Portland weekend away

I don't think you'll be surprised when I tell you that I spent the weekend at an Afterlife Conference in Portland.  The organizers of this conference were different that the ones who organized the last one I went to, but the basic premise was the same:  hundreds of grievers gathered together wondering where their loved ones have gone.  My mom and I flew up because we were ready to attend another one of these things, but also because my Auntie Alison and Uncle Danny live in Portland (and we love them and their city) and it was a good excuse to visit.  All I can say is that I feel lighter than I have in years (mostly due to one session in particular - but I will get there in a moment).

If you'll recall (or read, or re-read), the last time I attended one of these things, what was MOST important to me was to figure out how to connect to Maxie.  I suppose that was important to me this time as well, but I felt no anxiety or anticipation about that part.  What I really wanted to do was have a safe space to grieve and connect to other people like me.  So we skipped a lot of the really "Woo woo" stuff (a term that was used by conference organizers as well) and tried to get in as much of the practical stuff as possible (but let's face it - it was all a little "woo woo").

Highlights of the conference included a Peruvian Grieving Ceremony, led by a shaman and attended by a couple hundred people.  It was powerful, sacred, cathartic and incredibly moving - all things that are not easy to accomplish in a hotel special events/conference space (you can go to www.livinganddyingconsciouslyproject.org to download a script and materials list to hold your own grieving ceremony - I am planning on doing another one myself).  Other highlights included getting to hear Dr. Raymond Moody (responsible for coining the term "Near Death Experience") and Dr. Eben Alexander (a neurosurgeon who wrote about his own Near Death Experience in his New York Times bestseller book, Proof of Heaven).  But the most powerful presentation of the weekend, and that I've heard in the last three years, was by Tom Zuba called "A New Way to Do Grief - a New Way to Do Life".   I left this session feeling a tangible change in my soul.

Tom's young daughter died in 1990, his wife died in 1999, and his teenage son died in 2005.  He spoke about the importance of grief and creating an appropriate space to grieve.  He compared the old way to do grief, which included keeping busy, moving on, and not crying, to the NEW way to do grief - which is to allow oneself to feel their feelings. "Feeling feelings isn't the problem.  It is the solution.", he said.  He also suggested being open to signs from our loved ones - to recognize and thank them when they happen, instead of listening to our rational brains, which just explain them away.  I have had many signs.  I always explain them away.

There were profound statements from the audience in attendance that really touched me as well.  One woman stood up to talk about how nobody cried when her son died, not even his grandparents.  They explained that they didn't want to cry in front of her and her husband because they worried that they would make them more sad....."as if that was possible", she said.  She quoted a book she had read called "Lament for a son", which said "Your tears are a salve to my wound.  Your silence is the salt."  That quote struck me deeply - how I wish that the people who loved Maxie most would have felt comfortable enough to express their own broken hearts to me.  When people cried with her, she knew that they cared.  Another woman said that when her child died, she asked herself over and over and over again the same question - would she be "better or bitter?".  I have asked myself the same question a million times.  I think there is no way to escape a certain period of bitterness.  Mine lasted almost two years and still pops up from time to time.....but I choose now to be better.  I hope Maxie's death makes me a better person - it is the only way I can imagine that his death could bring any positivity in my world.  I can't change that he died - I can only change who I am because of it.  Tom believes that we need to teach people about grief because it affects everyone in one way or another at some point.  I also can't remember how he said it, but for the first time, even though a million other people have said it before him, it sunk in: We cannot change the outcome of any situation in our lives - we can hope and pray and work for certain outcomes - but that won't guarantee a thing.  The best we can do is to accept that each piece of our story is meant to teach us something and add some value to our lives.  Of course, we'd all trade the lessons to have our children back - but that isn't an option.  The very best we can hope for is to grow from their loss.  We have to learn to love the life we have now.  Ted is going to kill me - because he says this to me all of the time - but sometimes it takes the right setting for something to sink in.

Like the last conference we attended - there were a LOT of bereaved parents.  Being responsible for the happiness and well-being of the person you love the most and then losing that child - it kind of makes sense that we'd be the most desperate to know where our loved ones have gone.  The fact that our lives had revolved around these people and then they died - far before their time - it is just impossible to wrap our brains around.  I guess when you have something so impossible happen in your life, it feels like every other impossible thing is a little more possible......like all of the "woo woo" stuff.

Visiting Portland is always a treat.  What a cool city!  It was especially beautiful this past weekend.  Everything was in bloom, the grass and trees were green, the sky was clear and the temperature was just perfect.  We skipped a few sessions to go shopping and explore the neighborhoods close to my aunt and uncle's house.  Especially exciting was getting stuck in traffic late on Saturday night as we were driving home from the conference because thousands of naked people on Bicycles were clogging up all of the roads!  Oh so very Portland!  My aunt sent me this link about the ride this morning: Crazy Naked Portlanders.  So very awesome.  It was dark out by the time we ran into them so all we really saw were flashes of white thighs and side boobs - it wasn't all that shocking!

I continue to work hard diving into my grief - exploring the unconventional and looking for ways to move forward.  I owe it to myself and to the ones I love that are still here on earth.  I think it has been my willingness to feel my feelings and to keep on seeking that has brought me to a happier and more content phase of my journey.  If there was the smallest chance on earth that I could feel my baby again for even a second, I would take that chance.  Nothing - not even death - can keep us apart.

I love you Maxie XOXOXO  Forever and ever and ever.


GrahamForeverInMyHeart said...

Thank you so much for sharing your impressions of the Afterlife Conference. I've never noticed any "signs" from my son, but I'm glad that you and others have gotten your own signs. It keeps my hope alive.
Take a look at the latest post on Hollowed Out (2nd page of my site). I think you'll find it interesting.

Anne Nilsson said...

Thank you for sharing, Abby. Your willingness to explore all avenues that might help to heal you and aid in your growth is so inspirational. This conference sounds like it was really special.

Plus, I love Portland too (especially shopping w no sales tax!)...

Egreeno said...

So glad the conf gave you so much. Love you!

Rachael Petru Horowitz said...

Hi, Abby. I miss being in touch with you. Thank you for bringing morsels of this conference back to those of us who love you, love Maxie and who are struggling with grief, too. I completely know what you're saying that "sometimes it takes the right setting for something to sink in." I've been reveling in this exact conclusion as of late...and when that something finally DOES sink in it can be so liberating and/or therapeutic. Sending you hugs and hoping that our paths cross again before too long. By the way, I know of someone who did that ride...so cool you got to see it in person! Much love.

Anna said...

Thank you Abby for sharing your learnings about grief from the conference and in life. xx