Sunday, May 26, 2013

A Different Kind of Anniversary

Hi there...Michele here, I am filling in for Melinda today. She will be back next week!

We mark anniversaries relatively regularly here on Widow's Voice, but they aren't the "usual" types of anniversaries. As a community we stand side by side, in our virtual world, and honor the day someone we have never met took their last breath. We leave comments on posts written about wedding anniversaries being noted by one person instead of two. Together we feel the pain of celebrating the birthday of someone who has died, and heads nod at our computer screens as the years with no one around to blow out the birthday candles are counted. (You didn't think we could see you nodding, did you?) Together, we remember. And, we understand.

Tomorrow marks yet another anniversary. This one belongs to all of us, and to all of the beloved men and women without whom none of us would be here, writing or reading. Soaring Spirits is five years old on May 27th...interestingly, our 'birthday' falls on Memorial Day. So, I honor the servicemen and women whose lives have been lost in the service of our country on the same day that I stand in awe of the fact that five years have passed since my crazy dream became a reality.

For those who don't know, Soaring Spirits is the organization that hosts this blog, and is also my personal labor of love. What started as a desperate desire to know whether other widowed people wore black after the death of their loved one (you can read more about that here) morphed into the desire to bring a huge group of widowed people together as a community. I wanted to find other people like me, and I figured if I wished for a community, than some other widowed person probably did, too.

Never in my wildest dreams did I imagine that more than a million widowed people would be served by that small thought. I didn't yet understand the power that a community of widowed people would have to lift each other up, to see each other through, and to slowly, slowly change the face of widowhood in the world at large.

Honestly, if you asked me nine years ago to profile a widowed person, I very likely would have started with their age. I may have then moved onto how I imagined someone whose spouse or partner was dead would have felt, and perhaps even ventured a guess as to how long it would take for a widowed person to recover from their loss. You are laughing, right? Because now we all know what we couldn't have known in our before lives...I had no clue about the realities of widowhood.

The fact that I had no clue about life as a widowed person, became the foundation for Soaring Spirits as an organization. I wanted to find people who could talk to me about my loss openly. I needed to see their faces, hear their voices, read their writing, pepper them with questions (I really did pepper 30 other widows with questions...50 questions to be exact. When they asked me to answer my own questions, this blog was born.); looking back now, I think what I needed most was proof that people actually survive being widowed. The widowed community that I accidentally created, showed me that I could rebuild my life. I believed them ONLY because they were also survivors of this kind of loss.

Five years ago there were very few communities of support provided for widowed people, especially younger widowed people. According to the census numbers, young widowed people are not a "statistically significant" group. I took that statistic as a challenge when it was first quoted to me, and I still do today. There is very little information collected about widowed people in general. That lack of information results in a lack of funding for support programming, and perpetuates the many stereotypes that are called to mind when the word "widowed" is uttered.

I am very proud of the fact that Soaring Spirits is making an effort to change the limited amount of data available about widowhood in general, widowed people specifically, and most importantly, what types of programming and support most improve the lives of those who are widowed. If you want to help us, you can take the Soaring Spirits Survey on Widowhood, created by Dr. Carrie West. Carrie has been widowed, and has more than ten years experience in teaching, researching, and consulting on communication behaviors. Her doctorate is from the University of Denver in family and interpersonal communication with a minor in research methods. Carrie has spent three years working with Soaring Spirits on developing this survey.

This survey was created for any widowed person to respond. You will notice questions about specific Soaring Spirits programs (like Camp Widow), if you have not participated in any one program, just respond accordingly. Our purpose for this survey is two-fold. First is to gather information about our community (who are you, how old are you, how long have you been widowed) and to further identify what types of support most impact your ability to recover from this significant loss. Our second purpose is to find out how effective the current Soaring Spirits' programs are in meeting your needs, so we can make whatever adaptations necessary to best support you.

You can make your voice heard, by taking the survey HERE.

I view our work on this survey as a way of taking care of the widowed people who will come after us. I am always aware that right this minute another person has joined our widowed ranks. That newly widowed person is the inspiration for the work done by Soaring Spirits. We want every widowed person who has come after us to have the best support we can provide, and access to all of you. Because community creates hope, and hope truly does matter. Even statistically.

Thank you for sharing your lives with us. You have helped us create a safe space for widowed people all over the world (in 157 different countries!) to express both their hopes, and their fears. We embrace our differences, as well as our similarities. Each loss is honored here. Various ways of coping are shared, and suggestions are thoughtfully made. But maybe the most important thing we do here at Widow's Voice is cheer each other on as we each move slowly into futures of our own creation.

Here's to the next five years, and the next five years, and the next five years of changing the world!


  1. You are amazing, and I love you so much. Everyday, Im so thankful that you came into my life. Thank you to whoever that person was who showed you my blog and put me on your radar, and you on mine. You have such a huge heart and Im so glad to know you, friend. I will continue to promote and share Soaring Spirits with everyone, and Im so honored to write for this blog and be a new part of Camp Widow performers.

  2. Widowed Village, Camp Widow, Widow's Voice ... have all had a profound impact on this new life I'm learning to live. I wasn't able to find any local, face-to-face support groups so I've relied on my online friends to keep me standing. I'm so very grateful for all that you have done, Michele, and all that you continue to do every single day ... the energy you expend to keep adding new features to all of the SSLF programs, searching for donors to keep the programs alive, reaching out to every single widow who contacts you, the caring and sharing and all-nighters you pull to keep this community thriving. You are an inspiration, I love you - and, like Kelley Lynn, I'm so honored to be a part of it as your volunteer coordinator.

  3. I will admit, when I left CWE a few weeks ago, I had reservations about whether it had any impact on my life or not. However, these last few weeks have seen me in less of a fog and a little more focused than I have been for almost 4 years. I still don't have that new Plan A but I can see there might actually be one for me. With my family and friends, I am very reserved at sharing my feelings because I know some of them are still hurting, or maybe they just don't get it. EVERYONE in this new family gets it and I am so grateful to Dianne for steering me in the direction of SSLF and to you for your dedication to us.

  4. The community you launched 5 years ago has had a huge impact on my life! We widows have all lost the most important person in our lives. And we have all lost all the intangible essentials that we didn't even know we had to lose. Every time we hand out "You are not Alone" cards, we are making a difference to someone in need. And many times, a life altering amazing difference. I am so very honored to be a member of this community! Memorial Day this year was going to be a hard day for me. But now, with your help and the help of this widowed community, tomorrow, I have something to look forward to!
    Thank-you so much!! Diane

  5. Thank you Michelle! It is an honor to know you and you are an amazing woman. What you have done by turning tragedy and grief into HOPE and this this community is amazing, inspiring, inspirational and has given us a reason to go on. You and your wonderful team have helped us in so many ways at so many times throughout our journeys of despair to hope. Congratulations on this 5th anniversary to truly a very special organization. THANK YOU from the bottom of my heart <3.

  6. Thank you all so much for your kind words, really, really, really the privelege is mine. I love all of you, and look so forward to working together in service to the widowed people who will come after us. You are all amazing!