Sunday, January 30, 2011

Alive On Canvas

I recently read an article in the Alive Alone Newsletter,(published every 2-3 months for parents who have lost their only child or all their children) dealing with how families can share and enjoy cherished items from their deceased child. I think it’s a fantastic idea.

Artist Gina Klawitter creates life-like, celebratory portraits featuring her subjects’ personal clothing and belongings. From recital dresses to sports uniforms and play outfits, Gina artfully forms clothing and other memorabilia items into custom collage paintings. She calls her unique collage art, Alive on Canvas.

One set of parents used their son’s beloved baseball t-shirt, cap and other items related to his love of baseball. Another family wanted to commemorate and celebrate their daughter’s life. She wanted to be a ballerina and so they took her tutu and dance shoes and made an art piece out of it.

Gina consults with her clients. Some know exactly what they want. Others defer to Gina after showing her some clothing, photos and related memories they’d like to use. Gina helps identify and compose a story that captures the loved one’s essence. In person or by email, Gina shares the art with her client at different stages for feedback and confirmation.

This process is a lovely, tangible and expressive way for bereaved families to celebrate and memorialize a loved one. For those who desire to make their own portrait collage piece as a hands-on way of healing, Gina has a book that guides do-it-yourselfers through the process. For more information visit

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Rabbit Hole Movie, a Must See For Bereaved Parents

Finally, a movie showing how the death of a child traumatizes a whole family is out. It has taken a very long time to try to portray an “acceptable” job of accurately portraying the toll such an event takes on everyone involved: parents, siblings (if any), grandparents, other relatives and friends.

Until the 1980’s the death of a child was kept hidden under the table. No one ever spoke about it because no one was ever educated as to how to react when it happened. Thank God for books, for Harriett Schiff’s first attempt to explain what you will go through if it ever happens to you and to all succeeding books on all aspects of death of a child with a variety of opinions as to reactions. A few movies attempted to tackle the subject and were fairly successful. But now, Director John Cameron Mitchell has given Nicole Kidman a chance to delve into the depths of despair, a depth to which no one can understand but a bereaved parent. Mitchell himself was a bereaved sibling but watched the effect it had on his parents and he never forgot. He read the screenplay and knew he had to do it.

“Rabbit Hole” is based on the Pulitzer Prize winning play by the same name. The movie starts eight months after Becca (Nicole Kidman) and Howie’s (Aaron Eckhart) young son Adam dies when he runs into the street after his dog. Their hearts are broken and day to day, they are simply trying to find their way, a feat that no one is truly prepared to face. They are at the opposite ends of the grief spectrum. Becca thinks she is ready to move on, but she is not openly grieving. Howie sees something wrong with not grieving and seeks solace in a support group. Becca’s mother (Dianne Wiest), whose adult son-Becca’s brother-died from a drug overdose, is coping with religion.

For me, the only part of the film that is not very realistic is some of the support group scenes, like when they go into the parking lot during a break, smoke pot and come back to the meeting in a different mood. That is not what a support group meeting is about.

There is, however, a lot that bereaved parents can take away from the movie: different types of grieving; decisions on changing your life, such as moving; anger, what if’s, friends who don’t know how to handle someone’s grief; tears that come when you least expect them; and intimacy issues. The movie’s main theme is to “create a new normal” for yourself and your family. All of these issues and more are discussed in my new book also.

One piece of advice I always tell others is not to let anyone tell you they understand how you feel because they don’t and never will unless it happens to them. Bravo to the friends who just simply say, “I’m sorry. I can’t even imagine what you are going through.” Those are the honest ones, the ones who care about you, the ones who will be there for you simply to comfort and offer help. They understand.

You can not get out of this movie without crying, but that is not bad; in fact, I’d be surprised if you didn’t cry. Crying is not a bad thing. It is more of a relief of emotions and pain and just remembering the love you shared with your child.

Kidman hopes, “This film reminds people, especially those still grieving, that they’re not alone. There is no solution to taking this pain away, but you’re not alone.”

Sunday, January 16, 2011

A Dedication To Elizabeth Edwards

When I now see anything written about Elizabeth Edwards, who recently died, my eyes water over, and I think of a brave, kind woman, whom I was fortunate enough to meet three years ago at a national Compassionate Friends Conference in Oklahoma City.

She knew she was dying at the time, yet she also knew she had a lot of work to still do and so, in spite of how she felt (she was on Chemo at that time and others) she continued on. She wanted to make sure she wrote down everything her children might want to know the answers to in their lifetime, so they could grow up to be fine human beings that she would be proud of. She anticipated every event, kept records of everything and participated completely in their lives. There were times during her illness she may not have been the perfect mother, but she wanted to do as much as possible in the time she had left.

Elizabeth knew the meaning of grief. Her 16-year-old son Wade was killed in an automobile accident in 1997. But Elizabeth was a survivor, as we all can be, and eventually had more children, but never forgetting her son in the process or all the help and kindness from others she received during those dark days.

She once said she hoped she could live eight more years, until her youngest was out of high school, so she could be there for him, but it was not to be. She tried to do as much as she could not only for her family but also for others. The people she met during her political life and became passionate about, the people she met at that Compassionate Friends Conference that she spoke with, when she was so ill but struggling to keep going, and the times she felt helpless and could do no more but always hoping that tomorrow would be a better day…that was Elizabeth, always with a smile on her face and a golden heart.

Her book “Saving Graces” and her newest “Resilience” give one a fascinating look into her life and struggles and more importantly, to the kind of person she was.

She left all of us with a saying that I will always keep and treasure, for it is a truth for all of us to follow in our lifetime:

The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And yes, there are certainly times when we aren’t able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It’s called being human. But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful.
Elizabeth Edwards
(1949 – 2010)

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Regional/National Conferences

TCF regional and national conferences are now being set up for all those interested in attending. Below is some of the preliminary information. Contact Compassionate Friends for more information on these three conferences.


TCF regional conferences offer a rewarding opportunity to share an intimate time with families that have also experienced the death of a child and are seeking ways to learn more about the common path on which we walk. Regional conferences are generally held three to four times a year around the country by local chapters, or groups of TCF chapters. The content of regional conferences will vary greatly as planners try to provide a comfortable and pleasant learning and sharing experience for all who attend. Most regional conferences have workshops of some type and quite often a special speaker and other planned events. Usually 50-200 people will attend most TCF regional conferences compared to 1200 or more for TCF’s annual national conference.

Frankfort, Kentucky Regional Conference: March 25-26, 2011 has the theme "Words of Wisdom, Hearts of Love." Speakers will include: Compassionate Friends Executive Director Patricia Loder; Past TCF Board President Patrick Malone; Singer, entertainer Alan Pedersen; Grief expert and popular TCF workshop presenter Mitch Carmody; and Two Star General Mark Graham of the United States Army.
There will be a number of workshops including: First 2 Years; Reinvesting in Life; For Men Only; For Women Only; How Have I Changed; Anger & Guilt; Depression vs. Grief; Death by Violent Crime; Sudden Death. There will also be workshops to help strengthen TCF Chapters.

Nebraska Regional Conference: April 1-2, 2011. Speakers, presenters include: Internationally known grief speaker Darcie Sims; Past member of TCF's Board of Directors, John Stanley; Creator of The Birdhouse Project, Kris Munsch; Popular author and TCF workshop presenter Mitch Carmody. Entertainment will be provided by Alan Pedersen, a good friend of TCF and currently involved in "The Angels Across the USA Tour."
There will be a number of workshops including: The Healing Power of Ritual; Grief and Marriage; Death of a Teenager; Suicide Workshop; For Parents who are now Childless; Commitment to Survival; Moving on-What does the other side of grief look like?; Finding Hope in the Midst of Despair; Spirituality Panel; Infant Loss; Murder; Sudden Accidental Death Panel; How Do Men Grieve; Faces of Grief; and Stress Reduction.

TCF's 34th National Conference will be held in Minneapolis/St. Paul July 15-17, 2011 at the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel. You will find it to be another great conference with around 100 workshops, sharing sessions, special keynote speakers at the Opening, Closing and Friday Afternoon and Saturday Evening banquets, Hospitality Room, Butterfly Room, Reflection Room, a completely stocked bookstore, special Friday evening entertainment and a Remembrance Candle Lighting. TCF's Walk to Remember will be held Sunday morning. Theme of the conference is "Sharing Stars, Guiding Hope."

Special rates will be available for those staying at the Sheraton Bloomington Hotel, although room reservations for those attending the conference will not be taken until January, 2011. Watch here for a notice plus the start of online registration, first for hotel rooms and later for the conference itself.

Bereaved Parents USA and Parents of Murdered Children will also hold national conferences summer 2011. Go to these .com web sites for more information.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

New Years Thoughts

Happy New Year. It is now 2012 and each time a new year arrives, I have many scattered thoughts of my life and my daughter, some of which I’d like to share with you.

It has been almost 17 years since Marcy’s fatal car accident. She should be here, I say to myself. She should be enjoying this life here on earth with her husband and what might have been many children, a wonderful career and many friends.

Time passes so quickly. I am getting older and hopefully wiser about life and how the twists and turns, joys and heartaches are etched into your life. I have many things to be thankful for and many things I still want to do, some in memory of my daughter, others with my husband, and the rest with just myself.

I have accomplished much since my daughter died; I felt a burning need to help others and hope I am doing that and can continue to do that for many more years. I have new friends, many of whom never knew Marcy, but hear about her through me and say, “She must have been very special.” “Oh, yes,” I answer, she was. And they show their appreciation of me through giving to her foundation each year to help other young people achieve their goals.

I think about my daughter every second of every day. Only I know that (and now you). I think of what might have been and what will never be. I am disgusted how her death was such a waste of a beautiful life. I think of how different my life would have been if she had been able to live and enjoy her life. I think of her husband and how sad it is that I have no contact with him. But then I think of my three Godchildren, born through my daughter’s best friend, and I am hoping for a fabulous life for all of them. They are being brought up well, are good people and I see them doing great things. I wish them only the best.

I don’t feel as old as I am. I don’t even think of myself as getting older each year. When I look in the mirror, I don’t see an older woman. I feel like I have the energy of a woman in her forties; I am healthy; and I want to continue traveling, having friends over and enjoying many, many more years laughing with my husband. Oh, yes, the wrinkles are there, but I am not interested in trying to look younger as many do. I am satisfied with who I am.

What would I do differently, knowing all that I know now? My answer: NOTHING. Everything has a reason for happening, although I sometimes question why my daughter had to die. But I have seen so much good come out of my life since 1994 (the worst year of my life) that I have to say I’ve adapted to my new life, but never, ever forget the most beautiful experience of my life: giving birth to and bringing up my daughter. That is what gives my life meaning and always will.