Sunday, December 28, 2008
I will try to use my inner resources to cope with my loss, whether it be alone or with another loved one helping me. In the process I will remember that this is a long journey and not to worry that in my upward journey, I may fall but will have the strength to get up again and continue on.
I will take care of myself and my body with exercise, sleep and eating right, because if I do not, my body will revolt. I must save my energy and use it wisely.
I will not create an artificial front of pretending because of my loss but express my feelings as I work through my child’s death to the best of my ability.
I will remember that I did the very best parenting for my child and that my child knew it and loved me as much as I loved him.
I will use external resources when I feel hopeless or in need of help and not feel ashamed about it.
I will not expect everyone to understand and will try to be patient with those who don’t.
I will try to be happy about something at some time during every day so that eventually it will come naturally.
I will reach out and try to help someone else in pain, knowing it will also help me.
I will talk about my child always whether others feel uncomfortable or not. My child was the most important person in my life and I do not want him or her to be forgotten.
I will fight my way back to a meaningful life once again. That is what my child would have wanted for me.
Sunday, December 21, 2008
As I look up to the sky,
during this holiday week,
a bright star shines down.
I feel it is you smiling at me,
telling me it is okay for me to laugh,
it is okay for me to be happy again.
I'm trying, I tell you.
It is not an easy road to travel
when you have lost the most
important thing in your life.
But my heart is full with love
from a wonderful man and many friends.
And, of course, I feel your love surround me
on this chilly December day.
It warms my heart and my body as always.
I keep busy and try to make a difference
in this world by helping others.
I do it for you, in your memory,
and I find it is a wonderful feeling.
I know you used to do it also,
you used to help close friends
and even strangers.
I look around me and see young people
enjoying the outdoors, running, playing,
wishing for a good snowfall.
I hear their laughter and their good wishes
for this holiday season.
I know there is hope for a better
world when I look into their eyes.
I wish I could share everything I say
and do with you, as I used to.
I miss you so much,
my beautiful daughter.
I think of you every minute of every
day and always will.
I want you to know, though,
that I always was a survivor
and will continue to be one
both for you and for me.
I love you, always and forever.
Sunday, December 14, 2008
“Each night as darkness settles over our home, a little candle begins flickering in the east window of our staircase landing. The tiny light burns until dawn and then silently is quenched with the rising sun. This is my son’s light. About a year after Todd died, a suggestion was made to me to place a candle in the window for the holidays, as I had no inclination to decorate.
I placed a candle there, and I have now replaced that candle with yet another candle. This is Todd’s candle…this is Todd’s light.
Todd’s candle has a Victorian appearance and will burn steady or flicker. When the darkness comes forth, Todd’s candle begins its nightly vigil…a vigil that will not end until I am dead.
Although this is a small gesture, it has deep meaning for me. Sometimes I awaken in the middle of the night and walk into the atrium at the foot of the steps by the light of Todd’s candle. I’ll grab a glass of water and watch the candle flicker. Other times in the early evening, when only a reading lamp is lit in the living room, I will look into the atrium. Todd’s light shines. I feel as if he is with me somehow, in the light of this little candle. I think about him, his life, his joys, his sorrows, his immense capacity to love and to laugh. I feel a deep closeness to my son that cannot be explained to anyone but those who have lost a child. I understand that there is much peace and solace in keeping my child in my heart and life and in establishing my own private rituals of remembrance.
Leaving a candle in the window has been an American tradition since the Colonial Era. The candle symbolizes the warmth and security of the family home and its message is loyalty to a family member who is not present. So, it is fitting that Todd’s candle shines each night…reminding all that he is absent from our home, but not from our hearts.
Each of us has a ritual of remembrance of our child. Some of us have consciously established this. Others have unconsciously done so. But there is a ritual that brings our child close to us, only to us. Our rituals are a very personal choice. I chose not to share my ritual for 2 ½ years. Then one day a child who lives across the street asked me about the candle. I told her that it is my son’s candle. She asked if he was in Iraq. “No, I said, he’s in heaven.”
A momentary look of fright passed over her face, and then she smiled. “I thought you had kids. You act like a mom.” Her innocent comment about me “acting like a mom” once again reinforced the fact that we will always be parents. Those of us who have children who have died will always be parents to those children. That role has shaped who we are, and intensified it more with the death of our precious child.
This is one element of losing a child that escapes the general population. If you have not lost a child, you don’t understand, you can’t understand the feelings and emotions that run so deeply in our psyches and our souls…We know what pure and overwhelming grief really is.
When I gaze at Todd’s candle now, I remember his life, the security he felt within these walls, the growing up years, the love, loyalty and emotional stability he experienced as a child which enabled him to become a man of courage, self confidence and gentleness in the face of life’s worst and best.
Todd’s candle is one way to tell him that I love him as only a mother can love…unconditionally and forever. And I will always remember. I will always be Todd’s mom.
I have found that being a parent is a lifetime journey…even when our children are not with us on life’s road. As parents we define ourselves as interwoven with the fabric of our children’s lives. We always remember.”
by Annette Mennen Baldwin from Katy, Texas
Sunday, December 7, 2008
A week from today, Sunday December 14, at 7 p.m. will be the 12th Annual Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting as a tribute to a child who has died, as each time zone lights its candles. The scene is repeated thousands of times around the world and has captured the eye of the world like no other event of its type.
Patricia Loder, executive director of Compassionate Friends, says that this event shows that people from around the world can gather in peace and unity to remember all of the precious children who have died. This is TCF’s gift to the bereavement world and Pat says they are so happy that it has received such universal acceptance.
Visit the Worldwide Candle lighting page on TCF’s national website where there is a brochure with helpful suggestions on how to plan one of these services if none is held in your area. The national office can also be called toll free at 877-969-0010 for information for suggestions or where a service is being held in your area. If you are unable or do not wish to attend a formal service, you are asked simply to light a candle in your home with friends or family. In addition, you may leave a heartfelt message on TCF’s online Remembrance Book opened only on that day.
Last year I attended one of the Children’s Memorial Day Services at a local mortuary. Each year more and more parents attend as they become aware of its existence.
I remember it looked like almost 1,000 people attended on that cold December night in 2007. A variety of people read poems, favorite sayings and said prayers. We all got to file past the Angel of Hope as music played, and we were given white flowers to place at its base. As we made our way back to our seats, we each received a candle, which we lit. We were also given a very soft, cuddly teddy bear to hold on to (and keep) as the names of each child were read who were either buried in that cemetery or who had bought a plaque near the Angel honoring their child.
I could hear sniffling, sobbing and soft talking all around me. As I looked around, I could also see the anguish on the stunned faces of the parents who, in their wildest imagination, never dreamed they would be sitting here with the rest of us. Parents were of all ethnic, cultural and religious affiliations. We were one in that hour that we honored and remembered our children so they will never be forgotten.
Many allied organization joined in the remembrance such as POMC, MISS, MADD and BPUSA. In addition to funeral homes, churches, hospice and local bereavement groups, as well as informal groups meeting in many communities, participation was high.
This ceremony is a powerful message to the world. Wouldn’t it be even more powerful if we could get everyone once a year on this special day to light a candle for all children who have died? I hope that this year you will be able to participate in some way on this memorable day.
Sunday, November 30, 2008
TAKE CHARGE OF HOLIDAY PLANS. Map out how to spend the holidays, whether it is with family, friends, a little of both, or with strangers on a trip. There is no way to escape grief and all the reminders of the holidays, such as songs played on the radio, the sounds of laughter, or the smell of a turkey or ham cooking. But one needs to relieve the anxiety that comes this time of year. Spending the holidays where you feel nurtured, emotionally safe and comfortable is a good idea.
CHANGING TRADITIONS. Sometimes a new location, a different project for the holidays will make the season more bearable. Some traditions may be a comfort, while others might cause pain. For example, you may want to set up your Christmas tree with memories of your child on it in pictures, while you may not want to invite relatives over for Christmas dinner and listen to all the stories of other children’s activities. Consider which traditions to keep and which to let go of this year. Don’t feel like you have to do something because you have always done it.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE; SHARE YOUR HOLIDAY WITH OTHERS. This can be with others you don’t know. There are many people who are alone during the holidays and would love to get a visit. Check with hospitals and perhaps volunteer your services for a local charity or in a soup kitchen during this time of year. Donating not only time but also money to your favorite charity allows us to feel like we are contributing to a greater good. Helping others who are also grieving also takes the focus off ourselves and our pain.
USE A SUPPORT SYSTEM. Having someone to talk to and share your feelings with is a excellent way to get through the holidays. Not only do you need friends and relatives during times of grief but there are also a great variety of support groups everywhere. Call hospitals, churches, hospice, community centers, Compassionate Friends or Bereaved Parents USA to find a group that suites you. Meeting others in the same situation as you can develop understanding and friendships that may last a lifetime. No one else understands like another bereaved person.
TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF. It is often difficult for those who have experienced a loss to sleep, eat, exercise, rest and remember to drink lots of water. It is important to do all of these in order to function on a day to day basis. If you feel you can’t handle all this, there is nothing wrong with talking to and seeking help from a medical provider.
YOU WILL SURVIVE THE HOLIDAYS AND BEYOND. Above all, remember that you are a survivor and will make it through the holidays and continue with your life and the things that matter most to you. This time of year is probably the most difficult during your grief journey, but you can and will get through it. The best gift you can give anyone you love, even someone you have lost, is being true to yourself and living your life to the fullest.
Sunday, November 23, 2008
I had been married four months, was attending college that day, and went up to my sorority in the dorm on campus for lunch. Everyone was glued to the television, and I asked why. The news was then relayed to me that Kennedy had just been shot in a Dallas motorcade and the world was waiting for news of his condition. Then the announcement by newscaster Walter Chronkite as he took of his glasses and solemnly told us the president was dead. The shock, the tears, the uncertainty of what would happen echoed around the world for a much beloved person. It was not the first assassination of a president, nor the last attempt on a future one, Ronald Reagan.
Camelot is what they used to call the Kennedy reign. We all reveled in it, wishing our lives were as perfect as theirs seemed for a time. But their Camelot turned out to be devastating as one of the Kennedy’s children died a few days after birth from illness, John was assassinated, Jacque died from cancer, and finally, John Jr. died in a plane crash with his fiance. Caroline is the only surviving member of that Kennedy family.
My mind then switches to the day my daughter died, the same shock, the same tears, the uncontrollable grief, the unbelievable reality that it had become personal for me. It is a day I will never forget either. I moved around in numbness because, of course, the accident did not seem real. Nothing would happen to my beautiful daughter, I thought. She was safe in the loving arms of her husband. For many, many months I was sure my daughter would knock on the door and surprised me with a visit as she had done many times before. It was a long time before I truly believed that I would never see her again.
This is true for many bereaved parents. It is inconceivable to most of us who have lost a child that the child is really gone. We keep things as they are for some time or forever: the clothes and any items identifying our child. We hope someone will tell us it was all a cruel joke. And when reality eventually sets in, it is almost like a second period of mourning.
It is then I realize I can also focus on all the good moments with my daughter: a first birthday party, her first steps, her first school day, her first award in school for writing or being on the debate team, her first car at 16, a special vacation we took together, her wedding day, all these things and more. Then my heart bursts with love and pleasure and happiness that I was able to share all these things with her. I know I will never forget them. I try to share them with others who care and remember her also.
For those of you who have family and friends to share Thanksgiving with this week, I wish you all peace, happiness and only good memories of loved ones who are no longer here but will always remain in our hearts and minds.
Sunday, November 16, 2008
The day of conferences across the U.S. connects survivors of suicide loss (parents, siblings, grandparents, friends), and if survivors don’t live near a conference site to attend in person, the 90-minute broadcast will also be available on the AFSP website (www.afsp.org) from 1-2:30 p.m. EST with a live online chat immediately following the program. Many local conference sites are planning their own programs around the broadcast, including panels and breakout groups, all aimed at helping survivors heal. Go to the site for additional information and locations of participating cities.
The broadcast features a panel of experienced survivors and mental health professionals and offers emotional support and information about resources for healing after the loss of a loved one to suicide.
AFSP’s National Survivors of Suicide Day is part of a growing movement toward education the public about suicide and its aftermath. The hope is that participation in the conference will further this movement, encouraging survivors throughout the country and the globe to share their experiences and join together in the healing process.
According to AFSP, more than 32,000 people in the United States die by suicide each year. More than 90 percent have an underlying, although not always diagnosed, psychiatric illness at the time of their death. Despite this, survivors often feel the suicide of their loved one is somehow shameful or that they or their family are somehow to blame. Questions of “why” and “what could I have done” can further the feelings of guilt and anger.
Also complicating grief are the stigma and misconceptions that plague suicide. Whether real or perceived, this stigma can leave many survivors feeling shunned by friends, the community or even family members. Survivors feel alone, abandoned or afraid to reach out for help. Connecting with others who have gone through a similar loss is beneficial.
If there is not a conference site in your area and you are interested in organizing one for Nov. 22, email firstname.lastname@example.org .
Sunday, November 9, 2008
In order to do that, I had to have a new purpose in my life. Whether it was a cause, helping others or just finding new interests, my life took on new meaning eventually, and as I look back now, 14 years later, I know I have my daughter to thank for all that has happened to me: a book on surviving grief, writing for different publications, speaking to bereavement groups, helping to start a group for parents who have lost their only child or all their children, traveling and helping others plan trips, and just relaxing by playing bridge, socializing with friends and being able to do things with my wonderful husband. Marcy gave me the strength to continue, and I happily do it in her memory.
It didn’t happen overnight. The grief journey is a long process that is never-ending. You never “recover” from the loss of a child, and mourning is a process. You go through the stages of grief: shock, denial, anger, bargaining, depression, testing and acceptance. Each stage is personal and can last a long time or a short time. Once you go through one stage doesn’t necessarily mean you are done with that stage. You may need to revisit it, but that should not cause you concern. The important thing is that you are not in a static condition and getting stuck in any of these stages, therefore denying yourself the opportunity to move on.
If you feel you need professional help (not because your feelings are wrong, but because the burden of carrying them alone is too great), don’t be afraid to seek that help. We all need to feel that someone can understand our feelings and what we are going through. Don’t analyze or try to explain your feelings away, but just lead them along into the valley and out again.
I am very busy and like it that way. Even though my mind is always occupied, I always save room for Marcy thoughts, particularly if I am doing something that I am sure she would also enjoy. Do I still have my moments after so long? Of course I do. Just hearing a song she liked…tasting her favorite food...seeing a mother hug her child…a beautiful sunset…a special anniversary…there are still times I can’t believe this has happened and that Marcy is no longer here. I think of all she is missing. I think of all I am missing. I think of those who love her as much as I, and there are many. I know they, too, will never forget her, and that is so very comforting.
I understand that those not far along in their grief journey think they will never be all right again. I believe if you get involved in a grief group, read as much as possible about the grief process, attend bereavement conferences and, most importantly, meet others who have been there and can guide you down that long road, you will eventually come out on the other side of grief.
Sunday, November 2, 2008
It is a book that is simple in its words, understandable in it's grief and acutely moving as it shows you Mary Baxter, the main character, unraveling in the year following the loss of her daughter. I found myself unable to put the book down. It was not only because of the story plot, which moved relentlessly along, but also because I could identify with her feelings, her emotions and her actions as she plotted along day after day, keeping to herself mostly.
Anyone who has lost a child for any reason will be able to identify in some part with this book and what Mary goes through that first year as well as those who have had other types of loses. I say 'identify in some part' because there was a point where I wanted to yell at Mary, "All right, enough is enough, get out of bed, try to help yourself, try to move on." That is where the book dragged a little, but what kept it going for me were the stories Mary hears from the other women in her knitting circle as they all eventually open up to her while teaching her new knitting techniques.
The knitting circle becomes Mary's grief group as each person in the group reveals their darkest secrets. Knitting is the tie that binds these women together and helps them move towards healing their deepest scars.
They say that when you help someone else, you end up helping yourself. This is what I believe happens to Mary in the book and it is the reason to keep reading. As Mary drags herself to the knitting sessions, she learns of the other women's tragedies, albeit different but no less horrible than her own. One can see the comparison of the unraveling of the stories to the unrolling of a bulk of yarn that is to be knitted.
You are always routing for her. I'd say to Mary as I read, "Come on, Mary, do something about your situation. I felt many of the same feelings you are feeling, but perhaps I was lucky. I was able to accept what happened, not happily you understand, but with the knowledge that sometimes life tests you to see how strong you are. And sometimes you pass the test while other times it is too hard for you." I rooted for Mary to find her way, to realize the importance of telling her own story to others as part of her healing process and to realize the knitting circle would change her life.
Without revealing the end of the book, just know that this is a good read and one that will keep you engrossed the entire time. Perhaps we should all learn to knit as a way to calm our nerves, our heart and our lives.
Sunday, October 26, 2008
Each year I think what her life would have been like now. She would have had children to love and share with her husband; she probably would have had a career in the advertising or public relations field. Or perhaps she would have preferred staying home and just be a mother. They would have traveled eventually, seen the world, learned from the experiences and been better people for it. Perhaps my grandchildren would have done something special in this world and for this world. I dream of all that and then I see how what has happened has changed me forever. In some ways, it has made me a better person.
“You are a very special person,” a friend says to me. “You made the best of what has happened to you. I couldn’t have done it.” (Of course you could have, I think to myself.)
“I don’t know how you lived through it,” says one mother to me. “What choice did I have at the time,” I say to her. “You just do.”
“Does time really heal your wounds, your heart?” asks another mother. “Do you ever get over it? “No,” I answer. You never fully heal; you never get over it; you never forget.
But you do change. As time moves forward, we can all move forward. We can do what is best for us. It may not be what we originally thought we would do, but it can still be meaningful. People have come into my life and become part of it in ways I never imagined. I thought I would always teach; I retired three years after my daughter died, but in a way, I am still teaching, teaching others how to survive a child’s death, teaching others about the grief journey. And strangely enough, as much as it may help them, it still helps me too. I continue to learn from others. I continue to grow. It is a sign I am healing…slowly and continually.
I think Bob Baugher, psychology instructor at Highline Community, said it best in an article he wrote for a bereavement magazine: My precious child…I am because of you. Your child is your child because of you. And you are the person you are today because of your child; not because of your child’s death, but because of your child’s life. He lived. She lived. You live… and who would you have been without this wonderful human being, who came into your life and changed it forever.
Those who have lost a child ask me, “What magic thing will happen to me that will make me feel better?” There is no magic. There is only time and meeting others in your same situation. Talk to them. Listen to them. Find out what they have done, how they have coped and in turn, it will help you cope.
Sunday, October 19, 2008
Believe me when I say that this is definitely not what I thought my life would be like. My daughter was my life, but now that she is gone, I have found the path that most suits me. It was not an easy path, but deep down, I knew that my life would be dedicated to those grieving, who like me, need some direction with surviving. “What do I do with my life now that this has happened to me and everything has changed?” That is the question I asked myself when I came up with the idea of my book and finding out what others did and how they moved on with their lives. Finding something good out of tragedy is not an easy task. But my goal has always been, if I can help one person, I’ve succeeded. And if my book has helped anyone, then it was worth writing.
This new sight, Open to Hope, grew out of Gloria and Heidi’s broadcast show on “Healing the Grieving Heart” which can be heard every Thursday morning on www.health.voiceamerica.com . Open to Hope is a wealth of information for all kinds of grief, not only a child’s death. One can find information on death of a spouse, cancer, AIDS, having faith, counseling, hospice, organ donation, suicide, teen grief, and grief and how it relates to marriages, depression and all facets of life. They also hope to find moderators for their interactive help groups.
All of the articles are written by experts in the field in addition to those who have been there and are well-known. They share stories and offer assistance to others. The contributing authors and others will also answer questions you may have. The site is still being worked on and improved day by day, but the important thing is that it is there now for others.
Just a few examples of personal stories now appearing include: “Bereaved Mother Feels Like She Can’t Go On,” “When a Miscarriage Occurs After Fertility Treatments,” “Military Losses Often Complicated by War Coverage” and “The Poetry of Death: Can It Comfort Us?”
I was asked to be part of the “Death of a Child” section and will be writing a variety of articles on coping, personal stories and information material. Some of my blogs may also appear on the site. Take a look at the site, and see if you don’t agree that this site has great potential for helping others.
Sunday, October 12, 2008
**Acknowledge my grief; don’t ignore me because you are uncomfortable with the subject of death. It makes me wonder if what happened means nothing to you.
**Don’t try to understand the depth of my pain. Just put a loving hand on my shoulder or hug me without saying anything. Sometimes silence is more comforting than words.
**Be aware that anniversaries of my child’s birth and death may be particularly difficult. Perhaps if you could call or invite me out, it might help a little. At least acknowledge you also remember those important dates.
**Don’t call with the excuse that you’ve been too busy to call. Am I or my child that unimportant to you that you couldn’t spare five extra minutes? I believe people make time for everything they think is important, and I appreciate those who just call and chat.
**Just because I have surviving children doesn’t mean the pain of losing a child is any easier. The excruciating pain will always be there, whether an only child or one of many.
**Don’t forget that in most cases, there are two of us who have lost a child. Express your sympathy to both of us, not just me. My husband hurts just as badly as I do, and his pain is as real as mine.
**If I have surviving children, ask them how they are doing and encourage them to talk about their feelings also. Losing a sibling is just as devastating to them.
**If I act rude or uncaring at times, forgive me. The intense pain I feel is overriding any other emotions right then, and I truly don’t mean to act that way.
**If you invite me out, expect me to talk about my child. I have had the most unbearable loss of all happen and sometimes getting those feelings out helps. Don’t worry about not knowing what to say. Just be there to listen.
**Leave your religious beliefs at home. I will cope with the religious aspect of my grief in my own way. What you believe may be much different from what I believe, so don’t try to tell me sayings like, “It was God’s will.”
I believe if others can just do these 10 things for us, our grief journey will become easier. I often think of this quote by Henri Nouwen when I acknowledge who is a real friend. “When we honestly ask ourselves which persons in our lives mean the most to us, we often find it is those who, instead of giving advice, cures or solutions, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair and confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not healing, and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.”
Sunday, October 5, 2008
For those living in the Phoenix/Scottsdale, AZ area or anywhere close by, Sunni Welles, a renowned international medium from Sedona, AZ, and Christine Duminiak, a certified grief recovery specialist and facilitator of spiritual bereavement healing will be holding a seminar October 18 from 10 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. for those interested in specific readings, learning grief healing methods, ways loved ones contact us from heaven, how to get afterlife contacts and healing meditation with loved ones. The day-long seminar will be held at the Scottsdale Thunderbird Suites, 7515 E. Butherus Dr. in Scottsdale. There is an optional lunch buffet that needs to be booked by October 13. Go online to www.christineduminiak.com/events or call 1-866-697-6561 for more information on not only this seminar, but also other ones they do across the U.S.
A 2-day workshop to explore feelings about difficult grief issues, the signs you receive from your children and what your role in life is now will be given by Jane Bissler, grief counselor; Deneene Florina, hospice spiritual care and bereavement counselor; and Sara Ruble, founder of Angel of Hope in Ohio and bereaved mother. Upcoming seminars are Oct. 11-12 in Kent, OH; Nov. 8-9 in Oakbrook, Il; and Nov. 15-16 in Rutland, VT. You can register for any of the 2-day workshop by going to www.spiritualityworkshops.com or contacting Sara at 330-221-4784. These ladies do these workshops all over the U.S. and can tailor make them in any city. Those who benefit the most from these workshops are (1) those grieving significant losses, (2) those experiencing major life changes, and (3) professionals who seek a better understanding of grief.
For those who would like to hear experts discuss the many aspects of grief, with a main focus on the death of a child and its effects on the family, “Healing the Grieving Heart” can be heard on the web live at www.heath.voiceamerica.com every Thursday at noon EST. Rebroadcasts are at 11 a.m. EST Sundays on a number of radio stations across the country and streamed online simultaneously at www.healthradionetwork.com . Hosts of the show are Dr. Gloria Horsley, bereaved parent with 23 years in family therapy; and Dr. Heidi Horsley, bereaved sibling and professor at Columbia University’s School of Social Work. Upcoming shows include: Oct. 9: Recovering from a Traumatic Event; Oct. 16: From Trauma to Social Advocacy; Oct. 23: End of life issues; Oct. 30: Miscarriage and Infant Loss.
In other news, the 12th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting will be held on Sunday, December 14, 2008. This event commemorates all deceased children throughout the world. While this event is still two months away, if any group will be holding a service that is open to the public, Compassionate Friends would like to know about it, and they will print it on their website: www.compassionatefriends.org .
Sunday, September 28, 2008
A few tips follow. First, acknowledge the loss and how shocked and dismayed you were to hear about the child dying. Then express your sympathy and let the grieving person know how much you care or perhaps you can relate to the anguish of their loss if you, too, have been there. Talk about the child and some personality traits, qualities or an anecdote that evoked a smile, a laugh and a fond memory. Perhaps that child influenced your life in some way or did something with you you’ll never forget. Offer to help with the little things the parents find difficult at the beginning, like shopping, running errands, answering the phone and taking care of the other children. Finally, close with a caring thought, like “My thoughts are with you at this time,” “You are in my thoughts and prayers” or “We share in your grief and send you our love.”
I have had to write many of these letters over the years and can sometimes be at a loss for what to say. No two children are alike; no two deaths are alike. But the words do come, sometimes spilling out as my heart goes out to these parents. I feel good when I am done and send the note. I always have to hope, though, that these parents understand my words and wishes and that I have not waited too long or written it too soon. Bereaved parents also have to understand that a condolence letter to them is done out of caring and love and should be accepted as one way for others to express how much the child also meant to them.
On a personal note, I received and cherished many beautiful letters when Marcy died and even learned a lot about my daughter through these condolence thoughts that I never knew before. I was told about how much Marcy cared for others, how she always went out of her way to help others, what a good friend she was and how much she was loved by her friends and family. I have kept them all. I could actually say these letters changed my life. They gave me the impetus for putting together a small booklet of these letters to give to people who I knew would appreciate receiving them. Their gracious comments led me on a long road to finally write my book, including thoughts and some of those letters in the book and wanting to share additional stories of hope from others across the U.S.
This was not my plan. My plan was to be a part of my daughter’s new married life, see her accomplish her career goals, be a part of the family she would have, be a grandmother. But that was not to be. One never knows where life may lead you, but in doing what comes from the heart, only good can come of it. My plan is now to help others as best I can and live my life to the fullest, always keeping Marcy close to me, in my heart and in everything I do. And if writing a condolence letter can help a grieving parent in some way to know their child’s life was important to others like me, then I have accomplished something very meaningful for myself and the bereaved parent.
Sunday, September 21, 2008
I took a color (or you can use black and white) picture of my daughter to a Penny’s store jewelry department (other stores may do it also), chose a gold oval pendant (I liked the oval best but there are also round, square and heart-shaped ones), and then the store sends it to a company that embosses the picture directly onto the pendant. It takes approximately six weeks. I don’t know the process, but the results are beautiful. It is something I always wear to keep my daughter close to my heart. People do notice and comment on how nice it looks. Those who don’t know me ask who it is; others ask, “Is it you?” I smile. I guess Marcy did look a little like me. I then have a chance to talk about her to others.
When I hear about a child dying, whether I knew that child or not, I have on occasion sent letters or cards to those grieving parents. I start by saying that I’m sorry for their loss. I tell them my story as a qualifier for writing to them and it gives me one more opportunity to talk about Marcy. I give them suggestions of what organizations they can contact or grief groups they can join to help them through the difficult times. I tell them surviving grief is a lifelong process, one they will have to go through, but eventually, they will move forward with their lives and find joy again. I feel good writing these parents and find it helps me in my journey also.
I have put together a photo/music presentation of my daughter from her birth picture through her last days. I tried to choose ones where her personality clearly showed through. The instrumental music chosen was upbeat and light. I have it on my computer and can go to it whenever I feel her presence and need more of her. I also have a DVD copy of the pictures to show friends who knew her and even those who didn’t know her. I also find that because I do talk about her, it is important for my special friends to see and hear her on tape. Fortunately, a friend of hers, a videographer, put together for me a 15 minutes tape of her life as he knew her in her adult years. She radiates throughout the tape as a fun-loving, beautiful soul. There is never a dry eye in the room of people watching it.
Along the same lines, I happened to have saved all Marcy’s school photos and took a large frame, dividing it into 16 wallet size spaces and placed a picture from birth to 16 years in it. Not only is it a wonderful conversation piece when I am showing people around my home, but it is also a wonderful representation of how much a child changes in 16 years!
When I speak at national bereavement conferences, I can tell Marcy stories and feel comfortable knowing I am in a safe environment where parents want to hear other’s stories because only ‘they’ truly understand. I speak at university grief classes held during the year (more about that later in another blog), at local bereavement groups, and at organizations that want to know more about how to relate to bereaved parents.
When I have to give a birthday or anniversary gift to a friend (particularly one who has everything imaginable) or I go to a luncheon and need a gift, I donate money to my favorite charity, the endowment fund I recently set up in Marcy’s memory! In that way, people learn about the fund and about Marcy. I have given them something worthwhile to think about donating to, since it is for students who need monetary help to pursue their careers in communications or theater. This fund will be around long after I am gone, and I hope others will continue to support it.
In each case I come away with a good feeling that on any particular day I am able to share my Marcy with the world.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
My book had been out for about 5 months at the time, and I was doing some book tours around the U.S. I enjoyed speaking to groups at bookstores and to bereavement groups on surviving grief in addition to meeting all the parents I was to eventually see again many years later when speaking at national bereavement conferences. This specific book tour took me to New Jersey bookstores and support groups in the area. I was to be there 3-4 days. As it turned out I was there 10 days before I could get a plane to return home. I met many people who had lost love ones or friends at the World Trade Center while I was doing my book tour.
Because of a mechanical problem with the aircraft I was on to Newark, instead of landing at 9 p.m. on September 10, 2001, I landed on September 11 at 3 a.m. and went directly to the Days Inn at the airport for the night. The next morning I was to appear on a daily TV news show and talk about my book. Well, needless to say, that didn’t happen for another 6 months, when I returned to New Jersey for another tour with my book.
I woke up to the total destruction of the World Trade Center and for days from across the river, could see the smoke-filled air for 50 miles wide, causing coughing and breathing problem for many. My book signings went on as scheduled, with few people showing up. Most were glued to their TV sets or mourning those who lost their lives. I kept thinking…how could my book be more timely then at this moment. I had just written about surviving grief and the families of these thousands of people were just starting their grief journey. If I could help just one person with my book, it would be comforting to me personally.
Of those who did come to the book signings or bereavement group meetings, one woman had a friend whose son had still not been heard from 5 days later. The mother still hoped. Another had just spoken to her cousin whose son had been pulled out of the building alive. Still another lost her husband when his fire unit went into the building to help survivors. Many from his unit had also perished. Being at a bereavement group meeting was comforting for these people. There were so many stories, so many people, so much sadness.
Even though my daughter had been dead for seven years by then, I knew what these people were feeling. I understood their tears, their heartache, their overwhelming sense of loss. It would be a long time before they could get on with their lives, but I knew they eventually would. What choice did they have? That week was a moment in time that to this day, I still remember and think about as the start of my own personal journey with my book that opened up a whole new world to me.
As a side note: a few months after returning home I was called and questioned by the FBI. Coincidence can play a large part in our lives. I was asked if I had seen anything out of the ordinary in the hotel late that night or early morning of September 11. “No, I hadn’t,” I said. As it turned out, I was told that some of the hijackers who flew the planes that fateful morning were in that same hotel and sleeping on the 5th floor right next door to me.
Sunday, September 7, 2008
I remember she died the year she was planning a big surprise birthday party for my 50th. I was told after the accident. I know it would have been great. She was a great planner in all she did. And everything always had to be perfect in what she would do. Very much like her mother, a perfectionist.
She did give me one surprise birthday party when I was 36 years old, planning and executing it all herself. She was barely a teenager at the time. I remember having to act very surprised when I walked into the house, since one of my friends let it slip out accidentally. The house was decorated beautifully with balloons and birthday paraphernalia. She had baked her own cake, and of course, made sure everyone brought a card and little gift. I remember being surprised at the time that she knew exactly who to ask to the small party and how to make sure I was out of the house for the preparations. Even at that young age, she knew what to do.
Now, many years later, I still think of all the very cute cards she sent me each year. Most of them were very funny and clever. If she lived away from home, I always got a call. She also always made sure her dad bought me something. He used to laugh at how persistent she was that it had to be a special, thoughtful gift. She didn’t always succeed, since his thoughts always ran towards kitchenware items. (I didn’t have that much time to cook since I was teaching full time, so kitchenware was not my favorite. Maybe it was a hint!) She, in turn, always bought her own gift for me; she didn’t always like what her dad chose.
And if her dad wanted to give me a gift a few days early, it was absolutely forbidden by Marcy. “No,” she used to tell him. “The gift must be given on the exact date to be meaningful.”
I smile when I think of her legacy to me. I always make sure any gifts I give are done properly on the exact date. I try to choose a gift I know the person needs or wants, and I never, never buy kitchenware items!
Thanks, Marcy. You will always be by my side guiding me as I hope I always was for you. I know that somewhere up there you are still wishing me a happy birthday as I do every year for you. I miss you terribly, think of you every day and will continue to do so for the rest of my life.
Sunday, August 31, 2008
“This is a message of hope…a message that you will heal with time. Well, heal somewhat. I don’t think we ever truly “heal.” We never get over the death of our child, especially an only child as in my case.
Time helps. Your child still lives in your heart, in your memory. With time, you start living another life, a different life…a life not as a parent but a life as a spouse, as a family member, as a friend, and as a career person.
The possibilities are so wide…you can sponsor charities in the name of your child and have his/her memory relived through other people’s lives. You can give of your own person to assist people in distress. After what happened to us, we understand hardship, and we feel compassion. We are capable of reaching out.
There is no use dwelling forever upon one’s grief. We have to live with the living. My daughter, Valerie, was 16 when she died. She has now been dead longer than she lived. To this day I still miss her dearly and think of her every day, several times a day. But in the course of those twenty years, I have volunteered for several charities: the UNICEF shop, the Florence Nightingale Foundation, and programs that take care of the elderly. I also became the godmother of several children in third world countries. How rewarding to be able to help those young people to get a decent start in life.
Sometimes I have the feeling that Valerie is helping me in my everyday life. And, of course, there is always the supreme reward: the hope of seeing my child again in the afterlife. What a soothing, enlightening perspective. Be positive. It helps.”
As a footnote to my friend's message, she sponsored this 4-year-old girl in Chile with letters and money and helped her finance her nursing schooling. She is now 22-years-old, a registered nurse and works for the Armada de Chile, Chilean Navy. Francine also had the pleasure of visiting and meeting her five years ago. She is so proud of this child's great success story. Other children Francine has sponsored were from the Philippines, Guatemala and India. The cost of supporting a child is only $30 a month through the CFCA at email@example.com .
I invite anyone who would like to share their perspective with others on the ways they have survived grief, to email me, and I will try to include your voice in upcoming weeks.
Sunday, August 24, 2008
Susan’s baby was born with multiple physical birth defects and was in and out of the hospital many times during the first 8 months of her life before she died. Doctors insisted that when she got a little older they could operate on her and she’d be fine. But little was known in those days about many of her defects and doctors assumed wrongly that she would be okay.
Susan spent as much time as possible with the baby. Things just got worse and Susan knew. She went to a spiritual counselor to talk about this feeling she had that her baby wouldn’t make it. The counselor went into a trance, told her the baby would not live long, described the physical disabilities, hitting everything right on. Susan believes this counselor felt everything the baby felt as she was dying. What the counselor said validated Susan’s feelings and helped her cope.
Susan says that her baby was her greatest teacher. She believes the baby was an old soul—all knowing. She explained that it was like the baby was looking into her soul and that there was a peace about the baby that Susan had never felt before.
The spiritual counselor said the baby wanted to learn one more thing before she died: how to accept love without being able to give it. She couldn’t physically put her arms out to be held and she couldn’t give anything back. She had a huge presence about her that Susan will never forget.
Susan remembers one incident in the hospital right before the baby died that confirmed her belief that people, on some level, know they’re leaving, even little ones. The baby put her arms up, crying like she wanted to be held, something she had never been able to do before. A nurse Susan had never seen before, sitting in the corner of the room, said to her, “Do you want to hold the baby?” She had never been able to hold her before because of all the complications and disabilities. She picked her up and could see in her baby’s eyes that she was trying to tell her something. Then the baby started gasping, and she had to put her down. The baby died later that night. To this day, Susan believes the nurse in the room was an angel. And the baby was telling her goodbye and that everything was okay. She believes it was an amazing experience, one she’ll never forget. Many have had unexplained experiences where children have sent parents signs with whispers of love.
The death of the baby ended her marriage, but Susan admits that she was in the marriage for all the wrong reasons. Susan found help with the Center for Living With Dying, Hospice and learning Reiki, an ancient Japanese hands-on healing modality meaning soul power and reminding us of our ability to heal ourselves.
Susan continues to this day to work in the grief field to help others and has come to understand the meaning of her life and her purpose here on earth. She believes it was because of a small baby who came into her life for a very short but meaningful time, a child who taught Susan about unconditional love.
(Portions of this story were condensed from Susan’s entire story that is one of the 25 in my book.)
Sunday, August 17, 2008
Fernside Online http://www.fernside.org A non-profit, non-denominational organization serving grieving children and their families. This site encourages sharing stories, feelings, and memories with trusted friends, honoring the search for new beginnings.
Hygeia http://www.hygeia.org/index11.htm Just as despair can be given..only by another human being, hope, too can be given..only be another human being. An online journal for pregnancy and neonatal loss.
MISS (Mothers in Support and Sympathy) http://www.misschildren.org An organization with the mission of providing a safe haven for parents to share their grief after the death of a child.
Angel Child Legacies http://www.angelchild.com This site offers parents the opportunity to celebrate the life of their child or children by submitting the child’s legacy to the site. Help with saying “just the right thing” is offered.
Angel Hugs http://www.angelfire.com/or/angelhugs Real help to get through the bad times like holidays, birthdays, death anniversaries, and family gatherings. Includes a “photo tribute” to “our beautiful kids” and “stories from heaven.”
Miscarriage Support and Informational Resources http://www.fertilityplus.org/faq/miscarriage/resources.html Support for women who have suffered a miscarriage can be found through the comprehensive list of chats, newsgroups, books and more.
Virtual Memorials http://www.virtualmemorials.com They create memorials that celebrate the lives and personalities of those lost and provide a place where these cherished images and biographies will have a permanent home.
Journey of Hearts: http://www.journeyofhearts.org You are invited to join the journey of recovering from losses and significant life changes – a process that does not occur overnight. Journey of Hearts was designed to be a Healing Place with resources and support to help those in the grief process following a loss or a significant life change. This site offers something for anyone bereaved.
The Grief Warehouse http://www.griefwarehouse.org Designed for parents who are coping with the death of their child. The goal is to be a warehouse of information and personal experiences…a place where you can come, gather ideas, and share what worked for you on your journey of grief.
Angels of Addiction http://www.angelsofaddiction.com They offer support and help to the addict, and support for bereaved families and friends.
Sunday, August 10, 2008
www.groww.org/chat/gr.shtml GROWW offers a grief recovery chat room that is open 24/7. They also host many types of moderated grief support chats. It is a place where peer groups teach that you have permission to grieve. It is a place of belonging and one that helps you to get through the pain so you, in turn, can help others.
www.compassionatefriends.org/chat/chat_entrances.shtml The organization offers multiple bereavement support chats. These are scheduled, facilitated live chats for grieving family members with such topics as parent/grandparent bereavement, bereaved two years and under, bereaved over two yeaers, pregnancy/infant loss, sibling support and survivors of suicide.
www.parentsplace.com/chat iVillage/parentsPlace has an extensive chat schedule that includes a variety of chats on parenting. There is at least one chat for bereaved parents to help them work through their grief.
LIST SERVES - EMAIL GRIEF SUPPORT
GriefNet.Org (www.griefnet.org ) This is an internet community of persons dealing with grief, death and major loss. They have 37 email support groups and two web sites. They provide help to people working through loss and grief issues of all kinds. Support groups include accidents, only child, suicide, SIDS, substance abusers among others. More descriptions are on the web site.
Grief Loss & Recovery (www.grieflossrecovery.com ) This site offers online grief support through an email discussion group (list serve). The group offers emotional support and friendship and provides a sage haven for bereaved persons to share their grief.
SIDSID (PSC@Home.Ease.Lsoft.com ) This is an email support for SIDS and Infant Death. To subscribe, send an email to ListServ@home.ease.lsoft.com . In the body of the email type: SUBSCRIBE SIDSID – PSC
LossofaChild To subscribe to this list, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org . In the body of the email, type email@example.com. This list is for those families who have lost a child due to tragedy or illness. This list serves as a support group to help get through this most difficult time.
In my next blog I will list all the additional grief-support web sites that I have.
Sunday, August 3, 2008
Neil, who attended the conference recently in Nashville as I did, wrote and asked about a Christmas gathering for those who have lost their only child. Christmas is such a special time of year that you want to be with people you are close to, whether relatives (if you have them) or people who understand what you are going through. Is there a place for them to be? My suggestion would be to contact those in the same situation as you who you have met and try to arrange to get together, perhaps someone you met at the National TCF conference recently. I can tell you that after the two national NOW CHILDLESS conferences I held in Arizona, many of the participants became very close and make special plans to meet in one of the cities a few times a year and also go together to other conferences held for bereaved parents during the year. I do know that there are groups who try to get together over the holidays from Alive Alone. They decide on a location and meet there, always having a great time. If you contact Kay Bevington at the Alive Alone organization at http://www.alivealone.org/ , she can direct you to that group and to others who might want to do exactly what you would like to do, get connected to those with whom you can share experiences and feel comfortable. Hopefully, in 2009 there will be another NOW CHILDLESS conference held and you will get to have the experience of being with all these special people from all over the U.S.
Betsey, who also attended national TCF, wanted to find out about regional conferences close to where she lives. The best place to get the information for this is to go to the Compassionate Friends website at http://www.compassionatefriends.org/ . They usually list all the conferences held during the year as they come up. There are not that many, simply because it takes a lot of work to put on a conference as I am well aware, and in today’s society, most people don’t have enough time. But those that are put on are well-worth attending. I have been to both large and small conferences and each has its benefits, so it is worth looking into. Right now TCF web site is only listing next year’s TCF conference in Portland, but be patient. They will list them as they come up, or you can call their toll-free number at 1-877-969-0010 and talk to someone in the office. The other two organizations that list regional conferences for everyone are the Alive Alone Newsletter (contact http://www.alivealone.org/) or the Bereaved Parent USA site: http://www.bereavedparentsusa.org/ .
One email I received from a reader expressed his frustration on the topic of laughing. He thought it was disrespectful to laugh at anything while in mourning for your child. My response to him is that it is okay to laugh and is one of the first challenges you come to as you move through the grief process. At first you do feel guilty when you start laughing after crying for so long. Laughter has been found to be the best medicine for you and a positive way to help cleanse your body. Although you grieve your child, you don’t have to feel any guilt for laughing when it is appropriate. One day you will have a sudden lighthearted feeling and you will know that it is okay to laugh without any guilt feelings, that your child is probably laughing with you and that he or she is glad you are moving forward.
Sunday, July 27, 2008
I think of how my life has changed since her death and how I have grown into a different person with different priorities. It didn’t happen overnight. Grief takes a long time and is a long road with many dips and curves along the way. Eventually, I did find my way, and I hope that all of you reading this will hopefully find a full life again, with smiles, laughter, new friends and new activities.
In my new life I have a new husband, caring and thoughtful as anyone would ever want; my daughter’s best friend Lynn and I are very close; and I am the godmother of Lynn and Marc’s children. Their daughter is also named Marcy, after my Marcy. I was honored to have the same name used, and strangely enough, when I look at their Marcy, I notice a similarity in looks, but I don’t dwell on it. She is a completely different human being, and I love her for who she is. I was afraid my Marcy would be forgotten now that there is a new Marcy, but I was wrong. Lynn will never forget Marcy, as I won’t. I know that Lynn’s Marcy is aware of what happened to my Marcy and in most school essays I’ve seen her write, she acknowledges she is named after my Marcy, as though it is important to her.
To go along with this, my husband’s daughter was also born on July 27… but a different year. Isn’t life strange, to have that in common with my new husband of two years. I have noticed that her personality and my Marcy’s are the same. Must be that astrological stuff, I tell myself. I’m glad she’s in my life also, although she lives far away, and I only see her twice a year. We get along beautifully, and she is a charming, bright girl that my husband is very proud of, as well he should be.
With all these good things now in my life, it really helps when the pain comes. And it always does, but I suspect it always will. That’s all right, I tell myself. Out of grief comes a new understanding of what is really important in life.
Today, I will spend the day thinking of Marcy, playing the only two tapes I have of her, look at pictures, visit the cemetery where I will place new silk flowers next to her grave, and go through some of her things I have left…not much…but enough to remember most everything important. Marcy touched so many lives and made a difference to so many people. I continually hope that others will also think of her today and in the days to come.
Sunday, July 20, 2008
I was in charge of three workshops: Coping Techniques for the Now Childless, A Panel Discussion for those who lost their only child or all their children and a sharing session. I met wonderful mothers and fathers and got reaquainted with those I knew from former conferences. Besides childless sessions there were many sessions for those with surviving children such as grief stress, multiple loss, sudden death, moving from loss to legacy, what to do with a child's belongings, marriage and communication after a child's death, organ donation, healthy and unhealthy grief, signs from our children, anger and guilt, humor grief and scrapbooking, just to name a few...over 100 in all to choose from.
In addition to sessions, there were guest speakers like author Ann Hood (The Kniting Circle), who also lost a child and Darrell Scott, whose daughter Rachel was the first killed in the Columbine school shootings. Both of these were emotionally charged sessions that held your attention for the full time alloted.
Sharing sessions at night, where we all got in large circle and discussed our situations was probably the most popular time. Only there can you shed your mask and be yourself, cry, laugh or do whatever you need to do as you tell your own story while others listen attentively.
I spent time in the bookstore selling my book, but also meeting very warm, interesting parents who couldn't stop telling me how much they loved my title and agreed with it!
The crying, the laughter, the squeals of delight to see long ago friends kept assulting my ears, but it was seeing the hugs (much longer than a normal hug) of both men and women who understood what the others were feeling touched me deeply. In some cases I was one of those people.
On display throughout the lobby of the conference area were boards and boards of children's pictures labeled with poems or some information about them...beautiful children from infancy to adults who died way too young, some of whom would never know marriage and children of their own. It was hard to believe these beautiful children were all gone, more than 1,600 of them...some families losing two and three.
Siblings also attended, 270 of them, and at the closing session sang for the entire group. Siblings are sometimes forgotten during those first dark days. In addition they held sessions to help them cope and also made lifelong friends in the process.
We all make lifelong friends at these conferences because no one understands like another bereaved parent that can identify with you. This is only one of many held throughout the U.S. during the year. Think about attending one. It is truly an experience of a lifetime and one you will not soon forget. Next year's TCF conference is in Portland, OR, the first week in August. Check the TCF website later in the year for more information on it: www.compassionatefriends.org . And send me a email for other conferences during the year.
Sunday, July 13, 2008
Out of nowhere I received a letter from Marcy’s first high school boyfriend from 25 years ago, a very personal letter in which he opened his heart about what Marcy meant to him. Fourteen years is a long time to wait to write such a letter, but just the fact that it was sent at all was so very special to me.
He found me because of an article in a newspaper about my foundation in Marcy’s memory, which also names my book, hence finding my email address.
I remember this young gentleman as being very sweet, kind to Marcy, and full of life and laughter. He spent time at our home and reminded me of a couple of times when he was invited to dinner, how they hiked up the mountain near the house and the trips he took with us. I had completely forgotten those times, but he still remembered. How much those times must have meant to him. It gave me an insight into his heart and how it, too, must have been broken when they split up and then when he heard she had died ten years later.
Mostly, he spoke of what Marcy had meant to him and how very special she was, a confirmation of everything I feel also. Since this gentleman didn’t know any of Marcy’s more recent friends, it is amazing how closely the feelings and reactions from him are attuned to what most everyone said about her in other letters to me after her death. The phrases: amazing energy, had so much to give to the world, brought so much light unto others, we are all better for having known her…all so typical of how others saw her. And now another person added to the list. Most amazing was the fact that Marcy died on this gentleman’s birthday, March 2.
I don’t know whether it was intentional or not, but after reading his letter, I still do not know much about him and what he has done with his life. I would like to know, but that may not be meant to be. His letter only concentrated on Marcy, and then he offered me his deepest sympathy.
Thank you, young man, for the gift of remembrance…a gift that came from your heart and now has touched mine forever.
Sunday, July 6, 2008
1. Encourage me to talk about my child and truly listen to what I have to say. You may learn something you never knew that could be of help in how you react to me.
2. Call and ask me to go out with you to lunch, shopping or a movie. Our minds will be free from thinking about our child for a few hours.
3. Have a shoulder ready that I can cry on. At any moment I can lose control of my emotions for any reason. It can be a song I hear on the radio, an anniversary I can no longer share or a special holiday.
4. Be around for me if I need anything and can’t seem to get it done. It could be just changing a light bulb, cleaning the house or shopping for food. There will be times I can’t move and other times I feel exhausted. Try to understand these times.
5. Encourage me to start a new project, join a new organization, or volunteer at someplace that could use our expertise. Perhaps a new job or new environment could help me. Talk to me about it.
6. Understand that I will never be the same and accept the new ‘me.’ Accept that I may now have new goals I never dreamed of before my child died.
7. Encourage me to get rest, stay healthy and exercise. I may not want to do it at first, but keep trying to get me out of the house and not sit alone with my memories.
8. Remember my child during the year with a note about a birthday, a thinking of you card, or a happy memory or thought.
9. Respect the fact that I may not want to participate in some activities. I may now have different priorities and some things are no longer important to me.
10. Just be there for me. Silence is okay. Saying “I’m sorry” is adequate.
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Elaine, thanks for your comment on my Men's Grief blog, June 22. I agree with you completely. Women do grieve in much the same way, but I think men are often forgotten in this grief process, and I wanted to acknowledge that their grief is just as important as a woman's. I have seen in many situations friends asking how the wife is doing, but not necessarily the husband. Most of my comments about grief in this weekly blog are from the heart of a woman. My intention was not to leave out the woman's feelings in this process, but honor the father's also.
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Nancy, who lost her son very recently, sent me an email which I appreciated. It is good to correspond with her, and I hope she seeks some type of help and not go through this alone. It can be a grief group, a counselor, a local or national conference, or reading books that will acknowledge feelings we all encounter. Keep reading my blog and go back and read them all from August '07. It will give lots of info on a variety of grief subjects and personal experiences by others.
Saturday, June 28, 2008
Under China’s one-child family planning policy set up nearly three decades ago to rein in growth of the country’s population, parents are allowed only one child in most cases (but not all), and mothers are often encouraged to have sterilization surgery after giving birth. If they’re not sterilized and have more than one child, they are punished or fined severely.
As a bereaved mother of an only child myself, what the government doesn’t quite understand is that being given government permission to become pregnant again will not ease the pain of those suffering the loss of an only child right now. Just because you might be able to have another child does not make this loss any easier. Children are not supposed to die before their parents. It is not the order of things. Does the government really believe that they can replace this lost child with another, like replacing a broken toy with a new one? Do they expect parents to move on as if nothing has happened, “try again”, and make that decision immediately.
What occurred in China is devastating. It will take bereaved parents years to even be able to adjust to such a tragedy. For some, it will take a lifetime. The government believes they are doing a service to these mothers. What they need to do right now is provide counseling to help in the grief journey before having the mothers make another decision about reversing the sterilization process.
By this humanitarian gesture from the Chinese government to reverse sterilization, they hope to be applauded for restoring the nurturing family as an important cultural link in local society.
China now has public education programs about health and population growth. People—especially women—are better informed and can make sensible family planning decisions. The government should let them do that by revising and liberalizing birth planning policies and give women the right to control their own fertility. Perhaps then, if this tragedy were to ever happen again, the grief journey and some of the anguish these mothers feel now about making a reverse sterilization decision can be reduced.
Sunday, June 22, 2008
Fathers grieve differently with different emotions in the loss of a child. I believe this to be true. Here is some of the information that has been gathered on men losing a child.
According to research, bereaved fathers put their grief into a compartment separate from the rest of their lives. Because they feel they need to protect their families, they submerge their own grief. And they dislike being overcome by intense emotion and feel that talking about the emotion only makes it worse. They deal with grief by thinking about something else, by doing something else and when they do cry, they cry alone.
Men don’t want to talk about a death. They don’t want to talk at bereavement meetings and don’t even like to come to them. If they do come, they say they are doing it just to please their wives and make them happy. But men feel grief as deeply as women. It’s just that men, because of the image that a man should be strong and somewhat macho, grow up with the idea of big boys don’t cry. Deep down men want to talk to other men about their grief, but find they must do it in a safe environment.
Men submerge their own grief to take care of their families. You’re the father; you’ve got all the answers, others say. They wonder what they can say to make everything better so their families don’t suffer. How can they fix it? After a death there are many things you have to do, so you must be strong. Crying shows weakness, they are told.
Fathers deal with grief by distracting themselves with jobs, hobbies, duties, pleasures. Some even go back to work after a week so they don’t have to sit around in the depths of their grief. They plunge themselves into work to just keep going.
In the end, fathers will tell you they become more sensitive to other people’s feelings, more aware of pain in others. The one thing a father may miss if they have an only child is a sense of lineage, of their children carrying their names into the future.
Here are a few suggestions that can provide a respite from the stress:
**Take some time for yourself. Do your favorite activity and daily exercise
**Don’t take on any new responsibilities.
**Allow yourself to cry. It is healthy.
**Talk with other bereaved fathers and focus on your feelings.
**Talk to your spouse about your feelings. Let her know your needs.
**Read about grief, the feelings and responses that you canexpect.
**Take one day at a time.
**Seek professional help if needed
**Give yourself permission to grieve
**Cherish the memories and make them glad rather than sad ones
**Read a book by a bereaved father. Two suggestions are “When Life Goes on” by Jimmy Egan and “Andy’s Mountain” by Dwight Patton.
Sunday, June 15, 2008
I heard his sharp intake of breath and the words, “Oh, my God, no” when I said those words I never thought I would have to hear myself. I asked him to make all the arrangements and call me in the morning. He did as I asked and by morning we knew all the plans. He was functioning on a different level. He was plunging himself into a task so as not to think that his whole world had been shattered. He was numb…it wasn’t real.
In his own words:
“When reality set in, I began to cry and to this day, when thinking about Marcy and alone in my house or my car, the tears form. I always tried to be like my father, successful but not show emotions. I held back a lot of emotions, particularly at the beginning of my grief period. I think that’s how I got through the funeral and the eulogy I gave. When a relative sent me a note saying that I was so courageous for giving that eulogy, I felt special.
At first I had a harder time focusing on tasks. I couldn’t concentrate for long periods of time. I learned at a grief support group that what was happening to me was normal. It was a relief to know I wasn’t crazy. Others talked at these sessions about tasks they had done before their child’s death that they could no longer do. It took me months before I could go back to work for a full day.
After Marcy’s death, everything pleasurable about getting old was gone. My child, who I was very proud of, would no longer be able to do successful things. And I would no longer get the pleasure of her excitement hearing of her adventures in her job. The fact that there is no one to carry on the family name or traditions haunts me. I’m sure Marcy knew how much I loved her although I frustrated her at times with my ways, such as taking days to answer her phone call.
The heartache that comes when the natural order of things is changed, when your child dies before you, is unfathomable. When I hear news about a child who dies from whatever cause, I cry. I cry for the child, but I also cry for the parents who are left behind to live with this tragedy for the rest of their lives.
I did see a psychologist for a while who was of great help to me, and although this may sound trite, the passing of time itself is a great help. You do eventually heal to a certain degree, but you never forget.
In my life now, when I am at a gathering, I always try to tell what I call a Marcy story whenever appropriate, something she did or said that I remember that will bring a smile or a laugh to people. That way she is always with me in good memories. Sometimes I cry and sometimes tears just form, but it makes me feel good to talk about her. And I know it’s a healthy thing to do even though the pain will never leave me.”
HAPPY FATHER’S DAY, JESS. YOU WILL ALWAYS BE A DAD!
Sunday, June 8, 2008
This year I will be speaking at the conference on “Coping Techniques for the Now Childless.” There are around 100 different types of sessions for different needs, enough of a variety to please everyone under any circumstance, in addition to well-known speakers on the topics.
I am in a period of my life where I feel the need to help others in my situation, so each year I speak in hopes of showing others how to deal with the death of a child. Because I speak doesn’t mean I am not still grieving. I will always grieve for my child. Most times it is hard to even get through any speech given without tearing up when her name is mentioned. It is a normal reaction that does not embarrass me. I believe I’ll always reveal that part of me. I do want others to understand I still hurt; I still feel the greatest loss of all in my heart and mind. But I have moved on and this is what I choose to do.
I have met many new friends at these conferences, friends I feel comfortable talking to, listening to and even giving suggestions to. I have seen bereaved parents walk into the conference with no hope and come out smiling with a new reason to live after having attended many of the workshops and listening to nationally known speakers. One of my earlier blogs last September talks about one of those parents who had lost 3 children in three years, all in car accidents. When I saw him at this last conference, he was a different person, filled with plans for the future to help others in his hometown by starting a chapter of Compassionate Friends there. I hope I was one small part of getting him to that point in his life.
There are over 600 chapters of Compassionate Friends around the country and more than one in most states. Some parents travel many miles once or twice a month to attend meetings of these chapters. They want to be with people who understand what they are going through and there is no one who does more than another bereaved parent.
I urge those who have lost a child to do something for yourself and attend this conference. I’m telling you about this 6 weeks out, so that you can make plans. If you can’t go, then look up the closest Compassionate Friends chapter in your area or call the national office and talk to them about attending a meeting. The web site with all the information is www.compassionatefriends.org.
There is another national conference being held in St. Louis, MO, July 11-13, at the Crown Plaza Hotel from the group Bereaved Parents USA with similar workshop and speakers. More information is at 2008Gathering@bereavedparentsusa.org . If you are able to choose one of these to go to, you will never regret it.
Sunday, June 1, 2008
Two interesting sites came across my desk this week I’d like to mention:
I received word of a friend’s 4-year-old niece who died from Leukemia. The family posted an online tribute with photos of their child. It was sent to me to look at. I thought they did a great job, and I realized that this type of memorial is definitely a wonderful way for the parents, relatives and friends to remember a beautiful person. I encourage you to look at the site. Perhaps this simple site can be of help to you or another bereaved parent you know or hear about, in addition to others I have mentioned in the past and will mention on future blogs. The site is http://tyleebarnes.homestead.com .
The other site was left on my blog as a comment from another bereaved parent. I had never heard of the organization, but went to the site and found it to have lots of information, tools for grieving parents, phone support, and a place to leave comments and messages. The site is www.mychildlossgrief.org . Their goal as they state it is (1) to bring members together for a retreat to promote wellness and facilitate healing through interactive workshops, speakers and relaxation, (2) to educate society about parental grief, including ways to support and respond appropriately to grieving parents, and (3) to education employers about parental grief and encourage them to offer more leniency toward their employed bereaved parents. I am not endorsing this site, just giving you information that you may find helpful.
A special note to Louise on that site who posted a comment on my blog: I’m so glad you enjoyed the poem. One day it just came out of me in a few minutes time. That’s the way those things happen. You have my permission to post the poem with my name that I put on my blog two weeks ago into your child grief loss forum as long as it is not used for commercial gain. I invite others to post any comments on my blog. If you want a response to your comments, leave your email address on your posting.
Sunday, May 25, 2008
We feel for them; we wish we could help them. All of them, like us, will have to go through the same grief journey, although each person must do what is best for them at the time. Each person grieves differently, even husbands and wives. Each person has his own time period for grieving, whether it is days, months or years.
What is important to note is that although it is a long dark journey through shock, disbelief, denial, anger, panic and finally, acceptance, we do come out at the other end. We do endure. We do find strength. Most of all, we find hope, hope that resonates in all of us to move forward with our lives.
NOTE: For those who want to do something, international organizations such as CARE, UNICEF and the Red Cross are all asking for help in different ways. In Myanmar local organizations such as Orphan’s Hope and Mercy Corps are seeking donations, and in China the China Foundation for Poverty Alleviation, the Tsinghaua Foundation and the Hidaya Foundation all need support. You can find information about them online.
Sunday, May 18, 2008
You are gone from me physically
But I see your face.
You are in every sunrise
In every new bloom
In every new season.
I can hear your voice
I can hear your laughter
I remember it all so well.
It warms my heart
To think of you always
With wonderful memories.
My journey has been long and uncharted
I am amazed at where I am in this journey…
A new life, a new joy, a new love
But what I wouldn’t give to have you back with me.
I know in my heart that can never be.
But it doesn’t stop me
You are not forgotten
You will never be forgotten
I will see to it.
I will build memorials
So that others will learn and understand
Who you are, what you became
Through nutured loved for so many years.
Our lives are shaped
As much by those who leave us
As they are by those who stay.
Your spirit is all around me
I can feel you
I can sense you
Stay with me always
Help me to put back
The pieces of the puzzle.
Thursday, May 15, 2008
Some thoughts on Mother’s Day…I remember about 16 years ago I was always so proud when Mother’s Day luncheon in my sorority approached, and I could invite not only my daughter, but also my mother and mother-in-law to join me. Four of us would show up, the most of any sorority member. Everyone seemed envious. Two years later I was the only one of the four of us left. I never knew whether that was the reason the event was dropped from the sorority calendar or whether it was because some of the girls didn’t have anyone to bring. For me it was the best thing. I can’t imagine how I would have felt attending with no one at my side. More than likely I would not have gone.
I also remember that first Mother’s Day after Marcy died. I wondered if anyone would remember I was a mother and will always be a mother. Yes, I did get a few cards from Marcy’s friends and my friends, and that put a smile on my face. After a couple of years most of that ended except for two special people. Life goes on and others forget and move on. Not so for bereaved mothers.
For the first few years after Marcy died I was also invited to Mother’s day brunches with family members. That eventually ended also. Through the years I have had friends invite me out on that day, but I mostly want to forget what day it is.
On a happier note, my husband, who is not Marcy’s father, is always so thoughtful and says so many kind words on that day and throughout the year. He lets me know he understands my pain. He tries to empathize as much as he can even though he only knows Marcy through pictures and video. They never met.
This Mother’s Day was spent on a Europe trip. I lost track of the days and dates and had to be reminded what day it was. I could hear and sense those traveling with me being very careful of what was said and not discussing their children at all for fear it would hurt me. Their kindness was appreciated.
On Mother’s Day we all need to do whatever makes us happy, whatever gives us some joy or whatever feels right. That could be a trip, exercising, taking a walk or just staying at home. Giving ourselves permission to grieve in our own way is very healing and very helpful during this difficult time.
Saturday, May 3, 2008
One such father and now famous daughter is Otto Frank and his daughter Anne. The Jewish family fled to Amsterdam, Holland, at the start of WWII, lived there until one day they either had to go into hiding or be caught and sent to concentration camps. They chose hiding and lived in the annex of Otto Franks office building for two years before they were betrayed. All went to concentration camps, but only Anne's father survived. Anne died a month before liberation. After returning to Holland, Otto Frank was given Anne's diary that she had kept during that period. It was found by friends. After reading the intermost thoughts and feelings of Anne from ideas and beliefs on happiness, courage, giving, goodness, freedom and usefulness, he realized there was much he didn't know or understand about her, particularly under the circumstances they lived. Do we ever really know our children? He decided to share her gift of writing and wisdom with the world. The book, "The Diary of Anne Frank" is now the second most read book in the world next to the bible.
For the fourth time I toured the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam, Holland, last week. The stairs and the hidden bookcase leading to the secret rooms used by the Frank family are still in place as are some pictures on the walls. It is both an emotionally moving and educational journey to go there, but most importantly, it is simply the story of a parent who lost a child and did not want his child to be forgotten.
I, too, feel this way, as I'm sure most parents do who have lost children. I now have a book that includes my daughter's story. Although it is written from the parent's perspective, not the child's, it was as important for me to tell my story as it was for Otto Frank to let the world learn about Anne.
I have set up memorials, foundations and remembrances for my daughter, Marcy, as Otto Frank has for his daughter Anne. Parents do not differ in the feelings they have for their child, but one thing is certain: building some type of memorial for your child whether they become famous or not will help them to live on in your heart and in others' hearts forever.
To read more about Anne Frank go to: www.annefrank.org . You can learn about the various memorials and foundations started by Otto Frank and even place a leaf on Anne's tree, the one she was able to see from the attic window looking towards the sky.