RAIN, RAIN GO AWAY…

‘This weekend was supposed to be my weekend to see my grandson and instead, the East Coast is bracing for a hurricane. It was a very difficult decision for me to make even though I knew the right thing to do. I struggled with him being disappointed and made it an agonizing decision. I knew the right thing, I just never want to let him down. When he was born, life changed in a way I can’t describe. He was my first grandson and the first boy in our family.

When Lindsey was growing up, all she wanted in life was to have a baby and to be a mom. I totally understood because there was never a time in my life that I didn’t dream of being a mom. I guess I was influenced by my life with my mother. I desperately wanted to have someone love and admire me like I did her. She was my “best friend” growing up and I thought she was perfect in every way. I used to say “If I can be half the mom you are, I’ll be happy.” I do believe, with all my heart, that we are influenced by people when we are young and those people and experiences follow us the rest of our lives. It isn’t the riches or the trappings, but the love and caring that you remember. My mom made all things happen even when money was scarce. I don’t know how she accomplished what she did, but I thought she hung the moon and lit up the stars.

My grandson was born with a mop of dark hair and he was perfect in every way. Lindsey was over the moon as were her sisters and the rest of our family. The way she looked at him is something I will never forget. It was as if all her dreams had come true and in that vintage pink and blue striped hospital blanket was her future.

The days to come started out pretty good, but then she started experiencing various health issues. Her days and nights got harder and harder as did they for her husband and family, but all the while there was this handsome, dark haired little boy with the bluest eyes who was stealing hearts. Time proved to be short and Lindsey’s time with Jax was exactly 700 days. For 700 days, she had everything she had ever wanted.

Life changed after that and each and everyday since, has been filled with “what if’s”. This is not a negative thing, but it is normal to wonder how things would be different if things hadn’t changed the way they did.

Walt Disney is one of the most fascinating entrepreneurs of our time. He was talented in a way most only dream of. He built a world around fantasy and in that fantasy his beloved characters became a part of us. I remember when access to his movies was scarce and you waited patiently for them to be released to the theaters every seven years, so you could watch them again and be immersed in this world.

Did you also notice that most of these films have no mother figure , sometimes fathers are killed and many of these films begin with sadness? Although Walt Disney was successful in his work life, it brought him tragedy also. After a successful film release he and his brother bought his parents a home. Shortly after moving in, there was a furnace problem and his mother died. How much did this influence his career after that is speculation I know, but I bet his grief was so deep that he used his films to express it and to show there was hope in every situation. If you go back to the archives of your mind and remember, these motherless children learned to be strong and resilient.

No one gives up in a Disney film and isn’t that the way you have to survive grief? There are mountains to climb and challenges beyond your wildest imagination, and just when you think it’s getting better another storm comes.

So this tough holiday weekend, I should have seen my buddy, I am trying to focus on the way this happened for the infamous Mr. Disney. I will look for a new date to visit, I will think about how much fun Rick and I had on the boat on these holiday weekends, I will look toward the future and remember all those Disney icons who never gave up. Today the maze is filled with my memories of sitting in theaters in downtown Richmond with my popcorn in hand and wondering how my heroes and heroines would ever be happy again. Thank you Walt Disney for showing us the value of never giving up.

IF I COULD TURN BACK TIME…

From very young, I can remember knowing I wanted to live my life with no regrets. Every single decision I made was meticulously thought out with how it would affect me or anyone I loved. I never wanted to look back and say “I wish I had….” but that is not realistic I guess. I have many regrets, but I like to reframe it and say “I wish it had been different.”

One of my biggest regrets overall is not listening closer to our older generation. I have found them always to be a wealth of information and although I heard a lot of stories over the years, I didn’t retain them. If I knew what I knew now, I would sit with our parents and record every word because every syllable they uttered is now a treasure. When you are growing up with parents and grandparents, you are so used to hearing them tell the same stories, sometimes over and over. At that age it is probably more annoying than anything else. You really don’t realize that they are like finding a treasure in a diamond mine until the mine gone. If you listen closely, they have stories of survival, of hardship and of courage beyond compare.

If I could turn back time, time from Rick’s diagnosis to his last day with us, I would concentrate less on the illness and more on our life together. I wish I could have used that time for sitting together and holding hands. I wish I had told him how much our life together had meant to me. I wish I could have told him how proud he made me and how much it meant to me when he would say “You look pretty” every day when I was leaving for work and “I’m proud of you”. I wish I could have used those 52 days for being grateful and expressing that gratitude. I wish I had used that time to thank him for all the times he stood by me, always being my rock even though some of those times he was crumbling inside. I wish we had talked about Heaven and when we would meet again. I know that the situation didn’t lend itself to this scenario, but it doesn’t erase the feelings that I wish that time could have been different. Instead it was filled with doctors, medicines, equipment and everything he hated. That part makes me sad.

I had much the same feeling when Lindsey died. I wish I hadn’t been out of town. I wished she hadn’t been in and out of the hospital with no answers each and every time. I wish I had told her how much I admired her strength tolerating the poking and prodding, test after test, the continuous decline in her health and all the while, she never gave up. I wish we had talked about our wonderful family more and the devastating illness less. I wish I had talked to her more about things that mattered and not just things. I guess in a way, I did, but when you don’t have that time anymore it leaves a lot of doubt.

My mom, my best friend, my confidante, my rock, had such a difficult life, but you would have never known it. She was tough as nails and she taught me lessons I didn’t even know I learned. I wish I had thanked her for being my mom. I wish I had told her how proud she made me. I wish I had used her last days with me talking about the “old days”. I wish I had written it all down, because in the whole scheme of things, those things are more precious than gold. Mom’s last days were filled with pain and I wish she hadn’t endured that, but as I said before, the situation wasn’t one we could control.

So regrets are part of the process of navigating the maze and moving toward Hope and a different future than you had planned. Regrets are also often associated with that awful “guilt” we feel. One thing I learned is to reframe my thinking and in the principles of the Grief Recovery Method, its a matter of wishing things were different, better or more. I wish all of this had been different, but I was not and am not the author of this story. I was just fortunate enough to have been a character in one of the greatest novels of my time…

ATTITUDES AND PLATITUDES…

I was struggling a little with what to write about this week and I happened on several articles on what not to say to a grieving person. This is probably one of the most discussed topics in support groups everywhere. When I attended my first support group meeting, I expected naively for everyone to just be sad. Turns out there are a ton of other emotions that go with grieving.

How do you comfort someone who has just lost a loved one, a piece of their heart. The norm is to feel awkward and ill prepared to come into contact with someone fresh on the grief train. Hugs always work, but people generally feel obligated to talk. Just don’t… unless it is to say “I can’t imagine.” or “I’m here for you.” Do not ever say “I know how you feel.” because you don’t. Honestly, even if you had a similar loss, you don’t know how they feel. You only know how you feel and how you felt with that loss. Relationships are complicated and just because someone is married, it doesn’t mean losing a spouse is going to affect everyone the same. Just because you are a parent, doesn’t mean you feel the same feelings about the loss of a child. The death of a parent can be challenging, as those relationships are dynamic and ever changing.

This is especially true for child loss. There can often be issues with the parent-child relationship that you know nothing about. Often there are extremely difficult family dynamics that are present making the loss even more complicated. In cases where there is a stillborn or a baby who never gets to term, there can be underlying health issues, infertility etc. This is not information that is easily shared and can be very painful in itself.

Statements like “He’s in a better place.” falls short of comfort. The indication is there is a better place other than with me. This increases the pain and has no place in “comfort language”. Now you may be thinking of being in Heaven, if you have faith, but we are here and this is where we want them to be. Some don’t have faith as an option so this could sting even more for them.

‘He isn’t suffering anymore.” Fact, but not helpful. Now I am suffering in a way I could not have imagined, so although this is true, not “comfort language”.

‘You have other children.” Fact, but not helpful. I am fully aware of my other children 24 hours of everyday, because they are suffering too. If you are a young family that loses a child, you have to maintain and still gets the kids to school and activities, prepare meals, and above all you are challenged with helping them to grieve. It’s a tall order and frankly I can’t imagine. With older siblings, you have to help them navigate the loss without making them feel like their “before” life was better for you than the “after the loss” life. This can and does make them feel insignificant and devalued. Speak to any grieving sibling and they will tell you the truth, but you have to be willing and ready to hear it.

‘You can have other children’” Fact (in most cases), but not helpful. One child doesn’t replace another, no way, no how. Each child has a place and that place is their sacred place in your heart and in the family. Even those born sleeping hold that sacred place. Don’t ever take that away.

“God needed an angel” and “God picked another flower”. Just don’t. Not “comfort language”.

The famous “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle”. Too abstract to call it a fact, but “not helpful nonetheless “. I saw a meme that added “by now I can bench press a Buick.” This became my mantra. I think I’m going to make a t shirt with this on it because now there have been a lot of Buicks.

“You are so strong.” Not necessarily the case, just trying to survive. If I appear “strong” then the act is working and I hide my pain so you can be more comfortable while I can secretly remain with my grief.

“Time heals.” This is fiction. Things change over time and things get different. Time itself does nothing, it is what you do within that time that creates change. We control our destiny. You can get lost in “grief” like quicksand pulling you with so much force you think you will surely get sucked under or you can take steps along the way to avoid the quicksand, slow, strategic, mindful steps, so that when you feel that pull, and you will, you have a rope nearby to hold onto.

“I couldn’t do what you are doing.” Not a Fact, but I thought that way once too. Well I wasn’t given a choice so here I am. This is my plight, so what I do now is totally up to me. I can give up or give in and work to live the best life I can.

My all time favorite is “You need to move on” or You need to get over it”. Not fact and not helpful and definitely not comforting. There is no such thing as getting over the loss of someone you loved dearly. Relationships mold us into who we are. Sometimes those relationships are positive and sometimes they are not, but we learn from every single thing that happens to us. We are created from happy times, sad times, positive influences, negative influences, the ups and downs, the good, the bad and the ugly. We use what we learn to be who we want to be. We do not move on, but we do move forward, away from the pain and towards the memories of the good stuff. Sometimes you want to hide from the world with its attitudes and platitudes, but in the end we have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

As i continue to meander the maze I wonder, what is my future? How do I use my experiences to make life better not only for myself, but for others. I stop to think and jot down some thoughts. For now this is my path, trying to use my pain to reach out to others. Thank you to those who read my words and my sincere wish is that you find “Hope” in every blog. My intent is to take what seems insurmountable and use it to create a future full of joy while still loving and remembering my precious Lindsey, my true soulmate, Rick and the best Mom a girl could ever have and all the others who were part of my journey. I wish for anyone reading this that you will take time out for yourself today and practice self compassion. Do something that makes you feel good, something for yourself or something for someone else. We are not promised everything is this life will be perfect so it is up to us to make it the best it can be while we continue the journey…

110 DAYS…

It has been an interesting month now and I have to say I think I have done remarkably well. I have grieved with over 1000 people at a conference, said so long as my grandson and a true “apple of my eye”, moved away, I have seen the 9th Birthday without Lindsey and it has been exactly 110 days, 8 hours and 1 minute without Rick and I am still standing. That is true success isn’t it, pure survival?

I have worked my schedule, taken care of the house, raised a needy puppy, changed porch lights and took out my own trash. I have not cooked, but have eaten plenty. I have had groceries delivered and hired someone to cut my grass. I have dealt with insurance, Social Security, hospitals, doctor’s offices and Medicare and that is just scratching the surface and I am still standing.

Today I was restless and unsettled and what I realized is this, I haven’t been crying everyday. Tears well up whenever I talk about things, but that deep, chest heaving, head throbbing, eyes burning kind of cry has been absent and that for some reason made me sad. It made me realize that time is passing and I’m getting further away from the “good stuff”. No matter what, time marches on. I wonder if I hadn’t already survived one of the most devastating losses a person can experience if things would be different. This isn’t my first rodeo and after suffering loss after loss, do you start to wear an emotional set of armor? It makes me wonder.

The other thing I realized this week is that everything I touch and everything I do, I did it the last time with Rick. Whether it be a restaurant, a store, a sign I pass everyday, I did it all before and I did it all with Rick by my side. We were inseparable that way and it feels weird that it will never be the same way again. It feels wrong, like the universe is out of sync and I guess it is. My world is out of sync.

For two years, we had made reservations at Cape Charles for July 4th, planning to take the boat over. We had rented a golf cart months ahead and planned to watch fireworks sitting on the deck of Linzi-Lu. Life Threw Curves and we never got to go, but this weekend we packed up an RV and pulled a golf cart to Cape Charles. We sat on the beach, watched the sunset and made s’mores over the fire pit. I laughed and I smiled and I wished he were there, riding with Lucy and I in the golf cart making memories.

Countless people lost their lives this week in senseless acts of violence while patients sat trying everything to survive while receiving chemo treatments. There have been natural disasters and people being left with nothing but the clothes on their backs. Children have died in hot cars and young and old have lost their lives in accidents. These people don’t get a chance to make more memories and neither do their families. I cherish the times I had and although I wish I had more time, my time was precious.

Although days can be hard and tasks innumerable, I am thankful for every minute I had with my precious family of five. I wouldn’t trade it for the world and if I had it to do over again, knowing the outcome would be the same, I would make the same choice. I would live and love and love some more. I wish all those who lost loved ones this week had been given the gift of time, but that was not to be, so with them in mind, I walk the maze tonight with lots of company. Their grief is thick, like the fog over the marsh, hardly able to see beyond a few steps. It’s quiet here, talk is unnecessary, feelings understood. The eyes meet with recognition that the road is going to be long and hard. Hands clasped together and steps tentative, but deliberate, moving forward slowly searching again for the exit to the maze…

UNCONDITIONAL LOVE…

She knew the time was getting close. She knew he was getting worse yet he was still eating, drinking and wagging his tail to greet her. He was Frankie, a Yorkie Poo, that had been with her for almost 18 years. His eyes were glassy, but as always, the love in those eyes could melt you. He had been changing for awhile, but today he was definitely worse, unable to control his bladder. She knew how serious it was and knew she had to seek help. A trip to his vet proved a diagnosis of kidney failure. She had three choices, but all had the same ending. She could let him go, take him home for the weekend and give a little extra love or she could treat him with IV fluids and see what happened. He was obviously suffering and she knew the right thing was to let him go. She held him as he went to sleep, very peaceful and no pain, just rest. The tears flowed down her cheeks landing on his precious head. She held him close and told him she loved him, handed him to the tech and walked out carrying a mold of his paw print.

The weeks that followed were tough as they adapted to life without this little guy. It seemed the grief was extra heavy even though as animal lovers, loss had always been difficult. This was extra hard and they wondered why. Finally she realized that the one constant in her life since the loss of her daughter had been Frankie.

It was a normal restaurant day and I was sitting in Rick’s office. Tiffany said she had something to show us. She disappeared and returned with the tiniest little fur ball I had ever seen and placed him gently in my arms. He was shaking, so afraid, and I held him up and looked in his eyes. They were human eyes and it was as if he could see inside my soul. Next was the statement…he needs a home and that was the beginning of our life with Frankie.

Frankie pretty much ran the house. We got him a sister, Sophie, and although they were inseparable, he was definitely the alpha dog. Sophie died in 2015 while I was out of town. My family, as always, rallied to the occasion and took care of her and subsequently, Rick. She loved Rick and her loss especially with me gone was extremely difficult for him. We did all the hard stuff together.

So why was losing Frankie so difficult. I pondered this and what I surmised was this, he had been with me through so much loss already and was my constant throughout. Since 2010, we lost Lindsey, my mom, Rick’s sister and brother-in-law, and Rick’s dad. We had closed all our restaurant and catering businesses, Amanda got a divorce, Tiffany broke her leg starting 3 years of surgeries and an uncertain future, my brother had a massive heart attack and I got a knee replacement and neck surgery. Was it just life or was it a lot. I started to be afraid of what would come next and that was the opposite of my former self. So saying so long to my little buddy was like losing my safe place. He was my lap buddy throughout all of this and I would miss him terribly. Thing is I believe in the rainbow bridge and I believe all our pets will cross over and we, too, will be reunited.

So enters Lucy, the red Goldendoodle you have seen and heard so much about (maybe too much). Many of you have been watching her antics on Facebook and probably thinking I’m obsessed with her. Well you are right. Let me tell you her story.

It was December 2019 with the usual hustle and bustle of holiday time. My oldest daughter, Amanda, called me to announce she would like to put a down payment on a goldendoodle puppy and then we would do the rest. My first instinct was that it wasn’t the right time for us to tackle a puppy. We were both still working long days and it would be hard and not good for the puppy or us. I couldn’t get it off my mind and I mentioned it to Rick. We had been planning on getting one when we retired and making her a therapy dog. He was Rick, gave his logical opinion, then within hours he told Amanda, “get it if it will make your mom smile.” That was just the beginning…

On January 16th we picked up “Lucy”. We had picked her out two weeks before, where she was previously known as “pink collar puppy”. Rick and I were over the moon in love. Our plan was to train her to be a therapy dog and in our retirement we would visit hospitals and nursing homes. Puppy training started and two weeks in we got the tragic news that Rick had Cancer. We were in shock!

Over the next few weeks, Lucy was our happy place. She was this incredibly crazy cute puppy with endless energy. Everyone helped us with her, taking her for play dates and keeping her while we were in the hospital. The last time Rick came home, Lucy laid beside his chair quietly and without moving a hair. I heard his conversation with her as he said “well I really wanted to watch you grow up, but that’s not going to happen. I wanted to see what you would accomplish”. My heart broke into pieces like shattered glass.

One of the things I always wanted was Lucy to sleep with me, but she preferred the cold bathroom floor. Time passed and a week later Rick was gone. I was lost and lonely. The night of the funeral, my friend was coming back for the night, but I knew it wasn’t going to change my feelings and she needed to go home to her own family.. I told her I’d be ok and that night Lucy spent her first night beside me, snuggled up close, never leaving my side.

So as I continue to look for the exit to the maze, I have Lucy by my side. She is my sure thing every morning and every night. I wake to a paw to the cheek and I go to sleep to her lying beside me, head on Rick’s pillow. Coming home is hard, but she is always waiting, ready to play and share hugs and kisses. She truly gets me through the long days and even longer nights. Truth be told, I don’t know what I would have done without her. She fills a place in my heart that longs for life to return to the way it was, but as we know that will never be. Lucy and I look to the future as a team, she and I against the world. The journey is better with her by my side. “I love Lucy”

LETTING GO…

It is finally the weekend and I am exhausted. Straight from the conference to back at work, packing up all the emotions and tossing them aside in order to be effective in a different role wearing a different hat. In the middle of all of this though, we had Lindsey’s 39th birthday and our 9th birthday without her. It seems surreal and now she and Rick are forever 29 and 66.

While going through pics, both this week and for Ricks service, it became crystal clear that there will be no more pics of us together. There will be no pictures of our family together, intact, growing older, making memories. It’s as if those moments are now frozen in time, never to be the same. Families are different, nothing is really the same except the love we shared represented by album after album of pictures. Anyone who knows me knows I take a lot of pictures and now those pictures are like treasured sea glass. You have it in your hand, it’s full of beauty causing you inadvertently to smile. You know that which you hold is a rare find and your chances of finding another like it is not going to happen. This piece of life is forever changed just as that sea glass is a moment in time you’ll never forget.

This is another loss, sort of collateral damage I call it. Along with no pictures, you may not choose to do a lot of other things you did together. Holidays and vacations may look different and it may comfort you to change it up on special events like this. I remember thinking that I could not sit in the same room and open presents on Christmas Eve like we had always done. I also remember wondering if I was letting anyone down by feeling that way. Along comes a little guilt to further complicate things.

The “forever” empty chair or in my case chairs are obvious now. The get together is small. There are no hours of preparing because honestly, it doesn’t feel the same. The girls have become the lead on making plans and Tiffany has taken up the reins on the cooking. I don’t know how we’ll do all those “firsts” this year. I guess we’ll just see where we are at the time. It is definitely the anticipation of the event more than the day itself. The day is just another day and everyday hurts the same as any other.

Of course then there are all the “things”, clothing, cars, treasured memories, hobbies and in my case a boat. The boat represents all the years we spent at the river, dating all the way back to the 50’s. Now I don’t remember this, but I have been told my father built the first cottage on Stingray Point in Deltaville, Va. I actually have some old pictures of he and a friend working on the cinder block building and standing on the beach. My parents would divorce a few years later, but we would often talk about those times.

In the late 60’s Rick and I began dating and spent weekends with his family at their cottage in Whitestone on Bald Eagle Point. This is when I fell in love with Rick’s family and I remember thinking how I hoped someday to have someone love me like his parents loved each other. How blessed I am to have found that.

When our children were young, we bought a vine covered, dilapidated house with my family.. The term fixer upper would not do this justice. We worked on it until it became inhabitable and spent weekends there with our family. Some of our best memories were of Rick steaming crabs and sitting together picking crabs under the multicolored summer sky. We played board games at night and enjoyed the little beach during the day. Once it rained so hard that the water reached the cottages forming an artificial lake. . The girls and their cousins had an inflatable dragon boat and floated from house to house greeting all the relatives. Simpler times, treasured memories.

Rick always had a boat of some sort throughout our marriage. He bought what he could afford and sold it when he found another gem. I think he spent more time working on them than enjoying them, but the water was his passion. For some reason, he always found solace on the water and that connection got him through some tough times. I think the only time we were without a boat was in the early years of our restaurant and we sold it because he didn’t have time to enjoy it. We would go on to get another and another, always trading up for something a little better than before.

Our final purchase would be a 33 ft. ‘95 Sea Ray Sundancer, a boat we had been watching for sometime. We decided to throw caution to the wind and bought it in the fall of 2016. We surprised everyone with it in November of that year and christened it the Linzi-Lu, in remembrance of Lindsey and my mom. The significance of the name overshadowed everything else and we looked forward to lots of adventures the coming Spring.

Over the next couple of years, we would get there as often as we could, with whatever family could join us. The grandchildren would pile in the cabin together and I don’t think we could have been happier. Although life got in the way and we didn’t get to do a lot we had envisioned, when we did go, we made it the best it could be usually culminating with a trip to Stevie’s Ice Cream. Those were great times and now Linzi Lu is one of those things I have to do. The river will never be the river without Poppy at the helm.

I thought I would never go there again, but that isn’t the case and actually I already did. It was a knee jerk reaction to the pain of never going again with Rick. It’s not the place but the pain of loss that holds us back. What I have realized is that when I do these things, the images of good times play like a movie in my head, reel after reel of memories with loved ones. Unfortunately I am at a point in my life where I have to be logical and I can’t hang on to things because of the emotions attached to it and I have to let go of the Linzi-Lu.

So tonight I’m mourning the things that represent our life as a complete family. Tonight I am thinking of all the things, 46 years of things that meant something to us, but have a different meaning to me. I know it’s no rush, but I do think about it all the time. I’m floating the maze tonight in the Linzi-Lu, the canals lined with memories of Rick, his favorite shirt, his BBQ trophies, his Clint Eastwood collection of movies, his Ducks Unlimited memorabilia, things from his childhood, his huge collection of cookbooks and from the helm of the Linzi-Lu, I take it all in. This represents his life, a life well lived and one I am honored to have been a part of. You see, I got my wish, he loved me like his parents loved each other.

WALK WITH ME…

Another Compassionate Friends National Conference in the books. I wish I could explain what it is like to spend the weekend with 1200 grieving parents, grandparents and siblings. Sounds depressing doesn’t it? I’m here to tell you it is anything but depressing.

There are stories of auto accidents, suicides, cancer, heart problems, death secondary to substance abuse, shaken babies, murders, drowning accidents, AIDS, electrocution babies who didn’t survive, deaths secondary to mental health struggles, and many died leaving loved ones with no answers at all. There are tears and more tears, but there are also laughs and smiles and magnificent stories of survival. To hear these stories is a gift to the listener because this group can’t share their stories with just anyone. If they share their story with you, it means you are someone special and you make them feel safe and that their loved one mattered. In this environment, it doesn’t matter how your loved one died, no stigma, no judgement, just love and understanding. We are all the same, we loved someone and we lost someone.

We wear picture buttons, make memory boards, visit the Crafty Corner to make memory items, shop in the Butterfly Boutique, check out raffle items and silent auction, attend workshops, sit quietly in the reflection room, get some healing at Healing Haven, listen to speakers who walk our same walk, light candles and walk through a sea of signs with pictures of our precious children, grandchildren and siblings. We also hug and hug and hug some more.

In the corner you see a young mom, head in hands, hiding her tears. Within seconds, she is flanked by those that recognize the face of new grief. They offer something unique, a promise of survival. Further down the road, they have an understanding of the journey before her and offer information on finding a chapter, closed Facebook pages, and resources on hope and healing. Before they part ways, there is usually a phone number or email exchange. See, they know what she needs. She needs hope that this searing pain she has at this moment will not last forever. She needs to hear the stories of survival and how it took years to find their way. She needs the truth, no platitudes and no promises, just guidance as to how to continue her life when getting out of bed this morning was hardly manageable.

The mother stands close to her daughter as they enter the room. She is a grandmother so her journey is very different. Her grief for her daughter and her grandson is a double loss as she knows her daughter’s pain all too well. She watches her take steps into her new reality, cautiously, slowly trying to figure it all out. A mother takes care of her daughter so she remains present for her while silently grieving her own loss. It’s as if she is there to buffer the world for her daughter by wrapping her in love and understanding. A grandparent’s love is unique and their journey is tough trying to comfort while, at the same time, suffering their own loss.

Across the restaurant, you see someone sitting alone. You ask if you may share his table and he graciously accepts. He is here alone, having lost all of his siblings and a niece. You share your story of hope and healing and you listen to his. He has no surviving family and has a Birthday coming soon. He always shared his birthday with a sibling. You get a picture with him and wish him a safe journey home. He has been coming to this conference for 17 years. You have been blessed to share this time with him and walk away with a new friend, keeping in mind, he has a birthday coming.

The young brother-sister team grew up at National TCF conferences. They lost their sister when they were 10 and 12 and their life changed in a way they could have never imagined. Now they stand in front of the room speaking about how the loss of their sister changed their lives forever. They speak honestly about things that hurt them, things that affected their lives, and how it feels to be a bereaved sibling. They offer more than advice, they reach out all year to broken siblings in an effort to help them find their way. Siblings are called the “forgotten mourners” as most people say “How is your mother?” They feel invisible as shrines are built and the parents try to survive. The parents take their advice with them and try to fix what they didn’t even know was broken.

A very special friend shared this blog with other Bereavement Groups she belongs to while we were at the conference. Someone took the time to read it and reached out to her through Facebook, asked what Compassionate Friends was and what the Conference was like. She wanted to know about the Walk and all the details. It turned out she lived close by and my friend registered her for the Walk and got her a T-shirt. We met that morning and walked along side her in memory of her daughter. This is what Compassionate Friends is all about.

I attended this conference knowing it would be even more difficult this year with the recent loss of Rick. I wasn’t sure I could get what I needed at this point and surely I wasn’t going to be able to help anyone else. It was going to be different and I knew that. A mom and daughter sat beside me at the Candle Lighting and we started to talk. We looked at our children on our buttons and we briefly shared a little about our kids. Common ground right? Turns out she lost her husband shortly after losing her son. She is a widow and also grieves her child. Maybe it’s coincidence, but I don’t think so. I’m walking the maze again and there appears someone who gets it. How blessed am I to have had this week with these people? There are no words. The maze today is lined with the signs of all the loved ones we miss so deeply. I feel them with me holding my hand.

I can do this…

‘We Need Not Walk Alone. We are the Compassionate Friends”