I felt my soul starting to change right around March 9th, as I presented morning and evening sessions of Being My Mom’s Mom to a group at Olney Assisted Living (part of Artis Senior Living) in Olney, Maryland. The staff at Olney includes Barbara, a friend I recommended for an open position. Barbara has already made a huge difference at Olney and I feel wonderful that I played a role that is allowing her to use her amazing skills in a very special memory care community. The entire staff embraced me in every way, AND the morning sessions resulted in four additions speaking engagements for the upcoming months.
The beginning of March also switched the preparation for my trip to Cincinnati for the 2017 Refresh Your Soul Conference into high gear! I already knew that it would be the biggest presentation of my three-year “book tour” experience primarily because more than 500 people had registered for the conference. The staff of the Parish Health Ministry led by Director Jeanne Palcic treated me like royalty from the moment I met them for dinner on Sunday night March 12th. On Monday morning at 7:15 am I arrived at the Cintas Center on Xavier University’s campus (Yes it’s the team that beat Maryland in the first round of the 2017 NCAA tournament). I met the entire staff who would be assisting me throughout the conference. Four of them had volunteered to help me sell books by processing credit cards throughout the day, and two people were assigned to get me to and from the different places I needed to be on time. A “green room” for me and the other two speakers was set up in the arena, and it just happened to be the University President’s box suite!! The suite was filled with drinks and snacks and was the location of the media interviews. WOW!!!!!! I remember thinking to myself “this is a much bigger deal than I had anticipated.
I was scheduled to present to the entire group in the morning after John O’Leary, the keynote speaker and author of the best-selling book “On Fire”. The book is about John’s journey in life after accidentally burning down his home, and burned 100% of his body when he was 9 years old. Needless to say he lived, but the first 6 months of his life after the fire was excruciating. After the conference introductions, and the invocation by Xavier’s President, John’s presentation began. I learned more from his presentation than I can actually put into words. John had us crying one minute and cheering and rolling on the floor laughing the next minute. One of the people sitting at my table said to me “I wouldn’t want to speak after John!!”… I just smiled. Interestingly, I wasn’t nervous at all. John had inspired me!! His presentation was “On Fire” and I decided that mine would be too! I could hear Tim’s voice saying “you got this babe!”
After 30 minutes of book signing by me and John, it was time for my presentation. I had been asked if I wanted to be introduced to a particular song, and I suggested they pick something for me! As I was being introduced I looked out at the huge audience and shook my head thinking “How did I get here??? Well it’s too late to back out now”…. I stepped up on the stage and focused on Jill Gorley, a friend from Greater Cincinnati’s Alzheimer’s Association whom I’ve known since last June when she requested I speak at their conference. As I speaker I’ve found that when you focus on a friendly face, everyone else “disappears”. The next thing I knew, people were laughing just as hard at the funny parts of my story as they did with John. People were writing or taking pictures of the tv screens to capture the information they wanted. When I shared that Tim had died and people at my amazing church on Capitol Hill had stepped in to support me and take on some of the roles Tim had happily done with me, I could see that many in the audience were crying. And then just like that, my one hour presentation was over! As I stood in the middle of the stage, people seemed to leap out of their seats. That rousing standing ovation was one of the most incredible moments of my life. Something in my story of the journey with Mom had touched people, given them hope and confirmed that my message is important.
I was then rushed upstairs to another room where 50 people were waiting to have lunch with me, for which they had to pay a separate fee. I was stunned that so many had come to participate in my second presentation “Lifting the Spirit of the Caregiver”! That time too seemed to speed by and I loved the way the audience seemed hang on every word. My volunteer and I literally then had to run back down to my book table where people were waiting for me to sign their books.I was surprised by the fact that as I was escorted from place to place, people were calling my name, waving and shouting wonderful words of support to me. I thought I was watching a movie. Some people in the line just wanted a hug, and that was fine with me. I’ve never hugged that many people in my life. Some of them were crying and quickly shared their stories and I didn’t rush them because I wanted, and needed that connection too! People consistently used the word “hope” in referring to what I had given them on that day.
In order to catch my 5 pm flight, I knew I needed to leave the arena by 2:30 pm. I simply hated to leave. The conference didn’t officially end until 4pm and the “queen of communicating with dementia patients”, Teepa Snow was presenting the final session of the day and I REALLY wanted to hear her! But by the time I finished signing all of the books, it was time for me to go! I did at least peek in to see Teepa on stage. When I got to my rental car, I took a deep breath and just sobbed. I could not believe how that day had gone! I could hear Tim’s voice saying “You Go Girl”! Everything went my way that day, including getting out of Cincinnati and back to DC before the impending snow storm arrived. After all of the events of the day and my own cleansing tears, I felt Recharged!!
That feeling continued throughout the week as I presented two sessions on March 16th for Artis Senior Living, this time at Great Falls Assisted Living in Herndon, Va. Just like at Olney, the staff in Great Falls was incredible! The evening session was particularly significant for two reasons. First, my friend (and support group co-founder) Jan Lipscomb came to assist me with setting up and accepting payments, a job she volunteered for to help fill the void left by Tim. She was a fabulous support for me! AND Linda, my sister from another mother, came to see the presentation with her amazing kids (our five Godkids). Colin, the filmmaker of the family, videotaped the presentation and was dressed as if I was one of his very important clients! I was soooo impressed! What a night!!
I also signed two contracts on the 16th for keynote speeches later this year from people who were in the audience at Refresh Your Soul. By the time I arrived for work yesterday on the 17th, also the 8th month anniversary of Tim’s passing, I wasn’t dreading that day as I had on the previous 7 months. Instead I felt lifted and loved, calm and very much at peace! I could feel Tim smiling down at me and hugging me tightly. As it turns out, I didn’t just attend and speak at the Refresh Your Soul Conference in Cincinnati this week, my own Soul was Refreshed by the extraordinary experience! I’m thankful for my Blessings!!!