When Taryn Davis lost her husband to the war in Iraq four years ago, she didn’t just sit around and cry about it.
“There’s no right or wrong way to grieve,” said Davis, 25, of Austin, Texas.

She found that being around others helped, and so in 2007, four months after her husband was killed, she started the American Widow Project, a nonprofit group that brings widows together to share their experiences.

Now in its fourth year, the project is holding a three-day retreat in the San Francisco Bay Area this weekend.

“With Valentine’s Day approaching, and with all the hospitality in San Francisco, it’s the best place for the women to connect and heal,” Davis said.

“We’re going to turn a holiday that’s hard to deal with on our own to one that has great memories.”

No more than 15 women are allowed on each retreat, and all selected participants are flown in to whatever city the group chooses. Everything is paid for with private donations.

“We have such a high demand, but we always keep the retreats small and intimate,” Davis said.

This weekend, women are flying in from Alaska, Texas, Illinois, Virginia, and Central and Southern California. Most of them have never met each other, but they do have at least one thing in common besides having lost a husband in war: their age.

“Our youngest is 20 years old for this event. Our oldest is 41,” Davis said.

She said perhaps more than 80 percent of all women married to soldiers in Iraq are 35 and younger, and of that group, about 3,000 soldiers who were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq were married.

“Meeting another military widow for the first time is like someone holding a mirror up to you,” she said. “When they see someone else who has been through what they’ve been through, those little moments truly make a difference.”

The women are unpacking this evening at a rented Victorian home near the NOPA neighborhood.

Tonight, they will eat pizza and get to know one other, and on Saturday, the widows will hit the town.

The 14 women will dress up and have dinner at John’s Grill at 63 Ellis St. on Saturday evening after a daytime retreat at a meditation center in Novato.

On Sunday, the women will take the “All About Chinatown” tour, which includes an excursion to a fortune cookie factory, Buddhist temple, and Chinese language school.

The whole weekend only cost the group about $6,000, thanks to generous discounts by participating organizations.

“My parents raised me shopping at Ross. I’ve learned how to budget,” Davis said.
She said the women form lasting bonds at their three-day experiences.

“The widows come in as strangers, and I know it’s hard to believe, but they leave as best friends,” Davis said.

Saul Sugarman, Bay City News

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