Sunday, December 27, 2009

Elizabeth Edwards and "Saving Graces"

I met Elizabeth Edwards, wife of Senator John Edwards, two years ago at the National Compassionate Friends Conference in Oklahoma City. She was the keynote speaker who I thought spoke eloquently and passionately to a crowd of 1,500 bereaved parents about the loss of her son and how it has affected her life.

After the speech, she went into the bookstore to sign copies of her book “Saving Graces.” I, along with probably 1,000 people, stood on line to have her sign and take a picture with her. The line moved very slowly and I walked to the front to see why. Elizabeth was asking each parent his or her child’s name and their story of what had happened. She then got up and hugged each one of them before signing the book with the parents and child’s name in the dedication.

“Wow,” I thought. “This is going to be a long wait, but how nice of her to make each parent feel so important.” After about an hour, her secret service men told her she had to leave, the plane was waiting for the trip to be on the Larry King Show that evening. She absolutely refused to do so until she spoke to every parent waiting in line (another 4 hours). From that moment on I knew she was a classy lady, and despite the fact that she was not well herself and had recently been told her cancer was not curable, my admiration for her grew and grew, especially after facing her husband’s infidelity in the public arena.

I wanted to sit down and read her book, but as things happen, it sat on my shelf for almost two years before I found the time. I have now finished it and admire this intelligent, sometimes witty, but always sincere and caring individual who has gone through what we all have gone through, the death of a child. How she deals with it is a lot of the focus of this book, in addition to her early life of trials and later triumphs. It is also a fascinating look at her husband’s campaigns for Senate, president and vice-president and how she supported him throughout.

What she says saved her life after her son's death is the community of people who surrounded and helped her when son Wade was killed in a car accident. She expresses in her book what we all feel: the raw emotions, the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression, and finally, the renewal. She never retreats from the fact that she thinks of Wade every day of her life and misses and will love him always.

Elizabeth found great support in online communities, and her belief in the power of community to make our lives better and richer is still ongoing today. She talks about (ASG), the newsgroup for the bereaved, as well as GriefNet, grief-parents and Tom Golden’s website on grief and healing. “You use these support groups for as long as you need to,” she adds.

She says it simply enough in her book to a mother who lost her son Christian: “At ASG I hope you find what you need. We have different emotions on any given day; all of us will be in pain on every day in which you feel pain… but it is the bond that allows us to be gentle with each other…do not misunderstand: no one else has lost Christian, no one else knows just what an incredible boy he is. But all of us are willing to learn that from you. There is no time, not months or years from now, that we will tire of him. With great regret, I welcome you to”

Sunday, December 20, 2009

New Holiday Traditions

When we lose our child, we change. We become different people, with different goals and priorities. The rituals that we once held sacred to do with our children during the holiday season may no longer be important or appropriate. Old traditions sometimes bring more pain than comfort. We can look towards making new rituals and new beginnings with our family and friends. Here are a few suggestions for your holiday celebrations, no matter your beliefs.

If your family has always decorated the home with beautiful ornaments each year, perhaps a new tradition of having family and friends make a paper ornament for you that represents something related to your child. For example, if your child was active in soccer, perhaps a soccer ball with his name written on it. Or if your child was in choir, perhaps some paper musical notes or musical score sheets. If he or she liked a special food, cut something out from a food magazine and place on an original ornament made out of any product handy or bought. You would end up celebrating your child’s life and he/she would always be remembered. You can keep them or try a different theme every year that somehow relates to your child. It doesn’t take the pain away but will warm your heart to know that he/she is remembered and you may also find out something new about your child that you can treasure forever. Whether Christian, Jewish or any other religion, it doesn’t have to be done on a tree. It can just be a collection you display during the entire holiday season.

Invite friends and family to watch old videos so they can see your child’s personality show through. This will also provide an opportunity for everyone to talk about your child and they will feel more comfortable doing it in this setting, as will you.

Helping others during the holiday season is a good way to share yourself and may give you an opportunity to share stories of your child with others. You can help out at a senior citizen home, a hospital, a food bank or a soup kitchen feeding the hungry. Any of these choices will allow you to feel good about yourself and that you are doing something in memory of your child.

Go to the children’s ward of a hospital and bring something to give related to what your child would have wanted or something you have treasured that you can now part with. It could be a stuffed animal, a game, something electronic or some clothing. Whatever it is, you will make a new friend and feel that your item has made a difference to a child. If you feel up to helping out at the hospital in addition to just visiting, hospitals can always use volunteers. Give of yourself and you’ll have a better holiday.

Different charities usually hold events during the holiday season to raise money for the following year. If, for example, your child died of a particular illness, try to participate in that event in any way you can. Give a donation if you feel you can’t do anything else at the moment, or you can actively help to set up booths, sell food, or anything else they need volunteers for. Many charities have something like a walk-a-thon, for example. Not only is that a healthy activity, but you may also meet new friends by participating and be able to share your story with them. Other organizations may hold auctions or raffles and if you are good at getting items to raffle or auction off, perhaps that can be a new tradition for you.

As for me, the Thanksgiving season is the hardest. It was the last time I saw my daughter in a holiday setting surrounded by all those we cared about and loved. It was the first and only time my husband and I actually cooked a Thanksgiving meal. Usually my mom did the cooking and inviting, but she was getting older and didn’t want to take on the chore. As things happen, she died 5 days after Thanksgiving that year, my daughter the following year. So because of those two events, I now go to other people’s homes for that holiday. We are lucky enough to always be invited to a friend’s house or out to eat. It helps not thinking of what I lost far too soon in life.

If you have a tradition or ritual you’d like to share, please let me know and I will share with everyone.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

That Their Light May Always Shine...

Today is the Worldwide Candlelighting event being held around the globe. New Zealand starts lighting the torch of remembering all children who have died at any age from any cause. Each hour another time zone lights their candles, so that for 24 hours, our children are remembered from the virtual wave of light around the world. This event unites family and friends in a way that transcends all ethnic, cultural, religious and political boundaries. As you participate in this event you may want to know the song that is played at most organized events. It is "Precious Child" by Karen Taylor-Good. The words are below; the song is beautiful. To listen to it, go to or and type in the name of the song to get the lyrics and listen. You can also post a message in the Remembrance Book today only on the Compassionate Friends website.

Precious Child
by Karen Taylor-Good

In my dreams you are alive and well,
Precious child, precious child,
In my mind I see you clear as a bell,
Precious child, precious child.

In my soul there is hole
that can never be filled
But in my heart there is hope
‘Cause you are with me still

In my heart, you live on
Always there, never gone
Precious child, you left too soon
Tho’ it may be true that we’re apart
You will live forever in my heart

In my plans I was the first to leave
Precious child, precious child
But in this world I was left here to grieve
Precious child, my precious child

In my soul there is a hole
That can never be filled
But in my heart there is hope
And you are with me still

In my heart, you live on,
Always there, never gone,
Precious child you left too soon,
Tho’ it may be true that we’re apart,
You will live forever in my heart.

God knows I want to hold you
See you, touch you,
And maybe there’s a heaven
And someday I will again,
Please know you’re not forgotten until then.

In my heart, you live on,
Always there, never gone,
Precious child you left too soon,
Tho’ it may be true that we’re apart,
You will live forever in my heart.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Worldwide Candlelighting December 13

You will never be forgotten. That is the message we broadcast the second Sunday each December during the Worldwide Candlelighting. Hundreds of thousands and perhaps millions of candles will be lighted in remembrance of children, no matter the age or cause of death. This year the event is December 13.

You are invited to join in the global event. Last year there were more than 500 worldwide candle lighting events open to the public with services in at least 20 countries. Community centers, houses of worship, hospitals, funeral homes, and parks are some of the places the event is held. And, of course, thousands were held equietly in homes with friends and family or alone in solitude. Visit for other information about the event.

Genesse, my friend, thank you for this beautiful poem, River of Light, that I am sharing with the world and all the bereaved parents who will be lighting a candle next Sunday while thinking of their children. Please light a candle for your child during the Worldwide Candlelighting event December 13 at 7 p.m., joining all of us in remembering with love. Merry Christmas and Happy Chanukah to all.

A river of light,
flowing east to west
lingering an hour,
then moving on.
Like the children,
here too short a time,
lighting our lives,
then too soon gone.
Gathering together,
being here for each other
on one special night
this time each year.
We light the candles
with pride and sorrow
reminding the world
they once were here.
Their lives live on
in us, the living,
who guard their memories
like precious gold.
To have them back
for just one minute
we would give
a thousand fold.
Tonight we say
they are loved,
they're remembered,
and they will always be.
Like candle flames,
they warm our souls
and light our lives
to help us see.
A river of light,
flowing east to west
lingering an hour,
then moving on.
Like the children,
here too short a time,
lighting our lives...then...gone.

by Genesse Bourdeau Gentry, bereaved parent, author and poet. This poem is taken from her latest book "Catching the Light." Visit for more information. In January I will talk more about grief poetry and Genesse's writings.