They couldn’t have been nicer. By that I’m not damning with faint praise but mean it literally. I was welcomed into their community with genuine hospitality.
Sponsored by the Soaring Spirits Foundation, Camp Widow was an international gathering that brought together two hundred and seventy-five widows and widowers for a weekend of mutual support.
I was invited as a function of having written the memoir August Farewell about the sudden cancer death of Bill, my long-term gay partner.
Through workshops, plenary sessions, and social events, we got to hear others’ stories of their life journey after losing their beloved partner and to share our own.
Facilitators led sessions on writing as a creative outlet for grief; dealing with children’s mourning; grappling with being ‘mad at God’; deciding when/how one could consider dating again or opening oneself to another relationship; the pain of revisiting places that held special meaning for you and your partner; and many more topics.
What made the weekend so intensely meaningful for participants was the opportunity to be in a community of peers where everyone ‘got it’. Though the specifics of our situations varied, we all knew intuitively the pain that each other had been through and were continuing to experience from the loss of our beloved partners.
On that common ground, I felt more at home in this community than I have almost anywhere else since Bill died.
Of the two hundred and seventy-five participants, only two of us were gay. Nine-nine percent were straight.
The difference in sexual orientation shouldn’t make a difference. Huge personal loss is huge personal loss. And never once did I experience the slightest awkwardness or reservation on anyone’s part when they learned that I was gay. Everyone was either nonchalant about it or made a point of emphasizing their inclusiveness – not in a patronizing way but genuinely and with integrity.
It shouldn’t make a difference, but it did for me. Because despite the profoundly significant common experience we shared as widows/widowers, there remained a profoundly distinct identity that we didn’t share. And that identity is intrinsic to who I am and the relationship that Bill and I had together for thirty-three years.
I guess what is, just is. And for the moment, that’s my loss because I ache both for Bill and for community.
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