Sunday, September 30, 2007

Taking care of yourself

When a child dies, the grief is intense. You become immobile. You don’t care about anything. You don’t want to think about anything except the child that you lost. Your number one priority now should be to take care of yourself. You may have other children who need you; you may have a husband who needs you; you may have a job or activities you are involved in that need your input.

Grief affects the mental, emotional, spiritual and physical parts of your body. This change in your life will drain you physically and exhaust you emotionally. Grief work is hard work, the hardest you will ever have to do. So how should you deal with these changes in your life while walking this difficult journey we call grief. Here are a few suggestions.

Doing daily exercise is good for both your spirit and your body functions. A class in yoga or pilates or both will help you physically and emotionally. It will release chemicals that are good for your body and give you that energy you so desperately need. If you don’t have time to do a complete regimented program, try just walking for a minimum of 30 minutes a day at a 16-minute or better mile. Keeping fit will keep your body ready for the continued adjustment to loss.

Drink a lot of fluids and force yourself to eat properly. A well-balanced diet with lots of water, fruits and vegetables will help your energy level and keep you healthy. Try some herbal tea for relaxation. Your body is under a tremendous amount of stress as you adjust to your loss.

A good night’s sleep is important. Resting is good for any anxiety you may feel about your loss. Try not to take medication to sleep.

Listen to some meditation tapes or play some instrumental background music. You’ll be surprised at how music will help you to relax and gain a different perspective.

Read. Whether it is a comic book, a novel, a grief book or a magazine article, you will need to relax and relieve some tension during the day. If a specific grief book, you may come to understand your own reactions better as you go through your grief journey. Keep your mind active.

Volunteer in a hospital, church or school. Or perhaps help a friend who is not well. When you do things for others, you will feel better about yourself and your own situation.

Find a place of worship and attend. This may be difficult for those who want to blame God for what happened to their child. But in attending and sitting and listening, perhaps your faith will be restored and will help in your healing process.

Reach out to friends and family. We are not alone. There are many going through similar experiences. Find some of those people and share your thoughts and your child with them. If you are having trouble coping and think a grief therapist might be of help, seek one out. But in doing so, make sure they understand and are helpful to your specific needs. A grief support group can help you through your journey and allows you to realize your feelings are normal.

If you feel you must do something related to your child, why not try a scrapbook or a video of pictures you have of them. It will be something you can always look at, now and in the future with fond memories.

You will survive this loss. It may take a year, two years, five years, but you will eventually come out on the other side of grief. Try some of these techniques and see if any of them are of help to you.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

When Words Become Precious Gifts

Today I went to an afternoon stage production with five friends. While waiting on line to get in, I saw an old aquaintance whose chidren knew my daughter Marcy. The mother, Yetta, and her son Mark were there to see the production also. Mark's wife wrote it and stars in it. After saying hello to Yetta, I was introduced to her son. "Mark, this is Sandy Fox. Do you remember Sandy's daughter, Marcy Finerman?" Before Mark's mom could explain the circumstances now, Mark blurted out, "Yes," he said, his eyes lighting up, "we went to grade school together, and how is Marcy doing?" "She was killed in a car accident 13 years ago," I answered. Yetta was very embarrassed, but Mark didn't miss a beat. "I'm so sorry," he said very sincerely. "Marcy and I were friends. I do remember her," he said. "Yes," I said to him, "I remember your name among her friends. I was looking at a 41-year-old man, the same age as Marcy would have been this year, but, of course, would have never recognized him. But Yetta had remembered Marcy from almost 30 years ago. With her reaction, she gave me a precious gift.

Her gift was just mentioning Marcy's name. She didn't have to. She was aware of what happened 13 years ago. Even though we had lost touch many years prior, she had heard the news and remembered it. Most bereaved parents want nothing more than for someone to acknowledge their child existed and is still remembered. Although I have nothing in common with Mark, the kindness on his face told me all I needed to know, and his mother's words allowed me to talk comfortably, even if briefly, about her and the situation.

Marcy's best friend Lynn always talks about her and Marcy's time together, about places they went to, about things they did, about the hopes and dreams they both had for their future. I am very lucky to be close to Lynn and I know Lynn will always remember Marcy and not be afraid to talk about her, laugh with me and share great memories.

One of my friends at the theater production came up to me afterwards and said, "It must feel good to have someone bring up your daughter's name and remember that they went to school together so long ago." "Yes, very good," I said to my friend. To myself I thought, "You can't know how good!"

Knowing our children are remembered and live on in the hearts and lives of others, no matter how briefly, is a measure of the wonderful legacy they have left to us and to everyone they knew and who knew them.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Help is available for those on a grief journey

So much help is available for those going through a grief journey. Three very good national organizations (some with local affiliates) are out there. I mention these in my very first blog writing: Compassionate Friends, Alive Alone and Bereaved Parents USA. There are also organizations for different causes of a child's death. A few are listed here. A more detailed list is in my book, "I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye." If you think one of these can be of any help to you, don't hesitate to call or email them.

SUICIDE: The American Society of Suicidology supplies information to lead famiilies of suicide victims to local resources such as survivor's groups. One of these groups is The Samaritans which provides self-help support. They hold meetings every week to allow the opportunity to ventilate feelings. A national hotline is also beneficial. Email: and phone: 202-237-2280.

CANCER: The Candlelighters Childhhod Cancer Foundation is for parent support of children who have or who have had any form of cancer. It is worldwide; there are no dues; they do have a monthly newsletter. Their philosophy is that "It is better to light one candle than to curse the darkness." Email: and phone: 301-962-3520.

SIDS: The National Sudden Infant Death Foundation helps parents deal with the shock and grief of losing their babies to SIDS and connects those parents. It provides information and counseling serivces and has a bimonthly free newsletter. Phone: 301-322-2620.

AIDS: The National Association of People with AIDS educates the public and provides services needed for those afflicted with AIDS. They can also refer people to additional souces of help. Email: or phone: 240-247-0880

MURDERS: Parents of Murdered Children puts grieving parents in touch with each other. There are chapters all over the United States for support and you can be with those who will listen and understand. Email: and phone: 513-721-LOVE.

TAPS: Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors, Inc. offers peer support and assists survivors who have lost a loved one in the line of military duty. They also have a national magazine published a few times a year with interesting stories of hope and survival. Email: and phone: 1800-959-TAPS.

To talk to or be with people who truly understand and will listen not only can be very helpful but also very comforting. As The Compassionate Friend's motto says, "We are not alone."

Sunday, September 16, 2007

"Time" in relationship to surviving grief

When a person talks about an important year in his/her life, or a news show on TV asks what you were doing when...I always think of my daughter, Marcy's life.

How old was she in 1970 when I first started teaching? What were we doing then? Just a year later she started school. Years become important in your memory. The year 1966 when she was born, the most important. What was happening in the world then? Viet Nam. President Johnson. The Beatles. Twenty-five cent hamburgers. A friend says, " Do you remember when we..."What year was that?" I ask. "Oh, yes," I answer, "I remember that year."

But to myself I associate every year between 1966 and 1994 with Marcy and what she was about then. If the year is before 1966, it is "before Marcy was born." If I'm told to think of the year 1984; yes, that was an important year; Marcy was graduating from high school. And 1988, yes, that too I remember; Marcy graduated from college and was anxious to start her life in the advertising world. If the year is 1997, yes, that was an important year because I retired from teaching but not that important for me, because Marcy was already dead three years by then.

Time has a way of passing very quickly, and we lose track of it. I remember when it was the tenth anniversary of Marcy's death. I wondered how that could be. As far as I was concerned, it had all happened just, today. Today, I felt her body hugging mine as we said goodbye at the airport because, ironically, she had to go to a funeral in California. I felt her strong arms surround me and I thought, "I made this beautiful, intelligent, vivacious woman." What a wonderful life she was going to have! I could never guess it would be the last time I would ever touch her and that a week later she would be dead. Thirteen years have passed and I think of all the wonderful things she could have done with her life and her new husband of four months: children, a life-long career, traveling...she wished and hoped for so much, but it was not to be.

They say time heals. I say time only makes the grief a little softer. It will never, never go away. Time allows you to eventually move forward with your life when you begin to understand you are a survivor of the worst possible thing that can ever happen to you.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

Rest of Childless Issues

In my previous blog I spoke of issues parents have when they lose their only child. I spoke of "Am I still a mother," "Do I need to make a new will?, and "Will there be any special events in my life?" See my blog below this one for comments on these questions. Today I'll finish with four other issues.

First, "listening to others talk about their children and grandchildren." My bridge friends talk about their children and grandchildren all the time. They have every right to. But do they really understand how I feel. Of course not. It's never happened to them. They can never understand what I am going through. I hide it pretty well. But if given the opportunity to say something about my daughter Marcy, I'll certainly take that opportunity, whether they want to hear or not. They may be thinking, "Why is she talking about her dead child?" Why do you think? My daughter was all I had, and I will always have her as far as I'm concerned. And what better way to keep her memory alive but to talk about her. She is as important to me as my friend's children are to them. And so I continue to listen to the talk around the table. What is so wonderful is when someone says to me, "And how did Marcy react to that in high school or college," making me gladly join in with a story also.

Second, "affects on a marriage." If you had a good relationship with your spouse to begin with, chances are that the death of your only child will not hurt your marriage. But, if the reason you were together was only because of the child, there is a good chance your marriage may be in trouble. Despite what a lot of people think, if a marriage breaks up, it is not because of the child's death but because there was something wrong with the marriage in the first place. If your marriage is worth saving in your eyes, seek help during this awful time in your life. Another problem could relate to significant others. Are they supportive? Do they understand what you are going through? Do they let you talk and express your pent up feelings? Or does your grief and loss cause problems in the relationship with not only the significant other but with any stepchildren? I am very lucky that my husband has a wonderful daughter who I am very close to. She reminds me a lot of my daughter. Their personalities are similar, they are both spirited with minds of their own, their birthdays are identical except for the year born. She gets along great with her parents as Marcy did with me and her dad. Others are not quite as fortunate and I would again encourage those who need professional help to get it and not wait until it is too late.

Third, "losing friends who still have children." Many newly bereaved parents believe their friends are uncomfortable around them now. And they are probably right! It's that old syndrome: I don't want what happened to you to rub off on me. When Marcy died, good friends who I thought would be there for me were not. Others who hardly knew Marcy camped at my doorstep. I was so surprised at how people reacted, and I hear others also talk about it all the time. I found that I made new friends, friends that have brought new meaning to my life and try very hard to understand the new me. Grief shoves away friends and scares away so-called friends and rewrites your address book for you. Oh, so true.

Lastly, "I wanted others to understand the new me." I am a different person than I was when my daughter was alive. I have new goals and new priorities. What was once important to me may no longer have any meaning. I ask for patience as I go through my grief journey. I ask for understanding that there is no set time limit to my grief. Grief makes what others think of us moot. It shears away the masks of normal life and forces brutal honesty out of your mouth before propriety can stop you. Don't cry over a broken plate. Don't worry about gas going up 2 cents this week. Those things are insignificant and no longer important after our child dies. There is a powerlessness we feel over life after the loss of a child. It's hard to believe how much energy it takes just to go on. We've been slammed against a brick wall. And the slamming comes again and again. We are suffering through the most unbearable loss of all, but we are all survivors. We will never forget, never get over it, but we will eventually move on with our lives. What other choice do we have?

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Childless issues

When a parent loses an only child or all their children, we learn there are unique aspects that confront us. I will be listing for you in this blog and the next, some of these aspects of being childless.

I begin today with what I believe to be three most important questions: "Am I still a mother?" "Do I need to make a new will" and "Will I ever have any more special events in my life."

First, "Am I still a mother?" Of course we are. We will always be a mother, whether our child is alive or has died, and we should think of ourself in that way, no matter who may ask.

It does become awkward when someone we first meet asks us if we have any children. How should that question be answered? Please don't ever say, "None." Acknowledge that at one time there was a child or many children. By saying, "None" we are saying they never existed. For me, I just simply say, "I have one daughter who died 13 years ago in a car accident. She was 27 at the time." Although the other person may now feel awkward, didn't we, too, feel awkward when confronted with the question. Tell it like it is and go from there. Acknowledging we are mothers and will always be mothers will make all of us feel better, and now we can ask the other person the same question and release the tension, letting them talk about their children. We have said what needed to be said, and everyone is more comfortable about it.

Second, "Do I need to make a new will?" The answer is "Yes, you probably do." If your child was not married and did not have any children from that marriage, you need to think about your will, your trust and any legal issues that will entail. Who do you leave your money and wordly goods to? If you have a grandchild, the task may be easier. Many of us who don't have grandchildren may have siblings, aunts, uncles, cousins, and special friends who are possibilities. Or there is always a charity happy to take a donation. I do not have any siblings or blood relatives, but I do have 3 godchildren (my daughter's best friend's children) who are now in my will, as are some friends, some of my favorite charities and a foundation to honor my daughter. I am very specific as to who gets what and just have to ake sure that my wishes are carried out. That is the best I can hope for.

Third, "Will there be any special events in my life?" Not as far as going to say, your child's graduation, birthday parties, wedding, birth of a grandchild. When our friends have these happy occasions and talk about them, they tear at our hearts. When my friend's son got married a few months after my daughter died, I couldn't go to the wedding. I explained why to her and she understood. Years later it became easier, but I still think of my daughter and what she is missing. I go to events and smile and congradulate where appropriate, but it is a sad time. My daughter should be here attending these events in my place or with me. But it will never be and I must accept that.

In my next blog I will talk about the other aspects of being childless: listening to others talk about their children and grandchildren, being childless and affects on your marriage, losing friends who still have children and helping people understand the new you.

Thursday, September 6, 2007

Birthday thoughts on surviving grief

Tomorrow, September 7, is my 63rd birthday. I hate telling people how old I am. I don't feel old. I'm told I don't look my age...thank goodness! But today when Pavaratti died at age 71, I thought, "yikes, he's only 8 years older than I am." It made me more determined than ever to live my life to the fullest, to do all the things I want to do, to continue traveling, to continue writing, to continue enjoying my friends and to love my husband more and more each day.

I then think of my daughter Marcy, who died much too young at age 27, before she could really experience life to it's fullest, before she knew what it was like to have a child, before she could travel the world with her husband and children. I thank God that I had her for 27 years, and she was able to have some wonderful experiences, and that even though she was killed in an auto accident only four months after she married, she at least had a great love and was able to marry.

I hate listening to people who say, "When I retire, I'll travel and do everything I've always dreamed of doing." A great thought, but my philosophy is "Why wait?" Do it while you still can, while you are healthy and can run through the sand, climb that mountain, swim in that sea.

I lost the most precious person in my life, my daughter. Except for my husband, I have no other living blood family members. Why not go out there and enjoy a beautiful sunset, see all the wonders of the world, write a great American novel, live, live, live...

This is one of many thoughts that might go through your mind as you go through the grief process, a process that can last a lifetime. You are always continuing to heal and one of the things that is so helpful is to live your life as your child would have wanted you to do. Everyone must do what is best for them in whatever time they need. As time goes on, that grief gets what I call, 'softer.' It will never go away, there will always be a hole in your heart, but you will know when it is time to move on with your life. I have chosen to move on with a great desire to live as long as possible and see everything there is to see and everything there is to do. And I always keeping my precious daughter Marcy in my thoughts every step of the way.

Sunday, September 2, 2007

What to do with child's possessions

When your child dies, you must eventually make decisions about your child's possessions and what to do with them. Certain items you will always keep...that cute drawing a 3-year-old made of what he perceives as his house...that first hand print...that certificate the child gave you saying you are 'the greatest mother in the world.' Those are items you will treasure forever. Other items you have to make decisions about: the clothing, the jewelry, the trophies and awards.

Should you keep everything? Should you give everything away? Some parents gain much comfort during the grief process from seeing, touching and wearing their child's items. Others find it too painful. Do what feels right for you WHEN you wish to do it. Don't let family or friends tell you what or when to do it. It is important not to dispose of items too quickly as later you may regret it.

I kept most of my daughter's jewelry because I like to wear it. It makes me feel so close to her and she had such wonderful taste in jewelry. A few earings I wanted some of her friends to have and asked them to choose what they wanted. I did the same with her clothes, keeping some, giving some to her friends who were her same size, and giving the rest to Goodwill. Wearing the clothing is also comforting, although her perfume smell has long since disappeared. A leather jacket she bought in Italy and a sweater jacket I wear in chilly weather to this day still bring compliments for their designs. As I wear them out a little, I can only hope that they will continue to last for quite a while to come.

I only have one blouse left and thought I would make it into a carrie bear. Carrie Pike at takes clothing and will make bears out of it and even put pictures on the front of the bears. I packaged up the last blouse and was just about to mail it. Then a strange thing happened. I couldn't let it out of my hands. "The last blouse," I kept saying. "I can't. I can't." In the end I couldn't mail the blouse, took it out and hung it back up. Maybe one day I'll be ready. But then again... maybe not. Surviving grief certainly has its ups and downs.

There is no correct timing for doing something with your child's belongings. You'll know when you are ready for a change. One important thing to remember is to store items you want to keep in a place with a good temperature, so they don't get ruined. If there is anything you want to display, there are a myriad of ways you can do it...trophy cases, display cases or a memory box. Or you may just want to keep it in your closet to take out from time to time as you remember.

The most important thing to remember is that putting your loved ones things away does not mean putting them out of your life. Your child will always remain a part of you.

Uniqueness of child loss

In my book I have three stories I find unique. All three stories deal with the deaths of two children and how each family had different outcomes as to how they dealt with their loss. Let me explain what I mean.

Bridie and Paul lost two sons, one in a car accident, the other in a plane accident. The story tells about their sons and the grief process they went through where they learned that husbands and wives grieve differently. Their choice was to not have any other children and they now lead rich, full lives and have done much to help bereaved parents by helping professionals understand us.

Joe and Wanda lost two children, a boy and a girl, when a car driven by a 17-year-old smashed into theirs. Because of the great love they believed they still had in them, they adopted a Korean child and are bringing him up. He is the love of their lives and their choice was to have someone to give all that love to. This child is being brought up to understand, love and respect the memory of the two children who died.

Pat and Wayne lost two children, a boy and a girl, in a horrific motorcycle/car accident. Their choice was to have two more children and they believe every couple has to decide for themselves what is right for them. They explain that these two chidren 'do not' and 'never could' replace the first two who died, and they are talked about in this new family all the time. The new children enjoy doing memorials during the year for their lost sister and brother, understand the situation and accept it.

So here are three couples who made three completely different choices as to how to survive their grief and move on with their lives. The three stories, of course, go into greater detail about what happened to both the children and to the husbands and wives. What is important here is that everyone grieves differently and all have different ways of dealing with it. We will never know the happiness we once knew. But it does become, in time, a different joy, filled with compassion, courage and conviction that life is worth living and a desire to help others as many of these parents I write about have done.

Trust your own timetable for healing, feel whatever you need or want to feel and you will grow in the process. And hopefully, you too, will reach new heights you never dreamed were possible.