Lately in my life I have had felt this pervasive warm current of subtle gratitude that seems to be basting my very being almost every day. To sound very glib, rainy days and Mondays don’t get me down; I love every day that I can steal. When you are retired every day is Saturday and it seems nothing can piss me off.
My 9-year-old son died over 30 years ago; just waking up in the morning pissed me off. Like a scene from Bill Murray’s Groundhog’s Day movie, every morning when my eyes opened, I said OMG my son is dead, and I started another foray into a day of pain and disbelief, finishing off the evening with a case of beer to numb the grief. The next day the same cycle again. Every day seemed like Monday morning with a hangover and a huge backlog of deadlines…with no days off ever.
Is now being so happy somehow wrong? Am I in la la land? It is difficult to articulate into words but from after so many years of waiting for the other shoe to drop and this time it does not…puts my soul in pause. I have now pressed the FW button again, and I feel a delightful soul inertia surge forward, like that sudden jolt forward you experience when the train is leaving the station. A shift happens and it’s my shift; a new one and I am literally on board. I feel the movement.
Part of this new shift in awareness for me personally is taking a sabbatical from my ministry in serving the bereaved; fulfilling contracts that I have in place; still planning for more presentations but on a lesser scale. I have also wanted to take a sabbatical from life in general. This has been a long-term intention set when I wore a younger man’s clothes; to hermitage by myself for a few weeks in self introspection and isolation. Almost a vision quest if you will.
This summer afforded me that opportunity. A dear friend in the Bay area of San Francisco asked me to dog-sit for them while they were abroad for a month. I had plans to attend two national grief conferences during that same time period which I had to cancel. My day planner was now led more by the spirit of synchronicity and serendipity than by my google calendar. It was an opportunity I could not turn down and contributed to my absence from The Compassionate Friends 2019 National Conference. This was the first TCF conference that I missed in 17 years.
To rewind time a bit. I first connected with The Compassionate Friends when I applied to a be a presenter at their national conference back at the turn of the century, some 13 years following the loss of my 9-year-old son in 1987. I had no idea that there was so many of us bereaved parents out there, that they gathered once a year and had chapters in most major cities. Information you never wanted to seek comes to you. I connected and the rest is history; finding TCF helped me find myself; a soul that was lost for many years.
I started with a few presentations about a book that I had written about the bereaved parent’s journey. It resonated well with many attendees and I presented every year thereafter. It took me several years before TCF would allow me to do a 2nd workshop on “signs” at the conference. In my previous workshops I had mentioned in detail about the signs that I had received from my son in those dark early days of my grief. They were part of the journey that for me provided the most hope that my son survived death in some manner and that I too could survive and able to feel his presence.
The TCF conference committee finally acquiesced and allowed me to present “Whispers of Love” workshop in Nashville in 2008 by introducing the concept of continual connections through, signs and visitations.
The reticence of TCF to approve boogie-woogie stuff was well founded in the spirit of protecting the vulnerable by not promoting unfounded, unrecognized paths of healing. They finally did agree provided I did not us the term ADC (after death communication) as it inferred the use of psychic mediums. I agreed and was gingerly allowed to present the workshop.
Up to that time my workshops had been the elementary beginnings of Proactive Grieving and I was excited to present a second workshop devoted to signs from our children…and the horse was out of the barn.
Much of what I spoke off in the presentation was with slides that I had created to validate the experience/phenomenon for the viewer. In those days I did not know what a PowerPoint was, nor did I even have a laptop computer on which to play it. I brought along my overhead projector from my art studio, and it fit perfectly into the overhead storage on the plane (of course it did). Armed with a slew of transparencies, my experiences, and those of others I was excited to share and validate for grievers that they are not crazy, this shit happens, and it happens a lot. With some trepidation I entered unknown territory on a trial basis.
Dressed in a blue custodian’s shirt sporting an embossed face of Disney’s Goofy with the stitched circular name badge to match. I introduced myself: Hi my name is Mitch Carmody, but you can call me Goofy, many already have because of what I believe. I believe my son survived death with the signs he has given me.
The beginning of the presentation had to be delayed as they needed to take down the walls on either side of the workshop room and bring in hundreds of more chairs; over 400 people filled the room, standing along the walls and sitting on the floor. I was awestruck at the response and even more awestruck by the amount of people apparently hungry for some sort of validation of their own experiences. I was asked to repeat the workshop again the next day and once more the room was filled to capacity. The rest is history and I presented Whispers of Love for 10 years straight.
In these almost 20 years of dedicated summers, as well as the months in between I have devoted as much time as possible with chapters, regionals, candle lightings, and memorial celebrations, fund raisers, and more all across the country including Puerto Rico. In more recent years I have contributed with many online chat rooms for TCF grievers, Open to Hope TV interviews, shows and podcast, as well as the many guests on my radio show Grief Chat Live.
I did not attend the 2019 TCF national conference this year primarily because of my decision to take a spontaneous sabbatical, however my decision was also fueled by strong feelings about the regrettable circumstances surrounding the dismissal of the newly elected Executive Director Debbie Rambis. I penned an article “Where is the Compassion in The Compassionate Friends? I wanted to articulate my anxiety and concerns about an organization that I loved, as I saw it crumbling before my very eyes. I saw a board gone rogue cutting off their nose to spite their face.
I publicly I posted my letter in a blog in February stating my concerns. I eventually removed the BLOG from public domain because of financial information that I provided may have been incorrect. However, read below a prophetic paragraph from that February 2019 post.
We are at a crossroads of sorts with The Compassionate Friends. We can no longer be effective with the old top-heavy model of a Non-Profit. The cost and use of a brick and mortar office building with paid salaries, benefits, BOD expenses and office operating close to 1.5 million a year is just not sustainable, it surely is not the best bang for our buck with our solicited donations. -MC
The National Office in Oakbrook has now closed, and staff has been laid off.
Over the years I have seen much change, good and bad in the organization which is the bane of most non-profits who have to keep up with the needs of who they serve, yet still run a legal entity with its rules, regulations, all the while adhering to a firm mission statement.
Some of us seasoned grievers have become long-time fast friends within our TCF tribe and outside as social friends as well. I missed that part of the “reunion”. I also missed seeing the light replace some of the dark shadows on the faces of raw grievers as the weekend progresses. I missed the walk of remembrance, and the sibs doing back flips on stage and me singing and signing with them on Sibling Sunday
Part of the TCF bylaws that were originally published in circa 2000, I believe it was intended as a catch and release program for the bereaved. Once introduced to TCF and you join a chapter you are restricted from becoming chapter leader for 1-2 years to allow you own healing first. Once a chapter leader you could hold a 2-year term with option to opt out at 2 years or volunteer for another 2 years with a maximum of 4 years. Catch, heal, and release. Many chapter leaders I know have far exceeded that term limit but have continued to do wonderful things and continue to nurture a vibrant chapter. Some leaders choose to opt out on their time or continue in some other capacity. I don’t think the 4- year limit rule has ever been exercised; serve till it hurts then back off a bit and start again or resign. It is always a good thing to serve in any capacity. Some chapters close, thank God the need is not there, some grow because of the need and its dynamic leadership,
The intent was to not overburden existing leaders that are still processing their own long-term grief, as well as to provide the avenue for great healing that becoming a chapter leader can provide. A thing looks good on paper at times…but reality sets up shop. Some leaders have served for over 20 years, some chapters have closed.
The same goes for any of the volunteers in the organization. Some workshop presenters have served for many years, some for a single conference, some continue to serve, some have died, many have gone a different direction, some have fulfilled what they needed to do for their child and for their life. We do it for our own healing as well as for others. In grief years I am now 31, in physical years my garment is 64, and both are just a wee bit tired. In not presenting I also wanted to provide workshop space for new presenters so it can benefit their life as it has mine.
Whispers of Love is now part of the modern lexicon of grief terms in use today for signs and for the most part is accepted and no longer dismissed as woo woo. I am humbled and proud to have helped in bringing it mainstream and so excited that it is pretty much endorsed without compunction or even a raised eyebrow.
I will continue to be an active grief influencer with the Proactive Grieving model of grief processing that I have developed but on a limited basis. It is the legacy for my son. I will continue with a host of on-line chats, posts, blogs, websites, FB pages, Mr Heartlight YouTube videos and my radio show. I will continue to offer professional weekend retreats and seminars on the Proactive Grieving Model wherever there is a need.
I do hope the 2020 TCF National Conference in Atlanta will still happen as the BOD moves forward without a working National Office. I have already made a commitment with my TCF family in Atlanta to attend and present. My wife and I are looking forward to again attending a national conference. We need not walk alone; we are the compassionate friends. We are many, we are resilient, we are love, we are legacy.
The Phoenix will rise from firm roots.
Hope to see you in Atlanta 2020
Peace, love n light
Mitch Carmody 8/29/19