(COLORADO SPRINGS) — On Friday morning at the Glen Eyrie Castle, preparations are underway as more than 100 mothers will arrive for a weekend-long conference. This is the seventh year of the Journey of the Heart Conference where women from all over the country come together to find healing and navigate the pain of losing their child.
“Well, 20 years ago, when I lost my son, there was no social media and I lost a 15-year-old son to suicide,” Heavenly Hope and Healing Founder, Lynda Shelhamer, said. “For me, I couldn’t find another mother who went through the same thing and then I discovered these conferences that are around the country, but not in Colorado. I went to my first conference, and everybody spoke my language.”
Shelhamer recognized the need to help other women who carry the same pain of loss, she was motivated to start up a conference in Colorado Springs.
“I’m like, we have to have on these conferences in Colorado Springs,” Shelhamer said. “So seven years ago, we had our first Colorado conference, and we founded the organization Heavenly Hope and Healing. Moms came together and now we have 100 moms coming this weekend.”
The conference is a weekend-long event with scheduled activities to provide a safe haven for these mothers.
“We have workshops on how to survive your first-year, sibling loss, exploring the tough questions,” Shelhamer said. “So that’s kind of what our weekend conference [is]. We end with the beautiful butterfly release in the gardens, rose gardens here. We have a candlelight ceremony on Saturday night where we honor our child.”
As mothers began to arrive on Friday morning, they were greeted with a hug and smile from each other.
“Moms come in so sad and broken, and by the end of the weekend, they’re laughing,” Shelhamer said. “They’re connecting. We even had one hotel say, ‘what are you guys doing? you’re all so happy.’ But it doesn’t start that way, you know? So the connection and we put people according to their loss, drowning, miscarriage, car accident, and they really connect with each other.”
One of the mothers in attendance was Shalamar Outlaw who moved to Colorado Springs after the death of her daughter Olivia.
“She was my world, so I get choked up,” Outlaw said. “She had a neurodegenerative disease; it was called B Pan and with that she was born a normal child and then she started missing milestones and she was hospitalized several times.”
After Olivia passed, Outlaw along with her husband left Houston to find a new beginning.
“We sold everything,” Outlaw said. “We bought an RV and we just headed north. My husband said, Colorado and we’ve never even really been here.”
Upon arriving to Colorado Springs, Outlaw recalled the first time she met Shelhamer as a moment that was greater than itself.
“She has that wonderful ability to see a person and she asked me my name and I said it was Shalamar and she had a dog named Shalamar,” Outlaw said. “And I said, ‘Oh, wow, okay.’ And then the person standing to her left said, ‘well, at least it’s not my dog, my dog’s name was Olivia, and that was my daughter’s name and so I said, ‘Oh my gosh, well my daughter’s name was Olivia. We just lost her September of last year.'”
The two going from strangers to friends and finding support thanks to each other.
“To have a community where you can just meet without judgment, like-minded people and just talk about the hard stuff to right, without bringing everybody else down,” Outlaw said. “There’s something called secondary losses that happen… and you lose your child, but then you lose friendships, you lose relationships because nobody knows what to say and that’s a difficult thing to navigate.”
Shelhamer founded the non-profit organization Heavenly Hope and Healing which puts on this conference and hosts monthly gatherings, the schedule can be found online. She stressed the importance of having these in-person opportunities.
“Well, of course, on social media, you can’t get the feeling behind the words that are printed, and people say stupid things,” Shelhamer said. “This is kind of a safe place because people that have lost children have had so many stupid things happen to them and hurtful things.”
While the pain is everlasting, this type of support is one which Outlaw said she has found healing from.
“Nothing can happen overnight, especially with healing, but sometimes decompression,” Outlaw said. “I think we hold so much and just a space where you can actually decompress some of that just alleviate, take off your chest some of the stuff. I mean, it’s so life-changing. I mean, it helps everything your relationships, your mental health, your marriage, you know, to be able to do this and not dump on your spouse or dump on your friends.”