When most people hear of Camp Widow™ a puzzling look comes over their face. What could this possibly be? For founder Michele Neff Hernandez*, it's meant to be a gathering place for widowed people to share in a common loss; and have an opportunity to come together and put their arms around each other, to support and give hope.
The gathering provides practical tools, valuable resources, and peer-based encouragement for rebuilding your life in the aftermath of the death of a spouse. A program of the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation, Camp Widow is an inclusive, non-denominational event focused on hope and healing through the grieving process. Now in its fourth year, Camp Widow has successfully expanded to include an East Coast camp.
Over one million individuals become widowed every year; nearly 75% are 65 or older. Research shows that those widowed, especially older women, experience depression and marked changes in their physical well being during the first year of widowhood. Soaring Spirits and Camp Widow strive to be the support that will encourage healing through the grief. In the process redefining what it means to be a widow, addressing the needs of both a younger and older generation of widows.
Over the past 5 years support organizations similar to Soaring Spirits have formed to offer a community to both women and men recently widowed. Social media has provided a new space to connect and share stories at a greater level than ever before possible.
One of these organizations is The American Widow Project founded in 2007. It offers support to the over 3200 women left widowed by husbands killed in combat in Iraq and Afghanistan. Their website offers support, resources, information on events throughout the country and most importantly the stories of a new generation of military widows coping with and moving forward with their grief.
The community these and other groups like them create is at the core of their mission. Michele Neff Hernandez talks about how there were little if any online resources available for widows when her husband died in 2005. Now there is a growing network of sites serving widows and widowers focused on creating a safe space to commune. As one participant from Camp Widow wrote, "Widow is a huge word, laden with awkward pauses and apologies. This weekend the tragedy of individual death-stories almost cancelled each other out. We were all equals in grief, and everyone, "got it." I felt... normal."
The next Camp Widow is scheduled for August 10-12 in San Diego, CA. For more information on this and more organizations providing support for widows go to:
*Michele Neff Hernandez also writes the Healing Through the Loss blog for Your Turn To Care