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Conversations with the Inspiring Michele Neff Hernandez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Michele Neff Hernandez.

Thanks for sharing your story with us Michele. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
One lovely summer afternoon, my thirty-nine year old husband, Phillip Hernandez, went out for an evening bike ride, and never came home. He was struck from behind by a vehicle and died at a local hospital an hour later. I was 35 years old, and the mother of a blended family of six kids when suddenly the word “widow” applied to me. In the aftermath of Phil’s death, I found myself wondering what to do with his clothes, how long to wear my wedding ring and most importantly, where to find other widowed people. I didn’t know where to find my tribe in this new experience. Thirteen years ago, a community was born from my own need to connect with other people who understood the life-altering experience of widowhood. Soaring Spirits International creates and maintains communities for widowed men and women across the United States and around the world. We offer widowed people a place where understanding and comfort are readily available. Through our unique programs we offer resources and programs designed for widowed people by widowed people. Our goal is to ensure that no widowed person has to grieve the death of their person alone. Building Soaring Spirits International has been a labor of love, a passion project and an agent of healing as my own pain developed into a focused purpose.

Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
As I was building Soaring Spirits, I was also grieving my husband. I missed Phil with every fiber of my being and while my brain understood that I was still able to create a life without him, my heart didn’t want any part of that goal. Over and over again, I had to actively choose whether to live or just exist. Some days existing was all I could manage. I had to become okay with not having a five-year plan. I needed to free myself from other peoples’ expectations and make time to mourn Phil and each one of the dreams that would no longer be possible to achieve without him. Eventually I had to find a way to dream a new dream. Widowhood is a path like no other. There is no one correct way to grieve the death of a spouse or partner. There have been so many days when I wished there was one right way to make your way through widowhood! We could then provide a map or set of instructions! The truth is, you have to move through the experience bit by bit. Each person has to carve out their own path through the pain of grief as they move into a season of healing. No two paths are exactly the same, just as no two loves are exactly the same. Young widowed people regularly hear phrases from those around them like “you will find a new love” or “your life isn’t over” in a well-intentioned attempt to ease the pain of grief. What many well-meaning friends and family fail to realize is that setting aside today’s pain by focusing on the potential for the future disregards the love that is being mourned. Every grieving person has to make space for grief and the pain that accompanies missing the physical presence of a person you love. There is no way to “get over it” or “move on” no matter how many people suggest you should. Grief needs time, attention and space to exist before healing can begin. My best advice to anyone grieving the death of someone they love is to be as kind to yourself as you would be to your best friend if they were living through the same experience.

What should we know about Soaring Spirits International? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Soaring Spirits has one goal; to connect widowed people with each other. As an organization, our leaders have personally experienced the power of community. We have felt the relief of being understood by another widowed person. We have laughed, and cried, with our widowed community. We have witnessed the transformation that having access to hope makes for someone whose life has been altered by death. Through our unique programs, we prove to widowed people, from all walks of life, that they are not alone. Our innovative, life-affirming events, groups, and on-line programs provide vital access to hope for widowed people everywhere; hope for the moment, as well as hope for the future. If you are widowed: Soaring Spirits is a safe place for you to begin the process of rebuilding. We won’t pretend this is easy, and we won’t put a timeline on your process. We will provide you with a huge group of people who are making their way through their own loss, and who are willing to walk beside you through yours. We will also assure you, as many times as needed, that a full and happy life is still possible for you. Really. If you know or love a widowed person: Our programs are not focused on the losses our community has experienced, but rather on the life they still have ahead of them. You may feel helpless as you witness someone you love struggling through the loss of a spouse or partner. Please visit our You Are Not Alone program to find a way you can easily reach out to anyone who is widowed. Connecting them with other widowed people is a valuable gift. And it is as easy as handing out a business card. Soaring Spirits is an inclusive, secular organization. Any widowed person regardless of age, gender, nationality, sexual orientation, or religious affiliation will be welcome to attend any Soaring Spirits program. I am deeply proud of the service we provide to any widowed person who comes to us in pain and seeking a community of people who understand the life-altering experience of widowhood.

Looking back on your childhood, what experiences do you feel played an important role in shaping the person you grew up to be?
I’ve been so fortunate to have been surrounded by strong and supportive women throughout my life. My mother, Kathie Neff, is my first and most significant inspiration for living an authentic life. She was raised in very difficult circumstances, and yet became a kind, loving, fun and compassionate mother to her seven children. She learned about being a woman, a mother and a social influencer on her own by being willing to be a life-long learner. She modeled for me, and for my siblings, the reality that people can always evolve. Her willingness to continue to imagine new life paths for herself was an inspiration when I needed to recreate my life after Phil’s death, and she still inspires me every day. My three sisters are also a huge inspiration to me, as well as a daily source of support. Our family unit formed the basis for my understanding of the power of community. We aren’t meant to live in isolation, and the power that I found in the bond shared by my tight-knit group of sisters (as well as our three brothers!) inspired the desire to create those types of bonds between widowed people everywhere. I want every widowed person to have a family whether or not they are close to the one into which they were born. My daughter Caitlin inspires my hope for the future. She is bold, bright, confident and compassionate. She provides me with the opportunity to see the world through the eyes of her generation and gives me such great hope for what lies ahead for women around the world. Lastly, I work with an incredible team of widowed women who are using their own experience to better the world for the widowed people who come after us. They are my heroes and I am honored to work beside them in service to our shared community.

Pricing:

  • Soaring Spirits online programs are all free of charge.
  • Camp Widow® is a weekend long event with a registration fee of $399 to attend (scholarships are available.)

Contact Info:


Image Credit:

Michael Dare

Getting in touch: VoyagePhoenix is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you know someone who deserves recognition please let us know here.

1 Comment

  1. Bonnie Wishart

    August 29, 2018 at 8:43 pm

    What a wonderful thing you have done by forming this group .. that gives widows a support group the be there for them when they most need it .. I believe in the saying.. Walk a mile in my shoes !!! unless you have experienced this you have no idea what it is al about …There is a group here in Fredericton New Brunswick Canada were I live .. I have never had the chance to join them but hope to in the near future … For me one of my biggest challenges was becoming one person as for years I was part of two people .. I was luck to have a good support group in friends and family .. And just want to say Thank You for all that you do …

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