~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

The Widowed Blog Slam

The other Camp Widow East session (besides Lessons in Loss and Living) that most stands out in my mind was the Widowed Blog Slam. You know, like a poetry slam, only with blogs by widowed people. When I first heard we were doing this, I was like, "I am SO there!" Really cool.

The session was by turns funny, frustrating, unexpectedly moving, and rewarding.

Funny. Most people wouldn't expect anything on a widow's blog to be funny, but we widows know different. Anyway, watch Robin (AKA SupaFresh Widow) reading her post "Junk mail for the dead, or, YOU CANNOT BE TURNED DOWN!"

Frustrating. I'd incorrectly figured there'd be a laptop there for people to pull their blog up on and read from, so I didn't bring mine. I was having issues with it anyway but when I realized I needed one, I figured I could go get it, plug it in, make SURE it didn't unplug, and be fine. So I left (in the middle of a very emotional post by Brenda, by the way), went back to my room, got the laptop (and, since the battery wasn't working, turned it off in the process, despite Windows telling me not to, as it chose that moment to start installing updates), came back, plugged it in near the front of the room, and sat to again wait my turn. As soon as my turn came, I picked up the laptop, and...the cord fell out, causing, again, the laptop to shut off. Thankfully, another widow lent me her laptop (and Internet connection*). Again, my thanks go to Robin.

Unexpectedly moving. Honestly I hadn't counted on how much emotion could happen in this session. I'm sure it should've occurred to me. It just didn't. But then Brandi read a very emotional post, including talking about Greg being welcomed into the arms of Jesus. Instant tear well-up.

Rewarding. In reading from my other blog, Loving From the Inside Out, I was able to share the personal mission that has grown out of my loss. I read the inaugural post, What This is All About, so everyone would understand the mission and how it came to be, and then one of my all-time favorites, B is for Beauty. Later, a few people separately how much they appreciated "what I'm doing." It's always heart warming to know that others are also on board.

All in all, a great session. Sure hope we can do it at all future Camp Widows!

*No, the (uber-expensive) Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grand Dunes does not have free wi-fi. Seriously?!?

Learned Optimism

At Camp Widow East one of the sessions I attended was called Lessons in Loss and Living, which frankly I felt some resistance to but attended anyway because it seemed the most appropriate for me of the ones in that time block. See, I sometimes feel like the message around "lessons" in this context is: "Well, as long as you can find the lesson in it, that makes it all OK!" Gag.

But as it turned out, this was probably the best session I attended (right up there with the Widowed Blog Slam--more about that one in a future post). [Update: Here's that future post.] The presenter, Dr. Michele Reiss, who's written a book by the same name, is a psychotherapist who works with the terminally ill and the grieving. Incidentally, she worked with the late Randy Pausch (and his family), he of The Last Lecture fame.

What I remember most from what she said was when she talked about the spectrum of optimism and pessimism. A "complete" pessimist, someone who's all the way over on one side of the spectrum--their glass is empty. A "complete" optimist, someone who's all the way over on the other side of the spectrum--their glass is overflowing. She said that in reality, most of us live somewhere in between. She pointed out that when a glass is half empty, it is also half full. She said something to the effect of: "You don't negate the negative, but if you can also let in the positive, that will give you more leverage to deal with the challenges in your life."

"You don't negate the negative"--I appreciate this so much. Because, as I've said before, when it seems that the message is: I need to just "switch" from the negative to the positive, I get pretty annoyed. A) I don't think it's that easy (it may be that simple; it is not that easy) and B) I feel that that message can, in effect, be minimizing of what the person has gone through.

On one of her handouts, Michele put the following:
Key Ingredients for "Learned Optimism":
  1.  Your ability to be aware of positives in your life, despite co-existing negatives.
  2. Choosing to see adversity as a challenge/opportunity, not an immobilizing obstacle.
  3. Taking time to appreciate the small pleasures of the present moment.
  4. Remembering that whatever hardships you encounter, there will be others whose struggles are greater.
The very fact that she calls it "learned optimism" is great. It acknowledges that some of us are still on the pessimism side of the spectrum--way closer to "glass empty" than we would like. So that is very validating. And it posits that one can change in this regard. Not "switch," but take steps. And that strikes me as very realistic.

At this point I feel a lot better about numbers 1 and 3 than I do about 2, and have mixed feelings about 4:
  1. I can totally see how making yourself more aware of the positives in your life can help. In fact, I've started to do that before. Honestly, the biggest challenge for me here may be actually making this a habit. Forming just about any healthy habit is so hard! I haven't written in my I Love Me book (discussed in the post I just linked to) in ages.
  2. I read "Choosing to see adversity as a challenge/opportunity" and think, "Ugh. Seriously?" I struggle with this one. This one's even part of the Christian message."See it as a blessing!" ("it" being whatever horrible thing that's happened) is the idea. "Count it all joy...when you encounter trials of various kinds," Paul said. And all I can think is:
    Are you kidding?!? Exactly how is my fiancĂ©'s death supposed to be a blessing, hm? Oh, 'cause someday I can help people? (Well, I will help others, 'cause there's no way I'm going through all of this pain for nothing.) But--I didn't ask for this. I wasn't looking for a f*cking mission. I was in love, thank you very much.

    And if I seem angry...Damn right, I'm angry.
    Now, "not an immobilizing obstacle"--that I can see. Emotionally I often feel like my life will be "this dark" forever. But intellectually I can give assent to the fact that if I truly think any particular challenge will prevent me from moving...then it probably will.
  3. This one also makes sense to me...and frankly seems pretty easy. If I'm, say, enjoying a cup of coffee, making a point to note how good it is and that I'm deriving pleasure from it...can make for a good moment in my day...that I might not've acknowledged otherwise.
  4. What I think when I hear this is, "Don't compare one person's pain to another's; pain is pain." But wait...struggle isn't exactly the same thing as pain, though I'm sure there's some overlap. In any case I do think we can all observe situations others are experiencing that we're not and think, "Well, I'm  glad I don't have to deal with that." And I don't think that's illegitimate.
So as I see it, my next steps are to start doing the easier ones, 1, 3, and 4. (Why try to start with the hardest one? I'll probably have to work on that one in therapy!) Or...start again I guess! Now if I can just make gratitude/positives journalling a habit...I'll be in business.

P.S. Special thanks to Robin the Supa Freshwidow for her contribution to this post.

Camp Widow East 2012: The Glass is Both Half Empty and Half Full

One of the sessions I attended at Camp Widow East unwittingly provided the "theme" for the weekend for me, namely: The glass is both half empty and half full. More about the session it arose out of (and others) in a future post.

The glass is half empty...
  • I got a late start driving there (and went the wrong way for a while), so I didn't get to the hotel 'til about 2:30 in the morning. Yes, I drove from Ohio to Myrtle Beach, SC. I've always told myself that if I had to drive home (to Minnesota) from Ohio, I could do it. At least I now know that to be true. Hey, the glass isn't completely empty.
  • That weekend the North Carolina National Guard Association was also having their convention in the hotel. This means that for all of Friday and part of Saturday, in the same hallway we had to traverse to go from the lobby to the session rooms, there were tables set up, selling military hardware. I found it all very triggering (no pun intended!). I mean here we are, widows, parading past weaponry--you do the math. I did talk to two military widows about this. One said she herself has worked in the Army for a long time and it didn't phase her; the other pointed out that that stuff saves a lot of lives too. Good point--and I'm glad it didn't affect everyone the way it did me. I know that the Camp Widow organizers can't control what else is going on in the hotel. I just wish more physical separation of the two groups could have been achieved.
  • On Friday night I learned that a fellow unwedded widow, who I've become online friends with and who was set to come and room with me, wasn't coming. I'd been counting on her coming not only for part of the room fee (which she's paying after all) but also to pal around with her...and just to meet her! From the limited interaction we've had so far, I can tell we are kindred spirits. Anyway, honestly, for the first few hours after I learned she wasn't coming, all I could focus on was how it affected me. :( Because even when I'm in a large group of very supportive people, I suck at creating a smaller community for myself. (This subject is definitely big enough for its own post.) It wasn't until I told someone else she wasn't coming and they said "bummer for her" that I realized...oh, right.  :sigh:
  • The weekend was almost a complete technological fail. I forgot to bring the USB-to-electric converter for my cell phone's charger cord. And since my phone eats battery life like it's goin' out of proverbial style, I had no cell phone capability most of the time I wasn't in my room (I could still charge it through my laptop). But besides not having the time on me, this meant, essentially, that I couldn't live-tweet Camp Widow. (Such a first-world problem, I know.) Not a big deal.

    And it really was nothing next to the fact that my laptop, which had been (I thought!) safely ensconced in my suitcase in the trunk, decided to use this occasion to break the battery. It's not that it won't hold a charge, I believe; it appears the battery won't all-the-way connect to the body of the laptop and also won't come back out. Therefore, whenever the electric cord falls out (which, since this is a PC and not a Mac, it is wont to do), the puter shuts off. So annoying. This too would've proven to be no big deal, if it hadn't been for one session, the Widowed Blog Slam, where I intended to read a couple of posts from my other blog. Fortunately, Robin (AKA Fresh Widow) had her laptop there and Internet-connected...and let me borrow it. Blessings to her!

And the glass is also half full...
  • The hotel and location were sublime. I mean, it's the Myrtle Beach Marriott Resort & Spa at Grand Dunes.
    source: marriott.com
    And it's on the beach.
    The hotel was to my left and behind me when I took this.
  • On Saturday morning I had one of the best breakfasts of my life, certainly the best pancakes of my life, in one of the hotel's restaurants. The number of blueberries you see on top was majorly eclipsed by the number inside. This breakfast was worth the $13 I paid for it.

  • The Welcome Reception was fun. We did a new icebreaker this year called "15 Seconds." It was set up sorta like speed dating, only it was just widows and widowers introducing themselves and answering questions that had been written on cards placed on the tables. Everyone who participated got a ticket and afterwards they raffled off prizes (Amazon.com gift cards and such).

  • On Saturday there was a block where none of the sessions appealed to me, so I took a walk on the beach and got a manicure. I don't get to be at the ocean often, and it's been over 20 years since I saw the Atlantic. And in any case, it was just beautiful. I got a lot of great pictures, I collected shells.... The manicure, which you'll see evidence of in the next paragraph, was one of the best I've ever had. No visible chips (with regular polish) for over a week.

  • I (finally) decided to get a widow's ring. Since I've started wearing it--while there is a slight trigger (I never "had" to get used to always wearing a ring before), it has helped strengthen my identity as a widow. And it's a tangible, visible symbol that's always with me--like Ron is always with me.
    "Always in my heart & soul" - ring by Expressions of Grief
  • Among all the other amazing widows I met, I met and became friends with Taryn Davis, founder of the American Widow Project. If she's reading this, I'm sure she's shaking her head at me for this paragraph, but whatever. She rocks. I'm a huge supporter of our military and as a widow, my heart is with all other widow/ers, including my military-widowed sisters and brothers.

  • The banquet on Saturday night was really fun. A chance to dress up--and dance, a DJ who totally "gets it" (I mean, he played "Sexy Back!"), and amazing company. 

  • Michele Neff Hernandez is the Founding President and Executive Director
    of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, which puts on Camp Widow.
  • There were sessions for those Widowed and Not Legally Married and those Widowed With No Children. As one who fits into both categories, I'm glad to see these situations receive specific attention.

  • There were some other really great sessions. (And this time, I'll write one or more posts about them, I promise. Update: You can find those posts here and here.)
  • Most of all, it's Camp Widow! The benefits far outweigh the annoying stuff. This time, the benefits I felt the most, the best benefits by far, are: 
    • Further strengthening of my identity as a widow. Regardless of whether others "agree" or not or understand or not, I am a widow. While I was robbed of the chance to say "yes [I will marry you]" and "I do" to Ron and have never owned his ring, the one I intended to spend the rest of my life with died, so I qualify for this club that none of us wanted to join.
    • Experiencing again the bond that is like no other.
    • Affirmation: "Your 'voice' is so important [that may be a paraphrase]...You're such a great addition to this community" -Robin. "You're so real...I love you already" -Kris (with me in the photo below). "The honor was all mine and seeing your passion for your love and wanting to help others was inspiring ♥ I have no doubt you...are going to do so much..." -Taryn.
    • Instant life-long friendships

So the glass might be both half empty and half full, but at Camp Widow, what it's half full of is something amazing.
© A Road Less Traveled

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