A week ago I made the drive north to Toronto from my home in south central Pennsylvania. Once north of Harrisburg, suburbia begins to fall away and my views are filled with endless miles of streams that cut through vast valleys of deciduous trees just beginning to turn to colors other than green. It was a long drive-nearly 8 hours-but one filled with so much beauty and variety that I was rarely bored. I also had a lot on my mind – seeing Kevin’s cousins after 5 years of not, and spending the weekend with Kevin’s mother, also a widow, at Camp Widow Toronto-the first international camp! I just didn’t know what to expect.
What happened couldn’t have been better; after 5 years of not seeing one another I was embraced by his cousins and their children like no time had passed. Even if the kids didn’t *really* remember they acted like they did and were polite and hospitable. Wow, they had grown up! A lot happens in 5 years. Over the course of the weekend my mother in law and I gained closure on a topic we hadn’t discussed in the nearly 6 years since Kevin died-the things we felt we did wrong while he was ill. It was a time to sob, to hug, to realize we are only human and did the best we could with the knowledge we were willing to face 6 years ago when Kevin was battling cancer.
Beyond that camp flowed with an energy I had never felt before. It could be because the 4 prior camps I have attended I was still battling many of my own grief demons and couldn’t see much beyond that. Michele, the Soaring Spirits International founder, mentioned the energy in her keynote address on Saturday morning and I felt it too. On Friday I led a roundtable of amazing people who were widowed before having children. Often there are many different reasons that a widow(er) gets that point – being unable to have children, not planning on children, not planning on children then realizing you wanted children, or you just weren’t there yet. Kevin and I felt into the “just weren’t there yet” category. It was a unique group in that everyone in the group, at one time, had planned on having children. Nearly half the group was now at the point that they either weren’t planning on having kids due to their situation or chose not to now (my situation). It was an inspiring conversation filled with anguish at one widower who couldn’t yet begin to dream of creating a family with anyone else, and hope in the people around him who could see that future again.
I attended an art workshop, a first for me (not an artist) and while it wasn’t anything that I expected, when we walked around and looked at all the pictures everyone had drawn, I couldn’t believe that it was all over their pages: hope. “Hope Matters” is the slogan that defines Camp Widow and here, amongst people who were 4 weeks-9 years out, was hope. Their dreams of love had not been destroyed by the loss of partner.
The next day I presented my workshop on ‘Traveling Solo’ a topic I love to share. Compared to 3 attendees in the spring Tampa conference, 16 people joined me for this workshop in Toronto! I was so excited. Instead of nerves I felt the words flow out of me because it’s a topic that gives me joy to share. I want to build the excitement and dream of travel in these widows hearts – to help rid them of the fear that comes with solo traveling. By the end of the session I could see ideas blossomed, and while fear was still present, I hope that I equipped them to take the first step on their own.
By the end of the night we were celebrating with our banquet – a wonderful festivity of pictures, food and dancing. It felt like our typical banquets until we had done eating. Before I could finish my dessert, people were on the dance floor. I was astounded-no other camp had widows jumped up to the floor that quickly. For a solid two hours many just danced. People who I had seen sobbing in prior sessions were joyously kicking up their feet at the constant fast-paced music. No slow songs for this group. It made me want to cry; it made me want to hug and hold each one of them for having the guts to come to this magical camp, for feeling comfortable enough to share their grief with strangers, for being willing to let hope in and dance to their heart’s content for an evening.
It takes strength to come to camp – I get that. I came to my first camp 1.5 years after losing Kevin; I don’t know if I could have handled attending in that first year, but many do. Many reach out, show up and seek out help, and it is simply amazing.
Camp requires many different elements, one of which is funding for the organization itself, but also to sponsor campers that cannot afford to attend on their own. Please consider becoming a sponsor today.
While I can’t think about it right now, Camp Widow East in Tampa is approaching in February and I look forward to meeting all the new campers there. It breaks my heart to see your “0-6” month tags, to know the ache you are feeling, but I am so glad you came.