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At A Death, Grief, And Bereavement Conference


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I am back at my hotel ( a hotel Bill and I stayed at many times), following a 7 hour workshop today at the International Conference on Death, Grief and Bereavement. I have two purposes in being here. One is to get some continuing education units needed to renew my license (I am a psychotherapist) and the other is to tiptoe into this world of grief at the professional level and explore a bit. Today's speaker was excellent....really outstanding. His losses have created (or probably deepened) a compassionate and knowledgeable man. And he is from Madison, near where I live. It was a day of insights, laughs, learning, growth, tears, and pain. The people are incredible...for which I am thankful....warm, friendly, real, easy to be with, welcoming to the newbies. Today was a pre-conference day so it was a small group. Tomorrow there will be more people. It was difficult to listen to this speaker's wonderful ideas about making the dying person's experience easier and more meaningful and one that meets his/her needs. My mind kept roaming to Bill's dying days and how far removed they were too many times from what this man was proposing. It was also difficult to do the group exercises...sharing pain often. In spite of all that, I am very glad I am here. So much to learn...so much I do not know...so many ways to make death easier and more meaningful for everyone. I was not the only one crying at times. Even the speaker was fighting tears off and on. Tomorrow there are two keynote addresses and some shorter (than today) workshops. And tomorrow evening I will go to dinner with a large group of the speakers and attendees at the end of the day. Tonight, I needed to head back here for a nap and room service. I am fried. I could not have done this 6 months ago when I signed up but something told me I would be able to do it by now...and I am...though not easily. When it is over, I will need a week to sleep....right at deadline time for my publication. I can hardly wait until September 16 to start what I am calling my "sabbatical"- no shoulds, no pressure...time to ponder, read, journal, be, paint and be some more...for a long long while. Thanks for listening. Peace, Mary

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Mary,

You are a remarkable woman, and I would like to be at the conference with you, as this is my area of study. But at the same time I know I could probably not handle attending as it has only been 6 weeks this coming Tuesday since Jim has passed away. I empathize with you, as it will have areas and times that will be hard, due to your loss of Bill. I hope this conference is not to difficult, and that there will be information to help you on your journey.

I think the speaker is right about the person who is dying needing counseled just as much as the family, they tend to hold a lot inside and don't want to be a burden to the ones they love and who are their caregivers. In many cases they withdrawal rather than spend quality time that they as well as the ones left behind can cherish. Much of this is due to fear and trying to detach so that the pain is not so deep, unfortunetly the pain gets even deeper, for both the person trying to pull away and the ones being left behind, so that is why he said that. Counseling can help bridge the families in many cases, but not all. But, I know you already know this and I am preaching to the chior so to speak. I will be thinking about you while you are at this conference, and pray you gain knowledge and not pain from it.

amw

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Mary,

I say Amen to your being a remarkable woman! I hope you continue to get a lot out of the conference and that it is an enjoyable time for you as well.

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Day 2 of 4

Kay and amw, thank you so much. I truly am grateful for the compliments but I do believe all of us here are remarkable...we have survived and many are even beginning to thrive...and the rest will in time. That is remarkable!!!

Today was a GOOD day. I am learning how little I know about death, grief and bereavement. I got more comfortable with all the discussion about dying, grieving and death and though there were a few tears on my part, I really enjoyed the day, and people are so comfortable and accepting with grieving. The morning session was excellent, a bit heady but great research on traumatic stress and grief. It was right up my alley since that has been a huge issue for me. The presenter was very good. Then I skipped a session and spent the time chatting with a friend...also very good. Then my friend and myself sat and chatted for quite a while with the gal that owns the publishing company that has the book store. She is inspiring and her dog is with her (and her husband...not necessarily in that order :) ). The afternoon session was a man from England whose laryngitis made listening a challenge but his presentation was on attachment and how our early years and the parents and attachment style prevalent in those year affects our grieving later in life. Excellent also. Finally, the same gal with the dog led a workshop on looking at our ancestors and sharing stories that tell us, ultimately, about our own roots and strengths. It was an interesting discussion including a bit on the movie, Marigold Hotel which I urge people to see...excellent. It is a comedy on outsourcing housing for the aging (to India) and about aging. I am in good shape tonight, passed on dinner with a crowd however as I am peopled out. Plus I visited the book store...and now have a pile of more books on grief that i will enjoy tonight. Two more days to go. These welcoming people call this circle of folks home in many ways. The total is about 140 people from all over but mostly the Midwest. This conference started in Canada and moved here to the UW-La Crosse several years ago. A few newbies like me but many who have come for years...Hospice workers, Hospice volunteers, social workers, therapists, nurses, and more. I will be returning next year. I am learning that I need more time before I am ready to make any decisions or feel ready for whatever my professional future will be. I also need to get past feeling depleted. I am in no hurry...but will get a small practice (not grief work yet) going in the fall for income and a sense of meaning. Tomorrow is another day and a long one as there is a movie and discussion in the evening..."Consider the Conversation" about end of life. We are showing it in my town on June 13 followed by a discussion. It will be interesting to compare the difference between this audience and the one in my town. I think I will join the crowd for dinner tomorrow evening also.... Peace, Mary

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Mary,

It sounds like you are getting much from going to this conference, both from the sessions and by talking with others.

Can you e-mail me the titles of the books you picked up so I can start a list for my studies? It sounds so interesting, wish I could be there with you. I know I am not ready to get back to school, and made the choice to wait until January to go back to get through the holidays and other issues still trying to work out, as we talked about through e-mail. But, this stuff is right up my alley and brings my wanting to learn more, out to the forfront. Hope the next two days go as well as today! Keeping you in my thoughts and prays!

amw

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It sounds like a very stimulating conference with interesting people! I'm sure you make a great counselor, your insights are spot on!

But I'm afraid if our early years and parents affect our attachment style thus grieving, I'm in trouble! LOL

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Kay, I think many of us could consider ourselves in trouble if we ONLY considered our early years. The reality is that many of us have worked on ourselves in various ways over the years and thus changed the way we do life as adults. We are not doomed because our early years were lacking. There are way too many variables.

Peace,

Mary

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Day 3...of 4Well, today was amazing. The keynote this morning was presented by a fellow from England who studies palliative care in all the corners of the world. The facts were shocking. We, here in the USA, are among the most advanced in our use of appropriate palliative care and yet we are so so lacking even with all that is done. I can personally attest to that after what Bill went through. That only tells me how bad off most countries are. Lots of stories and facts. I also heard a gentleman speak to the topic of Christian fundamentalist and evangelical beliefs and how we professionals work with people of this belief system who might be family members, volunteers etc in hospice settings. It was a great history of fundamentalism and very informative. They did the same thing with some other belief systems in other workshops. The afternoon keynote blew me (and everyone) out of the water. The speaker was the head of palliative neonatal and pediatric care from Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il (where, btw, my husband, Bill, was on the staff). She looked like she was 12 but was in her 40s and I said to myself when I saw her..."what can she know?" Well, I ended up telling her, through her tears and mine as we hugged that she has the wisdom and compassion and risk taking of a woman far older than her years. The stories were incredibly moving, kleenix was passed, and participants (and speaker) were all in tears as we watched power point slides and listened. But what really got our attention was how this team (under her leadership) stretches themselves (and what most setting would have rules against) to meet the needs of parents and families. She continued to say that that her work demands that she think outside the box and believe me, she lives that. The ways she did that for families was amazing and so touching. She also has 6 kids of her own. After that I played hooky to chat with a couple of folks, signed out, and came back to my hotel. The movie tonight (which is also being shown in my village next week) is called "Consider the Conversation" and one of the producers is here. I am tempted to go back at 7 to see it but fatigue will stop me since I can see it Tuesday. Also today is a HUGE day in Wisconsin and I MUST watch the returns on today's historic recall vote. This election has FAR reaching consequences for our country...not just our state. So it is cold pizza, diet coke and election returns tonight. I am too drained to take on more emotional input.

We end at 1pm tomorrow with a memorial service for those who have died (more tears, I am sure). I was asked to read my labyrinth poem but have not decided whether I will do that or not. I am pretty shot. Today Joy pointed out my poem in Grief Digest and with her humor said I was in the centerfold of this issue. More tomorrow night after I drive home. What a time this has been. So many people trying so hard to make the dying comfortable and as peaceful as possible as they also assist those who grieve in hospice centers and more. Lots of food for thought at a time when I feel pretty vulnerable...but I am making it through this conference in better shape than I anticipated. Great people. Very real. I love real people :) Thanks for sharing all this. Peace, Mary

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Mary, It's true, the older we get, the younger everyone else is starting to look! :) I'm glad you're enjoying your conference so much and what an amazing coincidence that she's from where your husband was on staff!

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Day 4 of 4.

Well, the conference was excellent and as I pulled out of the University parking lot at 1pm...I realized I am heading home to an empty house (except for my pup after a kennel stop) and that Bill will not be there to share any of this and all I have done for 5 days is think about, talk about and live Death, Grief, Hospice and Palliative Care. I said good-bye to the river (Mississippi outside my hotel window remembering the night Bill stood in that window or one just like it at this hotel writing a poem about the Mississippi-I need to read that tonight). I shed a lake full of tears on the way home...a road Bill and I have driven many times...sometimes after a fun weekend away and sometimes on the way home from Mayo...trips that never felt good. I feel like someone ripped my protective membrane body suit off leaving me vulnerable and raw. Stopped to see a friend for a few minutes (for a hug and some tears and to find out how her weekend away was) before picking Bentley up at the kennel...he is now sound asleep.

This morning we started the day with a memorial service and when they read Bill's name the tears began and basically have not stopped since...I realized at this service that I was sitting between two women who had both lost kids. One whose 14 year old son was killed by a truck as he crossed a road several years ago and her step daughter who died a year ago. The other lost her 28 year old daughter just one year ago. When the service was over, a gal behind me tapped me on the shoulder to tell me she read my poem in Grief Digest...and will be sending it to her friend who lost her husband in March. I felt grateful that I got to say good-bye to Bill unlike the women on either side of me. I felt surrounded by love and reached out to each of them when their kids' names were read. A safe environment for 4+ days. How often do we who grieve get to be surrounded by 140 people who get it. I felt I could walk up to any one of them at any time during those 4 days and sob in their arms if I needed to. The owner of the book store also had her 125 pound dog, Barney, there...He took full advantage of being petted and fed during the entire 5 days. Now I am in the silence and emptiness of our home. In part it feels great to be home and in part I just feel raw. Thanks to you who read all of this during these days. It felt good to share it. Time to open mail, unpack, throw in laundry and then park myself with the books I bought, journal, ponder, cry and who knows what else. Peace, Mary

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Great idea...I am fried. Thanks for the reminder :), Mary

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Marty, I just re read what I wrote and had to laugh out loud at all I said I would do tonight (laundry, journal, unpack, etc) when I can barely hold my head up. Your well stated response also made me laugh. So, it is time to....just rest. :)

Peace,

Mary

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Mary,

I am glad you gain so much from this conference, but at the same time am sorry it made you feel so vulnerable and raw. I'm sure it was bitter sweet to be home, as in one way it gives you comfort to be in familiar suroundings, the emptyness and silence can be so hard to go home to. I know this every time I leave to take care of something and come back home. I'm sure Bentley was glad you are home!

Thinking of you often!

amw

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I hope you aren't wearing yourself out, Mary! I bet Bentley was glad to have you home! :)

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Dear amw and Kay,

I thank you for your kind words. Bentley is EXTREMELY happy to have me home. He follows me everywhere and when I went to the post office to get mail today he was torn between being with me and getting in the car (in case I would take him to the kennel again). He has not taken his attention off of me all day. He is standing at my feet right now.

As for me, I am doing better this afternoon. I felt very vulnerable and wiped out yesterday and earlier today. But except for a couple of essentials that had to be done, I have done little to nothing all day. Tuesday I have to drive to the far south suburbs of Chicago, for an eye exam...I see a specialist there as I have several serious eye conditions that need frequent monitoring. I will spend the night with a girl friend and her husband so I don't have an 11 hour drive in one day plus a four hour exam. I do not worry about my eyes...my mom had the same conditions and read without glasses well into her 90s. That is what I tell myself when a hint of fear creeps in. Really, I do not think about it and won't unless it is an issue later. Bottom line is that Bentley has to go to the kennel for an overnight AGAIN. He will NOT be happy. :(

When I return it is time to get the July issue of Voice out. I will start it this Saturday. I have had 3 people express interest in buying it so we shall see. I have to get the financials in order after this issue goes out on the 16th. So June is crazy busy (including our wedding anniversary) and only makes my upcoming time off starting September 16 look more appealing. I do not want to live like this and won't...hence my upcoming time off. Peace to you both, Mary

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I can not imagine face to face encounters with any soul. Being in this discussion group is as close as I have come to "sharing" Roger's death. It still sounds creepy to use that word, even after 6 years. For me, pretending is my solace in these years. His urn sits on the fireplace with the most current picture of him. I tried putting it away and life felt hopeless and unbearable. My girls, our girls are my only other solace. Putting all aspects of my life in them and the pretending he is still here. I have tried writing... but tears form, and not to show them to the girls I have broke from doing that. I am not sure there will ever be "relief" from this grief. Hoping that you will learn and share some of the coping stategies they teach you there. Good luck! You are very brave!!!Patty

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Oh, Patty, I am so very sorry your pain continues to be so huge. I know you hoped by now it would be a bit easier for you. Each of us deals with grief as best we can. Have you seen a grief counselor? It helped me a LOT!! I still have very tough days....Memorial Day being my latest...it caught me off guard...they always do. I also have decent days...and I wish this for you. As for being brave, I do not feel very brave...but thank you. I really want to help others in some way now that I have seen what this journey is about...and this conference was a first step into that world....testing the waters so to speak. I am uncertain as to exactly what I want to do yet... It WAS tough being there...I felt that my thin protective membrane/body suit was ripped off even though I was surrounded by loving people. Thinking about, talking about, listening to....content all focused on death and grief was indeed a challenge but I feel good about going. I was as ready as I will ever be. Coming home was tough...I felt very vulnerable...still do...and alone...and exhausted so I wasted today and will waste tomorrow. Thank you for writing and I do hope you will consider sitting down face to face with a grief counselor if you are not already doing that. It does help a lot. Peace, Mary

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Mary,

You mentioned Memorial Day as being your roughest...mine is Father's Day for George died on Father's Day so I get a double whammy anniversary of his death...that of Father's Day and that of the 19thof June. What a cruel joke that is! To top it off, my kids are always with their father on Father's Day so I always have to deal with the day alone.

On a lighter note, you said Bentley has been following you around ever since you got home...I started back to work (fuller schedule than before) this week and Arlie has been missing me. When I come home at night he is full of kisses, without me even having to ask for them! Ahh, nothing sweeter than a dog, these wonderful creatures God gives us that give us some joy in life.

I am sorry about your eyes...I'm having compound problems with mine too...I have enough problems seeing with a lazy eye, I have 13 prisms in my glasses that make it so I can't wear contacts, and I have a cyst in one eye that I live with, and now cataracts. Ugh! I am legally blind without glasses so reading is difficult...I can't see with them and I can't see without them! Ha!

Patty,

I'm sorry that time isn't softening the blow to your heart...I echo Mary's suggestion that a grief counselor might be of some help, it's worth a try at least.

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Hi Kay,

Memorial Day is not usually a tough one except that it is a long holiday weekend. This year it was tough. Who knows why. Our anniversary is June 22 and I know that will be sad and also a reminder of all we had. Bittersweet. We exchanged cards etc every month on the 22nd for 25 years so every single month on the 22nd is an anniversary of sorts. We got to the place where one of us would wake the other at midnight in order to be the first to wish the other a happy anniversary.

I am so sorry about the Father's Day double hit. That is tough. These anniversaries are a challenge but like you, I am getting through them.

I am sorry about all your eye conditions. Losing vision is frightening. I am so sorry. I truly do not see myself at high risk here but clearly need monitoring as a preventive measure. Cataract surgery is on the horizon.

Bentley comes home from the kennel exhausted so both of us were exhausted yesterday. Today we get back into our walking/training routine. Yes, he is truly a therapist for me...he spent a lot of time with the front half of his body on my lap yesterday.

Thank you for posting. Peace to you...and Arlie :)

Mary

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The kicker to attending the conference I was at for 5 days is that I was in an environment that felt safe. I was with people who I Knew would understand my pain if I shared it with them, who would not try to fix me or take my feelings away...in other words I experienced there the safety I always felt with Bill, the freedom to be myself and to know I would most likely be heard and not judged. I realized that anywhere I go here I am on guard in varying degrees. I pretend to be fine many times when I am not fine because I have figured how which people will say what to me and so I rarely feel total freedom to just be me. There is always at least a bit of apprehension or wonder about whether this person is safe, is the time ok to share, do they really want to hear me, can they hear me. I do have those certain people i can share with but they all have lives and being first in someone's life is over. With Bill I never had to screen...always felt safe. this week was the first time I felt anything close to that global sense of safety since before Bill died...safety just to be me wherever I walked or sat .. I came home with that gift and also with a feeling of having my protective body suit ripped from me as I spent 4 days listening to, thinking about the way Bill's death could have been and how it was.the theme of the conference was palliative care. So tonight, I crashed. I could feel the crash coming all day and I know by now not to bury those feelings. I wailed and I have not wailed in a long while. Returning to the silent house after having that safety and the freedom to just be me all day every day instead of here and there and once in a while with certain friends only...my return has been extremely difficult and painful. In spite of this emotional price tag...I am glad I went but the wounds are bleeding again, torn open, and I am missing Bill so so much and so aware of life without his loving presence, his embrace and our soul sharing and connection. And knowing I will never have that with him ever again. Bad day! Hoping tomorrow is better.

Mary

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(((Mary)))

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