20 Sundays. 20 of your stories. The mission: to provide courage, hope, inspiration and help put life in perspective.
The Sunday Series (20): Hope Matters
There is single parenting, then there is something else. Those who are forced to go it alone, by no fault of their own.
Sole parent. Not single, sole. Widow. Survivor. Different names, one distinction, doing it all…alone. The responsibility of life, not just yours, but those you helped bring into this world now relying on you, just you, to see them through.
Diane Hyatt knows what it’s all about. She knows what it takes, but it wasn’t until just recently she took the time to take care of herself.
Marty Hyatt, husband, father to the couple’s two young boys, passed away suddenly in May of 2009. A life lost and in the blink of an eye, three lives which needed to be rebuilt, three lives floating sometimes aimlessly in a sea of shock and heartache that only sudden death can bring. Diane says the first year was like living in a fog, trying to see through the thick mist and forge a path for her young boys, Kevin and Sean. Her sole focus; to be a sole parent and give the boys the life they deserve.
Parenting with two partners can be tough enough. Going it alone, Diane says the challenges are many: “I am always questioning myself. Am I raising the kids the way Marty would have wanted me to raise them? Am I doing the right thing? I’m having the tough discussions, the financial concerns. I constantly worry and want to know I am guiding them in the right direction, hoping I am giving them the tools to live a great life, making sure I am doing the right thing.” The worry, the concern, the focus on her boys, now ages 17 and 13, never ends. And that focus for the past five years, the life of a young widow, has taken its toll.
Diane says she has tremendous support from family and friends, but the questions are always the same, “how are the boys, how are you?” It’s really no one’s fault, most times others don’t know what to say. They feel legitimate concern, but Diane says its tough to answer the same inquiries over and over. She says since most people aren’t living the life of a young widow, they just “don’t get it.” And she has been so busy raising her two boys on her own, she didn’t get it either. The “it” being time for her to grieve and to grow. Then she found Camp Widow. (http://www.campwidow.org/)
“It took me five years”, says Diane, “to do something for myself.” She says she learned about the program about a year ago. Camp Widow is just one of the events held by the organization, Soaring Spirits International, (http://www.sslf.org/). The focus of the organization… hope matters. It’s goal; to help widows realize they are not alone, a feeling Diane and many like her have to overcome. Each year nearly 800,000 people around the world are forced to go it alone. Soaring Spirits seeks to connect widowed people with each other. It’s all about community. It’s the relief of being understood by another widowed person, getting the opportunity to laugh, to cry, to have access to hope and help transform the person whose life has been forever altered by death.
Diane returned from her first Camp Widow experience just last week and her biggest takeaway she says, “they get it, they just get it.” For the first time in five years, Diane was no longer being asked the same questions by those who mean well, but don’t live the day-to-day struggle of sole parenting, of knowing what it’s like to be a young widow. The founder of Soaring Spirits, Michele Hernandez, a woman just like Diane, shares the same struggle.
At only 37, Michele lost her husband and was left with two young children. She started Soaring Spirits because she found few to talk with who suffered the loss of a spouse. Camp Widow is part of the healing process, a light to find a way out of the fog, to resurface from the depths of despair, buoyed by others who are there to hold you up because they are living the same. For Diane, Camp Widow did just that, including a moment she will long remember, because it is one she had put off for so long.
On the final night of the three-day event the 150 widows in attendance were given an assignment, write a message to the one you loved and lost. These survivors took the time to share their true feelings, then folded them up into origami boats and released them into the waters near their hotel. Diane says it was incredible to see all those paper boats and messages heading out into the harbor in a flotilla of love and of hope. The moment was overwhelming. On that paper boat was a message from Diane and her boys to Marty. She told him so many things she had wanted to say over the past five years, but had never taken the time to do so. “It was huge for me”, says Diane. “I didn’t realize how emotional it was to be able to do that.”
In that one weekend Diane realized what had been missing these past years, as she has struggled to survive and most importantly to bring some sense of normalcy to life for her boys, who are growing up without a father. Diane says before she made the definite decision to travel to Camp Widow she first talked to Kevin and Sean. And the first thing both boys told their mother, “Mom you need to go, you need to go, you never do anything for yourself.” Diane says the weekend she was away the boys were solely responsible for themselves, but it was her they worried about. She says the boys called or sent texts to her constantly to make sure she was OK. Diane says her sons are so protective of her because they have already suffered a tremendous loss, their greatest fear is to lose another.
The love and concern Kevin and Sean feel for their mom is a testament to the sacrifices she has made to make their world whole, despite the emptiness and loneliness she has struggled to overcome. But Diane says the weekend at Camp Widow turned her sense of loss into one of hope. “Knowing there are other people out there who have suffered the same and feel the same is so important to me. They love to hug at Camp Widow, they get it, they just get it.”
To know you are not alone is a powerful feeling for anyone going through this journey we call life. But experience a great loss and that feeling of community can be a life-saver. For Diane, for other widows just like her, sole parents thrust into a world of making it OK for others, there is a great lesson. As Diane learned it’s alright to make it OK for yourself, to reconnect with who you are and get back on track. Diane says she hopes her experience and her story can inspire others to “do something for yourself, find hope, learn to love yourself so you can move on.”
As Diane has learned in a world where challenges abound – big and small – hope matters.
Until next time thanks for taking the time,
Mark Brodinsky, Author
It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
#1 Amazon Best-Seller
Get the book: www.amazon.com/author/markbrodinsky
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I was fortunate to meet Diane at Camp Widow East – what a lovely woman and sweet spirit. Diane, I hope we have the opportunity to meet again. Sister Widow, Julie