This past weekend, Sarah and I traveled to Toronto to attend our third Camp Widow there. We’ve both realized that Camp Widow recharges us. Though we may not be in the active throes of grief on a daily basis, with Megan’s death four years ago, and Drew’s six, there is something about telling our stories, and hearing others’ that brings a warmth that we didn’t realize we were lacking.
This year though, it was so much more. I assisted with two of the focus groups on Friday, one for those that lost their partners less than a year ago, and one for widowers. I was given the opportunity and honor of introducing Michele Neff Hernandez for her final keynote address. I helped Sarah setup for her intensive workshop on Saturday, “Rebuilding our Hearts”, and took my leave to let her shine. Those stories are for a different time though. I will certainly be expanding upon my “introduction speech” soon, because ten minutes is certainly not enough time to convey how much my story has been influenced by Michele.
A few months before Camp, Michele contacted Sarah, and proposed an idea for the message release that is conducted at each and every Saturday banquet at Camp. It was to be a large sign, displaying the word “Hope”, with a similar look and feel to the large “Toronto” sign just across the street from the hotel. Since we can easily drive to Toronto from Ohio, and I have a pickup truck, logistically, it was easier (and obviously more cost effective) for us to create something and deliver it across the border than it would be to ship something from California.
We worked for weeks creating this. Purchasing supplies, calculating, measuring, cutting materials, sanding, painting, gluing, and lighting these letters. As late as the Wednesday night before camp, we were cutting out small cork “bricks” and tying a string to over 200 of them.
It was a lot of work, to say the least, but the reception we received to it was far and away more than we could have ever imagined.
To see so many hurting people, carefully choosing the perfect location to hang their loved one’s name, choosing the statement they wanted to personify in the heart they took with them (hope, wisdom, love, courage, or home), stating their person’s name to all in the room, brought to tears, followed by the joy of the banquet itself was profoundly moving.
I had, personally, received so many “thank yous” by the end of the weekend that I could do nothing other than carefully re-pack the sign into my truck with as much care as I put into getting it to Canada. As we drove home, my mind was already brainstorming ways to upgrade these four simple foam letters for the next time they emerge to help create a foundation of hope.
“We can make them more durable by covering them in fiberglass. We can make taller pedestals, so they are even more visible from the banquet seating. We can reinforce the mounting points, to make them more stable. Some extra coats of paint, and maybe even some clearcoat. Maybe we can find some kind of magnetic facing to make it simpler to attach and detach messages” - All of these thoughts crossed my mind, and continue to do so today.
They’re very “technical” thoughts. They aren’t the creative genius that Michele and Sarah shared, tying more into the meaning of this sign. I am happily resigned to let the two of them discuss the finer points of bricks versus hearts, how the widow(er)s will interact with them, and how this display will truly bring hope in more than just a literal sense. I am but a simple man that knows how to do geometry, cut things into a shape, and attach it all together.
That is why Sarah and I make a great team. She’s the creative, thoughtful, artistic and loving heart behind this (along with Michele, of course). I’m the technical, machine-like “grunt” that looks at it with a project-focused, logistical eye. We had two totally different, yet complementary approaches to creating this.
Much like the attendees at Camp Widow. All of us have different stories. Different approaches to life after death. Different situations, and different circumstances of loss. Some of us are “content”, four years after our loved one’s death. Some of us are still in the fog ten years later. Some of us are “old”, but feel young. Some of us are young, but feel “weathered”. Some of us have no one to turn to other than Soaring Spirits. Some of us have loving and understanding friends with us through thick and thin. Some of us turn to the bottle. Some of us seek professional help. Some of us are fine on our own. Some of us have accepted what happened. Some of us refuse to acknowledge it. Some of us were married for decades. Some of us never made it to marriage. Some of us lost our partners suddenly. Some of us had to watch them wither over time. Some of us have children, and worry about caring for them. Some of us never got to have children. Some of us are, honestly, glad we don’t have children in this situation.
This past weekend though, at least two hundred widows and widowers, each with their own stories, all shared in one thing on this road we walk…