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.