~ notes from an uncommon journey ~

The Camp Widow 2012 Message Releases

At Camp Widow East this year, we did something that was new at the time, a message release. In our conference bags they'd given all of us a glass heart, along with a small piece of paper and a piece of string to tie them together. We wrote whatever we wanted on the paper, wrapped it around the heart, and tied it with the string. Then after the banquet on Saturday night, we all took our hearts with us as we headed out past the pool and down the wooden sidewalk that lead right onto the beach. It was great: we were all in our finery, most of us barefoot in the sand (having left our shoes under a lamp by the pool), with glow sticks around our necks (so no one would get lost...genius!). And then, individually or in groups, standing back or wading in, at whatever moment worked for us, we hurled our message-encased glass hearts into the ocean. It was a great moment.

The thing is, what I remember about it, more than I remember the moment I threw that glass heart into the sea, is that I walked into and lived this experience with my beautiful new friend Kris, which is a good thing, but also that I was a little distracted--by laughing with Kris, by thinking about a CW attendee that I'd started to admire (and no, I'm not going to tell you who it is). It's not my biggest regret in life or anything (ha!), but I kinda wish I'd focused a little more, gotten more "into" the experience.

That was Camp Widow East.

At Camp Widow West, we again had a glass heart in our bag and were told there'd be a message release, but this time it it was going to be on the terrace. In other words: the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina, while it is near the water, is not right on the beach. So I kept thinking, "How are we gonna do this message release? We can't throw glass hearts from a few stories up!"

And, once again, I had paid a little less attention than I now wish I had. (Geez, what is my problem?!?) I hadn't read the note was inside the bag containing the glass heart, explaining the ritual--in truth, I hadn't known there was a note in there--so I didn't know that a) there were actually 3 hearts in there (and 3 small, blank pieces of paper) or b) that we were supposed to write one of the following on each: something you want to get rid of, something you were hoping to gain from Camp Widow, and something you're grateful for. Someone explained it to me right before we walked to the terrace, so I quickly wrote mine out and hurried to join the crowd already gathered on the terrace, listening to Michele explain how it was going to work.

It turns out they had 3 fire pits set up on the terrace, in a straight line but spaced apart, and we would walk to each one and toss one of the wrapped hearts into the fire by turn: in the first one, the thing we wanted to get rid of; in the second, the thing we wanted from Camp Widow, and in the third, the thing we're grateful for. 

Though I'd gone into it in a hurried, distracted way again, this time...I was unprepared for how powerfully this ritual would affect me.

Michele had asked everyone to do this quietly, so it could be a contemplative experience. And we did. It was amazing: a few hundred people, all virtually silent, as we carried out our personal ritual within the larger one, as we huddled in groups just taking in the event or went off by ourselves. I loved that silence. 

I'm not going to name what I wrote on that first piece of paper; suffice it to say it's a negative emotion. And as I waited behind others at the first pit, as I stared at that fire, as I dropped my wrapped heart into it, all I could think was, "I really do want to get rid of this." The tears came up from so deep and they came so fast and so strong, I was caught off guard. 

I can't remember exactly what I wrote on the second paper, but I know it had to do with the connection, the friendship, even the love we share as widows. Those 3 words are points along a continuum; they're all part of the same thing: the bond that the widowed share. It is like no other bond I have ever experienced. It's practically instant, it's very deep, and it is incredibly strong. Even for a widowed person I had a connection with but not even friendship yet, I would go to the mat for them if they had the need and I had the means to help.

I do believe I wrote "friendship" on the third paper. (Did I repeat myself from the 2nd paper? That's unlike me, but while I can't remember exactly, that's what my brain is telling me.) I do believe friendship is what I was most grateful for in that moment. Being surrounded by so many widowed people, many who have genuinely become my friends...I was and am so grateful for them and for the people and forces in my life that took me from a relatively alone-feeling place to Camp Widow the first time to meet all of them and become a part of their lives and they a part of mine.

And the spontaneous hugs when one of them sees your tears...No words necessary.

...except: Thank you, Tom. ♥

What I Learned at Camp (Widow West '12)

Some of the unwedded widows at CWW '12: Renee, Melanie, Brandi, Laura, and me

It's hard to believe I've gone to my 3rd Camp Widow already. (You can read about my CW '11 experience here and my CWE '12 experiences here, here, and here.)

Besides the saga that was just getting there, the weekend was generally awesome. Here are some of the things I learned (or was reminded of) at Camp:
  • I'll remember more from a session if I actually bring my laptop with me to take notes. On Friday it was in my room...just not in my hands.
  • It's OK to leave a session and slip into another one if the first one isn't doin' it for ya. This is one of those things I already knew but was reminded of. And for future Camps I'm gonna give myself even more permission to just not go to any session during a given time period if I'm not feelin' any of 'em. Actually I've done that once already, and I enjoyed it. The whole experience is something I'm doing for myself, after all. There's no requirement to attend a given session. There's no need to force anything.
  • During the social times, while it's great to reconnect with friends from previous Camps, we can't forget to incorporate new attendees. During the welcome reception, a new friend told me it seemed rather clique-ish. This is not good. It's certainly the opposite of what the Camp Widow organizers are going for. Not everyone is a social butterfly like me, and I think it behooves us more-experienced Campers to make a point to seek out and include new ones.
  • Michele Neff Hernandez (Founding President and Executive Director of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation and creator of Camp Widow) led a session called "What the Grinch Taught Me About Love." The big idea I carried away from that session was: Not only are there great men out there (which Ron first helped me see), but there are great men who can and will treat my widowhood with a great deal of sensitivity and respect. And some of these men are actually not widowed themselves!

    I could name numerous examples of this, as I now know many remarried widows. But here I'll just mention Michael Dare, Michele's husband. Michael is the CWW photographer and as such he regularly travels to and helps with an event where he hears--over and over--his wife talk about how much she loved and still loves her dead husband. And he basically thinks it's ridiculous that Michele would do anything but continue to honor the man who meant so much to her. Can I just say? The man is a gem. Anyway--and this is huge--men like Michael give me hope.
  • The big idea I took away from Debra Morrison's session was: I can think about the things that already give me confidence--things I do well, have succeeded at, that I like about myself--and use those things to raise my overall confidence so I can better handle whatever comes next. Debra said: "If we can search for ways to embellish our confidence we will be stronger at everything." That's so cool. On one level this could seem like an obvious thing, but this was a new way of thinking about it for me.
  • I attended Deborah Tucker's session about PTSD. I don't think I have PTSD, but don't think I won't carefully review the comparison chart (grief/bereavement to traumatic grief to PTSD) to see if I'm right. Even more valuable, as it turned out, than the session itself was a conversation I had with Debra and another (retired) therapist later. This was on Saturday night. We talked a bit about a kind of therapy called EMDR. The next morning at the closing breakfast, that second therapist gave me a bunch of really helpful information about this therapy, and I am definitely going to look into it. 
There's still more I learned, but I'm saving it for a future post or two. All in all a great Camp!

Oh, and I didn't just learn stuff; I had fun too!

That's Taryn Davis (Founder and Executive Director of the
American Widow Projectas Darth Vader and Tom Schmidt with me
(Official Camp Widow photo courtesy of Soaring Spirits International.)

Just Getting to Camp Widow West Was a Challenge!—or: How to Succeed While Failing

Last weekend was Camp Widow West 2012. I'll blog more about it later, but first I gotta tell you about the saga that is: the story of my just getting to San Diego.

My flight schedule was Columbus to Minneapolis, Minneapolis to San Diego. (There is no direct Columbus to San Diego, and in the ~18 years I've lived here, there never has been. I fail to understand this.) If everything had gone as planned, I wouldn't have landed 'til almost midnight San Diego time, and that would've kind of sucked, but hey, I stay up late every night, so no big deal, right? Oh, if only.

Before I got to the airport, I checked the flight status, and it was listed as on time. (Delta has an app. for that; thank you, Delta. By the way it has a lot of other great features, like the boarding pass right on your phone--love that. Highly recommended if you ever fly Delta.) But after I got to the gate, it slowly dawned on me that they were announcing a delay. (Despite the fact that the announcement was about my flight, it didn't immediately catch my attention for whatever reason.) The plane that would've taken us to Minneapolis was delayed getting to Columbus because of weather, and we were now scheduled to take off almost 2 hours later than we would have otherwise. And if I'd gotten on that delayed flight, I would've had less than 20 minutes to make my connection in Minneapolis. The Columbus gate agent said we were in danger of missing our connection if it took off before 10:30. Mine was scheduled to take off at 10:00.

The Columbus gate agent said something like, "If you don't want to wait in this line [which was already quite long, and of course I wasn't in it], you can come get one of these Need Help cards, and an agent will come speak with you." I'd never heard of a "Need Help card" before; it must be something new Delta's trying. And wouldn't you think everyone would want one of those cards, 'cause no one likes to wait, really? 'Course, if everyone got one, they'd still have to wait! Anyway, I picked one up, and the front said just (you guessed it) "Need Help?" and on the back were all the ways...you could get help yourself! (Such is the state of customer service these days.)

So I called the phone number that was listed, and the first option was "If you are in an airport, press 1." Bingo. Except--the woman I spoke with told me that there were no later flights from Minneapolis or from any other hub (on that or on any other airline) or if there were, they were all sold out. She suggested my getting on a plane the next day, flying Columbus to Atlanta and then to San Diego. Uh...no. My first CWW session started at 11AM on Friday San Diego time. There was no way, if I could help it, that I was going to miss any part of CWW, much less the whole first day. At one point I said to her (animated voice), "I can't miss what I'm going to! I just can't miss it!" I'm thinking, "You just don't understand." I didn't actually play the widow card, though it probably wouldn't have done me any good anyway. So--I decided to risk it in Minneapolis. I mean, it is my hometown so I know the airport really well (although--it is constantly changing, it seems like). And I'm not unwilling to run through an airport like a fool if I have to. And of course, worst case scenario, if I miss the connection and get stranded, I can always call my sister and say, "Hey, can I stay at your house tonight?" lol.

Right after I hung up, a man sitting nearby said to me, "Hey, there's a flight to Los Angeles tonight; it leaves from that gate right over there....I heard you yelling at that woman, so I thought I'd mention it." Well, I wasn't really yelling (honest!), but anyway. I was like, "Reeeally!" He goes, "Yeah." So I called the number back and got rebooked on that flight. I walked to the other gate, where the agent printed my new boarding pass and rechecked my bag. I then walked back over to the guy and thanked him. I again did not play the widow card; ergo, he doesn't even know just how much his sharing that little piece of information means to me.

While waiting for my new flight, I used my laptop to reserve a rental car in LA. Because I didn't plan on keeping it past that night, I made it a one-way. This cost me an (unexpected, of course) $125.

We landed in LA at about 11:40 LA time, and it was midnight before I got to the Avis counter. The Avis guy practically tried to trick me into buying insurance and in the process was slightly rude to me, but I caught the difference when I looked at the total and turned that down.

I have turn-by-turn navigation on my phone (thank you, Google and Android). It got me to Myrtle Beach and back, so I had every confidence it would work here. I even turned down a GPS unit at the Avis counter.

So I went to my car, figured out where everything was and adjusted the mirrors and stuff, typed the San Diego airport (where I'd return the car) into my Navigation app, and start following its directions. Soon I was on the 405 South.

Well, naturally, I did not know that the 405 South closed somewhere in/south of LA. It was one of those deals where they reduced it one lane at a time, before siphoning us all off onto some road called Seal Beach Blvd. I've never been to LA in my life, so I have no idea where I am; I'm just following what the GPS is continuing to tell me to do and what all the other cars are doing. Yes, it's a freakin' backup--at ~1 in the morning.

So there I was, on Seal Beach Blvd. in Los Angeles at ~1AM, inching along, at a mind-numbingly slow pace, with all the other cars. I didn't realize 'til later that all we were doing was getting to the next cross street, which would take us back to the 405, south of the closure. I also didn't realize until it was too late that if I'd gotten one lane over (instead of staying in the slower, left-most lane), I'd have gotten to that cross street a lot sooner. Of course, I had no way of knowing any of this.

At some point while I'm on Seal Beach Blvd., my phone beeps low battery at me. Of course. I said this of my previous phone and I say it of my current one (thanks a lot, LG and Samsung): "There's nothing for the life of my phone's battery quite like, oh, not using it." And of course, when you're using the GPS, it's constant communication with the towers, so...there ya go. I didn't have a car charger with me 'cause I hadn't expected to need one. The only one I owned at the time didn't work anyway! So, even though I was driving (it was really slow, remember?), I found my laptop case, pulled the laptop out of it, found the phone cord, and connected the two--'cause the laptop'll charge the battery. So, for now...whew. Finally, I did get back onto the 405.

At some point after I did so--in Mission Viejo, as it turned out--my laptop battery died. (Side note: Mission Viejo always reminds me of Greg Louganis, as he trained there for the 1984 Olympics, during which I, unaware of his orientation, pined for him. Good times.) So now, of course, I had NO directions. I wouldn't make it like that, so I stopped at a gas station. I went in and grabbed a bottled water to buy and said to the attendant, "I bet you don't have any actual maps anymore?" He said, "No, we do." So we were about to figure out which one would be the best to get me to the San Diego airport, when I said, "Unless you're willing to let me plug in my laptop long enough to call it up, and I'll write it down." He said sure, so I went and got the laptop, he plugged it in behind the counter (he was really nice!)...and the Verizon network decided not to connect me in that moment. He looked it up on his phone, and I wrote it down from there. I bought something extra from him 'cause he was so nice. At one point during this stop, I thought for a second I might've locked the rental car keys inside it. Thank God, that did not happen.

So after a bunch more driving, including getting onto the 5 South, I'm in San Diego. It is past 3 in the morning by this time. The street in San Diego that takes one from the 5 to the Airport is called Sassafrass. Like many freeways, the 5 has signs letting you know of the next 3, usually, exits coming up. Well, wouldn't you know, Sassafrass is not on any such sign. It was on a 'here's Sassafrass' type sign; it just wasn't on a 'Sassafrass is coming up' type sign. The reason I was looking for it on that kind of sign was so that I'd know to get off ahead of time so I could get gas and not have to pay the $9/gallon or whatever that Avis would've charged me to fill it back up. (As it turned out I might've been ahead, if only in reduced stress, if I'd paid it but...of course...I had no way of knowing what was still to come.)

Suddenly, there's Sassafrass. So I get off the freeway, and now...I have NO idea where the nearest gas station is. Can't call anyone or look it up on my phone or laptop 'cause...right, they're both dead. Again, it's 3-something in the morning. Almost every place is closed. The streets are practically deserted. Plus, I'm a woman alone in a (mostly) unfamiliar town. Yeesh. But I figure, I'll just keep driving. I had no concrete plan at this point. Obviously.

Before too long I saw a guy on the sidewalk. I have no idea why he was doing this at that hour, but he had a canister on his back and was spraying down the sidewalk. Though at that moment I didn't even wonder, "Why is he doing that right now?" I just saw a person! I pulled over and rolled down my window. Seeing this, he stepped over. When I asked if he knew where the nearest gas station was, he had to think about it (not a good sign) and then said, "I think if you go up to Laurel and take a right, it's ahead on the right-hand side, but I'm not really sure of that." Oh great. But it was worth a shot, so I said I'd try it.

Well, do I even have to tell you I was tired? I had already essentially stayed up all night. Three o'clock San Diego time is 6:00 Columbus time, sooo...yeah. As such I drove a few blocks without even looking at the street signs. At some point I realized, "I've probably missed Laurel." I decided to just keep driving.

Before too long, I got to an intersection where, off to my left, I could see the sign for the hotel. I thought if I could just check in now, extend my car rental reservation by a few hours (with someone giving me a ride later), then I could be done with this nightmare.

I pulled into the hotel, parked, and went in. I told the front desk agent that I was going to check in but first needed a phone so I could extend my rental reservation. She wanted to look me up first, which was fine, but she looked up both my and my roommate's names and didn't find us. I said, "This is the [Marriott] Marquis and Marina, right?" She said, "No, this is the Hyatt." Ughhh. So embarassing.

Fortunately, the Marriott is just next door. So I got back in the car, drove to the Marriott, and repeated the same thing to that front desk agent. She was very nice. A credit to Marriott, actually. She looked up Avis' number, dialed it, and handed me the phone. That whole interaction was (of course!) with an automated system, but "extend your reservation" was one of the first options. I gave the system all the information it asked me, guessing on what time I'd be able to bring it back. When we got done with all of that, automated lady told me it'd be $137 on top of what I'd already paid. NOT happening. I immediately handed the phone back to the gal and said "Hang this up." She then looked up how to get to the nearest gas station and then the airport and printed out directions and a map for both. I took them and headed to the car...and once I was there, realized, "How am I gonna get back here?"

When I went back and asked that...my memory is a little fuzzy on this point, but I think she may've asked me if someone could come pick me up. Um, yeah, at 4 in the morning, right. I asked if someone could just drive over there with me and give me a ride back. "We don't offer that service." Ughhh. So she called a cab company for me.

After I set that up, I drove to the gas station and filled up--another (unexpected, of course) $25, thank you. When I drove out of the gas station, I didn't realize I was turning the wrong way onto the oncoming side of the street. WOOPS! I realized it immediately, though, and snaked back into the gas station and went out the other way. The airport and Avis counter were just down the street.

While I was waiting to check in my car, the cab was pulling up. I asked the Avis guy (while he was helping someone else) if he needed anything from me, and he said no, so I went out and got into the cab. He delivered me to the Marriott...where I checked in and FINALLY got to my room...at past 4 in the morning.

And that, my friends, is how much Camp Widow means to me.
© A Road Less Traveled

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