Sunday, February 24, 2008

Journaling your grief

In my book I interviewed a parent who found her way through her grief by journaling. Through journaling one can tell one’s innermost thoughts as a release mechanism and go back to examine those feelings. Writing down raw feelings at this awful time and then looking back at it months or even years later can show how much growth has occurred.

I’m sorry I did not journal when my daughter died. However, I did do a lot of writing; hence my book. I can see now that if I had journaled, no matter how I was feeling at the time, I could have stepped aside and gotten a very different perspective of my situation.

Journaling allows you to write down spur of the moment thoughts and emotions in diary form. Sometimes I look back at my own book and think that if I had not written anything down, I would never have remembered all that took place during those dark days. I also look at the book and say to myself, “Gosh, did I write that? It’s not bad at all!” And I wonder if I could do as good a job now that so much time has passed and the emotions are so different.

Journaling is a true measure of how one is feeling. One mother told me at a bereavement conference that journaling helped her anger towards the man who was driving drunk and smashed into her daughter’s car, killing her instantly. The man walked away. “By focusing on my feelings, I could deal with what happened much better so that when I saw him in court, I was not a raving lunatic.” Another mother hopes to put her journaling into book form so that other bereaved parents can glimpse her pain when her daughter died of a brain tumor and how she lived through those months while her child was still alive.

What can you say when you journal? How about: how you felt when it happened and how you lived through those first few months, how you react to others now, what your child meant to you ,a few good memories, what you think you might do for yourself to move on, how you are coping, what drives you crazy, what others should know about you or your child, or any raving you have about what happened to your child. I could go on and on. These are only suggestions. The most important thing is to say what is in your heart. The words and emotions will just flow out.

In journaling you are free to say what you want without any fear of recrimination. It is not a must that anyone see your journal, but perhaps by showing it to others at the appropriate time, a deeper understanding between yourself and your spouse, your friends or your surviving children will occur.

Whatever your reason for journaling, know that it can only do you good. I encourage you to start now.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

A dog's death

The other day I was listening to the Today Show and Jill Rappaport was interviewing a woman who had lost her dog. This woman compared the loss of her dog as equal to the loss of a family member.

As much as I loved the two dogs I owned in my lifetime for 15 years each, there was no comparison for me when my daughter died. We may get attached to our pets, we mourn when we lose them, but to make that comparison for me is unthinkable. Granted, there are similarities that while this woman who was interviewed may say she has never gotten over it and even had to go for counseling that ASPCA provides (just as a bereaved parent might go to a certified grief counselor), I can not personally compare the love of my dog to the love of a human being.

Everyone has a right to his opinion on this topic. I’d be curious to know how others feel about this topic of grieving for a pet being the same and as devastating as grieving for a family member.

As a side note: what I would like to see the Today Show do besides covering a dog’s death, is to ask one of us, the bereaved parent, how we feel as grief-stricken parents, to have our hearts torn in two, to feel like we’ve lost part of ourselves…part of our future. I’d like to see the Today Show cover our yearly national conferences and help us reach out to these parents so we can tell them that they will eventually be okay, maybe not for a very long time, but eventually.

Nineteen percent of adults in the U.S. have experienced the death of a child, any age, any cause. That is a high statistic that even the Today Show should take note of. Until the 1980’s there was no information or groups to help parents who had lost a child. Thankfully, now there are many sources a grieving parent can turn to, but still many are unaware of their existence and don’t know where to turn. Just as pet owners now have the ASPCA, we, too, have Compassionate Friends, Bereaved Parents USA, Alive Alone and many specific organizations related to the type of death experienced.

I can only speak for myself when I say, “Grieve for your pet or whomever you want in any way you want, but please don’t compare the death of a dog to the death of a human being.”

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Finding support

Bereaved parents find support from many sources during their grief journey.

The results of one survey conducted by Compassionate Friends showed that parents said the most helpful and providing the most information for bereaved parents are:
Friends (82.3%)
Family (80.3%)
Physicians (58%)
Coworkers (44.8%)
Clergy and hospitals (39.5% each)
Websites (20.5%)
Therapists/counselors (19%)
Online chats/message boards/forums (13.3%)
Support groups (12%)

Supporting someone whose child has just died is difficult. From this survey, friends and family seem to do the best job, but this loss is so enormous that we have few words of comfort to offer. Though we won’t be able to change the way a grieving parent feels by what is said or done, immeasurable comfort will be added to their lives by simply being there, even if only to hold their hand or offer to do helpful things for them such as notifying others who have not heard of the death, bringing over meals, shopping for them or even taking care of their other children.

Those not helpful in support by the greatest numbers were hospitals (29.5%), physicians (23%) funeral homes/directors (18%) and coworkers (12.3%). Support groups specifically for bereaved parents were rated lowest at 4.5%. This indicates that support groups specifically for bereaved parents were most likely of all to be perceived as helpful.

The source most helpful in providing ‘emotional’ support and information was families (44.9%) followed by friends at 21.7% and clergy at 6.9%. Least helpful in providing emotional support was hospitals at 1.9%.

Note how low hospitals rate as being helpful and providing 'emotional' support. One of the parents in my book who is a nurse, felt the medical community didn’t have a clue as to how we and all parents feel when our children die. Most don’t understand the parameters of grieving, how people grieve, how long it takes and how to help with anger a parent may feel. She felt she had to help educate these medical people. An after-care program was started in a trauma center many years ago by other nurses who recognized that this was not the way you treat people. She got involved also. The program worked so well, it has been picked up by trauma centers all over the country. They also put workshops together and give lectures to professionals (teachers, nurses, policemen) in addition to training the volunteers who in turn help families going through a child’s death or any death. Families can stay in this program for up to two years. She said, “If we help one person make their journey easier, then what I’m doing now has been worth all the time and effort.”

Sunday, February 3, 2008


What would my life have been like if my daughter were alive today? I often think of that question and ponder on the answers.

I envision all sorts of scenarios. Marcy and her husband would be giving lots of parties. They were both involved in the Hollywood scene and were meeting lots of new people in 1994 when she died. Marcy knew how much I liked Barry Manilow, so back in 1992 when she found out that as part of her job, she was in charge of a reception he was singing at, she invited me to come, pretend I was one of the hostesses and enjoy the performance up close and personal. The one condition was that I had to wear a black long skirt and a white fancy blouse as all the hostesses would be. That is no problem, I told her. I was thrilled and did attend, greeted many stars and superstars and listened to Barry Manilow sing many songs before he hurried out the back door. I had a great time and think of how many occasions like that there would have been in their future.

After Marcy’s marriage I would go to Los Angeles for visits and there was talk of buying a new home. I was so excited to tour some of the homes with her to see what was available. For what they could afford at the time, there was not much that was either bigger than 2 bedrooms or that didn’t need a lot of work. I thought that after retiring from teaching a few years later, there would be plenty of time to go back and forth. I would have loved helping her decorate a new home, visited with them and talked of the future. When I decorate or redecorate my home now, I think of how Marcy and I had the same taste and how much she would have liked to help me also.

I envision a scenario with grandchildren. Marcy loved children and always told me she wanted many. Although I remember telling her I would not be able to run to Los Angeles every time she needed a babysitter, I knew that if something important came up, I wouldn’t be able to say no. I can imagine a couple of girls and one boy. After her death her best friend had two boys and a girl (the girl was named Marcy) and I am now the godparent for them. I am thrilled to have that role, but, of course, still yearn for what will never be.

I am a traveler and Marcy also had the travel bug. I could see all of us traveling together, particularly on cruises, throughout the world. Now I travel with my husband and think of how much Marcy would love some of these places I visit. When I travel I wear a necklace with her picture on it so that she is always with me. One incident always stands out in my mind back in the eighties in Europe. I am still amazed at the outcome of our separate trips we planned and how we were going to meet on a specific day and time in Interlaken, Switzerland. Let’s make a pact, I told Marcy. Wherever you will be coming from with your friend, get into Interlaken on the 6 p.m. train, and I will meet you at the station. We didn’t talk for three weeks before that day because her itinerary was very up in the air. My husband was skeptic at the loose arrangements we made, but when she stepped off that train at 6 p.m. and waved to me, I marveled at how we had accomplished meeting halfway around the world with very little communication in-between. This summer I will be in Interlaken and when we arrive by train, it will be uppermost on my mind and in my heart.

Marcy had many goals for herself that she was not able to accomplish because of her untimely death. I can not even begin to imagine all that she would have done and how proud I would have continued to be of her. Not a moment goes by that I don’t think of her and how a split second can change one’s life forever.