Sunday, April 26, 2009

What NOT To Say To Bereaved Parents

When on your grief journey, you may hear people say things to you that are not appropriate at all. Perhaps that person was only trying to comfort you or has never lost a child and has no idea what you are feeling or going through. Certain phrases and sentences to others may seem like a way to show they care and are thinking about you, but all it really does is make you mad.

Some of those phrases and my reactions (in italic type) to myself or others include:

“Your child is in a better place.” No, she’s not. She should be right here with me.

“Aren’t you over it yet?” I’ll never get over this. In time I may be able to learn to live with the loss, but I’ll never get over it completely, nor will I ever forget.

“I know how you feel. My dog died last year.” Please don’t compare your dog to my child. You may have loved your dog very much, but a dog is not a human being, born and nurtured from your body

“You can have more children.” Maybe I can, maybe I can’t; maybe I can’t bear the thought of ever going through this again, but having another child would not be to replace the one I lost.

“God never gives you more than you can bear.” Why did God do this to me at all? Am I being punished for some reason?

“Time will heal your hurt.” Time may ease the pain somewhat, but heal me completely?
Never! I will always ache for my child and what we have both lost
“I understand.” No you don’t, unless you have also lost a child. Nothing compares. A child should never die before a parent.

“At least she isn’t suffering.” She is suffering. I am suffering. She had so much more living to do, things to accomplish. No matter what would have happened to her physically, she would have dealt with it and continued living a full life.

“Crying won’t bring her back.” Crying is a healthy emotion to cleanse your body physically and mentally. No, I won’t get her back, but to hold back emotions is known to cause more damage. If I want to scream and rant, that is okay also.

“It’s time to get rid of her clothes and belongings.” When I feel it is the right time I’ll take some action. It could be a month, a year or even 5 years. I will do it in my own time. I will never get rid of everything. There are some items I could never part with.

Be patient with these people and don’t let these common phrases get to you. DO try to let others know what you personally think is not appropriate to say to a bereaved parent, whether it is you or someone else.

Note: In my next blog, I’ll tell you what I believe is helpful for parents on a grief journey and what those who are friends and relatives should try to do for the bereaved.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

New Song Helps Bereaved Families

If your family has suffered the death of a loved one and needs support dealing with the pain and the grief journey, an organization called NEW SONG, started in the Phoenix, Arizona, area provides nurturing support for grieving children and their families.

It also offers comprehensive grief education for volunteers and professionals and is hoping to be nationally recognized as a model grief support and training program whose purpose is to restore hope to children and those who love them. Volunteers have had over 25 hours of classroom and 20 hours of mentor-led training to facilitate, under the direction of professional staff.

This non-profit, non-denominational organization started in 1990 and providing the following services: support groups for grieving children ages 5 through 18 and their families, referrals to other community agencies, child-specific grief training for volunteers and education for caregivers, mental health professionals, clergy and the community at large. Support for the program comes from individual donations, foundations, organizations, businesses, churches and synagogues.

Because a child’s response to death is different from an adult’s, New Song Center focuses on the unique needs of children and their families in grief. While children are supported through art and play techniques, New Song Center helps adults learn how to support and parent their grieving children as well as help themselves. Each family learns how to work through their pain, share memories and go on living without the loved one who died.

One of my friends, Sandi Howlett, a bereavement specialist for Hansen’s Mortuary in Phoenix and speaker for Hospice, has been very involved with this organization since 2003. She says the children are divided into separate groups: ages 5-7, 8-10, 11-12 and teens. Parents and caregivers (grandparents, aunts and uncles) are in a separate group as are young adults from 18-26 who come on their own. There is an orientation program which the whole family comes to and then they divide into groups. They are also required to come to one monthly program where they do family projects.

An evening at New Song would go like this: you would arrive at 6:30 p.m., have pizza all together (It’s always pizza, Sandi says), hear announcements and then divide up into respective groups for an hour or so, come back together, light a candle in honor or memory of those who died, sing a few songs and finally get in a circle to say good-byes for the evening. The groups meet twice a month from August to the end of June.

Sandi explained that age specific exercises are done during the meeting time periods geared at accepting experiences, feelings, memories and playing out things using art, music, puppetry, journaling and discussions. With the adults it’s having a place to talk and discussing what it’s like being a parent in a grieving home.

After a death in the family, adults are sometime too involved in their own personal grief to respond adequately to the needs of a child. The family unit may be thrown into turmoil. Because children deal with powerful emotions differently than adults, their grief may go unrecognized. Their depression, fear, guilt and anger may be acted out and labeled as behavioral problems in the home and school, instead of being seen for what it is, a reaction to the death of a loved one.

With New Song, a child is your ticket in and that child needs to be at least 5 years old. If you are an adult with no children, you can not come. It is a family dynamic organization.

“When a family leaves New Song, they are not the same family as when they first came,” she told me. “It can take many years, depending on the type of death. As time moves on you progress to a new level. It is a special time when you find a moment you can smile and appreciate the sunlight and not feel guilty about it.”

It is my hope that this organization will be the inspiration for similar organization forming throughout the U.S. to help bereaved families.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

May Events

May brings two important remembrance days, Memorial Day and Mother’s Day, both of which you can participate in if you live on the east coast near New York or Washington. In addition, if wanting to travel, an opportunity is also available to attend an international bereavement event. I bring this to you a month early, so that if interested you have time to make decisions to attend.

Memorial Day…a time of remembrance for the nation to honor those who have served and died…a difficult ‘holiday’ for military survivors. You can join TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) near the nation’s capital as they bring together survivors from across the country and leading professionals in the grief and trauma field to share a weekend of understanding, hope, courage, and love for those who died in the militaery. TAPS is proud to sponsor air travel for those who need assistance in attending the 2009 TAPS National Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for kids.

The events include (1) workshops for survivors to help heal and copy with life after a loss, supportive discussions and sharing experiences, (2) TAPS Good Grief Camp is the nation’s only event that connects military children of all ages who have lost someone they love in the Armed Forces. At camp, the children learn coping skills and develop their own peer network among new friends, (3) cutting edge professional training and workshops with the best grief and trauma specialists in the U.S. This is the only training opportunity of its kind in America for chaplains, casualty and mortuary staffs, family support groups, commanders and their spouses, military mental health personnel, medical staffs and therapists, (4) A peer mentor training program for those at least one year beyond their own loss and ready to be there for others and offer support is available.

The weekend is held at the Gaylord National Resort and Conference Center in Maryland. Contact for additional information.

The 4th annual “Now Childless Mother’s Day Brunch” will be held on Sunday, May 10, at the home of Ann and Jim Cook in Northport on Long Island, N.Y. “Although we don’t have any surviving children, we deserve to be honored because we will always be mothers,” says Ann.

Ann and Jim’s brunch has been growing each year. “That’s both good and bad. It’s good that parents feel comfortable enough to join us, but it is sad that there have to be so many who are childless. But being together gives us comfort and camaraderie,” she added.

Email for more information and mention “Now Childless Mother’s Day Brunch” in the subject line.

Also in May, The Compassionate Friends is holding their 5th International Gathering in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The theme: “Continuing to build bridges of love without borders” will commemorate 40 years since the organization was founded in Coventry, England. If interested in attending, visit for more information.

Finally, try to take a moment in this hurried crazy world to

** Watch clouds make pictures across an afternoon sky.
** Let music find its path to your heart.
** Dance to your own music and sing in harmony to your own rhythms.
** Follow a bird on its flight and wonder where it is going.
** Sit in the grass and make flower rings.
** Walk on an old path and kick leaves.
** Plug in the coffee pot and enjoy a quiet moment, watching it perk.
** Listen to your heart and follow it.
** Remember a moment and let it become a lifetime.
** Let the tears come if they do and let them trickle down your face.

And have a very Happy Easter today.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Stages of Grief

In the first few years of your grief journey, you will experience so many different emotions, all of which are normal and not “weird” as some people may say to you.

There are five phases of grief (some experts use different names for each phase, but in the end they are all the same). As I write about each, I’ll tell you how I personally fit into each one. Keep in mind that once you leave one phase and move on to another, it does not mean you will not return to that phase or overlap between phases. Going back and forth is normal. You will be able to deal with it all eventually, but don’t expect too much of yourself at first and also don’t expect to move on too quickly. Your grief journey could take you anywhere from one to five years or even more. It all depends on how you handle each phase, each benchmark. Each phase offers an opportunity for growth. Facing this process takes courage and a willingness to want to get better. I hope you all get something out of this, whether you have gone through it yet or not.

The first phase is SHOCK. You can’t believe this has happened. Children don’t die before their parents. How the death occurred and whether it was a sudden death or anticipated death can determine how you first react. You might scream, shout, feel confused, be forgetful or just be so numb you can’t function at all. My daughter’s death was a sudden death, a car accident. I remember being so numb at first, I just wanted information, to know how it had happened, when and where…and then the thought came that perhaps this was just a cruel joke…so a call went out to the morgue. Yes, she was there. Then the screams came. Everything became a blur, and I desperately wanted to make some sense out of what had happened but couldn’t. At some point when the shock wears off, you begin to feel the intensity of your grief and move into the second phase.

The second phase is AWARENESS OF LOSS. In this phase we might experience anger. My child was killed by an impaired driver. My anger began to build as the days and months wore on, and I kept saying to myself, “What a waste of a beautiful life!” I wanted the driver caught and punished. He was never found, causing the anger to last a long time. Other characteristics might include prolonged stress and physical anxiety like your heart beating very fast when thinking about the situation; oversensitivity at what people may say, do and not do; a sense of security severely uprooted through stress; and guilt at not being able to save your child.

The third phase CONSERVATION/WITHDRAWAL can include fatigue, despair, a weakened immune system and hibernation. Many parents don’t realize they are not getting enough rest and sleep. They may withdraw from friends and want to be alone with their thoughts. By this phase they are exhausted with all that has happened and in a time of dark despair because physical and emotional defenses are seriously diminished. You may find yourself getting physically ill with the flu because your immune system is in a weakened state. Your body has used up by now all of your physical and emotional energy. You need to take care of yourself and begin your grief work to get over the hump of this phase. Decide who are you now and what you are going to do with the rest of your life? I was not in this phase a long time. Although I was lethargic and didn’t care about anything now that my daughter had died, I did not get physically ill. After a while I began, regrettably, to get back into a pattern of living a different kind of life without her.
The fourth phase is HEALING. In this phase you begin to take control of your life. You realize your old life is over forever and you must begin to find a new path, in essence form a new identity. You will probably lose some friends who can’t deal with your loss but in the process find new ones who have experienced the loss of a child and want to share their thoughts and feelings with you. You may find a grief group in your area to join or grief recovery books to read. Healing comes slowly; sometimes you don’t realize it is happening. You may discover an interest in something new, you may feel more energetic, you may have to restructure the person you were before. When you finally let go, your identity shifts and you will be able to see your new life for what it is.

The last phase is RENEWAL. Those who have lost a child have to learn to live without them. Turning to the future you realize you are not the same person you were before your child died. You have new priorities and new goals and new compassion to share with others. The phase of renewal provides the opportunity to develop new self-awareness as well as emotional independence. Take charge of your life. What did I do? I became very involved with helping others who are grieving, by speaking to groups and letting them know they are not alone and that they will find their way eventually. I fulfilled an inner need that I had and it gave me both happiness and satisfaction knowing I could be of help to others.

There is no way to predict how long your recovery will take. We have to learn much along the way before we can move through the process. And we have to believe the better times will come. I can personally tell you that they did for me as I’m sure they will for you.