excited (or worried)... there is no "pickup" energy in this space, only whatever is evoked by smiles, tears, and adding real bodies to connections made online. People are friends, and if they take it to another level... that's something that can happen. 

This year at Camp there was an extraordinary and special moment where a Camper offered a large financial gift if people matched it... and though no one expected this request, people (a lot of them) stepped in and fulfilled the grant by Sunday morning. I believe this type of sharing counts as "work" because it truly helps make the next event happen. For a small non-profit, on a weekend with such intense logistical and human demands, this generosity is tremendous. To have the enthusiasm come from within the community was perfect and validating, I think, for everyone who put their time into planning and creating the weekend. 

Silly me w/ Michele Neff Hernandez & KIM CATTRALL!
Camp Widow Snapshot: Of course -- in addition to the noble goals of being a place to learn to move forward in life and connect with others who've "been there" or are still right exactly wherever you are -- Camp Widow is also the world's largest widow party. At the end of the day, staff, volunteers, and helpers of all sorts shake off their high heels, enjoy a nightcap, and perhaps spend a little time taunting civilians in the hotel bar. See me (center) with red wine on my head.

About taunting: This year, SSLF board member Barbara Frova successfully masqueraded as Kim Cattrall to the coterie of a very young, very drunk wedding party. (It was one fellow's idea and she just played along). She didn't even mention, I don't think any of us did, that we were all widowed. We were all "mazel tov" after our drenching on the beach and far less confrontational, though equally playful, as the famous incident at a CW West afterparty (2010) when Andrea Renee wrote "GET LIFE INSURANCE" on an acquaintance's hat. Every year is wild in its own way. 

No snapshot can capture the experience of being together, of being understood... of having tears be not the sign of weakness, but of love and healing... of sharing our loves ones with one new friend. Nothing can capture the feeling of wet sand between our toes in our Saturday night ritual.

During the weekend, many of us may be stunned to receive a "thank you" from a new friend. We who feel we have done nothing but take, are thanked! What is up? This is a place where sharing is big, where if you give, you are enlarged and made stronger. At the end of the weekend, we realize that we each helped CREATE this new place, that we added to its different air and we walked in its strange gravity. We all helped AS we were helped.

We often say, "we laughed, we cried," but at Camp Widow it's bigger: we breathed, we wobbled, and while we're not exactly one uniform family (like any community, we are very diverse and our disagreements are full of heart), we are not alone. We take some of this home with us, like our love, and this connectedness (I hope!) stays with us and becomes a part of us.

Which is why we call Camp Widow a "self care" item. It's a boost toward the hard work of building a new life. Don't we all deserve that? 


I serve on the board of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, the host of Camp Widow and Widowed Village. I receive no compensation for my service. You can read the rest of my disclosure statement here.  


Boys will be Beastie, first interview, from Decline of Art magazine, 1981

Adam Yauch's death forces me to go back through dozens of boxes, to find relics of my high school history. The Beastie Boys' first published interview was in my fanzine, Decline of Art, which Jill Cunniff and I put together in 1981. This interview was in the second issue and typifies our teenage-bricoleur-meets-PereUbu style.

The Beastie Boys were a hardcore band in 1981, with John Berry on guitar and Kate Schellenbach on drums. Adam Horovitz had not yet joined. We were part of the same circle, kids in gifted-and-talented high schools running around NYC late at night. I took many photos of the band, as I did of any band we met or saw play, in this early stage. I am a little relieved I can't take credit for that much of the writing... though as I read it, I feel the tone of the times: constraints of that times' very grown-up TV and pop music scenes, the joy of being absurd and mixing things up that were part of hip hop the way it had to evolve before this digital era. The boss Grandmaster Flash, and gigs by Treacherous Three at a basement reggae club, were just around the corner but punk was here (possibly just across the ocean... we were always asking British bands about the riots) and now. Looking back reminds me how totally confusing it all was, even in its midst. None of us knew what to make of it even as we created the scene, and as kids, we were not really supposed to be there.

As I go through the boxes, I am surprised again and again. Nostalgia has morphed everything and as I review the papers, they change again. For one thing, I am  having trouble believing we were that silly, but there it is, in black and white.

Boys will be Beastie, an interview from Decline of Art #2, 1981

I did the photos on this sid
Us: What kind of musical representation is evident in your music?
A: We don't believe in music.
M: We only lift weights.
A: Off the record, my mother was a hamster.
Us: What do you think of N.Y. audiences compared to N.Y. audiences?
K: Well, I think -- yeah.
M: Best in the world, because you can insult them yet they think they are being complimented.
K: My mother is in the Health and Racquet Club.
A: Hyper admonitory synthesism of monitory confusement within a statement.
Us: What is your favorite T.V. show?
A: Bill Boggs.
M: Phil Donohue.
K: Tom Snyder.
J: I hate my fucking self.
Us: What is your favorite restaurant?
K: La Rompa.
A: Uncle Wong.
M: Lord of the Chickens.
J: Enough embarrassment for one night. (John leaves)
Throughout the interview Adam and Kate were far too eager to write on Michael's head and Michael was squirting Windex at my head.
Us: AACKH, DISGUSTING. What are your musical influences?
A: Pink Floyd.
K: Larry's hair.
M: the Mills Brothers and The 4 Freshmen.
A: Off the record, my father smelled of elderberries.
M: Honestly, I am upset.
Us: Why, Michael, why are you upset?
M: Because I wish to abate this nonsense which is plaguing this society.
Us: What do you think of Crass' ideas?
A: Los muchachos son mui stupido?
K: Das ist miene bruder.
M: Ta mere est le beurre.
Us: What do you think of Act II Haircutters?
K: Budgie rocks da house.*
Us: What do you think of these awful riots in N.Y.?
A: What?
Us: What is your favorite radio station?
A: Dub-ya Dub-ya....
M: WKRP in Cincinnati.
Us: That was really funny Michael.
K: WPAT, the place to relax.
A: My favorite color is red no blue.
K: Adam steals all his jokes from Monty Python. What time is it?
M: Marvy Marker.
A: Kate only said that because she loves Budgie because he kissed her.
Us: Do you like to carry on?
A: Yes.
K: The third OI compilation LP and they thank Noise the show on the back! **
A: Michael, you're a dick. Stop that or I'll chop your peny off and hang it from the tallest yardarm.
M: (Pollywog imitation) Are you going to see T.S.O.L. tonight? They're from Boston! (by Michael with his shaved head, dancing madly).
A: I'm Big Bank and I'm the chief of the tribe that went down in the hall of fame.
(Adam lights up a three foot cigar)
Us: Do you remember when Brian Brain threw bananas at the audience?
A: And chicken.
M: No I remember I feel on my hootie on a banana peel afterwards when I was dancing afterwards.
(Michael continues to stick his fingers up his nose and talks to an imaginary John on the telephone.) I love you, I love you. I love you. I love you. I love youuuuuuuuuuuuuuuu.
A. Michael continues to babble on incoherently and continues to dance madly. 


* Budgie was the drummer for Siouxie and the Banshees, who had just played in NY, and also featured in that same issue of Decline of Art with an even more nonsensical article but really first class photos by me.

**  Noise the Show was Tim Sommers' radio show on NYU's station. Two blessed hours a day, M-F, if I remember rightly, and the only place we heard the records we wanted to buy. The Beastie Boys had played a live gig on the show and a recording of that was circulated widely on cassette before their first EP, Pollywog Stew, came out on Rat Cage Records.


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