Sunday, March 28, 2010

Dealing with the "What if's" in Life

We can't dwell on the "what if's" in our lives. My daughter was killed by an impaired driver who was senselessly driving around in a Los Angeles residential area, speeding and not stopping where stop signs were posted. In a split second my whole world changed and the "what if's" started.

What if Marcy and her husband had not gone to pick up their new car that day and out to dinner to celebrate their purchase? What if she had driven herself to work and had to return on her regular route? What if they had taken five more minutes at the car dealership? Would the driver have been out of the area by then?

Don't let "what if''s" tear you apart. We can not change or control our destiny and so must live with what has happened in our lives. Don't let it destroy you, but 'do' decide how you are going to live the rest of your life, what you want to do, and how you want to do it.

It took me quite a while to decide what path I would take. It won't happen overnight, in a week, in a month and maybe not for several years. But eventually you will know what is right for you. Everyone needs their own space and time to recover, no matter how long.

In the meantime, go through the grief process, follow the stages of grief, read books on grief recovery, attend a grief support group meeting, see a counselor if you need to and most importantly, talk to other bereaved parents who have been there. They can be your best salvation because they understand exactly how you feel and can help you deal with all your turmoil.

I know this works, because I believe I'm on the other side of grief now...a good place to be...
helping others, writing books, and starting a support group where I live. Check into where you can find help by contacting The Compassionate Friends at or send me an email, and I will direct you to someone who can be of help.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Handling Different Situations After a Death

It is inconceivable to imagine all that has to be done when a child or any close family relative dies if you have never gone through it.

As I watch others and see them struggle through papers, through household items, through jewelry and artwork and finally, through the money situation, I know exactly what they are going through. I have lived through the death of both of my parents, my daughter Marcy, and her dad. I am at a point in my life where I can tell you that no matter how many times you must deal with death and its emotional journey afterwards, it is never easy.

For those who may want to keep a list for future reference, here is what I would do to make the beginning of your grief journey…the technical part of the death…easier to handle.

Plan ahead. Do what you can call an “Estate Planning Document” for every member of your immediate family. You can be almost any age to have one of these. It is not only for adults. By doing this document, you are creating a record of trusted advisors, the location of your important documents and other important information that may be needed after a death. Include the following in this planning document: a list of where all important papers like a will and trust are located, insurance policies, house and auto information, names of lawyers, where you keep your money and stocks, and who to contact just in case something unexpected takes a loved one. Write down all your passwords and where all your keys are. Pick out where and who you would like to do funeral arrangements. You may even want to pick out family grave plots. Put this information in a safe place but one where it can be found easily. The more you can do, the easier it will be for those left behind. Contact a lawyer if you need help with this, but for your own health and well-being, get it done early in life. Those of us who have been through this understand how your life can change in one split second.

When Marcy died, I wanted to contact all her friends to tell them of her untimely, sudden death. Fortunately, we had been close, so I knew most of them. The rest I found in her address book. That was the easy part. I had already purchased family plots so I knew where she would be buried. Her important papers I found at her home, some in file drawers, some things on the computer. Because she did not do one of these estate planning documents, to this day, I do not know where some things are and may never know…one reason I feel so strongly that this is an important exercise to do.

One of the hardest parts of any death is to dispose of the personal items. When confronted with most of Marcy’s things that were eventually sent to me, I kept what was important to me: most of the jewelry, some clothing I knew I could wear, all the awards and trophies she had won in high school and before, stuffed animals, photo albums, papers from her workplace and beautiful items she had bought on her travels.

I knew that others wanted things to remember her by, so I then went through the other items and some of her jewelry and asked her friends what was important to them. In some cases they asked me, and I was happy to oblige where possible. I remember one friend asking for a dress, another asking for a neon light she had given Marcy and still another friend asking for Venetian Glassware that matched her own that she and Marcy had bought while traveling in Italy. The first two were no problem. The last I couldn’t do. I hope her friend understood.

I did go through all the albums and offer pictures to others, throwing out the ones that had no meaning to me, selling some of her clothing, and giving away a few stuffed animals, but saving most of them for my Godchildren and even me! I love stuffed animals; they are very comforting to hold.

The entire process is not an easy one but necessary when a loved one dies. Make it easier on yourself and other family members by being prepared to handle all situations that may come up.

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Many Grief Books Available

Books offer comfort, and many times the right words, to many who grieve the loss of a child. Until the early 1990’s there was not much available, but recently, many good books have been published. These are a few of the wide variety that are available in addition to my own.

No Time For Goodbyes by Janice Lord was the first book I received and read. This book is about coping with sorrow, anger and injustice after a tragic death. In my case it was a sudden car accident. Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) recommends this book and since a friend of mine was one of the state directors at the time, she literally rushed it over to me. As I read it, I felt I could identify with many aspects of the book and would underline, star and circle particular passages that I wanted to come back to and resembled my feelings exactly. Most of all, it made me feel not so alone in my grief, just knowing that others felt the same as I did. It became my grief group with its practical information about loss and grief. As one person said, “It puts into words the heartbreak and utter devastation we feel when a loved one has been suddenly taken from us in death.”

The Bereaved Parent by Harriet Schiff finally brought child grief into the spotlight. Hiding your grief under the table was how you dealt with it until then. This break-through book offers guidance to the bereaved and step-by-step suggestions on how to cope with the stages of grief, from the funeral to rebuilding your marriage.

The Worst Loss by Barbara Rosof talks about how families heal from the death of a child. She draws on personal stories and research and delves into explaining about grief and how all family members grieve differently. She has different families speak about all types of deaths and eventually what you can do with the rest of your life.

How To Survive the Loss of a Child by Catherine Sanders talks about rebuilding your life and filling the emptiness with joy again. She also has a chapter about how friends and family members provide the best support. Special cases of miscarriage, stillbirth and induced abortion are also covered. Many case examples are also given.

After the Death of a Child by Ann Finkbeiner discusses living with loss through the years, a book that examines the long-term nature of parental grief through the words of those who suffered through it.

A Broken Heart Still Beats, after your child dies by Anne McCracken and Mary Semel take a look at literature as medicine, stories and poems by authors themselves with each chapter introduced by Anne and Mary’s reflections of their own. This book offers comfort in the voices of other writers, many of them famous authors.

Singing Lessons by singer Judy Collins, is a memoir and moving account of growth and healing, dreams and meditations imbued with the introspection we love in her songs. She shows us the depth to which her soul is shaken when her son commits suicide, how her exterior was shattered and the interior made vulnerable and raw. It is like a wound, she says, that opens up so we can feel and experience the depths and then climb to heights never imagined. Judy emerged on top, keeping her heart open and her life in harmony. She and I spoke of our losses after a brilliant speech I listened to which ended in the singing of one of her trademark songs, “Amazing Grace.”

Saving Graces by Elizabeth Edwards explores Elizabeth’s entire life, but concentrates on the death of her teen son in a car accident and how the “community” of people in her life, friends and strangers, helped her to find solace and strength she never knew she had in order to deal with her son’s death and her own subsequent tragic illness. I was fortunate enough to meet and speak to this lovely woman in 2007, and I know that whatever she says about her life and feelings comes from a strong, courageous heart that I completely admire.

Comfort by author Ann Hood, whose raw emotional experience of how she felt after losing her daughter to an illness is hauntingly reminiscent of my own feelings after my daughter died. There is something very special about an autobiography that allows you into the author’s soul to feel every feeling and know that you understand those feelings because you have been there too. I met this lovely lady in 2008 and listened to her story as she eloquently spoke of her child, Grace.

God Is Bigger Than Your Grief - Author Karen Tripp delves into the mysterious realm of faith and the questions we have in dealing with our heartache over the death of a loved one, partricularly, in our case, a child. Interspersed with personal stories from those who have gone through the bereavement, she believes we can learn new ways to soar as we draw closer to God and realize he has a purpose for everything. She has started a series and her other one I read is God Is Bigger Than Your Cancer, with insightful information and relevant stories, all ending with the belief that God is always with us in both the good and bad times.

Of course, specialty books on one type of death now abound from suicides and SIDS to different types of illnesses and drug related deaths. Most can be found online, very few are mainstreamed in bookstores.

There is now a wealth of information out there to help get us through our grief journey. Take advantage of these literary works.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Family Time in Maui

I am once again in, not only Marcy, but Marcy's father, Jess, as well. We would come here many times in the '80's together.

Marcy's father loved to read, especially on vacations. His favorite types of books: anything that was science fiction or had lots of action...never best sellers! He was also a Star Trek fan, and I remember him dragging me to all those movies, much to my dismay. But in Maui, he considered that his reading and relaxing time in the fresh air and brillant sunlight.

Marcy and I loved to soak up the sun and go home with a wonderful tan. She also considered it her touring time, as I did. We both liked to see everything there was to see in any place we visited. In Maui it was going up to the Haleakala Volcano, biking down the volcano, watching the whales jump high in the air, snorkeling, or just picking up pretty seashells on the beach and lots of walking up and down the beach.

Like most mothers and daughters we loved to shop, something that bored her dad, (as I know it does most men). We loved the craft stores with original Maui products, the cool dresses, and buying the shorts and tops that you could wear into any restaurant because of the relaxed atmosphere. We always made sure we bought one set of matching t-shirts for the three of us each time we went and proudly wore them, both in Maui and at home. Jess would smile when he saw them, wore it obediently when told to by Marcy and would smile at me each time we bought them. I never could tell if he liked them, but I'm sure to him it didn't matter. Whatever we wanted, he was willing to accept.

After a day together with Marcy, we'd come back to the hotel, pick up her dad and go out to dinner. That was definitely something we all loved to do, eat! And the fresh fish here, the best in the world! Each night we went to a different restaurant, enjoying everything we ate. Then it was back to the hotel and some television. The Maui sunshine and air always made us very sleepy very early. In fact, we always had our most restful sleep there.

On this most recent trip I took time to remember it all. When you are the only one left in a small family of three, memories come and go at all times. Most of the memories are good ones of us as a family, and even though divorced many years ago, and Marcy now gone 16 years, I choose to keep them in my mind and heart forever.