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A Moving Letter from a Project Grace Scholarship Recipient

June 15, 2014

Amazing, profound, intense and truly remarkable are just a few words I am able to find to describe my experience on the Project Grace trip to Tanzania.  I am deeply appreciative of the opportunity to participate and I want to thank the donors who made this possible.

When I first learned of Project Grace and saw the trip to Tanzania, I never thought it would be truly possible for me to go, but I knew, somehow, I must.  The next thing I knew, thanks to this scholarship and the generosity of some dear friends, I was packing my bags and getting on a plane to Africa.  To Africa!  I was thrilled and terrified all at the same time.  This was my first international traveling experience and I was doing it at a time in my life when my capacity to function was seriously compromised by extreme grief.  My habit in the months since my son’s death had been to hide and cocoon at home, away from what I perceived as the chaos of the outside world.  Now, here I was heading to the other side of the world with a group of women I barely knew.  What I did know is that I was committed to traveling through this journey of grief and that the shared experience I had with these women who had also lost a child would transcend my fear and anxiety if I let it.  So I packed my bags and got on the plane with no expectations and the simple personal commitment to be present and remain “in” the experience no matter what.

Now I’m back already and my friends are all asking, “How was your trip?”  Such a simple question and I find myself unable to put just a few quick words together that will truly express the depth of my experience.  The best I can do is respond, “It was amazing.  Amazing and profound.”  “What was the most amazing?” they ask.  Again, I have no simple answer, but if forced to pick one thing, I have to say that the children were the most amazing.  These beautiful orphaned children, who have no one and nothing compared to our uber privileged American children, are so kind, loving, resilient, generous and take care each other in a most incredible way.  It was a beautiful thing to see and be a part of.  The list of amazing goes on:  The people who organized and supported the trip were amazing.  Carole, Catherine and Emily took such good care of us and made sure all the details were taken care of so we could get the most out of our time there.  They provided a cradle for our broken hearts to rest in.  The drivers, Charles and Ashley, were amazing.  They took such care to see that we got where we needed to, kept us safe, made sure we stayed hydrated, gathered our scattered belongings, took pictures of us, shared in our stories and made us feel so welcome in their country.  The people of Tanzania were amazing everywhere we went.  The cultural experience was amazing.  Simply amazing.

Melissa-Wheel-Barrow

Then there was the Mamas.  Talk about truly amazing.  Every single one of us is amazing.  What strength and courage it took us in the midst of our grief to step into the unknown, half way across the world.  I often talk about how The Compassionate Friends support group saved my life in the months after my son’s death.  It is in those meetings I have felt the most safe and understood, but a couple hours once a month was but a drop in the bucket of my need.  At every meeting, each person gets a few minutes to talk about and honor their child.  In Tanzania, the entire trip was about sharing and honoring our children.  It was quite powerful to be immersed in the joy and the pain of honoring the lives of children lost with their beautiful Mamas.  I felt my son’s presence more during this trip than I have since his death.  In my every day life since my son’s death, I find myself talking about him and the pain of my loss less and less over time.  It is hard for people to share pain like that and they want to see me “getting better” so I hide my pain, which means I hide my love for him too.  It was an unbelievable gift to spend a whole week openly, fully loving my boy again.

The last amazing thing I want to mention is my experience of how the Tanzanian people responded to my grief.  My experience thus far on this journey of extreme grief has been that most people, when they hear of my loss, take a step back, change the subject, in their need to create a buffer of space and close themselves off from my pain.  Although I understand their fear and desire to protect them self, it always hurts and leaves me with a sense of isolation.  In Tanzania when I shared my story of loss, I found that the people and especially the children seemed to open up, take a step in, move closer to my pain giving me a sense of acceptance, love and understanding.  How amazing is that?

The Urban Dictionary defines “amazing” as:

Something that is so wonderful, it is hard to find the words to match. Something that makes your heart beat faster or makes your heart melt. Something that tops everything else, and always crosses your mind.

So it is with the deepest gratitude that I offer my thanks and appreciation to Project Grace and the donors for giving me the opportunity to love and be loved in this far away place that somehow brought me closer to my beautiful boy.

With love in my heart,

Melissa, aka Mama Tony

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