I recently attended The Compassionate Friends annual conference. It felt like my premiere attendance. Why? Number one, as a presenter the nerves off the charts; number two traveling today precarious at best, number three as an introvert how would I survive the crowd of 800 attendees and share our grief all weekend, something I had suppressed for so long?
A fellow bereaved sibling from The Sibling Grief Book Club graciously picked me up from the airport. Good travel karma and all went well. Checked into the hotel, across the street from where the Houston Astros play, picked up the collateral – two bags including a TCF sibling T-shirt and peanut butter crackers (yeah!) and got through the first day okay. The program had a different feel and the sibling presence and programs grown since I attended the conference many years ago. Good to put a face to people I chatted to online and seen on Zoom. Still shaky and jittery over presenting – would the subject be received and elicit conversation? Would anyone show up?
Day two I attended the sibling orientation and honored to stand with fellow presenters. A tribe of siblings who understood and spoke my language. A gift I never experienced in the early years of grieving. I sat down in the grand ballroom to hear the opening speaker and when he told the story of his daughter, the floodgates opened. I left the room. The old Judy would have retreated and faced the sadness alone. I messaged the sibling group and said, “I’m having a meltdown, I’m in the sibling hospitality room.” Within minutes, the messages blew up. “I’m on my way, do you want coffee?” Surrounded by sibs who talked me off the ledge, provided warmth, comfort, talked, laughed. For years of being alone with my grief, I cannot articulate into words the sentiment of not being alone.
I attended several sibling workshops, and the day flew by. I met wonderful people of all ages, all varying years of loss, all with the warmest of hearts. The nerves did not escape me. I attended Friday evening’s karaoke night for a short time astounded by the talent amongst the group! I know the limits of being an introvert and found the group overwhelming. I stayed for a short time and exhausted went to the quiet of my room.
Saturday morning unable to attend the first session with my presentation scheduled for the second session. Elated the presentation went well, not using any notes and spoke off the cuff. Conversation ensued and siblings shared. Relieved the task over, comforted to be able to share Margie and Jane with others after prolonged time of silence, I could now breathe. Grateful for the kindness and cheerleading from fellow sibs. As my late father said, “With one rear end you can’t dance at two weddings.” I missed out on many sessions from fellow siblings due to the overlapping of scheduling. To protect privacy and confidentiality none of the sessions are recorded. This is our sacred shared space.
As a newcomer, I forgot to pick up the button everyone wore of their lost one(s). When I got home, I received an email from the company offering to send the button to us. Again, the generosity and kindness spread throughout the group warmed my soul. I will miss my fellow sibs. My heart is full. Until next year when we get together again!
I also learned to say instead of I lost my sister Margie and Jane, I am Margie and Jane’s sister.
The grand finale of the conference is the candle lighting ceremony. My previous experience did not bode well left heart wrenched and sobbing, a difference journey this time around. This powerful ceremony enlightened and moved me. The vision of eight hundred candles illuminated a room for all lives lost. Five large candles lit for everyone representing Grief, Courage, Memory, Love and Hope. I shook and my face wet with tears, a warm arm around my shoulder, Margie, Jane, and all siblings we will always love you.
Judy Lipson, is the Founder of Celebration of Sisters, an ice skating fundraiser established in 2011 to commemorate the memories of her beloved sisters to benefit Massachusetts General Hospital. Judy has published articles for The Open to Hope Foundation and The Centering Organization. Massachusetts General Hospital and SKATING Magazine featured numerous pieces on Judy’s philanthropic work. Judy appeared as a guest on The Open To Hope and The Morning Glory Podcasts. Her passion for figure skating secured the recipient of U.S. Figure Skating Association 2020 Get Up Award. Judy’s memoir, Celebration of Sisters: It Is Never Too Late To Grieve, released December 2021 by WriteLife Publishing.