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Our First Compassionate Friends Conference  

They told us at the conference that re-entry back into the world would be difficult, and they were right. Sometimes something would just stop me in my tracks and I never heard another word for the rest of the presentation, just lost in the discovery and validation that I wasn’t crazy, irrational, or not “doing well.” I wanted to stay in that cocoon of love and support as we had ventured into some very dark places of grief. With great reluctance, I removed my name badge with the butterfly sticker that let everyone know this was our first conference and stuffed it in my purse as a remembrance.

So, in no particular order, here is what I gleaned from my first national conference of The Compassionate Friends:

  • “Blankets of expectations” fell away at the conference. It took me at least 12 hours to fully realize that this was a completely unique and safe environment. To realize that I didn’t have to be anybody I wasn’t, no expectations would be put on us by anyone.
  • We were born into this world crying. When our child died, we were born into a whole new world crying.
  • We are taught to feel shame when we grieve in our current society and culture.
  • Even extroverts will need much more quiet time than before, introverts even more so.
  • It can take four to seven years to process the violent details of our child’s death.
  • The word “bereavement” literally means to be torn apart. If you are bereaved, you have special needs, and it is perfectly okay to have those needs.
  • Stop apologizing for tears. Stop apologizing for getting “upset” when a grief wave hits. We have nothing to apologize for; our child is dead and we mourn them.
  • Grief is the natural, inward result of the death of someone we love…natural, normal, expected. To feel grief means you are capable of loving another. If you don’t feel grief and pain could mean that you are a sociopath, incapable of forming relationships and loving another human being. Why we try to get people to deny their pain and grief is beyond me; it is to deny their humanity.
  • Mourning is the outward expression of grief. We need to mourn. We will mourn the rest of our lives. We will hurt for the rest of our lives. All joy will be bittersweet, and that is okay.
  • Many bereaved parents will present with a major health issue if special care is not taken with their health. Our bodies grieve. Broken heart syndrome is real. Empty arms syndrome is real. Our bodies ache for our children, our hearts yearn for their voice, our hands want to touch them, and we long to hear their heartbeat.
  • Our relationship with God will change. We may lose our faith, it may grow stronger. One is not right, and one is not wrong; it simply is what it is. Some will walk away from their church forever, some won’t.
  • We will experience memory loss, and, no, not because of our age. Our brains are preoccupied, valiantly trying to reconcile the trauma of the death of our child.
  • We are different people than before our child died. The old self will not return. It is neither good or bad, it just is.

I think the greatest moment of revelation I had was when one presenter acknowledged that we had experienced a great trauma; the death of our child was traumatic.

At the orientation for first-time Conference attendees, the presenter reassured us that if we went to a workshop and it wasn’t working for us, we could leave. She said that we weren’t there to stroke the egos of the presenters; that this was about us and finding out what we needed. So no worries about getting up and leaving and slipping into another workshop.

Every presenter, whether they had multiple letters after their names, introduced themselves by their first name, and that they were their child’s mom or dad, their sibling’s sister or brother, or their grandchild’s grandparent. Complete humility, an absolute level playing field, and there were no strangers; only recognition that the pain in their eyes matched ours. Perhaps the shortest distance between two hearts is a grief shared.

We hope to attend next year’s TCF national conference. I wish we had found TCF sooner. Why it is not part of every bereavement care package, I’ll never know. We never did receive one locally. I did my own research, and it was the hardest thing in the world to reach out and ask for materials. It was practically impossible to attend our first meeting. Attending the conference was scary, coming out of the hotel room was scary, but it turned out to be a lifeline, truly a safe harbor.

There is much more, but I am struggling to bring order to my brain. The weekend was a fire hydrant, and I need just an eyedropper full, slowly, a drop at a time. We are still in early grief, the “terrible twos” of grief; still easily tired and needing naps. We learned that we don’t have to feel hopeful, we don’t have to have hope; it is enough to know that hope is there.

 

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Comments (1)

  • Thank you for writing this narrative, Theresa Jackson. I will be attending my first conference this summer and our son “Jack”, who we mourn, shares a little part of your last name. My husband will not be able to join me so I will be attending alone. We are just now beginning our third year of grieving and sometimes it seems as if we’ve been in this place forever. Other times, just for a month.

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