Posted by: carolyn / through a widow's eyes | May 31, 2011

We Widowed as Community, Camp Widow as Village Square

Before becoming a widow, I never thought it was possible to be so connected to so many people I have never met. I never thought I could love people who are not right here before me. What I have learned since losing Jeff is that love exists in so many places and manifests in so many ways beyond what I had previously known as a girl, woman, wife and mother. The love my husband and I shared is still palpable, strong, and flowing in both directions. And the community of the widowed and grieving has held me close and truly helped to save my life in these months since my husband passed away.

I started spending time online when Jeff was sick. At first it was to do research on his cancer. Then, as his illness progressed, and he slept most of the day, I couldn’t work much or leave the house for long. I started to poke around on websites and blogs and Facebook, and I started to find people with stories similar to mine.

Before Jeff died, I never knew a widow my age. I had no idea there were so many of us out here blindly banging into things. Together, as a community, we walk and witness alongside each other with compassion and encouragement, contributing how much THIS SUCKS and lots of (((((hugs))))), along with support groups and blogs and pictures of our beloveds, our old lives. No matter what time of day or night, there is always someone out there who never says the wrong thing, someone who “gets it”, someone who knows firsthand that while no one can take away our loss, witnessing another’s pain is precious work and a gift to both parties.

Losing Jeff to cancer was far, far harder than I had thought possible. Since he had been sick for some time, and we – or at least I – knew at diagnosis what the outcome would likely be, I also thought that most of my grieving would be over when he actually left us. Never been more wrong about anything in my life! As Lisa Niemi, Patrick Swayze’s widow, said, “The actual loss – it’s like an animal all of its own […] It made all the sadness and grief previous to that look like an intellectual concept. This sadness was on a cellular level.”

The monolithic fact of my beloved’s absence is present at every turn. I crash into it constantly. A plethora of physical symptoms afflict us. Can’t eat, can’t think, can’t work, can’t sleep. Because of widowed friends, most of whom I’ve never met, I know it’s not just me. Insomnia and brain fog has affected most every night and day for a long, long time. But because of you, I know I’m not crazy, or if I am, then I have lots of company.

“Grief is love. The physical pain, anguish, yearning, rage. All of this is love. If we are among the fortunate – the ones who love and live long enough – each of us will take a turn at this particular mode of love. Because it is love, grief can be trusted. It is not, in itself, mental illness, (although, because it demands so much effort, it can make us more vulnerable to mental and physical illness) and it is not, in itself, traumatic or damaging to a human being. ” -Kate Braestrum, Beginner’s Grace

It has been so helpful to be able to go to the laptop in the darkest hours of night and find someone to talk to, something to watch, an idea to ponder, a link to click, a song sent from a friend. You send me links to bring tears of healing laughter streaming down my cheeks. I’ve been made to laugh when I thought I could not. One of our own has said: “Our senses of humor have taken a downward turn to the Land of Sick and Wrong.” The humor and friendship and real love among us may be the things that are saving our lives, allowing us to keep doing the things we cannot do.

Songs, lyrics, poems to cry with or to instill that thing called hope have come to my mailbox at the precise perfect moment. Blog posts hit the nail on the head, and I feel part of a very real village sitting here alone with the laptop. I’ve received notes and comments at the same time more spontaneous and far more intimate than any condolence card. The facelessness (how ironic) of our contact has allowed people to be candid and kind beyond anything I ever expected. Illuminated words that hold me close and send love across the internet to my darkened room, only the screen glowing its pale blue light, arrive when I have needed them the most. If one of us is not heard from for a few days, others become concerned and check in to make sure our compatriot is ok.

Camp Widow, held this year August 12-14 in San Diego, is the culmination of a year’s worth of friendship, love, and strength that we draw from each other. It is a real-life assertion that we are indeed alive and have the ability to receive, something to offer, and much to share.

I learned about Camp Widow a few days after Jeff died, too late attend that summer. I was immobilized by grief, and leaving home to fly across the country was out of the question. Then last year was the first full year he was gone, and I couldn’t justify the expense or the time away from our fatherless daughter.

My husband and I owned a small home-based business, and once Jeff became seriously ill, no one in our house worked for many months. We lived on grocery store gift cards, and credit cards, and money we had set aside for college and retirement. I will be paying off our debt for many years, and there are some things I can never repay. We have not lost our house only because of the kindness of others. (Thanks Mom!)

This year the second anniversary of Jeff’s death falls a few weeks before the opening of Camp Widow. This year I do not cry EVERY day, and finances are not QUITE so dire. By that I mean my tax return showed a positive number this year, unlike the past few years. Yes, as we all know, losing a spouse and partner means losing so much more as well.

I looked at the Camp Widow registration form longingly and fantasized about which workshops to attend, which faces familiar from profile photos I would see across the ballroom, what tears and laughter we would share. But still, I let deadlines pass because I can’t manage the expenses of registering for the conference, staying in a fancy hotel, and flying across the country to spend a weekend with the people who have been there for me the most.

I sometimes get a glimmer of hope that through my experience I can help others walking down this dark path, too. I don’t yet know what form that help will take, but when it comes, aside from mothering it may be the most important work I ever do.

Stronger in the broken places, the men and women who have lost the love of their lives can eventually be only a force for good in the world. We know how precious love is, how short time is, how illusive control is, and once we begin to heal, we are not willing to live less than the life that is meant for us. I’m not there yet, but I know I will be.

Camp Widow brings together the comfort, the healing, and the life force of all of us. “No actual camping involved!”



  1. Carolyn, Again you write exactly how I feel. You have the gift of putting into words what my heart and mind tells myself. I have been in this ‘hell’ for 2 1/2 years. I think I’m getting better and WHAM down for the count again. Thank You so much, I look for your writings and read them a few times over. The ‘other’ Carolyn


  2. I lost my husband and best friend to cancer just 10 short weeks ago. He 51, I 48; we would have celebrated 20 years married this August. I happened across your blog on this early Sunday morning, as I was googling images for tattoos. I couldn’t believe what I was reading. It’s like you are speaking what I am feeling, right down to finding hearts “everywhere”. Our journey with this hateful disease also lasted 14 months. THis was 3 months after we lost our business to a fire. So I also know about limited to no income.
    Our “tests” have been harsh the last couple of years, and somedays I’m amazed that I even get up out of bed, but I do, because I have children (22 & 18). I don’t know any widows my age and I feel very alone at times. Someone actually “brought to my attention”, that I will be the only widow at our Class Reunion in July – some people should really grow a brain.
    I have no family where I live (My parents are both gone and my sister lives across the country). It can be very isolating. So I thank you for writings – they are very comforting.



  3. Thanks so much for writing your post!!! Would be great to meet you at last!


  4. Carolyn, it would be so nice to meet you at Camp Widow! Thank you for your comment on my post. I’m glad I’ve discovered your blog. I can relate so much to your post about heart-shaped stones. I’ve had those experiences with cranes (the birds), though I’ve got to say I have never come across a heart-shaped stone. It just proves they’re for you only!


  5. Beautifully written Carolyn.


  6. […] So I wrote the best essay I could, here: […]


  7. Carolyn, Congratulations !! So glad for you winning the trip to San Diego !! The way you write and put thoughts and emotions together is truly a gift, you will love San Diego, it’s my hometown. Write us and tell us all about it.
    ” the other Carolyn”


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