Saturday, August 1, 2009

Leaving Memorials

Commonalities exist among bereaved parents. When I was doing research for my book, I discovered after 25 interviews with bereaved parents the following five commonalities:

(1) they want to leave memorials of some type to honor their child; (2) they choose to find a cause, a reason to move on with their lives and spoke of how they would live those lives ;(3) they believe everyone grieves differently and at different rates, and that as painful as it is, it is important to go through this process to come to terms with the reality of the loss; (4) they know they will have setbacks and/or a rush of emotions that can be overwhelming when they might least expect it and that doesn’t mean they will not heal; and (5) they believe they are different people now than they were when their child was alive with different goals, different priorities, different friends, and a new life with a new richness to it that focuses on what our children left us…the gift of having them.

In each of the next five blogs, I will focus on each of these commonalities, repeating them all at the beginning of the blog to keep it all in perspective. The first one: they want to leave memorials of some type to honor their child. All parents want their child to be remembered and what better way to do that then to build memorials. These memorials can be anything from a scholarship named after them, to having their name on a newly built building, depending on your resources.

Some of the things I did were to start a journalism scholarship at my school so that every year I could tell Marcy’s story to the audience at the senior honor’s assembly before announcing the winner. Both my daughter and I were great fans of drama, plays, and any kind of theater production. Because of this, I bought bricks in newly constructed buildings in her memory and could say anything I wanted on the bricks (the building owners sold these bricks to raise money, and I was more than willing to oblige them). I did this at theaters, cultural centers and even the Diamondback Baseball Stadium. Her boss had a memorial area built at the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion in Los Angeles in her honor. When I attend a production, visit Los Angeles or go to a baseball game, I pause to look at them and smile. I know she is there smiling back at me for doing it. Even her best friend had a complete drama center built at a summer camp, collected the money and did the overseeing of the construction. A dedication was held at the completion and a plaque placed on the building. Most recently I started a foundation in her memory to benefit students and organizations related to communications and drama.

One mother in my book can now go to her church and see a painted mural of her two children along with other children who died. They are playing baseball in the mural, which was painted by a father who had also lost his son. Guided tours tell each child’s story.

Another mother was invited to do a section of an AIDS quilt honoring her son who had died from the disease. Many of his friends participated in the preparation of the section of quilt and it made them all feel part of the memorial tribute. It was displayed in both Drew University in New Jersey and in Washington, D.C., where, spread out, it stretched from the Capitol to the Washington Monument. It is now housed in San Francisco and can be seen by all.

Other parents find it important to speak to different groups on how their child died and the impact of certain actions that could cause a death, in hopes of saving other lives in crisis along the way. Others, like myself, have written books to both tell their story and offer advice that has helped them survive.

Some parents choose to do their own quiet personal memorials at their home where they will celebrate birthdays and holiday or do activities in the schools the children attended. Others like to donate flowers to their church on the children’s birthday or death day. Still others decorate the children’s graves at holidays such as Christmas.

There are so many things to help parents through their grief journey. A parent needs to decide what will work for them when they decide to honor and remember their children.

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