This past weekend Mike and I attended Camp Widow Toronto. We helped out with a lot of things this year, from leading panel discussions and groups, to building the enormous sign of HOPE for the banquet and working with Michele to plan the message release around it. I also hosted my creative workshop again, for the second year, which was an absolutely incredible experience.
There was so much to do before ever getting to camp… we have been working tirelessly for the past month or two to get ready. It has meant long nights and very busy weekends planning, dreaming, building, painting, budgeting, and hoping it will all go as well as we imagine. I stepped out of my own comfort zone in many ways. Not only in what we physically created in the huge sign of HOPE, which Mike wrote more about last week in his post. Also though, in deciding to commit myself so fully to focusing not one what I needed this year, but on what I had to give.
I can’t help but wonder, just how did I get here? Me… who just six years ago was so broken that I feared I'd never be able to put the pieces back together. Me… who couldn't even feed myself for 2 weeks after his death. Who couldn't even buy dental floss at the grocery store or remember to pay my credit card bill for 6 months. Who woke every morning for so long in a horror, wishing with all my heart that it was all just a nightmare. On top of all that, I have spent a lifetime fighting deep-rooted self doubt. Fighting to believe that I have anything of value to give to others. Just how did I get here then, shining a light for others along the path?Read more
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.Read more
In the morning, I am getting up at an ungodly hour (4am) to wait for my friends who are picking me up and then we are driving the 9 hour road trip to Toronto Canada for Camp Widow. We did this same thing last year, and we had fun on our car ride together. And of course, after arriving, the weekend was filled with healing, laughter, grief tools, honoring love, and friendship. I expect nothing less to be true this time around.
It is the 10 year anniversary of Soaring Spirits International, and the founder, Michele Neff Hernandez, has decided to step down from doing her "Key Note Address", which she has done at every single Camp Widow since the event began. At each camp event, she creates a themed talk , always with a beautiful and poignant and different message, and she delivers it on the big stage on the Saturday morning at 9 am of the Camp Widow weekend. Her Key Note has always been my very favorite part of camp, and I can already feel myself getting emotional as I think about never hearing her words of comfort and wisdom again on that stage. I wonder who else will do the Key Notes, and will I be moved by their message? I'm not the greatest when it comes to change, and right now, I'm still in the deep mourning phase of my acceptance of this reality.
The other thing going on for me is that this year, I am in a beautiful relationship with my next great love story. And although I love going to Camp Widow and always will, I don't want to leave him behind right now, for reasons I cant get into here, but I just wish we could be together at this time. He cant come with me because of work and other commitments and money, so we will part for 4 days and miss each other and talk every day and all of that.Read more
I just returned from my 500 billionth Camp Widow.
Okay, I'm exagerating, but not by much. Besides, I lost count long ago on how many times I have been honored to be a presenter at this amazing healing place called Camp Widow.
July 13th was the 7-year mark of Don's death. Camp Widow began on July 13th. Friday the 13th. Nothing incredibly weird happened on Friday the 13th at camp, other than the fact that my entire life is incredibly weird all the time.
This time, at camp, I was going there as both a presenter and also a new author, my book being out on Amazon for over a month now, and on sale at the Camp Widow bookstore. The entire weekend people came up to me and asked for their book to be signed. It was my honor. My favorite part of that was sitting there and penning the name "Kelley Lynn Shepherd" over and over, knowing that I did not take my husband's name when we married, but that I would now take it on the pages of this book. Writing that name again and again made me feel so emotional. So filled with pride that I was well-loved by this incredible man. So happy to share with the world, pieces of our story.
At camp, I met new friends and saw old ones. I attended some workshops that helped me to heal just a little bit more. I had lots of drinks, hugs, and support down by the pool. I dipped my toes in the Pacific Ocean - on two different days. I sat in my widow friend's bed and ate chocolate chips with her while laughing at our strange lives. I waded in the pool, floating from end to end without a care in the world. I went on a sunset cruise to celebrate Soaring Spirits 10-year anniversary in existence. I ate lunch at the famous Hotel Del Coronado, with two widow friends. I stood on a balcony from my hotel room, admiring the gorgeous view of San Diego, and appreciating all of the beauty in nature. I enjoyed an unexpected upgrade into a suite, where I spent the morning of July 13th reflecting quietly, and alone, and with my dead husband. I gave my presentation to the largest crowd I've ever had at Camp Widow to date. I danced to Prince out on the dance floor, and held out my arms and empathy when a fellow widowed brother had an outburst of tears overflowing.Read more
I heard the quote, “shoutout to the plants growing through concrete” and liked it. I thought of seeing a plant or two pushing its way through to continue growing towards the light. I thought of what I believe the quote intended, that a seemingly small, fragile plant can actually be stronger than what is thought to be powerful, forceful concrete. That a person, who is acted on by forces seemingly much stronger than themselves, can in fact break through and continue to grow despite whatever tried to bury them. I love that imagery. I always pictured it in a small scale though. Maybe one or two lonely but resilient plants.
Then I took this walk through what use to be untouched natural land. There was a paved path so people could walk through. I was so amazed by what I saw. Endless amounts of plants that had been paved over pushing through and distorting the pavement to continue growing. Not just growing through existing cracks but making way for themselves and creating the cracks for themselves after being fully covered with nowhere to go. Making cracks so big that it is difficult to walk on the pavement in this area. The plants have pushed the pavement out of the way. I was so excited by this. It isn’t just one, strong plant, it is so many, different types of plants growing together. It made me think of the many, many people who have obstacles thrown in their way and how so many of them choose to keep fighting and “grow through their pavement” whatever that may be. I thought of the widow community, my widowed friends, people I’ve met at Camp Widow, or even just in online groups, and about how many strong, resilient people I’ve had the privilege of witnessing and growing beside. I think of all the people that don’t just sit idle and let themselves be paved over. It really is inspiring.
This is now my favourite walk to take. I silently root for those little plants to keep growing through and hope for the ones that are still buried underneath to push through on their own or with the help of the other plants. Nature’s resilience is amazing. People’s resilience is too.
*Normally I write on Fridays, and although this post will appear here on Friday, I am writing it Wednesday evening, and setting it to publish Friday. This way I dont have to worry about finding a computer to post the blog while at the Marriott and busy with other things.
Three years is not an insignificant amount of time to be in a relationship with someone.
Three years is how long Megan and I dated before we were married.
Three years is how long Megan was “healthy” during our relationship.
Three years is how old Shelby was when her mother was carted away in an ambulance, on her way to an unknown future.
Three years is how long Sarah and Drew were together before his death.
Three years ago, Sarah and I met.Read more
“I dream of wandering”
That was the simple, unpolished statement written upon my paper heart at Camp Widow. Sarah and I were a large part of the message release there...constructing the large heart, cutting out all of the smaller ones, mounting it in the banquet area, and being the first two to place our torn dreams in front of the rest of the campers. I knew what was to be asked by Michele, well in advance, and so when the time came, I had my answer swiftly.
I enjoy “wandering”. I love finding new places, whether on the road, or trudging through knee-deep mud. Very often, I will pick a dot on the map, and head “that direction” in the most wandering way possible. For me, the journey is truly part of the adventure.
I'm writing this a bit late today, but for a very good reason. As I type this, Mike and I are driving back from Toronto. For the past few days, we've been enjoying the company of so many beautiful, brave people here at Camp Widow Toronto... some of who may be reading these words.
If you've never been, I can assure you, this gathering of love and healing put on three times a year by Soaring Spirits is one that is lifechanging. I can still remember my first Camp. I was so cynical about going. It honestly sounded stupid – mainly because I was afraid of opening my heart. Cynicism is great for avoiding openness.
By the end of that first camp, I was changed. My heart was opened up, my cynicism gone. I didn't cry in front of people embarrassingly. Instead, we cried together. I made new friends who got all of it. I laughed probably harder than I had since my fiance died, too. I left feeling proud that the word “widow” was a part of me, because I'd spent the weekend surrounded by some of the bravest, most authentic, most loving souls I had ever met. I left that first camp no longer hating the word “widow”. I left feeling proud to belong to this club that no one wants to belong to, and have been proud ever since.
Fast forward a few years to today and now I am experiencing a new perspective. This time, I wasn't coming back because I was in that broken place and in search of how the hell to keep living and breathing each day. I wasn't coming with a cynical mindset about my grief. This time, I was here to give back, like so many had done for me, by teaching a workshop.Read more
On February 5th, 2015, I wandered into a Hotel in Tampa, Florida, not quite sure if I was supposed to be there. I had lost Megan less than three months prior, and I hadn’t honestly accepted the fact that I was now a Widower. In the year leading up to it, I had spent more time sitting next to my dying wife than anything else.
Like many of us, I was searching for answers to hypothetical questions. “Who am I now?” and “What am I supposed to do?” served only as constant reminders that, well, “I don’t know” was the only answer.
Almost three years later, and the questions, and the answers, are still the same. What has changed, and what I’ve learned in that time is that we will never know the answer, but we are always inching closer to it.