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Camp Widow Helps People Cope With Loss Of Loved One

Photo by Roland Lizarondo

Photos line a wall at Camp Widow, a three-day workshop in San Diego for people who have lost a loved one, July 11, 2014.

Thousands of widowed people from nearly every state and from as far away as Australia gathered in San Diego Friday to participate in Camp Widow, a three-day camp where those who have lost a mate can share encouragement and help others overcome the loss.

Soaring Spirits International has hosted Camp Widow for the past five years. Michele Neff Hernandez is with Soaring Spirits and created the camp.

“My husband was 39 years old and I used to think of him as Superman. He was super strong. He was out for a bike ride and he was hit from behind by a Suburban and I was called to the scene, and I was able to say goodbye to him pretty much on the scene. He ended up dying at the hospital,” Neff Hernandez said.

She says after her husband died, the only other widows she knew were her great grandmother and great aunt — no one as young as her. The desire to bring widows of all ages and walks of life together inspired her to start Camp Widow.

“You might think initially the hardest part is having to say goodbye, and that’s a killer, but the hard part is really learning to want to live again,” Neff Hernandez said.

David Diaz lost his wife Paula about a year ago. He says he turns to other Camp Widow attendees for advice about raising his 3-year-old son, Gavin.

“I met people that have kids that are older than Gavin and I’m able to say ‘Hey, how did you deal with this situation, I’m getting ready to deal with this situation,’ and so we look out for each other,” Diaz said.

Camp Widow, which continues through Sunday at the San Diego Marriot Marquis and Marina, is open to "anyone who has lost a life partner." Workshops at the camp include “Writing Through Loss” and “Parenting a Grieving Teen." There are also roundtable discussions for widowed people to share their individual experiences.

The camp also hosts a 5K run/walk, and a balloon release, during which participants write messages to their deceased loved ones on a balloon before releasing it into the sky.

“People want to be a part of this energy because we’ve loved well. And in that loving well, we are grieving a great loss, but at the same time we are finding a way to honor that love," Neff Hernandez said. "If we can continue to help people in any circumstance who have lost that person they thought they would spend the rest of their life with, than we’ve done our job."


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