Last weekend I was invited to give a keynote to a remarkable organization whose mission is to support families after a child dies. The non-profit is called The Compassionate Friends (TCF) and they just had their 38th annual national conference in Dallas. People from all over North America were in attendance and I was struck by TCF’s leadership, organization, workshops and tools they provided attendees to help bereaved parents and siblings navigate their way through grief. 

Until Saturday night, I had never spoken to an audience with such a concentration of personal grief. Virtually everyone in attendance, with perhaps the exception of the sound and light technicians, had lost a child or sibling. Every person was carrying the heaviest of burdens – yet carried with them the hope of a better tomorrow. As I shared the story of my own loss and our family’s journey through life, hospice, death and grief, I realized each of them had their own story. I found myself wishing the roles were reversed and that I could learn from them. 

Here are 4 things I shared at the end of my presentation … my personal observations on grief, hope and healing:

Grief is like a flame that cannot be extinguished. As long as I love, there will be fire. What the flame means to me … what it does to me or for me is found in how I carry it. The flame of grief can either burn me or help me see. 

Like love languages, grief has its unique language, too. Our grief language can be as different as our fingerprints or personalities – we may share similarities, but we also have differences. If we allow our loves ones to grieve in their own way, we may find beauty in the ashes.

At least for me, I’ve observed that healing hurts. And hurting is a necessary path to healing. The less I resist the hurt, the more I allow my grief and sorrow to run through my body and soul, the sooner the storm passes. Though I am only 2 years into my grief journey, I can promise you that the storm will eventually break. However much the sky may be pitch as night, the sun will rise again. I promise. But the sun will also set. Grief will come and go for the rest of our lives.

One of the more healing aspects of my personal grief recovery has been in finding gratitude for everything. Alan Pedersen, the Executive director of TCF wisely observed at the beginning of the conference, “We aren’t here because our children died, but because they lived.” Alan’s observation was empowering and altered the way we see things.

So I told the audience, in like manner, if we focus on the positive things we may find that our cup, though cracked and tattered by grief and sorrow may still be overflowing. Gratitude for the time we had, the lessons we learned and the things that remain … gratitude is a gift we can give to ourselves. Gratitude is a supernal gift because it heals and mends. 

As I ended my address I did what any thoughtful person might do … I wondered if I hit the mark and began to contemplate what I could have done better. By the time I found my seat I had already thought of 15 things I could have done differently to offer a little more help and hope. I thought to myself, “Okay little Mitch, next time … I’ll say those things next time.” 

Yet, when I stop and think about that experience with TCF, I realize that there is no single book, no keynote presentation, no music, no piece of art … no single thing fixes the sorrow. Yet, compassionate friends … those people who empathize and care … people who lift one another’s burdens and love each other for just being them … that has the power to heal broken hearts and broken souls to mend. 

There are few things as powerful and healing as the compassion of friends. As TCF wisely says, “you need not walk alone.”