We hiked. We biked. We ran. We just had such a good time together," Neff Hernandez said.
But everything changed on a late August evening when Phillip went for a bike ride and was hit by a car and killed.
"I didn't even know what to do with myself," Neff Hernandez said. "Every single thing about my life changed, from where I slept, to where I ate ... to who was I going to check in with if I had a flat tire."
While she had a great support system to help her during the difficult time, she said none of them knew how to handle her grief.
"They meant well but couldn't understand what I was going through."
Neff Hernandez realized she wanted real-world stories of how other widows dealt with this new reality, so she started seeking out and learning from them.
"Every time I sat down with one of these people, I felt understood," she said. "I thought if I could bring these widows together, what a difference that would make."
That's how her non-profit, Soaring Spirits
, was born. The organization connects widows and widowers, allowing them to heal in a community that understands the pain of losing a partner.
"I just wanted a space where I could laugh and be free and not be judged," Neff Hernandez said. "And if I could make it easier for widowed people to find each other, they find a friend who's going to walk through their widowed experience with them."
Camp Widow was the first program she created in 2008. The annual three-day events gather widows and widowers from around the world to attend workshops, meet one another and find connections.
From Camp Widow, the non-profit has grown to also include 70 regional chapters all over the US, as well as pen pals and programs specifically for the LGBTQ community.