Thursday, August 30, 2007

Preserving your child's memory

The most important thing to parents after the death of a child is 'forgetting.' They don't want to forget their child, nor do they want others to forget. They want people to talk about the child, say their name, tell of an event related to the child...anything that will keep the memory alive.

For the parent there are many things they can do to honor their child. Many parents set up scholarship funds in memory of the child at the school he or she attended. Each year a winner of the scholarship is announced and some parents like to do the actual presentation so they can say a little bit about their child in the process.

I not only set up a scholarship in my daughter's memory at the school I taught at for 27 years, but a tree with a memorial plaque was planted right next to my classroom by SADD. A building was built in her honor by donations from her friends, and I bought many bricks with her name on them in her memory at ballparks, theaters, and where she worked. It is a good feeling to know she is part of my world and always will be.

One of my favorite projects was when my husband and I put together a slide-music presentation of her life from birth to death. It is on my computer, and I enjoy watching it any time I get the urge or when I miss her so very much. The same idea can be done with a scrapbook, memorial pin, memory quilt, Christmas wreath, stepping stones, memorial garden and collages of pictures on a wall.

A 20 inch Carrie Bear made from a piece of favorite clothing that belonged to your child and placed on a bed is a good memory. It helps another person feel close to someone they have lost. Go to and see an assortment of bears and the way this is done. A photo can also be included on the bear.

Journaling one's feelings after your child dies is a way to look back and see how you were feeling during those awful first few months or years. Releasing those pent up feelings is good for you and, by the way, crying is very healthy, so don't be ashamed. Most importantly, journaling shows how far you have come.

A web site of the child has become very popular. Parents can tell all about him or her, scan in pictures and even play music. I have a video a friend of my daughter's made that I enjoy showing to both old friends and new friends. I enjoy sharing her life and personality with them, and they appreciate getting to know my daughter more intimately.

A great gift a parent can receive is to have a newborn named after the child. I was fortunate to have my daughter's best friend name her first daughter after mine. At first I thought I might feel awkward saying her name, but I don't. She is not my daughter, but carries with her a story of a very wonderful person. She now understands who she is named after and has asked me what happened. I happily talk about my daughter, and once more, my daughter is not forgotten.

I find my greatest reward is in helping others who are now going through the grief process. I do this through writing, putting on national conferences and speaking at the conferences about surviving grief. I do this for myself and in honor of my daughter, Marcy, who will always be in my heart and mind and never forgotten.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Never give up: Bobby's story

I have watched miracles happen when parents who have lost a child are helped. In July 2005 I attended the national Compassionate Friends Conference in Boston. I spend a lot of time in the bookstore selling my book. It was there I met Bobby and his sister when they bought my book. He was very quiet and withdrawn. She explained: "I had to bring Bobby here. I was afraid for him." In 2001 one of his teenage children was killed in a car accident. In 2002 the second of his teenage children was killed in a car accident. In 2003 the third and last of his children was killed in a car accident. All three children gone and in different types of car accidents. Bobby's wife was getting treatment in a special hospital. "I love my brother and want to help him desparately," she said, "so I brought him here to hopefully get that help. I didn't know where else to turn." No one should have to go through what Bobby has gone through; yet it happens to the best of people.

Through the 4-day conference I occasionally saw Bobby and his sister. At workshops he sat quietly, taking in everything. His sister did a lot of talking. Gradually, he began to talk also. Good for him, I remember saying to myself.

At the end of the conference they both came into the bookstore to say goodbye. I turned to Bobby and said, "I must ask you this. Was this conference of any help to you?" He looked at me and without a second's hesitation said, "It saved my life." Bobby went back home to North Carolina and started a Compassionate Friends chapter in his hometown where there were none and is now the chapter leader. The chapter is growing very strong.

I lost track of Bobby for two years. Just recently at the 2007 national conference, both of them again walked into the bookstore. What a powerful walk he had. What a powerful handshake. I could tell he indeed had come through the worst part. This doesn't mean he won't have any more bad times; he will probably always get teary-eyed when thinking of his children, but there is nothing wrong with that. After 13 years, I still can't mention my daughter's name without a little choke forming in the back of my throat. The important lesson from this story is, of course, to never give up. And what a beautiful example of how Compassionate Friends, the workshops, the speakers, and the sharing sessions have helped so many over the roughest parts of surviving grief.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Coping techniques

The death of a child is the most unbearable loss of all. Everyone has his or her own timeline for grieving. For some it can take a year to start the healing process towards surviving grief. For others it can take as long as five years. For still others, even longer. There is no set time limit to grieve, nor should one feel guilty about the time it takes. Everyone must do whatever is best for them. But you will know when you are beginning to cope. Here are ten tips.

You know you are coping when:
...You can say your child's name without choking.
...Putting away your child's belongings does not mean putting him out of your life.
...You accept your child has died but the love you shared will never die.
...The laughter you hear is your own.
...A smile plays on your lips when looking at photographs of your child.
...You are interested in matters outside of yourself.
...You remember to take care of yourself.
...You appreciate a beautiful sunrise or sunset, the small pleasures.
...Memories bring comfort and warmth instead of emptiness and pain.
...You realize you will always miss your child, but he/she is part of your life forever.

Monday, August 27, 2007

Having a positive attitude

Last night I invited a friend to dinner, Diana, who has been through hell and back. Her son Jimmy died 29 years ago at age 10 of a gunshot wound, while on a shooting expedition with his father and Diana's brother. The brother, who was the cause of the accident, has never recovered himself and has had a difficult life since then. Don't think for one minute Diana, or any other parent for that matter, stops thinking about or grieving for that child, even after 29 years!

But Diana is a survivor and moved on with her life and became the executive director of the national Compassionate Friends organization for 10 years. I lost track of Diana after she left that position, but this year I planned a national conference in Scottsdale, AZ, for parents who have lost their only child or all their children and discovered in searching for a good speaker that Diana lived only a mile from me and was working for Hospice! She brought me up to date on her life which included two other children who live in Arizona and California, divorce, her many bouts with cancer and her heart attack last year.

On July 27, 2007, she was declared cancer free. Four days later on July 31, 2007, Arizona was deluged with one of the worst rain storms in almost 100 years. Once again she was hit with a catastrophe...this time the rain turned into rushing currents and absolutely destroyed her house and everything in it including photos and lifelong keepsakes of her son Jimmy and her other children...things that can not be replaced. She was four feet in mud, without a home or clothing, and she did not have flood insurance to cover this loss. (She was not in a flood area and didn't need to buy it.) Fortunately, my husband, Lawrence, had a picture of Jimmy from the last conference, so at least we were able to replace a very precious item for her.

When she came to dinner, she updated us on the last few weeks and how she is trying to put her life back together once again. Her attitude is amazing. She laughs at things I would cry about. She is thankful she wasn't at home when the rushing water came through her home and could have injured her severely. She is determined to get her life back together little by little. And finally, she is an inspiration to people who are facing the loss of a loved one, and continues her grief workshops every Wednesday night despite what she is going through now.

I think we can all learn from Diana's experience and how she lives her life. We sometimes think our grief story is the worst... until we hear about the next person's.

Sunday, August 26, 2007

Light at the end of the dark tunnel

Losing a child is the worst loss possible. Nineteen percent of all parents in the United States lose a child each year. That is a large percentage of our population. Only in the past 10-15 years has information been available and organizations started to help these parents move on with their lives and their grief journey.

The three that are very active include The Compassionate Friends with over 600 chapters in the U.S.; Alive Alone, for parents who have lost their only child or all their children; and Bereaved Parents USA, similar to Compassionate Friends but on a smaller scale. Compassionate Friends ( meets 1 or 2 times a month where parents can come to talk or just listen to others. It provides support, reading materials and a yearly conference with workshops on a variety of topics. Alive Alone ( does not have meetings, but Kay Bevington, who heads the organization, sends out a newsletter to share grief thoughts and keeps parents informed of conferences. She also has books and videos where experts guide bereaved parents. BPUSA ( provides a network of peer support groups, newsletters and help for parents, grandparents and siblings.

This is a good place to start your grief journey. Meet others who have gone through this or are just starting out. Another suggestion is to read as much as you can. See what other parents have done to move on with their lives and survive grief, and maybe their stories will inspire you also. A few good books to get you started include "I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye," "No Time for Goodbyes," "When Bad Things Happen To Good People," "First You Die," "Roses In December," and "Saving Graces."