Saturday, July 19, 2014

Hope and Healing at Camp Widow

Photo booth shenanigans with new friends 

By all accounts, I really should be feeling pretty awful right now.  This past Tuesday marked my first birthday since Dan died (turning 34, his forever age) and coming up this Thursday, July 24, is the first anniversary of his death.  This is a tough time of year, there's no two ways about it.  It sucks, it hurts and it's freaking unfair.

But in a really weird way, I feel suspended from the weight of the grief at the moment.  I know it's there, lurking... most likely waiting to strike when I arrive home from my USA holiday on Wednesday, all jet-lagged and grumpy (maybe it will even hit on the 13-hour-trip home which will be fun for the people sitting around me). 

I'm pretty good at tapping in to my grief and leaning in to it when I need to rather than pushing it aside and playing the denial game, so I was thinking today, why do I feel 'ok' right now?  Where did this 'good vibe' buzz come from?  And the only thing I can really put it down to is Camp Widow.

It feels like attending this event last weekend was some kind of turning point in my grief journey.  I arrived in San Diego on Thursday afternoon so excited and bouncing with enthusiasm. I'd heard the stories from other people who'd left Camp Widow feeling like they could take on the world and I couldn't wait to feel that too.  Bring it on!

Then Friday morning arrived, I jumped out of bed and walked up to the registration desk, ready to get started.  That's when it hit me.  What the hell was I doing?!  How on earth did I think I could travel half way across the world on my own, waltz in to a conference of 250 people I'd never met, let down all the walls I carefully maintain to keep myself protected and composed and talk to strangers about Dan's death!?  

I felt so vulnerable and naive and promptly started freaking out.  I had made a serious mistake and couldn't do this - I was way out of my depth.  Before I had the chance to flee I was ushered in to the 'new campers' workshop by a friendly volunteer, where I sat with tears running down my face, carefully noting my nearest exit route and avoiding all eye contact.

After an introduction and run down by one of the Soaring Spirits board members we were instructed to turn to the person next to us and introduce ourselves. Oh shit, crunch time - this is it Rebecca, you finally have to turn up and start playing.  So I paired up with a lovely lady called Angela from Northern California and after blurting out my name, said I'd lost my husband Daniel just under a year ago and broke down in tears.  Once I calmed down and confessed to how nervous I was feeling, I realised Angela was tearing up too.  She assured me it was ok and pointed out that we weren't the only ones in the room crying, I looked around and she was right, I wasn't the 'weird crying woman' at this event, we were all in the same boat.  This really was a safe place and no one was going to point and stare at me. 

Over the next two days my confidence slowly grew.  I started feeling connected to these strangers and felt more comfortable opening up.  I sat and listened to other people's stories - their fears and their pain along with their triumphs and goals.  I cried with them and I cheered for them.  I heard presentations from widows who are further down their path than I am and who have managed to make sense of their grief and even build something positive from their pain.  Many of them had even remarried and I was fascinated that they had found happiness again with partners who embraced their grief so fully that some had even attended Camp Widow with them! 

I danced.  Now that is huge.  I am not really a dancer at the best of times and haven't danced since my wedding in June last year, six weeks before Dan died.  I put on silly props and posed for photos with my arms around women I had only met two days earlier (I'd seen the photo booth photos from previous camps and thought 'seriously, I can NOT imagine feeling comfortable enough with these grieving strangers to pose for laughing photos together' - but it happened!).  

And when it came time to say goodbye, I cried.  I cried because I would really miss these new friends whom I cared about deeply.  I cried because Camp Widow made me feel so happy and normal and actually excited about a life that lay before me, I was scared to leave in case I left those feelings behind.  

I cried because I still missed Dan and I wanted to tell him about my amazing weekend, but I realised that the pain I felt at losing my Great Love (my kryptonite as Michele so eloquently put it in her key note address) could also be my super power, as I carried that love forward with me, propelled by the knowledge that my time with him was a wonderful gift that I am still receiving by being the woman he saw in me, by being the better person he made me and by growing through this horrible life experience.  Love never dies and his love will be my super power as I live the rest of my life. 

This is something I NEVER thought I'd say, but I left Camp Widow feeling proud to be a widow.  How crazy is that!?  I felt proud of the resilience I'd developed, of the compassion I felt for others, and of the strength I never knew I had.   I felt proud to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with these incredible men and women who had also left their homes alone, travelled to an event where they knew no one and let their own walls done in the hope that there was more.

I am now trying to work out if I can make it back to the USA or Canada for Camp Widow next year and anyone else who is considering making the journey, I can't recommend it enough.  There is more for us, there is hope.  This situation may not be what we WANT and it's still certainly not fair on any level, but we don't have to settle for a life that is less than.  


  1. Thanks for writing this. I've debated going to Camp Widow for two years now and never made the leap and I'm much closer than you are. Maybe this year I'll go to the one in February, which is only a couple days after what would have been our 31st anniversary.

  2. I feel so honored to have met you in person, and I LOVE our photo booth pictures. They are sooo crazy!!!! Paul, you should definitely go!!! There were more men in san diego than ever before - still not a lot of men - but more than before. Such wonderfully nice guys too. I met so many new friends this time around, and Rebecca, you are one of them. I am so glad it ended up being a positive experience for you, and cant wait to see you again xoxo

  3. Beautiful post. Thank you for sharing.

  4. I too am glad I was able to meet you at Camp Widow. You are such a brave woman.

  5. Do they still have the camp widow event?

    1. Hi Erin. We do. You can find out dates for upcoming camps at

      We'd love to share this weekend with you!