Sunday, July 25, 2010

Bereaved Parents With No Surviving Children

Editor’s Note: This is the 3rd in a series of four that goes over some of the workshops that took place at The Compassionate Friends Conference July 2-4.

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 of Your Child

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series on some of the interesting workshops held at the National Compassionate Friends Conference July 2-4

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

Drawing Your Child

In my next four blogs, I’m going to go over some great ideas I got at some of the workshops given at the Compassionate Friends Conference July 2-4. My first idea deals with doing a freehand pencil drawing of your child to always treasure.

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

TCF 2010 Conference

“We extend our hands in friendship and our hearts in understanding; you need not walk alone,” says Pat Loder, executive director of The Compassionate Friends. So began the 33rd national conference in Washington, D.C. on July 1 and ending today.

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 and look for information on next year’s plans in September 2010.