Sunday, February 27, 2011

10 Ways To Save Your Marriage After Your Child Dies

When a child dies, most parents assume their marriage will be in jeopardy because they have read that 90% of marriages fail after the death of a child. A recent survey has proven this supposed fact to be a myth. From the survey it was found that only 16 % divorce and only 4 % said it was because of the death and the fact that there were problems in the marriage before the child died.

The untimely death of a child can be an opportunity for growth to bring the two people closer together, rather than tear them apart. I have 10 ways to make sure your marriage does not become one of the statistics. These ways include: talking about the child, giving each other space and time to grieve differently, talking to friends about your relationship to ease stress, going off on your own to get a new perspective, reviewing your day together, pleasing your spouse with activities he enjoys, not blaming each other, accepting the death through counseling, learning new coping techniques to live together without the child, and turning to God and religion if it suits your situation.

TALKING ABOUT THE CHILD – Remember the good times or funny incidents. Laugh at something silly that your child did as well as remember any awards, honors and graduations that made you so proud. Don’t dwell on how your child died. That is not going to bring him or her back. If you feel guilty about something, talk about it. If you are angry about something, talk about that also. Couples have a bond with their child that no one else can match and by talking about those bonds and your feelings, you may realize how very similar you feel or at least respect the opposite feelings of your partner. You may also decide it would be a good idea to do something worthwhile in your child’s memory, like start a scholarship or plant trees in their honor, always a satisfying experience.

GIVE EACH OTHER SPACE AND TIME TO GRIEVE DIFFERENTLY – The chance of both parents grieving the same is unlikely. Parners should allow each other the space to grieve at his/her own rate and in his/her own way. Personality, previous experiences and your own style of grieving contribute to that respect of grieving space. If one partner wants to cry, that doesn’t mean the other one has to cry. If one parter doesn’t feel like going out, he or she shouldn’t feel obligated to do so. If you can’t decide what to make for breakfast, don’t worry about it. Your child died; you need time to adjust.

TALKING TO FRIENDS ABOUT YOUR RELATIONSHIP – This can ease the stress buildup. Perhaps your friends have a good resource for any problems. You may also need to express feelings about your loss to friends that you are not ready to discuss with your spouse.
GOING OFF ON YOUR OWN – This can be for a few hours or a day. It may give you a new perspective. Don’t bring your spouse down or make them suffer with sarcastic comments or harmful accusations just because you feel miserable.

REVIEW YOUR DAY TOGETHER – coming together at the end of the day is important. Review with your spouse what has happened that day, how you are feeling and what you are thinking. You will more than likely learn a lot about your partner during this period of your life.

PLEASING YOUR SPOUSE WITH ACTIVITIES HE/SHE ENJOYS – Look for ways you can ease some of his/her pain. Do some activity with him/her that you don’t usually do but know the other would like you to do. Make a special meal that the other enjoys eating. Or do something related to your child that up until now you have not been able to do.

NOT BLAMING EACH OTHER – This leads to stress, which in turn leads to marital problems. Shouting, not speaking or putting the blame for the death on each other (if you had been on time, he wouldn’t have had to walk home from school, get kidnapped, raped and murdered) does nothing but make the relationship stretched to it’s limits.

ACCEPTING THE DEATH THROUGH COUNSELING – There are times when a professional counselor can help a relationship and therefore the entire situation. Sometimes counselors are used as a last resort. Others prefer to accept help immediately, knowing that whatever they say may be misinterpreted. There is no guarantee of the outcome but many times worth it to try.

LEARNING NEW COPING TECHNIQUES – Hopefully, you are one of the couples that really wants to move on with your life, but just needs some help to do that. Read books (mine will do), attend seminars, talk to others who have gone through this and survived and try many techniques out on each other. If one doesn’t work, try another, until you find what works best.

TURNING TO RELIGION AND GOD – Some couples tell you they couldn’t have made it without their faith. By going to a church or temple, they are comforted by words, prayers and God. He can be your buoy in the hurricane. The number one thing you can do to protect your marriage is to draw strength from whatever sources will sustain you.

Saving your marriage after a child’s death and moving on with your life as a couple is the goal for most couples. Finding the best way to help you do this is my goal through writing and speaking.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Laughter Is the Best Medicine

My thanks to Harriet Hodgson, a freelance nonfiction writer for 28 years, for this ezine magazine article on laughter. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists and the Association for Death Education and Counseling. Her 24th book, “Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief,” written with Lois Krahn, MD, is available from Amazon.

Humans were meant to laugh. The ability to laugh is wired into our minds and that is a good thing for all who mourn. Four of my loved ones, including my elder daughter, died in 2007 and I thought I would never laugh again. As the months passed, however, my humor slowly returned.

Laughing helped me cope with multiple losses. "I think my zany New York sense of humor is going to save me," I told my husband. In the early stages of grief my laughter was as rusty as an old hinge. If I laughed unexpectedly, I enjoyed it, but wondered if my humor would last. Thankfully, it has, and I am grateful.

Laughter has short-term and long-term benefits, according to a Mayo Clinic website article, "Stress Relief from Laughter? Yes, no Joke." The article says laughter makes you take in more "oxygen-rich air," stimulates the heart, lungs and muscles. Just as important, laughter increases the endorphins in the brain, which affect your mood.

An improved immune system is one of the long-term benefits of laughter. In fact, laughter may cause the body to produce its own natural pain-killers. "Laughter can also make it easier to cope with difficult situations," the article concludes. Certainly, grief is a difficult situation, probably the most difficult of your life.

A WebMD website article, "Give Your Body a Boost -- With Laughter" describes laughter therapy. Hearty laughter is similar to a mild physical workout, the article explains. But it goes on to say that you should not be hasty about stopping your treadmill workout.

Daniel Goleman comments on laughter in his book, "Emotional Intelligence: Why it can Matter More than IQ." He says laughter seems to help people think more broadly and associate more freely. "While in a good mood we remember more positive events, as we think over the pros and cons of a course of action..."

If you are grieving now you are awash in emotional pain. How can you find laughter again? One way is to be open to it. Like me, you may have to tell yourself that it is okay to laugh during this sorrowful, dark time of life. The more you laugh, the easier it becomes.

Staying in touch with friends can also help. According to Judith Viorst, author of "Necessary Losses," close friends contribute to your personal growth. Friends also contribute to your pleasure, "making the music sound sweeter, the wine taste richer, the laughter ring louder because they are there." Friends helped me to laugh and your friends can help you.

Thinking of a funny experience you shared with your deceased loved one can also make you laugh. I think of the time my daughter helped with the church rummage sale. Someone had donated some new bras and volunteers didn't know how to price them. "Charge 50 cents," my daughter quipped. "That's 25 cents a cup." Everyone burst out laughing.

During your journey you may come to rely on humor. A sense of humor brightens your days and leads to grief recovery. Thank goodness you were meant to laugh!

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Garage Sale Grief

When my daughter died many years ago, I wanted to hold on to anything I had that belonged to her…forever, I told myself. But as the years go by, I have found a greater meaning in letting go.

First thing to do is take inventory of what there is, pick out items that you feel strongly about always keeping and put them aside.

I did this with my daughter’s stuffed animals. There were some I could never part with; others that I felt would be good to donate to a children’s hospital or even give to friend’s kids or grandkids.

Clothes are the same way. In my case, I could fit into a lot of my child’s clothing, but was it really my style? In most cases it wasn’t, particularly the dresses and sweaters, so I asked her friends if they wanted anything, then I sold what was left at a garage sale and eventually donated the ones that didn’t sell to local shelters. I did keep a beautiful leather jacket she had bought in Italy, another casual black jacket, a few blouses and a few suit jackets. I found that the blouses and suit jackets I never wore. The shoes were not my size and they were given to Good Will. I looked at them in my closet, liked having her things close to me, but realized I would never wear those particular items, so eventually gave them up also.

I kept most of the jewelry so I could wear it, but also gave some to her close friends. Her awards I have in boxes and don’t plan to dispose of them at all. I’ve incorporated her picture albums with mine, saved the good ones and the ones I knew with friends, but the rest that nobody wanted, I got rid of them. Anything she bought while traveling sits next to my travel items. I loved her taste in knick knacks and enjoy looking at them, so I would never give any of those away.

When the day came to put many items on display in a garage sale, I knew it would be hard, but I didn’t know how hard. One dress I ran after. No, I couldn’t part with it. The money was given back. (Years later, I gave it to Good Will.) Items she collected at school or from friends, I asked the friends if they wanted it back and if they didn’t, it was sold. Things she made in an art class or summer camp, if it was personalized to me, I have it. One year she made a step stool and to this day, I still find it useful and smile every time I see it in the kitchen closet.

It is a difficult and daunting task to go through everything and decide what one wants to keep forever, but finally after many years I, personally, was able to do it. Giving many of her things to others made me feel good and that I was doing something worthwhile for others.

Take your time deciding what to do with your child’s things. Don’t let anyone tell you “it’s time to let go.” And keep whatever has some meaning to you. Memories are all we have left of our child who died and if some items can put a smile on your face and make you feel good, then they are worth keeping as I have discovered. The rest can bring some joy to others, and our child will continue to live on.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

We Never Lose the People We Love

I know for certain that we never lose the people we love, even to death.
They continue to participate in every act, thought and decision we make.
Their love leaves an indelible imprint in our memories.
We find comfort in knowing that our lives have been enriched by having shared their love.
Leo Buscaglia

I happen to see this quote in a current issue of the online Compassionate Friends Newsletter. How true! How true it is! I think of how I can apply this quote to everything I have done since my daughter died.

Every time I have to make a decision about something, whether it be to participate in an event, give to a charity or even just where to travel, I always think of how my daughter, Marcy, would have responded. “Mom,” she would say, “Go for it! You’re good at organizing events. You’re a Virgo and Virgos are perfectionists.” I smile. That I am, just as she was a stubborn Leo. I have taken on national bereavement conferences and am happy to help others. I have walked for charities or just donated when receiving information on that charity, if I believe it is worth-while. And traveling, my passion and hers also: I am always so sad that she is not able to see all the places I know she would have liked. When I am at a destination, I turn to my husband and always say, “Marcy would have loved this city… these mountains… this exhibit.”

We never forget our children, no matter how long it has been since they died. A piece of our heart has died with them, yet we go on. Then something always triggers a remembrance, and that is okay. Whether it makes you smile or cry, either one is a healthy reaction. You don’t have to be ashamed or embarrassed around others, because your feelings for your child will always be within you, no matter what.

So many good memories…why not write them down, put them away and treasure them always. If you are having a bad day, take one out and remember, smile or even laugh.

The parents of 9-year-old Christina Green from Tucson, who was born on a tragic day 9/11/2001 and died in a tragic shooting a few weeks ago, will always think of her when thinking of politics, how enthusiastic she was about serving her country and wanting to get to know her Congresswoman from Tucson, Gabrielle Giffords. It would not surprise me if her parents or sibling, years from now, honor her memory by doing something along political lines, whether as a volunteer or as an advocate.

This is how we share our love for our children when they are no longer with us physically but always in our hearts and minds. We try to do good; we try to help others as our children would have done; we try to find a cause that will bring a smile to our child’s face, wherever they are. Our lives have been enriched for having them, and we become better people for it.