Sunday, November 30, 2008

A Challenging Season

We are once again in the midst of the holiday season, an emotional and challenging one for most families who have lost a child. Last year I gave some practical tips to help those dealing with grief and the loss of a child. I’d like to emphasize and add to that list this year knowing there is no roadmap for easy navigation.

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

Remembering special moments

Just as we all remember where we were and what we were doing on Sept. 11, 2001, those of us who were around Nov. 22, 1963, also remember exactly what we were doing and where we were when President John F. Kennedy was shot and killed 45 years ago yesterday.

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

Survivors of Suicide Day

On Saturday, Nov. 22, 2008, The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention will sponsor its 10th annual National Survivors of Suicide Day, reaching out to thousands of people who have lost a loved one to suicide.

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 ( 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 .

Sunday, November 9, 2008


“If life doesn’t kill you, it will make you stronger.” I don’t know who said that, but it’s true. After your child dies, you have a choice: to continue living or to lie down and give up. I chose to live.

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

The Knitting Circle book

I just got done reading "The Knitting Circle", Ann Hood's moving account of how a grieving mother survives the loss of her only daughter from an illness. Although the book is fictional, it parallels Hood's own loss of her daughter and how joining a knitting circle saved her life.

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.