By Julie Turnbull Packer – 2018 was one of the busiest and most rewarding years of my life. As the year was winding down, the realization that this was the end of my term as Mama Dragon President left me feeling many different emotions.
I am so excited for new leadership and fresh ideas. Our new President, Wendy Stringfellow VonSosen, and President-Elect, Lisa Evans Dame, are two of the most amazing women I know. Mama Dragons is in the best of hands. The Board of Directors gets stronger every year and I learn daily from these women who sacrifice their time for this cause. I am astounded by the stamina of these women who just keep showing up. No matter the obstacles placed in front of them, they just keep getting back up and trying harder to change hearts, minds and policies.
This past year our group accomplished a lot, but the biggest change for Mama Dragons is that we attained non-profit status. This will enable us to move forward with the work we do on a much broader scope. We will be able to reach and help a greater amount of moms who need this support. We have so many goals and dreams, and the only thing holding us back was the financial means to make them happen. We also trademarked our name and new logo and organized the Board and Leadership Team. I am beyond grateful for the team who worked tirelessly behind the scenes to make all this happen. Because of the countless hours spent, the group is in a position to function in a way that we haven’t before.
When I reflect on what I have gained in my 4+ years as a Mama Dragon, I realize that I learned more and progressed further in that short amount of time than at any other in my life. I chose to start on a journey to more fully support and honor my gay son and then I found Mama Dragons. I was surprised, once I found myself in this space, that I was not doing enough. I had been quietly supportive, but what I saw happening in this group was the opposite of quiet support. I saw moms risking friendships, church status, family relationships and more to advocate for their children. I quickly realized that it was not enough to just silently support. I knew I had to get off my butt and actually do something. I felt my own scales and talons growing and I became a much braver ally for my son.
Hearing my son say the words, “I’m so proud of you, Mom. Thank you for what you are doing,” was all I needed to keep going. At the same time, I knew that by myself, I could never do enough. That’s the hardest part. As moms, we pour everything we have into protecting our kids. We give and do as much as we can, but it is still so often, not enough. However, collectively as a group of fire-breathing mamas, our individual efforts are magnified, and astounding things can and do happen. Yes, we are knocked back down every time we lose another kid and it sometimes feels almost impossible to get back up. I watch these moms, day after day, getting back up and taking on a new day with fire and passion and love. The feelings of sorrow and angst are real, but then you see and feel the resilience, love, strength and power take over. When an overwhelmed Mama has had too much and can’t go on, the others pick up the torch and provide love and support until she can. It is a beautiful thing.
I have always maintained that Mama Dragons has done so much more for me than I could ever possibly repay. When I lost my son to suicide, the women in this group supported and loved me in a way I had never imagined. When you are surrounded by other moms who share similar experiences (tragedies, successes, joys, laughter, frustration and tears), the love and support is a sacred thing. Suicide is a complicated issue and it can come with a lot of judgment. I did not and do not shy away from talking about my son’s suicide. I often wonder if the freedom we have in Mama Dragons to have real conversations about hard stuff helped me get to this place where there is no shame in suicide for me – only lessons on how we can do better.
I know that Tyson finally found the peace he could not find here on earth and, as moms, that’s ultimately what we want for our kids – peace. I am at peace knowing that he felt I was doing enough, or at least all that I could do. As he watched me find my voice he felt the full power of my love and support. If I had not discovered Mama Dragons, I might have had so many more regrets. I feel so lucky and blessed that I found this group in time to grow and progress so that he saw and felt it. The day after he died, I spent hours reading the heartfelt posts from other Mama Dragons in the group. I wish I could adequately describe the way in which I felt these women’s strength and determination seep into me. I know that I decided that day to handle this tragedy in a way that might make a difference. I was determined not to get lost in sorrow, but to channel my sadness and frustration and guilt into something useful. I said, out loud to my son Tyson that day, “I will do something in your honor. Your life counted and will continue to count.”
The love of a mom can be the most powerful force in the world. Mama Dragons empowers moms to breathe fire for their kids. That is our mission, and it works. It is my dream that all moms who need us will find us. Let us embrace, love and support you. Our dream is that every mother of every LGBTQ child will come to understand that her child is perfect and that these same Mamas will find their own strength to breathe fire for them. It is our mission to love and support mothers, so that they can. Ultimately, this will save lives.
Julie Turnbull Packer
2018 Mama Dragons President