The Bond of Widowhood
I had the privilege of attending the first National Conference on Widowhood sponsored by the Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation.
The objective of the conference was to “celebrate how far we have come, to be inspired to truly live the life we have ahead of us, and to discover ways of honoring the past while rebuilding our future.” as described by Michele Neff Hernandez, Executive Director of Soaring Spirits Loss Foundation.
There were about 200 attendees from 28 states and 6 different countries all sharing this bond of widowhood. This is a bond, a group none of us ever wanted or imagined we would be apart of. This sentiment was expressed in the opening comments by Michele Neff Hernandez who said that this word unimaginable was what described her widowhood but as she took her journey through grief she knows it is not impossible. She went on to say “unimaginable and impossible are not the same thing and it doesn’t mean we can’t move forward…by moving forward we are honoring the person who has died, we have this choice each day…you are capable of being more than you think right now.”
Michele brought humor to her opening address by adding comments about widowhood most of us have also heard such as “You don’t look like a widow?” we all laughed at that one as she went onto say that’s because widows don’t have an identity in our culture, we don’t embrace widowhood. (we weren’t all wearing black and crying either).
Michele closed the opening remarks with “at the end of the day I’m whats left, and its up to me. I didn’t want to be strong, I had to be strong and its not impossible.”
Saturday’s schedule was filled with a full day of educational break out sessions, some of those sessions were;
Widows and Money, by Dr. Kathleen Rehl
The presenter Dr. Rehl was herself widowed about 3 years ago so she spoke first hand about the challenges widows face with their financial choices.
Widowed authors – panel discussion about their widowhood and subsequent books
Ann Marie Ginella – moderator and founder of Widow Speak
Marian Fontana – A Widows Walk, Marian tells the story of losing her firefighter husband in the 9/11 tragedy
Carol Brody Fleet – Widow Wears Stilettos, Carol’s story of being a young widow
Gloria Lenhart – Planet Widow, Gloria’s story of losing her husband to a heart attack while out jogging
Amy Edelmen – Manless in Montclair, A story about how a happily married woman faces widowhood
Julie Mughal – Land Without Hats, Stories to widows from around the world facing challenges and adversity. Julie was widowed at the age of 31 and found purpose in seeking and sharing widows stories.
Finding Your Purpose & Mission Again – presented by Miriam Neff
Miriam, a widow of three years talks of “Bob’s exit to heaven” and how she found purpose and meaning in a life without him. She has a new book called “From One Widow To Another”
Finally I sat in on the Global Widowhood Panel Discussion – on the plight of widows in other countries
The key presenter was Dr. Raja Al-Khuzai, a doctor from Iraq who started an organization called the National Council for Women & Iraqi Widows Organization. She explained that the widows in Iraq want basically the same as widows everywhere and that is economic security fro herself and her children. She explained the many cultural differences and financial challenges. Dr. Al-Khuzai continues to work with the United National and the world bank to secure Mico financing for these widows.
Hilda Orimba Agola, Executive Chairperson of Widows and Orphans Welfare Society of Kenya
Hilda also explained that the widows in Kenya just want to share their experiences of widowhood and they want economic empowerment. She too works to gain micro financing programs for the widows.
Julie Mughal – from Save The Children joined this panel to talk about the widows she spoke with from around the world and highlighted the common link again was the economic support of their families.
Saturday evening Widows Bond Banquet
Saturday was packed with so many seminar sessions with topics for any age and stage in the grief journey. Everyone seemed to leave that afternoon filled with so much inspiration and hope.
The evening was filled with a beautiful banquet hosted again by the beautiful Michele Neff Hernandez. Women came dressed up and with smiles on their faces. There was much laughter and a buzz of hope filled the room. As the faces of our loved ones flashed on the projection screen it was a symbol of honoring the love we shared, remembering the past and feeling the spirit and hopefulness for the future.
Attendees came with the common bond of widowhood and left with the bond of new found hope and friendship. I for one look forward to keeping in contact with the women I came to know and believe that many of us will collaborate to serve, strengthen and provide hope not only to widows but to all grievers who feel they are alone in their journey of grief.
I believe this conference was and is a step to publicly discussing death, bereavement, and grief in a manner that each attendee related to. We asked each other questions like “what did you do with your wedding rings” to “did people ask you stupid questions like “are you over it?” or comments like “I’m sure you’ll find another husband” I wondered “Did you ever sleep with a piece of your husband’s clothes.” or “How long did you keep his voice message in your sell phone?” So many of our seemingly quirky questions were discussed with those who understand. Yes, there is empowerment in a bond of widowhood.
I am grateful to have been apart of such a ground breaking conference and will post on this site information on the next event with the hopes that more will attend next year. If you were not able to attend I encourage you to find a bond with another widow/widower. You may contact Widows Bond for a match or contact me with your name, city, age, year your spouse died. firstname.lastname@example.org