July 16, 2016

A Weekend in the Desert

Last weekend, I attended my first annual conference of The Compassionate Friends, a national group founded for bereaved parents, with a growing subgroup of grieving siblings. I've been attending regular meetings in NYC for nearly a year and have made some wonderful friendships among my fellow bereaved siblings. They understand my pain in a way few can. They've lived it.

The conference was an incredibly healing and transformative experience for me. I'm still absorbing it all. I learned a great deal about how to navigate this path and move forward and, more importantly, how to remember, honor and celebrate not only Amir but also Jason in a way that feels right to me.

One anecdote: conference attendees wore lanyards with ID badges stating their name, the name of their loved one and whether they were a parent or sibling. Many people wore buttons with photos of their loved ones. A friend pointed out that her brother would have found that utterly ridiculous and I laughed that Amir would have felt the same. But I did it anyway. I proudly wore a button with his photo even though he would have said something along the lines of, "Please take that stupid fucking thing off."

Along with attending workshops and panel discussions, I thoroughly enjoyed the comfort and camaraderie of other bereaved siblings and parents. The time I spent with fellow siblings was so gratifying and fun and invaluable to me. I'd already found a home with my group in NYC; at the conference, I had the pleasure of meeting siblings from across the U.S., with whom I felt that immediate connection that comes with shared loss. They get it.

I listened and talked freely, sharing memories of Amir and Jason as much as possible. Walking around the hotel grounds or along the hallways linking the conference rooms, I felt as though I was among friends--these fellow travelers on the grief journey. The air was heavy with compassion; the genuine care people showed for their fellow bereaved parents and siblings made my heart swell. Often I found myself fighting back tears just witnessing the love, compassion and friendship soaring around me. It breaks my heart that so many people are so deeply grieving, but I'm so appreciative of TCF for helping them (and me) along the way.

One workshop attendee noted, "I have a hard time socializing with non-bereaved people." Damn. This resonated so much with me. I often feel awkward around people, which is why I isolate myself so much. I'm not depressed or "wallowing in it"--I just feel more relaxed when I'm alone. When I'm with people, I zone out or drift off easily, making conversation difficult. I have a hard time focusing. I can be hit with a memory unexpectedly, causing a wave of sadness when I was otherwise enjoying myself. I want to talk about Amir and Jason but don't want others to feel awkward or sad. I'm no longer the person I was before November 22, 2014, and that's very hard to face.

One of dozens of "memory boards"
around the conference where I shared
Amir & Jason with everyone
Still, the conference was not all about grief and sorrow. In fact, I had a fantastic time. I laughed heartily, I ate and drank well, I swam, I relaxed, I breathed deeply and took it all in.

I'm thrilled to have met and enjoyed the company of some truly special fellow siblings from all over the country. I hope to get more involved in helping others who are grieving. All of this can only aid in my own grieving process and help me heal and move forward from the losses I've endured.

I talked about Amir and Jason every chance I got. They were with me at every turn, as they are every day. I posted numerous photos of them on the "memory boards" lining the hallways in the conference center, along with details of who they were. They both deserve to be remembered every single day.