It’s been over a year since I attended my first Camp Widow. In less than two weeks, Sarah and I will be travelling to Tampa again to attend this year’s installment.
I’d be remiss to say that we weren’t incredibly excited. Not only do we get to see, converse, and connect with widowed friends that we don’t regularly see otherwise, we also get to leave the not-so-cold winter environment in Ohio and travel to Florida, together, for a few days in the warmth. It’s been a frequent topic of our conversations for the last month or two, and it is not just because of the fact that it is a mini vacation for us.
This past weekend, I remembered why.
Sarah had a small art opening at a local cafe here in Ohio, where she is exhibiting some of her photography. As expected, this was shared on Facebook, and an invite was sent out to the event. One of our widowed friends, who lives about two hours away in Columbus, decided that she would like to drive up and spend the evening with us at the event.
Though she lives close by (at least, by Texas standards), we offered to let her stay at my house overnight. She arrived, we attended the event, had some wine, and on the way home, we stopped for burgers at a drive-in.
While we were waiting for our food to come out to the car is when I realized why both Sarah and I love going to Camp Widow. Our mutual friend, who neither of us had seen in over a year, fell right in with us and our attitudes. There is some sort of freakish bond that we widow(er)s share, be it shared trauma or shared cynicism. All three of us in that car had lost the person we thought we would spend most of our lives with, and while we all could seamlessly “hang out” like old friends, none of us would know each other had our losses not happened.
We arrived at my house and spent the remainder of the evening trading banter back and forth, watching ridiculous TV shows, and eating our burgers. This person, whom I personally had only met once, in Florida a year ago, was welcomed into my house just as much as someone I grew up with, and it felt great. I dozed off on the couch while she and Sarah were still chatting away, feeling comfortable.
The next morning, we sat in the living room and talked for hours before she had to head back home. We talked of the complexities of being widowed with children, moving in with our new persons, remembering our lost persons, dating, bills, travel, and everything else that becomes that much more stressing when one is a widow.
We had a miniature version of Camp Widow, in my living room. Our shared and differing experiences, all combining into an unconsciously therapeutic series of “workshops”. It was natural conversation flow; not something that we “decided” to talk about, but it demonstrated that we were in a “safe” space to discuss and tell about our stories and outlooks without fear of judgment.
We all knew that there is no single way to cope or “deal” with being a widow. There is no set timeline or method for working through grief. In that room, all of us had individual circumstances, ranging from long-term illnesses, sudden losses, children, relationship durations, and more. I could tell my story, knowing it was completely different from the other two’s, and have no qualms or fears of opinions. Talking together was not only fun, it was healthy and stress-free.
As is Camp Widow. Whether it's 300 widows in Tampa, or 3 widows in my living room, being able to share our stories in a safe space and talk about what our daily struggles may be, regardless of circumstances is one of the most valuable tools when dealing with ANY stress. To know there are like-minded people that have experienced even a small amount of the same stresses, and to interact and spend time with them is precisely why Camp Widow exists. To have a small hint of that in my house a few weeks beforehand only served to reaffirm that attending Camp is something that should be ongoing, and not a “one-time” deal.
Because you’re never totally healed.