Friday, October 05, 2012

Reflections on conference day one

I’m up early for day two of the conference. Day one was incredible, so emotional and draining, but also inspiring. We got to meet “Dr Jo”, the founder of the MISS Foundation, the woman who started it all after her daughter was stillborn. She’s a ball of energy, but also warm and caring. In the lobby the first morning, I saw two men greet each other with a big hug and one of them said, "Wow, two years again already." They had their families with them and the children were presumably going to join the kids camp. Our daughter is too young for the camp but if we come back in two years, it would be great if she could be a part of that. I can’t think of anything more healthy than families travelling together to cope with their loss and connecting with other families going through the same thing. I think the children in those families have a greater chance of living richer, more meaningful lives, and being caring compassionate people, because of their experience of losing a sibling, and by having that experience guided by their parents and an informed support group.
The first session we went to was about "models of grieving". It was actually quite a science-y presentation from people who study grief. People study this! It’s fascinating to me. I thought the presenter approached it all quite respectfully despite not having a personal experience with losing a child. It does hit home though that unless your child has died, what you have to say about that experience is always going to be limited. He played some videos of parents talking about their experiences which I enjoyed seeing (and crying to!).
And then the whopper - a panel of parents talking about their grief some years on from when their children died. Truly, time has nothing to do with grief. All grieving parents know this. Some things become 'easier' but the milestones, the triggers, the love - all those things remain. Just so incredibly brave of people to get up on a stage and share their stories, their guilt, their shame, their contuining bonds with their children, all for the benefit of others. One woman talked about her son who was 16 when he died 20 years ago and his birthday was in June. She said she felt that she should have been visiting him and his wife and their children and wishing him a happy birthday in person. It made me think about all that's missing because he died. People say 'death is a part of life' but there is an order to it that makes sense. Your children are not supposed to die before you. I can never accept it. There will be another parents panel on Saturday and the couple we have travelled down with will be participating. I can’t imagine how they’re feeling about that but I’m looking forward to hearing them tell their story and hearing more about baby Scarlett. I cry just thinking about it! It’s good, get the ball rolling nice and early on those tears.
Yesterday, I did hit a very low point. My grief anger was triggered unexpectedly by something and I thought, Why have I dragged my poor family and my mom all this way for this? Why can't we just be happy and forget about all this grief shit?? After a good cry, and a debrief with Dr Jo, I am feeling better about the whole thing. These beautiful palm trees around me helped too.
After dinner, Pete & I went to a workshop called Creative Tools for Grieving. Art has been helpful to me in this process and it was great to get a new perspective on how art can be a grieving aid. I continue to be baffled by grief and anything that can help me sort through it is very much appreciated. The facilitators were two grieving moms who specialize in art therapy – that’s a very bare bones description of the incredible work that they do! One thing they talked about was the perceived “hierarchy of grief” where we compare grief experiences to try to slot people into a place where we can judge them on a kind of scale of sadness. This idea of a hierarchy means that some people’s grief experiences are minimized because they're not "as bad" as someone else's when in truth, it’s the nature of our relationship with the person who died, and what that means to us, that is important. As one of the facilitators put it: “The hierarchy is bullshit.” Love it!
In the evening, there was a band, and some food and drinks by the pool. A great way to relax after a demanding day. We got to spend some time with the women from Sands NZ, a parent-run organization that supports families who have lost a baby. They were just so supportive of everything we are doing with Still Life Canada, and told us some of their experiences in their work in New Zealand. Lovely people, so generous and kind and fun to talk to. The perfect end to day one.
I think today will be a mellower day, only two sessions so we can spend some time with my mom and our daughter. One session will be the NZ team’s presentation and then a session on how grief affects couples. For now, it’s early and I’m sitting between a fountain and this kooky plant:
A hummingbird just flew past on its way to some flowers. Time to think about breakfast.

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