It’s hard to believe that this weekend will be the Central Family Forum. This forum will be the ninth anniversary of the first one I attended, the year after my husband Robert died. I only stayed one night that year with our then nine-year-old son Andrew. We were both so fragile that weekend, just beginning to make our way in this new fatherless life and quite frankly it wasn’t going so well. But even as I packed up our bags in the dark and headed home to a sunrise in Brampton, I knew I would be back. I had finally found a space where the ache of my solitary loss was not something to hide from but rather there were others out there who had already made this journey and were willing to show me how to live into this new normal. I might not yet be willing to look into those mirrors, but at least they were there to be seen.
Over the years I have attended as a participant, as a workshop leader and as a Volunteer Family Guide. And each time those who are a little further along the trail have supported the steps of my walk and I am grateful beyond measure for the wisdom and the courage they have shown and shared with me. There is, it seems to me, something almost magical in the transformation of those who attend the forums. Over the short space of two and a half days people who have been afraid to talk begin to speak, those who look as if they are carrying the weight of the world set down their burden for a bit and those who were really not sure they should come are making plans with new friends to return again next year. I began to notice that not only was I looking into the mirrors of others’ lives but I was beginning to become a mirror for others.
Earlier this year in conversation with other Family Guides at our monthly phone-in volunteer support meeting led by Kate, I mentioned the idea of family members as mirrors for each other and the critical role that long time attendees play for those who are fresh in their grief. I reflected on the powerful source of strength those mirrors had been for me, realizing that had I not met those who were two or five or ten years into their loss I might not have returned. Had I not heard their stories of struggle and hope, I might not have been able to learn to write my own. Had I not witnessed the courage of my fellow travelers, in the club that no one wants to join, I might not have found my own. Had I not been in the company of those who understood my particular loss I might never have found my way back to the world again. And that is why the mirrors matter.
So this fall (or next spring) as you are traveling towards your Family Forum, whether it is as a new family member arriving for the first time or as an annual returnee, wherever you are in your journey, please know there is a space of welcome for you.