A safe place among “people who get it”
Last weekend I had the privilege of attending Brain Tumour Foundation of Canada’s first-ever Young Adult Retreat at Millcroft Inn and Spa in Caledon. Nearly 30 young adults – mostly couples – gathered at the picturesque, historical countryside Inn to unwind and connect with others living with a brain tumour.
Although I was there on “assignment” for work, tasked with capturing the event through photos, videos and stories of participants, the experience proved to be much more than that. It was a buffet of delicious meals for my aching soul as I continue grieving the loss of my son. My heart, my attitude and my perspectives transformed the deeper I walked in the shoes of these incredibly brave young people just beginning their adult lives.
It was amazing to see how, in the very first group activity, everyone opened their hearts so freely and genuinely. It was beautifully raw. The emotions, the struggles flowed out of the participants like they had been held in by a retaining wall that just burst. They were finally safe and let it all out like the refreshing waterfall rushing over the bank just outside the conference room. They were brutally honest.
“I am scared of death.”
“I feel guilty I survived.”
“I want the active life we had before his brain tumour.”
These statements are so real they are a melody in my heart. It’s truth that sets you free.
When I first came to the retreat, I was focused on doing my job. Although I had some connection with the participants by having a child with a brain tumour, I still felt far removed from them. I was at a different place entirely because my loved one has died. My emotional state and perspective was different than theirs now given my recent loss. I could recall the emotions they described feeling, the fear and the anxious waiting, the derailed career and hobbies … that too was my life. But I was different now, right?
The more I listened, and really listened, to these brave souls who poured their hearts out, the more my perspective changed. They were more like me than I thought. We were all grieving.
Grief is the result of loss. Each and every person in that room has lost a piece or part of themselves and their partner no matter where they are on their brain tumour journey.
None of us pictured our lives to be this way. I never imagined I would have twins and one would die from a brain tumour. Another participant never imagined planning to marry a man with a glioblastoma multiforme. And another never saw having to stop boxing after his treatments left him with weakness of his entire left side.
We all have preconceived aspirations for our lives and when something as traumatic as a life-threatening illness throws it off course, we grieve. We grieve the life we expected to have – the loss of physical abilities, a career, the person they used to know before the brain tumour.
When I realized this bond we all share, my understanding, my compassion and empathy grew even stronger. I didn’t just see their struggles, I now felt them — I experienced them.
We all have something in common. I don’t care how different you may think you are from the person across the street from you, we all share a commonality. After all, we are all human beings with a beating heart. It’s just up to you to look deeper and find that thread that binds us all together.