“We bereaved are not alone. We belong to the largest company in all the world — the company of those who have known suffering.”

— Helen Keller

“How Love Showed Up” was the title of my talk to a group of grieving parents in St. Louis last weekend. They actually have conferences for bereaved parents, which I know seems morbid, and I was apprehensive about how I would be able to handle so much grief in one room. It was obvious within moments of arriving that my preconceived ideas about what would happen that weekend were utterly wrong.

We were asked to stand up and form a circle on the first night. Newly grieving parents, who had lost a child within two years, were in the middle of the circle, surrounded by those who had lost children within five years, like me, then ten, then 20 or more. “We are here to support you. We are here to support each other,” an organizer said. People broke away from the circle, but they didn’t immediately disperse. Those who had attended previous conferences reunited, and others introduced themselves to the newbies. There was something in the air I had never experienced with any group of people before–complete acceptance and an utter lack of judgment.  

Egos were checked at the door. There were no pretenses, and no one was aloof. We have all experienced the worst emotional pain possible, and everyone immediately understood that there was a common thread in that pain. My fellow conference-goers were friendly and kind. Every one of them was doing something with their grief, even if that something was attending this conference to learn ways to heal from others.

I met Peggy, who had lost one child at nine months. Her little girl had suffocated at daycare. Then years later, she lost her son to suicide. Peggy has now written two books on the subject of child loss. Brenda lost her adult son to mental health and addiction issues, and Fentanyl was involved. She was already a social worker, but following his death, she became a grief counselor to help others.

I met Diane, who has Ph.D. behind her name. She lost one of her twin babies hours after his birth. Loss propelled her family in an entirely new direction. She and her husband spent two years sailing around the world with their other two young children. She told me if she hadn’t sunk to the depths of despair, she never would have had the courage to give up her comfortable life to take such a risk. However, that adventure changed their lives.

Another woman named Beth lost her son in a car crash at age 19. She held a sound bath at the conference, using Tibetan singing bowls and crystal bowls and a host of other sound makers that she drove all the way from Colorado. Beth handed out a poem she wrote to all the parents, rolled like a scroll and tied with a purple ribbon: 

Be the Container
By Beth D’Angelo

Be the container
 of all that is meaningful and sacred in your life
Be the container 
of vulnerability
Pour all you can into her coffers, 
allowing love, joy, tenderness, tears, sorrow, and life’s sweetness
 to overflow the sides of your sacredness
Be the container
 of courage
Layer life’s gifts that bear thistles and thorns 
with the softness of compassion and forgiveness and 
Be the container 
of trust
Shattering the illusion; dismantling the false skins of limiting beliefs
 and lean into what is true at this moment, 
with this new awareness
Be the container
 of all that is meaningful and sacred in your life, today, 
and trust that it will guide you at your own pace on this journey. 

We all spent the weekend wearing pins with photos of our lost children. It struck me that the last time I wore a pin with Emily’s face was for gymnastics and cheerleading meets. Back then, I could never have imagined that I’d be wearing her face on my chest due to her untimely death. The pins gave us all a chance to ask another attendee about the child they loved so deeply. I learned about the boy who had overcome autism when his life was cut short by a heart attack. I learned about a little girl who had died at age four. I met other mothers who lost their children to fentanyl poisoning too. The room was filled with the best listeners I have ever met. Then our children’s names were read out loud during a candle lighting ceremony. The one thing we all had in common–none of us ever want our child to be forgotten.

My talk about “How Love Showed Up” was well-received. I shared my own crisis of faith after Emily’s death, along with how so many others had lifted me up in prayer and action. I told them about the people who had come beside me and joined the mission of Emily’s Hope. And I revealed how Emily’s high school art teacher had presented me with paintings that he had fished out of the trash because she had thrown them away, and he held onto them for several years and gave them to me after she died. That is love showing up in the best way possible.

As if on cue, I had a message from a woman Emily had worked for at a pottery painting business after I got off stage. She had just found a bowl that Emily painted in 2015. She wondered if I’d like to have it. I certainly would, I told her. Love keeps showing up. I told the group that “hope” is a verb, and I see the action in hope every single day. If we can “be the container” for life, even in the face of loss, together we can continue to move forward and know that we are not alone.

Faith, Hope & Courage
Angela 

P.S. I recorded podcasts with some of the amazing women I met at the conference, including those mentioned in this blog! Watch for those on Grieving Out Loud soon!