Sunday, November 29, 2009

Bequests To Give Our Children

There are two lasting bequests we can give our children: one is roots, the other is wings.
----Hadding Carter

I like to think of my time with my child before her death as a nourishing time for her. I am proud of what she was and believe that how she was brought up and steering her in the right direction is what, to this day, makes her memorable to others. Her friends and family always came first. Her thoughtfulness, I always admitted, even exceeded mine.

I remember her wedding and the reception, which was held at a beautiful hotel. First was the cocktail party…but Marcy and her husband were no where to be seen. I began to worry when 45 minutes later they appeared, holding hands and a huge smile across their faces.

“Where were you?” I questioned her, a little angry, but certainly curious.

“We stopped in the dining room to make sure everything was okay with the tables, the decorations and the name cards,” she said, and I discovered that they put Dad’s table (we were divorced) closer to the head table than yours.” “I thought you’d be upset, so I switched the cards. I knew Dad wouldn’t care.”

“You’re right,” I laughed. "I probably would have been upset." Cute, I thought to myself.

That followed through with everything she did. Ever thoughtful of others and not wanting to upset anyone, she always made sure that if she had Thanksgiving dinner with me one year, the following year it was with her father. Fair is fair she would say, and I definitely agreed and had no problem with that.

Another incident made me understand more than anything what she was about. Before she married she lived with a girlfriend and they had gone out to purchase a lamp for the apartment. Marcy was going to pay for it, but the friend insisted on paying, since Marcy had been letting her stay rent-free until she got a job. When her friend was called a few days later and told she had won $1 million dollars from a VISA charge contest (she had charged the lamp on her VISA), Marcy was so pleased for her.

“I’m curious,” I asked my daughter. “Aren’t you just a little jealous that she won all that money when the lamp was going to be on your credit card originally?”

“Oh, no,” she said. “My friend really needed the money, and I’m glad for her.” As I looked at Marcy, I only saw pure happiness for her friend. There was not an ounce of jealousy in her. How proud I was. What a fine human being I brought into this world. There was always something that made me proud of her whether it was in school, at work or in a social situation.

Let them do whatever they want with their lives; that was always my philosophy. If she wanted to be an actress (at one time that was a possibility), a doctor, an accountant like her father, or just get married and be a housewife…as long as she was happy, I didn’t worry about her choices. Where some parents may try to direct their children or worse, tell them what they should do, I was confident Marcy would do the right thing. She was ambitious and wanted a career in addition to a husband and family. I sensed that and let her have her own wings. It was completely her decision as far as I was concerned.

At one point she announced one day after graduating college that she was going to move to New York to be close to her boyfriend who was going to work there soon in the financial sector. Even though her heart was set to have a career in advertising and start in Los Angeles, she was a woman in love and willing to follow her man. I didn’t really approve but, like a good mother, said, “Okay, if that’s what you want.” At the last moment he changed his mind; she got angry and moved to L.A. without him and got an advertising job her first day there. He ended up following her to L.A., but the relationship never worked out. Why do I remember that so well? Because Marcy bought me a card saying how loved I was by her and wrote at the bottom, “Thanks for letting me make my own decisions and my own mistakes. You’re the best mom in the world.” I still have that card 25 years later.

I choose to believe and it warms my heart to think that through these and other examples in Marcy’s life, I gave her the needed roots and let her soar.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sharing at Thanksgiving

This week we celebrate on of our biggest family holidays and my mind often wonders to people like myself, who, except for my husband and his family (who live in Canada), don’t really have any family to celebrate with anymore. Let me be perfectly clear that we don’t sit at home and mourn the fact that my child died more than 15 years ago, and I don’t have my parents or any siblings. We have friends that invite us over or out to celebrate. But is it the same? Absolutely not. Do I think of the happy times I spent with my daughter and all our extended family? Of course I do. And as I think of all of them, who died far too early in life, I also think of others who are now in the same situation as I am, and I’m sad for them. I know how they feel, but I also know that there are ways to deal with it in whatever works best for you. This is one father’s story.

In my book one father had to deal not only with the loss of his child but also with the fact that no one wanted to talk about his son anymore. Father and son were on a helicopter sightseeing tour of New York City, when the helicopter malfunctioned and crashed into the East River. The father tried desperately to save his son by continually diving beneath the water, but to no avail. His son was tangled in the wreckage and was the only one of four people to drown. It took this father years of therapy and help from friends and grief organizations to sort out his devastation. In time he recovered but in the process became estranged from some family members and friends who wouldn’t talk about what had happened.

He has and will always have fond memories of many Thanksgivings that included his son and likes to bring these memories up during the dinner parties he and his wife have during the holiday season. On the other hand, the relatives who he still talks to aren’t interested in discussing his child.

He made a decision: at the dinner table when everyone is talking, he brings his son’s name into the conversation. “They don’t have a choice,” he says. “I make them listen. I don’t want my boy to be forgotten, so I talk about the good memories. They are forced to listen (what else can they do, get up from the table and walk in the other room!). Maybe, just maybe, one time soon, they’ll remember how important it is to me and include him in their conversations."

We all want others to remember our children. I, for one, am glad he does that. He is making a point. Just because his child isn’t here physically, he existed; he was important; he had dreams for the future; he wanted to make a difference; and he is and was loved.

Our love for them will never leave us; our children will always be a part of us, whether it is Thanksgiving, Christmas, or any other day of the year. Love and memories never die.

Note: if you have a story you'd like to share about how you have handled an awkward situation related to the death of your child, please share and send me an email at .

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Giving Thanks

Thanksgiving: it is November, and we are approaching the time of year for giving thanks. As bereaved parents, we might say to ourselves, “What do we have to be thankful for?” Our child is gone from our lives forever. We will never see them again. We will never speak to them again. We will never hear them call out to us again in the night for comfort. We have lost part of ourselves, and when a family holiday comes around for celebration, we sometimes, for a while, take a step back in our grief journey.

I know when this time of year comes around, I try very hard not to be negative, but it is difficult. Thanksgiving 1993 was the last time I saw my daughter in a family setting eating Turkey and pumpkin pie. It was a happy time for us all, and I try to focus on those and other happy times. So I sat down last week and made a list of all the things in my new life I am grateful for at this holiday season. I’d like to share that list with you.

I am thankful I could share 27 years of my daughter’s life with her. She was a beautiful, intelligent, gracious child who I was always so proud of and will always be proud of. I am so thankful I had her and would not trade that for anything.

I am thankful that I have wonderful memories of my child in photos and tapes, in talking and sharing with her good friends, and in knowing she was very loved by not only her Dad and I but also everyone with whom she came in contact.

I am thankful for friends who are always so willing to share the holiday with my husband and I. Most of the time we go, although it can be very difficult listening to others talk about their children and grandchildren, but we go because we know others care, and it warms our heart.

I am thankful for my three godchildren, born from my daughter’s best friend. Since I will never have grandchildren, I was honored to be asked to be a godmother as Marcy’s Dad was to be a godfather. We are always included in any family gatherings and all birthday parties. The children spend the night occasionally, and we try to do fun things. One of them is named after my daughter and strangely enough, I do not think of my Marcy when I say her name. She is her own person, and I respect that.

I am thankful for a beautiful day when the sun shines down, and I can watch the flowers bloom. I wish I could share it with my daughter in person, but I know she is looking down on me and wishing me well.

I am thankful when I can be of help to someone in need, whether it be someone who needs a meal or someone who just needs company so as not to feel lonely.

I am thankful that I can wake up each day to a new beginning and get excited about the little things I do: exercise, play bridge, work on travel related projects, write and visit with my husband, who is also a very busy person. A fulfilling day is one where I get at least three important things done from a long list of items I’d like to accomplish.

Positive thoughts help tremendously at the holiday season. Open your heart and mind and allow yourself to see the simple everyday things that you can be grateful for. I hope you can take some of these thoughts and incorporate them into your life. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you, and I hope you can share some of the holiday with friends and loved ones.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sharing Memories

Sharing memories after the death of a child can help the grieving family more than you’ll ever know.

If you were close to the child who died, there are many things you can do to help, but the absolute best is to help keep their memory alive by sharing precious moments you had with the child, whether it was a school function, a working environment, a party or just a fun evening at one of the homes.

I give the example of my own experience when my daughter died. Even those who didn’t know my daughter Marcy were able to share something comforting. I met the couple who happened to be right behind her car accident. I did not know any circumstances of the accident and was eager to hear what they had to say. They were able to give me a minute by minute description of what they had seen. You see, they knew my daughter’s husband through work, but had never met Marcy. They did not recognize either of them because the new car which had just been driven off the dealer’s lot, was unrecognizable and Marcy's husband was pinned underneath parts of the debris. They politely asked me if I wanted to know the details as they saw the accident unfold.

I said, “Yes, I want to know everything you can tell me. No one else could do that.” And so they did. They particularly spoke of how a paramedic was two cars away and tried for 20 minutes to resuscitate Marcy. They took Simon the few blocks to the hospital, knowing he needed a life-threatening operation. They stayed and watched the time unfold and the obviously distraught expression and mannerisms of the paramedic, knowing after a few minutes there was nothing he could do to help Marcy. It was important to hear from them that she looked peaceful, as though she was just asleep. It was also comforting to know she did not suffer. It was an instant death. This couple took the time to tell it like it happened. I appreciated their honesty and will always cherish knowing the facts from an eye witness.

As time passed I received over 100 notes and stories from Marcy’s friends, about what a good friend she was and how she held groups of people together with her friendship and kindness. It was comforting to know how much she was loved and that she left a legacy for others to emulate.

At her funeral more than 300 people attended. Some gave eulogies and spoke of what she meant to them. It does help in the grief process to know that your child was admired by so many. I was told a year later near the anniversary of the accident that some of her friends got together at a restaurant to talk and reminisce about her. One of her friends was kind enough to call and tell me about the meeting. There were funny stories and thoughtful moments. All their comments were precious memories to keep within my heart.

The testimonies of people regarding those who died are witness to what kind of young people they were. Good does come from tragedy in the form of memories, in this case, so I would encourage anyone who has the opportunity and ability to share something comforting with the remaining family after the death of a child to do just that.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Pain and Suffering

A powerful Buddhist quote: “Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional.” When you are in pain, your heart aches, your body feels numb, because someone you love is gone. When we suffer, we may ask, “Will we ever be able to move on? We’re in a rut. We resist getting better.”

The onslaught of pain is inevitable when a child dies. This human being was part of you. You helped make this person, so naturally, if they die (for whatever reason), a part of you dies also, and your heart aches for them. Shock, anger, fright and shaken: any of these emotions can cause pain. It may take either a short or long while before your pain is gone, but there are some who never move on, who never can accept what happened. These people are suffering unnecessarily. There are some strategies that might help those who are having difficulty moving forward and beyond suffering.

1. Write a journal about your feelings. If you have a bad dream or even a good dream, write it down in the morning and reflect on it later in the day.
2. Take a long walk each day to reflect, cry, pray or just sit by yourself.
3. Describe your feelings in a poem, drawing or letter to your loved one and put away for a while, look at it again and reflect on what you said or sketched.
4. See a grief counselor or spiritual leader. These people often have words of wisdom to guide you along on your journey and no one else needs to know you have seen them, if you find it embarrassing.
5. Do things with family. Although this may bring back memories you want to forget, it may also bring back good memories of your loved one that you can keep in your heart forever and think about often.
6. Ask friends to share memories of your loved one. Hard as you may try, you can’t remember everything, and your friends may be able to lighten your heart and mind with a story that you can treasure forever.
7. To feel connected to your loved one, wear a piece of clothing or piece of jewelry that was once theirs.
8. Do a small pamphlet of your loved one’s life in pictures and words and give it to special family and friends who you believe never want your loved one forgotten.
9. Contribute to a cause or start a scholarship fund or foundation in memory of your loved one. See that others can make their lives better through your help. Your loved one would be proud of you.
10. Be a friend to another person who is grieving. Shared experiences can help both of you going through the grieving process.
11. Live each day to the fullest. Help others when you are needed. Hug others when they need your touch. Show patience, sympathy, and empathy to others. Give others what you would also like to have, a soft touch, an understanding smile, a shoulder to lean on, and it will come back to you ten-fold.

Make a commitment to yourself that you will do the best you can each in the midst of your loss, and your life will have more meaning and reach a type of fulfillment you never dreamed possible. Follow your heart by taking one step at a time to deal with your pain and suffering.