Tuesday, March 15, 2011

The Value of a Friend (Part Five thousand and two...)

I recently attended the Soaring Spirits annual board retreat. Each year the board members get together in the same place to brainstorm ideas for the foundation, establish our annual goals, reestablish our focus for the year and just “be together”. Our board meets regularly, once a month, but our meetings are held via Skype because four of us live in Cali and two in Texas. I look forward each year to the “retreat” because we actually get to occupy physical space together instead of just virtual space.

Saturday is our big work day for the retreat, and we spent 8 hours talking, drawing our thoughts on charts, discussing new opportunities and also talking about the year in review. Our topics are not always the same, but we do have a few topics that are – fundraising is one of them. Soaring Spirits is not a self-funded foundation; we rely on the financial support of others. The challenge of finding funding is an ongoing one. I have struggled since we started the foundation to figure out a way to make our cause understandable to the non-widowed community. I have found it to be very difficult. Unless you have walked this path, it is hard to understand what the need for support might be.

I can hear the question in people’s minds: Why do widowed people need extra support, don’t you have any friends to support you? Why would you need support from strangers? I think if I hadn’t met my own widow-match (our friendship created the concept) I wouldn’t have understood it myself. How could I have known how life changing it would be to find a widow friend who completely understood my situation? I could talk about that for days. I believe our friendship saved me and continues to help me find my way in my new life. I’m sure I would have survived, but I’m not sure I’d be near as healthy as I am today. Thank God for you Tacalla.

Because it is difficult to understand the value of that relationship if you haven’t experienced it, I think it is difficult to sell the concept of “peer based support” to potential financial supporters. I’ve watched the highly successful efforts of groups that support children who’ve lost a parent and wondered why we can’t get that kind of support. I think it boils down to this – people don’t get it and they think we should just get over it already. Children have an understandable need, they’re children. People automatically feel sympathy for kids, they lost their mommy or daddy, and they are in need of support and guidance. But what about a spouse losing a spouse? What about the half of a whole that is left behind? Maybe they would get it if we talked about it from the perspective the health of a surviving parent. What about the “only parent” left to provide for their children? What if that only parent is slowly drowning in a pit of despair and has no one to turn to for understanding? I think if more people thought about the health of the remaining parent and what an impact it has on those children, maybe, just maybe they might find the value in programs that offer support to widowed people?

I find it shocking that the idea of losing a spouse (whether you have children or not) doesn’t generate much interest. People find it sad, but don’t understand the need that might be associated with such a loss. I guess I’m trying to find a way to make the cause of surviving widowhood something that digs into people’s hearts and pocketbooks. How can we make it a cause that people understand and see the value in supporting?

I wish we could bring everyone to Camp Widow. Experiencing the magic of Camp Widow can warm even the iciest heart. That weekend is life altering for the attendees and I’ve been told by non-widowed volunteers that the emotion of the weekend changed their perspective and had a personal impact on them. I wish we could bottle the magic of Camp and let people have a taste. I wish we could show the world the power of a single friendship with someone who "gets it". A video or photos of Camp Widow doesn’t fully capture it. The feeling is something you have to be there for. I’ll continue to try to find a way to capture it and translate it. We need to figure it out in order to continue to find funding for our programs.

Got any ideas? I’m definitely open to them.


  1. I found this site useful for tips:


    and on my profile (as well as the page I've just created for Widows' Rights International")I have "liked" pages about social networking, viral marketing and fund-raising for non-profits. They might spark off some ideas?

  2. Having been on this path now for 14 months, there is no doubt in my mind that SSLF is one, small, bright spot in a mostly dark, troubled time. What kind of budget does SSLF need to operate? Is it functioning mostly from numerous small donors or are there a few large contributors carrying it? You and the other board members have done an outstanding job, and we are all benefiting from your vision and hard work. Perhaps it is time for some of us quietly standing (or reading) in the shadows to step forward and help keep this amazing source of support available for everyone.

  3. Michelle, know what you mean about people not getting it. I have searched for a young widows group in my area- none not even in the surrounding states. Maybe look for surpport from widows/ widowers in congress and the buisness world. VP Biden has been a widower- maybe you could get someone famous to become a spokeperson- hope this helps.

  4. I always believed that several female friends - whether they were widowed or not - saved my life in the months and years after my husband died. Men and women have relationships; women have friendships - friendships that are a harbor in the storm. They see you through the good times, the rough times, the hills and valleys of life alone without a "partner," without being part of couple.

    No one can ever take the place of a beloved husband and while children are a great source of comfort, as adults we need someone who is supportive and nonjudgmental to confide in, to share our innermost thoughts, fears and hopes. That said, women helping other women - a listening ear, a nod that "yes" I too have lived this, the validation that you are not alone, all ease the sense of isolation that comes with huge, life-changing loss. Friendship between two women is a remarkable gift. Maybe that could be a fundraising tool - the power of friendships as viewed through a series of profiles, stories and photographs distributed in book form.

  5. Would it be possible to put together a short video?

    I'm not a director and have no idea of these things, but I imagine starting with images associated with being lost and alone (dessert, bottom of a well - dramatic, yes, but often how we feel, no?), mixed with interviews of women talking about how they felt in those early days. Then perhaps cut in images of 'hope' (lights shining from above for that person in the well? a hand reaching out?) followed with the interviews with those women and how they found SSLF and how it helped them - and ending with images, like those from camp??

    Just an idea, but I thought it may provide more of a 'punch' than the photos from camp alone, as you noted.

  6. Could you do another post with specifics, bulleting the programs that require funding, and how and where to send a donation? Are you a nonprofit? If so, maybe the United Way agencies would be willing to help. Call it "mentoring?" Also I would be interested in knowing how the funds would effect people personally, i.e. would it pay for grief counseling for those who qualify; would it pay for a respite person for those with children; would it help with emergency funds for paying bills for those who need it; would it help with funeral costs, etc. Maybe starting with awareness of some tangible programs in a few major cities would provoke interest. I agree to a point that people don't get it, but I also have noticed that the fear of those people who have not yet experienced it and think "someday that could be me" might bring in donations. Or maybe a monthly sponsorship program....just a stream of ideas.

  7. Thanks so much for the great suggestions! I was hoping for just that kind of input. For a little more information regarding our programs, please check out:


    In addition to the online programs on the programs page, we also host Camp Widow each year. The page for Camp Widow will be up and running in a week or two as well.

    All of our programs require funding, from website and program development and maintenance for Widow and Widower Match programs, to technical production and monitoring of the newly launched Widville, to the planning and oversight of Camp Widow. Additionally, Soaring Spirits has operating costs. Our overhead is incredibly low, considering our reach, but we do have overhead.

    I love the sponsorship idea, and we've tried something similar on the site with some success, although we need to improve the success drastically.


    Due to a lack of predictable and sustainable funding sources, we are not currently able to offer emergency funds, or grants for grief counseling etc. We have discussed it though and would love to have that ability in the future. We have been able to offer scholarship opportunities for Camp Widow in past years and plan to continue to do so for this year's event.

    If you have other questions or suggestions - I'd love to hear them. Please contact me directly at michelled@sslf.org

    Thanks again!!