I was lost when I went to my first Camp Widow® in San Diego in the summer of 2012. Camp gave me the spirit to live again. When Justin died six years ago, I could not take photos which we both loved to do. After my first Camp Widow, I became known for always having a camera in my hand and taking photos of all happy and joyful events and nature. Most recently, I have been to 10 Camps. Through Camp Widow, lifetime friendships were created through our community.
Once Regional Groups were formed, I contacted the local Regional Leader in my area and I became Crystal’s co-leader. I am now giving back to the community as a Regional Leader of Palm Beach County, Florida and now have Karen Barash as my own co-leader in my local group.
I recently lost my Dad to a long term disease, and am working to consolidate both of our homes. Thanks to Soaring Spirits and Michele Neff Hernandez, I am able to guide my mom with love and resilience by giving her hope and support.
Soaring Spirits has taught me to never give up hope and that I am never alone. This is how I Soar.
#Love Is My Super Power
For the last 5 years, Soaring Spirits has provided a soft place for me to continuously fall and rise up again. I fell down when my husband died suddenly in a car accident; I rose up when a friend dragged me to Camp Widow. Now I can say I have attended, volunteered and presented at 8 Camps. I fell down when I realized I had no local community that understood my new life; I rose up when I realized I could create my own Soaring Spirits peer support system. Now I can say that 200+ members of our Regional Group have found their new home. I fell down when I realized my career wasn’t conducive to raising our son as a solo parent; I rose up when the Soaring Spirits community encouraged me to become an work-from-home author. Now I can say I have published a book to help the widowed community heal: A to Z Healing Toolbox: A Practical Guide for Navigating Grief and Trauma with Intention. Thank you so much, Soaring Spirits International, for providing me that soft place to fall- then rise up- and continue to rebuild a new life.
My first camp widow in San Diego in 2014 I was scared to death! I was at 11 months post-loss, and I had no idea what to expect. All I knew was I was in pain and I needed to relieve some of it. The biggest thing was I needed to feel like I belonged in the world again because I didn’t feel like I did. You see if it wasn’t for Soaring Spirits and the people they bring together at these camps, the support that I received from my tribe would have never happened.
The things that I remember four years later about my first camp are the people. I only remember a little bit about some of the classes that I went to but what I do remember is the love the kindness and support the people showed me while I was there. Soaring Spirits has brought together people who are lost, who feel like they no longer belong, people who don’t even understand what is happening to them.
Soaring Spirits quite literally saved my life and their community showed me the kind of love and support I did not know existed. Thank you Soaring Spirits from the bottom of my heart for saving my life, for being the people that you are, you organization that you are, and for the love and devotion and support that you provide to us.
In 2011, less than a year after relocating to Denver Colorado, my husband Lekan Ariyo died suddenly of a heart attack. Needless to say my world and my children's world fell completely apart, and we found ourselves having to dig deep just to survive.
About a year later I found out about Camp Widow from a grief support group I attended, and there was no doubt I had to go! The experience was life changing - it was the first time in a year that I actually believed that we would be okay, and I have gone back every year since.
In 2012, when I was asked to consider volunteering as a regional leader for my area, it was a no-brainer even though I had no idea what was involved. Fast forward to 2018 - it is almost 5 years since I have led Mile High Widows in the Denver area, the group has grown, friendships have been forged, groups have gone on trips across the country and abroad, and most of all so many widows have found a place just to feel normal.
My favorite thing is sitting down to dinner with these amazing people who have been through so much - laughter rings through the restaurant and if you were just watching you would never guess what brought us together. At our Camp last year I wrote down laughter as my thing to give to my community, and boy do I really laugh these days! I have people tell me how distinct and funny my laugh is, and for someone who thought she would never laugh again that means the world to me!
In the months following the death of my beloved husband, I bought a small trailer, painted it my custom shade of pink to match my car, learned how to tow and camp, and set off across country on an Odyssey of Love.
I packed up the complete and utter devastation, the anxiety not only about life but about how to navigate the roads and highways of our country alone, the loneliness, and every other emotion that comes along with widowhood, showered it in sparkle, and set out to test the powers of Love… the left behind Love, and the Love that comes from connection with others.
In my 5 solo years on the road, I’ve met many of my widow community and I know that, no matter where I go, someone will be there, and I’ll have a place to rest. I am not alone. Soaring Spirits is everywhere.
My Odyssey of Love has challenged me physically and emotionally but I’ve done it, and continue to do it, in spectacular style. I’ve hugged and been hugged, by hundreds upon hundreds of people. My community has cheered me on, and in so doing, strengthened me. I’ve logged over 100,000 miles, with no intention of settling down. I’ve learned to trust my heart and my instincts…and Love…to lead me where I need to go.
This Odyssey was begun to honor my beloved, but it is now, also, about honoring the loved ones of my widow community, and now…in a bigger, more complete way, it’s about honoring the tenacity and durability of we who are left behind, and the Love we carry. Long Live Love!
When my husband died, I was left alone to pick up the pieces of our life and raise our son. I had no idea how to do that. I didn’t know anyone like me, a young widow. And then I found Soaring Spirits and Camp Widow. And they gave me not only a tribe but more importantly they gave me hope. I will never forget the day I sat at my desk thinking I was helpless. And Michele reached out to me and told me that feeling helpless and being helpless were not the same. And from then on I decided to live, truly live. And my son and I have taken adventures all over the world. Costa Rica, Spain, France, Italy, cruising thru the Panama Canal and Alaska, skiing in Utah and Colorado, staying on a dude ranch in Wyoming, and most recently visiting Dubai. It was on one of those adventures I met my new husband. Without Soaring Spirits I would never have had the courage to live, let alone open my heart to love again. And that’s #howIsoar.
I have been to 9 Camp Widow® events. 6 years ago I was so lost. My first Camp in San Diego was the beginning of realizing that I truly was not alone. I came home wanting to share what I experienced. Upon arrival we began our local Meetup group and eventually Soaring Spirits began to form Regional Groups. I never thought God would use me to help others find Hope.
Now 6 years after loss and 5 years after my group started, we have over 500 in our Regional Group and I helped create another group which now has over 300 in 2 short years. I love my widowed brothers and sisters, especially my silent (& sometimes not so silent) mentor and friend Michele Neff Hernandez. Not sure I would be who I am today without all that giving gives back to me......#longlivelove
My loving husband, Gary Reed, and I talked endlessly about the traveling fun we would have once I retired at the end of 2015. That all changed when Gary was diagnosed with cancer in mid-2015. My retirement was postponed and not only did I continue to work full time, I was also Gary's advocate and primary caregiver.
Gary died in May 2016. With a broken heart and a broken soul, I attended my first Camp Widow in San Diego in August, 2017. I was surrounded by people who understood, who comforted me, who gave me tools to cope and to get stronger, and showed me there is "life after death."
I traveled to New Zealand in December 2017 to visit my son. And in February I retired after 39 years with Citibank. All because I learned to live and love life again.
Soaring Spirits has impacted my life in so many ways. It has showed me thru the friendships I have made that there is not a timeline for grieving or healing and that everyone moves forward at their own pace. Soaring Spirits has even showed me how much using the right words and phrases like, "moving forward" in place of, "getting over," can make such a positive impact on my healing. Soaring Spirits has also given me the confidence and courage to step outside of my comfort zone and to try something new. I will be signing up for a woodworking class as soon as one comes available this summer.
The most important impact Soaring Spirits has had on my life is knowing I'm not alone. I know that if I need someone in the middle of the night there is always someone there to listen (Widowed Village chat room) or some kind of inspiring words of comfort on the website or any of the social media outlets. I am a much stronger person because of Soaring Spirits.
I initially found Soaring Spirits after doing a search for Widows support about 5 months after my husband of 30 years passed away. I learned about Camp Widow and mentioned it to my adult children. They all agreed that I needed to go to Tampa in 2015.
8 months after Ken died I found myself flying alone to Tampa, checking into the Marriott and going to the mixer, while in a trance-like state. I sat down not knowing a single person and left after that weekend feeling like I had found my people. I truly feel that Soaring Spirits and Camp Widow saved my life. They are my people. My tribe. I talk to at least one person, that I met through Camp, every day. Most days it’s multiple people from my tribe. Group phone calls, group texts. We offer support with our kids, family, employment, dating, and anything else you could think of. I have traveled to Europe, driven across the country and visited the homes of fellow widows. Camp has also taught me how to conquer so many fears and to live life for my husband & kids.
I will always love Ken and now I know that our love truly does matter. Thank you Michele for showing me how to live life again!!!!