Last week I was anxious and annoyed (raging, actually) over the seemingly endless list of things I thought I could not do without Ben. At the time, the top of my list of stressors was the fact that I was headed off to Camp Widow where I would be attending a Saturday night Masquerade Ball, and I realized there was no one to zip up my dress. It sent me into a full blown panic.
Well, one week later and I’m here to tell you that I survived. Not only did I survive, but I thrived. Yes, I said it … I thrived. And I’ll let you in on a secret I have always known on some level but often refused to admit …
My Mother Was Right.
Yup. I'm writing it in this blog and I'll never again be able to deny it. My Mother Was Right. She told me I wasted too much time worrying and it turns out she knows exactly what she’s talking about.
At the end of the day, zipping up my dress turned out to be a non issue, but I’ll explain that later. First, I need to talk about Camp Widow.
I arrived at the San Diego airport and it turns out that I am perfectly capable of retrieving my own luggage and finding my way to a hotel without Ben. Who knew? (Well, apparently my mother knew). I asked a few questions around the airport and made my way right to the area where the ride pick up is, AND …. I used a Lyft. That’s kind of a big deal considering we do not have Lyft or Uber in BC, and yet still I figured it out. Imagine that.
I was aware that there was a bit of a gathering at the hotel bar on Thursday evening, and as much as I wanted to hide in my room and stress out in anticipation of the next morning, I didn’t. I forced myself to go downstairs and find the bar, which was packed. You may be wondering how one finds the rest of the Widows in a strange town, in a packed bar, with no signs overhead pointing out “People With Dead Spouses Are Here.” I did the only thing I could do under the circumstances. I walked over to a group of women and said something to the effect of, “Are you all widows?” Classy act #1 for the weekend.
Anyway, it turns out I asked the right people because they were indeed widows and they welcomed me with smiles. In return, I promptly burst into tears. Class act #2. There I was, standing at a packed bar and all I could do was cry. Not because Ben is dead, although that reason is never too far away, but because it was such a relief to realize for certain that I wasn’t alone. There were so many of us, and aside from myself, every single one appeared to be smiling. Wow. By the looks of it, it seemed there may indeed be life after loss.
The next morning I made my way down to registration and the first thing I saw on the way in was this:
An entire wall of loved ones, and mine was front and centre. Ben The Titan.
The second thing I saw that morning was Amanda. She was standing right behind me in line. Alone. So I said “hi” and guess what? She said “hi” right back. Imagine that.
A bit later in the morning Amanda and I met up again after attending our seminars of choice, and she walked out next to Mary. So I said “hi” to Mary too, and Mary said “hi” right back.
That evening we all went to dinner and somehow I ended up standing next to Lynessa. So I said “hi” to Lynessa, and Lynessa said “hi” right back.
And then this happened:
And that, folks, is how you do it in Widow World. You say “hi” and they say “hi” and the next thing you know you are dressing up in weird outfits and hanging out together late into the evening. And then you hook up on FB and spend a lot of time sending ridiculous videos to each other and making plans for how they will pick you up at the airport when you arrive in Vegas in November.
Saturday night was the Masquerade Ball, and if you happened to read last week’s blog you may recall that I wrote this paragraph (below) when I did a "dress up practice run" at home:
“There was no one to zip me up. I was enraged. Did you ever watch the Friends episode where someone stole Ross’ sandwich at work and he turned into Red Ross? I turned into Red Wendy. Maybe Whacko Wendy. I lost my sanity, upstairs in my bathroom that day. I went into a frenzy of twisting and turning and trying to reach behind me and push the zipper up, and when that didn’t work I tried to reach down to grab it. I am not that flexible. Nothing worked, and I was furious.”
So, after all that angst, would you like to know how it turned out? You probably think one of my new found friends zipped me up, but you'd be wrong. I could have asked them and I’m quite sure they would have helped me out, but it turns out that I didn’t need to. It seems I had discovered my comfort zone, and I found myself walking up to a complete stranger at the elevator and asking, “Would you mind doing up the clasp on my dress?” Guess what she said? “Sure.” And that's all it took. (Also, it turns out that Camp Widow offers a “Zip Up” service, but in my defence I didn't realize that until after I was back home).
I learned a lot this weekend. I learned how to support and be supported by strangers who became friends. I learned how to laugh at some of the crazy things that happen to everyone when their person dies. (Turns out pretty much everyone has been told “I know exactly how you feel. My dog died.” Don't even get me going on that one ... that's for a whole other post.) I learned that there are people way, way worse off than me, and they are still smiling. I learned that widows have a dark sense of humour and I am not the only one who thought it was hilarious that the hotel put the signs for a wedding reception and a widows camp right next to each other.
(I cannot tell you how many widows I overheard saying things like “Should we give the bride a business card?”)
And finally, I learned …. that My Mother Was Right. Everything has a way of working itself out just like she always says, and worrying is a big fat waste of time. It turns out that I am brave, and in the future I will do my best to remember that.
On another note, I am really saddened to say that while I was in San Diego I received an email letting me know about a police officer who passed away. It was the husband of a woman who used to work with Ben. My heart breaks for the family, but after this past weekend I now know what I can say when the time is right.
I can say that the pain will always be under the surface but it won't always be this agonizingly raw. I can say that she is not alone. That there is a whole community ready to embrace her. I can say for sure that there is hope, because I saw it for myself in San Diego. And I can remind her to keep looking up. (I was listening, Michele)
To anyone reading this ... the next time you glance up at the stars, say hi to Ryan and send out some strength to Donna.
Thank you to my new friends who embraced me over the weekend.
And to anyone who has considered going to Camp Widow in the past but was held back by fear ... you should go. Trust me on this one. I wouldn't steer another widow wrong.