Camp Widow East: I sent a note to the sea

We did a ritual at Camp Widow East 2012, for the first time. A secular, all ages, all stages participatory event that was like nothing I'd ever seen. This is after two full days of being among ONLY widowed people, learning, bonding, sharing, belonging. The ritual was late, transcendent, deep and full of surprises, an expression of love shared.

Here's how it worked: Everyone received a glass heart, a piece of rice paper, and a short bit of green raffia. At some point during our day we each wrote a message to our late partner on the paper and wrapped up the heart. Spit was better at holding the package together than raffia, but whatever. (Love always binds.) All day Saturday we thought about it, or held on to it, written.

Saturday night was a banquet, a super fancy meal with a crazy photo booth where we all took on new identities and some (many) felt like dancing with their new friends. I wrote my note nearly at the last minute:
  • I forgive you and I forgive myself.
1999. Notice glow necklaces in hair.

This meant a lot because I wrote a similar note in 1999, when Gavin had a traumatic near-death event in our kitchen. I went to Burning Man that year and sent that note into the fire.

That was a big one, too. We could have broken up that year. Somehow, that year, "we" survived.

Now it's just me.

Last week, at Camp Widow East, late at night, in our fancy clothes, we all walked out, a bit uncertain, onto the short boardwalk ... yes, we left our shoes. There was a drizzle of rain, and, as we approached the shoreline, salt spray. We were each handed a glow necklace so that "no one would get lost." (Not the most confidence inspiring message when we are shoeless...)

In clusters, hand in hand, one at a time, in gaggles and lines, 100 widowed people walked into the edge of the foam, or deeper, and sent off our heart-message-raffia packets. Our words, our hearts. I've never understood so much about the word "release" till the moment before mine left my hand.

Self portrait by Tamara Hadji
Some of us fell in, or jumped (@Chris_NC took a bet and ruined a perfectly good necktie). Nearly everyone was crying or smiling huge smiles. We watched, re-clustered, and gave genuine hugs, deep ones, raising each other up or regrounding as we each needed. There were a few words... we thanked each other for being part of the amazing day. Exhausted and fulfilled, we said whatever we needed to say, silently, alone, and together. Our sequins, glow necklaces, wet ankles sparkled in the moonlight.

Then we found our shoes and regathered, party hairdo's damped down, smiling and refreshed, outside the tired ballroom, plotting one last party or too tired, perhaps to share any more, or taking what was almost the last picture of the weekend.  

It was gorgeous and we were all emptied out and yet very very full. This was what makes a good ritual and we need so many more of those in our lives after loss. How much of our time do we spend sharing via computer? What kind of "secrets" are we really telling in our blogs? The ocean can't read. We need to be alone together sometimes. We needed this. I was proud to be part of it and happy (and surprised) to participate with all my, yes!, heart.

Facebook, you can't beat the sea. 


* I shot 30 minutes of video but I don't know if anything came out because the camera owner is in Turkey till this weekend ...


Sherry Carr-Smith (@prcarrs) said...

What a special moment! I hope you know how big a part you were for so many people.

AnneMarie said...

Supa Dupa Amazing One...as I said on FB...you captured our shared moments perfectly. Your eloquent words gave such depth to our experience. I am forever grateful you are in my life...our lives...such shared joy amidst our shared sorrow...we move forward together...

Anonymous said...

What a beautiful, soul healing ritual! Hopefully we can do the same at CWW.
Thank you for sharing in such vivid "I can see it" words.
Love from your Oklahoma Wid-sister Nila

Cyna said...

It was an amazing evening. Grief, laughter, tears, joy...words can not adequately describe tossing my note-wrapped heart into the sea. Camp Widow East was an amazing experience. Thanks to all who made it possible for me and my precious mother to attend.

carolynne72 said...

This is perhaps my favorite memory from camp, it was such an amazing experience. The moment my heart left my hand really WAS some small sort of release. I am honored to have shared it with all of you. Thank you for writing this and reminding me of that feeling.

Lastsongster said...

How lovely and reminds me a little bit of the growing trend for 'beaching' loved ones ashes. At low tide, create furrows spelling a farewell message. Fill furrows with ashes. Watch as the sea takes back the ashes as the tide gently washes over the furrows. And have a party at the same time! Details on My Last Song website under Ashes options.

kudzukimmy said...

I came apon your blog via a Pinterest post...Powerful message about really connecting and sharing. Thank You.

Kim said...



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