Saturday, June 28, 2008

Reversing medical procedures in China

China’s government has said that in the face of tremendous grief at the loss of so many children from the recent earthquake, it will provide, free of charge, reverse medical procedures that will allow grieving mothers to have another child if she so chooses.

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

How Men Grieve

As a followup to last week's blog, I dedicate this week's blog to all fathers.

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

For Marcy's Dad on Father's Day

It was after midnight before I got up the courage to call Marcy’s father to tell him his only child was dead. It had taken me a while to digest it myself, but I knew it only fair that he also know, even though we were divorced.

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.”


Sunday, June 8, 2008

Attending bereavement conferences

Do yourself a favor in 5 ½ weeks. Attend the National Compassionate Friends Conference July 17-20 in Nashville, TN, at the Sheraton Music City and Marriott Hotels. It is a conference to help all those who have lost a child. I am a real veteran of these conferences since my daughter died 14 years ago. I believe in them, and I would certainly urge others to attend if at all possible.

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

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 . If you are able to choose one of these to go to, you will never regret it.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

This and That...

Last Sunday’s Memorial Day…yet another sad day for those who have died…this time in the military. They have given their lives for their country. We honor them and we mourn them. A wonderful organization called TAPS, out of Washington, D.C., is of great help to mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandparents and grandchildren, all of whom have different needs arising from a military death. I get their magazine, and it is chock full of wonderful stories on survival and moving on from both experts in the field and the survivors themselves. Summer camps and lots of activities are held for these families. If you have had a loved one die in the military, this is a group you definitely want to contact. Go to

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 .

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 . 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.