Overheard in the hotel check-in line at the San Diego Marriott..."Did you hear that there is a WIDOWS conference here in the hotel this weekend?" The unspoken next line was most likely, who would want to go to a widows conference? Ugh. And don't we look miserable? ;)
Convincing people that this weekend would not be a downer was one of the most challenging parts of the planning for this event. Because face it, who wants to go to a conference about widowhood? As I have reflected over the last week about the experience of hosting well over one hundred people who have lived through the devastating pain of losing their spouse, I have been awed by the courage they each displayed in walking through that hotel lobby to find the widow conference. "Pardon me, do you know where the registration desk is for the widow conference?" or "Hi, I am here to talk about death, do you know where I can go for that?" or maybe "Yes, my room is booked under the widow conference block." and finally... "Oh, excellent, I should wear this lovely tag and it will let everyone in the hotel know that I am widowed." Nice. Actually, really, really nice. Because for once I wasn't a widow alone.
There was an unexpectedly powerful feeling of freedom in the ability to be a widow among other widowed people. We laughed, we cried, we laughed some more...and nobody gave anybody that awkward glance. You know the one. We asked each other how we lost our spouse without tiptoeing over the words. We nodded in agreement to the phrase, "Well, you know things have been worse." No matter how long ago we received the news that life was unalterably changed, we were part of a community that accepts us where we are, the good, the bad, the really bad, and the ugly. Long after each official conference event was through small and large groups were gathered laughing, drinking wine and sharing stories late into the night. It was magical.
My favorite part of the weekend was watching each person slowly begin to stand up tall. Upon first entering the hotel mentioning our purpose was almost embarrassing, but by the end of the weekend what started as a meek inquiry about where to find other widows became a unique pride in standing side by side with other people who continue to fight the war against despair. Our green lanyards became the sign of hope, instead of the mark of the dreaded "W". We banned together, we lifted each other up, and we allowed each other the freedom to be momentarily happy. The weight of grief was lightened by sharing the load.