Earlier in the year I received an email from Oliver's dad Shaun. I remember at the time my blog was really gaining momentum yet I was still shocked as to what he was about to ask. Shaun has been a member of TCF- The Compassionate Friends (http://www.tcf.org.uk/) since Oliver passed away in March 2006. TCF is a charitable organisation of bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents dedicated to the support and care of other bereaved parents, siblings, and grandparents who have suffered the death of a child/children. They offer such fantastic support to those who are grieving an imaginable loss and I know Oliver's dad would not have coped without them- for that alone I will always be thankful.
It was in the email from Shaun that he mentioned how a member of the 2012 TCF Scottish Forum organising committee had discussed my blog and its suitability to be of topic for their keynote speech, and if I would be interesting in speaking for them at their upcoming forum in May. I remember initially being extremely flattered at such request and perhaps my overwhelming emotions blurred what this actually involved. Shaun made it very clear that he did not expect me to agree but all I could think was- how could I say no? It seemed almost like fate that this would be the reason to bring me to Scotland and complete task 21 of my list. Before I knew it I had clicked 'send' and confirmed my acceptance. Within a few days I received an email from a member of the committee discussing what was involved and the nerves really started to kick in. I had never done ANYTHING like this before, I was one of those children at school who would avoid any eye contact with the teacher to ensure I did not have to read out loud and just the thought of speaking to such audience sent a shiver down my spine. I knew this was very important and being a subject so close to my heart I wanted it to be perfect. I enrolled the help of my friend Eve- who has completed many presentations and public speaking as part of her studies. We met up at our local cafe and discussed our plan of action. Just hearing some kind of reassurance that all would be fine helped calm my nerves- if only momentarily. I decided not to tell too many people about the speech to ensure there was no extra pressure on me and 'attempted' to push the speech to the back of mind for a few weeks as there was more tasks coming up to be completed.
I think I had underestimated how long a speech has to be to last for 30 minutes but I was surprised how quickly the words flowed once I began writing. I split the speech into two main sections- losing Oliver and coping with the loss. The more I wrote the more emotional I felt and it certainly wasn't easy to have to write such personal feelings. I have also struggled with discussing my emotions let alone laying them bare for 85 people to listen to.
The time passed so quickly and it is fair to say I wasn't as prepared as I would of liked with a few weeks to the day. Eve and I arranged a meeting and I showed her my first draft. It didn't bode well that I wasn't willing to present it out loud to her and forced her to read it. We worked through the feedback and I spent the following night making amendments. I really wanted the speech to be as honest as possible but still positive and easy to relate to. I found it really difficult to actually read it out loud, my friends would be the first to say I am not easily embarrassed but this was far from my comfort zone! I shouldn't admit this but the first time I read it out loud to someone was 4 days before I was due to be in Scotland! I had practised so often in my room but it is very different actually projecting what I was saying. There was many a sleepless night leading up to the event and knowing this would be the biggest achievement of my life was the only thought keeping me going.
It was not until I was setting my alarm for 4:50am that the harsh reality this was real hit. I was surprisingly calm on the way to Stirling and as I ran over my notes I was confident that I knew my speech well. I was looking forward to meeting Caroline and Elaine from the committee who I had spoke to regularly and they welcomed Eve and I with open arms. In fact everyone I met could not have tried harder to put me an ease. I would love to say they succeeded but when I saw the room I would be compleing my speech in- my heart sank. It was HUGE (well to me at least). I saw the beautiful quilts made by families who had lost loved ones with their own designs and all the amazing poems on the walls. Not only was this such an important weekend to me but it was even more important to those who came along to gain comfort. I desperately didn't want to let down the committee who had given me this opportunity and everyone who would be listening.
After a pep talk from my Mother and Eve playing 'eye of the tiger' to me, I felt back in the zone. If I was going to do this the way I wanted to, I had to do it with confidence. We had a wonderful dinner that evening but decided to take advantage of an early night. Whilst I was not happy with such an early alarm call it did help with ensuring I was asleep as soon as my head hit the pillow! I stirred at 5:30am and it only took a couple of seconds to realise the morning was here. My speech was scheduled for 9:30am so after lying in bed tossing and turning I got up and started getting ready. Presentation is key of course so I put on my new dress and minimal make up to avoid mascara streaks down my face! I barely ate a crumb at breakfast and nerves really got the better of me. I went outside to get some fresh air and then made my way to the room. I put my picture of Oliver on the podium and heard the echo from the microphone. I took one last chance to listen to Miley Cyrus- The Climb which turned out to be an alternative motivational song to my usual taste. As people poured into the room and took their seats I also took mine on the front row. Elaine stepped up to the microphone introducing everyone to me and my stomach had that horrible feeling which felt like all the exams I have ever sat combined with my driving test! I stepped up to the podium and looked up at all the people staring back at me. I felt like they could hear my heart beat echoing round the room...took a deep breath..one last glance at my picture of Oliver and began to talk...
..during the speech I began to relax and even spoke about more than what I had planned. I felt such acceptance and reassurance from everyone there and whilst I didn't intend to make people cry it did make me realise that my words had touched people in the personal way I had hoped. As I closed the speech incorporating Oliver's favourite phrase ' Quality' I was hit with a wave of relief which also began a release of tears. I felt Elaine's comforting arms around me and turned to see the room full of applause. It was hand on heart the most amazing and inspirational achievement of my life. I was so proud to talk about Oliver and also what his legacy has pushed me to do. Meaning that I also completed a task was just an added bonus.
The tears soon stopped when I was presented with a beautiful bouquet of flowers and gifts from a very handsome gentleman in a kilt..now this was what I call Scottish tradition!
I have contemplated whether to publish my speech on here but really feel it is something so personal to me and those in the room that day. I hope you can all appreciate that, however I am more than happy to send a copy to anyone who feels it may help them with a similar loss, and I can be emailed on email@example.com.
The weekend continued to be filled with meeting such truly amazing people. Hearing other peoples stories were so touching and I cannot thank everyone who attended in making me so welcome. I am not exaggerating when I say it is one of the most inspirational things I have ever done.
Unfortunately after lunch it was time to depart as Eve and I were moving on to Edinburgh to experience more of Scotland. We immediately fell in love with such a friendly city filled with beautiful buildings- and a very nice Topshop! Saturday mainly involved catching up on much needed sleep and then getting ready for a lovely meal at a Indian tapas restaurant with a glass of wine- or two :-) (I did deserve a treat after all)
The next day we took our hangovers to Edinburgh Castle where we met journalist student Sarah Turnbull. Sarah had been in contact previously to interview me for her dissertation. It was amazing that this was off the back of my feature in Company magazine. It was so lovely to meet her and discuss the tasks and also my speech the day before. I wish Sarah all the best and thank you for taking a lovely picture..
I had the time of my life this weekend and returning back to work on Tuesday was definitely not easy but I was so excited to tell everyone how well it had gone. Receiving emails with such positive feedback has been the icing on the cake and I cannot thank everyone at TCF enough. Thank you to all the committee for giving me this opportunity. Thank you to everyone who attended for taking the time to listening to me and your openness in sharing your stories.You have no idea how much it meant to me. Thank you to David- my man in the kilt, and finally thank you to Eve for taking every step of the journey with me. You were an invaluable support and I could not of done it without you.
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Thank you for reading, Grace xx
PS.To Lucy- It was a pleasure to meet you and hope the date went well!