Boy, oh boy, it has been a busy week for yours truly. Mom and I landed late Sunday night, and didn’t get back home until 2:00AM Monday morning. From there, it has been a constant race to try to make up lost time at work, as well as trying to prepare for my vacation next week with my Lobster. However, on this rainy Sunday, I am committing myself to recapping my recent trip to The Compassionate Friends 35th National/5th International Conference in Costa Mesa, California.
Update: I’ve been working on this post Sunday, Monday and now even on Tuesday
Both my Mom and myself had taken off from work on Thursday so that we could finish packing and all that last minuet stuff. We went to the nail salon, and I got my Mom a pedicure, and treated myself to a quick polish change. I was feeling nostalgic, so I got tiny silver star rhinestones on my ring fings. I thougt it was a nice extra touch in honor of Jennifer.
When we got home from the nail salon, my Mom and I put the final things in our bags, and headed to the airport. I used Jen’s Silver Starlites bag as my luggage.
We got to the airport a bit early, but had no problems with security or basic airport politics. Our flight was supposed to be delayed, but it ended up leaving right on time. We landed in sunny Costa Mesa around 9:00PM PST, which felt a lot later to my Mom and I.
We checked in at the front desk, and I needed to pick up my presentations that I UPS-ed to myself (so I wouldn’t have to bring them on the plane). The woman came back with two boxes; one was my presentation, and one was two dozen roses from my boyfriend. We wanted me to have good luck flowers before my presentation.
We headed up to our room, and went right to sleep.
I was up very early Friday to get ready for my presentation. I used what may have been the worst shampoo and conditioner ever, and it was almost impossible to blow dry my hair. However, I was able to finish my hair, do my makeup, and put on my dress and amazing shoes.
My Mom and I went down to where the conference was being held, and picked up our name tags, swag bags, and had our buttons made. They had this great feature where you were able to bring a photo of your loved one, and they would turn it into a button for you to wear. I used a great picture of Jennifer from her prom. It was not uncommon for people to just come up to me and say, “Wow, you sister is beautiful.” (Duh, I know)
Everyone had a name tag. The butterfly sticker means that it was your first conference. The heart sticker means that you are newly bereaved; that you loved one passed away less that two years ago. I brought my own stickers, and added a silver star to my name tag.
After we checked in, we sat in in on the opening ceremonies where the outlined how the conference worked and some helpful tips. We left a few minuets early so that I could prepare my room for my presentation, as I was in the first session. They gave me a medium sized room with a laptop, projector, and even hacked into the wifi for me. They even had a sign outside my room!
I was told that 19 people had signed up for my session, and that if I was to make handouts, to bring 10% more. I made 25 packets of my presentation, and was scared that was going to be too many. My Mom counted, and said I had well over 40 people in my room (not counting the people who came late or left early). I felt so confident (pun intended) and was not nervous at all. I did my presentation, answered questions, and even had people ask me to send them the presentation via e-mail. At the end of the presentation, most everyone filled out an evaluation scoring the presentation and saying things that they liked, and things that they thought I should improve on. Everyone said they loved it, and had high scores from pretty much everyone; one woman said the room was too cold.
One of the best reviews was from a man who said he has been a college professor for 40 years, and said I spoke and presented my material very well. He said that I should definitely peruse my dream of writing a book, and I really think I am!
A woman who was a member of The Compassionate Friends committee stopped me after my presentation and was glowing. She said that some man, who was very high up in the organization, stopped into my presentation, and told her that I was doing a fantastic job. She told me a compliment from him truly meant a lot.
The rest of the day, people kept coming up to me and saying that they loved my presentation, or would tell me they were sorry they missed it. I went to one other session later that afternoon, and then had a nice dinner with mom Mom.
Saturday my Mom and I took a mental health day, and laid by the beautiful pool all day. We tanned, relaxed, and went swimming in the beautiful pool. I got slightly burned, but it was nice to not have to do anything for a few hours.
Later that evening, they had the closing ceremonies and candle lighting ceremony. We were in a side room with a live feed of the speakers from the ball room. They gave everyone a candle, and everyone lit their candle in memory of they loved ones who passed away far too soon.
At one point, the speaker said, “Everyone at your table, say the name of your loved one.” Well, 40 people and myself were in a side room, and no one was doing anything. So what did I do? I clearly and proudly said, “Jennifer!” It started a chain reaction and everyone said their child’s name.
Sunday morning was the memory walk, where everyone wore the name of their loved one. It was a nice two mile walk around a little neighborhood of Costa Mesa. People made huge banners, had very decorated tee shirts, and some volunteers even wore the names of children who’s families were not able to make the conference.
After the walk, my Mom and I laid by the pool a bit longer, and then headed back to the air port to come home.
It was an exciting experience, and I am very honored that The Compassionate Friends asked me to present. Next year, the conference is in Boston, so I am excited that we won’t need to fly. I didn’t go to many sessions, but felt just being in the atmosphere of the event was helpful. It was an environment where it was okay to just talk about your loved one and ask others questions without getting sideways stares. I met some very nice people, and look forward to meeting up with them again next summer.
It was an exciting trip, and I’m glad I did it. Even though I had panic attacks the week before, woke up in the middle of the night sweating, and spent countless hours making my presentation, it was 110% worth it. I know Jen was proud, and that made me even more honored that I did it.
Plus, I want to thank every single person out there for always reading my blog, and giving me the motivation to go out to California and be a presenter. You are all amazing people, and I love you all xoxo