I'm writing this a bit late today, but for a very good reason. As I type this, Mike and I are driving back from Toronto. For the past few days, we've been enjoying the company of so many beautiful, brave people here at Camp Widow Toronto... some of who may be reading these words.
If you've never been, I can assure you, this gathering of love and healing put on three times a year by Soaring Spirits is one that is lifechanging. I can still remember my first Camp. I was so cynical about going. It honestly sounded stupid – mainly because I was afraid of opening my heart. Cynicism is great for avoiding openness.
By the end of that first camp, I was changed. My heart was opened up, my cynicism gone. I didn't cry in front of people embarrassingly. Instead, we cried together. I made new friends who got all of it. I laughed probably harder than I had since my fiance died, too. I left feeling proud that the word “widow” was a part of me, because I'd spent the weekend surrounded by some of the bravest, most authentic, most loving souls I had ever met. I left that first camp no longer hating the word “widow”. I left feeling proud to belong to this club that no one wants to belong to, and have been proud ever since.
Fast forward a few years to today and now I am experiencing a new perspective. This time, I wasn't coming back because I was in that broken place and in search of how the hell to keep living and breathing each day. I wasn't coming with a cynical mindset about my grief. This time, I was here to give back, like so many had done for me, by teaching a workshop.
In Michele's keynote speech Saturday morning, she spoke about dreams. She talked about the early days where it all seems like a nightmare, and then the period when it feels like we are just sleepwalking through life. And then she talked about something that deeply resonated with me... dreams for our future. More specifically, dreams that sometimes come out of losing that person. Dreams we didn't know we even had until the moment they happen.
As she spoke, tears streamed down my face. “Today is that day for me” I thought to myself. In just a few more hours, I would be doing just that... realizing a dream that I'd never known I had until my person died. A dream that I've been holding quietly in my heart for a few years now, but one that has taken me all this time to finally feel ready to say yes to.
I broke down a bit after the keynote, and went upstairs for a cry. I shared with Mike how significant this day way for me. How long I've waited to feel ready, or to feel brave enough, to do this thing. And how overwhelmingly emotional it is to have this feeling inside me that I am finally, after all the years and tears, ready to step into this dream. I am finally ready to create this experience – made up of all of my years of dealing with my own pain - that I hope will help others.
I remember how it felt five years ago, when there was no dream for the future. When all of my dreams had been destroyed, and there seemed nothing left. When the dreams of old could not longer be, and suddenly I was left with this enormous canyon of loss in me. A huge gaping hole where there was once a lush woodland of dreams to come. From that space, how on earth do you begin to dream again?
The answer to that is different for all of us. For some of us, we will have already had our own dreams before they died, that we can continue on with. For others, we may have no idea of a dream for ourselves that isn't about that shared future with them – and we will have a long journey of discovery to find those new dreams. Or maybe, we will rediscover dreams that we put away long ago, with a renewed sense of what's important to us.
The way it happened for me, was with making things that soothed me. I began to write a blog about my feelings with my grief, and about memories with him so that he wouldn't be forgotten. I began making art again – something I'd stopped dreaming about long ago. I began taking photos of my grief. I didn't know where any of it was going, and there still were no future dreams. All I knew was that writing and making things made me feel better, so I kept doing it.
Five and a half years later, I'm standing in front of a dozen brave widowed people, who are entrusting me to lead them on a meaningful experience in creative grieving. And somehow, I know I am ready. I know it is finally time. And I know it is going to be amazing for all of us. Even though I'm leading them into emotionally very vulernable territory, I know we can do it, and I know it will be worth it. And somehow I had complete trust in this. Somehow I pull off this deeply emotional and meaningful experience – making half the room cry buckets as they spend time making art from a deep and fragile place inside themselves. It unfolds even more beautifully than I could have imagined. Not because of me, but because everyone else trusted, opened their hearts, and was willing to go with me on that journey.
It's taken all of these years and a mountain of tears to get here. It's taken screaming and anger and agony and sleepless nights and countless therapy sessions. It's taken more bravery than I knew I had, and facing more fear than I knew could exist inside a person. It's taken hundreds of days of waking up in the morning and saying “Nope, not ready” to this next chapter of my life, to finally begin to say instead, “yes, I am ready.” And I think we need that. I think we need permission to say “No” a lot of times before we're ever ready to say yes even for just one day.
I am nothing short of astounded by where this widowed life has taken me. Five years ago, there were no dreams left. And today, I have a new dreams to chase. There's a new dawn on the horizon, and my fiance is still right beside me, helping to raise up the sun.
My hope is for this to give hope to anyone who can't possibly see how new dreams will ever come. They will come though, I assure you. It may take years, but there will be a moment you are standing in someday where you realize that you are fulfilling a dream you never even knew you had before. And as Michele so beautifully said in her keynote, it will not be in spite of our person that has died, but because of them. And in that way, they continue on with us. In that way, they keep forming and shaping and guiding our lives, and they keep spreading love and connection in the world. In that way, our relationship with them never, ever truly dies. Their energy comes back to us in all of the dreams that are to come.