The Compassionate Friends National Conference…..July 5-7, 2013

Compassionate Friends 2013 National ConferenceJohn and I traveled to Boston on July 3rd this year to mark off  TWO bucket list items and attend The Compassionate Friends National Conference that was being held in Boston from July 5-7.  One bucket list item was to experience the 4th of July fireworks on the Charles River and the second item was to attend a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park.

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July 4th, 2013, Fireworks over the Charles River and the William Tell Overture!

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We attended the Red Sox game on July 4th, ate a monster dog and took in the great American past time in what has to be one of the most amazing ball parks.  If you haven’t gone to a Red Sox game in Fenway Park……you need to!  What history, what an absolutely beautiful field.  I’ve never experienced the atmosphere like I did that day.  It was and will be a memory John and I will cherish.

After our bucket list items were complete, we turned our focus to a three day conference with the Compassionate Friends organization also known as TCF.  This worldwide organization was started by two families that were grieving the loss of a child.  This organization is a testament to how a broken heart can create and build amazing things that have a far reaching legacy.   Their mission states:

“When a child dies, at any age, the family suffers intense pain and may feel hopeless and isolated. The Compassionate Friends provides highly personal comfort, hope, and support to every family experiencing the death of a son or a daughter, a brother or a sister, or a grandchild, and helps others better assist the grieving family.”

John and I wasn’t sure what to expect.  It was clear many families had contributed their time and money to support this event.  Families have become friends across the country and attend every year as a way to give back and attend a reunion of sorts.  Siblings who have lost brothers/sisters have grown up over the years and maintain close through social media.  Many volunteers and lots of hours were required to organize an event of this size.  1500 people were in attendance.   And all 1500 who gathered in Boston at the Sheraton hotel shared one thing in common…….we had experienced the loss of a sibling, child, or grandchild.  It was the most accepting and caring group of people.  John and I attended 2 full days of workshops and listened to some great keynote speakers.  We were kept very busy attending breakout sessions and workshops.  Every evening, we were emotionally exhausted (in a good way) from all that we were experiencing.  Three of the most meaningful sessions were on how to grieve pro-actively, how music is used during the grief process and there was the one on godwinks (our favorite!).  John attended an all men workshop of “Women explaining how women grieve to men” and there was even a workshop about “Blogging your way through Grief”!  John said I didn’t need to attend that one because I had that concept down!  LOL!

And then there was my “God appointment”.  Have you ever had one of those?  John and I decided to go to different workshops and I decided to attend a workshop on hope.  I sat on the front row and the lady sitting next to me had sponsored the workshop in memory of her daughter.  As I got to talking to her, she too was a Texan!  She lives in Lubbock, assists with the local chapter of Compassionate Friends in Lubbock and travels to Round Rock frequently to see her grandson.  She told me that she would let me know when her next trip to central Texas would happen.  So, as most bereaved parents do, we share “our story”.  She told me about her daughter Shayne and I told her about Elizabeth, Fischer, Ben and Hayes.  We exchanged email addresses and phone numbers.   She did come to Round Rock recently and we met for lunch and we talked and shared for several hours!  She was so inspiring to hear her story and how she continues a legacy for her daughter.  She shared with me what the 2nd and 3rd year of her grief journey has been like (everyone’s is different and that’s OK!) and her desire to be an example of hope to other bereaved parents.  We are now facebook friends and she follows Elizabeth’s “In honor of Elizabeth Anne Herro Dowdy” facebook page.   I get her newsletters that she does for her TCF chapter and am so looking forward to our next meeting.  Thank you Lord for that appointment!  I am so blessed to have Sharon in my life!

As part of the conference, we were encouraged to bring pictures of our children/grandchildren.  There was a very kind man and his wife that took the pictures and created buttons for everyone as a service for no fee!  At the end of the conference he reported he had made approximately 4,000 buttons!

The 2014 conference is in Chicago and the 2015 conference is going to be in Dallas, Texas!  I would encourage you to attend if you are a bereaved parent/sibling.  Who knows, maybe someone will sign up in Dallas for a workshop on “Memorial Wreaths” 🙂

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My buttons!

The conference always ends with a “Walk to Remember”.  Due to the Boston Marathon bombings that happened shortly before this conference, we were not allowed to have our walk on the streets of Boston, so we moved to the historical Boston Commons.  Thousands of bereaved parents submitted names of children that left us too soon.  We would attach the listings to the back of our shirts and walk and of course……..always remember.

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My Beloved with names of children that he will "Walk to Remember"

My Beloved with names of children that he will “Walk to Remember”

I also want to say how blessed I am to have a husband who would go to a conference for 3 days and sit in workshops with bereaved parents!  I think John came away from the conference with a better understanding of my grief journey.  John even shared with me after a workshop he attended that I was doing amazingly well compared to some other people’s experiences!  So, all my hard grief work (and it is hard work!) in regards to this journey and of “leaning in” was really helping.

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But perhaps the most peaceful and calming part of the weekend was in the Remembrance Room.  They had decorated it with comfy chairs, tables with light houses, dim lighting, candles, soft music.  It was a place of solitude to journal, pray, reflect and yes cry.    They also had baskets of shells and markers where you could write notes to your children, sibling or grandchild and place them on tables around the room.

They would collect the shells at the end of the conference and release them back to the ocean.  I created shells for Elizabeth, Fischer, Benjamin, and Hayes.  I also created a shell for our 4th grandson that lives in heaven…..Cohen William Diem.  John would separately visit the reflection room and would also do memorial shells for Elizabeth and the boys, Cohen, and a daughter…..Angela.  Below are the pictures of our shells and joined with the community of other shells.

John’s:

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John’s shell to Lizz and the boys (front)

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John’s shell to Lizz and the boys (back)

John’s shell to Cohen William Diem:

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Papa Diem’s shell to Cohen William Diem

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Papa John’s shell to Cohen William Diem (back)

John’s shell to honor his and Lynn Diem’s daughter Angela who they will get to meet in heaven one day!

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My shells to Elizabeth, Fischer, Benjamin and Hayes:

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Our shells on the table with other memorials:

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And lastly, I made shells for two families that have joined the throngs of bereaved parents……..

I made one for Laurie Leach Griffin to honor her daughter Courtney Griffin:

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And made one for Wanda and Bill Corbin for their daughter Gayla Corbin Gault who is in heaven waiting to welcome them one day!

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So, they recently released the shells back in the ocean.  They took pictures and made a video.  I have included the video below.  If you watch closely, you will see Fischer’s shell twice, once at the 1:04 mark, again at the 2:05 mark.  You can see Courtney Griffin’s shell at the 3:11 mark and Gayla’s shell at the 3:46 mark.  As I watch this video, it is overwhelming to think that each individual shell represents a child gone to soon due to suicide, car accident, an act of violence, cancer, and unfortunately the list goes one.  And with each of these families, I am now a member…..I am a “bereaved” parent.

The amazing lady Anne, who did the Reflection Room and released the shells into the ocean said:

“Almost 800 shells were left with messages of love to our children, grandchildren and siblings.  We gently packed them up and looked for a boat to charter to bring the shells back to sea.  Parents from a local chapter contacted us that they had a boat we could use.  Joan and Joel Marcus graciously took us out on their boat, “Just Desserts”.  With summer time, vacations and life, it needed to wait until August.  This past Sunday, August 25th, a beautiful summer evening we set out of Duck Island Yacht Club into the ocean.

It was a perfect day, warm waters, calm seas and blue skies!  I put on a bathing suit, grabbed my camera and jumped into the water.  It has been a long time since I swam in the ocean and it felt good.  As I grabbed a line to the boat soI would not be carried away by the current, my fellow crew mates prepared the shells.  Joel gave a little speech and we started to read the names from the shells as we slide them into the water.   It was amazing to watch how each shell reacted differently to the water.  Some floated while others drifted.  Some plunged and others danced.  A few bounced back out before peacefully floating on.  I like to think that the shells took on the personality of the name written on them.  It was a unique experience.  One I felt honored to be a part of.”

My prayer is if you are reading this blog and have experienced loss of this magnitude, may this in some way bring you healing and hope.

Blessings,

Julie

Song:  “I Believe” by Diamond Rio

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