This past weekend, I attended and gave my comedic presentation at "Camp Widow" in Tampa, Florida. It was my ninth time attending and being a presenter at camp. Nine times. There are now 3 camp locations, and 3 camps per year. One in Tampa, one in San Diego, and one in Toronto. Each one has the same basic structure, as far as what happens during that 3 day period of time, but each one is also very different. Different people. Different vibe. Different workshops and presenters. Different Key Note Address with a brand new theme and message, written special by the Soaring Spirits and Camp Widow founder, Michele Neff Hernandez. (I still have no idea how she does it) Different way of honoring our loved ones at the message release at the tail end of the Saturday night banquet Ball/Dinner. Most importantly, each and every time I go back to camp, I leave there with a different message. A different perspective. Something new that I have learned, either about myself, about grief and loss, or about life in general. Maybe each time I attend, I am different. And because I am always different and coming from a slightly different place each time, what I take away from camp is also different. But still, despite all of this, people in the outside world often make insane comments about those of us who attend multiple camps. They dont understand it at all, so they come at you with inaccuracies and judgmental eyes or tone:
"You're going to Camp Widow again? Didn't you already do that? I guess it didn't work the first few times. Are you better now? How many times do you need to go before it sticks? " Yes, these are actual things that people have actually said. There is this very false idea floating around that there is somehow some sort of timeline on our grief, some sort of imaginary line that you cross, where it's: "Congratulations! You are no longer widowed! You've been cured! " People assume that just because you might be "happier" than you were a couple years ago, or experiencing some joy sometimes, or maybe have a new job or a new relationship or even have remarried or anything else "forward-moving" in life, that you no longer struggle with the emotions of being widowed, of having the life you had and wanted taken from underneath you. In fact, it is quite the opposite. With each new joy, comes many complications. With each new change, brings back intense grief emotions. And just because you might be repartnered with "your next great love", as Michele beautifully puts it, does NOT mean that you are somehow "over" the death of your loved one. No. That is not a thing. In fact, new love brings on new feelings of grief, and very complex ones at that. As a widowed person, emotions are constantly shifting, and going through whatever the next stage of life is at that time can be confusing, isolating, and downright terrifying.
This is why we need our people. Our tribe. Our family of widowed souls, that allow us the freedom to not only BE, but to be 100% ourselves, in that moment, whatever that might mean. Being around other widowed people, for a widowed person, is like a huge sigh of relief. It's relaxing. It's effortless. There is no explaining. There is no justifying. There is just being.
Free to be me. That is what being around widowed people is. It is a freedom that does not need explaining. It is like breathing clean air for the first time, after months or years of being around dense or fog or congestion. It is laughing and finally recognizing the sound as your own laughter, instead of some weird foreign laugh that never sounded like your own. It is like coming home after a long work trip, where you are exhausted from life and just need nothing more than to be with your people.
Remember that feeling of coming home to your person, the one that died? That feeling of coming home to them after a long and annoying day - just knowing that you could fall into their arms or their touch or their energy, and the world would fall away in your togetherness? None of us can have that now. That person is not here, and there are way too many nights where we are coming home to the nothingness, or the loneliness, or the deafening sounds that sit inside the silence. When you come to Camp Widow, every single person who is there with you at that workshop or that dance or that dinner or that 5K run - they have all been coming home to that silence too. They all know the silence. So for 3 days straight, even though we can't ever come home to our person again, we get to come home to our people - our tribe - our family - again and again and again. We get to walk into room after room of other people that say with their eyes and their souls: "I know. I get it. Me too." We also get to talk about our loved ones, or not talk about them, or some of both, with as much freedom or intensity as we wish. We get to laugh and cry, sometimes in the same 10 minutes, and nobody thinks that is weird or strange. We get to share our struggles with each other and talk about everything we are dealing with right now - whether your person died 5 months ago, or 15 years ago. Whether this is your first camp, or your 15th camp. Whether you think you are on the road to a good place, or still struggling fiercely every single day. Whatever your situation is, Camp Widow will be a place where you can be YOU, and where you will be welcome. Its a place where you can come home.
I will keep coming to Camp Widow and keep doing my presentation as long as they keep asking me to. I need my widowed family. I love my widowed people. And no matter what changes happen in my life, my husband who died will ALWAYS be my love - my soul - and I will always find ways to honor and remember him - and I will always carry him with me , as I slowly step into my life. And as long as there is Camp Widow, and other places where widowed people gather for friendship and support, you will find me there too. Because when you don't have your person to come home to at the end of the day, you have to find another way home. Being with widowed people is like being able to come home to that family - for through each of our losses, we have come together. And every time that life gets too hard or too painful or too much or too scary, I need to know that I have my tribe. I need to walk through that door to home - the one where my people are on the other side, saying with their eyes and their souls: "Come on in. There's lots of love here. And lots of wine. Welcome, friend."
So yes, I have been to camp nine times now, but that seems like a tiny blip on the radar, for there is never any limit, to how many times you need to come back home.