So yesterday I found out that a woman who was/is part of the Soaring Spirits widowed community, has died. Her name is Faye Beck Fleming, and I found out when another friend in the widowed community, Alison, private messaged me and told me. At the time, I was in my car driving home from the Soaring Spirits Regional Group meetup that I co-lead with another Allison in our community, and my heart felt like it was ripping excruciatingly slowly into a thousand little pieces.
When first becoming widowed, most of us would agree that befriending other widowed people is not the first thing we are thinking about. Why? Because being friends with other widowed people means that this shit is REAL, and it really, actually happened, and our person is really, actually, dead forever and not coming back. So, to be friends with other widowed people can often feel like putting a giant exclamation point on the death of our partner/spouse, and most of us really don’t want to do that. That is, until we actually DO meet other widowed people at places like Camp Widow or at smaller Regional Group meetups, or many other events, and we realize how incredible these people are. On top of that, a grief that is shared is a grief cut in half, and so being able to talk and feel validated in your emotions by other widowed people is a pretty amazing feeling, and it almost becomes like a gigantic sigh of relief being around others who share a similar loss. We can cry, we can laugh our asses off, we can say things that only another widowed person would understand. We can be authentic, and not have to worry whether or not the person sitting next to us can handle our very complicated and fragile broken hearts.
When two people have lost their life partner, and the life they knew; and they come together in friendship, there is something very beautiful about it. The bond is one that doesn’t need words to be explained. It is felt, and it is deep, and at some point it involves not just grieving together, but living life together. Going through all the things that life brings, together, in beautiful supportive friendship.
Faye was my friend, and I knew her because she lost her precious Tony to sudden death, and I lost my precious Don to sudden death. I met her at Camp Widow many years ago, and we kept each others numbers handy and kept in touch in between camps. She would often text or message me to check in when we were apart, and when we were at Camp together you could often find us sitting out by the pool, or chatting on a random couch somewhere in between workshops or presentations. I loved getting her input about things, because she worked in mental health and had such a big heart and was very, very smart. She was always incredibly kind, selfless, and thoughtful. She was also very funny – the kind of person that I really enjoyed laughing with, because her laughter always came with such ease.
Faye would be one of the first people to reach out to a newly widowed person who was looking terrified walking into that Marriott Hotel for Camp Widow for the first time, and she would be the first person to help comfort or validate someone’s feelings about their loss, or about anything else they might be going through. When Faye and I both found new joys and new loves, some time after our losses, we shared many conversations about the varied emotions and the weirdness of being widowed and in love again. How bizarre it felt to forever love someone who is very much dead, and also be IN love with someone who is very much alive. We talked about so many things, helped each other through so many things, and it just felt so good simply being around her. She marinated in the beauty of life, even when she herself was struggling through some very difficult things, such as ongoing health issues that just wouldn’t leave her alone.
In one such conversation awhile back, she was telling me that she wouldn’t be able to go to Camp Widow in San Diego that year, due to her seizures getting worse and happening more often. I asked her how that felt and to tell me more about it, and instead, she downplayed it and turned her focus to me by asking if I would be doing my presentation once again at camp. I said I wasn’t entirely sure yet if I could make it work financially, because not having enough money seems to be MY ongoing issue in life. We talked a few more minutes, and she ended that exchange by telling me that I simply have to be there, and that Camp Widow would not be Camp Widow without me. Some time later, she had put some funds into my PayPal to “help get me to San Diego”. She had my account info because she had previously purchased copies of my book to gift forward to other people. She did this often – donated books forward to other widowed people who maybe couldn’t afford one but wanted one. I sent her a thank you message, through tears, and admitted that I felt a bit embarrassed to not be able to afford attending Camp on my own. Her response was this:
“Don’t be embarrassed. We all lift each other up in many different ways, all the time. And you have certainly lifted so many of us up, over and over again. We are all so much better off because of your many contributions. I know I am.”
She somehow had taken our conversation, which started out being about her health issues and HER not being able to attend Camp, and managed to sneakily turn it around to put the focus on ME going, and then directly help me to get there. That’s the kind of person that Faye was, and is. So today, that is how I would like to remember my friend – by quoting her own words back to her and letting her know that she lifted me up every single time I was around her, and that I am better off for knowing her, for spending time with her, and for being honored to call her my friend.
There is something that feels extra tragic about grieving a friend whom you met because you were both in deep grief from the loss of your spouse. The love, the grief, the growth, the chaos and the beauty and the brutally awful – I will carry it all with me forever. Just as I will carry with pride, joy, and sadness, that endless bond of friendship that was born because something else was lost.
I will continue our conversations, and I will miss your smiling face that said: “Welcome.”