She misplaced her husband in a tragic accident after which constructed a neighborhood of help that has reached hundreds of thousands

“We hiked. We biked. We ran. We simply had such a very good time collectively,” Neff Hernandez stated.

However every thing modified on a late August night when Phillip went for a motorbike experience and was hit by a automobile and killed.

“I did not even know what to do with myself,” Neff Hernandez stated. “Each single factor about my life modified, from the place I slept, to the place I ate … to who was I going to verify in with if I had a flat tire.”

Whereas she had an awesome help system to assist her throughout the tough time, she stated none of them knew methods to deal with her grief.

“They meant nicely however could not perceive what I used to be going by means of.”

Neff Hernandez realized she needed real-world tales of how different widows handled this new actuality, so she began searching for out and studying from them.

“Each time I sat down with one in all these individuals, I felt understood,” she stated. “I believed if I might deliver these widows collectively, what a distinction that will make.”

That is how her non-profit, Hovering Spirits, was born. The group connects widows and widowers, permitting them to heal in a neighborhood that understands the ache of dropping a accomplice.

“I simply needed an area the place I might snort and be free and never be judged,” Neff Hernandez stated. “And if I might make it simpler for widowed individuals to seek out one another, they discover a good friend who’s going to stroll by means of their widowed expertise with them.”

Camp Widow was the primary program she created in 2008. The annual three-day occasions collect widows and widowers from all over the world to attend workshops, meet each other and discover connections.

From Camp Widow, the non-profit has grown to additionally embrace 70 regional chapters all around the US, in addition to pen friends and packages particularly for the LGBTQ neighborhood.

To this point, the group has reached greater than 4 million individuals worldwide.

“It is about serving to widowed individuals stay life in neighborhood with one another, so that somebody who has borne witness to their ache additionally bears witness to their life as they proceed making their method ahead,” Neff Hernandez stated.

Most lately, the group added a digital program for individuals who’ve misplaced a accomplice to Covid-19. The 24-week program creates an area for individuals to be open about their distinctive struggles, reminiscent of not with the ability to say goodbye, not having a funeral and being remoted whereas grieving.

“It was such a robust second the primary time they got here collectively and understood that everyone might safely categorical no matter their Covid expertise was,” she stated.

For Hernandez, whereas this work could be difficult and fire up her personal grief, it is also very rewarding.

“That hole that existed after he died, that exists to today, is what fueled the will to create a corporation that is serving all over the world,” she stated. “It has been an unimaginable expertise to construct a corporation that’s largely as a result of he beloved me so nicely.”

CNN’s Meg Dunn spoke with Hernandez about her work. Beneath is an edited model of their dialog.

CNN: How did the concept of Hovering Spirits come to be?

Michele Neff Hernandez: I used to be grieving this one who was a pivotal a part of my life. And I did not understand how to do this. I felt like I needed to discover different individuals who knew what I did not know.

We do not take into consideration widowhood as one thing to go looking a job mannequin for. We do not suppose, “I am dwelling this tough expertise; I ought to search for another person who’s carried out it and type of search inspiration there.” And after a few 12 months of connecting with widowed individuals, all I needed to do was put them in the identical room. I discovered a lot from them. And I felt for the primary time, hopeful. Hopeful in a method that was tangible. Hopeful in a method that made surviving appear not solely potential, however that even thriving may be potential. I believed if I might make it simpler for widowed individuals to seek out one another, what a distinction would that make. I am the particular person to assist them discover their particular person.

CNN: What is the inspiration behind Camp Widow?

Hernandez: I additionally needed to offer individuals a possibility to have fun life, as a result of while you’re widowed, if you happen to’re grieving in any respect, oftentimes feeling completely satisfied in any method seems like a shame. And Camp Widow is a weekend occasion that creates a house for anyone who’s had this expertise. We are able to have fun one another. We are able to have fun us. We are able to have fun our family members. And so the aim of it’s to assist widowed individuals rebuild their lives.

CNN: Are there necessities for who can or can’t take part in Hovering Spirits?

Hernandez: Hovering Spirits makes use of a broad definition of the phrase “widow.” We embrace all genders, all forms of relationships. The one requirement is that your particular person — the one you thought you have been going to spend your life with — has died.

I keep in mind the primary time I spoke to a widower on the cellphone. I noticed he had been on the lookout for a gaggle that will let him in. And I couldn’t think about having somebody whose coronary heart had been damaged the way in which mine had standing exterior of a room the place different individuals have been getting assist and understanding that they could not go in. From that day ahead, inclusivity has been one of many key values of Hovering Spirits, as a result of no person who’s had their coronary heart damaged in that method needs to be left standing exterior a door trying within the window wishing they may are available.

CNN: What’s your hope for the widowed individuals you are serving to?

Hernandez: My hope for each single widowed one who interacts with Hovering Spirits is that they stroll away understanding that there is a neighborhood there prepared to stroll with them by means of all the times forward. It is about being in neighborhood in order that we are able to mannequin for one another the chance accessible to us, whereas additionally recognizing how laborious it’s.

It is not all about, “Put that apart. You’ll be able to’t have any laborious emotions.” It is not about, , “Grief goes to be one thing that modifications you into a greater particular person.” It is about, “We settle for you proper the place you’re. We additionally imagine in a future for you. And if you cannot imagine in a future for your self, that is OK. I am going to imagine in it for you till you’ll be able to imagine in it for your self. And I’ll maintain believing it for you irrespective of how lengthy it takes you to get there.”

Need to become involved? Try the Hovering Spirits web site and see methods to assist.
To donate to Hovering Spirits through GoFundMe, click on right here