Tuesday, August 17, 2010

What I Did This Summer: Camp Widow

Laura and I at the banquet
I have taken much too long to write about Camp Widow. Please don't take that as sign that I didn't enjoy my time there because I certainly did. It just feels like I got thrown back into the shark tank immediately upon returning and haven't had any time to really process my experience.

Laura and I flew to San Diego on Wednesday. I only grabbed her in fear one time--when we landed (it was a rough landing). The city is beautiful and the weather was perfect. 70s and sunny everyday with NO humidity. Ahhhh...it was worth getting on a plane just to experience that for a few days. We took advantage of some sightseeing, some fine dining, some wine (make that slightly more than some wine), some shopping and some pampering before the conference started.

The conference kicked off on Friday night with a welcome reception. I was looking forward to finally meeting Jackie since we follow each other's blogs. We found each other quickly and she introduced Laura and I to Jennifer. They are both from California, drove to the conference together and roomed together even though they only knew each other through a mutual friend before this weekend. The four of us also connected with Irene and Mike who presented a workshop at the conference on remarriage. This brought my internet support group full-circle since Irene's blog is the other one I have followed since the beginning. The six of us spent a lot of time together during the weekend.

Irene McGoldrick and Mike Hogan
Saturday started with a keynote address by Michele Neff Hernandez, founder of SSLF. The rest of the morning and afternoon were packed with workshops. I attended workshops on the developmental stages of grief in children, anger and God, and finding a new path after your spouse's death as well as a panel presented by people who have written books about their experiences. Saturday night ended with a banquet and dinner. Some brave souls (I was not one of them) rose early Sunday morning to walk or run in a 5k in honor of their spouses and then the conference ended with a buffet breakfast. Needless to say, it was a busy few days!

During the weekend, I noticed that every conversation seemed to start with, 
1) "So, how long ago did your husband die?" and
2) "What happened?"  

The answers ranged from,
1) 3 months to 18 years and 
2) accident, murder, war, heart attack, blood clot, ALS, and every type of cancer you can name.

Many of the 200 people there looked to be under 45 and most had children--often very young ones. There were about 10 men in attendance and many of the workshop speakers had been widowed themselves.   

Jackie Bartak, Irene, Laura, Mike, Me, Jennifer Wilberding
I also took note of some of my blessings while I was at Camp. First, Laura and I were an anomaly within the group. We are so lucky to know each other, to live in the same neighborhood and have kids close to the same age. We didn't meet anyone else who had an in-person widow friendship like this. What a gift!

Second, I was able to take stock of the progress I've made since Chris's death. It was clear who the newer widows were. You could just see the recent pain on their faces and feel the intensity of their loss when speaking to them. I wanted to help them find a way to hibernate for the next year so they wouldn't have to deal with all the crap they will encounter. It was difficult to see and I recognized how hard it must have been for my friends and family to see me in that state. 

Third, typing the words, "young widow" into Google over a year ago was the smartest thing I have done since Chris died (well, that and buying life insurance). This internet search led me to the Widows Voice blog and SSLF. If I hadn't used technology to seek out others like me, I would have missed out on so much. The bonds that I have formed with widows far and wide have helped sustain me on my toughest days. And seeing what some of these people have done with their grief has been truly inspiring. Michele, just for an example, has made one giant glass of lemonade out of her batch of lemons.

All in all, this was the best camping trip I've ever been on. And I've been on....none. I think I could handle this again next year:).


  1. I'm so glad you went to Camp Widow! I follow quite a few people's blogs that went too. I really wanted to go but already had vacation plans. Hopefully I can go next year.

  2. Well said... as always. I am so glad we got to meet in the first few minutes we were there. I would not have wanted to miss a second of the time we got to spend together. It was truly priceless.