Sunday, December 26, 2010
As a society we tend to think there is a chemical solution to every problem we may have and surely the death of a child is way up there on the ladder. Doctors, for whatever reason, tend to hand out prescriptions if we can convince them we are in need of such. But we must be cautious of whether we need medicine or not and ask our doctor what medicines should be taken if necessary.
One bereaved single mother I met recently, who takes medicines for health reasons and has done so her whole life, was told by a few friend and later her doctor, that an anti-depressant would help her during her grief journey. She was not convinced. She didn’t want to put anything more into her body than was necessary. She was afraid of any reactions she might have. And she was not sure medicine was the answer.
This mother was lucky. She had other friends who turned out to be a great support system for her needs. They came over and helped with preparing meals for her family, helped her with housework, even helped her when it came time to pay the bills. On some days they took her out to lunch and even got her to laugh occasionally. If appropriate, and they saw it might help, they would talk about the child and encourage the mother to do so as part of her grief work. They even suggested a grief group where she could share with others. They made sure she got enough rest, enough physical activity and ate right. Through it all, they also gave her space; time to be by herself: to cry, to journal, to do whatever she needed to deal with her pain.
“My friends saved my life by showing me they cared and wanted to help, and I’ll never forget their kindness,” the mother said. “I’m in a good place now. Time and friendships were a great healer for me.”
On the other hand, there are some people who depend on all types of medications to make their life easier. In the case of the death of a child, they believe it is the only way to survive. The severe grief reaction one may have can bring on chemical depression and can lead to all kinds of problems, even suicide.
Dr. Richard Dew, in an article he wrote, says than chemical depressions results from lowered levels of substances in the brain called neurotransmitters. It is generally believed that 10-15% of the population is genetically predisposed to chemical depression. If something happens to lower that neurotransmitter level, this is where the problems begin. Often a trial of antidepressant medication is the only way to tell if this is the case. “It will take three to four weeks to see if there is a response. I always caution my patients that antidepressants will not make you feel good. They make you feel more near whatever is normal for you. For those grieving a close loss, you won’t feel good, but you’ll now be in the same boat as others in your group, and you are more able to do your grief work and benefit from it.”
Dr. Dew cautions that medication may be a necessary aid for some, but it is only one part of the healing process. Coping skills are what will get you through this.
NOTE: If you personally have any reaction to using medicine for grief, I’d like to hear about it. Email me your comments.
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The Prayer Registry (www.sheriperl.com) is a free website service dedicated to all of the families who have lost children no matter the age.
It was started by Sheri Perl Migdol after she lost her 22 year old son Danny in 2008 to an overdose and dedicated to him. The site registers the anniversary day of the child’s death. Members of this online community, the Prayer Team, have the opportunity to honor their child’s legacy, connect with other bereaved parents, and participate in world-wide group prayer for every registered loved one on the anniversary day of their passing, according to Sheri.
“There is no charge for this service,” said Sheri. “It is my sincere hope that every bereaved parent who registers a child will join the Prayer Team and be a source of prayer for all of the children on the other side.”
Sheri needs only the child’s full name along with the death date. The child’s name will be published on the Prayer Registry calendar and she will upload comments, biographies or any other information you want to share about your child with others. “Once a member, you will receive reminders one week and one day before the anniversary day of one of our kids.”
She encourages bereaved parents to email any questions, concerns or feelings that you would like to share. “My door is always open. I hope this site provides some small measure of balm for the wounds of loss. From one bereaved parent to another, I welcome you to my site and offer my support.”
“This is one club that none of us would join by choice, but since we find ourselves in this unthinkable place, we stand stronger when we stand side by side,” she added.
Sunday, December 12, 2010
Here is one idea from a bereaved parent who felt a great need to do something special on her son Scott’s birthday, 8 months after he died. She had a birthday party for him recording the entire event so she would have something to look back on and always remember. She invited both Scott’s close friends and a few of her own who had known Scott his whole life. She asked each person to bring a remembrance story about Scott. It could be a serious or funny story or combination of both.
In the weeks proceeding the party, she went through pictures she had, picked about 50 of them and prepared a music/slide presentation to show guests. She also laid out many scrapbooks she had and displayed items from Scott’s life in the main room: his awards, his football jersey, his prom picture, etc. Friends appreciated seeing items that remind them of times spent together.
This mom also picked out one special picture and used it to make t-shirts for all the guests. When they arrived, she handed them out and asked the guest to put the shirt on for the celebration.
She cooked Scott’s favorite meal: hamburgers and onion rings and made a black forest birthday cake, another favorite, with ice-cream. When everyone was done eating, remembrance stories were told, and then they were handed a small piece of paper to write a short message to Scott and attach it to a helium balloon. In the back yard, a poem the mom wrote was read and a balloon release sent all the messages high in the sky.
She ended the party with a short speech about how she appreciated everyone coming and that she hoped this would be the start of something nice each one of them could do every year on Scott’s birthday to help others and remember, with love, their dear friend. Everyone was encouraged to visit a children’s hospital with little gifts of stuffed animals, making a donation to an organization in Scott’s name, start a scholarship at the school he went to, donate blood to help others, simply light a candle on that special day or any other idea of their choice.
This was her way of celebrating Scott’s life and encouraging his friends to find some good in this horrible tragedy. She could only hope her words found a place in each of their hearts.
As for myself, I always go to the cemetery on that day, bring flowers and talk to my daughter, telling her how much she is missed by both myself, her husband and her friends. One mother I know holds and annual golf tournament since her child was into that sport. Another is involved in MADD and speaks to high school students about drinking and driving, and still another started a memorial page online where others can go and leave messages and remembrances. Friends may want to get together and plant a tree in his or her name and perhaps even place a plaque in the area. There are many things one can do.
Keep everything sent or given to you after your child died, so you can look back with loving thoughts. Best of all, reach out to others who are bereaved and you will find it will also help you in your grief journey.
Sunday, December 5, 2010
My first You-Tube video is now online about my latest book, “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child,” and I can proudly say I did it myself, with my husband doing the production part (placing it on YouTube with music). The ideas were mine, the photos taken by me and the organization done by myself. It took many hours of planning, visualizing and getting only bereaved parents to participate in the photos. I am proud of the finished product and invite you to watch it and even pass on the link for others to see. The link information is on the right side of this page. Scroll all the way down to where it says You Tube Video and click. When it comes up, click on the arrow box in the right hand bottom corner to make the video full screen and watch it. It's around 4 minutes long. Hope you like it. Let me know.
OPEN TO HOPE INTERVIEW
Open to Hope did a 20 minute interview of me for their show about my new book, but specifically how married couples, who have lost a child, can save their marriage. It will air all week long from Dec. 2-9 from their main site www.opentohope.com and then be archived for further viewing. I enjoy my conversations with Gloria and Heidi Horsley. Gloria is a bereaved mother and Heidi a bereaved sibling. Together they started the Open To Hope Foundation and their web site in 2007. They now get over a million hits a month. Whether you have lost a child, spouse, grandchild, sibling or even a pet, this site tries to reach everyone with a loss. Check it out.
WORLDWIDE CANDLE LIGHTING
Sunday, December 12 is the 14th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting. At 7 p.m. local time candles will shine for one hour (creating a virtual wave of light around the globe) in memory of all our children. If you contact your local Compassionate Friends chapter, you can find out if services will be held in your area. You can also look on the TCF website: http://www.compassionatefriends.org/ for a listing of services, which are open to the public. Also houses of worship, hospitals and funeral homes in some areas hold remembrance services. TCF also has a Remembrance Book in which you can post a note to your loved one on December 12 only, but look at all year long. In addition, you may want to share the time with friends and relatives or just spend the time alone in quiet solitude. The choice is yours, but don't miss this opportunity to remember your child and join hundreds of thousands around the world who are doing the same.
Sunday, November 28, 2010
With Thanksgiving this week kicking-off of the holiday season, we thought we would take this opportunity to share a bit of information on handling the holidays.
First off, acknowledging and recognizing that that every holiday season will bring up different emotions and certainly, if this is your first following the loss of your child, your experience will be quite different than it had been in the past. Holidays, which had heralded joy and celebrations, may now be accompanied by feelings of loneliness, sadness, anger, and anxiety for many. Through the darkened days of this season, it is vital that families allow themselves to also see the light.
Light can be a symbol of life, hope, faith, as well as enjoyment. Christmas, Kwanzaa and Chanukah are all upcoming holidays that celebrate using light. As part of the “journey of healing”, try to use the light to help lead you through this most difficult season. Look again at your support systems- family, friends and faith and consider “rekindling” relationships that may have “burned low.” Share with family and friends what helps and what hurts. Utilize your support system to keep your light shining bright. You may want to pick and choose which events to attend. Acknowledge and accept the feelings you are having. Don’t let the expectations of others prevent you from meeting your own needs. Set some goals for yourself and plan ways to help you handle any potential uncomfortable situations.
Another very valuable part of the holiday season is the act of giving. To be able to reach out and help someone else in need can be a very rewarding, empowering, and inspiring experience. One of the most important people to give to is you. During this season, be sure to nurture yourself physically, emotionally and spiritually. After a loss, many people neglect themselves and often feel guilty taking care of their needs. When done in memory of your child, the act of giving, including to yourself, can be an even more powerful experience than ever before.
May the bright memories of your child light your way through the holiday season. We wish you peace with your family and friends.
Sunday, November 21, 2010
The main reason to write your own is to make sure the information gets printed correctly. I can tell you from experience that when my daughter Marcy died, I did not write the obit and wrongly assumed it would be okay to let someone else do it. In three different papers, her name was spelled three different ways: Marci, Marcie and the correct way, Marcy. I was furious that others have such disregard for making sure a name is correct. As a journalism teacher, I remember it was the first lesson I taught my students: name accuracy. And I used the example of the simple last name of Smith, which can be spelled Smithe, Smythe, Smyth or Smith.
When Marcy’s father, my ex-husband, died earlier this year, I was determined not to let that happen again and so I wrote his obituary myself, including Marcy’s name in it as having pre-deceased him. It was printed as written, and I was happy with the results.
Another reason to do it yourself is to make sure it gets to where you want it to get, that is, you may want to send it to more than one publication and usually a funeral director will not want to bother to do more than one.
You may also want it printed immediately, depending on when the service is being held, so that others can know and attend if they so desire.
There are even some people now who are writing their own obituaries and planning the whole funeral service, saying what music they want played, what poem or song they want sung, and what instructions they want followed. Although this may sound morbid, perhaps it is not a bad idea to relieve the loved one of the burden. (I have already decided what I want my funeral stone to say for my husband and me and have purchased a double funeral plot. It is something everyone should think about.)
Obituaries should contain the following basic information: name, age, date of death, when and where funeral services will be held, and surviving family members (and deceased as in the case of Marcy). Usually, the cause of death is not listed. You might want to add the school from where the person graduated, important organizations they belonged to, honors won and phrases such as “a loving father, grandfather or husband” or some personality trait he/she was known for. A final comment is usually directed at where flowers or contributions in the person’s memory can be made.
Many like to send photos along with the article written. This can also be sent by email. You don’t want to take the chance of calling in all the information, and sending it all snail mail takes too long. Too many mistakes can be made, and once it is printed, it is too late to correct.
There is usually a cost involved to get a nice obituary in a local newspaper, and it ranges anywhere from free to $200, as I discovered recently. Call the newspaper for the email to send the information or if you have a good funeral director, they will email it immediately to where it needs to go.
Although not a pleasant thing to have to do, it will be the last thing read for some friends of the deceased. You want it to be a tribute to them, done accurately and properly.
Sunday, November 14, 2010
Dance is a great way of tapping into deep emotions and connecting with yourself after loss. When I talk about dance I don't mean the kind of dancing you do on a night out with friends in a club but rather solo dancing to allow self expression. It's very hard to let yourself get caught up in music and dance with abandon to it when there are others around.
This type of dancing is not about following steps or trying to look good whilst you dance but a throwback to using dance as part of rituals and ceremonies. Think about the rain dances of Native Americans or the War Dance that the New Zealand rugby team use. Even the Highland Fling was originally created as a war dance to encourage victory before battle!
The key is the intent behind the dance. Find some music you are attracted to. Create an intention to dance with. I know that after my brother died a lot of my intentions were all about expressing my anger safely. Maybe you want to express your love, let go of pain or just tap into something you can't express.
Moving to the music in an authentic way allows you to tap into deep unnamed emotions and express them. It's not important that you don't know what they are only that you have expressed them. Dancing also boosts your immune system which is lowered after loss. This means that you are working on a physical and emotional level creating powerful internal change.
Around 40 years ago Rolando Toro, a Chilean psychologist developed Biodanza. This is a group dance experience that works on these principles. Toro created Biodanza as a way of enabling people to connect authentically with themselves and others and work towards a more happy and peaceful way of life. He realised how dance can transform us. As a side note, Toro was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize in 2001 for his work with Biodanza. Impressive, no?
It can be intimidating at first to do this in a group. So start now and get comfortable with authentic expression through dance. Go to You Tube and find a song that comes to mind. Make sure you are alone and put it on loudly. Stand up and close your eyes. Listen to the music and feel it with your body. Then slowly just let your body move in its own rhythm. As you're alone you don't have to worry about looking silly. Experience how this feels. You have nothing to lose.
Sunday, November 7, 2010
With the recent terrorism threats in Europe against Americans, I am reminded of a few years ago when I attended the Compassionate Friends National Conference in Oklahoma City. I was anxious to go there. I, like everyone else, knew what had happened in April 1995 to the Federal Building and to the 165 people who died, many of them children in a day care center within the building. Like any occurrence of this magnitude, there is a desire to see it for ourselves. And I did just that one afternoon when there were no sessions being held.
I went to the site, which is now a memorial to the victims. After passing through the Door of Hope, I saw that each person who died had an empty chair lined up in a particular row, depending on what floor he or she died. The chair is made of copper and has the name of the victim on it. At the bottom is a light that illuminates slowly from a shadow to a bright light by the end of the day, giving the entire area an eerie but peaceful feeling at night. I thought it was beautifully and tastefully done.
The chairs sit facing a large pond. On the other side of the pond is the memorial building housing a minute by minute description of the event in pictures, sounds, video and the spoken word. Before walking into the building, one can see walls of fencing with remembrance notes, flowers and handmade items hung there. The powerful emotions of love and hope, and especially healing, emanating from these messages to loved ones was extraordinary. I tried to read as many as time allowed, feeling the power of each word and thinking how I felt with each remembrance done for my daughter.
Inside these fences is a children’s park of cards and artwork, like the tile that read, “The world cares.” I was moved by the silence, the peacefulness, the somber looks on everyone’s face as they slowly walked through the exhibits taking it all in. It was truly a work of love. The sirens wailed, the fireman shouted, the babies cried as they were picked up by strangers who had no idea who these victims were, but only knew they needed help. One fireman said, “I’m going home tonight to hug my children and tell them I love them. There never seems to be enough time in the day, and sometimes we forget that very important act.” It seems like only when we face our loss, can we begin to heal.
I also want to one day go to the city of my birth, New York, and look at where the World Trade Center Memorial now stands. I remember walking once into that building one year when visiting from the west coast. The anger continues for most, not only about the collapsed buildings and the almost 3,000 people who lost their lives, but also about the senselessness of it all. What was accomplished by this attack and the Oklahoma City attack on American soil? Not a thing. And now a Muslim center may be built only a few blocks away, causing more problems for the future.
Too many of my friends lost children and husbands to wars, terrorist attacks and hatred. What a waste, I say to myself as I did the day my daughter was killed by an impaired driver in a senseless act of selfishness.
What a shame we can’t all live in peace and harmony. We came together during these two tragedies; we responded where needed; we are good people. As Anne Frank once said, “In spite of everything, I still believe people are good at heart.” No matter what happened to her she still believed in a better world. And so do I as I hope and pray we can avoid any more senseless attacks where a loved one dies.
Sunday, October 31, 2010
“How pretty you look,” I say to the young children. “And how scary you look, I tell the young boys who have on evil masks.”
We have spooky music we play when they ring the bell. We used to do that with Marcy’s friends also. Most of the very little ones scream, but they don’t run away (since most have parents with them). Some laugh, older ones think it’s corny. It is a tradition and traditions are sacred. We open the door, check out the masks and the costumes and then place candy in each bag, watching them trail off to the next house, comparing their ‘take’ to make sure they all got equal amounts.
I remember Marcy always tried to make simple costumes, ones that didn’t feel cumbersome on her. She always looked cute, and I always took pictures. After she would go trick or treating, she would bring home the candy and we’d sort it out. If it was not in a closed wrapper, into the garbage it went. She understood why we did this. Then her father would invariably ask for a few of the ones he liked and being the generous person she was, she gave him what he wanted. The candy was taken to school the next day and friends exchanged, bartered, bargained and gave away some to those who did not get to go out the night before. Many times, candy was discarded after a few weeks, but it was always a happy celebration.
These are my memories of Halloween, and I hold them close to me. Now on Halloween, I don a different type of mask, one that will cover the tears that start to form and the heaviness in my chest. Will it always be like this? Perhaps.
Halloween is one of the holidays that can still hold joy, laughter and happiness for the little ones. Never did I think that I would be wearing the mask I wear today, that of a bereaved parent. But we can still look back and remember those good times at Halloween as we do with all our memories…the only thing we have left of our children.
Sunday, October 24, 2010
He turned out to be a friend of Marcy’s from the high school youth organizations the kids belonged to many years ago. In fact, he said, they went out a few times. He did not know about Marcy’s car accident at first but found out later on through other friends. He offered his sympathy and wanted me to know what a wonderful person he thought she was, a kind, gentle soul with a personality that matched. My heart soared. So many people telling me the same thing over the years. Yes, she was special. And here was another person, more than 16 years after her death, still remembering as I do every minute of every day.
He lives close to me and has always been in the area. He caught me up on his own life and the fact that he has a daughter who is almost an adult now. He sounded very proud of her.
Love her and take good care of her, I thought. Every minute is precious, because you never know what can happen in a split second. I think this but never voice it to him nor anyone else. There are some things you just keep in your heart for you alone.
Deep down, a memory of this gentleman’s name surfaced, probably because I knew most of Marcy’s friends and people she liked and dated. I was always good at names. And she was always good at relating all her experiences with me. We were extremely close.
He mentioned some other friends of both of theirs who had passed and asked if I knew any of them. Yes, I had and was sorry to hear the news of ones so young, already gone. He said he was going to read my book and then contact me again. “By all means, do,” I said. I thanked him for calling and his kind words about Marcy and he, in turn, thanked me for all the good work I do to help others.
Another day with another memory of my daughter. Perhaps it is true that I will get my wish and she will never be forgotten.
Sunday, October 17, 2010
This most recent tragedy has brought suicide once again into the light. Here are some facts. Suicide is the 3rd leading killer of this nation’s youth, after firearms, suffocation and poisoning. Thirteen hundred people have leaped off the San Francisco bridge since it opened in 1933, making it the most popular place to commit suicide.
It is a disturbing trend and a classic example of a permanent solution to a temporary problem.
At the San Francisco bridge, preventing suicide is called ‘means reduction.’ This is when you eliminate ways people can kill themselves until the impulse passes and they can get help. At the bridge, placing a net will cost $45 million, but groups are determined to see it completed.
The message is that suicide can be avoided. According to the president of Cornell University, Dr. David Skorton, Cornell has had six students jump off a gorge bridge, “Underlying mental health issues are the main explanation for suicides, not a breakup or stress,” he said. “It’s okay to raise your hand and say you’re suffering. The most important thing we can do is to take away the stigma of seeking mental health care.”
In 2009, 13.8% of high school students seriously considered attempting suicide. Lori Flynn, who runs Columbia University’s teen screen program to identify 14-17 year olds who are at risk and whose daughter attempted suicide but survived, says that sometimes it is hard to sift out what is adolescent moodiness and what is depression. When kids are asked why they didn't say something about their problems, their answer is always, “Nobody asked.” “We ask,” said Flynn.
Another counselor, Jamie Torkowski, who is the leader of the To Write Love on Her Arms non-profit movement, tours the country reaching out to teens at concerts and festivals. He started his group because of a girl he knew who took a razor blade to herself because she believed she was a failure. Torkowshi believes he has reached over 100,000 youths by social networking.
“Prevention can start with discussions,” he says. “Hear what they are saying. One key weapon is to let struggling young people know they are not alone and that we care.”
As for Tyler Clementi, the stakes of not hearing those who are young and vulnerable was brought home to Rutgers students. A tribute to Clementi was held in his hometown this past Thursday.
“If we identify social support, identify those struggling, make it okay to raise your hand and say I need help, and restrict the means to follow an impulse, we will succeed,” said Skorton.
If you have a moving story of suicide attempt or completion and would like to share it with me, send your story to email@example.com
Sunday, October 10, 2010
Marcy was the marketing director for the L.A. Music Center and her husband a movie producer. They had such plans as I, too, did for them. But it was not to be. Four months later she was killed in a car accident by an impaired driver.
I now look at the changing of the seasons through different eyes. The beautiful colors of the leaves and the chill in the air are all very nice, but for me, a bereaved parent, it is just another reminder of the rush of memories that will always surround me during this season.
We seem to go from one hurdle to the next. The cycle never stops, nor do our memories. We breathe a sign of relief when, each year, we survive the death date (early spring), the birthday (summer) and now the anniversary (fall), three important seasons, three of the important days in my life that I honor each year.
On all of them I go to the cemetery, clean her stone, place flowers on her grave and tell her the latest news of family and friends. Most of all, I tell her how much I love her and miss her. I believe she is watching over me each time I travel, each time I do something special or each time I write a book or article. When I travel, I always wear my Marcy necklace with her picture on it, so she can travel with me. When I write, she is the inspiration and always a part of my writings. I know she would like my latest book, because it can be of help to so many people who are bereaved and she was always the type to help others as I’ve done. I am building new memories as I move forward each day and each year.
Just know it is okay to grieve, it is okay to cry and it is okay to celebrate your child’s life in any way you feel is right. I have some friends who invite their child’s friends over on the birthday date and celebrate their life; I have others who prefer to be alone on those days. I have friends who want their child to be remembered by others and always bring up their name while other parents feel it is too sad to talk about. Still others want to make a difference, get laws passed, do some good in the world in their child’s name. There is nothing wrong with any of these ideas or any way you go about it.
We are different people now. But one thing that is always constant is the seasons of the year. I hope your fall season this year is a happy and meaningful one and that you only have happy thoughts when thinking about your child.
Sunday, October 3, 2010
I ran across an interesting site for parents who are always looking for ways to remember their child. The site, http://aloharemembered.blogspot.com , will write your child’s name in the sands of Hawaii. What a beautiful place for a remembrance to find comfort in seeing the name in print as another verification that our child existed.
This whole idea started out when Emily had a stillborn named Gabriel and her sister wrote his name in the sand of a beach close to her home on the North Shore of Hawaii and sent it to her. It is a beach set aside as a quiet place of reflection. The written name is not permanent, but rather just there for a few minutes before the waters wash it away. It is a brief moment in time, but one that most bereaved parents can treasure.
Email the name of your child who died to firstname.lastname@example.org , and they will write the name in the sand, snap a photo, and post it on the blog for you or email or snail mail it to you for a small fee. All the information is on the web site including some pictures taken. It is a touching tribute in the sands of time.
Mary Jane Hurley Brant, M.S., CGP and author of "When Every Day Matters: A Mother's Memoir on Love, Loss and Life" in her recent newsletter discusses "How To Chose A Therapist," if you need one. Her main point is that a client can feel more understood when the therapist has clinical experience with the situation the client is bringing to therapy, and, if the therapist has the same personal experience, even better. I agree that this is so true, particularly after the death of a child. A friend of mine tried therapy with a grief counselor who was not bereaved herself, and my friend said the counselor had no clue as to how the bereaved mother felt. Mary Jane emphasizes that one should be wise when choosing a therapist and to pick someone who is intelligent, kind, confident, qualified and one you feel a nice rapport with. You can read more about this topic by contacting Mary Jane at email@example.com.
Think about going to one of the following conferences in 2011 and plan ahead so as not to get shut out of hotel space. These conferences include:
TCF National Conference in Menneapolis, MN, weekend of July 14 -17. Over 100 workshops to help parents, grandparents and siblings.
BPUSA Gathering in Reston, VA ,weekend of July 29-31. Many workshops for bereaved parents.
POMC Conference in Milwaukee, WI, August 4-7. Specifically for parents who lost their children to murder.
Frankfort, Kentucky, Regional Conference March 25-26 has the theme "Words of Wisdom, Hearts of Love." Many speakers and workshops.
Also held each year is the Now Childless Mother's Day brunch. Jim and Ann Cook, who hold this event each year in Ft. Salonga, have offered to give tips on how to start one of these gatherings in hopes that this event will spread throughout the country. Contact them at firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Serenity Cards and Grief Journals is a project that Patricia Mombourquette is extremely passionate about. It has been over a year in the works from an idea to a reality. The words of comfort, support and practical advice offered in the cards and journals have been drawn from personal grief experiences as well as twelve years of associated training and experience in grief and bereavement support and critical incident stress management (CISM). She has also incorporated several years of experience volunteering with the local Crisis Line and Workplace EAP. Contact Patricia at http://serenitygriefjournals.com .
Sunday, September 26, 2010
Nearly 11 years ago my wife and I entered the world of grief when we lost our teenage son. (He then speaks of the Jewish religious rites of mourning including saying the Kaddish, the mourner's prayer in a synagogue; shive, the mourning period and all it entails; the preparation of food for those who visit; and other rites, including lighting a candle at home that burns all day in his memory. The gravesite will also be visited. These gestures affirmed their appreciation and deepened their understanding of the Jewish faithful.
But eventually the mourning period ended and the crowds of friends and relatives who filled our living room disappeared, and it didn’t take us long to figure out that the funeral and the shiva inoculate you from the real world of the bereaved. After we trudged back to our jobs and began slugging it out in the working world, we began to sense the enormity of our loss, and that’s when the readjustment process began setting in.
The most profound lesson I took from this ordeal is that no one understands the death of a child unless he or she is their own son, daughter or sibling.
Many people have asked us over the years if we’ve gotten “closure.” The answer, of course, is no, never, unless you are a sociopath.
We’ve run into people who have had the nerve to tell us that our boy’s death was part of God’s plan. We’ve encountered impatience from some because we continue to grieve, as if we’re on the clock and there’s a countdown toward normalcy.
But I soon learned not to knock these simple-minded people. I know their lives and thoughts will change when they get a call or a knock on the door with the ultimate bad news.
We’ve been frank with such insensitive people and have been unapologetic for reacting normally to an abnormal situation. It’s a new world with no rules and you do things you never thought about doing before and see things you never once noticed.
When you go through this kind of ordeal, you cry without warning. When I turn a corner at certain streets, recall something nice or read about another death, tears flow.
I sweat in rage when I encounter a loutish teenager or a negligent parent, and I get very sad when I meet a respectful and wonderful young man or woman reminiscent of our son.
Over the years, it’s been hard to stomach people who complain about trivial issues. I wish serial complainers would just shut up and smell the roses – the flowers in question being their children who are alive and well.
I was in such grief at one time that I read material about and explored ideas of an afterlife for the purpose of “contacting” my son. To me, such a quest is a waste of time but I had to carry it through and get it out of my system.
Over the years, though, I’ve worked very hard to not wallow in pain, and learned very quickly not to allow myself to be in uncomfortable situations. For example, if I were watching a film with disturbing imagery, I’d walk out of the theater or click off the pay-per-view. If I were invited to a gathering and something upset me, I would leave.
Nothing will compel us to let the pain get worse. My wife and I haven’t been shy about getting grief counseling, a process that helped us go forward. We’ve learned that honoring our son’s memory with our daily actions and never forgetting him are the most important parts of the coping process.
I’ll never forget the day I came early to pick my boy up at football practice, and to my surprise, he was waiting for me. He told me he and a Muslim kid on the team chose to walk out because a representative from a Christian athletes group was invited to preach to team members. (This was at a public school, by the way.) So many kids would have caved under such pressure and stuck around. But our son–who reveled in the diversity that typifies the cities we lived in and had good friends from every religion, ethnic group and social class–knew who he was and was proud of his identity, so he left the gathering.
The only advice I can give a parent who loses a child is to soldier on. You have no choice. As years go by, pleasant thoughts of the departed will replace the nightmares and the pain. The torment will always be there but it will recede.
Here’s a quote from The New York Times obit of Bob Lemon, the Cleveland Indians pitcher and Yankees manager, about the death of his son in an accident. I’ve never stopped thinking about this remark after I first read it. “I’ve never looked back and regretted anything. I’ve had everything in baseball a man could ask for. I’ve been so fortunate. Outside of my boy getting killed. That really puts it in perspective. So you don’t win the pennant. You don’t win the World Series. Who gives a damn? Twenty years from now, who’ll give a damn?”
“You do the best you can. That’s it.”
Sunday, September 19, 2010
I miss you because
It's been hard to let go of the pain because
I still feel guilty about
The most joyful time we ever had was
I wish I had told you
I sometimes feel angry that
I continue to feel sad because
On thing that has changed since your death is
What I have learned about loss and grief are
The way I will remember you is
The song that reminds me of our relationship is
The best time we ever had together is
One thing I'd like to tell you if I could talk to you for one more minute is
The last thing I remember is
I want to know
Sunday, September 12, 2010
Everyone makes mistakes or fails in their attempts to grow and meet the challenges of daily life. Without these miscues little would be learned and growth as a person would be limited. In short, failure is a key ingredient for success and should be looked at as a resource for moving forward, not a behavior to be despised.
There is one exception to the above observation: when someone makes a mistake, refuses to learn from it, and keeps repeating the same error expecting positive change to occur. This easily happens in the emotional turmoil of mourning the death of a loved one. As a counselor, here are the negative repeats I see most often and what you can do to move past them.
1. Mourners grieve according to the agendas of caregivers. It is not uncommon to be told by well meaning friends or family that "you shouldn't cry so much" or "you should be over it by now." After all, it has been three months since your loved one died and you should be acting like your old self.
In reality, grief is not time bound. Each person's grief is one of a kind. And, grief revisits for months and years later. Go with your gut. Grieve as you see fit. This does not mean you should ignore the input from a wise friend in some instances. Always consider the experience and insight of others. But in the final analysis, make decisions based on what you believe deep within is right for you.
2. Mourners do not accept and grieve secondary or associated losses. All major losses involve secondary losses such as finance, companionship, wise counsel, and inspiration, to name a few. Loss of meaning, future dreams involving the deceased, and losses occurring months or years later (when a child graduates or a grandchild is born and the deceased is not present) are all strong secondary losses for many people. These and numerous other very personal secondary losses need to be openly recognized, faced, and mourned. Here is where a wise friend who is a good listener can be of great assistance.
3. Mourners isolate themselves from others. Grief itself is often a self-isolating process because the big three-anger, guilt, and depression-tend to drive potentially helpful people away, if they do not understand the nature and purpose of these emotions. Once more, the mourner often deliberately avoids contact with others and stays isolated for long periods of time. However, taking action to make connections is an absolute necessity for successful grief work. A social network inevitably is a hope resource; it is our interaction with others that brings glimmers of hope that we will make it through the ordeal.
4. Mourners do nothing about finishing unfinished business. It is very common to look back and wish you had said or done something else for the deceased when he/she was alive. Or, perhaps there was something the deceased had not accomplished or did wrong and you were unable to resolve the issue. Unfinished business is a fact of life that can become a major source for increasing the intensity and length of grief work. You may believe nothing can be done now that death has intervened. Nonetheless, many mourners have written a letter to the deceased or "talked" to the deceased to lay out their feelings and to offer or seek forgiveness. Allow the past to stay in the past. Say what you must say, realize we are all imperfect, and then focus your attention and energy on a plan to answer the important question "Where do I go from here?"
5. Mourners believe that smiling, laughing, or taking a break from grieving by accepting an invitation for dinner with friends, is demeaning to the memory of the deceased ("I should be sad all the time"). Nothing could be further from the truth. No one can grieve nonstop without becoming ill. Everyone needs respite for minutes, or more appropriately, hours. In fact, it is critical that you plan for diversions for the benefit of your body as well as your mind.
Do something that you enjoy that will alter the condition of your emotional life. And, don't feel guilty. Make a list of things you enjoy. This will take some time, given your present frame of mind. But build your list and refer to it every day. Call it your Balancing List. Don't let a day go by without doing something from your list just for you.
6. Mourners refuse to recognize that the death of their loved ones means they have to start a new life. This is a very difficult concept to accept and hard to accomplish. Yet, a part of you has died; that part that interacted with the physical presence of your beloved. Each time you routinely do something where your deceased loved one would have been present, will be a new part of your life. In order to start that new life, one of your tasks of grieving, will be to accept new routines that you alone develop. Acceptance of the new is like the elephant in the room. You can't afford to ignore its importance as a major goal in grieving, since without it you cannot reinvest in life. You will be stuck indefinitely. Over time, those new routines and connections will become habitual and like the old.
7. Mourners seldom are aware that it is nearly impossible to love someone, and when they die, not feel guilty about something in the relationship. Often the guilt has to do with the medical treatment received by the deceased and the survivor's perceived (most often a false perception) lack of action in obtaining better care. Or, there is something else they should have done better or more frequently. Maybe they should have gotten the person to stop smoking. This is commonly called neurotic guilt and has to be tested by asking one simple question: Did I deliberately do what I feel guilty about? The answer is almost always a "no," if they are honest with themselves.
Finally, what is the overall solution to these very common mistakes? One word says it all: persistence. Persistence will pave the way to focusing your attention on the next chapter of your life. When in doubt, take action and do something to challenge the thinking behind the negative thought. You already have the wisdom within to know what has to be done. Good grief is all about good choices, choices you can make.
Sunday, September 5, 2010
Having a child die is the ultimate grief that any parent will ever encounter. Having one’s only child or all children die compounds that ultimate grief to the point of being unthinkable for most people in our society today.
Kay and Rodney’s daughter, Rhonda, died in 1980 at age 16 from Lymphoma. Parents who have lost a child, especially an only child, understand that grief is a life-long journey.
The Now Childless bereaved parents experience a similar grieving process as those with surviving children, but the difference begins when we realize that there will never be grandchildren, no one with whom to celebrate the holidays, no milestones in life and no one to be there for us as we age.
We have difficulty with holidays and special events. Some are fortunate to have friends or extended family members who think to include us in special times or holidays, but some are left to spend all those days and nights totally alone. We learn to do the entertaining, so we are not alone.
Or, in my case, I find it easier to find some new tradition to enhance my holiday, whether it is visiting a retirement home, where I can tell a Marcy story to someone who doesn’t know me or hasn’t heard about Marcy, or helping out serving dinners to the poor to brighten their holiday. We are not the same as we were when our child was alive; therefore, giving our holidays a new twist can help us get past them.
People just do not think to come to our assistance in times of need, as they have children to assist them, and it never occurred to them we could have used some help. I found that to be true when I moved from country living into town and no one offered to help us move. The same thing happened when there was a huge tornado and no one called to see how we were.
We learn to adjust to being childless and make friends with others who have had a similar experience to us. Some of us with no children get together during special holidays or visit each other during the year. There is a special bond/understanding that need not be spoken.
Now childless parents realize that we must plan for our future and see that all financial, medical and business matters are secure and settled long before the time arrives when we will need assistance.
Personally, a new will/ trust and designating what my husband and those close to me will get; new powers of attorney for health, etc. and a foundation in my daughter’s memory helped move me forward and made me comfortable with every aspect of my life and what will happen when I die. I also included a Tangible Property list, which everyone should do for any personal property you want someone special to have like a painting, piece of jewelry or some old books. Leave it with your lawyer.
What do we do with our precious mementos that belonged to our deceased child or ‘things’ that are important to us and our heritage? Usually some of our relatives, friends or children of friends care enough to want some of those ‘things.’ As we age and life’s values change, we begin to realize that those ‘things’ are not what matters anyway. What we do with our life and how we manage to keep our children’s memories alive by helping others are really what is more important than worrying about what is going to happen to our ‘things.’
Both Kay and I have seen families become estranged while fighting over ‘things.’ My relatives sat in the bedroom hours after my mom’s funeral separating all the fine jewelry and deciding who would get what. Only when I walked into the room did the bickering stop, and I was allowed to take what I wanted before they all delved into it again. Some of my friends have spoken about broken relationships over inheritances and who will get what.
We have found that by staying involved in church, community activities, nurturing relationships with other people and working part time, I have been able to keep a positive attitude ‘most’ of the time and find a new type of happiness in life. There are times and events that occur that sometimes make me lose my perspective and I get depressed. But, I can always observe others who seem to have a more difficult time with life events who have not been touched with the grief of having a child die.
We have also learned that it is vitally important to find a local bereavement support group and to attend regularly those first years of grief. It is important to become involved and give back to those who are newer in their grief than we are.
There is a saying that goes: “By helping others, you help yourself.” I completely agree with that. I feel so good when I can help another, through talking to them, directing them to a professional who can help or even suggesting a book for them to read about grief.
I read every book I could find on grief, devoured all the newsletters and listened to tapes until I realized I really was not going crazy and that things I thought, did, forget, or was angry about was very normal for a bereaved parent. I cried oceans of tears, told Rhonda’s story and her personal grief story millions of times to thousands of different people, kept a journal (an invaluable tool of measuring one’s progress), and allowed friends to help me when I needed help.
We started Alive Alone, Inc. in 1988 to be an additional support system for now childless parents. We publish a periodical that is strictly written by and for childless parents. We also network parents whose only child/all children died of a similar age of means of death. In addition we work with other support groups to provide seminars and sharing sessions for their regional and national conferences so that the needs of now childless parents are met.
Coping with the death of one’s only child/all children is the most difficult experience anyone will every encounter. But, it is possible to find a ‘new normal’ and be able to reinvest in life again and find a new form of happiness.
If you are childless or know someone who is, you can reach Kay and get support at email@example.com.
Sunday, August 29, 2010
There are many different groups out there to help those who have lost a child. The Compassionate Friends www.compassionatefriends.org has over 600 chapters in most states and probably one near you. They also have sibling groups and grandparent groups. Bereaved Parents USA doesn’t have as many chapters, but by going to their website www.bereavedparentsusa.com, you can find out if there are any nearby. If you want a specific support group like AIDS, SIDDS, Stillbirth and cancer groups, these too, are available. Check with hospice, hospitals or funeral homes for additional information.
In any of these groups, you are able to share your story in a non-threatening, safe atmosphere, and you will eventually find healing. Don’t try to confront your grief alone. Reach out to others. As the Compassionate Friends credo says, “You Need Not Walk Alone.”
According to Alan Wolfelt, Ph.D and professional grief counselor, one should look for healthy support groups with the following characteristics:
*group members acknowledge that each person’s grief is unique.
*group members understand that grief is not a disease, but a normal process without a specific timetable. Everyone grieves at their own pace.
*group members feel free to talk in a group setting, but it is okay if they just prefer to listen.
*group members respect each other’s right to confidentiality. The feelings expressed are not made public.
*each group member is allowed equal time to speak; others should not monopolize the entire time nor interrupt when others are speaking.
*group members should not give advice unless it is asked for.
*group members recognize that thoughts and feelings are neither right nor wrong. They listen with empathy to others without trying to change them.
If you can find a group with this type of support, the healing process has begun.
Sunday, August 22, 2010
I have heard of many examples, and who are we to say this can’t be true. I have friends who have gone through the experience. Here are a few examples.
Mitch Carmody, author and bereaved parent, has spoken often of his son to whom he wrote a letter asking for some sign. The letter asked for something to grow in his yard he had not seen before. The following spring three cornstalks grew in his back yard, only one of which had produced an ear of corn. He picked it that fall on the first anniversary of his son’s death. When he peeled back the husk of the ear of corn, he found the cob had rotted and that the mold had formed and stained the back of the husk with the letters D A D. It led him to believe our children are in another realm of existence and can somehow let us know that they are near.
One friend woke up in the middle of the night suddenly, sat up in bed and at the end of the bed saw an image that to this day she says was her daughter who had died the previous year. She says that it only lasted a few seconds, but she knows it was real.
Others speak of butterflies landing on their shoulder at specific opportune times and sitting there for a long time.
A relative visited my daughter’s grave one year right before I had some stomach surgery. On her gravestone is a picture and he says when he looked at it, a halo formed around the top of her head and he heard her say, “Don’t worry, mom will be okay.” When he told me the story a week later, he prefaced it with “I know you’re not going to believe me, but…” I told him, “Of course, I believe you.” I don’t doubt for one second that it can happen. I don’t doubt that our child’s spirit can touch us at any time.
Another friend, who was walking near her home weeks after a death, came across a quarter in the road with the exact birth year of the loved one who died. She took it as a sign. Love survives, and only when we love deeply, do the signs come.
Many bereaved parents go to psychics or gifted people. They want to be told about their child, what is happening to them, how they are and when the psychic can talk to them and/or believes the parents will be able to see and talk to them. I’m skeptic about this, although some parents have had dramatic proof that these people know of the loved ones and can tell parents what they want to hear. Others are disappointed after hearing evidence presented and knowing some of those out there are fakes.
Signs may appear in any shape and form at any time. See if you can recognize them, for if you truly believe that our child’s spirit can touch us, the signs will come. Let me know of your experience.
Sunday, August 15, 2010
When we remember loved ones lost and the family and friends most affected, a special memorial can help us honor their lives and soothe the pain of that loss. Memorials for a loved one may include many aspects, but they all have something special that remind us of the person lost. Personalizing a memento allows us to take that special memory and engrave it into something tangible.
When a special memorial engraving is placed beneath a finely crafted windchime, both the imagery and sounds of the instrument make it a powerful symbol of remembrance. For those who have gone before us, a memorial is a celebration of their life. An engraved memento that personalizes our memories on the windplate of chimes, allows us to take the pictures and words that give meaning to our loved one’s like. One family may choose an engraving of a sailboat on the lake, a special gift for a mother whose young daughter had spent many hours on her favorite lake. Another may choose images of trees or mountains to remember someone who loved the outdoors, or a cross as a symbol or the strength the family receives through their faith.
The power of using an engraved wind chime as a memorial tribute, is that a quality windchime invites the listener to pause, take notice, and appreciate the little things in their life that bring reflection. When we do take that pause, the sounds that come into focus are just as important as the images. This is where a hand tuned wind chime makes all the difference between melodious chords and grating metal. High quality hand tuned windchimes are made with different tunings which may also remind us of someone special in our lives.
A medium sized Himalayan tuning reminded one man of his late nephew’s singing voice, a calming sound to his sister’s family. A mother chose a small Stardust windchime to memorialize her young girl and the angels she felt watched over her at the end of her life. Another family decided on a extra-large earthsong windchime, reminiscent of the resounding strength of their son, a veteran whose life was lost overseas.
Memorial windchimes may be hung where we will see them everyday and will provide opportunities to glimpse at the words and images engraved below that keep the memory of our loved one close. Memorial windchimes may also be hung outdoors near the place of someone’s passing, such as by the road where their accident occurred. Wherever they are placed, it is most important that a memorial tribute of a personalized wind chime honor a loved one while giving remaining family and friends a way to pause, remember, and to appreciate the music along the way.
Sunday, August 8, 2010
“My God is a cruel God or he never would have let this happen?”
“It is my faith that has gotten me through this ordeal.”
“I don’t ever want to hear again, ‘God only takes the good ones.’”
When the death of a child occurs in the family, many experience a faith in God they have never known before. They cling to the belief that they will reunite one day with their loved one. They may also say that because they believe in God, He will ease their suffering. Others look upon God as letting them down by allowing their loved one to die. Still others are confused about God’s place in all this.
We hear the word “God” at a funeral service when a death occurs, in sympathy cards, from friends, relatives and even strangers.
We will find people saying things like, “God made sure that your child did not suffer.” On a personal level I ask, why did my child have to suffer at all; why did this have to happen? I heard this comment from a very compassionate woman friend, who I know meant no harm and only wanted to ease my mind after the car accident that killed my daughter. My friend continued, “Would you have wanted your child to have been incapacitated all her life with you taking care of her? She’s better off being with God.” I thought to myself, what in the world makes her think she would have been in bad shape. A second thought quickly surfaced. I would have wanted her to be alive in any condition, and yes, I would have taken care of her.
I would have preferred my friend simply express her condolences to me, but I knew she was a religious person and her faith sustained her in everything she did. When she found out she had cancer, she was accepting of the fact she did not have long to live and used her remaining time to do what she referred to as God’s work.
Others may say to bereaved parents, “You don’t have to grieve too long; you’ll be with your daughter eventually.” That does not mean that I have to agree with a statement like this. I have a choice. I can get mad, or I can decide this is just an easy answer to something not understandable to many. I have chosen the latter.
An irritating phrase that bereaved parents do not want to hear is “God would want you to forgive,” which someone might say if your loved one is murdered and the offender goes on trial. If you believe that the Higher Being of your faith can handle your anger and rage and take the tears away as they talk about heaven or eternal life, you are entitled to do so. If you do not believe any of that, try to explain your feelings. Everyone is entitled to his or her own beliefs.
In the book No Time for Goodbyes author Janice Harris Lord says, “The role of a Higher Being in what happened to you is your own faith decision. If you believe this was meant to be, that’s fine. If it doesn’t make sense, try to understand that those who say what they do, mean well and are sharing their own faith decision and not trying to hurt you.”
On the other side of the fence, those who were once religious may lose all faith, blaming God for letting this death occur and swear they will never go into a church again. That is an emotional decision and could change with time. Others say that after-death spiritual experiences where their loved ones have communicated with them are emotionally and spiritually healing to them. Finally, others believe that their faith in God sustains them as they endure their suffering.
Some good guidelines to follow during this fragile time in your life:
· Don’t discuss God with religious people who use this as an answer to complex questions. Their faith journey may have been different from yours.
· Find someone who has had an experience similar to yours who also has a meaningful religious faith and ask how their faith is helpful to them, whether you end up agreeing or not.
· Contact a religious counselor who has special training in accepting and dealing with grief.
Be accepting of others and their beliefs, even in your darkest hour, shows progress in your grief journey.
Editor's note: This 'coping' article is one of over 80 in Sandy Fox's new grief book, Creating a New Normal...After the Death of a Child. The book can be purchased through Barnes and Noble.com, Amazon.com, Centering.com, and iUniverse.
Sunday, August 1, 2010
WHO AM I NOW?
When your child dies, one is immediately and unwillingly thrust into a new life. You may become angry, confused, despondent, untrusting. You are forced to deal with emotions and situations that are completely new to you. Who am I now that I have become childless? I am torn, lost and unavailable to be a grandparent unless my child was older and had children of his/her own. I am no longer able to see a future. I am no longer free to be the parent I had been. I am a prisoner of my own deep and unending pain. BUT, I am the mother or father of a child in heaven. I am a parent with beautiful memories to fill my broken heart. I am the mother or father of a child who was loved and adored. Participants explored these ideas.
LOSING A CHILD TO A DRUG OVERDOSE
Discussion included stigmatization, self-blame, anger, confusion and wondering why the death occurred, accompanied by the more common feelings associated with loss: shock, longing and profound sadness. They also delved into the question of how parents eventually absorb these losses and where they find the most help: in support groups, with counselors, clergy, psychics and Internet support groups.
The impact of the sudden, unexpected death of a child of any age, due to accident, murder or undiagnosed medical conditions are explored in this workshop. With no chance to say good-bye, survivors are faced with a range of emotions and factors that can complicate the grieving process. Participants were encouraged to share their personal grief journey.
HEALING THROUGH YOGA
This workshop takes yoga beyond the physical body and brings it into your daily life. The ancient, yet relevant philosophies and practices of yoga encourage a non-judgmental, compassionate, self-inquiry that aids in releasing that which blocks you from connecting with your source energy. Through the use of breath, movement and experiential exercises, you will stay present for your emotions as they arise, experience them fully as they shift and change and learn to trust that it is safe to feel whatever is present. No mater what stage of healing you are in, self-compassion and loving kindness provide you with the tools for healing the wounds that prevent you from experiencing the joys that life has to offer.
MAKING A COMMITMENT TO SURVIVE
Showing you how meaningful and important making the commitment to survive is for grieving individuals and families was the goal of this workshop. One mother lacked the energy, the desire, and the hope to survive the death of her son. She shares how she went from just existing with the grueling task of grief to choosing the unexpected and eventual relief of surviving. Clients of one bereavement counselor have accomplished this daunting task creating a strategy for successful grieving. The commitment to survive is as life-changing as the loss itself; it requires love, determination and fortitude. Participants learned how to work with the love for your child, add in the love for yourself and survive this incredible loss.
SIGNS FROM OUR CHILDREN
No matter when or how our loved one died, there is compelling evidence that supports the belief we can still feel their presence through signs. This notion uphold the theory that somehow our soul survives beyond the physical restraints of the body, that in some way the essence of life, personality, the vitality and energy that we are as human beings somehow survives death. This workshop explored this phenomenon in detail and provided a slide show of extraordinary anecdotal evidence coming in from all over the world.
PROJECTS IN MEMORY OF OUR CHILDREN
This workshop described how we can find creative ways to keep our children close to us by using their clothing or blankets to make special items. Some of the items discussed were the making of a bear from the child’s clothing with a pattern (or you can have firstname.lastname@example.org do it for you with or without a picture of your child); a memory t-shirt, again with words or both words and a picture of the child; making a quilt from pieces of your child’s clothing; and making purses designed with memories. Also included were an angle pin, bookmark, a sun-catcher and a memory box with your child’s picture on top or inside and what to include in the box.
Sunday, July 25, 2010
I was part of the panel with no surviving children. We each discussed one of the aspects of dealing with the problems that confront us…problems that parents with surviving children do not encounter…and how we have been able to handle each situation.
I was asked to speak on wills, trusts and estates. I explained how, when your only child or all your children die, you must change your will so that your estate, which was originally going to your child, will now go to someone else you care about. Do not leave it up to other family members, or if you don’t have any family left, then up to the state. Designate in your will and/or trust by percentages, who should get what. Cousins, aunts and uncles, siblings, friends and your husband will more than likely be the beneficiaries, but if there is someone in your family you don’t have good feelings about, this is your opportunity to leave them out. Since you don’t know when you will die, leaving a specific amount of money may not work. You don’t know what amounts may be left when you die. That is why I use percentages. It is more efficient.
In addition, I leave a “tangible personal property” list, so that if I want someone to have something specific: a piece of jewelry, a painting, some knick knacks, I know it will go to them, since my trustee or lawyer will take care of that. Leaving something that is written assures both parties that you will get to do what is rightfully yours to do.
Another aspect of not having surviving children that was talked about was what do you do with your children’s belongings? Do you get rid of everything, keep everything and when is the right time to do this? Everyone grieves at their own pace, and there is no right or wrong answer to these questions. For some parents, they can do it immediately; some it will take a longer time; and others will never be able to deal with it or they may ask someone else to do it. Don’t let friends tell you when is the right time, because only you know that answer. It is important not to do anything until you feel ready, or you may regret it later on.
Some parents choose to give some items to their child’s friends (and that is fine), to hospitals (stuffed animals), and to shelters (clothing and bedroom furniture). You may choose to give some jewelry away that belonged to your child, or you may want to keep it all. The same applies to childhood items. One important thing to remember is to store items you want to keep in a place with a good temperature so they aren’t ruined. And most importantly, remember that putting your loved ones things away does not mean putting them out of your life. Your child will always remain a part of you.
Has your marriage changed? Are you and your husband still close? Do you talk about your child? Is the communication good? These are important questions to ask yourself. If you believe your marriage is worth working on, talking and communicating will do much to help your marriage survive. One panel member spoke about her stepchildren and how she got along with one and not the other, no matter how hard she tried. I related how well I get along with my husband’s daughter, even though every time I see her I think of the daughter I lost. That, I believe, is quite normal. The audience had much to say related to stepchildren and how they handle them.
Other topics discussed dealt with support or lack of it from family/friends; how do we get through the holidays with no children; how do we handle significant events in our lives such as graduations, weddings and baby showers; and how our goals in life have changed since our children died. Questions from the audience completed the session, but we could have used another hour to discuss all our concerns. Getting these topics out in the open at a TCF conference can help parents deal with these and other issues.
Sunday, July 18, 2010
Preserving photos and using them in remembrance of your child was another great session at the conference.
Kelly Hoffman shared her personal experience and explained why she finds printed photos and digital photos/books so special.
After the death of her daughter, she wanted to capture all of the special memories and tell the stories behind the photos. Initially, she feared not being able to remember all of the silly, simple, funny and happy times with her, and wanted to put the stories down and document her life. This also gave her something to do with her hands and keep her head busy.
“There is just nothing like having a photo, a scrapbook or a digital photo book to hold in your hand,” said Kelly. “To many, it is not the same as looking at images on the computer and it has become my passion to help others get their photos off the computer and camera and celebrate them.”
Put them on a wall, on your coffee table, in a book or a digital photo book. The process is individual, depending on the person’s goal and desire. If you like scrapbooking, you will be able to create something special with your artistic talents as well as your photos.
Two other ideas for photo uses…
One mother uses pictures in a collage made by a local hospital for an annual remembrance of children no longer with us. Her only son died in October 2006.
“We participate in this event because it helps us to know others who have lost children and allows us to share memories,” said Kenny and Summer Moore. One photo is of her son kissing a dolphin at a Make-a-Wish trip to Orlando. Others were taken with his mother and the father at fun vacation spots. Still another was his 8th grade graduation and one showing off his airbrushed shark tattoo Many of these photos reflect highlights of her child’s life and they shared them all this month in the Alive Alone bereavement newsletter.
As for myself, I have done many photo albums of my daughter and look at them often. Most people don’t want to have to look at photo albums, but will be willing to watch a three-minute slide show with music of my child, highlighting all the special moments and events in pictures. It is rewarding for me to show how proud I am of my daughter and her accomplishments, and I want others to understand who she is and always will be.
We all need to do what is most comfortable for us individually. We will never forget our children, nor should we. Photos keep memories alive in our minds and in our hearts.
Saturday, July 10, 2010
Let me emphasize you do not have to be artistic to do this. The finished product will definitely be an unbelievable likeness that you can show to others and/or display in your home.
Make an 8 x 10 Xerox copy of a picture of your child’s face. (You can also do a 5 x 7 Xerox.) Do a one inch square grid in pencil over the copy of the 8 x 10 or a ½ inch grid over the 5 x 7. Then take a clean piece of paper, make an 8 x 10 or 5 x 7 box and start copying wherever you want on a clean sheet of paper. Inch by inch, square by square, you are copying a particular feature of the face that is in that one inch square grid. It is such a small space you are working with, that it will be easy to follow the lines and shadowing.
When you get to the eyes, nose and mouth, you might want to take two 1 inch squares and do together, if easier to make a smoother transition. Or you can still continue with the 1 inch at a time. The teacher was always there to help the parents who became a little frustrated, but mostly she traveled the room and encouraged everyone to keep going, knowing it would turn out well. This is a technique that dates back to the Egyptians and is an excellent way to draw a likeness of a picture.
“Drawing and painting my daughter after she died made me feel like I was still with her,” said Jeneane Lunn, teacher of the class. “When you draw something, you are able to see it more clearly. Participants are both surprised and pleased with how well they turn out.”
As I walked around the packed room of almost 100 people, each parent was very immersed in what they were doing and trying to be very precise. It felt almost like an important goal they were aiming for to honor their child, and I was simply amazed at the likeness of the actual picture and the drawing each participant made. At the end of the session, you could see these smiling parents proudly sharing their work with others in the room and amazed at how well the drawings turned out.
No matter what the results, you will appreciate the time you get to spend drawing your child and the way it will make you feel closer to him/her.
Saturday, July 3, 2010
It was four days of sharing the grief of losing a child at any age for any reason. There are so many stories, so many heartbreaks. You learn that the grief journey is long and never-ending but that you will survive and one day smile and laugh again. There is no easy path to do this, but being with others who understand what you are going through can help ease your burden.
This was the goal of the conference with over 100 workshops for parents, grandparents and siblings. Participants had a wide variety of activities from which to choose including sharing sessions, keynote speakers, entertainment (featuring singers and the political satire group performing Capitol Steps), and the annual Walk to Remember through downtown streets. In addition, they could browse the bookstore for bereavement materials, purchase mementos from the Butterfly Boutique, look and bid on silent auction and raffle items and even take some time to stretch with the early Saturday morning Yoga session.
The first keynote speaker on July 1 was Gordon Smith, two-term U.S. Senator from Oregon, whose son battled bipolar disorder and depression until his decision to end his life at age 22. He then successfully introduced and saw enacted an act authorizing $82 million for suicide prevention and awareness programs at colleges. The following day Maria Housden, whose 2-year-old daughter was found to have cancer and died at three, travels the world, lectures and leads grief and writing workshops and retreats. Her book Hannah’s Gift is being made into a full-length feature film. Catherine Read, whose stepdaughter was killed in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 spoke on the third day. She and her husband have focused on finding hope for victims of violent crimes. At the closing ceremony Helen Fitzgerald, whose daughter died from cancer, spoke. In addition to writing three books and many manuals for Hospice, she is very involved with mental health and grief programs.
Hour long workshops dealt with such topics as suicide, organ donation, mental illness, multiple losses, how children grieve, now childless issues, death of the troubled child, humor and grief, signs from our children, surviving the first year, spiritual grief, coping with anger, long term illness, sudden death, healthy and unhealthy grief, journaling, single parent issues, death by overdose, and finding hope again. These are just a few of the many workshops participants could choose to attend. Each year I try to participate and give a workshop. This year I was on a panel dealing with childless issues.
One of the best parts of these yearly conferences is meeting people who have similar experiences to yours, people who will give you that hug or squeeze your hand to let you know they understand and want to be your friend. Nothing is held back. You can cry if you feel like it and not be embarrassed; everyone understands you hurt. Others will try to talk to you or help with a problem you’ve encountered. You can laugh and not feel guilty for having good feelings and enjoying yourself. You can be with others at times or, if necessary, alone at times. Whatever works for you is what is important. Best of all is returning each year and renewing those friendships you've made.
I have attended many of the yearly TCF conferences and always wish I can get others to go also. Each year the conferences are held in different parts of the U.S. Next summer, it will be in Minneapolis in July. Perhaps you can try to get there. It will definitely be worth your while to see and participate in one yourself. Contact www.compassionatefriends.org and look for information on next year’s plans in September 2010.
Saturday, June 26, 2010
According to Dr. Lou LaGrand, grief counselor and author of eight books, this is a hidden condition occurring in non-mourners and mourners alike at any age and plays a major role in your health. From this condition you can develop headaches, confusion, stomachaches, sluggishness, dizziness and falling. Grieving exacerbates dehydration due to the emotional swamp that has to be navigated.
“Daily water consumption is an essential part of self-care and a critical coping technique when mourning a death,” he said. “Grief work is highly stressful demanding great energy and endurance. Water will help in reducing the physical pain of grief and in supporting brain maintenance.”
Dr. LaGrand in this ezine article lists what you should know about daily water consumption and dehydration while grieving.
1. Drink water at specific times before you get to the “I’m thirsty” stage.
How much water should you drink? At least 40 ounces per day. That is equivalent to five 8-ounce glasses.
2. Before each meal drink 8 ounces. It is good for your kidneys. After each meal drink another 8 ounces. Already you have taken in six of the eight glasses. Two other glasses during the day is attainable. You will know if you are drinking enough water if your urine is clear or lightly colored, not dark.3. You must eat. One reason is that you need to keep your electrolytes normal. Thesee are substances like sodium, potassium, chloride, calcium and magnesium. If you do not, you could have blood pressure problems and confused thinking. Just drinking water (not sports drinks or sodas) will not give you those minerals. Veggies, fruits and nuts help and at a time when you don’t feel like eating a whole meal, this will suffice.
4. Developing new routines such as drinking enough water and creating a new normal (the title of my new book that came out this month dealing with coping techniques and strategies) will help you immensely during your grief period to stay healthy, reduce the physical pain associated with grief and give you the energy you need to deal with whatever you must face to move on with your life.
NOTE: Next week I will report on the National Compassionate Friends Conference I will be attending and speaking at July 2-4 in Washington, D.C. I hope to see some of you there; please come up and introduce yourselves. I'd love to meet you.
Sunday, June 20, 2010
It is full of ideas for bereaved parents to use, to pass along to others and most importantly, a guide for other family members, friends and therapists. For example, there are articles on dealing with anger, commonalities between bereaved parents, recognizing guilt, how women and men grieve, dealing with pain and suffering, inappropriate responses to bereaved parents, accepting other’s beliefs during grief, getting through the holidays, finding organizations for volunteering, inspirational music for the bereaved and many, many more ideas. I hope all of you reading this blog will get a copy, and see if it can be of help to you too.
Coincidentally, Marcy’s husband, who survived the car accident, has also written a book recently about his 16-year journey from near death to full recovery. I read it, and it is a riveting account of what he has gone through to become whole again. It is called Rise and Shine, by Simon Lewis, and I would recommend it to anyone who has had to deal with the medical profession, insurance companies, cutting-edge medical technologies and treatments to restore one’s health. It is an inspiring story tracing the neuro-rehabilitation he endures in search of the full recovery of his mind and the struggles and decisions one must face during the recovery period. I sent him an email telling him how much I enjoyed it but have not heard back from him.
I also want to thank all of you who have written me lovely notes about my writings through the years, and I hope you will continue to keep in touch with me and/or comment on any of the blogs I write each week.
Saturday, June 12, 2010
She and I knew each other for over 35 years. We met when she began teaching at the same school that I was teaching, and she stayed for even longer than I did. After I retired, she continued to substitute teach until a few weeks before she died, even in the face of illness and pulling a needed oxygen tank behind her all the time. She didn't care what anyone thought; she loved those kids and they her. They found her easy to talk to about any problem they had, whether it was with school, friends or family, and many times used endearing terms such as "Aunt" or "Mama" before her name. She was concerned and cared about each and every one of them in addition to being a good teacher.
Her children and Marcy grew up together. One of her sons was the same age as Marcy, and they belonged to the same organizations, went to religious school together, knew the same people. She followed Marcy's activities and life, always complimenting me very sincerely on an award she won, her engagement, her marriage.
When Marcy died she took it very hard and was always kind enough to mention her when appropriate and empathize when appropriate. She had no trouble bringing up her name and referring to events long past, as so many others seem to have trouble doing. I appreciated that more than I can say. I find it hard to think of her as no longer here, even though she lived a long, productive life. I can see her face at places I go and at activities I know she participated in, and I can't help but smile when thinking of her.
It is no different with my daughter. I always imagine seeing her in crowds and think of what a great time she would have had at various events. I think of what her life would have been like with her husband, with children, with friends, with family and with a great career.
The death of a friend is very sad and our child's death unthinkable, but we have memories that will always be with us, fond memories that we are able to recall at any given moment. The memories will always remain deep within us. We can look back at these memories and know our lives were blessed and enriched for having known and loved them. As for my friend, I will always think of her with very fond memories.
Sunday, June 6, 2010
Time to think about your summer vacation time. As bereaved parents, we almost dread it. All we can think of are the wonderful vacations we had when our child was alive. Now we wonder if we can face going anywhere without them. What are some things we can do to make our new normal more enjoyable this summer?
Ask family members if they have any special places they’d like to go this summer. You may be surprised at their answers, which may include something their sibling, who is no longer here, may have always talked about doing or something they think will make you, as a parent, feel better. Don’t discount that children, at times of stress, can come up with good solutions.
You might want to think of a place that you and your family have never been or something you’ve never done that you always wanted to do like going on a cruise. Share that with your family and get their reaction. On a new location, you will not have to recall any old memories of years past and even though you will still think of how much your child would have liked this also, it is part of your new beginnings.
Your spouse may also have good suggestions for a vacation. Listen closely to what he/she has to say. Where you might have thought originally his idea would definitely not work for you, spouses may have a good point and thought it through more clearly than you at this time in your life.
Visit family and friends who live far away. Know that they will avoid talking about your child who died, so you will need to make it comfortable for them to do so by just telling them you’d like to hear some stories from days gone by. Sharing memories is very helpful for the grieving process and will put your family and friends at ease.
Don’t plan too much during your vacation. Being overtired and irritable will not be fun for you or your family, and going, going and doing, doing, will not help you forget. You will never forget your loss, so try to take care of yourself when traveling to stay in a good frame of mind for everyone else also.
To relax during your trip take some books or games for both solitary relaxing and family fun with monopoly, scrabble or Clue board games. Leave the computer behind as well as your usual busy activities and enjoy the moment. In our grief journey, we need to clear our heads to think rationally and these activities can help.
I’m not saying you should never think of the child you lost during your vacation, but try to think of good memories. Remember how much your child loved some of the activities you did together and know that he/she would want you to continue to enjoy your life because you know the child will always be in your heart and mind and never forgotten.