MISS Foundation Conference 2010... Day 1 Review
...click image to see full size...MISS Foundation Conferences. I will venture to say, based on Day 1 of this year's 2010 Conference, that my experience here through this weekend will be nothing less than the alchemy I have come to expect from these conferences.
Hawk and I had the honor of opening the conference this year, getting to share some of our ideas about grief and creativity. We did a sort of mini-performance of a poetic dialogue we wrote to share our individual experience with each other -- and to share our story with others, specifically to give caregivers a window into the bereaved parent experience. Many have asked me if we have the script or recording of it posted somewhere. I'm sorry to say that with everything that happened in the last month with our son Mizuko's death, we just did not get it together enough to have that kind of thing available for everyone. The performance does end with a song that our eldest son Peter recorded with his group Groove For Thought, and you can find a free MP3 download of "Kota's Song" by clicking here though!
We then had the chance to hear Dr. Joanne Cacciatore speak about her thoughts on creativity and the need for cultural change around the ways we grieve. One thing she shared has really stuck with all day. There is a tribe -- forgive me, I didn't catch the name, but will see if I can get it from Dr. Jo to share here later -- where a person's birthday is not marked by their birth day, not even marked by the date they were conceived. But rather the birthday is marked by the first day the mother had a conscious thought of the possibility of the child coming to her. When she has this first thought, she goes out into the land and meditates until she hears the song of her child. She comes back to the tribe, and teaches the song to her partner. They sing the song as they make love to conceive. Once conception happens, the mother teaches the child's song to the old women and midwives of the tribe, and they sing this song all through the pregnancy and birth. After the child is born, the song is taught to the entire tribe. The song is sung by everyone to welcome the child. It is sung at the important moment of the child's life: coming of age, marriage, achievements, and also at the child's death -- whenever that death occurs, regardless if the death is at birth or at age 100. The isolation of grief does not exist here. She shared a quote that I think was:
"Loneliness is the most terrible poverty."
In the tribe she described, there was no emotional poverty for the bereaved because they held ALL their children in song -- held them in life AND in death.
This led into a presentation that Audrey Cardany did on "We need the arts to live!" -- STUNNING! Beautiful. She talked about how we might use song as a way to bodily express our love and grief. She talked about how visual art from people like (one of our FAVs) Amy McCarter can inspire sound to move through her mind to her heart to her vocal chords. She sang for us. She sang with us. And she reminded us this:
Art makes our children's lives and deaths TANGIBLE!
What can I say? Amen, Awomen, Apeople!
Later in the day we got to see Sarah Bain's presentation on The Geography of Grief. Now here's the interesting thing. I know Sarah. I've worked with Sarah doing MISS outreach for years. I know Sarah's story. I've been following her blog for as long as it has been online. BUT her presentation gave me a whole other look at her experiences. Her journey from living in a generation where grief was not spoken of ever -- to choosing, after the death of her daughter, to break the cycle and speak grief, allow her living children to speak grief, to allow grief to transform her -- and thereby transform her grief. I was in awe of how she re-mapped her childhood dysfunctional grief experiences by choosing to grieve differently when her daughter died. You could see her shift from the insecurity of childhood experience and move into her skin, ground into her very body, solid with how she's become an advocate for her own bereavement and the bereavement experiences of others. Just amazing. And she shared one quote that has stuck with me all day:
Whatever is unnamed,
undepicted in images,
whatever is omitted from biography,
censored in collections of letters,
whatever is misnamed as something else,
whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning
under an inadequate or lying language --
this will become, not merely unspoken,
THAT IS THE POINT! Really. If we as bereaved people ourselves allow our experiences to be silenced, we become complicit with the UNSPEAKABLE. And so how amazing is it that organizations like the MISS Foundation are out here modeling a different option for us?!! How amazing is it that Dr. Cacciatore is doing innovative, cutting edge research to PROVE (for those who need proof) that giving voice helps transform!?!
I certainly know, without a doubt, that people like Dr. Jo and Sarah have saved my life several times by giving me a safe and sacred space to voice exactly what I was experiencing in the moment. They did not try to comfort me with platitude. They did not try to make it better by offering "cure." They did not become impatient with my time table. Rather they sit in witness to the reality that I am living an entire lifetime without my two sons. They can hold the reality that, not only will the first Mothers Day without my sons be difficult, but that I will celebrate 20, 30, maybe 40 more Mothers Days without them.
I guess this speaks to the social aspect of this conference, too. These are not speakers who blow in, do their thing, get paid thousands of dollars, and blow out to the next gig. These are bereaved parents, too. These are people who are ALSO PARTICIPATING in the process of this weekend. They are available for tears and laughter at dinner -- shifting gears from one state to the other without pathologizing it at all!!!
What better place for me to land in this 4th week since the death of my son Mitzuko? This is coming home. I wish I could take this community of Home with me into my every single stinkin' day of living. I am more appreciative than ever of email, Skype, tele-conferencing, Facebook, blogs!!! This technology keeps me connected to this family year round when we cannot be in the same city.
I would also like to say one other thing about our own afternoon session which was a mini-Hero's Journey workshop where we touched on just a shorthand version of the start of the Journey. If you happen to be one of the participants -- and if you are so inclined -- I'd love to hear your honest thoughts about how that session unfolded. The Hero's Journey is actually a 10 day event!! Hawk and I have a 3 day version that we know works now. But doing this VERY MINI series -- just 1.5 hours for each section (omg I can't believe we are even trying to do that!) -- well, I'm just not sure if the tools of the Hero's Journey really translate in this very shorthand way. I really want to hear what you all thought. Did it work for you? Was there enough to it that you had something to "take away" with you? Did it feel powerful? Or was it flopping?
Okay, so that's Day 1. Tomorrow (actually today coz we are already in the wee hours here!), for Day 2 there is soooooo much being offered. I'm looking forward to Dr. Neimeyer as he is another one, like Dr. Cacciatore, who is changing the way we view grief experience. He is very much about meaning-making and normalizing rather than looking at grief as pathology. Dr. Cacciatore is doing a longer session, too. And then in the breakout session, I have some hard choices to make because I want to be at everything at once. I do know that Dr. Barr is screening the film "Some Babies Die" and doing discussion after, so I feel pulled to that. But Suzanne Pullen -- writer who did the amazing stillbirth pieces for San Fran Chronicle -- is doing something at the same time. She also wrote a chapter in that book I wrote the grief & creativity chapter for -- Janel Atlas' "They Were Still Born." So I also feel pulled to her session because I'm wanting to meet this co-author of mine, you know??
So we'll see what comes. I'll try to post and share more after Day 2...be on the lookout!