Sunday, December 25, 2011

Holiday Message

A message to all bereaved parents during this special time of year from Sandy Fox:

On this special day we remember our child, all the wonderful times, all the love, and all the dreams we had for them. May these precious memories be forever in our minds and hearts.

Karen Taylor-Good has written what I think is the most beautiful song expressing how we feel about losing our child. Join me in listening to it on this free mp3 download (don't miss putting in the two underscores after the word 'free' and after 'mp3' to get it right) at:
"A song can travel to places in the heart that the spoken word alone cannot go."

Happy Holidays to all.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mourner's Bill of Rights

I always feel it is useful to hear other professional points of view that deal with surviving grief, and I love author, speaker and grief specialist Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s list of what he calls “The Mourner’s Bill of Rights.” I hope you will too. Thanks, Dr. Wolfelt, for helping so many with your words.

Though you should reach out to others as you do the work of mourning, you should not feel obligated to accept the unhelpful responses you may receive from some people. You are the one who is grieving, and as such, you have certain “rights” no one should try to take away from you.

The following list is intended both to empower you to heal and to decide how others can and cannot help. This is not to discourage you from reaching out to others for help, but rather to assist you in distinguishing useful responses from hurtful ones.

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief. No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling.
2. You have the right to talk about your grief. Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.
3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions. Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.
4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.
5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.” Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.
6. You have the right to make use of ritual. The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you the funeral or other healing rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don’t listen.
7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality. If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hust and abandonment.
8. You have the right to search for meaning. You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your question may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichĂ©d responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you have to be thankful for” are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.
9. You have the right to treasure your memories. Memories are one of the best legacies that exist after the death of someone loved. You will always remember. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.
10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal. Recounciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

More Tips for Handling Holidays

Thanks to my friend Sandi Howlett, grief specialist, here is a list of more tips for handling the holidays. Use whatever is helpful to you and Happy Holidays.

DECIDE WHAT YOU CAN HANDLE COMFORTABLY AND LET FAMILY AND FRIENDS KNOW. Can I handle doing a family dinner or shall I ask someone else to do it?Should you stay here or go to a completely different environment? I will miss the person and grieve regardless of geographic location, so where do I prefer to do it?

RE-EXAMINE YOUR PRIORITIES, GREETING CARDS, HOLIDAY BAKING, PUTTING UP A TREE, FAMILY DINNER AND OTHER TRADITIONS. Do I really enjoy doing this or is it a tradition we like or an obligation we endure? Would the holidays be the same with out it? Is this a task that can be shared?

MAKE SOME CHANGES IF THEY FEEL COMFORTABLE FOR YOU. Vary the timing of holiday gift giving. Have dinner at a different time or place. Let other children or relatives take over decorating the house.

RECOGNIZE YOUR LOVED ONE’S PRESENCE IN THE FAMILY. Light a special candle to quietly include your child. Hang a stocking in which people can put notes with their thoughts or feelings. Listen to music especially like by the one who died. Look at photographs and relive your memories.


OBSERVE THE HOLIDAYS IN WAYS WHICH ARE COMFORTABLE FOR YOU. There is no right or wrong way, but do let others know what you will be doing.


ALLOW YOURSELF TO EXPRESS YOUR FEELINGS. Holidays often magnify feelings of loss. It is natural to feel sadness. Share concerns, apprehensions, feelings with a friend.

CONSIDER DOING SOMETHING SPECIAL FOR SOMEONE ELSE. Donate a gift in memory of your child; donate money you would have spent on your child; adopt a needy family, or invite a guest to share festivities.

DON’T BE AFRAID TO HAVE FUN. Laughter and joy are not disrespectful. Give yourself and your family members permission to celebrate and take pleasure in the holidays.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

This and That

Worldwide Candle Lighting…

The annual worldwide candle lighting is this Dec. 11 in remembrance of all children gone too soon, any age, any reason. Mark it on your calendar. Services and special events will be held around the country. Check the Compassionate Friends website for those services open to the public. Last year there were over 500 in 15 countries around the world. If you don’t want to go to a public service, you can do your own quiet candle lighting in home with friends or even by yourself. What ever works for you is a acceptable.

Regional TCF Conferences…

Regional conferences offer a rewarding opportunity to share an intimate time with families that are going through the natural grieving process after a child’s death. There are three upcoming ones:

Frankfort, NY regional conference will be March 23-24 with this year’s theme “Wilderness of Grief…Is There Hope.” The conference will feature speakers including Drs. Heidi and Gloria Horsley, Dr. Darcie Sims and entertainment by Alan Pedersen. Planned are 14 workshops covering many areas of grief. For more information, contact Dusty rhodes at 502-223-1505 or by writing .

Kansas regional is February 17-18 in Olathe, Kansas at the Doubletree.. The theme is “Sunflowers of Hope-Walking Together Down Grief's Yellowbrick Road." Keynote speakers are Alan Wolfelt, Darcie Sims, Kris Munsch and Alan Pedersen. Dr. Wolfelt will be doing a professional morning from 8-11 a.m. Friday, February 17 with three CEU's provided by KU Medical Center (no charge for the Professional Program, but registration will be required to know how many people to expect). For more information, contact .

Western Pennsylvania’s regional conference is April 20-21 in Meadville, PA with the theme "Treasured Memories." Look for additional information soon.

For all these regional conferences, contact Compassionate Friends for more information:

35th TCF Conference…

Rev. Canon Simon Stephens, the worldwide founder of TCF, will attend the 35th Compassionate Friends National Conference and International Gathering in Costa Mesa, CA, July 20-22, 2012. He will travel from his home in Moscow to speak to the gathering. Additional speakers will be Darcie Sims, grief management specialist and author; Lois Duncan, author of "Who killed My Daughter", and Kathy Eldon, bereaved mother, journalist, author, producer and activist. It is recommended you make reservations at the Hilton Costa Mesa early as they expect to be sold out soon. More information is at the Compassionate Friends website.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Making a Holiday Plan

For most of us, the upcoming holiday season will be difficult. It doesn’t matter if your child died last month, last year, 5 years ago or over 10 years ago. We never forget what the holidays were like when they were around: the joy, the laughter, and the delicious meals. Anything they were a part of will always be in our hearts. We will never forget them or the time we were fortunate to spend with them.

Each year I make a plan with five ideas in mind that were given to me by a friend.

First, I predict that the most difficult parts of the holiday season for me will be seeing the joy on a child’s face just as I used to see it on my child: the first time she got to put ornaments on a Christmas tree, the first time she got to go caroling, or later on, the first time she got to bring a gift to a senior home. I will also not be able to buy a gift for my child, even though I’m sure I know what she’d want. Just going shopping, knowing I’d see that special light in her eyes when she opened the package was a great feeling.

Second, the most difficult people to be with might be those who have children my daughter’s age. They now would have children of their own, and I dream of what it would be like for my child to have her own family. I have been to dinners with those who have no surviving children and, although it is sad, at least I don’t have to listen to all the news about the children and grandchildren.

Third, words that would be helpful for me to hear would be my child’s name in a conversation. I don’t want others to forget her. I never will. And when her name comes up and a story about her is told, it is like music to my ears. Memories are all I have now, and I cherish anything that someone else remembers that I may not have known or that triggers another story that I can personally tell.

Fourth, my support people (those who can hear my grief) are my husband, relatives and very dear friends. My husband (not my daughter’s father and never met my daughter) likes to hear stories and is very supportive of anything I may want to do or in her honor. For example, he always accompanies me to the cemetery whenever I feel like going, and he knows how important doing little things in her honor or memory is to me. A few relatives and very close friends are also comforting with thoughts, words and deeds that make me feel good.

Fifth, this year I want to include the following traditions in my holiday celebrations: I want to have people over for dinner who I enjoy being with, particularly those who knew my daughter and are not afraid to bring up her name in conversations. I also want to help disadvantaged kids. I am collecting items and money to buy things for them that they need, according to various organizations. And finally, I’m considering helping serve Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners to those who are homeless. Volunteering is always rewarding.

Think about these five ideas and what has happened in your life. Then fill in these phrases and sentences for your own personal holiday plan, and you may find it a rewarding season for your family and others.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

A Thanksgiving Remembrance

I always enjoyed Thanksgiving each year and the good foods offered from family members along with the holiday cheer, laughter and love. Our family was small: my daughter Marcy, my husband, my mother-in-law, my parents, and my step-brother’s family. The 10 of us enjoyed the festivities each year at one of our homes, all of us taking turns every few years to prepare the turkey.

The last Thanksgiving we spent together in 1993, a few months before my daughter died, was especially nice. She had just gotten married and she and her husband drove in to be with us. We had so much fun, but there are two things that will stays with me always about that particular Thanksgiving and always puts a smile on my face.

The first happened after dinner. Marcy and her husband went into the guest bedroom and took out the trundle bed, pushing it together, I could see her unhappy face. “What’s the matter?” I asked. “We were just married a month ago,” she said, “and you expect us to sleep in two different beds!” She was serious! And I just laughed. “You’ll have a lifetime of sleeping together,” I said. “This one time of being a few inches apart won’t matter.” Little did I know they would only have four months together before the car accident.

The second incident happened when they were leaving a few days later. My husband put a U of A sticker on the back of her car as they were backing out of the driveway (she was an ASU graduate). She saw us laughing, knew something was up, stopped the car, got out and went around to the back, saw the sticker, took it off, put it on “our” car and drove off waving and smiling. It was so typical of Marcy and my husband, who always teased each other. My heart overflowed with love for her wit, sarcasm and generosity. It was a time of happiness I will never forget, since it was the last time I ever saw her in a family setting.

Now when Thanksgiving rolls around, we usually spend the time with my best friend and her family. It is always nice to be with them, but Thanksgiving is no longer a holiday I look forward to. Everyone but my husband and I have a family member there. They are all laughing and talking about the latest gossip or stories from the children and grandchildren. I don’t have anything to share, so I just sit and listen. I smile at the stories. I know they don’t understand how much I miss Marcy and how I would love to tell a story also. I don’t expect them to understand or acknowledge her; it’s been 17 years. They are not bereaved parents. But it’s hard just the same and always will be.

Thanksgiving is a holiday for us to give thanks. I thank God I had Marcy for 27 years to enjoy, hear her laughter, see her tears, smell that perfume she loved so much, and always touch and hug her. Yes, I still have something to be thankful for on this and every Thanksgiving: my beautiful daughter that I will always love and cherish.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Infant and Miscarriage Loss Book

Children die at any age for any reason. One group of mothers whose stories seem to be less written about is those who have a miscarriage or lose a small baby. Melissa Eshleman of Norway has written a new book “Always Within: Grieving the Loss of Your Infant” in hopes of helping families deal with the loss of a pregnancy or an infant.

Besides a series of stories from those who have endured this type of loss, Eshleman also offers insight from her own experience, losing her son when he was just four days old. She says that losing a pregnancy or infant is such a devastating experience for parents and families, she hopes this book helps in the grieving process. She added, “It’s like having a compassionate and caring support group right at your fingertips.”

The book has stories of more than 20 parents who have dedicated their time and energy into recounting the difficult moments and events following their losses. Each chapter includes helpful advice from parents and thoughts on what family and friends can do to provide support during this difficult time. There are also ideas on how grieving parents can help keep their children’s memories alive through the years, as well as comforting poems, quotes and Bible verses.

Eshleman lost her infant son, Lucas, in 2001. Afterwards, she joined a number of infant loss groups, finding that she could accelerate her own healing process by helping others. Because she knows first-hand the challenges of dealing with such grief, Eshleman said she wanted to fill the void of information that parents need after they lose a baby so suddenly.

“When I lost my son, I was like a lot of parents in that I had no idea where to turn or what to do. I felt alone in my grief,” she said. “It took me too long to find infant support groups and to find comfort in reading the stories of others.”

Although a Norway author, her book can be ordered online at and Barnes and

Sunday, November 6, 2011

"Good Job, Mom"

My daughter always asked me, “Mom, when are you going to write the great American novel?

I would smile, first thinking of how good it made me feel to know my daughter Marcy considered me a good writer. Then thinking, “Could I really do it?” Of course I could. “One day, I said to her. “One day.”

I never dreamed that my great American novel would first turn into a tribute to my daughter in the form of a book on surviving grief and end up being a catharsis for me. I never dreamed I would, ten years later, continue to want to help others and write a second book on surviving grief, still dedicated to my daughter.

I find whatever I do in life now is a reflection of how I want my daughter to be proud of me. “Good, job,” I can hear her say. She would say that a lot, whether I won an award, bought a new car, or dressed fashionably in her eyes. When she and her fiancĂ© went to Maui and stayed in my newly purchased condo in the early ‘90’s, she wrote in my guest book, “We loved it here. It’s perfect. We plan to come back soon. Good, job, mom.” Of course, it was never to be. She died less than a year later.

When I speak at a bereavement conference, write an article for a magazine or decorate my home, my husband says, “Good job.” And I smile, always thinking of how Marcy would have agreed with him.

I believe our children who have died are always with us in one way or another. I believe they guide us when we have important decisions to make. I believe they watch over us when we need them by our side. And I believe they encourage us to do important things in life to make us better people.

I can still feel Marcy hugging me when she was leaving for the airport the last time I saw her. Her body felt so soft as she leaned into my outstretched arms. As she walked away, I thought, “This beautiful person was my creation, and boy, did she turn out to be special.” She turned once to wave and all the enthusiasm, vibrancy and love emanated from her to me, as if she was telling me this would be the last time we’d be together. I never foresaw that. Only love poured from me to her.

Will I write the great American novel? Perhaps. One day. I’ve got a lot left to do in my lifetime, one of them being to fulfill Marcy's request. She will always be in my heart, continue to guide me and be there for me every step of the way. I hope I will make her proud and hear her say in my mind one day when I finish that book, “Good job, Mom!”

Sunday, October 30, 2011

For Bereaved Grandparents

This is Part 3 in a 3-part series of feelings expressed by the bereaved who belong to Compassionate Friends chapters all over the world. This writing is from a grandmother’s perspective, a completely different view. She is from Missouri. All Compassionate Friends chapters welcome grandparents as well as parents and siblings to their meetings and national conferences..

I am powerlessness. I am helplessness. I am frustration. I sit here with her and cry with her. She cries for her daughter and I cry for mine. I can’t help her. I can’t reach inside and take her broken heart. I must watch her suffer day after day and see her desolate.

I listen to her tell me over and over how she misses Emily, how she wants her back. I can’t bring Emily back for her. I can’t even buy her an even better Emily than she had, like I could buy her an even better toy when she was a child.

I can’t kiss the hurt and make it go away. I can’t even kiss a small part of it away. There’s no Band-Aid large enough to cover her bleeding heart. There was a time I could listen to her talk about a fickle boyfriend and tell her it would be okay, and know in my heart that in two weeks she wouldn’t even think of him. Can I tell her it’ll be okay in two years when I know it will never be okay, that she will carry this pain of “what might have been” in her deepest heart for the rest of her life.

I see this young woman, my child, who was once carefree and fun-loving and bubbling with life, slumped in a chair with her eyes full of agony. Where is my power now? Where is my mother’s bag of tricks that will make it all better?

Why can’t I join in the aloneness of her grief? As tight as my arms wrap around her, I can’t reach that aloneness. Where are the magic words that will give her comfort? What chapter in Dr. Spock tells me how to do this? He has told me everything else I’ve needed to know. Where are the answers? I should have them. I’m her mother.

What can I give her to make her better? A cold wet wash cloth will ease that swelling of her crying eyes, but it won’t stop the reason for her tears. What treat will bring joy back to her? What prize will bring that “happy child” smile back again?

I know that someday she’ll find happiness again, that her life will have meaning again. I can hold out hope for her someday, but what about now? This hour? This day? I can give her my love and prayers and my care and my concern.

I could give her my life. But even that won’t help.

                                                              Margaret Gerner

Sunday, October 23, 2011

If Only They Knew

This is the second is a 3-part series of parental thoughts of their child who died. This one is from a Compassionate Friends chapter in Australia.

If they only knew that when I sometimes weep quietly, it’s not in self pity for what I have lost; I weep for what he has lost, for the life he loved, for the music which filled his very being…for the poetry which moved him to tears, for the beauty about him that daily fed his soul, for the exhilaration and excitement of flying the skies, of searching for his God in the vast space of the universe. For all that, he loved and lost, I cry.

If only they knew the feeling of deep grief, the emptiness, the dull pain, the endlessness of death, if only they understood the insanity of the platitudes so freely spoken: “time heals…you’ll get over it,” “it was fore the best…” “God takes only the best,” and realized that these are more an insult than a comfort, that the warm and compassionate touch of another means so much more. If only they knew that, we will not find true peace and tranquility until we try to stand in the shoes of others. If only they knew that we will not be understood until we learn to understand compassionately, and we will not be heard until we learn to listen with hearts as well as minds.

If only they knew that when I speak of him, I am not being morbid. I am not denying his death, I am proclaiming his life. I am learning to live with his absence. For 26 years, he was a part of my life, born, nurtured, molded, and loved; this cannot be put aside to please those who are uncomfortable with my grief. If only they knew that when I sit quietly, apparently content with my own company, I am not self-indulgently unhappy, dwelling on things which cannot be changed. I am with him, I am seeing his face, hearing his voice, remembering his laughter, recalling his excitement and joy in life. Please allow me this time with him, as I do not begrudge you your time with your children.
                                                      Jan McNess

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Communicating With My Child

For the next three weeks I’d like to share with you three parent’s views on the death of their child. All appeared in newsletters of a Compassionate Friends chapter somewhere in the world. This first one is from California and the mother here talks about conversations she has with her child.

Eighteen months ago, I dedicated a bench to Philip. It’s in a space Philip would like, out in the natural world, with abundant wildlife and wonderful views across hills and sea.

I go there often to spend time alone with my beloved son. I sit on the bench, look at the vistas, and remember our family as it used to be. I talk to Philip. I make him promises. I ask for his guidance. I muse on what his life would be like now. I tell him how deeply I love him, how missing him gets harder with each passing year. I tell him about his brothers, about his sister-in-law and his little nephew, both of whom he never met. I tell him how important he is to us. I tell him that we will never forget him, that though our lives are five years past his death, we still think of him all the time and want him with us. I tell him that I am having a terribly hard time accepting that he has died, and that I am doing the best I can.

I have no idea if I am communicating with a Philip who has survived death or with myself, who hopes he has. Sometimes I think I feel an impatient nudge, a sort of, “Get on with it, Mom, it’s not what you think” message. Sometimes I feel his arms around me in compassionate understanding. Sometimes I don’t feel any response at all.

I am grateful for these private times with my child. Whether he lives on in some other sphere, and how I hope he does, or whether he resides only in our deepest heaerts, there is an honoring of him in these conversations, a recognition of his existence and its importance, that matters very much to me.

I believe that we all need to find our individual ways of keeping the channels to our children open. My conversations with Philip may seem odd to some people, but they are right for me. I encourage you to honor your own private ways of communicating with your beautiful child, whatever thay are. If you are searching for the channel that will work for you, consider what some other bereaved parents have found helpful: poetry, painting, journal writing, hiking in the natural world, daydreaming, music, meditation, lighting candles, wearing a deceased child’s clothing, sitting in his/her room, playing a sport she/he loved, and many others.

May the time spent in Private dialogue with your child bring you peace-filled moments, a renewed sense of connection, and strength to continue the difficult journey we are all on.
                                               Kitty Reeve

Sunday, October 9, 2011

A Mother's Worst Nightmare

When Jeanne and Ray Buesser’s son, Danny, died, Jeanne said it was like a road falling away from her. She was numb. She didn’t know how she would survive one day, even one hour.

Jeanne has survived both the death of her son from a tumor in his abdomen, the sudden death of her husband two years ago and the subsequent diagnoses of her other two sons, one with apraxia, the other with autism. How much can one person endure?

It was the apraxia that was so confusing to both Jeanne, Ray and many other parents, since it is very hard to detect in early stages of development. She told me that what happens is that children cannot produce the correct sounds to verbally make themselves understood and the words come out garbled. Because the child cannot phonetically break down words, there are many learning issues. It is hard for them to read and they have trouble processing. She emphasized that in most children, the intelligence level is unaffected. Her goal is to get the information out there to help others.

When I speak of Jeanne, I have nothing but praise for her courage and fortitude to make the most of the hand that God has dealt her. She realizes this is a tough road, but is determined to make it through. The comfort she gets from family and friends, the Compassionate Friends group she belongs to and from helping others learn about apraxia has been extremely beneficial.

I hope I was also helpful to Jeanne when I encouraged her to get her story published about her son and apraxia, since it is not a well-known disease at all and the public needed to be educated. The book that came about from this is He Talks Funny, a children’s book on the subject, but one that any parent can go through with their child and learn much also.

Jeanne is a very busy lady. Besides taking care of her two boys, she runs a non-profit support group for parents of children with speech impairments, is president of the Apraxia Network of Bergen County New Jersey, outreach coordinator of the Cherab Foundation (a world-wide foundation for children with speech impairments), speaker at conferences on the topic, publishes articles on Apraxia, PTO treasurer at her son’s school, president of the Learning Disabilities Association of NJ, and volunteers at a local Temple doing mailings and cooking for Feeding the Hungry.

Her latest endeavor is a book focusing on poetry she wrote through the years on her own personal journey in addition to a little about her life before her children. The book is Journey…From Darkness to Light and will be available soon. Her many poems are simple, direct and full of all the emotions that build up each day after your child dies when you feel totally lost and empty. As she says in one of her poems…her loved ones will always be with her…she knows they are safe inside her heart and mind. Those of us who have lost children understand the torment, the anguish and the incomprehensible loss she speaks about. Her comfort, she says, is in knowing that one day they will all be reunited.

Keep checking for the publication of her new book and visit her website at

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Grief, Loss and Peace of Mind

Today’s special guest columnist is Dr. Lou LaGrand, grief counselor and author of eight books, the most recent,“Love Lives On: Learning from the Extraordinary Encounters of the Bereaved”. In this ezine article he shares his ideas on good grief.

Are you in a state of confusion? Have you made the decision that you will get through this loss? Are you confronting your loss and fears? If not, why not?

Peace of mind is the ultimate goal of good grief so that one can begin the work of reinvesting in a life in the absence of the physical presence of the deceased. Peace of mind is also an inner strength that has both emotional and biological value of immense proportions. From it flows unexpected joy and a new energy base. But how can a mourner get it in the turmoil of grieving?

Even though you may be grieving, everyone has the capacity-regardless of background or experience-to obtain this precious commodity. Achieving inner peace is not only one of the tasks of your grief work, it is the foundation for adapting to perpetual change. Here is one proven approach to consider in this quest.

1. It all begins with desiring it; really wanting it 100 per cent (not, 50, 75, or 98 percent). If you decide yes, it becomes one of the highest priorities of daily life. This intent is essential. You will base decisions on what is important for you to challenge or to let go of. And, you will be more open to learning what others have accomplished in order to find inner peace. Be aware that there is great wisdom out there in the experience of others. Recognize that peace of mind is an ongoing work in progress, not something you "get" and do not have to maintain.

2. Take a personal time-out each day. For most, this is the most difficult part of finding peace because it means cutting into the rapid paced living style that is characteristic of western culture. Look at your daily schedule and find a way to spend 20 minutes just for yourself. Get away from it all, the telephones, radio, and television. Seek the solitude you deserve. Listen to soothing music or visualize your favorite nature view as you are lying down with your feet elevated on a pillow.

3. During reflection time, review your past life for what you are grateful for. This is another key piece of inner work that is necessary to change your inner focus. Include the positive authority figures in your life, the books that influenced you, your friends, clergy, and the experiences that taught you important lessons. This daily task will positively influence your unconscious mind and the effect it can have on your self-image and your coping image.

4. Each day at reflection time, further develop your gratitude attitude by writing down at least three things you are grateful for that happened the preceding day, whatever they may be. You made it through the visit with your attorney, an old friend telephoned, you had a great, loving flashback memory, one of your kids said "I love you," you thoroughly enjoyed your visit to the seashore, or your loan application was approved, are examples. Don't forget all of the so-called little things--your mobility, a place to sleep, an automobile, neighborhood, abilities you use, and hobbies. You will profit significantly from where this developing mind set eventually takes you.

5. Adopt the belief that you always have a silent partner--your Higher Power. Your Higher Power (God, Krishna, Allah, The Source, The Universe) will always be there with you. You are never alone. You always have a divine being to turn to for help. There is no separation from this Power. Ask for assistance, the wisdom to fully examine and make the correct choices. You will receive it. Pray for the strengthening of this belief and watch the results unfold in your life as many before you have reported.

6. Make it a habit to start living according to this scientifically proven observation: for every thought or emotion you accept there is a corresponding physical representation of that thought or emotion in your body. When you grieve, every cell in your body feels the tension. Negative thoughts heighten stress levels; they possess great power to minimize you as a person. Keep putting this question to yourself, "Do I want peace or conflict to dominate my life? Rid yourself of negativity.

At all costs, avoid common energy drains. Yes, it is hard work. You have to be vigilant and aware of what you allow to stay within. For example, forgiving others and yourself puts money in your energy bank. Choose loving thoughts and joyful memories to energize you because what you give out keeps finding its way back.

7. Every day give yourself a relief break from grief work. Allow yourself to be distracted from grief. Accept an invitation to eat out. Go window shopping. Find something to do that gives temporary release from sadness. Everyone needs it. Smile back. And it's okay to laugh when appropriate. You are not showing disrespect to your loved one in any way. These breaks are absolutely necessary to your mental and physical health. They will promote healthy grieving without illness.

8. Last but not least, peace of mind is attainable if you choose to exercise daily and make it a major goal of reinvesting in life. Physical activity is not only a proven stress reducer, it will increase blood flow to the brain. Numerous studies have shown that exercise releases natural tranquilizing chemicals in the brain bringing relief from the constant demands of grief work. Walk daily for a mere 20-30 minutes.

Make the commitment today to self-care and you will take a major step toward eliminating unnecessary suffering as you grieve the loss of your loved one.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Coping As a Single Bereaved Parent

“No one is there in the middle of the night to offer soothing words or comforting touches. No one is around for joint decision making. No one can hold me during those moments when the pain is unbearable.” These are words from single parents who have lost a child, particularly an only child.

To a certain extent you can count on friends, relatives, other grieving parents and counselors to be of some help, but what is necessary to survive and move on with your life is different for each one of us, and we must remember that. Your grief, in some degree, will last your lifetime.

Even though we all know that losing a child is the worst imaginable event in life, there may be some advantages to be a single parent. Some feel fortunate not to have to deal with someone else’s needs full time after a loss such as this. It allows you freedom to do your grief work and allows you to rebuild a life in your own time.

One grieving mother said, “I can grieve alone and with absolute abandon, without concern that my moaning, screaming, or withdrawal will upset my spouse. I do not have to force myself to be on guard with words or actions. I am not on a different grieving track from my spouse; therefore I am not dealing with resentment or misunderstanding from another or having to feel guilty for my own grieving state or for not comforting him. When decisions are necessary, there are no differences or friction. The only tension, anger or moodiness is with myself.”

However, for those who have other children to worry about and care for, your job becomes twice as difficult. Now you must deal with them while trying to keep your own head above water. Loneliness, heartache for the loss of your child and worry about your life and lifestyle are common concerns.

“You can not change what happened,”…an important message that you need to remind yourself of each day. You will have to deal with new problems you encounter, as well as the daily ones, whether you have lost your only child or have others.

You will find that your mind will continually go back to the moment before your child died and wonder if you could have done anything to save him/her. When we find ourselves slipping back into the darkness of our pain, one counselor said that it is okay to go back to do whatever has helped you in the past deal with painful situations. For example, one mother found peace in going to Yosemite National Park each year on her son’s birthday and then began to move on with her life. Recently, she found a need to go back there to bring that peace and comfort back into her life. It worked for her.

Maintain a support system of some kind, especially if you have lost your only child and have no other living family. No one can do everything themselves; no one is that strong. Don’t turn people away when they are willing and able to help. For example, a friend may ask if she can do your shopping for you or help you cook some meals. Don’t be too quick to say “No.” Your friend will feel like she is doing something helpful, and you can probably, whether you want to admit it or not, use the time to take care of something else.

Listen to yourself, pay attention to how something feels and trust yourself and your instincts. If it doesn’t feel right, avoid it, if possible. Take care of yourself emotionally. Others would like to see some joy in your face eventually as you would also. Take care of yourself physically also. Exercise, eat right and get a good night’s sleep.

Always remember that you will survive this, while you always remember your child. They will always be with us, watching over us, and that is, indeed, a great comfort and a reason to move on with our lives.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Removing Photos of Deceased Daughter

Some of you may have read an article about a New Jersey mother who was forced to remove photos of her deceased daughter, Tatiana, from her cubicle at work, as well as Tatiana’s ballet slippers.

Tatiana was diagnosed with acute lymphocytic leukemia in 2003, but fought it into remission. Two years later the cancer returned and she eventually died in May of that year.

Cecelia Ingraham’s boss allegedly told her that several of her co-workers had complained about her tendency to talk about her daughter’s death, which made them uncomfortable. And he said she could “no longer speak of her daughter because she is dead” and should act as if her daughter ‘did not exist.’” The mother sued her workplace for discrimination, constructive discharge and intentional infliction of emotional stress.

The ruling was against the mother saying that the defendant, the pharmaceutical company she worked for, did not intentionally inflict emotional stress on the mother. “I was still in shock. Nothing was coming out of my mouth at the time because I was in disbelief,” Ingraham said. And I said to my boss, “I can’t believe that. I don’t see anybody avoiding me. They always come over, they give me my work.

Afterwards, Ingraham left work and didn’t come back. A few days later she had to have heart surgery for sudden heart palpitations. Soon after her recovery, she resigned from the job and entered the lawsuit.

The reason she lost the case: according to the presiding judge, the workplace is too complex to concretely narrow down motives. “The workplace has too many personal conflicts and too much behavior that might be perceived as uncivil for the courts to be used as the umpire for all but the most extreme workplace disputes,” said the court.

She then appealed, and in a ruling issued Aug. 25, state appellate Judge Victor Ashrafi, wrote, "There is no question that any reasonable employer should know that telling a grieving mother not to talk about her deceased daughter might cause emotional distress. But a severe reaction was not a risk that one should expect.

"The workplace has too many personal conflicts and too much behavior that might be perceived as uncivil for the courts to be used as the umpire for all but the most extreme workplace disputes," the judge said.

While a jury might consider that Ingraham's boss was "insensitive" and "negligent of plaintiff's vulnerability in her continuing bereavement," his behavior did not sink to the legal standard, the judge added.

Some reader reactions to this story:

“I was lucky to find love and compassion. I hope this Mom can rise above and find support outside of the workplace. To add resentment and unforgiveness to a heart already broken would be a terrible burden on her. Nicki

“I am very fortunate as my co-workers embraced me and I have pictures up in my cubicle of my beloved Kaitlyn. My work even let me take a course on how to survive grief. They were just wonderful.” Sue

“That was thoughtless and cruel. We need to talk about our children. That is what helps us cope everyday. Those heartless people should be more sensitive and have better understanding, particularly if they are parents too. It makes me fuming mad to know this happened.” Felix

“I, too, had trouble at my last job, my new boss told me to put it out of my mind, stop thinking about it…I was also told I was being let go because my employees didn’t fear me enough (since I cried in front of them, I showed weakness.” Sonya

“If she can’t have pictures of her dead daughter, then no one else should be allowed to have pictures of their living children either.” Cyndi

“Tragic…what a bunch of small minded and self-centered coworkers! I pray none of them ever suffers the loss of a child!” Debbie

“What people don’t understand, they criticize. What they fear, they attack.” Teresa

“A real healing, humanitarian position by a company that makes pharmaceuticals that are supposed to help people. How ignorant!” Peggy

"I do not think this woman should be fired, I think she should be able to have photos of her daughter in her cubicle within reason and the ballet slippers. I think to tell someone “your daughter is dead” is cruel, but I see the right and wrong with both sides here. Sorry for disagreeing with most of you."    Ann

“This happened to me also, but I was given the option to transfer to another department. There should be some laws protecting us from cruel punishment to grieving parents. Tara

“I was told not to talk about my daughter and to take my daughter’s pictures down. Then I was fired two months later, not that I was talking a lot, but they said the pictures were affecting my job performance.” Sherri

“I worked at a teaching hospital in the pediatrics department for 24 years, went to work there when Laurie was 1 year 2 months old. Took off two months after she died and my boss begged me to come back to work, said we could cry together, she didn't care if I just sat there and didn't do anything. Some people came by and said how sorry they were, others have never to this day said anything, but no one ever told me not to talk about my Laurie... I would have quit before I would be denied that right... Don’t they know that fearing that we will forget our child is the number one thing we worry about?” Laurie

“Cecelia…keep fighting, never give up!” Helen

If you have an opinion you’d like to express, whether you agree or disagree with the ruling, please comment, and I will print some of the comments and thoughts on another blog at a later date.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

World Trade Center-Thoughts 10 years later

Today is the 10th anniversary of the terror attack on the World Trade Center. Our hearts go out even now to the thousands of people who died that day: children, husbands, wives, sisters, brothers and friends. So many people mourned, are still mourning and will never forget the worst terrorist act on American soil. I sincerely doubt whether any of us, whether involved or not, will forget what happened, and we will all remember what we were doing that day when our world changed forever.

I had just flown into New Jersey 6 hours prior (we got in very late because of mechanical trouble) and was asleep in the Day’s Inn at Newark Airport when a phone call from my husband in Phoenix woke me up and said to turn on the TV. I was in New Jersey for a 5 day book tour to sell my first book, “ I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” after speaking at bookstores and talking to bereavement groups around the state. When I turned on the TV, the whole world had turned upside down. I saw the towers burning, the newscasters telling what had happened, the people and images of which I will never forget.

I was to be on a TV news show that morning to discuss death of a child and my book and thought I’d better get over there and see if I was still going to be interviewed. The doors to the TV station were locked. I knocked and knocked; finally someone came. I was told no one was allowed inside. I explained I was to be on TV in a few hours and was told that all TV programming was on hold. I went back to the hotel and waited. On the New Jersey turnpike I could see across the river, the smoldering embers of what was once the two tallest buildings in New York City. A deadly silence prevailed during the shocking first few hours.

During the 10 days I spent there (plane travel was suspended for 5 of those days), I met many people who had lost loved ones or friends at the World Trade Center. My book signings were not as full as I had hoped, since most people were glued to their TV sets or mourning those they knew who had been killed.

Of those who did come to the book signings or bereavement group meetings to hear me speak, one woman had a friend whose son had still not been heard from five days later. The mother still hoped. Another had just spoken to her cousin who’s son had been pulled out of the building alive. Still another lost her husband when his fire unit went into the second tower to help survivors. Many from his unit had also perished. Internet and phone service was down, so many did not and could not hear from loved ones those first few days. A subsequent bomb threat to the Empire State Building caused evacuation of all buildings in the area. Cameras captured actions on the ground and words in the air. Burned into our memory are shouts and mumbled prayers in the after-hours.

There were also pockets of order where command posts with volunteers handed out bottled water and food. Police, firefighters, bureaucrats, contractors, military, doctors, nurses, clergy and even thieves gathered to give what help they could.

The horrendous idea that thousands of people fell to their death in the hole made by 110 floors worth of rubble and medal was unthinkable. Most of those people were dead; a few lucky ones survived. I watched it all on TV for many, many hours. The coverage in the New York area exceeded any on TV's across the nation.

The fact that I was at many bereavement groups talking about grieving and coping with a loss was comforting for many people. There were so many stories, so many people and so much sadness. Here they could express heartbreaks, fears and hopes. I understood all this. My daughter had died seven years prior; I understood their tears, their silent screams and their overwhelming sense of loss.

My new book was definitely timely for what had just happened. I had just written about surviving grief and here were the families of thousands of people just starting their grief journey. If I could help even just one person, it would be comforting to me personally.

My involvement in this day and afterwards will stay with me always. (I discovered from an FBI phone call a few weeks later that a few of the hijackers were next door to me in the Days Inn. I never saw them.)

This event was the start of my own personal journey to help bereaved parents in any way I could: by my writings and by my speaking to groups and at national bereavement conferences. Ten years is a long time but we must remain vigilant and never let something like this ever happen again on American soil.

"On a normal day, we value heroism because it is uncommon. On Sept. 11, we valued heroism because it was everywhere."~ Nancy Gibbs, Time Magazine Special Edition

Sunday, September 4, 2011

Needing Professional Help

Your child has died suddenly. You are in deep depression, you can not express your grief or manage your feelings of sadness and anger, and your use of drugs or alcohol is found not to be the answer. Often, people in these situations don’t know where to turn. Finding a good counselor to help you through the grief process is recommended. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, in an article in Grief Digest, offers advice on how to go about this.

He says first is a recommendation from a friend who you trust. If they have had a good experience and feel you will too, they will want to help by giving you that name. It is worth a try but does not mean you can’t try alternative methods.

A local hospice center may have some counselors on staff or can tell you where to find someone. A hospital, family service agency and/or mental health clinic maintain a list of referral sources.

A self-help bereavement group usually maintains a list of counselors specializing in grief therapy.

Your personal physician is often knowledgeable about bereavement care specialists.

Finally, an information and referral service, such as a crisis intervention center, has lists of counselors who focus on bereavement work. According to Wolfelt, you want to be sure and seek out a good “grief” counselor, not just any counselor that might, for example, specialize in marital counseling, not grief counseling. It is important for the counselor to understand how you are feeling and there are many grief specialists out there who have also gone through the same experience and truly understand.

Wolfelt says to look in the Yellow Pages for those citing grief or bereavement as a specialty. Another credential to look for is certification from the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC).

Finally, he says, ask the following questions during your initial consultation with a counselor:
What are your credentials and where were you trained?
Have you had specialized bereavement care training?
What is your experience with bereaved people?
What is your counseling approach with a bereaved person?

You may find that the grief journey is too difficult to handle on your own, and any help that is in your community is usually appreciated by the bereaved.

Sunday, August 28, 2011


There are many “don’ts” in the eyes of a newly bereaved parent. I have heard many of them myself as the years progress, but some of these, written in a TCF newsletter recently, bear repeating and hopefully, once and for all, bring the point home to friends and relatives who want to know how to act and react to your loss. Please share them with others.

DON’T use the word “closure;” there is no such thing as far as the death of my child…that word is an insult to all people grieving a loss.

DON’T tell me to get over “it”…my loved one was not an “it”… I’m forever changed and won’t “get over it;” be prepared to get to know the ‘new’ me. I am on a never-ending journey that has been forced on me. I did not choose it; I did not ask to be on it. It is a journey that lasts forever.

DON’T be put out if I don’t accept your company because I do appreciate the offer. I’m just a mess right now and not good company.

DON’T talk about your children, their honors, their colds, their problems. It just makes me feel cheated/sad/angry. Let time pass and perhaps I can be more responsive at a later date.

DON’T put a shelf life on my grief or a time limit on when you think I should be over grieving. I am doing everything possible that I think I need to do every day.

DON’T use words such as ‘lost’, ‘gone,’ or ‘passed on;’ Just use the word ‘died.’

DON”T tell me about the losses or the coping styles of others. I can only take in my own story at this stage. I don’t even want to watch the news as everything else except my loss seems so trivial.

DON’T be afraid to look me in the eye; I haven’t got a contagious disease.

DON”T change the subject; if I didn’t want to talk of my child, I would not mention him/her.

DON”T push me into making any big decisions and changing too much in the first year.

DON”T panic when I begin to sob uncontrollably and don’t seek to cheer me up or calm me down prematurely. Tears are often very healing and this is something worth crying about.

DON”T say inane things like my child is in heaven or in a better place. I want them here with me!

DON”T try to fix me; most people adapt to loss by ventilating their loss in an accepting and validating environment…so don’t suffocate my ventilating by avoiding the subject.

DON”T try to accelerate the process of my bereavement. Be assured I am doing all I can to work through my shock and grief…just be very patient with me.

DON’T just stay for the funeral and then move on; you might learn a lot yourself from choosing to connect with me ‘little and often.’

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Moving Forward

When I first started going to Compassionate Friends conferences, I met a TCF board member and president that I considered to be an eloquent speaker and a fabulous writer. He did eventually write a book about his son who died from a man’s perspective, “Into the Valley and Out Again.” I so enjoyed his wonderful words of wisdom at each conference and looked forward to them. Like everything else, nothing lasts forever and Rick Elder suddenly died a few years back. We lost a compassionate, friendly person who wanted, like many of us, to help others through the grief journey. Occasionally, we are blessed with some writings he left behind that TCF, their magazine and the various chapters reprint in their newsletters. A recent one I read had some thoughtful lessons for those bereaved, five years down the road. Below, I summarize his thoughts and what they meant for him, me and others.

People enjoying themselves, laughing at a TCF meeting, greeting each other with hugs, appearing so normal after their child died. At first this irritated Rick, as it did me, when I would see someone actually enjoying themselves and acting like they didn’t have a care in the world. But both he and I have learned three valuable lessons over the years.

1. Life goes on and we must too. Gradually the pain eases and the warm memories replace the sadness. Time is a great healer. I was teaching school at the time my daughter died and realized that on many days it was 6-8 hours that I didn’t think about her. At first, I felt surprise and then guilt as most of us do. But then I realized, as he did, that we are moving forward. We are looking to the future. We will never forget, but our child’s death is not the all-consuming factor in our life. We choose to enjoy friends again. We choose to go out to dinner or to parties again. We choose to laugh again. Isn’t this what our children would want us to do? They would not want us to sit around, crying and mourning their death forever. Nothing we do will bring them back, so moving forward is the best alternative.

2. We become grateful for what we have, not focused on what we have lost. There are many people I know who say they will never get over their loss and some even contemplate ending their lives. They ignore other family members, causing many additional problems. But Rick says these people should also think about the ways they have been blessed, as well as hurt. Most people have more to be thankful for than they realize: health, other children, a loving family, a career they enjoy, financial security, life in a free country, a faith that works for them, a true best friend and a spouse they love. Nobody has it all, but compared to the rest of the world, we have a lot.

3. The life we now lead will be better than it would have been. He emphasizes this does not make our child’s death a good thing. Our child’s life mattered; in some small way the world will be better because our child lived and we are the ones who can make it so. We have been changed forever, and we have different goals and priorities. We don’t “sweat the small stuff.” What was once important to us is insignificant now. We know what matters because we know what is irreplaceable. We understand how others who have lost a child feel because we have been there too.

We will never forget our child nor should we. Sure, we would give anything to have our child back again, but that will not happen. It is up to us now to go forward and create a new normal, which we can do.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

The Labyrinth of Grief

I read an article recently by Sandra Howlett, grief specialist, who talked about walking through a labyrinth, like a maze that eventually leads to the center if the right path is chosen. In a labyrinth, there is but one choice to make—to enter or not. The labyrinth is a metaphor of the journey inside oneself to gain understanding for living in the world. In this case, Sandra became increasingly aware of the parallels between walking the labyrinth and the journey of grief. I found the comparisons she makes startingly familiar for myself. I thought of my friends who have gone through this and even those I don’t know personally who are on a grief journey. I hope everyone reading this gets a personal insight into this particular labyrinth: the labyrinth of grief.

Some of the points Sandra makes:

She saw a single way in and out but no quick way to get from here to there. As you walk in a labyrinth you can lose sense of how long you have been there. Grief time can get convoluted…from standing still to totally losing track of time.

Other’s footprints were in the sand reminding her that she was not the first nor would she be the last who would walk this path. It was a comfort to know someone else had been there. At other times there have been others in the labyrinth with her, each on his own journey at his own pace, silently stepping aside to allow each other to pass if they meet in the same "lane." It is possible to be in the same lane and going in opposite directions. Such is grief, as everyone does it a little bit differently.

The design of the labyrinth includes what appears to be backtracking switchbacks on the way to the center as well as to the exit. Grief often feels like two steps forward, one step backtaking a lot of time or effort with indiscernible results. There were moments of impatience and frustration that she wasn’t moving ahead (aka healing) as fast as she wanted to, meeting switchbacks on the path and wondering when she would get to the end. She reminded herself to simply put one foot in front of the other and trust that she was going to get to where she was going. The faith in that simple strategy helped her squash other worries, concerns and distractions…just one step at a time.

A couple of times she stumbled and almost fell, but caught her balance. Her first thought was to look around to see if anyone saw her. Why do we concern ourselves with what others might think when we are struggling and doing the best we can?

At the ‘halfway’ point of the labyrinth is the center, an open area. For some reason, the walk out seems faster than the journey inward much like returning from a trip. One recognizes some of the terrain and feels a little bit clearer in the navigation. Familiarity of knowing the way or an eagerness to find ways to integrate any insights gained may be the reason.

There are no ‘dead ends’ in a labyrinth, only switchbacks and changes of direction moving closer or further from the center. There are no dead ends in grief work either, only paths than move us closer or further from a peaceful heart and healing.

After lots of back and forth, going over the same roads and finally making progress, the opening to exit always seems to come up quickly. While the entrance and the exit are one, it is the experience and wisdom of the journey that makes all the difference.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

The Three T's for Grievers

If you are a bereaved parent, I have what I call the three T’s for grievers.

Crying is a natural and healthy emotion. You will shed many tears for your child now and probably forever. That is okay. Tears cleanse the body and soul. After a good cry, you are able to resume what you were doing. Don’t let anyone tell you that it’s been long enough; that you should not shed tears anymore. Cry whenever you like or whenever you get the urge. Good friends will always understand. After 17 years I still cry at the smallest, most insignificant things that remind me of my daughter: a beautiful day where the sun shines, a beautiful sunset, a special song, a movie, a play…all the things that my daughter is missing because she is no longer here. I pick up seashells on the beach as she used to, but quickly throw them back. The intensity of the moment brings tears to my eyes. Most bereaved parents can think of many similar times. But when the tears dissipate, you, like me, will feel drained but better able to cope with another day.

You need to talk, to let others hear your story, to let others know you want to talk about your child. Your child lived, was a beautiful human being, and you want him/her to be remembered. Let others help you through the grief process by being supportive. Talk to your spouse, your parents, your friends, your religious leader or a grief specialist. Don’t tell them “how” you are feeling. Tell them “what” you are feeling. Certainly, don’t pretend you are fine. You are not fine and will never “get over it.” You may lose old friends who don’t understand, but you will be challenged to find new ones who do understand and want to help. Those further on the grief journey can help you learn how to cope and will gladly try to be of help, because, in turn, by helping you, they are also helping themselves.

Time is the great healer of human beings, but time does not heal our grief over the death of a child. It only softens the intensity of the grief. Hopefully, you won’t always feel a 10 pound weight on your chest. You will eventually find a new normal, but life will never be the same as it was before this tragic death. Your grief is not on a timetable. Others can not expect you to heal in a few weeks, a few months or even a year. Everyone grieves differently and at different times and is entitled to move at his or her own pace. Others should understand you will always have a hole in your heart for your lost child.

We, as bereaved parents, are dealing with the worst thing that can ever happen to us. We need friends to be there for us through our tears, to hear what we have to say, any time of the day or night, no matter how long that journey takes. If you have friends who will do that, they are, indeed, true friends and you are very lucky.

Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dreams and Their Meaning

Four months after my daughter’s marriage, she was alive and well and planning the move to a new home they could call their own. It was one of the things I loved to do… look at homes, analyze them and make suggestions. So, when my daughter said, “Come out to L.A. mom, and help me look. I’m having trouble finding just the right house for us,” I decided on a whim to go. I knew that if we looked and found a suitable place, I’d give her a down payment for the home, even though she expected nothing from me.

We spent a whole weekend looking; the homes were out of sight price-wise in 1994 (but by comparison to homes 10 years later, a real deal). A two-bedroom small older home that needed a lot of work was $800,000, far more than most could afford. When we saw a $600,000 home on the market, we’d get into the car and drive over. In most cases, we were disappointed…too much remodeling needed, a new roof and paint job, and two bedrooms was just not enough. They wanted a family.

“But Mom,” she’d say, “You’re looking at a very typical home for that price. We’ll have trouble even affording that, but what choice do we have.” I could see that a fixer-upper would be their only hope of something affordable. I went home, disappointed that weekend that we couldn’t find the perfect fit. Less than a month later, Marcy died in a car accident. I would never see that beautiful house that I pictured in my head, nor would I ever see my daughter in it.

Why, then, so many years later did I have a dream about Marcy and her husband buying a home? What was the significance of that dream? Experts such as Dr. Patricia Garfield in her book, “The Dream Messenger” says that visitation dreams tend to be “warm and fuzzy” and provide a way for us to keep connected with our child. They leave us feeling as if we really talked to or held our deceased loved one. We can smile because these are good dreams, according to Dr. Garfield, not disturbing nightmares or bad dreams.

We want so badly for these dreams to be real because in them we held our child and talked to him or her. Upon waking, we may lie there in the morning and may cry because we want our child to be with us in our waking life also.

I have found that most of my dreams about Marcy are good ones. I do not know that much about dreams or their meaning, but can tell you this: record your dreams and keep a journal of them. You may one day meet someone who can interpret them for you and you may be surprised and delighted as to what you are told they mean.

Editor’s note: If there is anyone reading this who can enlighten us with more information about dreams and their meaning, please send it to me and I’d be happy to print it in an upcoming issue.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Highlights of the TCF Conference

Friendship, understanding, workshops, banquets, speakers, sharing sessions, the walk to remember, and getting key information to take home with you, made up the 34th 2011 Compassionate Friends National Conference that I attended this past week in Minneapolis. I also spoke at two of the workshops.

The conference started Friday morning with keynote speaker Mitch Carmody, bereaved parent and author of Letters to My Son. He lost his son Kelly to a cancerous brain tumor and is a twice bereaved sibling to a brother with cerebal palsy and a twin sister and her two young boys in a car accident. He is the popular workshop presenter of “Whispers of Love, Signs from Our Children.” Mitch also performs interpretive sign language.

Other keynoters included: psychologist Carol Kearns, author of Sugar Cookies and a Nightmare at the Friday luncheon. Her daughter was swept out to sea by a rogue wave. Saturday evening speaker was David Morrell, author of the poignant Fireflies and best known for creating Rambo. His son died of a rare bone cancer. Finally at the closing ceremony on Sunday was Mary Westra, who recently published her memoir After the Murder of My Son, following the senseless and brutally violent death of her son in 2001.

Over 100 workshops for parents, siblings, and grandparents covered most topics related to the death of a child. This includes many workshops for parents with no surviving children. A butterfly boutique, silent auction and raffle, reflection room (providing a peaceful atmosphere to withdraw into private reflection), a remembrance candle lighting Saturday evening and a special Friday evening performance of “Best of How to Talk Minnesotan The Musical” that has played to over 1 million visitors highlighted the conference.

Each evening sharing sessions in small groups divided into types of deaths were held so that those who wanted to share feelings and ideas could speak to others with the same loss.

A complete bookstore was provided by Centering Corporation, who only deals with grief books brings audio and video CDs and DVDs, books and other items of interest to the bereaved.

On the last morning a two-mile Walk to Remember was held for all conference attendees. Everyone participating wears the special t-shirts designed from this year’s logo and theme, “Shining Stars, Guiding Hope”.

Said one attendee in relationship to the logo, “We look at our children as shining stars who remain for us beacons of light and hope in the darkness.”

My two workshops I gave were “Dealing With Difficult Situations As a Bereaved Parent” and a panel discussion with those more than 7 years into their grief journey. Some other workshops offered included such topics as finding hope after a loss, sudden death, dealing with a suicide or drug overdose, loss of an infant or adult child, communication issues within bereaved families, surviving the first year, what do I do now, the bereaved parent five years later, scrapbooking: remembering our children, finding healing by telling your story, humor and grief, journaling as a healing tool, writing and publishing your book, anger, guilt, holidays and grief, what to do with child’s possessions and many many more.

I also tried to attend other workshops when possible and enjoyed them all. I reunited with parents I met at other conferences as well as meeting new attendees. I found the conference to be informative, and I could see how others were able to find help in dealing with their grief journey.

If you couldn’t make it this year, plan to attend next year’s conference in Costa Mesa, California, at the Hilton Hotel, Orange County/Costa Mesa, July 20-22. You will not be sorry.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Meaning Behind the TCF Conference

The National Compassionate Friends Conference has just concluded, and I have made some observations I'd like to share with all of you. Three groups of people attend this specific conference for a variety of reasons and get more meaning and understanding from it than one can imagine.

The first group is the bereaved parents. This group can be broken up into three main categories: the newly bereaved, those who are working through their grief journey and the seasoned griever, whose goal it is to help others.

The newly bereaved made up the largest group. Over 500 of the 1,500 people who came were newly bereaved (from 1 month to 3 years). We knew who they were because they wore red hearts on their name tags. More than half the sessions and workshops are for them and rightly so. They ask questions to which there are no answers. “Why me?” “Why my child?” “I have no future.” “I have no reason to live.” These are some of the comments I hear. Hopefully, by the end of the conference, some of their questions will have an assortment of answers they can deal with.

Another third of the group are working through their grief and looking for ways to help themselves move on with their lives. They have accepted what has happened, but don’t like it one bit. We don’t blame them; none of us do. No child should die before their parents. They understand there will be hard times ahead, and they will never forget what happened. Their future is still not clear to them, but they have chosen to try. Sharing ideas with others helps.

For myself, I am in the third group, a seasoned griever. There are many sessions given that don’t even apply to me any longer. I’ve already been down that road. I come to these conferences to see how I can help others through workshops I give for the newly bereaved and through meeting as many as I can. I can see the pain on their faces, and I know what they are going through. Perhaps, I tell myself, there is something I can say or do to help them along. I hope so. At the end of the conference, when they come up to me and tell me how much they have gotten out of my workshop and others, I am happy for them and hopeful. One father said to me a few years ago, “I wouldn’t have survived my child’s horrible death without Compassionate Friends.” He went home and started a chapter in the area where he lives.

The second group are the siblings. Compassionate Friends saw the need a number of years ago to have special workshops for siblings, given by siblings who also had a loss. Listening to someone in the same circumstance as your own can be very comforting. Siblings also have a different set of circumstances and problems, dealing with not only reacting to their bereaved parents, but also with the emotional state of their loss in addition to sometimes not getting the attention they need because of the parent’s emotional state. The siblings also do fun things at the conference: go on excursions, to a show, a movie, or just bring in pizza for dinner…anything that will bring them closer and help them cope. The siblings, like the parents make up the same three groups from newly bereaved to seasoned grievers, and there are about 250 of them.

The last group is the grandparents, a much smaller number but growing. Compassionate Friends found a need to have some sessions specifically designed for them. Grandparents must deal with their own loss of a grandchild, their child’s loss and the sibling’s loss. It becomes clear in these workshops that their task is not an easy one, so with the help of those who have gone through this before, they find their way has become easier.

All of us will never forget our children, nor do we want to. The grief journey is a lifelong one with many obstacles and paths to choose along the way. With the help of others, all of us eventually find our way and in the process make our children proud of us because they know we have survived the worst thing that can ever happen to us.

NOTE: Next week I plan to review the conference for those who couldn't attend.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Reinvestments Part 2

This is the second part of what kind of Reinvestments bereaved parents make when working through the grief process after the death of their child. (See part 1 below from last week.)

A father set up a library at his son’s school with books dealing with crisis such as death of a child, death of a parent, divorce…books that would be suitable to kids, teachers, administrators and parents. This way others could see how to deal with these situations.

Because one mother saw how she and other parents were treated at a hospital after the death of their child, they realized the medical community didn’t have a clue as to how to treat these bereaved parents. An after-care program in a trauma center was started so the medical community could understand how people grieve, how long it takes and how to help with different emotions such as guilt or anger. The program is now very popular all over the country. Workshops and lectures for professionals and training volunteers, who in turn help families make their journey easier, is the goal of this program.

Parents who travel a lot always find a beautiful cathedral and light a candle in memory of their child. One father was even able to light incense in his son’s memory at a Buddhist Monastery in China.

Others, who excel in music, do special presentations in honor of their deceased child. Some parents release balloons and butterflies on anniversaries. Others wear bracelets with sayings on them such as “Forever in my heart.”

One parent, an artist, launched a non-profit web site to provide a one-stop national resource for those who wish to commemorate a deceased loved one through art. The art work could be a quilt, portrait, mixed media or sculpture done by the artist of the child.

A mother decided to start an angel garden with flowerbeds in her daughter’s memory. For years, each time a child died in one of the support groups she started she would add an angel for that child, take a picture of the area, and send it to the parents. She only stopped 18 years and 250 plants later, when she ran out of room on her property.

Making a memorial site online for your child is something many parents have done, uploading pictures and adding text telling their child’s story. Many are creatively done with many attractive graphics on the pages. You don’t have to be computer savvy to do one, and many of the sites are free.

One mother, who knew her son loved animals, spends some of her time as a trail guide at the local zoo. She also supports the care of Sumatra tigers there.

I have done many reinvestments to honor my daughter, such as scholarships, a memorial plaque around the building where she worked, memorial bricks around theaters and stadiums, a plaque and tree at the school I taught at, and a drama building in her name at a summer camp, sponsored by her best friend. But my proudest accomplishment is writing two books on surviving grief to help bereaved parents and dedicating the books to her memory. I always knew I’d write a book, but never did I dream it would be about her life and dedicated to her. Through writing I, as well as others, try to help others in any way we can.

Finally, passing legislation to assure risky behavior that killed their child does not happen again, getting involved with a grief organization or starting one yourself, naming buildings in honor of the child, and educating people through school programs are some of the other reinvestment ways parents work through their grief, while never forgetting the child they loved so dearly.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Reinvestments Part 1

When our child dies and we are far enough along in our grief journey, there are many ways for us to remember our child and have others remember also. We call these: REINVESTMENTS. For the next two weeks I am going to share with you some of the reinvestments bereaved parents have made in honor of their children. Perhaps one of these will give you an idea for your child that will bring you some joy, comfort and remembrance of how much their life meant to you. All reinvestments are left anonymous in this blog, but I know of most of them or read about them in different publications and felt they were worth mentioning.

“We adopted miles of highway in our state. A sign indicates it is in the child’s memory. It is cleaned twice a year by family and friends and sometimes just the two of us like to do it ourselves.”

“I speak to various groups about drunk driving and try to get kids to understand the consequences of drinking and driving and how it can destroy lives. If I can get one person to listen to me about being a responsible driver, then I have made a difference. By doing this, I also honor my daughter’s memory.”

“On my son’s birthday each year at the moment he was born, we send colorful helium balloons in the air. His friends come and we all gather together and give thanks that he was in our lives.”

“My son had AIDS. When he died, his friends and I made a patch of his life for the AIDS Memorial Quilt, now housed in San Francisco. I am so proud of the fact that it can be seen by everyone. I participate in AIDS Walk New York every year since he died. We have raised thousands of dollars that goes to help find a cure for this disease.

Some parents have bumper stickers and license plates with their child’s name on them, including the birth and death date and even a saying such as “Loved and Remembered.” There are those that will make and sell them to parents who contact them.

“One of the objects I enjoy in my home is a special lighted hutch. In it are personal belongings from my son. I have a yearbook, his glasses, his license plate, a hand print from first grade, his graduation certificate, photos and many other things that I can look at whenever I feel like it.” Other parents have small boxes in a drawer they keep some personal items from their child.

One father built a church after his son died and painted a mural of his son and other children who had died doing what they enjoyed the most. Some are playing baseball, others dancing, and still others are drawing and painting. Every 20 minutes a guide tells a story of one of the children depicted on the mural. “It is one of the greatest living memorials we could give our child.”

Scholarships abound in schools to honor sons and daughters who have died at any age for any reason. These scholarships are usually named after the child and provide help for those who can not afford to go otherwise.
Golf tournaments to raise money for a cause, buying bricks at baseball stadiums and theaters with the child’s name on them and creating an award in a sport the child was active in…all these are ways to honor your child.

One mother invested in volunteering in memory of her son. Through her efforts and many generous donations, volunteers bag over 1,000 school items for children who can not afford school supplies. There is also a Christmas gift program. “Here is a lady who is an inspiration to many others,” said one admirer. “She took a tragic loss in her life and together with her faith and her love for her son, she has been able to create a better world for so many.”

More reinvestments next week…

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Keeping Healthy After Your Loss

The emotional response to grief presents challenges to eating normally. Since everyone has their own way to grieve, everyone also has their own way to respond to food.
Some bereaved parents will say they can’t eat because they are so emotionally involved with their loss. Others use food as a crutch and constantly eat. Neither way is healthy since constant eating is not good for you, nor is starving yourself. Healthy appetizing meals is what will work the best for your body and your healing. Below is a list of foods and practices that can help you in the difficult days ahead.

1. You will not feel like cooking so stock up on pre-cooked meats, chicken, canned foods and soups that can be easily prepared by you, a spouse or children. You or they may also make more food than necessary and freeze leftovers, which are easily reheated.

2. Stay hydrated for your recovery. Many serious health problems can result if you don’t drink enough. Water is the best; you can also benefit from iced tea. You could notice headaches, increased fatigue and the ability to think clearly, if you do not consume enough water. You could also weaken your immune system.

3. Be careful of those comfort foods that can cause weight gain. Try to buy healthy, lower calorie food items to snack on. This can include: fruits, vegetables, yogurt, sugar-free items like jello or popsicles, and celery. Do see a doctor if your weight gain begins to bother you as your clothes get tighter. On the other hand, if you lose too much weight, you might try to eat foods that are rich in calories and nutrients such as peanut butter, cheeses or smoothies. Avoid candy or chips. You can also see a doctor for extreme weight loss.

4. Certain food can improve your mood or depress you. Learn what to choose and what to avoid. Carbohydrates are a good source of energy for both your body and your brain and can improve your energy level. Consuming moderate amounts of caffeine may also help you feel more alert and improve your mood. Try to limit caffeine to morning hours so you won’t have difficulty sleeping or become nervous. Alcohol is a depressant and may make you feel worse by the next day. Avoiding it altogether is best.

These are all suggestions to keep you from a nutritional risk so that your body will keep you going during your recovery. You are stressed enough by your loss. Don’t risk your health during this time in your life. Everything you do will help your through your grief journey.

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Some Reactions of Bereaved Parents

We celebrate and honor fathers today- men who have provided their time, devotion, guidance, hope, and sustaining love. If you are a father who has lost a child recently or even many years ago, the love you shared with your child will always be a part of you. Gentle hugs to you as we remember on this special day. And now on to today's blog.

In the midst of deep grief over the death of a child, you may hear many different reactions from bereaved parents. I have chosen 10 reactions and commented on each one, leaving it so that if you don’t agree with my feelings, you can voice your own opinion.

1. “I don’t want to talk about my child. It makes me too sad.” Talking about your child is good for you. It allows you to tell others how you are feeling and they in turn may react differently to you. You don’t have to get graphic or tell too much about how he/she died. Remember the good times and share those. It will lighten your heart to let your feelings out.

2. “I cry and can’t stop at times.” It is okay to cry. Crying is a natural emotion and by releasing pent up emotions that you feel about your child’s death, it will keep you healthy and on the right track.

3. “I am a strong person, and will survive without any help.” You may survive, but end up with no one caring about you, your child, or your feelings. Don’t think you are so independent that you don’t need a friend. Everyone needs a friend to talk to and count on.

4. “I don’t want others to see me upset, so I don’t mention my child’s death.” If you want to talk about your child, do so. Others realize you may cry or get teary-eyed, but they knew your child and realize what you are going through. Give them credit for understanding.

5. “It’s no one’s business, and I wish people would leave me alone.” You don’t really want to be alone. What you want is for this to have never happened, as do millions of other bereaved parents. But it is impossible to change what has happened, so let’s deal with the present. Others just want to help. Let them.

6. “I wish others would talk about my child.” You must let others know that you want them to talk about your child. They don’t want to hurt you by bringing up the child’s name, so it is up to you to tell them that you’d love to hear their name mentioned in conversation and that way, you too, can participate. Your child lived and had experiences that are worth remembering and talking about.

7. “Why did this happen to me and my child.” You were not chosen, nor was your child. To try to explain “why me” is not realistic. There are no answers, and you shouldn’t waste your time thinking about it. It will not change what has happened. What you should do is say to yourself, “Okay, what am I going to do about this and how can I move forward?”

8. “I try to smile and laugh, but feel as though I should not want any happiness after what has happened.” Don’t feel guilty for having a good moment or a good day. Smiling and laughing is a healthy feeling and when you start, your whole body will respond positively.

9. “I don’t want to see friends. I have to mourn my child.” Friends are the best source of having someone to talk to about your child. Let them help you; let them take you out; let them shop for you or clean your house. After a while you will feel better, but at first, friends are necessary to help you as you start your grief journey.

10. “I must be strong for my spouse and other children.” You know others are depending on you, but remember, pretending not to hurt can be counter-productive to your life now. Try to explain how you feel to your family, what you can and can’t do right now, that there will be good and bad moments, and that you need their support.

There are many other reactions out there. If you’d like to share your experience, send me a comment and your reaction, and I’ll print it in a future writing.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Monuments, Memorials and Memories

Eloise Cole worked for Hansen Mortuary in Phoenix, AZ, for many years as a grief specialist. Her son died many years ago. Eloise died a few years ago from lung cancer, but her writings and poems live on to inspire us, make us think and hopefully, help us through the worst of times. Below is one of the poems she left us.

Of Monuments, Memorials and Memories

Eloise Cole

The cemetery is crowded with monuments…
a stone or marble or bronze reminder of a life once lived.
He was born; he lived; he died.
Perhaps a cross or rose adorns the monument.
Who was he – on the inside?
What statement did he make?
What lives did he touch?
All there is left of that life is the engraved nameplate.
Memorial plaques dot the walls of hospitals,
libraries, museums everywhere.
Contributions in memory of …
The gift provides equipment, funds, or perhaps an object of beauty.
An extension of the love for one who was born and lived and died.
What statement did he make, what lives did he touch?
When my son died, engulfed by pain,
I often wondered how I could survive.
A world without his presence seemed meaningless and empty.
“What is the purpose of all the pain?” I would ask myself.
As the days went by, I came to know
that the memories of him are still close.
The warmth of his unique and special ways
are as close as quiet reflection.
How important it has come to be
to survive, recover and reach out.
In my remaining days,
I am a monument, a memorial, to my son.
I want it to be a positive one,
to reach out and help others.
Monuments, Memorials and Memories…
How important they all are.
Reaching out to say,
“He was born; he lived; he died.
His legacy is a special one.

Sunday, June 5, 2011

Dealing With Others Grandchildren

My best friend’s daughter recently had a baby. It is her first grandchild. I am very happy for her and her daughter.

I have known the daughter her whole life, and she seems quite happy in her second marriage. I magine my surprise when my friend said to me the other day, “I understand how difficult this is for you, knowing you will never have a grandchild of your own, and it breaks my heart.”

It was a good feeling to know that, indeed, she did understand because she knows me as only a best friend can, and yes, it does break my heart also. But I can’t dwell on that. My friend is entitled to the happiness that only a grandchild can bring, as is her daughter, who is almost past child-bearing age and has already suffered one miscarriage.

I wanted to buy something special for the baby, and I love those small silver containers that hold baby’s first hair and first tooth, or whatever you want to put in them. I had the child’s name engraved on it, since they knew it was going to be a boy and had picked out a name.

A shower was planned; I was out of town at the time and breathed a sigh of relief that I didn’t have to go and sit there thinking about my daughter, who was also married, but did not get a chance to have a child before she died in a car accident.

To this day, 17 years later, I still have trouble going to weddings, baby showers, listening to my personal friends talk about their grandchildren. My eyes tear over, but I try to be positive in an impossible situation. All these people have every right to talk about their happiness, but sometimes I think to myself: thank God they don’t know and hopefully, will never know what it is like to feel so empty when you miss out on all these happy events you always dreamed of sharing with your child.

Those of us who are bereaved will continue to put on a mask for the outside world as we continue our daily struggle to survive and move on with our lives as best we can without our child.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Comments From Readers Part 2

This is the second in a 2-part series of comments made on some of my writings done for the Open To Hope site. To view the others I have already included from my blog, see last week’s blog below this one.

Valentine’s Day- Thank you for your words of encouragement and your ideas. This is my first Valentine’s Day without my son, Dylan. My heart is aching as I read your words and think about my son. He passed unexpectedly nine months ago, and I am still trying to accept my loss and live through one day at a time. On his birthday and Christmas I helped myself by doing something for adolescents living at a local shelter. I did not think about Valentine’s Day, but now that you have given me a heads up, I will plan something. A small gesture helps me and means something to young people who need so much. Thank you for helping those of us who have less experience in our grief journey than you do. I do not want to be here, but I am, and I need all the help I can get! Alicia

Editor’s note: Don’t wait until the next Valentine’s Day. Some of these ideas, which include charity work, making crafts, sharing treats and items young people need, can be used all year long and adjusted to any holiday. It will definitely make you feel good and that you have done something worthwhile in honor of your child.

Elizabeth Edwards- Can anyone tell me what Elizabeth Edwards said about people being scared to talk about her son in front of her? I heard a blurb of her on the news after her passing, and it touched me, as I have lost a child. Susie

Editor’s note: I don’t know her exact words, but the jest of what she has always expressed is that she (like most of us) wants people to mention her son in their conversations. He lived, he was vital, and she wants his memory to live on in others. By hearing our child’s name, we most definitely get a warm, fuzzy feeling and it puts a smile on our face and allows us to perhaps bring up other incidents related to the one mentioned. And suddenly, our child is alive again and will always be so in our hearts. People, she said, should not be afraid of mentioning Wade’s name to her. She wants to talk about him and his life.

Starting a grief group- Starting a grief group in a city that doesn’t have one is a wonderful idea to promote. I began one two years ago this month on the 4th Thursday of every month for mothers who have lost a child. I’m a psychotherapist by profession, but by definition I am a mother whose gifted child, Katie, has died. We started with a simple supper, some wine and tea and go from home to home each moth. Everyone helps so no one feels too much pressure. Our group’s name is “Mothers Finding Meaning.” Mary Jane Hurley Brant

Editor’s note: I, too, started a group for parents who have lost their only child in my area in 2007, and we continue to meet once a month, have programs and discuss various concerns.

Moving on- How do you deal with a family member who you have showed and told over and over what you need. What do you do when they say, “don’t talk to me about your pain because it makes me depressed.” This is my sister, my best friend, the one I could always talk to. She devastated me with her comment. I am so hurt and angry, but I do understand she can’t see me in pain. What am I supposed to do in regards to her. I have nothing happy to say to her so do I stop talking to her. She doesn’t even try to help me because of her pain of seeing me. Plus, she is a believer of moving on. Katrina

Editor’s note: You are not alone. This happens in many families and although this was written to me two years ago, I include it simply because it is very common. I hope everything is well now with Katrina, but for others, here are my thoughts. The sister is also in pain. This was her niece or nephew that has died, and she is not equipped to deal with the loss, so having to have to worry about two people is not in her makeup. Katrina needs to find someone else at this point to talk to: another friend, a professional counselor, or another family member. As much as it hurts her to do this, it will be best at this time and only counter productive to try to make the sister understand. After a period of time has passed, perhaps the two sisters can more easily come together, but to force it now may lead to other family complications. Later on, one thing I would suggest is to think of all the good times with the child in the family situation. Talk about those times and try to smile a little. Moving on will come as time passes and you will find that time is a great healer and very forgiving.

Thanks for these comments and feel free to always comment on any of my blogs or on my Open To Hope site writings at