The other weekend (10/14-10/17) I had the privilege of attending the American Widow Project Fall getaway in Kennebunk, Maine. There are no words that could do justice to the experience I had over the weekend. I have gone to two other AWP events and each of them are different in their own special way. The first one I was only 3 months out. I didn't know my ass from my elbow and I can hardly recall anything from that time period but I know that meeting those other widows in those first few months probably saved my life. The second trip to Tybee Island was a couple of months shy of Michael's one year anniversary. I was just starting to feel comfortable with allowing myself to have a good time so it was a little scary for me but it just reassured me that it was ok to laugh and smile and to let my hair down once in a while.
That weekend seemed like it was on a whole other level. There were so many emotions that I experienced this weekend. With the anticipation of Michael's 2 year anniversary I have been feeling a little more crazy than usual. However, this trip showed me that what I am experiencing is so common and that I am just as "crazy" as any other widow. I almost felt like this trip was an oxymoron. Most people would expect us to be so sad and crying the majority of the time. However if I recall correctly, the majority of the time was spent laughing, sharing stories of our husbands, and really embracing life altogether. I'm not saying that there were no tears, because there were, but whoever was crying was quickly comforted by another widow who knew exactly what they felt and have even cried those same tears before.
Each and every AWP event that I have attended is an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone. This time I really pushed the envelope. We got to go surfing! Now I have never been surfing and I really don't even know how to swim (except for doggy pattling) and I don't even really like going into the ocean. But I knew if I didn't take that step outside of my comfort zone I would regret it. And the point to living this short life is to live in absence of regret. Even though I swallowed enough sea water to support an ecosystem in my stomach, I do not regret it one bit.
Also, during this trip, the AWP had the amazing honor and privilege to meet President George H. W. Bush and Mrs. Bush. It was a total surprise to us all and the majority of us were floored that we got to meet one of our nation's leaders. It was definitely a surreal moment.
My reaction when I found out we were visiting the Bush's.
I was in shock!
We all got to take pictures with the President and first lady. As the visit went on we were carrying conversations with the couple like we were old friends. I talked with Mrs. Bush about owning dogs and how Michael and I rescued Koby. There was also a time were each of us got to tell the president a little about our husband's and how they served and died for our country. After telling him about Michael I had a moment and thank goodness for sunglasses because I got emotional over the fact that one of our presidents knows about Michael. He knows his name, he knows how long he served in the Marine Corps, he knows that he served two years in Iraq, and he knows how he died. I still get choked up about it today because that's a huge honor and concept to wrap my head around. I know Michael would be so very proud.
|Barbara wearing an AWP pin that I put on her jacket!|
|Having a conversation with the first lady!!|
That weekend also had a twist that I have never experienced at another event before. The house that we stayed in was donated to the AWP for the weekend by an amazing woman named Sue. Sue found out about the AWP through the People Magazine article and contacted Taryn looking to help out in any way. Sue was able to have the entire weekend, everything that we did that weekend donated to us. She asked the entire town to donate their services to us. When I say everything, I mean everything. A lobster bake for us to enjoy the first night, all kinds of foods, drinks and snacks for the entire weekend, the surfing lessons with our own private surfing instructor, transportation for the entire weekend, bicycles for us to use, breakfast at an amazing little place called HB Provisions, appetizers at drinks at the Kennebunk Port Inn, an amazingly delicious dinner at an Italian restaurant, an amazing dinner that was made for us by a professional chef at a very generous woman's house, a couple of gift bags full of merchandise from the local shops and I am sure I am missing a lot, but it was overwhelming how much Sue and the town of Kennebunk went out of their way for us. It was extremely humbling and I can pretty much speak for everyone there that we were all knocked off our feet.
|group picture outside of HB Provisions with fake President Bush|
|The incredible Sue serving up some delicious lobster!|
|Breakfast at HB Provisions|
|Opening up our gift bags was like Christmas morning!|
|The feast we enjoyed the last night in Maine|
There was also another twist, CNN was there for the filming of the documentary clip they are going to air for the 2011 CNN Hero Awards Ceremony, which Taryn in nominated for (which you can vote for her, ten times a day, everyday!) We were all pretty apprehensive by the thought of cameras there to capture some of our most private moments. I felt like we were a mix between the Real World and True Life (This is the true story, of 12 military widows, picked to live in a house. You think you know, but you have no idea) However, in the end I feel like the CNN crew actually enhanced our experience. They weren't around the entire time, and when they were, they weren't intrusive at all. They just wanted to capture what it was like for a young military widow and how the AWP has impacted our lives since our husbands deaths. We each did individual interviews and it really caused us to think and vocalize what the AWP means to us and what it means to be a military widow. At the end of the weekend, each of the crew members shared with us what the weekend and the experience of meeting military widows meant to them. And it was really cool to hear an outsiders perception of us. Each of the guys who shared with us got choked up when expressing us to how that weekend effected them. It was a really humbling experience to hear that we are some of the strongest women these guys have met and that we were not at all what they had expected.
|Tim, who sort of coordinated the filming schedule, is a Chris Martin look-a-like!|
|The amazing camera guy Mick!|
|Taking pictures of our photographer, David.|
All in all that weekend was a peak moment for me. Something that I will remember and cherish for the rest of my life. That weekend was by far the best weekend I have experienced since Michael's death. I do not want to know what life would be like without other military widows and I am thankful that I don't have to. I went home refreshed. I went home not caring what others thought when I brought up Michael and not afraid to talk about him with people who never got to meet him. I left a lot of emotional burdens in Maine and went home feeling much lighter. I went home with my soul recharged, feeling like I can take on the world.