I’ve always felt that, 5 years after Megan’s death, I wouldn’t feel like a widow anymore. Not counting those first few months, when I swore up and down that my life was over and that I would never, ever move forward or be able to love again, I consider myself very realistic. I have a stable career. Shelby is and always has been well-adjusted, smart, and healthy. I’m not under mountains of crushing debt, or struggling to make ends meet.
By 3 months, my focus had already shifted from being “lost” to being “off track”, if that means anything different.
Most of the time, my premonition rings true. I don’t focus on the fact that Megan is dead on my day to day life. I do not identify myself as a widower anymore than I identify myself as a Marine, network engineer, or high school graduate. The titles are no more than a minor addition to the whole sum that is “me”.
Then again, with my sixth Camp Widow attendance, in Toronto next weekend, the title of “widower” gains greater significance. It becomes “who I am” for a few weeks.
I don’t attend Camp to take part in workshops or round-table discussions much anymore. I don’t feel a seething need like I did that first time. I’m not outwardly searching for answers, guidance, or even just a shoulder to cry on. I don’t sit and pore over the workshop schedule, becoming frustrated that there are two different sessions that I want to attend, but they are both occurring simultaneously, so I can only choose one.
Rather, I attend camp for multiple other reasons.
I’ve made friends, who also happen to be widowed, that I get to see for only a few days a year. One of those friends is my fiance. Another will be our officiant next summer. I make some new ones every year as well. It’s a chance to break out of the daily work-sleep-work-sleep routine for a long weekend, and be in a place where everyone has a shared suffering that we can feel free to bitch about if we so choose. It’s a mini-vacation, or the worst singles-cruise ever, should you choose to look at it that way.
It’s also a chance to help others. That is the real reason I still attend. I may not conduct a workshop myself, but honestly, I like being “ancillary” to that. I love the “support” role, because really, it’s what I was, with Megan, for a decade. I think of it as “caretaking” on a different level.
I’ve been writing here on the blog for over four years. I’ve been a “gopher” at Camp Widow since Toronto in 2015. Last year, Sarah and I hand-built the lighted “HOPE” sign in our garage...the one that made its appearance at the banquet as part of the message release (and that we’re transporting to Toronto for this year’s Camp) I assisted as a group leader in two round-table workshops. I helped set up rooms for presenters, using my IT knowledge to figure out projectors, audio equipment, and the wi-fi connections. I ran all over the place, making sure that communication among the leadership, presenters, and attendees just “worked”. Hell, Michele gave ME the honor of introducing her for her keynote speech on Saturday morning.
Next week’s Camp Widow will be much the same, and yet different.
The HOPE sign is no secret reveal anymore. Now, I’m driving my far-too-large pickup into the center of the fourth largest city in North America, on a weekday, in order to get it there early. I’m not introducing Michele, of course. I had my own little moment in the spotlight last year. I’ve also volunteered to be an “ambassador”, which is a new role that will exist in Toronto for the first time. I’ve “officially” registered to be a volunteer for the first time, rather than just showing up and asking “what can I help with?”.
Sarah and I have also been creating yet another centerpiece for the banquet on Saturday night. Our third time building the accessory to the message release, to compliment Michele’s lynchpin speech.
Every time I attend camp, I still chip away at the “widower” title, in a new way. At first, the workshops and presentations were healing and productive towards that goal. Nowadays, the fact that I am usually busying myself helping out, preventing me from actually attending any sessions, is the productive exercise.
Could I personally conduct a workshop or presentation myself? Certainly. I like to think that I’m comfortable and confident in front of rooms full of people. I’m well-spoken, direct, and plan well.
Then again, I’m very matter-of-fact. I can come off as cold and unemotional. Other than teaching an actual subject, I don’t feel that my particular “style of presenting” would be of much value at Camp widow, for me, or for attendees.
Ultimately, I don’t have much more to add past four years of writing here.
So I gain value from Camp by helping others. From “caretaking” in that matter-of-fact way. “What do you need?” I ask, “This, this and this”, they say. My response is just “OK”, and I get it done...unemotionally and efficiently.
I spent a decade doing just that, with Megan. I thrive in that role. I counter-intuitively ENJOY that role.
I heal from that role.
I’m still a widower, still attending camp widow, five years after Megan’s death, unexpectedly, and enthusiastically.