This week is the annual Compassionate Friends National Conference in Philadelphia. It will be my fourth conference and I call it my vacation with Lindsey. It will be the first conference I’ve attended as a bereaved mother and not as Leadership in the organization. When you volunteer with the group in any capacity, it takes on certain responsibilities and obligations. Without these amazing people who give their time to help bereaved families, many would be lost. That being said, I am glad to just be a mom and see what I can glean from this.
Going to this conference is scary for first timers, knowing you will be with 1200+ grieving parents, grandparents and siblings. How can this help you ask. Walking into this environment is like walking into a massive hug. As you meet eyes with others, there is silent communication that says “I understand”. This is often followed by a hug that is tight and warm and maybe starts to be weird it goes on so long. There is even a hug booth around the corner. Where else has one of those? These people understand what it’s like to live without a cherished loved one. No words are necessary.
The world outside of this is very different and often very lonely. This is sort of how a bereaved mother goes through her day.
Person 1: “Hi how are you?”
Bereaved mom: “I’m fine”
Translation: I don’t know why I say that, it feels weird, I’m not and never will be fine. I wish I could really tell you how I am. I miss my daughter.
Person 1: Did you have a good weekend?
BM: Yes it was ok, didn’t do much.
Translation: Weekends, weekdays, all days are tough without my daughter. Everything is different. All the happy families are living their life and watching their children grow. I’m constantly wondering what she would be doing and thinking. She should be here watching her son grow up.
Person 1: Are you looking forward to vacation?
BM: Oh yes everyone is excited to get away. Can’t wait.
Translation: I don’t really look forward to anything much, but I go and I do it and I actually enjoy it, but I have to take her with me. She needs to be welcome for me to have a good time. She should be here.
Person 1: What are you guys doing for the holidays? Have you decorated? Are you finished shopping?
BM: No real plans yet, probably do something simple.
Translation: I don’t really plan anymore. Mostly, I try to get through it for everyone else. I don’t want to bring them down because that isn’t fair to them. Decorating isn’t really that important to me. I just want to survive it.
What you’ll notice most in this conversation is that she is telling you what you want to hear, that which will make you comfortable. If she says what she is really feeling, the room will clear within seconds. Nothing is more fun than a grieving mother and I know because I am one. I spend everyday living and laughing and working and interacting…and missing my daughter. It is as if you have an empty space that can’t be filled and honestly, it can’t.
Every son, daughter, grandchild, brother or sister has a special place where only they fit. It’s made just for them, the edges so intricate that not even the finest sculptor could create a match. Each person has unique qualities that make their place in your life theirs and theirs alone. In order to continue without that piece, you must find an alternative way to hold that sacred place and yet live a fulfilling life. That friends is a tall order.
At the conference, there are workshops on everything from learning to live without your loved one to choosing a memorial tattoo. See, we also are different and we need different things. Our grief is unique to us and therefore we will use individual coping skills as well. Learning how others navigate this path is invaluable and eventually you go from being the student to being the teacher. You use what you’ve learned to help others and that in turn helps you. This has been my experience and my “compassionate friends” are like grief warriors, armed to battle the toughest of days.
As I walk the maze today, missing my husband and best friend, I am reminded of what it took to see the hope after losing Lindsey. It took work, it took perseverance, it took people leading me at times, it took patience, it took walking into territory I didn’t know existed. It was a choice I had to make on my own. I chose to hold that special place just for her, so Wednesday, Lindsey and I go on vacation. It’s our time, our place, our journey. Wish me well.