Sunday, September 27, 2009

The Acronym TEAR As Related To Grief

I read in a recent article that grief work can be summarized by the acronym TEAR:

T = To accept the reality of your loss
E = Experience the pain of your loss
A = Adjust to the environment without the deceased
R = Reinvest in the new reality

This made a lot of sense to me. All four of these are important if you are to move through your grief journey.

I remember at first when my daughter died, it was like she had just gone away for a while and that I would see her again. I was denying the loss, probably because I couldn’t believe this had happened to me. It took three years before I realized she wouldn’t be coming back. That is probably the reason that when people ask me which year was the worst, I always respond: the third year.

Losing a child is like no other loss you can ever experience. The feelings that go along with this are horrific and almost unbearable. I brought this child into the world. I nourished and watched her grow. She was my future and now both our futures are gone. These are the thoughts that might run through one’s mind, along with many others, most prominent being, “Why did this happen? What did I do to deserve this? Why me?” During this time you don’t feel like doing anything. Time has stopped for now. But as time passes, you learn to deal with the death and live one minute a day, one hour a day and one day at a time. It is almost like you must relearn to get out of bed, get dressed, eat, go to work. I always think of the man who had to make a list of what he had to do each day so he could learn how to function again after the death of his son. When the time came that he could accomplish one thing on the list, he would feel good and cross it off. It took a long time for him to get through the list, but when he did, he was reassured that he was a survivor.

Life does indeed go on and it goes on without your child. There are many things you did with your child that you may no longer want to even attempt to do. When a friend invites you to a baseball game, your first thought may be, “I did that with my daughter. I can’t ever go to another baseball game.” You will find that if you do go, it will definitely be difficult, but when it’s over, you can look back and breathe a sigh of relief that you made it through. It is these “firsts” that are the most difficult, and there will be a lot of firsts in your new life. Marcy died 4 months after her marriage and a friend of mine was marrying her son off to a beautiful girl. She wanted me to attend, and it was only 6 months after Marcy died. I couldn’t go. I knew I would break down and cry and didn’t want to in front of others. So I asked her to please excuse me, but I couldn’t attend. She understood. But now, many years later I do go to other weddings. Sure, I think of Marcy, but it is with happy thoughts of what a beautiful bride she was and what a beautiful wedding it was. Ironically, I will be attending a niece’s wedding in October, to be held on Marcy’s wedding day. I don’t know how I’ll feel, but I think it will be all right. Enough time has passed, and I’ve adjusted to an environment without my daughter. But it takes a lot of time and effort to live in a world without your child.

I had to define new goals and new priorities in my life after the death of my child. I am now a different person and the new me needs to share with others who have had the same experience as I have, to help others who need a friendly ear, and to share with others new-found wisdom about life and death. Throwing yourself into your daily routine, exercising, and eating right all help to make you feel better. Call friends and family; they all care about you and your well-being.

Dealing with death and the aftermath is very stressful so rest and don’t overtax yourself. Don’t be upset if you start crying at any moment. It is a normal part of the grieving process and will happen often. It will also release all the tension of the day or week that has built up. Don’t feel guilty about it. Lastly, don’t forget to do something for yourself. It could be shopping, walking, or just reading a good book. The grief journey is hard work and you need to do whatever helps you cope best.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Celebrating Uniqueness of a Life

Celebrating the uniqueness of a loved one who has died has healing capacity beyond words, according to Adrienne Crowther, who started a memorial art business a little over a year ago. Her mission was to help people honor and memorialize their loved ones forever with art.

“I have a lifelong passion for art, and I believe that it’s really the ultimate expression of who we are as humans. Art can express emotion beyond words,” she said.

Ironically for Adrienne, her husband recently died, and she and her children were able to put their beliefs to practice. Both of her daughters are artists and they are designing and building a cremation urn for the dad. It will be carved with their hands, designed from their hearts and reflect his personality and essence.

Shine On Brightly, the name of her business, features artist-designed, hand-crafted products to memorialize and celebrate lives of loved ones. A variety of materials and styles are available, including ceramics, jewelry, glass, wood, metal, textile art and paper art pieces. The website also offers links to valuable resources to help with end-of-life issues. It also shows in pictures some of the beautiful artwork that is done. They can also be reached at 1-866-844-4469.

Shine On Brightly is also responding to the rapidly growing rate of cremations in the U.S. and worldwide. Container options for cremation remains are limited and are often mass-produced outside of the U.S. Adrienne said that many people are commissioning art pieces to incorporate the ashes of a loved one. “We also offer beautiful object to honor that person in other ways for those who are uncomfortable with keeping the remains. For those clients we have customized books, jewelry and textile pieces.”

After looking at the web site, one can select a product or work with one of their artists to create a unique, personalized memorial. “Art can pay tribute to someone and serve as a constant symbol of the unique spirit within. We believe that our products are a wonderful way to memorialize a life.”

I know that I constantly look for ways and options to memorialize my daughter. One of my proudest items I display is her picture embossed in a gold pendant that I wear. Many parents opt to take a piece of their child’s clothing, send it to Carey Bears and have it used as the material on a cute stuffed animal that is handmade. There are many ways and products out there to choose from, if that is what you want to do. Or you can take a look at this new website that celebrates each individual’s uniqueness through art.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Googling Your Child's Name

A few days ago I started rummaging through the internet and decided to put in my daughter’s full name when unmarried and see what came up. I was astonished to find two google pages of information on her and links to me, my book, open to hope and the fund established in her name. Fifteen years ago she died, and yet I now have proof that she still lives on for others to see.

The most interesting note I saw dealt with her high school alma mater. Back in 2004, ten years after her death, two of her friends (and I recognized the names, since I knew most of their names during her high school time) had written a brief note saying how much she is missed and mentioned what I assume was the topic of two funny incident between all of them.

Wow! I can tell you how that made me feel. Pretty darn good to realize I am not the only one who remembers. And pretty darn good to know that there are so many sites and so many ways we can remember our children. The sites are out there always for us to see and to set up your own.

In another blog written a few weeks ago on my site, I had a comment about Marcy’s high school and perhaps doing a scholarship there. It was an anonymous note but, wow, someone else who knew Marcy who had a suggestion for keeping her memory alive 15 years after her death. As a side note: for many years I did do a scholarship at the school I taught in. Now I am concentrating more on her fund and helping others through that means.

Yesterday, I googled Marcy’s married name and the same information came up. Amazing what we can find and do on the internet.

I encourage all of you to google your child’s name and see what comes up. I hope you find that your child also is not forgotten.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Forgiveness Has a Satisfying Quality

Are there wrongs that are unforgiveable: the Nazi death camps during the holocaust, the victims of Bernie Madoff, families who lost loved ones on 9/11, a horrific car accident where a drunk driver killed eight members of the University of Wyoming cross-country team?

If you had family members or loved ones die in one of these three occurrences, could you forgive those responsible? In the case of the cross-country team accident, one mother has forgiven the driver; one father can not.

From the mother: “I can’t live my life with hate and anger in my heart; I just can’t.” From the father: “If I forgive him, then my son died for nothing.” Both of these parents now work on committees against drunk drivers and give talks to groups and students.

But the mother has gone one step further. She and the drunk driver who killed her son speak together. They speak across the entire country. The driver shares the fact that every day he realizes what he is responsible for. The two embrace onstage and sometimes shock and anger other parents in the audience. Again, some agree with what the mother is doing; others do not. But the mother says she can’t deal with this without forgiving him.

The driver comes up for parole in a couple of years. Both the mother and father whose children died in this accident disagree as to whether he should go free. The mother wants the boy to have a life, a family; the father is angry that the driver will probably get to, but his son won’t get any of that. “It’s just not in my heart to forgive,” says the father. He can’t do it. They have come to opposite conclusions.

My daughter was killed by an impaired driver. We know it was either alcohol or drugs, but since he was never caught, to this day and probably forever, we never will know the truth. I tell people that I believe he will do it again someday to someone else, get caught and eventually get his just rewards. That is all I want to believe. I am glad I did not have to look him in the eyes at a court trial. I do not know his face, so it doesn’t haunt me. Although that part of my closure has always eluded me, I believe I am personally better off this way. There is no forgiveness and no revenge in me to deal with.

Human beings are driven by two different impulses at the same time. Revenge and forgiveness are like two sides of the coin. Revenge is a universal feature of human nature, and we also know that there is a natural default compacity to forgive that also exists in every human mind on the planet, according to Professor Michael McCoulough from the University of Miami. We are taught that revenge is like a disease but in his recent book, he argues otherwise. The brain system that produces revenge is the same system used when looking for something to eat when we’re hungry. It’s the desire to satisfy a craving.

Forgiveness is part of the brain associated with empathy, he adds. “Forgiveness is born in part from the experience of someone else’s pain. It doesn’t feel good to seek revenge on people you feel sorry for. When someone harms us we get upset emotionally and physically. We might hunger for revenge, but forgiveness is better for our health. If you want to feel better, revenge can do that only in the short term, but it’s kind of like junk food in terms of happiness. In the long term what forgiveness does is restore valuable relationships and that has a long term, satisfying quality to it.”

Look inside yourself and try to understand how you would react if it was you in any of these circumstances and see if forgiveness is the path you would choose