Sunday, January 27, 2008

The divorce rate

As I was thinking about what I wanted to say this week, my husband popped up with this question, “Has anyone ever commented on any of your blogs?” “No," I answered, "not that I know of. But people tend to be afraid of voicing their opinions online.”

I would indeed encourage you to read through my blogs and comment where you feel appropriate. Don’t forget that the ones you see are only the recent ones. On the right hand side it lists them all, dating back to late August ’07 when I started this blog.

With that in mind, let me make a few comments to the people who ask me about the divorce rate following the death of a child. Like many myths, this one has snowballed way out of proportion. Harriet Schiff in 1977 (The Bereaved Parent) said that as high as 90 percent of all bereaved couples are in serious marital difficulty within months after the death of their child. She does not cite her source for this, and no one ever questioned her about it. So it became fact. But it is not true, and grief experts challenged the myth. By 1998 they said there was no evidence of higher divorce rates among bereaved parents.

Then in 2006 The Compassionate Friends commissioned a survey and one of the questions dealt with divorce. It was found that only 16 percent of the parents divorce after the death of a child and only 4 percent said it was because of the death…that there were problems in the marriage way before the child died.

This is not to say that there are not problems when a child dies. One of the biggest is that husbands and wives grieve differently. One may want to attend a support group, the other doesn’t. One couple in my book had a tough time with that but found that as long as they talked about their child together and kept the lines of communication open, that commonality saved their marriage and they both grew from it. On the other hand, how a child dies can cause friction in a marriage. If parents start blaming each other for the child’s death, whether it is from anger or just misplaced blame, that can lead to marital stress and in turn, divorce. Couples have to make a commitment to want to stay together.

Against all odds, many couples have found that their marriage grew stronger after the death of their child. They learned new coping techniques and they had a great desire to move on with their lives while never, never forgetting their child.

I, personally, have learned through my tragedy two important lessons that many other singles or couples learn. My compassion for others is much deeper now, and I have a genuine desire to help others; hence, my work with bereavement conferences, speaking to groups and writing my book. As tragic as the death of a child may be, we can all grow in the end.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Saving our children

It is the one year anniversary of my friend’s daughter’s death. Whether she died from an overdose of drugs by accident or on purpose will never be known. What is known is that she did abuse drugs. Her entire life her mom tried to help her only child in any way she could. The end result: as hard as she may have tried, she couldn’t save her. She now lives with the guilt that only a mother can have, a guilt quite undeserved.

Her story reminds me of two stories in my book showing two very different guilt reactions. One dealt with a diabetic son who couldn’t accept that he was different (in fact, he wasn’t different but couldn’t see past his disease). His mother tried to get him help at the City of Hope in California as well as doctors across the country , tried to help him plan his meals sensibly, and tried to support him in any way she could. But the son would have none of it and eventually ended his life. His mom said the diabetes killed him, not physically, but emotionally. Although she grieved for a long time, she did not feel guilt-ridden in the end. You can only do so much, she said. She had to think of the rest of her family who needed her. Nothing would bring her son back. She knew she had to survive and do it for the rest of her family.

Quite opposite to this story, another mother to this day says she will always feel guilt in the death of her son. She was having problems with him and sent him to a camp for troubled teens. He died there from negligent care when he was ill, and she was never told he was ill because the camp people thought he was lying. She had a difficult time rebuilding her life without her son. She believes she sent him to his death unknowingly, out of concern, love and with the best of intentions. Although she knows she’s not responsible for his death, meshing her intellect with her heart is very difficult for her.

I chose these two different stories for my book to show that everyone handles guilt and grief differently, and there is no right or wrong way to deal with it, but deal with it you should. Do what is best for you. For most people it takes months, even years. Current research shows that the grief period following a sudden death is intense for three to four years and is never complete. If counseling is suggested, do it. If going to a bereaved parent’s meeting is helpful, do it. Whatever will work, do it.

My daughter died a sudden death in a car accident. That was almost 14 years ago. I still grieve. I will always grieve; however, I do not feel any guilt of having left anything undone. We were very close; we communicated well; we understood each other perfectly. One could say, we were good friends. It was a comfort to know there were no angry words and no regrets for having to set things straight. I try to remember the good times, the happy memories of the time we had together. That is how I fill my mind now.

Human beings have an almost innate conviction that they should be able to protect those whom they love. While that is impossible and irrational, it is difficult to shake off. Our inability to save our children generates guilt. Anything we do to get through our shattering tragedies is okay. As I have said, there are no right or wrong ways, just each person’s way. And that is the best way because it comes from the heart.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Giving another chance at life

Thanks to a cornea transplant, Jason was able to see again for the first time in 31 years; at the age of 39, a kidney transplant saved David’s life; for Richard, a bone transplant meant the chance to live a normal life again; and when Darcy’s son gets older, she’ll tell him about the transplant that saved her life. All of these are examples of people who received organ donations.

In my book one of the stories I wrote about is the death of two children in the same family from a car accident and the donation of the organs of the daughter to help others live. “She was such a loving child, we were certain she would want her organs donated to help others,” said her parents. They believe that one or two children may be alive today because of their donation, and they feel good about that. Although always a difficult decision, it was the right choice for them; others have a right to feel differently. The information I provide here is for those who, by their wills, on their driver’s licenses, or though conversations with loved ones, choose to make that same life-altering decision.

A few facts: over 79,000 U.S. patients are currently waiting for an organ transplant; nearly 3,000 new patients are added to the waiting list each month. Every day 16 to 17 people die while waiting for a transplant of a vital organ such as a heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, lung or healthy bone marrow. And nearly 10 percent of the patients currently waiting for liver transplants are young people under 18 years of age.

Organ, eye and tissue transplants offer patients a new chance at healthy, productive, normal lives. Acceptable organ donors can range in age from newborn to 65 years or more.

The organization, Donate Life America, founded in 1992, is a not-for-profit alliance of national organizations and local coalitions across the U.S. dedicated to inspiring all people to save and enhance lives through their donations. They publish brochures, program kits and other materials, and provide technical assistance and referral services. Contact this group or make your wishes known to a hospital, your health care provider or a lawyer.

A study a few years ago showed that while 91% of adults support the idea of organ donation, only one in three is aware of the proper steps for committing to become a donor, as procedures differ from state to state.

I encourage you to look into this for someone close to you who has died or even to change someone’s world by being a donor yourself. It’s the ultimate charitable act. It’s about living. It’s about life.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Setting up a foundation in child's memory

I have finally found the one thing to do in memory of my daughter that has made me feel complete. In the past I bought stones in her memory at many new buildings in town; plaques in strategic locations; and a drama building was built from her friends contributions and dedicated to her. Even though these were all wonderful, I felt as though something was missing, something that I could have go on for many generations, something others could benefit from.

What I found was a foundation that I could give money to in order to benefit those who want an education to pursue their dreams. The foundation is being named in memory of my daughter and those pursuing careers in the communication or drama fields of interest can perhaps benefit from what Marcy could not fulfill in her short lifetime. Those persons interested for either academic or financial reasons will be able to apply and the foundation, with input from myself and Marcy’s father, who is also a contributor, will decide the recipients. Also included in this foundation fund as beneficiaries will be active theater groups who need monetary help.

There are many ways and many areas of interest so donors can see where their monies will be spent and they can definitely specify whatever is of interest to them. This particular area of interest, communications and drama, is what we chose, as it was a big part of who Marcy was.

Money can be put into this foundation during my lifetime by myself, Marcy’s dad, relatives or friends for others to benefit and then after my passing, the foundation will be completely funded through a clause in my will and hopefully last for many, many years. I am starting it during my lifetime so that I can see the beginnings of the benefits to others and even have a say to whom the money is given. It will be like setting up a scholarship; the money does not have to be repaid.

A person does not have to be rich to help others. On the contrary, whatever is donated in the pursuit of benefiting others is a worthwhile endeavor, no matter how much it is.

Helping others has always been a goal of mine, and I believe Marcy felt the same way and would be happy to know what I am doing in her memory for future generations. It is a good feeling and one that may interest others, hence my reason for mentioning it. These foundations can be found in every city, and I encourage others to look into this. Financial and tax advisors are privy to much of this information and can help find what best suits your own circumstances.

Whatever that is, may it bring you some kind of peace to know that your child will not be forgotten and that you have taken a horrible tragedy and made something positive out of it.

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Looking towards 2008

I have made it through another year without my daughter, Marcy. I marvel at how fast time flies and before I know it I am writing another year on my checks in my checkbook. In March it will be 14 years since she died. It seems incredible that so much time has passed, so many things have happened in my life, her friend’s lives and around the world in general.

Even though I mourn her every day of my life, I think of what I have become because of her. I am a different person. We all become different after the loss of a child. In our own time frame we move on, using whatever techniques, whatever professionals, whatever friends will help us in our new role.

The first few years after Marcy’s death are a blur. I functioned on a different level, trying to bring my life back into focus. Some friends helped; others disappeared. I came to understand what a real friend meant. Teaching full time helped during the day. I had no time to think about her. Nights, on the other hand, were the worst: the dreams, the nightmares, the loneliness of wanting to pick up the phone and talk to her. And the horror of knowing that if I had something important to tell her, she was not there to hear me.

I didn’t keep a journal those first few years. I wish I had, so that I could look back and see the progress. I knew there was progress because after a while I was starting to enjoy things again, starting to laugh again without feeling guilty, starting to remember all the wonderful memories, starting to do things I had never done before. Writing a book after 5 years was the catharsis I needed and my great tribute to my daughter. Speaking to bereavement groups was the icing on the cake.

I wish I could tell her of my happiness now in my recent marriage, of the fun things I am doing in retirement, and of what I have done in Marcy’s memory…helping others move on after the death of a child. Each year I become more deeply involved in the lives of these bereaved parents…these parents who I can identify with so well and give hope to. One of the things I tell them is that from our loss, we can enrich our lives with new beginnings because we are different people than we once were. I believe that. That doesn’t mean we forget; that doesn’t mean we don’t have our moments and break down. We always will. I have discovered that is okay. It is our love for our child shinning through the darkness.

Each year on January 1, I say to myself, “Okay, what do I hope to accomplish this year that I haven’t done yet.” This year it will be to continue building the new parent bereavement group I helped start at the end of last year in my area for parents who have lost their only child or all their children. I have also found a new way to make sure that Marcy’s memory is carried on for generations to come. (More on that in my next blog.)

I encourage you to ask yourself what you can do this year for yourself and in memory of your child. It will not change what has happened to you, but it will give you a purpose and add great meaning to your life. It has to mine. Happy New Year.