Sunday, November 28, 2010

A Holiday Message

Editor's note: SIDS Foundation sent this beautiful note to eveyone this week at the start of the holiday season. I found its message to be simple but profound and so I wanted to share it with you as you think about your child and what this season may mean to you.

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

Writing Obit for Loved One

Writing an obituary for a loved one is not an easy task but an important one if you are up to doing it. You could leave it up to the newspaper staff to do and provide the information or you can write an expression of love yourself and send it in by email to be printed.

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 and Self-expression

Thanks to Tabitha Jayne, a Transformational Loss Coach, for this article on the art of dance and self-expression. She currently blogs on bereavement at She invites you to start transforming your loss and learn to live by signing up for her FREE video series on how to go 'from grief to great' at

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

Terrorists Affects On Us

I digress this week to give you my thoughts on recent terrorist threats and how they affect all of us who have already gone through the worst thing that can happen to us: the loss of a child.

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.