My first Camp Widow - Toronto 2014
I thought I'd write this to both help me process the two days and to possibly help others who may be trying to decide to go. I'll do the best to remember things but I'm suffering from Widow Brain, so some things are fuzzy. This may seem confused but I wanted to capture first impressions and not over edit.
A bit of background, my wife Susan passed on July 23 after we were together 33 years and my world came apart. About a week later my cousin Nanzi passed away, she had sent a card for my wife and I had written and sent a thank you and then got the news from her sister.
So I'm fragmented, barely able to function, looking at a house with over 30 years of stuff, no will, no motivation.
One of those fragments or maybe the tiny part of the new me was looking at grief books on Amazon, reading a paragraph putting it down, reading another paragraph, googling widow support forums widowers anything. This was in addition to trying to eat, walking in the conservation lands and how could I forget planning and going to the funeral.
One thing I found was how little there was for widowers, there is a group but it seemed small. I tripped over the Widows Village website and read a little, went to other things, came back read a little more and saw a few men posting.
I had also started attending a grief group that the area hospice had, the first and third Thursdays of the month. August 7 was the first that I think I went to, with the 8th being my birthday, just over two weeks later. Let's just say I did not celebrate. There was myself and one other woman at the grief group, whose youngest was 11 about. So as my two kids are 29 and 31 I realized bad as I was there's always worse it seems.
The social worker at the nearby hospital that Sue and I met during her last treatments just before passing called a few times and told me a group was starting at the beginning of September on Mondays for 8 weeks. It started on September 8th.
Now people at camp were amazed that I was there at 2 months. Looking back I see that I made the reservations and registered August 28th. So a little over one month out. As I said above I had seen a few men posting on the widowed village forums, and had finally decided to join. I must admit when I saw that I needed to put in Sue's name and when she passed I was nearly out of there, but something kept me going, and that was an unknown.
Then I saw the thread "who's going to camp widow"? I didn't read it all but I did look at what it seemed to offer and saw the widowers workshop. Now at this point I figured it was just a concentrated grief group, lots of tears and so on, but that caught my attention and made me say I'm not going to find that at home so maybe I should try it. This is probably mid August now. I had returned to work as I could not face just sitting at home but I felt I needed something to help. Books seemed to only take me so far and with my much smaller capacity to read I knew, somehow, that finding the books that would speak to me was going to be a slog.
One book mentioned though that to move forward I needed to discover who I was, and a start was to see what I liked to do. I always liked to travel, and thought going to the camp would also be a good test to see if I still did. Some things that I used to like to do had no taste anymore. Plus that widowers workshop was calling to me.
So I went online, I think before or just after Labor Day and tried to get the hotel room, but one day had run out of the group rate. I gave up at that point, and figured it was not to be, but a few days later, maybe after reading the village forums I decided to try again. This time I called, and the extremely nice woman got her supervisor to give me the group rate for the whole stay. This was the 28th, so 5 weeks out. I then did the camp registration and flights to and from Toronto.
Now the anticipation and planning, telling people, being scared "What did I just do!!, I'm going to go to a new city to cry all weekend?!", other peoples opinions, and so on.
At some point near the trip I saw a person named Judy on the Widowed Village forum looking to share a ride from the airport to the hotel, so I thought that seemed like a neat idea and we traded information. When I landed and got thru customs and baggage claim my phone rings and a person named Fred says he's also with us [my widow brain may get some details messed up] and was trying to describe how I could spot them. Still talking trying to take in everything I see a man and a women standing by a luggage cart talking on a cell phone. At first I'm thinking, couple, nope, since I'm looking for widowed people. Then I notice that he's also saying what I hear a moment later on my phone! So first connection made. We then wait for one more person named Arnie and we then get the cab.
All four of us in the cab was almost overwhelming, it looked like Fred, Arne and Judy had all been before and were chatting up a storm, I guess my guardedness was kicking in because I was withdrawing into myself. I think I learned at that time that Arnie was running the widowers workshop which got my attention a bit.
We reached the hotel and checked in, it was a really nice room, I could see an old church from one of my windows. It had a safe so I was able to put the ipad and passport into it, I had copies to carry.
Then downstairs to see about the Thursday get together at a restaurant next to the hotel. Ran into Fred and we went looking for it. Didn't realize it as we walked right by it and into the mall and across then onto Yonge St and down the street for a block until we asked for directions. We were told to go back into the mall again as the whole Mall was on Yonge Street and we would see it. We backtracked and spotted the restaurant, and Fred spotted some of the group, I probably would have been still looking unless they spotted the confused and lost looking person.
I hadn't eaten anything since an English muffin in the morning, so after sitting and ordering something to drink, not sure what, I ordered a pizza. Michelle in one of her talks during the weekend spoke of disordered eating, probably the cause as I was too nerved up to eat earlier. The pizza was good and I think I started to notice the people around me more.
It's a bit of a blur, but I got up and walked around a bit to stretch and then came back and talked some more. I was describing something to one of the women there and had a cry attack and was starting to say I was sorry and she said it wasn't needed, we all were sharing the journey. It was at that point I think it was starting to break thru that this was actually a safe place. (I almost get a cry attack writing this)
After talking some more I found the labyrinth and walked it. It was calming. I didn't know until later that there was a workshop about it. Then I went back to the hotel and somehow got into the group with Judy and and Angel and others going to a dinner to honor two of their lost loved ones. Or in a way to honor all our lost ones. A bunch of us walked and it was warm and calming out. We were all seated surrounded by merry go-round horses. It was a wonderful dinner, the very nice women next to me wanted to have wine so I agreed to help so she ordered a bottle. By the time we finished the dinner we had two bottle between us, but I hadn't been able to enjoy a meal with other so nice people like that since I don't know when. I was so grateful to be in a different place if only for a short time.
After all that we walked back to the hotel and it was time to crash. I actually slept thru the night! That alone was a gift. Down for some breakfast which was very good but I could not finish and then registered for the camp. I got the name tag and a sticker that was colored to tell people I was 0 to 6 months, so still recent. At the wrong table Dianne recognized me from the wv forums and got me over to the swag table. A nice tote bag and a mug and other stuff like some chocolate.
After waiting a bit the first workshop started which was for camp first timers, then the workshop for newly widowed. I admit they are a bit fuzzy now and this is only Sunday! But I think it affirmed that we were not crazy and all the stuff happening was normal. I think my brain sorta knew that from the books, but hearing other widow saying it helped my heart hear it.
I should note one of the most engaging and uplifting things about the camp that I remember over and over was that almost all the workshops except maybe two were done by widowed people. I can't describe what that meant to me except to say it really helped.
The next workshop was for the long term ill, I could have gone to the sudden one I suspect, and may at a future camp - yes, I'll be going again. It would have benefited from being split into two, and maybe cancer versus non-cancer, although hearing other stories was good, so maybe not. Still I liked it but it got a bit chaotic at times. It's hard not to have multiple conversations at times with that large a group. Still it opened my eyes to how many have been taken by cancer.
It was lunch after that, with small sandwiches and other light fare. Friday seemed to be pretty intensive with three sessions in the morning and three in the afternoon. There were some intensive two hour sessions but I didn't try any of those. Also I was told that with the exception of the two limited group sessions, eight people each, if you didn't connect with one you could float to a different one.
I mention this as the next session which was on investing was an area while I was interested in was too intro for me, but I could see the value if I was not aware of this area. I floated out but instead of into another session I browsed the bookstore where I bought two books, ‘Getting to the other side of grief’, written by a woman and a man that both had suffered the loss of their spouses. And I bought ‘when a man faces grief’.
The next session was not what I expected named 'creating a path to your hearts desire', but while a lot more intense than I thought it would be, got a cry fit in the middle which took a bit to pass, was touching something in me I had almost forgotten, my love of drawing. And again even when we or any of us cried it was ok, which helped immensely.
I will point out I did visit the breathing room before things started and kinda lost it a bit. Later like Saturday at 3am I woke up crying and took a few hours to sleep again, but not as much as at home. Today, Sunday I woke more my normal time but starting thinking about this writing and cried a bit as well. More on that later.
The session was first a word exercise that had us filling in two sentences the first ‘today I ...’ and the second ‘Tomorrow I ...’ We then put them all in a basket and read each other's without knowing who's they came from. Then we filled in as we wanted a set of questions and then highlighted words. From those we could create a poem - I didn't get that far. But then the best part for me was creating a drawing and incorporating the words into it. We then walked around and used post it notes to leave thoughts on the pictures however they inspired us.
After this was the workshop that basically made me decide to come, the widowers workshop run by Arnie. There were 11 of us, which according to Arnie was a new record. One, John (I hope I got that right) was from England. Many were from Canada, some young some old. And not all the men made it even. They had beer! It was sharing and discussion, we even roped Michelle's husband Michael who is not a widow into it to help explain his perspective on marrying a widow. For me one of the highlights of the camp.
This ended the workshops for Friday, after this was a reception where we had a buffet supper of fantastic food and could all talk.
As I mentioned above although I went to bed about 10pm, I woke at 3am crying, not sure if it was from a dream I don't remember or what. Then the brain started to spin and it took a long time to settle to sleep, probably 5am, good to know that part of the grief journey is still going on.
Since I was up so early I went down for the 7am workouts, there was either yoga or the flash mob practice. I had watched the video on YouTube but hadn't practiced, and I vaguely remember someone saying I should do it. So I went to the flash mob practice. It was fun! At that point I wasn't sure I was going to do it, but there was another practice at 1pm as well.
There was a continental breakfast prior to the keynote speech by Michelle which after the flash mob practice was really good.
The keynote was amazing, I sat in the front row so I could see and hear better, sometimes with the loud sounds in the background it could be hard to hear people.
There were two intro speakers with callouts to the rotary who gave grants and to Hummingbird. Then Michelle came up and I swear I saw no notes. She talked about how we are balanced on a tiny fragment of our new life. And she had us imagine a cement mixer, she said gray but I think a color would be nice. We would toss in all the crud and things we have to bear into it along with our triumphs. Then we use our tears to mix it with. From that we pour the small room that we can stand on. We layer on love to hold the walls and roof. I hope I got it right. It was so powerful!
Then we went for the group photo, that should be fun to see.
And on to the workshops. Today, Saturday there were only 4 total, due to the keynote and flash mob.
Having a bad case of widow brain, it was only yesterday and I can't remember the workshops without looking at my list. Ugh!
The first one was traveling solo, ideas on traveling, how to be safe, ideas on where to go.
The second was called “I like the old me, learning to love the new You”, another one by Michelle. Wow, it's going to take me a while to process everything. But some things like we may not be happy with the new me. She noted that she thought she was a better wife this time, as she understands that they may not walk back in the door. I think I see that also now, the old me was pretty self centered. Something I'm not all that happy with now. But that can wait a little, there's enough pain to deal with. The main goal is looking ahead to see what the new me will be. One of the great sessions in my mind.
Now something that makes me think the new me is starting to show in small ways at least, I went to the 1pm flash mob practice and we went into the mall and actually did it! Eeeeee! I have a hard time thinking I would or could have done that before this all happened. It was so fun! People in the mall were all watching us. It should be on YouTube so I'll have to find it.
The next workshop was surviving the holidays, good advice I thought. Have an escape route in case it gets too much. Allow yourself to change it for this year or any year. How to honor the lost one, aw crud tearing up... By setting an empty place or lighting a candle. Gifting the ornaments. Having others take over the turkey, ordering the works, turkey and fixings. Only volunteer to bring buns cause if you forget it's a small thing. Ideas on how to shrink the elephant in the room possibly by a special food and saying it's for that person. Having a picture of them on the table. There were lots of good ideas but those are the ones I remember.
The last one was a lucky hit, Michelle was filling in for a couple that could not make it, and while I would have loved to have seen it and hope to yet, she did one she used to do and doesn't anymore called 'what the grinch taught me about love'. For me I liked being married, I liked sharing my life with someone. While I know that is still a bit aways as I need to find out what me is, I at least now, don't want to let that go. She affirmed that we don't stop loving the one who has gone, that we can keep them with us in our heart. That we died when they died and a new me was born. (Whew i don't remember typing like this ever before) the new me should be able to have a soul mate as well. We'll never be able to go back because they are gone. It affirmed and helped my thinking there. I really needed that as the grief groups I'm in so many seem to be in the 'that's it, or the like'. That's not me and I don't want it to be me. I loved Sue and still do with all my heart and soul, but she's gone and it may never stop hurting. But I want to believe there's room in my heart for another wonderful person.
There was a break here, one of the new friends I made had given me some coffee crisp the prior evening before I went to bed. Seems you can only get them in Canada, so I went to the pharmacy in the mall and got a pack for my son and a pack for me. Then was the big semi-formal dinner! I get excited thinking about it now but before going I was all stressed out on what to wear. I ended up with nice slacks and shirt, tie and funny enough my Florsheim shoes I had bought to go dancing with Sue. Plus a tie but no coat or blazer.
The food and everybody was wonderful. I had been meeting other widowed throughout the workshops so there were both people to talk to and to make introductions.
I should note that I think Saturday mid day about I thanked Ernie - crying again - for his workshop being the inspiration to go so early in my process, started crying which surprised me, but it shows how early I am I think. But Ernie if you ever see this I really really mean it.
Back to the dinner. I sat with two women who came together, and one was only a few days younger than me. There was talk and food and it was fun! I kinda look at myself, maybe it's the old me? And see the new me actually having fun two months after!? It's just crazy! But it felt so good to feel joy and to be happy. I see now what a dark place we have been and how we all get it.
After the food there was a DJ and music and a dance floor. Unlike high school and college it was such a release to just dance. No one was left out if they wanted to dance. It just went on and on. We all got hot from the exercise but it was so fun! Can you tell I thought it was fun?
There was also a crazy photo booth that we did and we also did a widower shoot. There was a table with paper lily pads that we could write on with candles in the middle, that was for 11pm. I also got the tribute tile I had made of Sue holding Jonathan our grandchild of 2 months, telling people about that was hard at first, stop to breath, almost crying but later it got a little easier. There will always be those places I think.
At 11pm we all walked over to a large reflecting pool and lighted the candles in the paper lilies and set them onto the water. I took some pictures, it was so beautiful with the night sky and the colors of the lilies slowly moving with the slight breeze.
After that I went to the room and packed a bit, my idea was to wake, have the breakfast and take the 9am taxi to the airport. Of course I woke a bit early, close to when I would normally wake for work early with all these thoughts of what I'm writing now spinning in my brain. After trying to settle I gave in, and got the ipad and started typing. When it was time to go down I did the checkout and more people than I expected started showing up for breakfast. Both last night at the banquet and this morning I managed to capture the new friends emails and names, which Ernie had suggested I do. Not an old me thing. Of course I'll be on widowed village again, and I'll try to match people I’ve met to the handles.
So, whew, quite the dump. Have to do a pass before many making a blog post, not sure where yet, WV or Facebook. I want to see the pictures and videos for sure. People have warned, including Michelle of 'camp crash' that can hit at some point when we renter the other world again.
So would I go again? YES (How do you shout YES!)
Will I go again? YES
There was soo much joy, energy, love there, sure the sad and lonely were there also, I get that and I'm sure others do as well. But after such a sucky hand life dealt us, and having to rebuild our lives on top of that, having this was amazing.
ps. I only put a few names in intentionally.