The Bereaved Families of Ontario conference in Waterloo was amazing, inspiring, validating, and I am so glad I made the trip. Its a difficult line to walk, as someone who is overcoming learning to incorporate grief into her life. Grief was not something I wanted to ever become an expert on, and yet here I am. I guess that's what happens when you write a book on grief! After I spoke the first time on Tuesday night, so many people came to me to have their books signed and from each one, I got a story of loss. A mother losing a child, a grandparent losing a grandchild, a mother losing her husband. Many had already read my book, and told me the parts that had them nodding, so happy to have someone validating their feelings. I found myself saying over and over again, "you are why I wrote the book." And they were.
The next day, I was the first of several speakers, all talking about the toll grief takes on families. Children, grandparents, parents. But overall, the theme that kept coming up, either on purpose or unwittingly, had to do with the positives that come from grief. Marny Williams who put the conference together did a phenomenal job in linking the speakers in such a way that as a group, we all came together as a cohesive whole.
My aha moment came at the end of the day when one of the speakers, Susan Cadell a professor of Social work at Wilfred Laurier, spoke about "Post Traumatic Growth." Its not a new notion, but it was the first time I have heard the term and it seemed to make so much sense. She talked about the 5 areas associated with it:
Relationship to Others
Appreciation of Life
And oddly, or really, not so oddly, all of the talks given throughout the day touched in some way on all of these areas. I had talked of my struggles with kids, my family, the physical debilitation of grief and subsequent spiritual awakening, and ended on how I found the silver lining in my renewed "appreciation of life."
Carol Poduch, a mother who lost her 9 year old daughter in a tragic accident, and who has also written a book, Shared Moments, beautifully illustrated each of the areas of Post Traumatic Growth with stories of her daughter and the strength she found in her marriage, in handling her grief, and in her renewed vigor as a result of her loss.
I think I am learning to embrace the plurality of my role. Widow, mother, griever, sympathizer, single mom, daughter, friend and seeing how really lucky I have been to be given such a massive wake up call, and I mean that in the best spiritual sense.
In that room, I certainly didn't feel in any way special, just privileged to be with such an inspiring group of people who are all exceptional in the way they have embraced the gift of loss.