A Camp for Widows

Last week I was honored to be a presenter at Camp Widow. 

Just pause here for a second; what? Camp Widow? What is that? It takes a minute to even wrap your head around what those two words together mean. 

What is Camp Widow?

It is a weekend conference attended by 500 widowed people and their children to learn self-care and community building and simply be around people who understand their loss, ask the right questions, and say the right things. For example, no one, all weekend, said, “You’re young; you’ll find love again!” (cringe!) “Oh well at least you were married ___ years so…” (there is no at least). 

Michele Neff Hernandez, the founder of Soaring Spirits International, lost her husband to a biking accident in 2005. In the following years, she realized how many people just didn’t understand her loss or how to help, so she was inspired to create a community of people who understood her type of loss and really got how to support each other. 

In 2009 the first camp for widowed people was born. Over the last 14 years, Soaring Spirits International, the nonprofit behind Camp Widow and many other programs, has served over 4 million widowed people worldwide.

Recognized as a CNN Top 10 hero in 2021, Michele’s work has improved the lives of so many. 

Well deserved, Michele.

I met Michele in person for the first time last week when I arrived at the presenters’ meeting before the opening of the Camp Widow weekend in San Diego (they have these weekends in Canada, Australia, and Florida also).

I had been encouraged by a friend to apply to be a presenter and was accepted. Also, I got to teach yoga to the kids and adults over the weekend. This was all volunteer time, but it was such a wonderful opportunity—a growth opportunity for me and all who participated. All the speakers at Camp Widow donate their time, many of them have books in the camp bookstore, and give away their time to support other widowed people. Michele is growing Soaring Spirits even further by developing programs to educate hospital chaplains, police departments, and hospice workers. Before long, you may see a program in your town created by this inspiring organization, to support all types of widows in all types of life situations with all types of unique needs.

After working as a grief coach with widowed clients, moderating grief groups, and becoming a Certified Grief Educator, I realized that so many of the difficulties suicide widows encounter while in grief come from the outside. Adding to the grief of the loss of their partner, which, believe me, is quite enough, the people who widows expect to be the most helpful and supportive often aren’t. It’s not that supporters are bad friends or family members; it’s just that they, we as a society, are uneducated as to how to support a grieving widow, or any griever for that matter. We want the person who is hurting to recover quickly so they can get back to their lives, and so we can get on with ours. 

This difficult fact is why I followed up my first book, Surviving Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss, with a book for supporters, Supporting a Survivor of Spouse or Partner Suicide Loss. To educate supporters of grievers.

The truth is, as I clearly saw last weekend at Camp Widow, you never get back to your life. Your life goes on a new and profoundly changed path. There were many people at this camp, honoring deceased husbands and wives, girlfriends and partners, all relationships are welcome, who have re-partnered. There’s another concept to take a moment for; just because a widowed person has found love again does not mean their grieving has ended. We refer to them as “re-partnered widows.” It is important to remember a widow may have feelings of guilt because they still love their deceased spouse, even though they have a new love.

There is no ‘going back’ to the old life. There is only creating a new life that includes the memories and the loss. I do hope to repartner someday when I find a man who will not be intimidated by the memories of my late husband, our very complicated and difficult relationship, and his death by suicide which has deeply scarred me and all who knew him.

Every day, I create a new life, bringing the past along and looking toward the future. I am so grateful for the community Michele Neff Hernandez has created, and I look forward to attending Camp Widow again.

Please go here to learn more: https://soaringspirits.org/

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