Dispatch: The Parliament of World Religions

A few weeks ago I had the honor of being a panelist at The Parliament of World Religions conference in Salt Lake City. The Parliament of World Religions held its first conference in 1893, and since this date has attracted such remarkable speakers including: His Holiness The Dalai Lama, former president Jimmy Carter, Dr. Jane Goodall, Dr. Vandana Shiva, and Dr. Eboo Patel.

In September, I was in New York City when a professor asked me in person if I would be willing to join a Parliament panel and talk about my book, A Widow's Guide to Healing, and immediately my heart was in my throat. It was not one of my finer professional moments as I couldn't even muster up the words, "Thank you." I didn't answer "yes". I said I had to think about it and this was partly true. I would need to make travel and work arrangements to get coverage at my day job, where I am a clinical social worker.

The other part that I did not share was that I was scared. I was intimidated by the nature of such a large conference, attracting 10k people from 80 different nations and 50 different faiths, and the other panelists I knew had doctoral degrees from fancy ivy- league schools. I flew home and thought long and hard about this amazing opportunity and why I was so reluctant to accept it. Deep down I knew that it was my own insecurity because I had never have spoken in a panel format and I didn't want to disappoint anyone, especially since I realized that the professor was taking a risk in even asking me to participate.

And a few days later, it occurred to me that I needed to revisit my original intent in writing my book. The intent was to be able to share the narratives of other widows so that a widow would be able to find herself in one of these stories and feel less alone. Before writing my book, the words that C.S. Lewis wrote "We read to know that we are not alone" rang true to me. And I know first- hand how lonely and scared grief can leave a person. I was 33 in 2007 when my husband, Roy, died from advanced adrenal cancer nearly eight weeks after being diagnosed with bronchitis at his family doctor's office.

When a death occurs many things unfold and the rawness of vulnerability that grief presents to one can create an intense feeling of loneliness. One feels that they are in unchartered territory. Knowing that I must not be alone in feeling this type of isolation, I decided that I would interview as many widows as possible and share their narratives with others. I wanted readers to see how other widows coped and could hear directly from them how they managed their own grief. I spent over three years embarking on this research journey. And the widows were incredibly generous with their time. They too had the intent of wanting to help others and were more than willing to provide their stories.

Sometimes when you create an intent, you are not always certain of the outcome. In my case, it resulted in this book, but I never thought about the possibility of sharing my message at The Parliament of World Religions. I actually needed to center myself and remember that part of my intent in writing this book was to reach as many widows as possible, and so that meant that I would be saying "yes" to this beautiful invitation.

The day before my panel presentation, I was decided to explore the common conference area which also served as a makeshift cafeteria. I soon found myself part of an unplanned conversation with another attendee. We started to talk about what brought each of us to this conference and I told her about my work. She looked at me with a blank but serious stare. She said, "When I first signed up for this conference my husband was alive. He has since died. I didn't know if I would come here."

My heart went out to her. I could sense her rawness, fear and vulnerability that the early weeks of grief leave imprinted on a widow. And I also knew at this moment that when you create an intent it is important to remain open. In other words, stay open to all possibilities because opportunities will present themselves to you that are meant to reach you and to connect you with others.

Kristin Meekhof is a speaker, a master's level social worker and author of the book, "A Widow's Guide to Healing".

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