#howisoar - Lori Raia

After the sudden loss of my husband Albert in 2014, I was left to navigate grief after losing the center of my universe virtually alone.  Friends and family, with the exception of my wonderful, supportive parents, drifted away, and the sense of isolation was profound.  In 2015, I happened to find a blog written by Kelley Lynn on Facebook and thought “wow, this is exactly how I feel!!”  Finding out that another person actually had the same feelings I did was such a relief, and began to lift me out of that isolation.  Soon after, I met Kelley over the phone, and she introduced me to Soaring Spirits International and Camp Widow.  My first Camp was in San Diego in July 2015.  At Camp, I met a wonderful community of others that confirmed I truly wasn’t alone, and I also learned there was Hope amid my devastating loss. Also at my first Camp, I found out there were Soaring Spirits Regional Groups around the country, and a spark was lit in me with determination to start one in my area, where support for widowed people is so needed.

Finding Soaring Spirits and connecting with other widowed people who understood me was a turning point in my journey.  Becoming a Soaring Spirits Regional Group Leader and being able to reach out to others and provide support has been incredibly healing.  I am so fortunate to be able to bring the wonderful resources and community of Soaring Spirits to my hometown of Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  #howisoar

#howisoar - Celeste Blythe

It’s been 19 months since my husband passed away. His death was unexpected and quick. His absence created a huge void in my life, as well as our twin daughters (who were 8 years old at the time…one of whom has special needs). In addition, we were relatively new to Eugene, Oregon. Family and close friends were miles away. We were trying to find our way. It was when my daughters were participating in Courageous Kids that I found a beacon….a bright light. Her name is Carolyn Bates Jenkins. Her children were attending Courageous Kids too. The moment you meet Carolyn, there is an instant connection. As if you’ve been friends for years. When Carolyn returned from Camp Widow, the spark was noticeable. She had found a purpose…to connect other widows in our area.

Although a small group had informally connected previously, the formation of the Eugene/Springfield group of Soaring Spirits really brought a group together and continues to grow. It filled a void in our area. So many commented, there was nothing specifically for widows around here. Now there is. I find our meet-ups to be uplifting and encouraging. I’m enjoying meeting the other widows/widowers. My daughters have truly enjoyed meeting the other children. It’s amazing how they have all connected despite the range in ages. It is nice to connect with others who “get it”. You can just be…. Although our group is still forming, I have noticed a change within myself. I’m finding me again. I am registered to attend Camp Widow San Diego 2019. My girls and I are so excited. Thank you for bringing light back into our lives.

#howisoar - Diane Fisler

I was widowed at the age of 56 when my dear husband died after fighting cancer for many years. Initially, I was in shock. I don't have clear memories of the first year after his death. I was muddling through on automatic pilot. Life had lost its meaning. Then, a widowed friend recommended Widowed Village, an online community of widowed people that is part of Soaring Spirits. I could read their stories, many of them were similar to mine. I finally didn't feel alone.

When I first heard about Camp Widow, I was intrigued, but intimidated. Then, the very kind and empathetic Dianne West, the volunteer coordinator for Soaring Spirits took time from her busy schedule to talk with me at length. I am so very grateful. I attended my first camp widow only 11 months post loss. At Camp Widow I met others who gave me confidence that I could navigate the extremely rocky waters of the aftermath of my dear husband's death. My dear daughters have been positively influenced as well. They love my widowed tribe. And we are all thriving. I will be forever grateful to the amazing Michele Neff Hernandez for putting together such a wonderful organization, that does so much for so many widowed people.


#howisoar - Carolyn Jenkins

My widowhood came as a complete and utter surprise. We were living what I found to be a pretty darn perfect life, and the death of my husband floored me and made me question my very perception of "how life is supposed to be." Gratefully I met some people who were great examples of how to continue living.

I knew very early in my widowhood that I wanted to provide support to other widows, because other wonderful widows had supported me. One of those new friends suggested that I attend Camp Widow, so I went to Camp Widow San Diego 2 days before the 2 year mark of losing my husband. I saw that there was a session about becoming a Regional Leader, and based on the story of how and why Michele Neff Hernandez started Camp Widow and Soaring Spirits, I knew that this was how I was going to get involved in passing on the support I had received in my early days of being a widow. I'm grateful to get to pay it forward and hopefully be an example of hope to other people who are widowed. #howisoar

#howisoar - Stacey Brown

When I lost my husband, I lost myself. I had always seen myself as a rock in times of crisis, a trusted adviser, a shoulder to cry on. Suddenly, I could barely look after myself - let alone anyone else. I lost both my love and my place in the world. I gave the appearance of being “fine” and “strong” but my mind retreated deeper and deeper into that the dark hole in my heart.

Soaring Spirits and the power of community helped me find myself and gave me purpose by encouraging me to start one of the first Regional Social Groups. Bringing together widowed people let me rise above my own pain and use my experience and compassion to give hope and support to others. I’ve hosted meetings for five years now and my heart still soars when I hear the caring chatter of shared experiences and beautiful sound of widowed people laughing.


#howisoar - Sue Nova

I found Soaring Spirits, much like many of us...a late-night Google search. I was able to go to my first Camp Widow in San Diego in 2013. There, not only was I surrounded by people like me...I learned, through the classes I attended that the world was, and still is, my oyster. I made a LOT of changes to me and my life because of that. I learned it was OK to do the things I wanted to do. I learned that there is nothing I cannot do! I learned that being afraid is OK but being paralyzed by that fear is not. I took on the role of a Regional Group Leader for my local area. Through that I was able to connect with other local widowed people who are still wonderful friends.

Since Dana died...I have downsized, moved to another state, done Spartan races, become a competitive (world record holding) power lifter, traveled internationally (alone), made new friends, and had an untold number of adventures. I do Crossfit almost every day, I camp, I paddle board and I enjoy everything! I was always very transparent with my journey and at 6+ years, I still am. I hope that, through my life, I can show people that you will not just survive, but thrive!. I want to let them know that even though we have lost our person...we can still live a beautiful life. Do I miss Dana? With every fiber of my being. That being said...I live my life, as I do, because of him. This is #howisoar.


#howisoar - Cormac Dorsey

Cindy and I were married for 28 years. Her passing was very unexpected. Our son had just graduated from high school, and our daughter was in Uganda taking a summer backpack journalism class. I was blessed to have some very supportive friends and family, but at times I felt so very alone. I discovered Widowed Village, where it was so easy for me to share my feelings and to share what I was experiencing. I attended Camp Widow a year after Cindy passed, what an amazing experience to be with so many people who truly understood.

Through Soaring Spirits, I have made so many new friendships, some with people that I have never met, and some with people that I have had the pleasure of meeting. I feel as if I am a part of a whole new community, a community of love and of support. We share our experiences, we share our journeys, we offer support and we give people hope. Life is good these days, so very much to be grateful for. My children and I are thriving individually, and we are thriving as a family. My sense of gratitude is on overdrive these days. I’m volunteering and trying to “pay it forward” whenever possible. Here’s a photo of when I got to meet Alison (Happily Homeless is MoonStruck, and fellow community member) and her daughter Rachael-Grace.

#howisoar - Kerry Phillips

When my husband died, I was afraid to fall apart. When the reality of his death set in, I still refused to allow myself to fully grieve his passing. I loved him with every fiber of my being. I was afraid of what my grief would look like and worried I wouldn’t be able to get out of the quicksand of grief if I allowed myself to go to this unknown place. I grieved, but it was the “light” version of what I truly felt in my soul. My grief was a rainstorm when inside it felt like a Category 5 hurricane. But I wouldn’t, couldn’t allow myself to truly grieve for who he was to me...what he meant to my life.

Instead, I threw myself into motherhood. I was strong for her and strong for me. Even as I started blogging, I held back. My pain was just too much to put into words. It wasn’t until I met my widow tribe that I learned that it was okay if I had fallen apart back then. It was okay if I had been a mess. It was okay to have been broken.

My experience at Soaring Spirits’ Camp Widow confirmed this. Seeing so many widows sharing their truths and stories of hitting rock bottom was reassuring. There was beauty in knowing that although they had been broken to their core, they were able to rebuild. The cracks and scars that remained were simply a testament to having loved. It was a reminder that our spouses existed.

I continue to be in amazement of the “campers” I met; who bore their soul and were made stronger by the experience. That’s the reason for my book, “The One Thing: 100 Widows Share Lessons on Love, Life, and Loss”. The widows who are featured serve as proof for the next wave of widows that falling apart doesn’t mean being irrevocably broken. Showing others that there is life after loss is #HowISoar.

#howisoar - Heather McLaughlin

I came to know Soaring Spirits thru late night searches for how to deal with feelings of grief and loss of my husband, Derek. I had just lost my soul mate and needed to grieve in a new way. I picked up my life and moved 2000 miles away from my family in NC and moved to AZ. I thankfully found Soaring Spirits and came to Camp Widow in July 2016 where I met friends I call family. My journey has been a winding road but Soaring Spirits has helped me become an active member of my life again. Thank you for helping me to see how to honor me, Derek and my future!

#howisoar - Angel Vigil

When I was at my rock bottom, I found hope again through attending one of SSI's programs called Camp Widow. It literally saved my life because for the 1st time in 2 years, I was able to take suicide off the list of options for how I would deal with the intense pain from grief. One of the biggest accomplishments I have undertaken is, quite literally, HUGE! You see, I weighed 310lbs when I found SSI. I was always heavy starting from age 9. Once I attended my first Camp Widow and decided I wanted to live again, but for me to be agreeable to living also meant I wanted to live in a body more comfortable for participating in life activities. I no longer wanted to be just a spectator watching others have fun while I was benched living in a fat fortress. So that same summer in 2013, I underwent weight loss surgery. I have lost more than half my body weight, losing a total of 167lbs so far. I never set a goal weight. I told my body it would stop losing weight whenever it felt it was at a healthy range. Although I have numerous health issues I still deal with as a result of my loss/grief, I am now able to feel "free" as I have left the shell of my former self behind along with all that excess weight. I feel like I am literally soaring with how light I feel. This. Is. How. I. Soar!