Sarah and I have just returned from Camp Widow, in Tampa. This was our third camp together, and our first time returning to Tampa, where we met last year. If you’ve read her sunday post, you know that we had great expectations of what this Camp was going to be like, and for the first few days, it seemed as if everything we had planned for went awry.
Until Sunday morning, we were both a little grumpy, especially me. Camp itself...the workshops, gatherings, and banquet were still helpful, healing, and emotional, but all of the “little things” we wanted to do that seemingly kept going wrong wore my patience thin.
Beginning sunday afternoon however, that turned around. I remembered that, for me, it’s the social aspect, and being in a comfortable, non judging space with others is what makes it so valuable to return to Camp. Yes, it’s still a break from work in a beautiful, warm city, but I can do that any time...we went to camp, not on a vacation.
Kelley, Sarah, and I travelled to the beach on Sunday with Kelley’s new friend, who also happens to be a widow. We sat on the rooftop of a kitschy old restaurant on the coast and had drinks. All of us, four widows, sharing our stories, even though three of us knew them by heart. Yes, the stories are sad, but for some reason, the emotions surrounding them seem to come on quickly, and leave just as fast. Perhaps it is because there is no societal need to hide or suppress those emotions in the right company. Even this new person, whom we had only just met a few hours before, felt comfortable enough to tell his story. We never gave him “permission” to do so...there’s some unseen and unheard feeling that it’s simply the right place.
Something Michele said in her workshop comes to mind. We allow others to judge us, criticize or lend their opinions, and we internalize those statements as if they were our own. Even though intellectually, we know that we don’t have to agree with others’ opinions, we can take them on as if they were fully valid.
At camp, or when otherwise in widowed company, that internalization seems to vanish. You’re free to speak your mind, but I’ve found that when doing so, it’s generally about one’s own situation, not others. It is entirely common for a widowed person to sit down with a total group of strangers and express all of their inner thoughts, sadness, desires, and demons at Camp. This, to me, is looking into and criticizing one’s own self without the cloudiness that comes with “outsiders’” input.
And so it goes with our beach trip. There were quiet moments, and there were large chunks of time spent laughing. When we can freely express those emotions, they are heightened and more intense, but they also can pass more quickly. Think of it like dumping a bucket of water, rather than letting a slow leak trickle out. There are no second thoughts on whether or not something should be shared, because shared trauma tends to lend itself well to feeling comfortable and bonded with a person.
After our few sunny hours of drinks and a walk on the beach, Sarah and I spent some time together in pass-a-grille beach, and the grumpiness had gone. We returned, both mentally and physically exhausted in the best way, to the hotel, had some dinner, and fell asleep.
Monday morning, we met up with some of the others that were staying for a few extra days and sat on the patio for a few hours just talking. Much like the prior day, stories were shared with persons that many of us had only known for a few minutes. We didn’t need a pool, or a workshop, round-table, or prompts. They just come out. We bid farewell to those that needed to catch flights, and spent the better portion of the day having drinks (tip for Tampa campers: the history center has an amazing bar and grille “Columbia’s” that is a 5 minute walk from the hotel) and taking a boat tour of the bay.
The sharing never ceased. While the workshops may be the grease that gets the wheels turning, it’s that fact that we can then take what we’ve learned in those workshops and apply it with others in a non-structured environment that truly makes it worthwhile to attend Camp Widow.
It’s also why we will continue to attend. We’re never healed, but camp is always healing. From my perspective, it's because we are all widows there that we can heal ourselves and allow other's to do the same.