Friday, April 26, 2013

I've returned from camp ... Camp Widow, that is

I just returned from my 4th Camp Widow. That may sound depressing to anyone who has never attended one of these very special events, but let me assure you it isn't. Camp has helped me to grow, to find my way, to find my purpose.

Each of my experiences has been different - mainly due to how far out I was from losing Vern.

  • I was 11 months out for my first camp in San Diego in August 2011. I was afraid of going where I knew no one except for the Widowed Village friends I had met online. It was emotional, but it was exactly what I needed at that time. I had found my tribe. People who got it, who understood how hard it is to move forward when you've lost the love of your life. And a very special friendship came out of that camp (♥ Lisa M).
  • My second camp in Myrtle Beach in April 2012 was the first East Coast camp and it was amazing. The hotel is right on the beach, so I was able to go out to the ocean whenever I felt the need (I feel a close connection to Vern whenever I'm at the ocean's edge). It's a smaller hotel, a smaller number of campers, it felt comfortable. And I finally was able to meet a very young widow with 2 children who I had such a special connection to in Widowed Village (♥ Crystal)
  • My third camp in San Diego in August 2012 was the first time (well, the only time, actually) that I drove Vern's Mustang alone to California. That was a big step. I even stopped at Crystal Pier ... really, really hard and I could not stay ... but at least I walked up to cottage #9 and embraced those memories. Baby steps. Made possible because of Camp Widow.
  • This year's East Coast camp was again at Myrtle Beach - I still love that ocean-front location - but it was different, because it was my first one as the Soaring Spirits National Volunteer Coordinator. An excellent learning experience ... and a reinforcement of my need to change my ways when it comes to my procrastination and delegation issues. I was finally able to meet a long-time online friend from NPRs Our Cancer (♥ Kathie - I do hope I'll have another opportunity to spend some time with you) and another special friendship was made with an amazing woman (♥ Debi).  I can assure you I will be better prepared for this year's West Coast camp in June so I'm able to carve out time for these special connections. They are the heart of Camp Widow.

I remember when I first joined Widowed Village and saw people who were 2, 3, 4 years out from their loss still there ... thinking OMG, please do not let that be me. And yet there I am still. I now get it. Those who are further out can help provide HOPE to those who follow. We can show them that you CAN survive this ... the pain, the loneliness, the sorrow, the fear. That you CAN find a reason to get up each morning, to find some joy, to learn how to do new things, to be comfortable being alone, to give something back to this world.  And there are some who do continue to struggle as the years pass - and we can be there to hold their hands, to assure them they are not alone in this journey ... because it sure can feel that way some days. (I'll always be there for you ♥ Lisa W)

So I'm back home now, catching up at work, catching up at home, catching up on my sleep ... and looking forward to my 5th Camp Widow in just 9 weeks. 9 weeks?!?!  Oh dear ... I'd better get busy! If you're coming and you want to volunteer ... let me know!!!

Sunday, April 7, 2013


A lot's been happening lately. I've thought that I need to write about it, but then I get busy doing something and forget all about it. I'm not a great blogger. I don't feel 'inspired' to write on a regular basis. I just write when it feels right and hope that my words will click with someone who needs to read them at that moment.

One of the biggest changes is I'm now the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation's National Volunteer Coordinator! Quite a mouthful, huh? It means that I'm writing a formal volunteer program and job descriptions for volunteers for each of the Camp Widow events and for Widowed Village, our online community. I'll be recruiting and assigning and training the volunteers who are needed in order for our programs to exist. Our East Coast Camp is in April and West Coast is in June, so I'm knee deep in preparing the schedule and getting everything in place. It's a BIG job and it's keeping me very busy after work and on weekends. Which is actually an answer to prayer. How do you like that?

I'm getting close to a point where I can retire from my paying job, but I've been fearful of how I would actually handle that. I haven't been handling my weekends well at all. My Facebook friends would probably argue that point - but they only see what I let them see. Yes, I'm going to Broadway shows at The Smith Center. And yes, I do things occasionally with my Brave Girl buddies or widows. But far more of my weekends continue to be spent in my jammies sitting at this laptop. Not eating well. Not sleeping well. Not even showering on those days I don't leave the house. I know I can't continue that behavior 7 days a week when I retire. So I was praying something would come along to fill my time. Voila!  A phone call from Michele Neff Hernandez and an offer of a fulfilling volunteer position. I'm in!

While many might assume I'm an extrovert, I'm actually an introvert. And these social things take a lot out of me. I need my alone time in order to be "on" during the work week or social outings. So when I schedule something that keeps me busy most of the weekend ... well ... it is a bit unsettling.  Nearly every time I do this, I come very close to cancelling my plans. Just too much. But this is one of those things that I really push myself hard to do. I hear Vern's voice pushing me to do what I know I must do. I know how easy it is to cocoon. And I know that isn't entirely healthy. So a good kick in the pants is what I do to get myself out that door.

Here's a perfect example.  A good friend from Widowed Village, who I met at my very first Camp Widow, asked if I'd like to join her for a Widda Weekend Getaway here in Vegas. I love Lisa and spending time with her sounded perfect, so I signed up. Now this was with an online widowed community that I haven't participated in, so I didn't know any of the other people attending. I worried that I wouldn't be accepted. I'm too old. I'm too fat. I'm a Widowed Villager, not in TheWiddahood. Would they resent my involvement in Widville and Soaring Spirits? I really had to push hard to get myself out that door Friday afternoon, but I am so very happy that I did. It was a marvelous weekend. Full of sharing and caring and new friendships and laughter. Yes, laughter. Widows can laugh, you know. We may feel guilty about it, and seeing photos of ourselves giggling and laughing will sometimes be hard to look at. But we need it. I actually can remember the very first time I laughed hard after Vern died. Someone caught it on camera. And posted it on Facebook. Ouch. That hurt hard. But I survived it. And I survived the comments from those who thought that photo meant I was "over" my grief. Over it?  Really?

It's been 2-1/2 years since I last held Vern. That just does not seem possible to me. I miss him. Every single day I miss him. But I'm living my life ... because that is what he would expect me to do. Lots has changed. I've let my hair grow out a bit. I'm in a new job at the company I've worked for for 27 years. I'm a Brave Girl! I'm doing kind things for people who need it - some anonymously - and it feels really good to make a difference.

And yet there's another whole list of things I'm not doing ... or that I need to do.  His car is sitting in the driveway with a dead battery again. I still haven't gotten around to replacing the TV. I still have boxes all over the place that I need to go through. His clothes are still in the closet. There's still hospital stuff out in the sunroom. I've returned to sleeping in his recliner the past few weeks.

So while I'm doing really good in some areas, let me reassure my widow friends that it's ok to still have 'things' to deal with. I don't beat myself up about these things. I'll get to them. Eventually. When it feels right. Until then ... it doesn't hurt anyone to just let them be.

This widow journey is one of ups and downs - smiles and tears - good days and bad. I've learned how to take what each day brings and make the best of it. Or try to.  And when I just can't? Well that's a stay at home in my jammies day. No apologies.

Yes, I've changed. There was no choice.