Only a widow would find that title funny…
Boats bobbing in the perfect water against a perfect sky was the unexpected backdrop to what looked like an ordinary hotel conference reception. The mashed potato bar, reminiscent of a kid’s birthday party ice cream sundae station, defied the depth of the conversations that were occurring in small clusters all around the room.
“Is this your first time?”
“It was sudden.”
“He was sick for a long time.”
“I don’t want to talk about it.”
“I see you are a newbie, I’m sorry that you have had to join our club, but we’re glad you’re here.”
Conversations amongst strangers are normally about the weather or sports or funny kid antics. These conversations were about trying not to cry, angry kids and bad hospital experiences. Friendships were made in a matter of minutes, and not just the kind of friendships that last for a night or for the duration of the conference, but for a lifetime.
A little parched the next morning (how many glasses of wine did I drink?), I faced a group of people slowing taking seats in the conference room of my sold out (!) workshop, exchanging nervous smiles, and I made animated conversation with three women in the front row who quickly put me at ease when they asked me to sign my book, the copy they had already bought and started reading the previous night. As I spoke and read from my book, my words induced smiles, and tears and laughter. I suddenly remembered being in that place of not being able to stop the tears that came, but happy when they did, feeling cleansed. I hoped that my words helped people feel cleansed, if even just a little. I hope I offered them that lifeline that it would someday be better, that the hard stuff wouldn’t always be quite so hard. One man asked if it was OK to feel good sometimes, that he felt guilty when he felt happy. I knew just how he felt and told him that living life was exactly what Arron would have wanted for me, what his wife would have wanted for him.
I stepped in and out of conferences all day, trying to hear everyone, see friends, support speakers. The messages were all positive, inspiring, each speaker providing to their audiencesÂ the magic ability to laugh and cry, sometimes at the same time. I spent lunch with a Canadian woman who I had been emailing with for over a year since she emailed me after reading my book. Another face to a name, another friend. Another reassurance that widowhood does not equate with CRAZY, except in all the best possible ways.
I hung around the bookstore, signing my book, which sold out and I laughed when someone told me she almost knocked someone out of the way trying to get the last one. If I thought for one minute that my book was no longer relevant, I was reminded in the most life-affirming way that I was dead wrong (sorry, more widow humour).
That evening was proof of this, as some of those good, crazy people were awarded with plaques that made them cry and giant checks that will get them through another month. We were all glad that Matt was able to knock another itemÂ off his bucket list (i.e. to present someone with a giant check – I would love to see the other items on Matt’s list). There was a dance floor full of people dancing to “I Will Survive,” and line dancing to “Brick House” â€“ songs that suddenly took on new meanings for us all. The dim room sparkled with flashes as people lined up in grinning groups for photos, proof that we had all really been there, that this magic had really happened, that it was possible to smile and still grieve.
A group of us changed and wandered into the teeming downtown streets of San Diego on a temperate August night, finding a bar called “Rock Bottom,” the irony lost on no one. A drunken bachelor handed one of the widows a hat to sign, and she wrote “Get Life Insurance” and he left looking confused as we laughed at yet another black widow joke. We danced as an 80s cover band gyrated onstage and some of us flirted with the guy with the DEVO hat, laughed when they played Journey and songs like “You Spin Me Round (Like A Record),” reminding some of us of another era, one of University dances in sweaty dining halls.
The conference ended on Sunday morning with many refills of coffee and tea, boats bobbing in the morning light, back in the same room where we had begun as strangers, now hugging and exchanging cards and promises to get in touch, visit soon, call anytime, day or night. Everyone lingered, not wanting to say goodbye, not wanting the magic to end.
I flew back sitting next to one of my new widower friends, a man who had lost his wife a year ago. We talked through his ideas for regaining a semblance of order back into his life, a household that had once been the domain of his wife. I threw him my lifeline, assurances that he was doing a great job, that he might even be able to relax a little. Reminders to let go sometimes and feel the wind in his hair.
That is, after all, what Camp Widow is all about.