Right now I’m dreaming of this. It’s beautiful isn’t it? This is the meditation cabin at Rolling Ridge Study Retreat Community outside of Harpers Ferry, WV and the community where my childhood friend Joy lives with her family. After years apart at college and on our own journeys, Joy and I reconnected a few years ago right before she moved in West Virginia. I appreciated seeing her again and how far we had come from our days dressing up and imagining ourselves 1930s ladies waiting on a train under my parents’ deck. We had been each other’s shadow for many years-going back and forth as Youth Group president and vice president, as singers and leaders in the worship band at the church where her Dad was youth pastor, side-by-side playing tuba in our high school marching band, and driving one another to school and around town to our commitments and get togethers. I cannot think of anyone else who reflected my values and personality like Joy. We were very similar, almost too much alike at times, which led me to bicker and pick at her – something I regret.
It’s also interesting where we ended up. She, graduating from college, moving to S. Korea and then living with friends, her husband, and becoming a surprised mother outside of Harrisburg, and me, dropping out of college, moving to Montana and back, marrying young, becoming widowed and living with friends and on my own in Lancaster city. Neither of regularly attending a church. Both of us seeking our ideas of God in new ways. So when we reconnected about 4 years ago before she moved, I felt very bittersweet that she was leaving PA right after we seemed to regain ground as friends again.
Friendship has taught me that no matter how long, how far, you can still find a bind with the people who get you. Joy is one of those people. When I miscarried last year, she was one of the few people I felt I could tell the whole bitter truth to about my fear of pregnancy, motherhood, and ultimately the discouraging loss of the baby. I remember emailing a long, heartfelt email to her. She replied in the way a busy mother does – I could tell her heart broke with me and that she was thinking of me often even if we didn’t chat much or have time to email or text one another.
When I started Widow Voyages, Joy’s community in West Virginia was one of the first places I thought about taking the group. Not that I’ve been there before. But I knew if it’s a place where Joy feels at home, where she’s raising her family with her husband, where she’s found her sense of community, that this would be a beautiful and welcoming place to bring widows to spend a weekend in nature and hopefully finding some relief. I knew that I’d want to use my naturalist skills to lead a hike and encourage others to put their grief out into nature and see what they get back. Because for me? When I give my grief to nature, nature gives me healing. I imagined a weekend of healing and friendship, much like my friendship with Joy.
At the end of October, for 1 weekend, me and up to 14 other widows will join together at this retreat center about 30 minutes outside of historic Harpers Ferry, West Virginia. One woman, whom I met in her early stages of widowhood at Camp Widow in Myrtle Beach, is flying in from Washington State to join us. Two woman, both widowed more than 10 years and living local to me, are driving in for the weekend. A close widowed friend who lives 40 minutes from me, but we met 10 hours away from home, is coming too. My mother in law, my late husband’s mom, widowed about 10 years, is flying in to visit over this weekend as well. In fact, the first day of the weekend will mark 8 years since we lost my husband, and her son, Kevin. Another friend is driving up from Delaware, where she moved to a year ago from Washington state, on a much needed getaway. There will be widows from all over and all kinds of stories and backgrounds and ages. And for one weekend, we are going to be together to be catered and massaged; we are going to hike, find our inner artist, and have time to reflect and meditate. Most of all? We will relax and bond with one another.
This October weekend is what I envisioned when I started putting together my dream for a company that would take widows on trips. I can’t wait to see you all, to connect with you, and to get a hug from my friend Joy.
If you’d like to register, I have extended the registration deadline to September 30th. I hope you can join us. Registration is here.