In early 2017, my husband and I were traveling in Thailand when he had a terrible accident. Despite all the best efforts, he was unable to recover, and I was forced to say goodbye in an ICU in Bangkok. We had waited decades to be able to legally marry in our home state, an occasion we celebrated on our 30th anniversary just seven months before his accident. In the midst of my grief, I was grateful for the dignity of our marriage, as it allowed me to make important medical decisions and work with the U.S. Embassy to send him back home.
During this trying time, my colleagues at Cisco rallied around me, offering me time off, support, and encouragement. Their unwavering support was a source of stability in my life when everything else felt unmoored. And it went beyond just words of encouragement as they insisted I take the time off I needed, reduced my hours when I returned, and blocked time on my calendar for breaks between meetings. Many people express empathy, but seeing it in practice was amazing and humbling.
As a gay man who had just lost his partner, I was shocked by how few resources were available to me locally. Many bereavement groups are hosted by organizations that have a complicated relationship with the LGBTQ community, so I turned to virtual groups for support instead. This proved invaluable, yet I was missing the personal connections that in-person interactions bring. I then discovered Soaring Spirits International (SSI) and their program called Camp Widow.
Camp Widow is an in-person program for widowed people that takes place several times a year in various locations around the U.S. and Canada. The program provides a space for all widowed people to come together, grieve, laugh, cry, and share their experiences without judgment. I attended my first Camp Widow when they held a targeted event at the Los Angeles Gay & Lesbian Center, and being among other LGBTQ widows was truly amazing. I felt like I had found my people, and I was inspired to try to help them grow their outreach to this community.
As the pandemic subsided and full camps resumed, I got involved and volunteered to help create an LGBTQ track of workshops. Thanks to Time2Give, a program at Cisco that provides employees with 80 hours of paid time off to volunteer, I was able to dedicate myself to this cause.
My work at Cisco as a Program Manager for strategic initiatives has given me a lot of opportunities to organize and drive offsites and workshops, create content, and facilitate meetings. These skills have proven incredibly useful in creating meaningful experiences for those still in the darkness of their grief. I developed presentations, organized speakers, and have conducted 18 in-person workshops across four Camp Widow events so far. Nearly 100 widowed LGBTQ people have participated in these workshops as well as weekly peer support calls, where the bonds between us continue to deepen.
In addition to time off with Time2Give, Cisco also provides each employee with donation matching for qualified organizations. With the help of Cisco’s Bright Funds team, I was able to help Soaring Spirits qualify for this program, doubling my ability to support their mission by offering camperships to widowed people who need financial support to attend camp. Through the same program, the 215 hours I have volunteered on my personal time was matched by a $10 donation for each hour. All of this adds up to a huge impact for a small non-profit and allows them to expand their support to underserved communities.
I am incredibly grateful for the support I have received both personally and professionally at Cisco. It has allowed me to rebuild a meaningful and happy life. Through Time2Give, I have also been able to be there for others who are still in their early stages of grief. I want to show them that they are not alone and that, together, we can move forward and find happiness again. The support and community I’ve found at Camp Widow have been life-changing, and I am grateful to Cisco for the opportunity to give back to my community.
Are you ready to give back and make a difference? Join us.