“Will I survive this?”… “Yes, you will.”
by Robin Litrenta, Peer Mentor
I’ve always been a reluctant leader. My hand is never the first one raised. The burden of added responsibility is not something I thrive on and I don’t have a large ego which needs to be fed from being “top dog”. So I wait for others to first raise their hands before I raise mine. But once I volunteer to help, I’m all in. Such is the case with being a Regional Group Leader for Soaring Spirits International and I have no one to blame but my very dear friend, Susan Hannifin MacNab.
Susan and I met at the gym in a women’s strength training group. We saw each other once or twice a week over the course of a few months and made small talk during our hour-long workout sessions. There have been occasions in my life where I would be chatting with someone sort of “new-ish” and during the verbal conversation I would have a private conversation in my head where I would say, “hmmm, I really like her and can see getting to know her more on a personal level.” Susan just happened to be one of those “new-ish” persons.
Well it’s interesting how life works.
Some people believe in fate and say everything happens for a reason. Others think people come into our lives to help us with a life lesson. I truly don’t know what the answer is. But during one of our gym training sessions, it came up that I was widowed for four years and raising two young kids all on my own. As fate, circumstance or really bad luck would have it, Susan’s husband died in a car accident less than a week after me revealing my widowhood. The sudden, shocking, numbing news was surreal. Susan immediately reached out for support (I had plenty to give), a magic wand to bring back Brent (how I wished I had one of those) and guidance.
And so a new friendship was birthed. It was a friendship built on trust, death, life, fear, moving forward then sliding back, get-your-ass-to-the-gym-and-take-care-of-yourself-so-you-can-take- care-of-your-son, grief, laughter through tears, more grief, more tears, loss, oh-my-god-our- husbands-are-dead-how-the-hell-do-we-do-this, healing, more healing and yes we are still healing.
As the first anniversary of Susan’s widowhood approached, I told her she has to attend Soaring Spirits International’s Camp Widow with me here in San Diego. I dragged her along because I wanted her to walk into the weekend-long conference and see 300+ people who were just like us. Men, women, all ages, different races, different religions, married, engaged, life partners…it didn’t matter who we were or how we became widowed. We had all lost our “person” and we each grieved the loss. She finished the conference with a sense of hope knowing she would somehow claw her way out of her hellhole and rebuild a life for herself and her young son.
Through all of this it never occurred to me I was mentoring her. I simply saw a beautiful, new friend who was hurting down to her soul. I recognized the pain and vertigo which comes when your world is upended and the one person you would instinctively turn to for support is the very person who is no longer here to help.
So while I was busy mentoring Susan I discovered how much she was helping me. I watched her go through the agonizingly raw early grief stages and realized how far I had journeyed through my own grief. Somehow I had forgotten how dark and suffocating those early post-loss days were, but being her sounding board allowed me to remember (did I really want to remember?) what my kids and I had survived. When she asked me to co-lead a new San Diego Regional Group for Soaring Spirits International I immediately, yet reluctantly, said yes. I knew it would be added responsibility. I knew it would put one more thing on my plate. I also knew how much support and hope Camp Widow provided, so how could I not help her, and others, continue to have a piece of Camp Widow on a monthly basis?
Four years later, Susan and I still talk regularly. We text, email, hike, cry, laugh through tears, paddle board, lift weights, eat frozen yogurt, take our dogs to the beach and curse our heads off while pondering widowhood and how one finds a new normal while rebuilding a life.