This past weekend, I headed down to Tybee Island, Georgia for a widow retreat sponsored by the American Widow Project, as mentioned in my last post.
Since traveling back up to Maryland with the family, I've had time to reflect a little on that retreat and what I gained from it.
The first thing I gained was a sense of normalcy. That's right folks - I'm pretty on the "normal" side of things, as far as being a widow goes. What exactly does that mean? Well, it means that everyone goes through things differently. We all feel, think, and do things at different times. However, many of the things we think, feel, do and experience... someone else has thought, felt, done, experienced the same damn thing and sometimes even at the same stage in the journey. I learned that so many widows have been disappointed by people in our lives. I kept blaming myself for how little contact I have with people who'd been there every day "before" and I realized, it's not me. I didn't do anything wrong. I was plunged into this situation, certainly one that I never asked for, never would have asked for, and some people just can't handle it. Luckily, there are people who can. I learned even more to be thankful for what I still have and to live life as it is now. To accept new friendships and not always try to blame myself or ask what I'm doing wrong if things aren't peachy. I also learned that sometimes, it's ok to feel. I realized that I've been blocking out a lot of my pain and sadness, I try to just keep being me without letting the grief come. Sure, I let it come, sometimes, like at night when I'm alone and it sneaks in or sometimes when I've had a little too much to drink, but I've learned that it is ok and even healthy to let that grief in. The longer you try to hide from it, the more it's going to hunt you down and it's going to hit double time later. I learned that it's ok to cry in public if you have to and you don't always have to be tough, especially not in front of your widow friends. That it's totally acceptable to be "the sad girl" and when you're with your widow friends, there's nothing to worry about because we're all "the sad girl."
All in all, I had an outstanding time and I met some very, very awesome women. I laughed, I cried, I shared, I listened. I got overly excited and interrupted. I stayed silent. I nodded in agreement. I asked questions. I made friends. I learned. I grew.
The first full day there, was a day of water fun. A group of us went jet skiing, and while we were on the skis some dolphins were swimming around. We were so close it was surreal. I may or may not have squealed like a little girl. My friend Ally saved me with her heiny at one point because I was totally headed right off the ski, over her shoulder, head first. Thanks Ally! Then we went parasailing. I've been before, but it never gets old. It is just so relaxing and peaceful. Ally and I went up together, and as she bumped against the dude putting her harness on (we were on a moving boat), she said hey you could at least buy me a drink first! So, he slides us a beer and up in the sky we went with a beer to sip while sailing through the air. It was definitely pretty tits, to say the least. That night we went on a haunted pub tour in downtown Savannah. Our guide wasn't the best so we decided to skip out early. We ended up at a dueling piano bar where they ended up pulling us up on stage and sang God Bless the USA. Wanna talk about tear jerker? I did everything in my power to not lose it in front of the entire bar (I'm still working on the being able to cry in public thing, ok?). There were a couple songs that were tough for me, and at one point my friend Diane must have just read the expression on my face (and I thought I was doing a good job hiding it) and came right over. It blows my mind that more than once someone knew exactly what I was feeling. I had a bit of a rough night but people were there sitting with me through it, reminding me that I not only CAN do this, but I WILL do this, and they were all living proof. I was the earliest one out, as far as since my husband's passing, 5 months. There were women from all time frames, 10 months, a year, a couple years, 5 years, 7 years, and it was great being around all those different time frames to show, Hey, they're still here, they're still living. Does it still hurt? Yup. Does it still suck? Certainly. But are they doing it, and making the best with the hand they were dealt? Yes, they are, and I will too.
The last day we were there we let off Thai Wish Lanterns. It was truly magical watching my wishes float up to the Heavens. I watched it until it was just a speck and then nothing. I like to think that when I couldn't see it anymore, that's when Jonny cupped it in his hands. All the widows made such amazing wishes, and I could agree with every single one of them. We also celebrated the 2 year mark of when I met Jonny. My roommate Allison's husband's birthday was a couple days before the retreat and Jonny and I's 2 years since we met was that weekend, so we were surprised with red velvet cream pies (our wedding cake flavor... go figure) and trick candles. We each told the memory of our special day (me - the day I met Jonny, her - her favorite bday memory of Michael) and enjoyed our cakes wedding style - cake face smashing and all.
Now I'm in widow withdrawal. I miss being with people who "get it" all the time. People who can see your expression and not only know what you're thinking but feel it too, because at one time or another, they've felt it themselves.
God Bless the American Widow Project, and all the amazing military widows I've had the pleasure of meeting and will meet in the future.
PS If you haven't done so, please check out Bubba's Belly Run and considering registering or donating!