Earlier this month, I was honored to attend and have A Butterfly’s Journey be invited to do a “Choose To Heal” photo shoot at The Compassionate Friends (TCF) National Conference in Scottsdale, Arizona. It is the largest US and international organization supporting family after the loss of a child, grandchild or sibling, with 700 chapters in the USA and a presence in 30 countries. It was, as always, an amazing experience.
I believe there were approximately 1,200 attendees in Arizona – mostly bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings who gathered at the Fairmont Scottsdale Princess, a lovely resort hotel in Sun Valley, surrounded by mountains. True, it was VERY HOT, some days it reached 112 degrees Fahrenheit, but it’s a dry heat, right? :-) There was more than enough to keep us busy inside, in comfortable air conditioning.
There were many workshops, keynote speakers, meals, an evening candle lighting, a morning Walk to Remember… even entertainment that included Olivia Newton-John, a bereaved sibling. Many of the TCF chapters in the USA were represented, including several from New England, my neck of the woods.
There were many moving displays and activities including videos by Open to Hope (ABJ was interviewed twice), and filming of a new “Hope” documentary by Bobby and Sara Sheehan, Centering Corp’s book store, a Craft Corner, photo buttons and tiles, sibling group performances, and so many other things organized by the dedicated TCF staff and volunteers — but I’d like to tell you about ABJ’s photo shoot.
James Stewart was our local AZ photographer, and I had help from AZ friends, Larry Thelen and Gail Jones. Back home, our staff photographer Renee McKenna Photography edited the photos. We are in the process of posting them in our ABJ Photo Gallery and emailing both color and black & white digital images to the subjects. I’ll include the one of Alan Pedersen, Executive Director of TCF USA, here as an example, in memory of his daughter Ashley. Yyou can see more as we load them into the gallery – it may take a few days!
In Scottsdale, we set up in a small room at a busy traffic corner of the conference center with tables, media release forms and plenty of washable magic markers to help grievers express themselves visually and emotionally. They decided what they wanted to say and who would be in the photo (can be one or more people, we even included a couple of service dogs!). We would help folks write the message on their skin, we’d take the photo, show them an initial digital image, then provide them with wet cloths to wipe off the marker, if they wanted. Some wore the words all day, like a temporary tribute.
We heard some amazing stories while we helped grievers decide what they wanted to write. There was an array of emotions from pride, and happy memories to sadness and tears – all perfectly OK. When we included one of the dogs, Holly – an adorable Dalmatian, it was our first puppy shot. Then we decided to take a photo of just Holly with the picture of her loved one handing on her collar – so sweet!
This process is cathartic and healing for the subjects and it spurs discussion about grief, even when others see them – which is helpful, as we don’t talk enough about grief openly in our culture. It was a very moving experience and added greatly to what we had already done locally in Massachusetts.
Our next planned photo shoot is on the Journeys of Hope, Healing & Health cruise Sept 15-18, 2016 from Florida to the Bahamas, 4 days/3 nights. It is affordable and includes the cruise, workshops, entertainment, a top deck candlelight walk and free time to enjoy the Bahamas. www.j3hhh.com Mitch Carmody is one of the primary speakers & contact Linda Findlay for details.
ABJ would love to do more of these photo shoots at events. As a 501c3 nonprofit, we can help get them funded; any donations or contributions are tax deductible. Please contact us if you would like to know more at 617-410-6309 or [email protected] And think about what you’d like to express!
…supporting your journey to a new normal.
Barbara J Hopkinson
President & Executive Director