Sunday, July 24, 2016

Red Means Stop

Note: I begin this Sunday discussing some of the workshops in depth that I attended and/or the people I interviewed attending the conference that belong to a special interest group.

Red Means Stop is an Arizona organization of victims and safety advocates comprised of mothers, fathers and children whose goal is to save lives and prevent crashes that injure and kill drivers, passengers and pedestrians and to honor victims and their families. The group meets once a month in Scottsdale at Driving MBA. The executive director, Barbara Hoffman sat next to me in the bookstore and told me all about this organization. 

In January 1999, three families whose children died from red light runners founded The Red Means Stop Coalition. Barbara's son Michael Allanson,14,  was hit by an 82-year-old red light runner in August of 2004, while crossing the street in a crosswalk.

When formed, the Red Means Stop Coalition was the only known grassroots organization of its kind in the United States. There are many traffic advocates around the country who have similar programs now. Their long-term goal is to have the message about the dangers and consequences of red light running spread throughout the country until red light running is significantly reduced everywhere.

In Arizona, car crashes are the number one killer of teens and young adults age 15-24. An average of four people are killed in Arizona every month due to red light/stop sign running crashes.

The following are the areas the group is involved in.

Driver’s Education:

The group actively participates and plans events to educate drivers. Their education programming includes:
·         Speaking about the dangers and consequences of red light running at Traffic Safety Survival and Defensive Driving School classes
·         Speaking to students at high schools, about the consequences of red light running and making poor decisions on the road
·         Speaking to middle school and elementary school students about traffic safety
·         Speaking at fairs, conferences, and other events to raise awareness about red light running, distracted driving, and the importance of drivers education.
·         Speaking to parent groups about preparing their children to become safe and responsible young drivers
They also educates drivers by providing driver training awards to underprivileged teens in Arizona. Red Means Stop has partnered with DrivingMBA, a driving school in Arizona offering high level simulation training labs that are completely integrated with classroom and on-road instruction. These driver training programs teach a better understanding of the mental skills required to be safe, responsible drivers
In Arizona, over 200 car crashes a year are the number one killer of teens and young adults age 15-24. It is estimated that four people are killed in Arizona every month just from red light/stop sign running crashes.

Victim Outreach

If you, a family member or friend has been the victim of a red light running crash and would like to talk to other victims or need information about red light running laws in Arizona, use the contact information below. They are happy to talk, console and/or advise you.

If a recent victim and your case is still in the investigation stage or is working its way through the courts, confirm with the investigating officer or the prosecutor that the defendant is at the very least charged under Arizona Revised Statutes 28-672.  There may be other charges if drugs, alcohol or speed was involved. If an advocate is needed to write a letter to the judge or to appear in court with you,

This group can help. Email them at or call their office at 480-305-7900 and leave a message.

Community Outreach
Outreach and education is a key component of Red Means Stop’s programming. The board members and volunteers outreach to the community by holding events, public and private and in schools.
The board collaborated with victims of red light running and their families to compile their impactful stories into an educational book, Carelessness Is No Accident. Their goal is to get these books into the hands of teens and adults to raise awareness about the dangers and consequences of red light running.
Volunteer Opportunities

Volunteers are needed for Red Means Stop Traffic Safety Alliance. To volunteer email:

Sunday, July 17, 2016

39th TCF Conference in Scottsdale

I recently attended the 39th annual Compassionate Friends Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, with over 1,200 people participating, and I’m coming away with meeting many interesting people, speakers and attending many workshops. This year, many new special programs were added in addition to the 100 or so workshops.

For the next few weeks I will be telling you about some of the workshops and some of the interesting people I met at them. But this week I’d like to highlight some of the special programs and events that were held.

A special performance by Olivia Newton-John, Beth Nielsen Chapman and Amy Sky and a meet and greet with a photographer were on hand afterwards to take pictures with these lovely women, who sang songs from their new CD about working your way through the maze of grief and loss.

A trip to the Butterfly Wonderland to discover the amazing life of the butterfly from caterpillar to chrysalis to the moment it spreads its wings for the first time and takes flight into the world was viewed. It is the largest indoor rain forest atrium in the U.S. More than 3,000 butterflies from around the world are among lush tropical plants and flowers. It is one of the most amazing butterfly conservatories in the world.

For the first time, a Spanish workshop was designed to include the grief and bereavement process after the loss of a child, cultural aspects, diversity with the Latino community, how these bereaved parents feel when they are not surrounded by their families at the moment of their loss, the importance of the surviving siblings and their bereavement process, couples’ grief, the importance of communication and understanding of their individual grieving process. The atmosphere was filled with songs, poems and imagery.

A discussion about finding meaning and hope in synchronistic events in “whispers and dream visits” involving our children, siblings and loved ones who have died was held. Carla Blowey and Mitch Carmody believe that synchronicity (a meaningful coincidence) in whispers and dreams serve as a message of healing for the individual and the community. Participants were invited to share how synchronicity has inspired them to live a more conscious and hopeful life.

There was a “paint night”, a Love in Motion signing choir, a crafty corner, a hug station and a performance by the internationally renowned “Yellow Bird Dancers” (members of the San Carlos Apache Tribe.

The Healing Haven was an area of respite, relaxation and inner healing for attendees. With all the chaos of grief, there is always the need to find greater balance within. They offered chair massage, Reiki, yoga, meditation, breathing techniques and other aspects of healing.

The more than 100 workshops included both popular repeated sessions and new ones never given before. They included topics such as a candid conversation between a bereaved parent and a bereaved sibling, the impact of traumatic grief on the family structure, step-parents grief, dealing with grief bullies, the power of vulnerability (who am I as a griever), grieving with a spouse who did not raise my child, healing when faith is not an option, digital memory archive of your child, child dying from a medical error, learning to laugh after loss, and military and public safety loss.

Keynote speakers included Barry Kluger, who is trying to get passed the Farley-Kluger Initiative to allow grieving parents up to 12 weeks of leave from their jobs (now it is only 5 days); Nivia Vazquez, from Puerto Rico and Steve Fugate, who crossed America eight times (43,000 miles), walking all the way with a message of  “to mend the broken heart while it is yet beating.”

Sunday, July 10, 2016

Grief Beyond Belief

“God has a plan.”
“All things happen for a reason.”
“God never asks of us more than we can bear.”
“He is in a better place.”
“God needed another angel.”

If you are a religious or spiritual believer, these statements are not allowed in an online Facebook page or the closed Facebook group called “Grief Beyond Belief.” In 2011, Rebecca Hensler, founded the group, devoted to faith-free grief support. 

According to Rebecca, this group would rather hear phrases like “I’m so sorry,” “I’m thinking of you,” or “We think of your daughter often.” Comments should be compassionate and respectful of other members. She says that if  your opinion or experience differs from that of another participant, describe your own experience or opinion, rather than criticizing those of others.

The site, according to Rebecca, is to provide support for all kinds of loss: children, siblings, parents, and even pets. Rebecca lost her 3-month old son Jude in 2009. He was born with a birth defect and did not survive.
The aim of Grief Beyond Belief is to facilitate peer-to-peer grief support for atheists, Humanists, and other Freethinkers by providing spaces free of religion, spiritualism, mysticism, and evangelism in which to share sorrow and offer the comfort of rational compassion.

She found that most grief organizations such as Compassionate Friends, depending where you live and who is the head of it, may expound on life after death and seeing your loved one again. Rebecca was looking to create support for anyone grieving who doesn’t believe in God. Religious or spiritual content is not permitted anywhere on this site.

Opinions expressed on the site are those of individual atheist bloggers only. One blogger said that she was afraid to offend someone who did believe. If a child had survived a car accident, some might call it a “miracle” and a testament to the power of prayer. If the child died, it would be just part of “God’s mysterious ways.” Then the blogger realized that ignoring her being offended was ridiculous. Bloggers believe no one should be offended because they believe differently than those who are religious. Everyone has a right to believe what they want, according to Rebecca.
The purpose of this site, according to Rebecca, is to provide mutual support. Comments should be compassionate and respectful of other members.

Grief Beyond Belief is about peer to peer grief support. The group volunteers send out links to articles; people may comment, and those grieving can comment or write in for support. The closed Facebook group, which you must join, has 2,508 members. Blogs are written by supporters, and Rebecca travels around the country speaking to free-thought organizations on grieving as a non-believer, secular grief support and related topics. Articles on what the group does have appeared in USA Today, Culture Wars Radio and the Thinking Atheist podcasts.

The group does not provide professional grief counseling but can refer you to a specialist. They stress they do not endorse anyone in particular or receive any type of benefit from doing this. They are just trying to help.

Rebecca is a middle-school counselor in San Francisco with a BA in political activism and an MS in counseling. She currently lives in the Bay Area.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Lessons Learned From Grieving

We all learn from tragedies in our lives. Some tragedies we get through after time; others we never get over. This is true for the death of a child. I like to think that we carry these helpful thoughts with us for the rest of our lives. Here are some of them.

1.      Grief is forever. We may be able to eventually move on with our lives as the pain gets softer with time, but we never forget. We should not be embarrassed about our grief. When you love something or someone with your entire being, it is okay to be sad at times. Don’t let people tell you that it’s time to get over it and move on with your life. You have a right to your feelings no matter what society says.

2.      Know that as dark as your days may be, keep telling yourself that you will survive. At first you may think this is not an option, but with the help of friends, family and counseling, you will discover there are others who need you, who care about you and who want you to move on with your life. I used to say to myself after my daughter died, what choice do we have? We either lay down and never get up again, or we find that our spirit proved resilient. I chose life, and so moved on.

3.      When someone you love dies, anger builds up inside you. Anger is normal, but don’t let that anger carry you to another level that would be hard to come back from. Don’t take out your anger on everyone and everything. This horrible event has happened to you and although no one else can understand it, don’t complicate matters with your anger, whether it be at God, at the person who caused it to happen, or to your spouse or family. You will realize in time that no one could have stopped what happened, so be kind to others. It will help you feel good about yourself.

4.      Your priorities and goals may change. That is to be expected. What was once important to you may no longer have any meaning. You may have, at one time, wanted to climb Mt. Hood in Oregon and even planned it for a future date. You both loved climbing and did it quite often. Without your child to accompany you, the goal lost all meaning and was eventually forgotten. Don’t beat yourself up for the fact that you never got to do that. You did other things that at the time seemed to be important. And one day, when you climb another mountain, your loved one will be with you, pushing you to do your best.

5.      Take control of your life. Don’t try to run away from your grief. Don’t travel until you feel ready; don’t go to your loved one’s favorite restaurant until you’re ready and don’t think this will last forever. When you find yourself smiling and even laughing at a joke someone tells, you will know you are on the road to recovery.

You can’t undo what has happened, but you can take what you’ve learned from your experience and relate in a healthier way.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Keeping notes and letters about Marcy

When my daughter died, I received so many cards and letters of support in the mail. It was suggested to me that I keep them all and make a folio of them to look back on. I thought it a good idea and set to work diligently to make it happen. I am the type of person once I get something in my mind to do and I like the idea, it’s a done deal! Perhaps doing something like this would work for you and be something nice to look back on.

I felt most of the notes and letters were very powerful, telling a story of Marcy that even I didn’t know…how she was the one who held people together, how she was the one who helped those in need, how she was the one who lent a hand of kindness to all who were close to her, how she was a great leader and organizer, how she was like a sister to all and had a big heart and constant smile…

One friend remembers the spaghetti face kid, sitting in her high chair, covered with spaghetti, as was the entire kitchen. She was so proud of what she had done. Her little face displayed pride and humor. Even at that young age, she knew what she was doing. She did it well, she did it with humor and she did it with excellence, perfection and character. 

Another friend told a funny story about her engagement ring. “I just made him take me to Tiffany’s first and then every place else seemed so reasonable!” A parent of one of her friends had to tell me that on the day of the L.A. earthquake in ’94, Marcy called the mother to tell her not to worry, her daughter was on the east coast. The mother thought that was so sweet of her to do when she should have been worried about her own safety.

A couple of other examples of letters received included some people who celebrated Marcy’s life by going out to her favorite places, lighting candles at the accident site, and bringing flowers. Others said how much they learned from her about living life to the fullest and enjoying every minute of it. One friend said she liked to think that Marcy’s supreme logic will continue to guide her through life and that, as she writes this note, she knows Marcy is in a wonderful place—probably finding a fourth for tennis.

Some people sent photos of themselves with Marcy at parties, on trips and at work. Her energy kept everyone going at work, writes another and she was never afraid to try anything new. Her enthusiastic ways, leadership qualities, positive attitude and generosity of spirit were admired by all.

All these notes and letters were at first a comfort, and a realization I had a great kid. They inspired me to write my first book on surviving grief. I used a few of the comments to emphasize her personality and all her goodness. I now know that her life had great meaning, that she had many friends and that in death she would always be remembered. Her boss from where she worked said it best, “If you were a friend of Marcy’s, you were a friend for life.”

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Orlando Thoughts

As I watched another tragedy unfold, this time in Orlando, FL, I feel for the families of the victims. I know what it’s like to lose a child; in my case, it was a car accident. Like a murder, it’s sudden, it’s unthinkable, it’s unbearable, like any tragic death. I watch the news everyday and my heart goes out to the families and friends of the victims, as it does in any sudden death.

 I remember saying to my loved ones when Marcy died, “What a waste of a beautiful life. What a waste.” I remember repeating that over and over for the first few months as I dealt with the trauma and then year after year as I move on with my life, never forgetting what happened, how a split second could have made all the difference. Why was this driver going 70 mph and swerving through a residential area with no thought of the consequences? Why my daughter? She died instantly; at least she didn’t suffer. I doubt we can say that about most of the Orlando shootings.

As each day of the reports of identifying the dead and injured goes by, many are recovering. Others are not so lucky. I know exactly what these parents are facing now and for the rest of their lives. It will never be over. They will never forget what happened to their loved one, nor will they ever forget their child. It all becomes part of their being that they will learn to live with year after year.

Learning about those at the nightclub (most of them between 20-35 years old) is important to me. I want to know who they were, where they came from, how they lived their lives. I want to put a face to each story. As a former newspaper reporter, I have always been curious about people, always wanting to understand others, so that I can help them wherever possible.

Some families and relatives will need the help of specialists and counselors to get through this, and I hope they get the help they will need. Some things they can do for themselves include: seeking out a grief support group, try online support at, talk with friends, family or clergy about how this has affected them, exercise daily, and eat three meals a day for strength and good health.

I grieve for all of Orlando involved in this shooting. Know that there is hope after loss and each person will eventually find theirs.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

My Gratitude list

Most of us are grateful for many things in our life. Here are 20 of mine right off the top of my head. I'm sure you can think of many more as you consider the meaning of your life and how all these things helped you to heal from your grief.

I’m grateful for my life and that I have lived for many more years than I ever dreamed I would.

I’m grateful for giving birth to my daughter Marcy. Even though she is no longer here, I can’t imagine what my life would have been like without her.

I’m grateful that Marcy taught me to be more patient, more understanding and more loving.

I’m grateful I learned how to move on from my loss to make everyday meaningful.

I’m grateful I learned how precious life can be for everyone.

I’m grateful for a loving husband who understands my needs and tries hard to fulfill them.

I’m grateful so many people understand my loss and don’t tell me “to get over it.” They say that they can’t imagine such a loss. They are right. It is incomprehensible to lose a child.

I’m grateful that I have so many wonderful memories of both my daughter and my life in general.

I’m grateful for having so many friends to share thoughts with.

I’m grateful for my step-grandson and my three godchildren.

I’m grateful to live in a beautiful city with wonderful weather year round to enjoy.

I’m grateful for good health.

I’m grateful I can dance, love music and can play the piano.

I’m grateful for people’s sense of humor during rough times.

I’m grateful that I can help others through their loss by my books and speaking engagements.

I’m grateful that I can write and express myself on different levels.

I’m grateful that I can afford to travel and see the world.

I’m grateful that I have learned of different cultures and ways of life of so many.

I’m grateful that I live in a land that allows me the freedom to be myself.

I’m so grateful that my blog resonates with you and so many others.

Keep your list going and add new entries for your gratitude list day after day.