Since I have been widowed, the single most helpful, comforting, hopeful, motivating experience for me has been meeting other widowed people. I can still recall the moment of relief that I felt when I first sat down for a long conversation with another widowed person. Words tumbled out of my mouth in a way they hadn't before. Suddenly my pain, insecurities, questions, and fears sprang from my lips as if someone opened them with a key. That key was shared experience.
I have been among groups that share a common interest many times. When my son was born prematurely, I bonded with other preemie parents. As my kids began participating in sports, I spent some time with our fellow team families. As a personal trainer I enjoyed networking with other fitness professionals and we often traded stories about workouts, nutrition, and motivation. Yet, somehow being with people with whom I share the common experience of loss is different.
My grief initially robbed me of the ability to pretend. I just didn't have the energy for pretense. So when I met another widowed person, I wasn't concerned about appearing to have it all together, and I wasn't afraid to wonder aloud about all the things that plagued me as I lay awake at night...unable to stop my brain from swirling and my heart from bleeding. Because I was desperate for someone to understand. I was seeking confirmation that I wasn't completely crazy. I needed someone to tell me that I could survive...someone who had made it through themselves.
Other widowed people have been my life line. They know me in a way other people in my life don't. When I am in their presence there isn't a tiny voice in the back of my head that wonders if the person I am speaking to will get that black humor joke I just threw out there. My guard is down, and I feel free. Still. No matter where I find myself along the path of life, my widowed friends brighten my day.
The widowed people I have met allow me to be who I am without question. We may grieve differently, but we understand the unique process that leads to healing. I love that we can accept the differences that make us each who we are, even as we recover from a similar loss. Some will date, others will not. Some will visit the cemetery, others will never step foot in that place again. Some will speak of their loved one often, others will still cringe in pain at the sound of their name. Some will remember aloud, some will remember within. Some will become advocates seeking a cure for the disease that took the life of their spouse, some will avoid all mention of the dreaded illness. Our differences don't matter because we each have our own unique path to walk, but we can still travel the road side by side.
Thank you all for walking beside me, and thank you for holding out a hand to the person beside you. For those that will be attending Camp Widow in four short days...YOU are the reason that this weekend is so powerful. I can't wait to hug you in person!