Hello, I’m so sorry you’re here.
There’s only one place you hear that greeting- at the beginning of every meeting of The Compassionate Friends.
This past weekend we had the privilege of attending the annual national conference. This year it was held in St. Louis, Missouri.
The conference is a place for healing. Gathering with our fellow bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents without judgement. Trying to fit in the usual norms of daily life where no matter how long ago our loved one died we still at times feel like we don’t belong; here on this weekend I am Nicholas’s Mom once again and it feels good.
This is the place where I'm not the square peg trying to fit into the round hole.
The conferences we attended in the past were such cathartic experiences that we were anxious to be able to go again. In the early throes of grief a griever has a need to suspend life for awhile to create a space that allows them to cope and internalize their loss, but you know what? No matter how long you’ve been on this journey, the desire for the opportunity to have these times again are a precious blessing.
Over 1000 people had preregistered for the conference and and though I don’t know how many more registered between Thursday and Friday there were many, and we were blessed to be among them.
An added benefit for us this year was the opportunity we were given to give back or pay it forward like those that helped us in previous conferences because we too were presenting a workshop.
This year Jay and I had the honor of presenting our Navigating Life workshop. There were about a dozen or so offer d simultaneously with ours and being new we just hoped not to be sitting in a room by ourselves! We knew of at least 2 people attending- 2 friends we made back in 2012 when we had first begun our grief journey and we were invited to a regional conference in Overland Park, Kansas. So thankful for Collene and Damon. We had Matthew and Michayla with us too, so we knew that there would be at least 6 of us.
Our room was rather large, set up with 90 chairs in 9 straight rows with 10 chairs in each row. Not the workshop set up we had planned on, because we didn’t have tables and being that participants build a compass throughout we were going to need to improvise. We rearranged the chairs to try to create a warmer space, set up our materials and began to wait. We had enough materials for 50 participants. We thought that was going to be more than enough. But it wasn’t. Folks started to wander in 30 minutes prior to the workshop and just kept coming. We had more than 50, more 75, 100, or even 125. Our total count was approximately 150 participants!
In a world where everything good is a double-edged sword due to our loss, we were beyond excited to think people wanted to hear what we had to offer. The session was extremely well received, participants interjected and shared throughout the workshop. We felt absolutely blessed for the opportunity to try to offer hope to so many at one time. Jay and I have come so far in this wilderness. The lessons we have learned are revered by us and sharing some of that is a humble experiences. Helping others helps us too.
If you ever went to summer camp or a religious retreat for example you can understand the bonds created and the ties that forever bind you to those with which you’ve shared an experience as special as this. The TCF conference coordinators manage to create a safe space for the bereaved on a grand scale that involves tremendous preparation. The hotel staff is even given sensitivity training in order to help extend the safety zone for conference goers. Their work is so appreciated.
At the Compassionate Friends we build bonds with one another over the course of the weekend. We are connected by the similarities of the tragedies in which we became bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings. Like in the story “The Invisible String” by Patrice Karst we have an invisible string that ties us to our beloved children in heaven we are also tied with invisible string to those we meet with at our TCF conferences.
I am so thankful for Collene and Damon from Topeka. They are Brittany’s Mom and Dad. When we were just beginning to scratch and scrape at the surface of this wilderness, they were parents already on the other side of the grief mountain. Just like David’s parents George and Joan, Kelly’s mom Bonnie and Karen’s mom Barbara from our Rochester TCF chapter, each of whom helped us find our own trail.
It remains tragic that the need for the Compassionate Friends exists and that new members join us every day from all over the world. No matter how far we come in our grief journey the loss is ever present. I thank God that The Compassionate Friends is there to walk with me. I truly am not alone.
I will hope to see you in Philadelphia my TCF family.