Sunday, January 31, 2010

Grief Triggers

No matter how long ago our child died, we all have grief triggers. There are moments when, out of the blue, something is said or something is done to bring our focus back to our child who we have so carefully placed in a corner of our heart. In those moments we remember everything, and our reaction may be to smile and simply go on as though nothing has happened or we may get an excruciating pain in our chest that may make it difficult to breathe and/or talk normally.

I am more of the latter. My heart will beat fast, and I may have to take deep breathes. In my imagination everyone can hear my heart pounding as the memories wash over me. I make a concerted effort, without saying a word, to continue on with what I was doing at the time and to slow the heart rate. The memories linger, sometimes pleasantly, sometimes too long, and I am caught in a conundrum of remembering feelings, days, months, years, that I love to think about, but know that those memories are no longer part of my reality.

The anniversary of my daughter’s death, March 2, and her birthday, July 27, are not good days for me. I try to keep busy, and I honor those days by reflecting on her life, looking at pictures and watching the only two videos I have of her.

Holidays, where families get together such as Thanksgiving or Mother’s Day, are particularly hard. Those two holidays it seems, are for families to be together, whether it is to give thanks or to honor Mothers. I feel very lost on Mother’s Day since I am the only one of my family left. There is only my husband to wish me a happy day, and I have to accept that reality.

Sometimes I will hear a song that Marcy used to like or a song that reminds me of a part in a school play she had, and I can hear her singing it loud and clearly. (Her voice was always much better than mine; I have trouble carrying a tune!). I smile when I think of the two of us singing songs together and dancing in the living room. Good memories.

When I am traveling and going to places I know she has been with either me or a friend, I become sad, knowing she loved traveling as much as I do. At times I am not only sad but also mad that she will never be able to enjoy new places, new experiences, new friends. So I travel now not only for my own enjoyment but also for Marcy’s. I go places I think she would enjoy and smile to myself as I see her climbing the hill imitating Julie Andrews singing. And I wear my Marcy picture necklace whenever I travel so that I feel she is always with me.

All these triggers and others are dealt with as best as I can. I try to be good to myself and to others. I treasure my good friends and my wonderful husband. But whether it’s one, two, five, ten or twenty years, you will never forget. Try to work through the grief triggers that will always come when you least expect them to, and make them a positive experience.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

"You Should Have Had More Children"

At a recent dinner, I sat next to a woman who knew Marcy through others. We were never very friendly, although I've known her for many years. She turned to me and said, "You know, it is very sad that Marcy died, but you should have had more children. Then it wouldn't have been so tragic for you. You would have at least had other children in your life."

I was stunned that anyone would say that to a bereaved mother, no matter how long ago the child had died. Was she trying to comfort me? Did she think she was showing me she cared about me? I felt insulted. I wanted to say, "You stupid person. You have obviously never had a child die nor know anything about it."

But I kept my voice calm and said, "Another child doesn't replace the one you lost, nor does another child even ease the pain of the loss. Each child is a separate individual, loved unconditionally." And besides, I thought to myself, I could never bear the thought of ever going through this again with another child, although there are many parents who have lost more than one child and survived.

I explained to this woman that I did try to have more than one child. I lost one in a miscarriage and was told not to get pregnant again due to health reasons. "Oh," was all she said.

As I looked at this woman who just turned to talk to someone else, I could see she never for one minute thought she had said anything offensive. Thinking about it, she probably voiced what others only think but never say.

When I told this story at a bereavement meeting recently, most rolled their eyes, shook their heads, and look disgusted.Then a few began telling me their own stories, some very similar to mine. One bereaved mother after a year of grieving went out to lunch with some friends. She related that one of her friends said, "We assume you are all better now; it's been a year, so why don't you try to have more children. At least then our children will be close in age and grow up together." Angered, the mother told this so-called friend that she did not manufacture children at a moment's notice; she was not over the loss; and it was really none of her business.

And still another mother at the meeting related how, at a wedding, an old friend said, "Why so sad looking?" She said she had just been thinking of her son and how much he would have liked to have been there. The response was: "Oh, get over it. It's been long enough. Time to move on." The bereaved mother said simply and calmly, "I am trying to move on, but it's difficult at times." She then turned around and left the party. "I cried all the way home," said the mother.

The grief journey is hard enough without others attempting to tell us how to live our lives. They have no idea what it is like to lose a child and I, personally, hope they never have to be in that situation.

I wish there was a way to educate people as to how to act, react, what to say, and particularly what not to say to a bereaved parent. It would make our journey a little less stressful.

Note: I invite those who are bereaved parents to comment as to what you would have responded to any of these women.

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Help The Compassionate Friends with Your Vote

I was asked to post the following message on my blog in hopes some of you can help out TCF.

The Compassionate Friends (TCF) needs your votes in Round Two (the final round) of Chase Community Giving, to help TCF receive a grant of $100,000 to $1 million to help continue its outreach to bereaved parents and their families. Voting is free of charge and continues through Friday, January 22, on Facebook.

To vote, go to and click on the Chase Community Giving logo on the first page, then just follow the directions.

After voting for The Compassionate Friends, if you remain a Facebook member, you will be able to follow the leader board during the program until it ends at midnight Eastern Time January 22 when the award winners will be announced. After you vote, if you do not wish to remain on Facebook, hover your cursor over “settings” at the top of any Facebook page, click on “Account Settings,” and then “Deactivate Account.”

Please also ask your relatives, friends, neighbors, and business acquaintances to vote for The Compassionate Friends. Email questions to

Sunday, January 17, 2010

3 Additional Internet Grief Sites

In my internet searches I have discovered three additional organizations that help bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents cope with the loss of a child. A brief description and the web site of each follows:


This is a grief and healing organization dedicated to helping parents and families living with the loss of a child. Since 2000, COPE (Connecting Our Paths Eternally) has connected individuals who have experienced similar losses by providing ongoing emotional, therapeutic and spiritual programs. These include monthly parent and sibling bereavement support group meetings, weekly art and movement therapy workshops, and a variety of special programs for members mourning a child’s passing, as well as the community.

This group is based on Long Island, but it also provides help to those outside the area with immediate support and resources and referrals. COPE enables individuals grieving the death of a child to find strength from within to face the difficult journey that lies ahead for them. It also builds upon the bonds of love and energy that connect us with our children offering ongoing emotional support, spiritual and therapeutic programs, as well as resources and referrals. They hold monthly support meetings; they reach out to parents with monthly newsletters and they have a ‘buddy system.”


Also a grief support for bereaved parents, this organization’s volunteers are here to help. “We have known the pain that the death of a child brings. We have struggled with and worked on our grief and finally have made peace with that sorrow.”

Their purpose is to offer understanding, suggestions for coping, support, friendship and most of all hope to all parents who are struggling with grief, no matter the cause of death. They suggest books and items that bereaved parents may want to purchase through their Grief Store. In order to raise some funds, they also have toys for sale. A monthly newsletter is published and sent free of charge for the first year to all who are interested in receiving it.


“Welcome to our community. We are sorry that you have a need to be here, but you have found a safe place to seek loving kindness, information, and unconditional support. You are most certainly not alone on your journey!”

RTF is a non-profit organization providing support to families that have suffered a prenatal or infant loss. They are based in Colorado and have a variety of activities planned throughout the year. Coming up for Grief Awareness Week Dec. 15-21, the group is having a free screening of the movie “Motherland” on December 16. The movie tells the story of six diverse American women that came together in December of 2006 to journey to rural South Africa as volunteers working with poor children. These women share one life-changing experience in common: each has suffered the death of a child. Other activities during the year are a butterfly release, a charity benefit, a candlelight remembrance and an annual walk to remember the children

Sunday, January 10, 2010

Recovering From the Death of a Child

I am continually working on recovering from the death of my daughter. What do I do? Here is the honest answer.

I think of the wonderful times we had together talking, going shopping, traveling, and going to theater shows. She would ask my opinion on most topics that were on her mind and even followed my suggestions on some of them. Even if she did her own thing, I was happy to know she thought enough of my opinion to ask.

I talk about my daughter whenever possible to whoever will listen. I test people. Will they ignore my comments or will they pick up the conversation and continue to talk about an event that my daughter was a part of? Good friends feel more comfortable doing that. But I believe you can eventually make everyone comfortable and let them know you want your child to always be a part of the conversation. The real joy comes when, on their own, a question is asked about her (Didn’t she win some trophies at a speech tournament in high school?), and I can respond with joy in my heart. Best of all, they will listen with interest to what I have to say and suddenly she is alive in all our hearts for just a few minutes.

Crying is triggered at very unusual times. I could just be driving from one area to another and it will hit me. “She is gone. I can’t talk to her. I can’t call her and tell her what happened to me today.” It can be a song, an anniversary, a beautiful sunset that can set me off, but fortunately, it doesn’t last long. I don’t let the memories consume me, but strangely enough, I feel better after a little cry.

I help other bereaved parents when I can. I speak at national conferences on bereavement about coping, have held two national conferences in my home town, and on a local level, I helped start and am a part of a bereavement group for parents who have lost their only child. I try to give back when I can, and it has been so rewarding to meet these parents who you feel a great affinity to. Only those who have gone through it know the feelings involved.

I continue to write. My book is still selling, and I have another book in mind for the springtime. I hope that my blog I write once a week on Sunday is of help to others on their grief journey. I freelance travel articles and I write for the Open to Hope Foundation that is reaching millions every year.

I continue to travel, always keeping my daughter in my heart every place I go to. I tell my husband, who now travels with me, when we are in areas that Marcy and I went to long ago or how we met on a specific day in a specific location with no clue if it would work or not (it did, and as I saw her running towards me as she came off the train, I reveled in the thought of “How great is this!” If I go to a new location, I think of how Marcy may or may not like the location and what her comments would be. But she is always with me on my travels and in my heart.

The last time I saw my daughter was at the airport. She was leaving to go home to California after her best friend’s wedding. Ironically, she had to attend her sister-in-laws father’s funeral in Californaia, and she came towards me smiling giving me a big long hug. I held her tight for a few seconds, almost as though I sensed the future. I couldn’t remember the last time I had held her like that, but my mind lingered on how wonderful she felt in my arms, a grown up child who had just married herself months before and was ecstatically happy. With her sudden death a week later, there was never a chance to say good-bye, but I did tell her I loved her as she walked into the airport terminal.

Dealing with the death of my daughter is the greatest challenge I face and will continue to face for the rest of my life.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Expressing Yourself In Poetry

Genesse Gentry, poet and author, has written a new book with both poetry and other writings that takes a look at expressing yourself in your grief journey.

She says, “One of the miracles of poetry is that you discover what you didn’t know about yourself. I learned that one day joy and peace would come in and they have.” Genesse’s poems are simple, yet thought provoking. I find them easy to understand and can relate my own grief to many of them, as I’m sure you would be able to also.

Genesse’s daughter, Lori, died at age 21 in a car accident in 1991. She has one surviving daughter, Megan. Her latest book just released is “Catching the Light: coming back to life after the death of a child.” The title is an interesting analogy. It relates to the fact that after a tragedy huge enough to break us, to shatter the pieces of beautiful glass that were our lives, we have a choice. Let the glass stay broken on the ground, covering the graves of our dead lives forever, or pick up the fragments and put them together in a new way so we may heal and grow. "Since it can never be put back exactly like it was, the glass now has the potential to become a prism," Genesse said. "Instead of the light shining straight through us, it is captured by all our facets, each finely polished by our deepening into grief. As the fragments catch the light, more colors are revealed and rainbows are formed, reflecting all the colors of our lives."

And so it was for Genesse. She wrote most of her poems after Lori’s death. Her first book “Stars In the Deepest Night” from 1993 is a collection of those poems, but she found she had more in her than she thought; in fact enough for a second book.

“It was 15 years ago that the poems came, about 2 ½ years after Lori died,” Genesse said. The first poem she ever wrote is titled “Skin Deep,” and is in her first book. “I wrote it in December, which is a difficult time of year for me because of the holidays and Lori’s death. As the Northern California’s regional coordinator for The Compassionate Friends, I knew I needed to learn how to express my feelings more to help others, instead of feeling sorry for myself. For the first time in my life, words came in the form of poetry.”

For anyone who wants to start writing poetry, Genesse says you have to be open and understand where you are in your grief journey. Write down ideas as you think of them or they will be gone.

One poem she wrote “Grief’s Garden” is in both books. “The words came one night as I was going to bed. The poem is an explanation of how much work grief is for all of us and how you need to really feel the terrible things before the good things will come through.”

In her new book, a poem came to her much later on one Father’s Day. She realized it was the anniversary of the last time she saw Lori and the poem flowed out of her. It is called “I Wonder” and expresses how she, unknowingly, has grown in understanding her grief.

When did sadness stop covering everything?
I don’t know.
It must have first been for moments,
then maybe hours,
days eventually.
Then for a long time
no longer ever-present,
but just below the surface
waiting for a thought to trigger it.
Now I live with more joy than sadness
but even now
sadness surfaces
as the dark shape of loss
stirs the cauldron
and tears are added to the soup of life,
salty still,
but not as bitter
or overpowering,
adding an important flavor
to the whole of me.

If interested in Genesse’s poetry books, go to .