Wednesday, July 18, 2012

at the Compassionate friends National Conference

This is a rough one to write about. But I know that so many of you who read this are bereaved parents, and so I wanted to write about my day here today for all of you. Ten years ago, after Grace died, we learned about the Compassionate Friends, an organization for families who have lost children. Unfortunately, in 2002, our local chapter met at Hasbro Children's Hospital, where Grace--and many of the children whose parents attending those meetings--had died. And I just could not walk through those doors. In fact, driving past the hospital on Route 95, I had that strange counterintuitive impulse--to look, and to look away. But my husband went immediately to a meeting, and perhaps because he's a better group person than I am (I am a terrible group person! I was kicked out of the Girl Scouts!), or who knows why, he found comfort there. One night, he was out of town and I went into a kind of panic, as I did often those days, and decided to go to a CF meeting, dragging along my stalwart friend Sarah. And it was just as awful as I had feared to walk through those doors, and like I always do in groups I said too much, or the wrong thing, or whatever. So it was a colossal failure all around. I bought Sarah a lot of drinks afterward to thank her for coming with me. Did I go back another time? I don't remember (those months were such a blur) but somehow, between Lorne attending and me having been, we found these other couples who agreed we needed to meet more than once a month, and so we did. In our living room, with wine and sweets, all of our children having died very close together and all suddenly. I cannot tell you what we spoke about those nights, or how we knew somehow when we were all strong enough to stop meeting (much much later). All I know is that these people became a lifeline to us. And that, in a way, is what Compassionate Friends does. It offers a lifeline. A lifeline when you are drowning in grief.

I began to give talks, and was a keynote speaker once, at the National Conferences. I remember the first one I went to in Oklahoma City, so hot and humid, me alone, the crowds of grieving parents, many of them wearing buttons with pictures of their dead children on them, and it seemed both relentless and necessary. I remember going to the memorial for the bombing there, and sitting by it and sobbing under that strong sun. I remember sitting alone and eating barbecue, and trying to make sense of not just my loss but of all those children smiling out at me from those buttons. I thought  that I would never do that again. Yet I did. Year after year. And always I felt the same mixture of emotions.

When I was elected to the board, I thought I could give back to all the people who were my lifelines after Grace died. A small thing to do to pay tribute to them, to Grace, to--pardon my hyperbole--to lifelines. So here I am in Costa Mesa, CA. All day: board meeting on topics big and (seemingly) small. A Restaurant Impossible marathon on tv, a double shot of single malt whiskey at my side. Because those emotions are all on the surface.I met wonderful women from Australia at the BBQ tonight. I met grieving parents in the elevator and the hallway, and again I have those mixed emotions. I have cried a lot today (and knit a lot). But I have been struck too by the will of all these people, and the heartbreak, and the optimism, and the grief, and and and...

For me, these days are hard and wonderful and necessary. In many ways, all I want to do is go home. In many ways, all I need to do is be here.

So many other things to share, but I think I will wait till next time. For now, I just need to be here...