So, last night was the Soaring Spirits “Hope Takes Flight” Gala; celebrating 15 years of this incredible non-profit for widowed people worldwide. SSI Founder Michele Neff Hernandez took the tragedy of the sudden death of her husband Phil, and with it, created an empire of love, community, and hope. The collective losses of so many of us who discovered SSI during our grief tsunamis, has now transformed into so many beautiful friendships, so much incredible support, so many lives altered and changed forever. I wish I could have been there last night in person to celebrate, but its all the way across the country and the expense is just something my life doesnt currently afford – but just seeing the photos from a few friends who attended, and hearing about it from the posts that Michele has put up in anticipation – I have no doubt that the evening was a ginormous success, and was filled with so much love.
When you become widowed, you really feel like life is over for you. You feel like this is the end of everything, and you cannot imagine any new beginnings, or any type of joy or hope or anything good ever again. You are starting over from a blank slate, and everything feels so awful and hopeless and dark. There were so many days where I just really wanted to give up, throw in the towel, call it a day and a life and just be like: “That’s it. I’m out.” The pain is all-consuming on most days, and when you are 39 years old and you dont know ONE other person around your age who is widowed – the isolation and loneliness can be beyond excruciating. For me, getting that email from this stranger named Michele on that ordinary Wednesday, telling me that she is also widowed and in her 30’s, that it happened suddenly for her too, and that she started this “thing” called Camp Widow and did I want to come there and give a comedic presentation about grief and loss – that email was one of the first steps to not only climbing out of the dark, but to creating and rebuilding a life for myself that just maybe wouldnt completely suck. Not only did Michele give me hope, she gave me the first glimpses of caring about hope. She gave me the hope to want to have hope. And she gave me, and so many others, a place to be myself – this weird, widowed version of me – and a place filled with other widowed people who were lost, who had now found each other. It truly is one of the most beautiful things, to find your tribe out of these horrific and life-changing losses.
Today, life is good again, and my work with SSI continues. I still give my comedic presentation at Camp Widow as regularly as life affords me to, I am still a Regional Leader and run in-person groups with my co-leader Allison here in Central Massachusetts, and I still write every Sunday (except all the times that my widow brain FORGETS TO WRITE) in this Widows Voice blog. Some of my closest friends in life, I have met through SSI. Helping widowed people out of the darkness has become a passion for me, and Im now a Certified Grief Counselor. The thing I maybe love the most about the programs and the missions of SSI is that they are not solely focused on grief and death. They are focused on honoring and collecting all of the love we have had in our lives, and blending the past with the present with the future. Integration is a word used often in the SSI community, and its really one of my favorite words. I am happily married to my wonderful husband Nick (since NYE 2020), AND I am widowed from Don Shepherd. I am Nick’s wife, and I am Don’s widow. I have been fortunate enough to have two incredible men love me, and to love two incredible men. The life and death of Don Shepherd changed me forever, and it is through those changes that I was able to open my heart again to the idea of new love. Love Grows Love.
Thank you SSI for being my family, when the family I knew was gone. Thank you for everything you do and all that you are to SO MANY people who are waking up to this new reality of widowhood. Thank you for walking and crawling and sitting beside us, and meeting us wherever we are, and showing us that tiny flashlight of hope and life, even when we still are unable to see it. For all of my days, I will never ever forget the feeling of being inside that darkness, and the feeling of having a glimpse of hope, because someone reached out and showed me that they cared, and that I wasn’t as invisible as I felt. The people I have met through SSI will always be part of my family, and I will always be passionate about helping other widowed people, and shining that tiny light for them, even when they can’t see it.
Here is to the first 15 years of love growing love, and to many more years of changing people’s lives. Here is to giving people a reason to believe in that thing called Hope.
Long Live Love.