A Weekend of Crying Widows? What?!?
Given the name, Camp Widow (R), most would imagine two to three hundred widows gathered around a campfire with tents all around and sounds of sobbing filling the starry sky. This was not that kind of camp. In fact, that image is probably the furthest thing from what Camp Widow (R) was and is. Our camping took place at a Marriot (R). The weekend was not limited to women who had dead husbands. The organizers had worked hard to include many more people: widowers, gay and lesbian partners, current romantic partners of the “widowed,” etc. In addition, children of many camp attendees were participating in their own camp that weekend at the same hotel. They definitely went out of their way to make this event as easy to attend as possible on many different levels.
A Peak Under The Tent
Given how apprehensive most folks would be to face a conference room of hundreds of people in grief, I thought it would be helpful to describe my own experience here. Please keep in mind, I attended in my fourth year as a widow. I loved seeing others who had come with other widows from their hometown. If I had known about Camp Widow earlier in my grief, I would have definitely wanted and needed a “widow buddy.”
Day 1: Intro to Camp
The first day of Camp Widow, I felt very irritated. I did not want to be there. This was really strange because I had made special arrangements in order to go. Was this nervousness? Was I overwhelmed? I took some quiet time to reflect. Then, it hit me. I was angry that I “qualified” to be at Camp Widow(R). I was angry to be a widow. This made sense to me. Looking underneath that anger, I found the pain of my grief. Being at this event was going to bring up all of the messy, confusing and complicated feelings of grief. This was the start.
Life Preservers Abound
Luckily, I found comfort in some of the offerings that camp had. I was not the first camper to have these feelings and concerns. I discovered they had a Quiet Room which I did not use but appreciated its existence. Being around a lot of people can be exhausting especially when in acute grief. It was important to have a place to go to take a break and regroup. Camp Widow (R) also provided a Camper Support Line for extra support during the weekend in case you need someone to talk to or a higher level of support. Just knowing that I could use these if necessary gave much comfort during the entire weekend.
More Than Arts and Crafts
Whenever I went to camp as a kid, we did some form of arts and crafts. I did attend some workshops involving therapeutic “arts and crafts.” Sand tray and sand play therapy are real things, as discovered in the workshop entitled: The A2Z Healing Toolbox Workshop and extremely helpful. In the workshop, Finding Your Wholeness Without Your Other Half, we engaged in journaling as well as constructing vision boards for our future lives. Each talk or session was different. One focused on connecting with others who had lost their loved one in a similar way (e.g., sudden loss, medical issues, suicide). Another emphasized the importance of humor to our healing and yet another focused on how movement of the body can help us in processing grief. There were definitely a variety of classes to attend. The difficult part for me was in choosing which one!
Day 2: Self-Care Matters Inside and Outside of Grief
By the second day, I had found a friend, my own widow buddy. And, this buddy had friends and then we had a group. Although we did not go from class to class together, we did meet up over lunch to compare notes from our experiences. As it was the birthday of one of the members of our group (now called the Rebel Widow Mafia), we decided to extend our lunch for self-care. One of the things I appreciated the most about this “conference” was the emphasis on self-care. Prolonging a lunch was acceptable versus other business conferences I have attended in the past. Choosing to rest or use the Quiet Room or chat with others in grief were all acceptable options and encouraged.
Celebrate Life AND Death
The second day ended with a Great Gatsby, 1920’s themed evening celebration. Some wore costumes; others simply wore semi-formal attire. There were many remarkable moments to this evening. We participated in a ribbon weaving of our beloved’s name on a ribbon around a tree. These trees would be planted in a nearby park with a plaque. There were tears of grief and remembrance. Unlike many situations in our “normal” lives, there were many also shedding tears and offering embraces. It was abundantly clear that no one there was alone in their grief. Also, for many, the dancing was the first time they had done anything considered “fun and frivolous” since their loved one had died.
Day 3: Running and Eating then Running
On the third day there was a 5k walk/run. I did not attend this out of my focus on self-care and tired feet and legs from the previous evening’s dancing. However, breakfast was lovely. It offered a last chance to connect with others from the weekend, exchange contact information and to hear about how the organization was moving forward with its efforts to continue supporting widows in grief. Soon after the presentation and announcements at breakfast, most had to run to catch planes or rides in an effort to return to their lives “outside the bubble” of camp.
Having a day off of work after camp was a great idea! I am so glad I had it! I heard from other camp attendees who did not have this luxury, and some experienced some challenges in the shift. Thankfully, they had folks like me to remind them to remember to take care of themselves during this transition. In witnessing the people who attended this weekend, I became struck by the magnitude of their strength. This reinforced my own fortitude to continue healing and integrating loss into my life. By connecting with others who wear similar scars, I know that I will be heard without judgment or agenda. I will be reminded of how far I have come along my journey in grief (although not everyone likes that analogy!).
I am extremely grateful to have attended Widow Camp (R) and wish there could be something similar offered to all people who have encountered significant loss in their lives. We need community to thrive, with or without grief. This is one place we can hope to establish such a community. I do plan to become more involved with the organization and to attend in years to come. It is that important, and it is worth it.