Attending your first family forum can be very emotional. Hang in there, you are not alone. You may have anticipatory feelings bubbling up, and maybe even wondering what you’ve signed yourself up for. You may ask yourself what am I doing here?
I was remembering what it felt like when I attended my first family forum in 2007. I was nervous, anxious, scared, and felt like I would burst into tears. Would I be able to speak without being an emotional wreck? I wanted to leave–but I didn’t. I wanted to know what this was all about, so I stayed. It ended up being good for me. What I found was that this was a safe place, and it was ok to feel overwhelmed. I recognized that I had a lot of work to do and things to learn. I needed this time for my own healing.
So I thought this would be an excellent time to share a little more about what to expect now that you’ve registered. We hope that you will find the family forum helpful in healing, valuable in learning about you, and that you find some balance through real discussions about grief and loss and gaining some useful coping skills to guide you in the days ahead. Often when families return, they are surprised by how they look forward to reconnecting with the people they’ve met. We are looking forward to meeting you whether it’s for the first time or not. We are honoured that you have chosen to share this time with our staff, volunteers, and families.
Here’s what you can expect at the family forum:
- A warm welcome. After you’ve checked into the hotel, you’ll check in with Threads of Life volunteers near the lobby. We will have staff and volunteers there to receive you and answer any questions you have about the weekend. After a warm greeting, you’ll be given your name badge, a copy of the program for the weekend, and directions to where dinner will be held that evening.
- Reflections ceremony. This event is known to be both important and comforting, bringing families together and honouring workers and their families who are attending the forum. There are a few ways we recognize workers and families and over the weekend, most notably with the Reflections Ceremony held after dinner on Friday evening. We ask each family to bring a framed photo of their family or loved one to place on the reflections table and light a candle in honour of the loss they have each experienced. It will require some emotional energy, so we suggest you get some rest afterwards as the program will resume early in the morning after breakfast.
- Compassion, sharing, and listening ears. Our goal is to create a space where families can find support. Maybe someone will share their story for the first time, or it may be the first time someone feels heard and understood. We want to hear whatever piece of your story you feel comfortable sharing. Being with peers and getting to talk to others whose experience is similar is helpful to gain insight into your own journey.
- A friendly group. As a whole, our families and volunteers are very empathetic and also have been through a similar tragedy – so they get it. We know that not everyone is comfortable at first, but often a friendly conversation with another family, or a hug if needed will make you a little more at ease. We do our best to help you feel connected when you arrive. Let us know if there is anything we can do to make you feel more comfortable.
- Tears and laughter. Whoever said you can’t have both? The pain of what brings us all together can certainly brings us to tears in a moment. Tears are healing and encouraged — at any point. The connections we make can also light laughter within us, so you can expect to have our family members, volunteers, and staff enjoy a few laughs over the weekend as well! We have laughed over some silly things and it feels good, too. It breaks up the heaviness we’re feeling at times. Laughter is welcome.
- Learning. The sessions and workshops offer plenty of opportunities to learn something new. We do try to offer a variety of sessions for you to participate in and that you will find interesting and relatable. More importantly we do have opportunities to learn from each other! This is your weekend–be curious, be open, and be yourself.
If you’re attending a family forum for the first time, please know that we understand that it’s hard to know what to expect, and that you may be somewhat nervous. That is normal. Even if this is not your first family forum but you still are unsure of something you can always ask us. As the family support manager, please know I am always happy to chat or answer any questions you may have. Feel free to reach me by email firstname.lastname@example.org or toll free 1-888-567-9490 ext 106.