The people in this photo have experienced despair. These smiling faces have cried buckets (okay maybe an ocean) of tears because someone they love is not coming home, ever. Some of us were called to an emergency room or opened the door to a uniformed officer who told us the news that would change our lives; while others sat by a bedside day after day, night after night...climbing into a hospital bed to say the final good bye.
Our widowed journey began anywhere from a few short weeks ago to more than ten years ago. We are women, men, married, not married, remarried, straight, gay, religious, not religious, some of us have children while others do not, we came alone and in groups, we have met on-line or never before....but none of this mattered. For three lovely days in San Diego, California what mattered was hope.
Hope was a palpable presence wherever we gathered. We overcame fear of travel, or rejection, or not fitting in, or the awkward first steps in getting to know a new person in order to embrace the hope that we tasted in the air. To allow that hope into our hearts we were willing to say words that have been stuck in our throats (maybe for years); shed tears we thought were dried up; listen to another story with a tragic ending; accept the word widow as a role that impacts our lives; and stand side by side with others who were both like us and different from us. Sometimes the last step that was necessary to get to the hope that was within arms reach, literally, was terrifying. I watched many of these faces battle internally with whether they would take that last step towards hope...towards another widowed person. But time and time again hope led people to climb over their walls and take a risk.
Each person in this photo radiates hope. Sometimes they may not recognize the glow, and many times when despair knocks they are covered in shadow. But underneath the blanket that grief throws over our lives is the light we each carry within us, still flickering. When you gather 275 flickering lights in one place, hope burns brightly.
Thank you to each and every camper for: taking a risk, reaching out, embracing the widowed person next to you, being willing to let down your guard, facing your fears, and allowing your personal light to shine. Together we made a difference, together we are more than just one word.