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…