It is so very difficult trying to explain to someone who doesn’t know – what Soaring Spirits International and their biggest program, Camp Widow -means to me. Camp Widow is something that you simply cannot comprehend until you have been there inside the environment. And yet, nobody would want to be in the position to be able to attend, because that means you would have paid the ultimate price – losing your life partner and love to death. And trust me, you do NOT want to be a person in the position to have the requirements to attend Camp Widow. You just don’t.
But since I DO have those requirements, and since my husband IS dead and will be forever, I have been attending and giving a presentation at Camp Widow since 2013 – 12 or 13 times now, I lost count – and I have to tell you, it has been and continues to be one of the most healing, beautiful, inspiring, courageous events in my life. Going there, being there, and having been there – leaves such a mark on my soul and heart, each and every time.
The people I meet, the bravery they show, the intense emotions ranging from sitting with someone as they cry their heart out, to laughing uncontrollably, to dancing with wild abandon – it is miraculous. To watch someone literally grow into a new version of themselves, when you have witnessed them from the moment they got that phone call that their person was dead – and now they have done the hard work and are finally in a place where joy is a thing – WOW. There is no better feeling than being a witness to that kind of transformation.
To watch people honoring their loves, remembering them, grieving them, and also figuring out how to live the life they have today – amazing. My friends, my fellow widowed community and family, are simply amazing. The fact that a place such as this even exists, and that Michele Neff Hernandez, the founder and my friend, took her raw pain and used it to create and build a community of hope and support – is stunningly incredible. Beyond brave. What she built out of pure tenacity, guts, and love – will always be something I am in awe of. It is, with no exaggeration, awe-inspiring. And I will continue to support this organization and volenteer for this organization by making widowed people laugh with my presentation, running the Massachusetts Regional Group with my co-leader, and writing for this Widows Voice blog, for the rest of my days. (Or until they get sick of me and make me go away). I have so much to give back to Michele and her team, and all the many people Ive met through them. I could never pay it all back, but Im sure going to try. These people not only saved my life, but they made me WANT a life again. They made me able to SEE a life again. And that is pretty priceless, when you are living inside the walls of hopeless.
I could sit here and tell you all about the workshops I attended this past week, or the new people I met, or the friends I reunited with, or the precious moments of life that happened during Camp Widow this past week -but I won’t. In some ways, you just “had to be there.” And as I said earlier, I really truly hope that you never, ever, HAVE to be there. But if you do, and most of us who love another person WILL at some point, lose them to death – this is a place you can call home. This is a plae you can feel like you are again part of a family. Brothers and sisters who get you. They understand. Theres no explaining. Everyone just gets it. Which means everyone can relax and be themselves, 100%. And when you can do that, you are not just crying all week long, which is the biggest myth about what goes on at Camp Widow. No. When you are free to be your authentic self with zero judgment, you can cry and laugh and dance and have hope and dream big and be terrified and be hopeless and feel like you cant do this one more second – and then see with your eyes right in front of you, someone who HAS done this for one more second, just a bit longer than you have – and so you know its possible. The evidence of life is in the people standing right next to you. How beautiful is that?
At every Camp Widow, Michele delivers a Key Note Address – always with a few truly inspiring messages to send us home with. She knocks it out of the park each and every time, and always seems to say exactly what I need to hear. (If youd like to watch her Key Note, you can find the live FB video version on the Soaring Spirits International Facebook page) This time, her message was about “looking up.” Changing your view. When you are hopeless, just taking a second or two to raise your head, even just a little bit, and look up. She talked about how doing this can make such a huge difference, even when it doesnt feel that way. In the early days after Phil’s death, Michele’s neighbor would call her up and simply say: “Meet me outside at the sidewalk.” They would then go outside, and her neighbor would instruct her to lie on the ground and look up at the stars. They did this every night. Michele spoke of how this small but poignant moment each night, made such a huge difference to her. While her entire world was off its axis, her husband was dead and everything was different forever, the stars were not different. They still sat there, in the night sky, and they were a constant. Something to look at and make the rest of the world disappear for awhile. Something to look up to, aspire to. A sense of beauty and wonder, within the universe. Life was still life and death was still death, but the stars would always be in the sky, and for that small moment – there was peace.
Im going to try to look up more. Change my view. Alter my vision. Even for a few minutes.
Look up. Its amazing what new things you might see. For the very first time.