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Widowed Village connects peers with each other for friendship and sharing. The moderators, administrators, and others involved in running this site are not professionals.

Please don't interpret anything you read here as medical, legal, or otherwise expert advice. Don't disregard any expert's advice or take any action as a result of what you read here.

We're friends, not doctors, financial or legal professionals, and we're not "grief experts." But we are here, and we've been "there."

Camp Widow: First East Coast Event. A review.

This was the first time we held Camp Widow on the East Coast. It can be hard to explain what we do there, and the words "bonding" and "learning," while true and important, just seem so pale. To give you some idea of the impact of bonding and learning in real life, it might help if I tell you the most common phrases in the 
event reviews tend to be "life saving," "totally amazing," and "thank you." Or I could give you the numbers:

  • Five:Camp Widow West this August will be our fifth event in 4 years.

  • One hundred and nine: Camp Widow East was experienced by 109 widowed people, ages 23 to 82. Their losses were very recent (just a few months) ranging to 20 years ago. 
  • Forty: This year Campers will choose two full days of programs from 
more than 40 presenters. These include experiential classes (yoga), creative ones (blog slam, writing intensive), and learning opportunities (childhood grief, dating, spirituality). Camp Widow programming evolves every year.

  • Half: More than half of Camp attendees are also members of 
Widowed Village, Soaring Spirits' online community, which I founded. They entered the weekend with a few familiar faces already, and able to continue to share after the weekend ended.
  • Fifteen: For those who enter "fresh," knowing no one, we now have two orientation events in the first few hours of Camp and our kickoff cocktail party included a fun "15 seconds" icebreaker event. (Not the "fun" kind you do at professional retreats... one that is actually fun). 

Me at the WidowedVillage.org booth


And what do you do at Camp? What does it look like? Maybe some pictures will help fill it out.

Camp Widow Snapshot:
 Here's me at the Widowed Village booth, with visual influences ranging from Lucy from the Peanuts comic strip and a bedspread hand-embroidered on the steppes of Uzbekistan.

We gave away chocolate and wi-fi (most of the time) and free bookmarks. (The kind you stick in books.) (Paper books.) 


A lot of what Camp looks like is like any event at a hotel, except: that a lot of people are crying, especially in front of their 
Tribute Tiles. Unlike events in the real world, no one is avoiding the people who are crying.

Some people are listening very intently... others are silent. Some stand around in groups. They laugh or hug... No one looks weird at the people who are laughing. Some sit down exhausted on a chair and check their phones.


There's room for anything, including skipping out for a walk on the beach or some time alone. But that is hard when everyone has something to share and the surprises of commonality are everywhere.


In the workshops (huge array, did I mention?) some cry, others laugh. Some people raise their hands and share. Others listen intently. This is a different environment. Since we've all had the air sucked out of us at some point in the not-too-distant past, since many of us have forgotten how to walk at least once, we're forgiven if we're wobbly or if we've forgotten how to breathe, again, for a moment.

It's not completely touchy-feely (and not at all earthy-crunchy) but the environment IS a new one and we are all getting used to it.


Photo by @Connie_UW

Camp Widow Snapshot: I stuck these red signs up in the bathrooms. They're derived from an Internet meme but I thought real life needed them.

And the ritual... our letters to the sea. There's a 
whole separate post on that.

The best thing as always about Camp Widow is the people and the amazing connections... and somehow (through an incredible amount of work by a small team of volunteers, one staff member, normal good-hotel procedures and a bit, I'm sure, of magic) the time and place becomes a home for everything that one could need.


Camp Widow Snapshot:
I met someone special (a met a lot of special people). But I really like my new friend Betty, widowed a while back, who came to Camp Widow with her daughter, also widowed. All weekend Betty said "I'm just here to support her" and pointed to the smiling lady next to her... who rolled her eyes gently ... but every time I looked, Betty seemed to be having her own conversations and making her own friends. The very last event at Camp is the Sunday morning breakfast and Betty, after scouring the very well appointed buffets, asked me quietly, "Do you think I could get a cup of hot chocolate?" We called aside a gentleman in Marriott uniform and he assured us of course, he could.

Betty (r) and her daughter.

She shared why: When her husband died, it was a terrible car accident, and she was badly hurt as well. He did not make it, but she did. In her bed in that same hospital she was looking at a long recovery herself, and was in and out of consciousness. One morning the staff said she woke up hysterical, screaming, "Take it away! Get it out of here," over and over. They thought it was just hallucinations, but when they moved the coffee out of the room, she calmed down. And eventually she regained most of her health and came home, and years later, joined me at this breakfast buffet.

"You see, my husband used to bring me my coffee every morning. And I would make him up a cup of tea, just the way he liked it [I wish I could convey the proud ring in her voice as she told me this]. That was what did every day for all those years. And I knew the smell even when I was unconscious... I hated that the smell was here without him. To this day I cannot stand the smell of coffee, so I have hot chocolate every morning instead."

Her chocolate arrived and we smiled together at her "after" life and a simple need, satisfied. Her daughter shares with me via blog all the time... Betty and I had a few minutes standing at a buffet.

I think there must always be some kind of "hookup" at Camp.... any time you get a lot of big hearts together, a few will spark. But don't get excited (or worried)... there is no "pickup" energy in this space, only whatever is evoked by smiles, tears, and adding real bodies to connections made online. People are friends, and if they take it to another level... that's something that can happen. 


This year at Camp there was an extraordinary and special moment where a Camper offered a large financial gift if people matched it... and though no one expected this request, people (a lot of them) stepped in and fulfilled the grant by Sunday morning. I believe this type of sharing counts as "work" because it truly helps make the next event happen. For a small non-profit, on a weekend with such intense logistical and human demands, this generosity is tremendous. To have the enthusiasm come from within the community was perfect and validating, I think, for everyone who put their time into planning and creating the weekend. 


Silly me w/ Michele Neff Hernandez & KIM CATTRALL!


Camp Widow Snapshot:
Of course -- in addition to the noble goals of being a place to learn to move forward in life and connect with others who've "been there" or are still right exactly wherever you are -- Camp Widow is also the world's largest widow party. At the end of the day, staff, volunteers, and helpers of all sorts shake off their high heels, enjoy a nightcap, and perhaps spend a little time taunting civilians in the hotel bar. See me (center) with red wine on my head.


About taunting: This year, SSLF board member Barbara Frova successfully masqueraded as Kim Cattrall to the coterie of a very young, very drunk wedding party. (It was one fellow's idea and she just played along). She didn't even mention, I don't think any of us did, that we were all widowed. We were all "mazel tov" after our drenching on the beach and far less confrontational, though equally playful, as the famous incident at a CW West afterparty (2010) when 
Andrea Renee wrote 
"GET LIFE INSURANCE" on an acquaintance's hat. Every year is wild in its own way. 


No snapshot can capture the experience of being together, of being understood... of having tears be not the sign of weakness, but of love and healing... of sharing our loves ones with one new friend. Nothing can capture the feeling of 
wet sand between our toes in our Saturday night ritual.


During the weekend, many of us may be stunned to receive a "thank you" from a new friend. We who feel we have done nothing but take, are thanked! What is up? This is a place where sharing is big, where if you give, you are enlarged and made stronger. At the end of the weekend, we realize that we each helped CREATE this new place, that we added to its different air and we walked in its strange gravity. We all helped AS we were helped.


We often say, "we laughed, we cried," but at Camp Widow it's bigger: we breathed, we wobbled, and while we're not exactly one uniform family (like any community, we are very diverse and our disagreements are full of heart), we are not alone. We take some of this home with us, like our love, and this connectedness (I hope!) stays with us and becomes a part of us.

Which is why we call Camp Widow a "self care" item. It's a boost toward the hard work of building a new life. Don't we all deserve that? 


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I serve on the board of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, the host of Camp Widow and Widowed Village. I am not paid for my work for them. You can read the rest of my disclosure statement here.  


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Comment by smit09 on May 9, 2012 at 4:44am

I connected with SWEET BETTY!  We had lunch together and I tapped into her wonderfully inspiring mind... she's such a bright and lively soul...we boogied on the dance floor too. :) 

CAMP WIDOW EAST was the most remarkable self care item I could have ever done for myself (and for those in my daily life, they've already told me that they've noticed a 'change')

oh and THANK YOU SUPA DUPA DUPA BABY FOR THIS SITE YOU'VE CREATED. THIS IS SELF CARE! :)

Comment by Dianne in Nevada on May 8, 2012 at 9:28pm

You've captured all that Camp Widow East was for me, Robin.  Connections ... learning ... inspiration ... growth ... tears ... laughter ... hugs ... spiritual ... life saving, yes.  This was my second Camp, but whether it was the ocean-front location, having passed the one year mark, or the smaller size - this one was simply amazing for me. It has changed me.

I was able to finally meet my dear Crystal, after a year of online friendship here in WV. Where else would a 60 year old be able to make such a wonderful connection with a 30 year old?  I feel blessed to have connected with so many special Widvillers in person. To share stories and smiles and tears and hugs. And what a shock for me to spend so much time on the dance floor Saturday night ... that was most definitely out of character for me!

I'm headed back to San Diego in August ... albeit a little fearful that it couldn't possibly live up to how very special this first East Coast Camp was.


VOLUNTEER
Comment by Soaring Spirits on May 8, 2012 at 6:08pm
Love you all!!!
Comment by evelk1 on May 8, 2012 at 12:02pm

I am not alone. 

That's what I learned at Camp Widow. 

I agree with carolynne: "...going to Camp was the single most important thing I have ever done for myself in my life. Ever."  It came at the perfect point in my healing journey (1 yr, 2 mos).  I laughed and I cried and I hugged and got hugged.  I found out that some people can become an instant friend after 5 minutes of sharing their stories in a hotel hot tub/pool.  I also found out that experiencing full body immersion in the surf at midnight while wearing a cocktail dress can be a joyful event, whether it's by accident (klutzy me), or by choice (carolynne - I think it was by choice, right?  ;-)). 

I was so inspired by the Founders of the organizations that sponsored Camp Widow, that I have made a commitment to start a widow support group here in Charlotte, NC.  And I'm not afraid.  As a friend said to me: "Soooo, you went to a weekend retreat for widows and came home with a ministry."  Yep.  I guess that's about right....

 

Comment by rodsgurl09 on May 8, 2012 at 10:26am
Most definitely a "self care" item....going to Camp was the single most important thing I have ever done for myself in my life. Ever. Yes, I believe the connectedness becomes a part of us. I am blessed by it and overwhelmed by its power. I don't know that I believed, until Camp, that I truly could heal. I now do.
Comment by lovie on May 8, 2012 at 8:18am

Supa, I have just recently joined Widow Village although I have been widowed for about 2.5 years now. I am also a follower of your blog and, yes, I went all the way back to the beginning and read the entire blog! Needless to say, your blog is outstanding in its style and content!! I laughed, I cried, and I gained hope as I read your entries and viewed your pictures and art work.  What talent your late husband had and how wonderful that it lives on as you share it with us and the world. I have benn considering going to CW West this year and after reading your post, I am closer to making the decision. My husband of 36 years died very unexpectly and, like others, the first two years without my soulmate and best friend have been foggy and gray. But I am emerging and life is becoming "new" again. When asked by others the proverbial question "HOW ARE YOU?" I now answer  "OK" but I am looking forward to the day when I can say "GOOD or GREAT" and "Thank you for asking!"  Perhaps the weekend at CW West will give me the momentum I need to leave OK and and go to GOOD and on then to GREAT!  Thanks for your reflections, wisdom and humor as you allow us to follow you on your journey and adventures from widowhood to the unknown, uncertain (and sometimes mysterious) future!! 

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