Imagine losing a newborn son. Really imagine it. And once you feel that hollowed out space in the very core of who you are, imagine losing your spouse just a short time later, in a war in a far away land. Now imagine that you get the news of your husband’s life-ending injury while you are home in North Carolina, and in your mid 20s, and nursing the daughter you made with this husband. If you can even begin to fathom the confusion and the emotion that must have accompanied these hits, please continue to read on. If you wonder how in the hell someone could live through this, read on. And if you know there is a great and wonderful healing of the spirit about to happen, read on.
People construct all sorts of illusions as to why they cannot go on. Such things as feeling unloved, unlucky or not good enough, too overwhelmed, and the like can lead people to a slippery slope of self-destruction or of coloring the world into shades of gray that then determine the course of the remainder of life. Elizabeth Woods did no such thing with her pain, her loss, her grief, her anger, or, thankfully, her potential to help others. And for that, the world, and especially the Southeast, is blessed.
Elizabeth Woods, the widow of a US Army Special Forces soldier, had a vision following the death of her husband: to help other young widowed women (military and non-military) come to terms with their losses. Her vision is called Soul Widows (and can be reached through http://www.SoulWidows.org). It is an organization she established just months after this devastating loss. She provides safe places to explore feelings with others and with a therapist, and she provides retreats where people can simply be with their feelings after such losses. In case you haven’t noticed, our society is not exactly accepting of grief and loss. We teach our kids to pick up and move along; we only grant a few days off from work after death; we don’t even allow for grieving after breakups or other non-death losses; we expect people to fall into a healthy grief period following death that is determined by a society that rarely even feels. What happened to the days when we were allowed to grieve for a year with few societal expectations? What about the countries where grief is respected? What about the places that honor those who have lost their loved ones for more than a few days? We are a society so bent on materialism, successes, accomplishments, and moving forward that sometimes we lack the insight to know that only by walking through those feelings can we move out of them in a healthy way that will forever transform us. Spiritual growth can only take place if we are supported enough to wade through the deep pains that accompany loss. The Soul Widows vision is about that support.
I watched my father get sick after my mother died. Yes, it was lung cancer—no doubt brought by his lifetime of smoking—but it was more. My dad failed to grieve properly and thoroughly. He missed my mother enormously. He missed having his best friend nearby so he quickly sought to get a friend. He didn’t go into himself to deal with what this meant to him, he simply couldn’t—or wouldn’t—go there. Sure, he attended “widow groups” that allowed him to talk, but it didn’t last long because he felt he wasn’t feeling better afterwards. My dad transitioned out of this world last Christmas Eve, just five years after my mother died.
Elizabeth Woods attended a lot of the same type of groups, and felt they simply didn’t reach in deep enough to get to the spot for transformation. She knew that our society needed a deeper place for support.
We all know what a broken heart can do to us: lead us to poor health, lead us to poor choices, lead us to an early death. But what we don’t realize is that a broken heart can also lead us to amazing births within ourselves. And this is what Elizabeth Woods, founder and visionary of Soul Widows, has done: created a place where you can be comforted through your losses, and at the same time you are shown by someone who has suffered loss beyond our comprehension that grief can be transformed into a beautiful gift.
If you have ever suffered the loss of someone close to you, you may have found, as I did, that some people cannot formulate the words, “I am sorry for your loss.” Some friends avoid the grieving person because they do not know what to say, and all we desire of them is to say, “I want to support you, but I don’t know what to do or what to say.” They call us up, and they talk about everything else, in hopes of helping us to move forward, when all we are thinking is: How can you be so callous as to think for even a minute that I can look ahead? I just lost my mom, my dad, my child, my spouse, my dog. Please just let me be here right now!
Yes, our society definitely needs some re-educating in this department. And until we can begin to bring the subject of death out into the open, and talk about it without whispers behinds hands, we cannot grow. And until we can allow people the space and the time coupled with guidance and love, to grieve, we will not be able to turn our pains into anything else. It will be those of us who have lived through tremendous losses who are able to support others who are in the midst of great loss, and Soul Widows will serve us as a society well.
Elizabeth Woods and therapist Mandy Eppley have entered a contest called The Life Improvement Project which is sponsored by IKEA. They were chosen as one of the five finalists in the running to be awarded $100,000 toward their vision. Soul Widows is up and running, but the money would help them to get focused and a jump on what their long term vision is. I am humbly asking for you to spread the word, and to go to this site and vote. The voting started December 13 and will continue through January 17. You may vote each day but only once a day. Go to http://www.TheLifeImprovementProject.comand click to watch the video for Soul Widows. It lasts one minute. Then it asks you to enter an email address for the vote. You will then go to your email inbox to verify that it was actually you who voted, and you are done!
If you have lost someone and have been in the throes of grief with no place to turn and having to hide your feelings, you must know the need of this type of center. Please log on and vote.
Elizabeth Woods and Soul Widows have been featured in the Charlotte area in various news stories in print, online, and in video forms. If you would like to know more about her, visit her website, see her on Facebook, or just Google her for links to all the stories. OH, and one more thing: Don’t forget to vote!
Laurie M. Knight, author of Journal to the Center of the Soul, can be reached through www.WritingbyKnight.com. She is in the midst of a career change toward working with the dying (and is especially drawn to Veterans) and was connected to Ms. Woods and her vision through a mutual friend.