Saturday, July 25, 2009

Memories of the moon walk

When we hear the term “moon walk” our minds immediately think of entertainer Michael Jackson and his famous dance that has become a classic. But there is another literal “moon walk” and a few days ago we celebrated 40 years since man landed and walked on the moon, July 20, 1969. That anniversary brought back a torrent of memories, most of which made me sit in disbelief that so much time has passed so quickly and my life has changed in ways I could never have imagined, both good and bad.

I know where I was at the moment they landed on the moon…my husband, 3-year-old daughter and I had gone to Tucson to visit friends for lunch and sat fixed in front of their television set watching all that was happening. We were so young and innocent as we watched what we thought would be a future of moon walks and other exciting events in outer space during our lifetime.

But time has a way of bring us down to reality. Although we had a comfortable life during those years, we didn’t make a fortune in the stock market of the 70’s and 80’s. I didn’t become a writer for a large newspaper; I taught writing instead and produced my own newspaper for many years. My husband and I grew apart and divorced. And my daughter, who had a wonderful childhood, didn’t live to fulfill her dreams of having children, a career, traveling or a life with her new husband. All my family members are gone now except for a few cousins; good friends have died needlessly from illnesses or accidents; the world has experienced more wars and terrorism than imaginable.

Seeing the film footage of man landing on the moon again brings me to tears because I think of all the good that could have come from science and technology, yet now we have to worry about threats from countries with nuclear bombs. I think of the days of innocence when we all left our home doors unlocked so friends could come in and visit any time of the day or night. And it was okay to let your child play at the park with friends and not have to think about child abductions and worse. I worry about our future children and what kind of world they will be living in.

And, of course, I relive my life with my daughter, the great relationship we had, and think of all the wonderful things she accomplished in her short life and how I will always miss her. Since her death 15 years ago, my life has changed considerably. I did do what I wanted: write a book, but never dreaming she would be the impetus for it. I did lots of traveling, but all the time wishing she could enjoy the trips with me. I had a successful teaching career of 28 years. And I did finally meet the love of my life six years ago and never knew I could be so happy.

I now realize how happy my daughter was with her husband of four short months, looking forward to a bright future. Sometimes I even believe I am living the life she would have, doing the things she would have, meeting new friends and fulfilling dreams I never thought possible. Sometimes I even find myself using words and phrases that would have come from her mouth. I smile because I know she will always be with me, encouraging me to keep going and do whatever makes me happy.

Shine on, silvery moon. I may not see the day of moon travel for all of us, but I know, because my daughter lived, I am a better person, and she is smiling down at me from somewhere up there.

Editor's note: Happy Birthday, Marcy. She would have been 43 years old Monday, July 27.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

Grief in the Workplace

Returning to work after the death of a child can be difficult for both the employee and the employer. It is estimated that $37.5 billion in lost productivity can be attributed to the death of a loved one. No matter where the grieving individual is located on the organizational chart, any business will suffer from the loss of productive work time, mistakes on the job, and the disillusionment of other employees who witness the struggle. Staff turnover means costly recruitment and training.

The grief following the death of a child is intense, long-lasting and complex. This poses unique challenges for the one grieving and for the employer.


Besides the obvious that work is the last thing on your mind during this time, you are probably dreading facing your co-workers. You may have difficulty making work decisions, be frustrated, depressed, irritable, and disinterested in work related details. You are probably worried about starting to cry in front of the work force. The sensitivity of people within the work environment has a profound effect on the recovery process.

There are some steps you can take to ease the transition back to work. The office should be called and told what happened. Funeral arrangements can also be relayed for those close to you who may want to attend. Don’t feel you must tell every detail about the circumstances of the death.

Ask for some time off or perhaps you might ask to return for only part days at the beginning of your grief journey. You may also need help with certain projects at work; don’t forget to show your appreciation for that help. Make sure you know the policies on bereavement leave and ask for whatever time you think you need

You may also want to request a grief counselor to meet with the other employees and answer any questions they may have about how they can help or what to expect. That specialist can also teach other employees a little about the grief process so they are familiar with what to do when you are having a bad day.

More than anything, bereaved parents want to talk about their child, whether it be at home, at a meeting or in their workplace. You may want to talk about your child at work, but don’t overdo it. Other employees should be aware that you probably need to talk in order to heal. Mention the child’s name so others will know it is okay for them to talk about the child also.

Above all else, keep the lines of communication open so your employer will know how to deal with the situation also.


Many responsible employers are asking what they can do. Employers should relate funeral arrangements to everyone and even try to attend if possible to show support. It is also important to know the different cultural customs that some employees may practice.

They need to be interested and listen to their employee so that communication is not a problem. Work with the employee, give more time if needed to complete a task or adjust work hours for him. Be aware there is no precise time table for recovery. By showing support and caring, the employer is making the bereaved parent feel more at ease when it is time to come back to the workplace. Showing compassion is key here.

The best response when an employee comes back to work is just to say, “I’m so sorry.” Bereaved parents don’t want to hear any platitudes such as “God only takes the good ones” or “You can have more children.”

Don’t be afraid to mention support groups that may help the bereaved. There are many out there and it depends on the way the child died as to which one they might want to attend. Don’t assume the bereaved parent knows all about them. Check them out yourself by going to the Compassionate Friends site or Hospice site. They would be more than happy to direct you to the right source.

Finally, the employer should make sure that all employees get some type of grief awareness counseling so they know what they are up against when a bereaved parent returns to work.

If you are a bereaved parent and you believe your workplace could use some assistance, don’t be afraid to offer your own advice or see to it that someone else does. There are organizations and professionals out there that can create an environment where the workplace is part of the healing grief process.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Crisis in a Marriage

Many couples who have experienced the death of their child may also experience a crisis in their marriage as a result. This untimely event can be an opportunity for growth bringing the two people closer together.

The belief that a bereaved couple is doomed to divorce is blown way out of proportion. In fact, a Compassionate Friends survey has indicated that only 4 percent of couples who divorce do so because of the child’s death, that something else was wrong in the relationship before the child died. If the couple has always had a good marriage, typically that marriage will grow stronger, not collapse.

Making your relationship a priority during this difficult time should be your goal. One way to do this is to talk about your child. Remember the good times, funny incidents. Laugh at something silly that your child did as well as remember any awards, honors and graduations that made you so proud. Don’t dwell on how your child died. That is not going to bring him or her back. If you feel guilty about something, talk about it. If you are angry about something, talk about that also. Couples have a bond with their child that no one else can match and by talking about those bonds and your feelings, you may realize how very similar you feel or at least respect the opposite feelings of your partner.

The chance of both parents grieving in the same way is unlikely. Partners should allow each other grieving space at their own rate and in their own way. Personality, previous experiences, and your own style of grieving contribute to that respect of grieving space. If one partner wants to cry, that doesn’t mean the other one has to cry. If one partner doesn’t feel like going out, he or she shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. If you can’t decide what to make for breakfast, don’t worry about it; your child died, you need time to adjust, and you eventually will.

A few other suggestions may work for you. Talk to friends about your relationship with your husband to ease the stress buildup. Perhaps they have a good resource for any problems. You may also need to express feelings about your loss to friends that you are not ready to discuss with your spouse.

Sometimes when one partner feels really bad, going off on your own for a few hours or a day may give you a new perspective. Don’t bring your spouse down or make them suffer with sarcastic comments, harmful accusations just because you feel miserable.

Look for ways you can please your spouse to ease some of his/her pain. Do some activity with him/her that you don’t usually do but know the other would like you to. Make a special meal that the other enjoys eating. Or do something related to your child that up until now you have not been able to do.

At the end of the day, coming together is important. Review with your spouse what has happened that day, how you are feeling and what you are thinking. You will more than likely learn a lot about your partner during this period of your life more than at any other time.

Time is also a great healer. As time passes you will discover a sense of acceptance of what has happened to you and your spouse and, hopefully, have the willingness to learn to find new ways of living your life ‘together’ without your child.

Editor's note: I want to make a correction from my last blog about the other side of grief: my friend's son died 2 and 1/2 years ago and her husband did go to grief therapy with her for a year.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Getting to the Other Side of Grief

A friend of mine told me recently that she is moving on with her life after her only son died a year and a half ago. Her voice sounded upbeat. Her spirits were soaring. Only good things are happening now, and she is enjoying what she has to look forward to: grandchildren growing up, graduating, marrying, a good relationship with her daughter-in-law who just remarried. “Now,” she says, “I want to figure out what I want to do with the rest of my life.”

When this first happened, I could not convince her she would survive the loss. She told me that she realizes now what she misses the most besides her son’s presence in her life. “I miss the conversations we had, the fighting back and forth, most times with a good ending. I miss the exchange of loving phrases. I miss the laughter.”

I tried to make a coffee date to see her and was finally successful. Her calendar was busy with whatever activities she enjoys and people she enjoys being with. She will find her way, I am confident, and I am happy she has come so far.

Sadly, her husband is not in the same place. He can not get past his son’s death, nor the way he died. He does not want to go to a grief group or see a counselor. I’m sure he feels a lot of anger and rage at what happened and probably asks himself (as most of us do) “Why me?” Hopefully, he too, can do it on his own, but he is an example of what I am writing these columns for, hoping that something will click for him too. And one day I’m sure it will. It will just take him longer. No two people grieve alike or for the same amount of time. I’m convinced he will come out on the other side of grief as my friend has.

This couple is a good example of how men and women, husbands and wives, aren’t necessarily in the same place after the death of their child. But if they can talk about the child, remember good times and their loving relationship with the child and not concentrate on how the child died or that they couldn’t save them, in the end, their communication will hopefully help each other accept and cope with their loss.

In memory of Vicki Tushingham, active in many grief organizations after her child died, I’d like to share one of her many eloquent poems she wrote during her lifetime that perhaps says it better than I ever could for any mother or father trying to get to the other side of grief:


There is a place called memory,
Where we sometimes like to roam.
Through hills of love and laughter,
A place we know as home.

A place that’s free from all this pain,
Where our hearts are light once more.
A place that lives forever where life is,
As it was before.

Our children live in memory
They laugh and dance and sing.
Their lives are filled with magic
That only heaven can bring.

They feel no hurt or anger,
Their spirits are free as air.
And God’s love will always protect them
In times when we aren’t there.

Cherish this place called memory
Feel the love that lives there.
Remember the joys, the warmth of the sun,
And the bond you will always share.

Smile at happy moments
Laugh at times gone by,
Let the tears you cry be happy ones
Know love will never die.

Have no fear of visiting
The joy will outweigh the pain.
Learn to treasure memory
There is much that you will gain.

For though life is not, as it was before,
And never will be again.
Our memories are much richer
Than if love had never been.