Saturday, July 3, 2010

TCF 2010 Conference

“We extend our hands in friendship and our hearts in understanding; you need not walk alone,” says Pat Loder, executive director of The Compassionate Friends. So began the 33rd national conference in Washington, D.C. on July 1 and ending today.

It was four days of sharing the grief of losing a child at any age for any reason. There are so many stories, so many heartbreaks. You learn that the grief journey is long and never-ending but that you will survive and one day smile and laugh again. There is no easy path to do this, but being with others who understand what you are going through can help ease your burden.

This was the goal of the conference with over 100 workshops for parents, grandparents and siblings. Participants had a wide variety of activities from which to choose including sharing sessions, keynote speakers, entertainment (featuring singers and the political satire group performing Capitol Steps), and the annual Walk to Remember through downtown streets. In addition, they could browse the bookstore for bereavement materials, purchase mementos from the Butterfly Boutique, look and bid on silent auction and raffle items and even take some time to stretch with the early Saturday morning Yoga session.

The first keynote speaker on July 1 was Gordon Smith, two-term U.S. Senator from Oregon, whose son battled bipolar disorder and depression until his decision to end his life at age 22. He then successfully introduced and saw enacted an act authorizing $82 million for suicide prevention and awareness programs at colleges. The following day Maria Housden, whose 2-year-old daughter was found to have cancer and died at three, travels the world, lectures and leads grief and writing workshops and retreats. Her book Hannah’s Gift is being made into a full-length feature film. Catherine Read, whose stepdaughter was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 spoke on the third day. She and her husband have focused on finding hope for victims of violent crimes. At the closing ceremony Helen Fitzgerald, whose daughter died from cancer, spoke. In addition to writing three books and many manuals for Hospice, she is very involved with mental health and grief programs.

Hour long workshops dealt with such topics as suicide, organ donation, mental illness, multiple losses, how children grieve, now childless issues, death of the troubled child, humor and grief, signs from our children, surviving the first year, spiritual grief, coping with anger, long term illness, sudden death, healthy and unhealthy grief, journaling, single parent issues, death by overdose, and finding hope again. These are just a few of the many workshops participants could choose to attend. Each year I try to participate and give a workshop. This year I was on a panel dealing with childless issues.

One of the best parts of these yearly conferences is meeting people who have similar experiences to yours, people who will give you that hug or squeeze your hand to let you know they understand and want to be your friend. Nothing is held back. You can cry if you feel like it and not be embarrassed; everyone understands you hurt. Others will try to talk to you or help with a problem you’ve encountered. You can laugh and not feel guilty for having good feelings and enjoying yourself. You can be with others at times or, if necessary, alone at times. Whatever works for you is what is important. Best of all is returning each year and renewing those friendships you've made.

I have attended many of the yearly TCF conferences and always wish I can get others to go also. Each year the conferences are held in different parts of the U.S. Next summer, it will be in Minneapolis in July. Perhaps you can try to get there. It will definitely be worth your while to see and participate in one yourself. Contact and look for information on next year’s plans in September 2010.

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