Sunday, December 30, 2012

At This Holiday Season

Note: This blog was scheduled for last Sunday, but I felt compelled to write about the Newtown school deaths. I hope you can still use some of these ideas this year, if not for the Christmas season, then for another holiday.

At this holiday season, if you are hurting badly because of the loss of your child, whether it is a new loss or one you’ve been living with for many years, start making a list.

Only this list will not be “What I want for Christmas…” We know what we want, but we also know we can never have it again. No, this list is a list of things you can do to get through the holidays, a list that might help you move on and out of that depressive state.

There is nothing to make me feel better, you might say. It is true that nothing will make everything all right again, but maybe these few ideas will brighten up your holiday and get you started to battle any demons you may still have.

1. Make lots of handmade gifts (it takes up time and lets you be creative) and give them not only to friends and relatives, but also give some to a children’s hospital, an orphanage or a senior home. You are not the only lonely person out there with a loss. Everyone has a story to tell.

2. Contact an organization that allows you to adopt a child or a family for the holidays and buy toys and clothes or anything you are told that they may need. You may want to tell the family you are doing this in your child’s memory.

3. Make time to do something you enjoy or go someplace you’ve always wanted to go to at this time of year, but never got around to doing it.

4. Visit the cemetery where your child is buried and decorate the grave with seasonal decorations. Take others with you if you’d like. Sing songs, tell stories or jokes; make it a happy visit.

5. Say a prayer during the holiday and be thankful for all the little things and the people in your life who have helped you and made a difference. Then tell your child how much you love them and always will.

6. Finally, at this time of year, it is appropriate to burn a candle in your child’s memory. Surround the candle with pictures of you and your child and the family having fun during the holiday season. Below is a poem appropriate of the season to honor their memory from TCF Atlanta online.

Memory Candles

As we light these four candles in honor of you, we light one for our GRIEF, one for our COURAGE, one for our MEMORIES and one for our LOVE.

The first candle represents our grief. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

The second candle represents our COURAGE to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other and to change our lives.

The third light is in your MEMORY, the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other, the silly things you did, the caring and joy you gave us.

The fourth light is for the light of LOVE.

As we enter this holiday season, day by day we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your living brought to each of us. We love you.

--from Holiday Help: Coping for the Bereaved, by Sherry Gibson, B.S., R.N. and Sandra Graves, Ph.D.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Remembering Newtown

Tears weld up in my eyes every time I hear or read about the Newtown massacre of 20 children and 6 adults at the school there. How could this have happened? How could the 20-year-old’s mother not have known how sick her son was? And the parents: what they must be going through, having to bury their 6 or 7 year old child? So many questions and situations, but not many answers. We will never know the real story behind what occurred, but we all understand its aftermath, because we have all lost children also and know how these parents feel.

They are in shock; they can’t believe what has happened so suddenly and so tragically. It will take a long time before they can accept that their child is even gone. I know it was a long time for me…almost three years before I one day caught my breath and realized I would never see my daughter again. That was when the tears flowed their hardest. (Like one mother said… it is like a tsunami: if you flow with it, you will survive, but, if you let it overtake you in its path, you won’t survive.)

A few suggestions for these parents, yourself or any others who have recently lost a child in any situation:

1. Journal your thoughts and feelings where you are now up to a year from now (the hardest time for you to remember later on when you are able look back). You will be surprised to learn what you were thinking and feeling then as compared to now. I wrote my feelings down in my first book 11 years ago and am stunned now to reread it and understand how much I would have forgotten if it had not been written down.

2. Every time you think of a good memory of your child, write it down. Keep thinking of these memories and continue writing them. When you are not in good shape or feel like it, look at some of these memories to help you smile through your tears, and perhaps even laugh.

3. Don’t worry that you’ll forget your child. You won’t. They lived and made wonderful memories for you that you can keep in your heart forever.

4. Let others help you who have been in the same situation, whether it is a friend, family member, priest, rabbi or a local or national support group. Not only will it be comforting to tell your story, but you know they will understand what you are going through and can perhaps have some suggestions for you.

5. Keep talking about your child to keep his/her memory alive. Doing activities, giving donations, building memorials also helps.

6. Cry whenever you feel like it. You are not going crazy and crying is a cleansing emotion that allows you to feel better.

And let us not forget the staff members who also lost their lives at that school. We have not forgotten you and your bravery in saving many children that day.

Remembering Forever: Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine F. Hsu, 6; Catherine V. Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison N. Wyatt, 6; ADULTS: Rachel Davino, 29; Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Turning Grief Into Action

One of the ways to help you move on with your life is to turn your grief into action. Many parents have found a cause to channel their heartache into something useful and beneficial for others. In most cases, parents will tell you, it is to make sure what happened to them doesn’t happen again to someone else. For some it is legislation; for others, it is talking to groups and telling their story for simple awareness of a situation. Whatever the reason, this is a healthy way of making a difference and honoring their child with the work they do.

One mother is working relentlessly to improve school bus stop safety. Her 13 year old daughter was hit in a crosswalk while waiting to catch her school bus. Her new role is advocate. It is a role that has often proved frustrating, but she continues to work for changes. No one was cited or reprimanded for the accident. It was deemed a horrible, heart-wrenching accident. Since then she has enlisted elected officials, pushed for greater oversight by the California Highway Patrol and urged bus and school officials to consider changing procedures. Three students saw the accident have raised thousands of dollars to cut down the view-obscuring eucalyptus, lengthen the crossing signal and create a bus safety video to show to students. The mother speaks to anyone who will listen about bus stop visibility and overgrown vegetation on Sunset Boulevard. Her husband has urged her to move on, but she can’t. This is her mission now. There is progress with alternative bus stops, but she is not satisfied yet. Moments of joy in doing something for her child mingle with ceaseless heartache that only a mother knows. This is her life now and however long it takes, she is willing to continue her efforts in her child’s memory.

Another mother whose daughter died in a car accident by a drunk driver believes the driver should have gone to prison for life. He only got six years and then four years probation. The mother worked with SADD and MADD and spoke at boys’ and girls’ clubs about having the right to say, “No, I won’t get in a car with someone who is impaired.” Through these organizations, she then became involved with the Victim’s Impact Panel where criminals are required to listen to parent’s stories. Hopefully, they begin to understand the impact of the loss on families. Doing this work is how I deal with the rest of my life. She hopes she is making a difference.

“It was little things that alerted me something was very wrong with my son, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it,” said another mother. It turned out her son was schizophrenic and eventually committed suicide. For many years she felt tremendous guilt. Finally she began to do volunteer work for the Mental Health Association by going into schools and telling principals about some of the programs available to help kids and what the symptoms of this disease are. Teachers and all school personnel listen to what she has to say. In classrooms she tells her story; they see how she was affected and those who had suicide thoughts, rethink the fact that their families would, indeed, miss them. It is important for her to tell everyone she comes in contact with that she does this because she won’t be part of the shame and stigma attached to mental illness.

Your situation after the death of your child is as heartbreaking as these three women. I encourage you to work your way through your grief and find a new purpose to make a difference in your life and in others.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Creative Outlets on Grief Journey

Keeping your mind occupied during your grief journey is important. Creative activities can be very helpful when grieving.

Giving a gift of stained glass art is a way to welcome new parents into a grief group. One mother showed she cared and understood what these new grieving parents were experiencing. Most of the stained glass she makes are hearts with the deceased child’s name in the middle, a way of showing the parents that their child is always in their heart. This can be done on your own or an entire group of mothers can work together on this type of project. Using their hands is not the only benefit, but also, “it gives us an opportunity to talk,” said Christine Gaudet, who lost her 18-year-old son in an accident on May 29, 2011. “More than making something, it is a time to get together with people who understand your particular pain,” she added. Gaudet also tries to individualize each heart, using the child’s favorite color. Other stained glass objects may also help. Think about your child and whatever comes to mind that they were fond of can probably be done in stained glass.

Another creative activity is making a memory book. Memory books can hold not only pictures but also items from your child’s life, such as awards they won or writings from school. I remember my daughter made a certificate at school that said, “World’s Best Mom and Teacher” and drew a 1st place ribbon on the side of it. She was 6 years old at the time, and 40 years later I still have and treasure that paper.

Listening to soft music can be soothing to the heart, relaxing and put you in a good place. I know that when I am anxious or need to relax and think of something other than my child, I concentrate on playing the piano, and it calms me down. Or just putting on headphones and listening to music with or without words may bring back memories that were forgotten.

Still others will knit baby bonnets, jackets and blankets to donate to friends or local hospitals. Knitting in a group and the talking done among the parents, as author Ann Hood, who wrote “The Knitting Circle” will tell you, can help in the healing process.

By using their hands, these parents don’t have to think, and it can lead to some new discoveries, like a good memory you would like to remember. Memories of your child are important to hang on to.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

16th Annual Candle Lighting

The 16th Worldwide Candle Lighting this year is Dec. 9, next Sunday at 7 p.m. During this time hundreds of thousands of bereaved parents will light a candle to honor and remember any child who has died from any cause at any age.

Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the candle lighting creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held as well as thousands of informal candle-lightings are held in homes in quiet remembrance of our children, gone too soon but not forgotten.

For those of you who would like to plan an organized memorial service in your home town to last from a few minutes to as long as you’d like, here is how you can go about doing it.

1. Choose a chairperson to organize the event. The chairperson will need volunteers to help and you should start in the early fall.

2. Do a timeline for when things should get done. Finalize location, and order candles in September. In October select readings, poems and presents; arrange for music, prepare flyers to communicate with the public and include a map. In November, write and deliver press releases to local media and if there is a TCF chapter in your area or closeby, have them notify members. In December, reconfirm location, music, presenters and print program.

3. Determine a location that can hold many people. Some groups choose a park setting, since there is no limit to who can come. Get permission to use a park early.

4. Publicize the time. If you are not connected to TCF, say in your literature that the service is held in conjunction with the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting. Fill out an online submission form at the national website: to provide information so that it can be posted prominently with all other known candle lightings. This allows those who visit the website and wish to attend a candle lighting in your area to know of your event. Contact interested local groups, churches and funeral homes and contact a variety of media including newspapers, television and local talk show radio. Some stations may broadcast a public service announcement about your service at no charge.

5. Stress in your publicity that this is a remembrance program rather than a holiday program.

6. Ask those involved in planning to come one to two hours ahead of time to help with the preparations. Carry a cell phone just in case.

7. Invite the media to attend, but do not permit any interviews during the ceremony or taking of pictures.

8. Consider including the following in your program: MUSIC playing softly while you distribute candles. The popular song “Precious Child” is very appropriate. READING of messages posted throughout the day at the national website to show the unity this event creates throughout the world. READ the names of all the children being remembered or go around the room and have a parent or family member say the child’s name. Mention in general terms that this is held to remember all children, siblings and grandchildren who have died. SOCIALIZE after the program so those who want to can share thoughts. Provide light refreshments

9. Emphasize in all publicity that anyone not able to attend may participate by simply lighting a candle at home alone or with friends and family.

On the website you are encouraged to post a memorial message of remembrance that their light may always shine.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Inspirational Video For All To See

I recently found a You Tube video on a 6 year old girl, Elena Desserich, and learned of her nine month battle with cancer. This was truly an inspiring video from the Good Morning America show a few years ago and now a book called “Notes Left Behind.” She was able, in her short life, to spread a message of hope and healing. That message is what I’d like all of you to read, see on the video and understand.

After her diagnosis she created a To Do List with things on it like swimming with the dolphins and driving. As her disease progressed she could no longer speak so she started drawing. One of her drawings was hung in the Cincinnati Museum next to her favorite painter, Picasso. This was one of her lifelong dreams. Another was to dance with her father at her wedding. She dressed in a beautiful white dress and although it was not a real wedding, she did dance while her father held her in her arms. He says it was the best day of his life. For her sister, she wrote a kindergarten survival guide.

Her father kept an online journal for family members, never realizing that people from all over were reading it for inspiration to be better parents.

Elena had a secret though. She wrote hundreds of love notes to her family and hid them between pages of books, in cupboards, drawers and clothes to be discovered after she was gone. Discover it they did, each day finding a note, reminding them she was always looking down on them with love. They have no idea how many notes there were and still find them around.

Eventually, all the notes found were combined into a book called “Notes Left Behind,” so her little sister Grace would always remember her. The book is being sold to raise money to find a cure for cancer. Go to to read more about it and the foundation that was started.

As her mother said, “Elena was wise beyond her years. She always wanted to be a teacher, and as it turned out, the world became her classroom to teach valuable inspirational lessons of love to people all over the world.”

To see and hear this video, go to You, plug in GMA Notes Left Behind and click on it when it comes up.

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Thanksgiving Joy

Thanksgiving: my worst holiday. The last time I saw my daughter in a family setting back in 1993. But my mouth curls into a smile now, so many years later, as I remember her vibrant sense of humor and how we laughed and laughed at some funny comments and situations during those four days. A few examples…

She had come to town with her new husband to help us celebrate the holidays. They had just returned from their honeymoon in Greece and drove from California to Arizona to be with us. When she saw we only had a trundle bed set-up for them, she made a face and made sure the beds were pushed together. “Mother!” she admonished me. “We’re married now and want to sleep very close together.” I thought she was kidding. She was serious! I vowed to buy a larger bed for the next time.

The whole family came to Thanksgiving dinner, what little family we had: my mom and dad, now gone; my step-brother, his wife and two children; and a few friends. One of the friends who stopped by was my daughter’s good friend’s mother. She loved Marcy very much and appreciated her thoughtfulness. She relayed the story about an earthquake in Los Angeles, very close to where Marcy and her friend lived. After calling me that morning at 6:30 a.m. to tell me she was okay, I puzzled at why she had to tell me that. “What are you calling me so early for?” I asked. She told me there had been an earthquake and she didn’t want me to worry. She was safe under the dining room table! She then quickly told me she had to call her friend’s mom so she wouldn’t worry. The friend was on the East coast, not even in Los Angeles at the time of the earthquake. Her mom appreciated my daughter’s thoughtfulness that morning.

My daughter informed me that the day after Thanksgiving, she was going to have some college friends over that she hadn’t seen in years. I told her that was a good idea. “Mom,” she said, “how would you like to make your famous, delicious orange chicken?” Of course I knew she was trying to get me to cook for everyone. And like a good mother, I did. I loved seeing her old friends, that I also knew, get together, tell old college stories about classes, hated dorm roommates and fun times they had, laughing all the while. Their humor was infectious, and my side hurt for days from laughing so much.

When it was time for my daughter and her husband to leave, my husband and I watched her get into the car and start to back out of the driveway. She must have sensed something amiss because she got out of the car, went to the back of the car and ripped off some stickers of rival universities that my husband had put on her car bumper, before smiling, waving and driving off. It was a standard joke between the two of them and her intuition had been right. It was my daughter who had the last laugh as I looked at my husband’s unhappy face that he had not fooled her!

Light a candle this Thursday, Thanksgiving, for those children no longer with us. Recall how blessed we were to have them and how they brought such joy to our lives, each and every day.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Carrie Bears

To help someone who is grieving feel close to someone they have lost in an artistic way, Carrie Pike creates what she labels Carrie Bears. I met Carrie years ago at a Compassionate Friends national conference where she displayed her bears. I thought they were cute, clever and could mean something special to those who have lost a loved one, particularly a child.

Carrie started creating these bears in 1999 for bereaved parents, so parents can feel close to the child they lost. "Every family has a story and as hard as it is, I feel that many have found comfort in having Carrie Bears to hold onto," she said.

How it works is this: the bereaved parent sends a favorite article of clothing to Carrie and she turns it into a soft, huggable 20 inch stuffed bear.

Carrie has done bears out of shirts, blouses, prom dresses, uniforms, skirts, baby blankets, infant outfits, levis, vests, pants, pajamas and flannel sheets. She warns that knits tend to stretch but can make for a very soft bear. Silky and thin materials can be used but don’t work quite as well. Cotton and denim fabrics hold the shape of the bear really well.

Bears can also be made to match a baby nursery or a bedroom set. If a loved one is confined to a hospital bed or has moved far away, cuddling a bear can make home feel so much closer. Every bear is different and every bear can be personalized with pictures or writing, according to Carrie.

“It is up to you to decide what you want to have on the bear,” she said. “Personalize it any way you want.”

Each bear is $49.95 plus tax and shipping. To put a message or poem on the bear is an additional $5. A scanned picture onto material is an additional $8. For more information or to place an order, call Carrie at (801) 467-7395 or email at She can send you pictures of her bears.

The bears can be plain, or here are some examples of what can be said on the bear.

In Loving Memory of

Laura Ray Jones

Dec. 24, 1998 – Aug. 13, 2000

To My Beautiful daughter Melanie,

I will love you always.


Jan. 27, 1970 – Oct. 2, 1999

I have always been proud of you

For all your accomplishments

Your inner beauty, your laugh

Your friendliness, your smile

I remember it all and always will.



Eric William Macy

March 2, 1968 – May 4, 2009

Sunday, November 4, 2012

In Loving Memory...

Over the years I have done many things in my daughter’s memory as have others from planting a tree with a plaque in my former school, memorial bricks at theaters and cultural centers to building a drama center at a summer camp. Each time I do something, it makes me feel good and I know I will never stop trying to find ways to honor her.

My latest “memorial” idea came to me the other day over the internet. ASU’s alumni group helped restore the “Old Main” building on the ASU campus in Tempe, Arizona, and is selling brick pavers ($100) or memorial plaques ($250) on a legacy wall to celebrate or memorialize a loved one. Procceds benefit a lasting effort to preserve the building in the future.

I have bought engraved commemorative brick pavers before and been very pleased with the way they turned out, so decided to do this, since this is also the school from which both my daughter and I graduated. In addition, when she moved to California after graduating, she became president of the ASU alumni association in Los Angeles. When she died, ASU alum from L.A. sent me a beautiful letter and made a donation to the library at the school. It seemed fitting to do this in her memory.

Some history: The Old Main building was constructed before Arizona achieved statehood Feb. 4, 1898. The building stood three stories and dominated the camps. A trailblazer in technology, it was the first building in Tempe wired for electric lighting. When Teddy Roosevelt came to the valley for the dedication of the Roosevelt dam in 1911, Old Main was the natural location from which he addressed the community. In 1985, the year ASU celebrated its centennial, Old Main was added to the National Register of historic places. It was in the 1990’s that renovations to protect the building began discussions. After a $5.7 million campaign, the building was refurbished to the period of its construction and serves as a place on the main campus where alumni can always return.

If you are looking for something more to honor your child, look at the online site of the university you attended. Perhaps they, too, are doing something that you can also participate in that has a rich history and can be a lasting tribute to your loved one.

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Answering Blog Questions

I’m going to answer a few recent questions and comments this week that I’ve received from those who follow my blogs.

The first one is What kind of solutions and suggestions did I get out of the Parents of Murdered Children (POMC) conference when I spoke at their national conference in Tempe, AZ recently? Unfortunately, I can not comment on that since I was only there a few hours during the second day, when I was to speak. I didn’t get to attend any of the other sessions, but I can tell you what I learned from many of the participants: they had some good speakers on victim rights, police officers and professionals on legislation of victim impact statements, and psychologists to help with the trauma of what happened, seeing the body and crime scene photos. Parole hearings, plea bargaining, appeals process and particularly the trial itself were discussed. These parents had one thing in common. They needed to know “why.” But, in most cases there is no answer to that question, leaving them frustrated. I did see petitions to stop the early release of a loved-one’s murderer and watched parents sign them. POMC has protested the early release/parole of more than 1000 murderers, most with less than 50 percent of time served. The workshop I gave dealt specifically with parents who had lost their only children to accidents (sudden death) or murder and difficult situations they deal with as a childless bereaved parent going through the grief process. We talked about redoing wills, who will take care of them when they get older, being a step-parent and any problems that may cause, affects on marriage, listening to others talk about their children, no more happy occasions, hearing hurtful remarks like “get over it already”, are you still a mother, and answering the question: how many children do you have? In addition to all this grief self-help weekends are held for survivors to deal with the anger, pain, hopelessness, frustration, fear and helplessness. The weekend tries relaxation techniques, meditation, sharing sessions and encouragement to move forward to a new life with a renewed sense of purpose. It is held twice annually.

The second comment dealt with punishment for distracted drivers. I agree with this completely. When you text or use your cell phone to call someone, you are now labeled a distracted driver and I believe it should be outlawed to use a cell phone at all while driving. Too many accidents; too many death have occurred because of them. I don’t know of any support groups that deal with that topic specifically, but I know that at the Compassionate Friends national conferences, the topic does come up within other sessions of automobile deaths. I would ask TCF to do a specific workshop on this topic next July, so parents, police and professionals can weigh in on it and offer suggestions for punishments for distracted drivers, not let them off or give them a light sentence if someone is killed. I’d also write to Pat Loder, the executive director of TCF, and ask her to put an article in the TCF magazine and the monthly online e-newsletter, sent free to anyone who signs up, for those parents who have lost children or any loved one to distracted drivers and try to get a group started in your area. From a national childless conference I chaired in 2007, I got enough people together who had lost their only child and we started a Now Childless group in the Scottsdale, AZ, area which is still going strong.

Third, I made a comment in one of my blogs on how I believe “everything has a reason for happening.” Not everyone agreed with that statement. Although I have yet to find a reason that my only child was taken from me and no child’s death makes any sense, there is nothing I can do to change what has happened. So I have accepted the fact that I have a choice: let it destroy me or get out there and continue my life, but with a different kind of meaning to it. Fortunately for me, I have already found that meaning: helping others in their grief journey by speaking to groups and writing books and articles. I am very compassionate and know that because I have walked this path myself, I can truly understand another’s grief. Doing for others makes grief bearable. For other people, it will take a much longer time to find why God has made you suffer so for the rest of your life, but eventually, I believe you will understand and accept what has happened. You will find your own meaning and move on from there. Don’t get me wrong. I hate what has happened. I’d give anything to have my daughter back. But if I dwell on that, it doesn’t do me nor anyone close to me any good.

Lastly, I wrote a blog on what I would do if I had one more day with my child and one reader sent me her site in which she, coincidentally, wrote a very nice poem entitled “If I Had One More Day.” If interested, go to: http://samaralansari.blogspotcom/2008/11/if-you-had-one-more-day.html .

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Safe Place Weekend

I told Peggy Sweeney, who also writes a bereaved parent newsletter, I would help her out with her special announcement about the Safe Place Retreat Weekend being held Nov. 9-11, 2012.

Safe Place is a retreat for bereaved parents at Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly outside of San Antonio, Texas, where individuals will find others willing to hear them tell their stories. Led by other bereaved parents and supported by professional counselors, the retreat will involve time spent in listening groups and/or individual conversations. The main goal is to provide a safe, spiritual environment where participants feel free to talk about their bereavement, share what has helped them cope, and discuss continuing needs.

The price of $228 includes your sleeping quarters for two nights (you do not have to share a room) and meals Friday evening, all day Saturday, and Sunday breakfast. Also included is the programming and all materials for the retreat. Scholarship assistance is available to make this experience possible for those with financial needs.

“When your child dies, there are no words of consolation. There are no words to help you understand, to make you feel better. At this retreat, I was with a group of people who understood this. We didn’t try to make each other feel better. We listened, we talked, we cried together for the loss of all the children whose families were there. I found the group worship and prayers, the opportunity to be heard by those who understand, and to just BE there with those who have shared my same heartache were all healing experiences for me. I highly recommend this retreat to any bereaved parents. It really is a safe place,” said Ruth Hinson, previous participant.

Even if you can’t attend, you may know someone who can, so you are encouraged to pass along this information to them.

“My husband and I attended this retreat about five months after my only child, his wife and their baby were killed in an accident. The weekend was emotionally draining, and yet as we were driving home, we both realized we felt much lighter of spirit than we had thought was possible. Looking back that weekend was a pivotal point in our healing. Although we are still sad, and we know that things will never be as they were before the accident, the experience at Safe Place gave us hope to move into the future. We have even found times of joy, unimaginable before this. The Mo-Ranch setting is calm and beautiful and the people you meet are able to offer the support that only those who are also in the unfortunate club of having lost a child can offer,” said Ellen Dortch, participant.

If you have questions, Peggy suggests contacting her at 830-377-7389 or Sue Endsley, hostess for the weekend, at 800-460-4401 x 226 for a registration form to be sent to you with additional information on housing and what clothes to bring.

If you have been struggling and looking for a different experience, this may just be what you need.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Bullying Prevention

October is National bullying Prevention Month and a time to focus on an issue that is identified as having become a very big problem in a national survey. Teens, who are the brunt of this behavior, reported that bullying was a problem for them more often than racism, HIV/AIDS, or the pressure to have sex, use drugs or alcohol. Both teens and adults need to be aware that they can fight back through educating themselves on what they are up against, rather than doing something harmful to themselves.

Bullying is when one or more kids or adults intentionally hurt others to increase their power and status either physically or verbally.

Increasingly, schools, communities, parents and adolescents are acknowledging that bullying is not a rite of passage, but rather a practice that can be extremely damaging to children and teens.

Cyberbullying, the most common type of bullying in the past two years because of the growing use of internet and social media, ranges from repeatedly making fun of another person through email or text messaging to posting something online about them that they don’t like or is not true. Some recent statistics: one in five adolescents said they had been cyberbullied at some point in their lives and about the same number admit to having been a cyberbully. One in ten adolescents had been both a cyberbully and a victim. Victims of cyberbullying were more likely to get into a physical fight at school or to be the victim of a crime than were students who were not cyberbullied. Generally, boys are more at risk of being bullied physically while girls are more frequently the victims of internet harassment and emotional bullying, such as social exclusion. This can lead and has led to suicide of the victim unless something is done.

Who is targeted? Gay and lesbian students seem to get a big brunt of the bullying, particularly in school. Rutger’s student Tyler Clementi committed suicide after being targeted by online bullying for kissing another man in his dorm. His death was one among a rash of suicides by gay teens during that particular month. Disabled kids are bullied at two to three times the rate of others. New students who don’t seem to fit in as well as students who are not outgoing or popular also are victims, among others.

But even adults, such as the recent bullying of TV reporter, Jennifer Livingston of WKBT-TV in La Cross, WI, saying she was fat and not a good community role model on the airways, can be a target.
She, like many teens, though, are fighting back…the best advice that can be given. Teens and small children should always tell an adult, no matter how hard it is, and listen to advice from parents, teachers or psychologists. And the adult needs to give good advice for handling harassment situations in a “non-escalating” manner. Trying to deal with bullying alone can have disastrous results as it did with Tyler Clementi and thousands of others.

Not only should those being bullied get help, but so should parents who are at a loss for how to help. Victims need to take away the psychological reward associated with harassment for the bully.

There is a target reaction that the bully wants, and they will continue to return to the victim as long as the victim continues to supply that reaction. Teaching children and even adults that the power to overcome the torments of a bully is in controlling one’s reaction is important. Deflecting a bully’s comments, such as the news reporter was able to, can be done with simple non-emotional responses that question the integrity of the comment. The object is to diffuse the power of the harassment and not to attack the bully or to engage in physical violence. This can serve adults as well as teens.

Bullying is a serious problem in the U.S., particularly for teens. Let’s try to stop the bullying and stop losing both children and adults to senseless violence or suicides.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Impact of Child Loss

We are all impacted in a variety of ways when we lose a child. I have found both negative and positive changes in myself that I’d like to share with you. If you have additional changes you’d like to share that have affected you, please send me comments. I’d like to know how others feel and moved through the grief process.

Negative changes:

I always think of my child every day (probably more than normal), what I did with her, how she behaved, how proud I was of her accomplishments and most of all, how much I loved her. I now have a hole in my heart forever more. For the rest of my life, no matter where I am or what I am doing, I will think of how nothing I can do will change that..

I am always reminded of the little things, like a song that she liked, the fun I had on a trip, a movie I may see that I know my child would have liked, a book I read that has a character that reminds me of her in some small ways. Everything I do is a reminder of what I no longer have.

The hurt never goes away, no matter how much I may want it to. Some bereaved parents may need extra help and seek out counselors; others talk to their friends or family members about their loss and receive comfort. But nothing can take away that empty feeling. One minute they are here, the next they are gone and it’s hard to conceive that your life has changed forever..

I find I must change goals and priorities in life. What was once important to me may no longer have any meaning. A beautiful warm spring day that has the birds singing may tug at my heartstrings, and I think, “My child should be here to see this with me.” Who wins the World Series or the Stanley Cup does not even enter my mind. What does enter it is that the world is moving on but my daughter is not part of it.

I found I lost friends when my child died. There were people who didn’t want to be around me. Perhaps they were afraid what happened to me would rub off on them. Others didn’t know what to say, so didn’t say anything, rather than admitting it was difficult for them to adjust also.

Positive changes:

After an initial grief period, which can last from a few months to a few years, I, personally, found a new purpose to my life: helping others through their grief journey and speaking to various groups about surviving grief. I have encouraged some bereaved parents to champion a cause, such as stiffer laws for drunk drivers or locking up murderers for life, changing waiting periods to purchase guns, become a victim rights activist, or become a volunteer to help others. Meeting others like yourself will help you more than you realize.

I put my feelings on paper, a real catharsis. I wrote two books about surviving grief and, not surprisingly, I may have helped others, but I also helped myself. Talking about feelings and how we get through each day helps one understand the grief process.

I have made new friends. Old friends have fallen by the wayside. Out of the woodwork came people who really cared about me and wanted to be a part of my life and most importantly, help me cope. I feel comfortable talking about my daughter to new friends who really care.

I look at things around me more closely now. I see beauty I never noticed before in the slightest thing—a bird nesting and feeding her babies, a beautiful sunrise over the misty mountain tops, the quiet solitude of walking in a forest. I was too busy with everyday life to notice what was really important other than my daughter, and I appreciate it more now.

Although we never get over the death of our child, we don’t have to allow it to define or destroy us. We can move on and grow in the process, finding comfort, hope and the courage to live again.

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Grief Sites

Through the years of writing this blog, many of you have left sites of your own and others in the comments section for me to look through. I have looked at them and believe there are many people with which I would like to share these sites.

I’ve always believed that the bereaved help each other through words, thoughts and actions. I have gone through every blog written to gather these sites and have listed them for your perusal. I hope some of them meet your needs, are helpful and that you will keep sending me new ones. I have drawn these sites only from the blogs. I'm sure there are hundreds of others. If you'd like to send them to me, I'd be happy to print them.

In my book “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child” I list many others in the resource section. I am truly amazed at how many people have started their own blogs and will hopefully continue them, not only to help others but also to help themselves. Here is a listing of what you have sent to me. Try these out. (a conglomerate of many sites to visit)


Sunday, September 23, 2012

Random Acts of Kindness

As a way for families to honor their child and to help themselves heal, MISS Foundation began “The Kindness Project” in 1997. By 2007, more than 750,000 Kindness Project cards have been used around the globe to perform random acts of kindness in memory of a child, parent, friend, or spouse who died before their time.

The idea is to perform random acts of kindness in the community, usually anonymous. A little card is left behind so that the person who benefits from the kindness knows that someone’s life and death continues to matter.

Anyone can participate by ordering Kindness Project cards or just doing nice deeds in the community with your child’s loving memory at heart. I know one parent who sends a note to any names she sees in the newspaper of a person who loses a child. She doesn’t have to know who they are. Her heart goes out to these parents because she too, has lost a child and knows how they feel. She puts her name and phone number on these notes, in case these parents need someone to talk to. She says she gets calls from some of them and a few have become good friends.

The Kindness Project Card is a business sized card that reads:

                              This Random Act of Kindness…

                                 Done in Loving Memory

                                     Of our beautiful child

                               ____name of child here______

                         Here you can leave your name if you so desire and any other
                         piece of information you would like to share.

This card can be used by siblings, grandparents, friends, aunts, uncles or by any person who wants to honor and remember the life of a very special child.

A little bit about the MISS Foundation…
More than 120,000 children die every year in the United States. After the death, families experience significant trauma and grief that can affect family and individual functioning and an entire community. The MISS foundation helps families through local support groups, camps for grieving kids, indigent funeral funds and funeral planning assistance, counseling, newsletters, web sites and opportunities for volunteerism that allow people, affected by the death of a child, begin to heal.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Famous People Lose Children Too

After our child died, all of us wonder why this has happened to us. We are just ordinary people living ordinary lives. Why doesn’t something like this ever happen to the well-known? You may be surprised to learn that many famous and wealthy suffer the loss of a child. Some are made public; others not. I thought you might like to see a list of some of them, names, ages (where known) and how the child died. My list follows.

The Kennedy clan has had more than their share: John and Jackie had a stillborn daughter Anabella in 1956 and premature Patrick in 1963 and then John Jr. died in a plane accident with his wife at 39. Only Carolyn survives them all. Ted Kennedy and wife had a stillborn son in 1964 and many other children in the brothers and sisters of the Kennedy’s large family have died for various reasons.

Mike Tyson’s four year old daughter, Exodus, strangled by a power cord in 2009.

Eric Clapton’s four year old son, Connor, fell out of a window in 1991.

O.J. Simpson’s one year old daughter, Aaren, drowned in the family pool in 1979.

Mark Twain lost his son, Langdon, to diphtheria at age 19 months.

Abraham Lincoln had four sons, three of which did not survive to adulthood.

Senator John and Elizabeth’s Edwards’ 17 year old son, Wade, died in a car accident.

Singer Prince and his then wife, actress Mayle, lost their week old son to a rare genetic disorder in 1996.

Audrey Hepburn had a stillborn child.

Yoko Ono had a stillborn son in 1968.

Oprah Winfrey had a son in 1968 who only lived two weeks.

Rick Schroeder and wife had a child that was stillborn in 2004.

Keanu Reeves and then girlfriend had a daughter, Ava, who was stillborn in 1999.

Luciano Povarotti and his wife had twins in 2003. Their daughter survived but their son was stillborn.

Vice-president Joe Biden’s one year old daughter, Amy, died in a car accident, along with his wife in 1972.

Barbara Eden of “ I Dream of Jeannie” had a stillborn child in 1971.

John Travolta and Kelly Preston lost their 16 year old son, Jett, in 2009.

Anthony Quinn’s first child, Christopher, downed in a neighbor’s swimming pool at age 2. (The neighbor was W.C. Fields.)

George and Barbara Bush lost their two year old daughter, Robin, to Leukemia in 1953.

Red Skelton’s 10 year old son, Richard, died from Leukemia in 1958.

Jerry Lee Lewis’s 3-year-old son, Steve, drowned in 1962. (He also lost his 19 year old son in a car accident in 1973.)

John Walsh’s 6-year-old son, Adam, was kidnapped and murdered in 1961. Walsh went on to do the TV show “America’s Most Wanted.”

Charlie Chaplin’s son, Norman, died when he was 3 days old in 1919.

Rolling Stones singer Mick Jagger and then girlfriend had a stillborn daughter, Corrina, in 1968.

Writer Anne Rice’s daughter, Michele, died from leukemia in 1972 at age 5.

Bill Cosby’s son was murdered a few years ago when changing a tire on a freeway access road in Los Angeles.

A few others are Mary Tyler Moore’s son, Marie Osmond’s son and Gandi’s son.

This list only scratches the surface. You are not alone in your loss. Child loss touches most people in one way or another. It may be you, a family member, a friend or just someone you feel empathy for. Reach out to those you know. And to the others, you can empathize, knowing just how they are feeling because you, too, have been on a grief journey.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Finding Support

Everyone needs support when on a grief journey. Below are some ideas where support can be found during your grief journey.

1. Your child's friends. I know how pleased I was when my daughter's friends would call or send notes telling me how much Marcy meant to them. I, in turn, promoted that support. I wanted them to talk about her, tell me stories that perhaps I didn't know and laugh and cry with me. We all want to learn as much about our child as possible, so that we have good memories to store in our hearts. I know one lady who invites her son's friends to her home on his birthday and in addition to having birthday cake, they write messages to her son, put them inside balloons and release the balloons from her backyard. This is a really nice tradition and she is fortunate that her son had such nice friends and they continue to make it a tradition each year.

2. Reach out to your friends and say, "I need (fill in) from you. Can you help me out?" They will probably be more than happy to do whatever you need. They, too, feel helpless as to what they can do to help, so don't be afraid to tell them directly.

3. Get support from your family. Most family members will understand your every emotion during this time and want to reach out to you. Sometimes you run across a family member who can't deal with your loss and backs off from any kind of help. In most cases, they are afraid because they don't know what to say or do. Try talking to them so they understand your needs and you, in turn, can understand their fears.

4. If you can't get support from your family, try counseling. Most bereaved parents will tell you that the best counselors are those who have been through a loss themselves. Counselors can tell you rote advise that comes from books, but those who can identify with what you are feeling can be the most help. Other counselors will also try to help; it is up to you to determine how helpful they are for your needs.

5. Online support also can be very helpful. Besides the national organizations such as Compassionate Friends, Bereaved Parents USA and Alive Alone, there are specific bereavement support groups you can look up such as cancer groups, suicide groups, parents of murdered children, MADD and many others. Even Facebook has grief groups you can look into. Other web site bereavement support are groups like Angel Moms, MISS, Miscarriage Support,, and The Cope Foundation. Whatever your need, you can find it online. The web has put grievers in touch with all types of individuals who can help you through the pain.

6. Starting your own support group where you live. Not every town or city has a support group for bereaved parents, but what is to stop you from starting one. Start by contacting the local newspaper and see if they will do a story about your first and subsequent meetings. Place flyers in hospitals, funeral homes and religious institutions to start. Call local hospice groups and contact national organziations for names in your area. Ask a church if you can hold a meeting there and go from there.

7. Music is its own support. Find a room in your home and a relaxing chair where you can reflect on your loss by yourself, a room of peace and serenity. Choose soft music that you or your child liked. Relax, close your eyes and remember your child. The music will calm your soul and allow you to remember the good memories to support you through the rough times.

8. Build a children's memorial in your city called the Angel of Hope if there is none. This Angel of Hope was created to serve as beacons of hope for those suffering from the emotional and physical absence of a child. Parents can leave flowers and notes. Candlelighting ceremonies are held once a year. There are many cities across the U.S. that have these memorial angel sculptures in a specific location such as a park or a memorial garden in a cemetery. If your town does not have one, you can be part of seeing that one gets built so you and others can have somewhere to go for comfort.

Trust the journey you are on. It will get better with time. You will never heal completely, but with support from many sources, your journey will be easier.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Grief Has Changed Me

Grief is defined as “intense mourning.” I think of grief as a lifetime journey. Your child is gone; there is nothing you can do to bring him/her back. So, for the rest of your life, you grieve for that child; you grieve the fact that you’ll never see them again, never share a moment together again or be able to hug them close. The pain at first is indescribable and unbearable. With time, love, patience from others, and perhaps counseling and therapy, the pain will ease but it will never go away. Don’t expect it to. Your heart has been ripped in two and a part of it torn from you, never to be normal again. Even when you find your new normal, the grief will be buried deep down, not visible for all to see. You alone will know it is there. You will always miss your child, love them and mourn for what might have been.

Grief has changed me:

…It has made me more conscious and empathetic of others and their problems.

…It has empowered me to do things that before my daughter’s death I wouldn’t even consider doing

…It has taught me to stand up for what I believe in and help others do the same.

…It has forced me to change my goals in life.

…It has shown me not to be afraid of crying when appropriate because I know grief is my constant companion.

…It has given me new priorities in life.

…It has made me brutally honest with everyone and everything that I now see from a different point of view.

…It has made me acknowledge that everything that happens in this world has a reason. We may not know what that reason is immediately, but eventually we will find out.

…It has striped me of everything I was before my daughter’s death and led me to a new phase of my life.

Perhaps grief is the price you pay for loving someone with every fiber of your being.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

Having One More Day

What if you had a chance to spend a day with your departed child. What would you do? Would you relive a wonderful event in their life or in your life? Or would you prefer to do something you never got to do with them? Think about it and if you feel like sharing, I’d like to hear some of your stories also. Here is mine.

My daughter didn’t live long enough to have a child of her own. I’d like her to have had that child and let the three of us spend just one day together.

The child would be 3 years old, old enough to walk and talk and cute as a button in her pants and top. Marcy was not a “dress” person. She was always more comfortable in pants, top and a ponytail hairdo. And her daughter would be dressed in the same fashion. Like mother, like daughter.

The three of us would go to the zoo together. Marcy used to love going to the zoo with her father, so I’m sure her daughter would also love to go, but this time I would join them. We would hold hands and skip along the path until we came to the first cage. My grandchild’s eyes would light up and her mouth would open wide when the tiger lifted his sleepy head to yawn. Just like you, I would tell my daughter and she would smile and shake her head, remembering how much she liked the scary animals also.

And so it would go like that until lunch time, laughing, running, skipping, delighting in the animals and the surroundings. We would all have hot dogs, fries and a coke and hit the trail again, trying to find the scariest animals in the zoo.

It would be so wonderful to share a happy, carefree day like this, just the three of us in our own world. Marcy and I would look at each other and wordlessly understand the love the three of us shared. A lovely dream of what might have been...

Sunday, August 19, 2012

POMC National Conference

This past week I spoke again at a workshop, this time to over 350 who attended the Parents of Murdered Children National Conference held in Phoenix, AZ. POMC spreads hope and healing to thousands who have lost a child to violence and whose lives are forever changed. It is a group no one wants to belong to and, as the chairperson said, “we wouldn’t wish it on anyone.” In that respect, it is the same as The Compassionate Friends yearly conferences.

“You don’t chose to be in this group,” says Mark LeGault, whose 19-year-old daughter Dolores was brutally murdered by her ex-boyfriend in 2006. “We’re in this group because our child was murdered.”

He continued by saying, “People who have not lost a child to homicide like we have don’t know what we are going through. This group brings people together. It gives them a safe place.”

For three decades POMC has helped this one specific group of bereaved parents, whether the child was an only child or one of many in the family. It’s the third time they have come to the Valley for their conference and the second time I’ve spoken at it.

Those who come to this 3-day conference find information on a variety of topics dealing with the criminal justice system. They hear about cold cases from police officers, what prison life is like for these criminals, what parents go through dealing with the courts, healthy coping skills, connecting with your loved ones, journaling your grief, domestic violence, victims rights, parole hearings, childless issues and support circles where participants can share their stories and have a shoulder to cry on. They leave the conference having found strength and support.

Besides workshops, keynote speakers included Robert Martin, a former police detective; Dr. Joanne cacciatore, who counsels those affected by traumatic losses; chief Daniel Garcia, Phoenix Police Chief; Bill Montgomery, Maricopa County Attorney and Judge Ronald Reinstein.

Along with a silent auction, bear raffle, comfort room and children’s healing hurt sessions, participants received a lot of valuable information to use in their grief journey. In addition K9 Crisis Response Dogs were present. These dogs travel the nation and provide a caring presence during times of pain and hurt. They claim that with a dog at your side, you can get through anything life throws your way. The kids at the conference especially liked the dogs.

The workshop I did was “For Those Left Childless.” I must say, it was one of the best workshops I’ve given because of the participation and lots of good ideas tossed around from those who attended. We discussed: What is the most difficult situation you have dealt with since your only child died? This led us to talking about: Are we still a mother? How do you answer the question: how many children do you have? Gone are the happy occasions. What affect does losing your only child have on your marriage? If single and alone, what now? Who will take care of me when I’m older? Are you losing friends who don’t want to be around you anymore? Are you grieving differently that your spouse and the importance of making a new will or trust.

For more information on POMC and a chapter in your area, contact: or 1-888-818-7662.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

Pursuing Ways To Help Others

One bereaved mother I spoke to at the Compassionate Friends conference recently spoke about how she actively pursues ways to help other bereaved parents in her hometown. What she said made a lot of sense, and I’d like to pass along her suggestions to you.

First of all, she uses the newspaper a lot. She reads the obituaries and when she finds a child who died, she sits down and writes letters to those parents, telling them how sorry she is and explaining that there is hope after their loss to move on with their lives. She may even make some suggestions, depending on how much she finds out about the child. If she can’t find the person’s address, she can usually get their email and contact them that way.

With a special grief calendar in hand, she writes down the anniversary of every child she knows who has died and on that day contacts the parents by either calling or sending a thinking of you card. Parents don’t want anyone to forget their child and this soft reminder that someone out there cares is very comforting.

She even goes out of her way to visit the bereaved, bringing a cake, candy or flowers on the anniversary of the child’s death. She said she finds that bringing a rose bush to plant so that the parents can watch the roses grow gives them hope for their future also.

Parents are always saying that others don’t understand what we are going through and it is important to teach them how to act and react to our grief so as to be helpful, not hurtful in comments and actions. In her community she even started a group for bereaved parents to show them that, indeed, we are different people than we were when our child was alive. She encourages others to find new goals in their lives. What was once important may no longer have any meaning to us. Some days may be overwhelming and we may cry in front of others. The best thing others can do, and we can encourage them to do so, is to give us a hug and know that one day we will be whole again. These are some of the ideas she talks about in her grief group.

By doing these things to help others, she believes she is also helping herself, for who can best understand how a bereaved parent feels more than another bereaved parent. Perhaps some of these ideas will work for you too.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

The Birdhouse Project

One of the most interesting workshops I attended at the International Compassionate Friends conference was called The Birdhouse Project. It is a step-by-step symbolic project to help us identify and find our way back to life after a loss.

Each of us in the workshop was given a cardboard birdhouse to put together consisting of seven pieces. On each piece on the side which would eventually face the inside of the birdhouse when we were done, we were asked various questions about our lives.

On the first piece of the birdhouse we needed to recognize the forces, beliefs or people that create a strong enough foundation for us to move forward. Sometimes deciding what doesn’t belong in our lives is just as important. The question we answered was “Who am I?” We wrote our answers on this cardboard.

As the audience listening put the pieces together symbolically with the cardboard, the speaker used actual wood and nailed the sides of his together until it was completed.

The second piece we were to answer, “What questions or emotions are we still struggling with?” By identifying what feelings are keeping us down, we can start to move beyond them. The question: What do I feel now?

The third piece is to identify things we wish we would have done differently: things we should have said or opportunities we wish we would have seized. The question to write answers to: “How am I physically reacting to emotions I feel?

Fourth, our affirmation is the first thing we see as we enter this new life we are creating. An affirmation is a positive quote, thought or phrase that motivates us, and it is the one lesson we need to be reminded of every day. The topic that went on this portion of the birdhouse: “I can…” This gives us something positive on which to focus.

Fifth, is our goals, our measureable steps we take to feel good about your affirmation. It outlines the actions you will take in order to get where you want to be. Symbolically, these are the last things you see before you step out of your safe space (the birdhouse) and fly out into the larger world. Try for three measurable goals. The question that is answer on this piece of the birdhouse is “How can I accomplish what I affirm?”

Now our birdhouse has a foundation and four walls. The shelter, the roof of the birdhouse is the largest piece. On this piece is expressed the people, obligations and feelings we vow to keep safe. After rebuilding our life, we are going to want others to come and see the new us; this shelter piece represents our promise that we are dedicated to keeping it together, even when the weather gets a little rough.

Now all the pieces should be together with all the writings facing in. When this is done, attach the perch. Give others a place to stand and an open invitation to come and see the safe space you have created, and let them decide if they trust it enough to stay for a while. It takes time for others to understand what we’ve been through, so give them a place to sit while they think about it.

By seeing how these pieces represent the pieces of our lives, we can express our weaknesses, strengths and desires as we symbolically rebuild our lives so we are ready to host new life. This building process encourages us to spend time exploring our emotions and putting each in its proper place. Whether we share our feelings or keep them to ourselves, the important thing is that we are putting the pieces back together in a meaningful, constructive way.

You may want to revisit your affirmation and goals from time to time and (just like life) you may need to clean the birdhouse out every few seasons to make sure you are keeping things fresh. This is how you start over: step-by-step, studying each piece of your experience in the hopes of understanding what will make you whole again – or maybe whole for the first time.

I hope we all give our lives some thought and meaning and build our birdhouses to express our struggles, strengths and dreams. It is never too late to pick up the pieces of our lives and put them back together.

Note: Sorry this wasn't published this past Sunday as all my blogs are done on Sundays, but I didn't realize that I had put in the wrong date for this blog.

Sunday, July 29, 2012

TCF's International Bereavement Conference

I just returned from the International Conference of Compassionate Friends in Costa Mesa, July 19-22, where I gave two workshops and a sharing session. Each year I find the conference just as good as the previous year. There are always new workshops and presenters and the keynote speakers have much to say to all of us. Approximately 1,500 bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings attended from not only the U.S. but also from the following countries: England, Scotland, Germany, Australia, South Africa, Canada, Mexico and a few others.

For those of you who couldn’t attend, let me summarize some of the highlights for you. Perhaps you will be able to attend next year in Boston, July 5-7.

Besides over 100 workshops to choose from, Centering Corp had hundreds of different books for people to buy both for themselves and their individual chapters across the U.S. A silent auction, raffle, butterfly boutique (with a variety of gifts and conference mementos), a reflection room of peace and serenity where you can go to relax and reflect, an outdoor barbeque buffet, a yoga session and remembrance love boards with pictures of children who were remembered during the weekend added much to the conference.

The Walk to Remember, held on the last morning, gathers almost everyone together and they walk together for a mile as a symbolic way to celebrate and honor the lives of thousands of children who have died but will always be remembered.

Keynote speakers included: Lois Duncan, whose daughter was murdered. She was chased down in her car and shot to death. It remains an unsolved case to this day. Duncan wrote “Who Killed My Daughter?” along with over 50 suspense novels, many of which were made into movies; Kathy Eldon, whose photographer son was killed while trying to help the starving men, women and children in Somalia; Michelle Lynn-Gust, whose youngest sister committed suicide and she has written many books on suicide grief; and Darcie Sims, bereaved parent, internationally recognized speaker, a grief management specialist and nationally certified thanatologist and licensed psychotherapist, with many books under her wing including “Why are the Casseroles Always Tuna?”

Workshop sessions included: Poetry-Language of the Heart; Not Using Food, Alcohol or Drugs Through the Grieving Process; Bears, Quilts and Projects in memory of our children; Do Women and Men Really Grieve Differently?; Loss of a Child Under 10; Lessons from the Knitting Circle (with author Ann Hood); Death of a Teenage Child; Who Am I Now?; Making Peace With suicide, Taking Care of Your Health While Grieving; Men Only Panel, Writing Towards Healing and Forgiving. Many, many other topics were also included. My two sessions were Dealing With Difficult Situations as a Bereaved Parent and Hope for Parents with No surviving Children Panel. I also did a Now Childless Sharing Session.

At the last banquet we light candles and say the name of our child, who we will never forget. After each conference I go to, I always wish more people could attend because I know they will get so much out of it by being with people who share what no one else in the world can truly understand unless they, too, have gone through it.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

A Remembrance...

You always think your story of your child's death is the worst...until you read about the next child or children who died for whatever reason, whatever age. You hear about them through the internet, through the TV and through books. Whether it is an accident, an illness or some other cause of death, there is always a story, unparalleled in its riveting emotions. One story recently on the news shocked me. Only when I read the family name in the newspaper did I realize it was my personal friend's family. I was shocked and saddened to learn the details, none of which are important to this blog. What is important is that any loss in a family, no matter who, how many or under what circumstances is devastating. I dedicate my column today to my friend and her husband and hope that words of comfort from other friends and relatives will aid in the healing process.

I did not know the son of my friend nor his family. I only know my friend and her husband. Her loss is a powerful statement never to take for granted one minute, one hour, one day or one year of our loved ones lives. Her grief journey will be a lifetime one; there is no question about that, but I hope, as time passes, she will begin to remember the happy memories of a much loved family.

The community this family lived in reached out with love, kindness, prayers and a show of support when more than 500 people attended a service of grief for the family. "It was a true community effort and outpouring of grief and assisting each other at the same time," said one friend. It was stressed this was not a funeral...that the shock of the loss was too great to yet be accepted by those gathered. Tearful hugs and moistened eyes of the mourners made the surreal very real. Many lingered to talk among themselves.

Each person was told at the end of the grief service, "And now it is time to go home and hug our children or our parents or someone we care about and/or call someone and tell someone you love them." It becomes a powerful statement for all of us to never take for granted anyone we care deeply about.

I want my friend and her husband to know that as gut wrenching as it is now and may be for a long time, you will survive this. You will eventually move on with your life. You will never forget your beloved family members. They will always be in your hearts and in your lives. I hope you will find a way to commemorate their lives that will give you some peace, dear friends, and remember that you are surrounded by people who love and care about you.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

Mourning Extended to the Web

In this modern age of computers, video cameras, blogging, Facebook and various web sites, there are many ways for bereaved parents to share their sorrow over the loss of a child. Mourning has extended to the web.

Many parents have started web sites dedicated to their child with photos, stories and whatever they want to include that will help not only the parents find comfort but also for friends and families to honor and remember the child. Some sites allow mourners to post messages on the profile page of the deceased or speak directly to the departed, leaving sentiments such as “I will love you forever.” There are also web sites that will send reminders of upcoming death anniversaries.

I have personally gone to various sites, and lit virtual candles on memorial websites for my daughter and others, uploaded a video of my book to You Tube so parents can see what it is about and whether it would be of help to them, write a weekly blog and write remarks on funeral websites about loved ones who have died. Many are delighted and moved to have people respond on the web to show how much they care.

When my daughter died, the funeral service was recorded on audio tape, given to me by the friend who did it, and I have kept it all these years. I would never have thought of doing that myself so many years ago. The web was not part of my life at that time.

The new mourning rituals come as society increasingly embraces all things digital. Almost half of Americans own smartphones, one in five own a tablet and eight out of 10 people are on the internet, with easy access to social media sites.

Facebook is now being used as a place to express grief and the site, working with parents, honors a family’s request to keep the site active or to deactivate the account, removing the profile and all associated information. Even funeral homes are slowly getting into digital services such as live-streaming of a funeral and keeping a digital guest book permanently active as well as a digital candle lit.

In my book I list one of many sites for those who want to create memorials that celebrate the life and personality of a deceased child. The site is called Virtual and also provides a place where these cherished images and biographies will have a permanent home.

Not everyone likes the new digital innovations, but as we continue to inhance our lives with this new technology, those not willing to accept this will become fewer and fewer and eventually discover they will have to comply to keep up with our new world.

We have always memorialized those we have loved and lost. I believe the web is meeting the need of people to do this in a new way. Your loved one will not be forgotten in this new technological age. But while technology can bring people together, I urge the bereaved to also have person to person interaction and connections and not become completely dependent on the internet as your only way of communicating with others.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

Simple Joys of Life

To all of you who responded to my last post about my new grandson through the blog and by email: I can't tell you how much it means to me to hear from those who have also had the joy of having grandchildren, even though you may have lost your precious child.

And although he is not part of me through blood, I have discovered these first few months of his life that it doesn't matter whose blood he has. He is absolutely part of me. Why? Because I love him so, and I know he feels loved by all of us.

He watches us talk to him; he watches us make him smile and laughs out loud. In private moments with him, he imitates blowing bubbles right after I do it, and his tiny legs kick out right after he blows them to emphasize the power of his lungs. He is intent on watching my mouth and if I stick out my tongue and wiggle it, he does the same. He continues to watch to see what my next step will be.

When I am on diaper change patrol, he starts the bubbles blowing and waits patiently to see if I'll respond. I am the only one he does that with. I smile, knowing it is a special bond we have that he doesn't share with anyone else.

He is a happy baby and he has made us happy grandparents. His mom adores him and tells him at least 20 times a day how much she loves him. I'm sure it will be one of the first words he learns: love.

During the day he makes intense talking sounds almost as though giving a speech. I want to believe he is telling us how happy he is to be here on earth with all of us. They are frustrating sounds and shouts; they are never cries. He wants to be able to talk; he obviously can't get words out yet, but oh, is he talking! And so determined. I can tell he'll be a very chatty little boy. I'm pretty sure he will far surpass the chatty girls at his age.

He grabs my index finger and holds tight. I don't want to let go and neither does he. I can tell he will have a strong grip on everything, literally and figuratively. He will know what he wants in life and will go after it.

I hope those of you who are lucky enough to have grandchildren, appreciate them and have found the simple joys that a grandchild can bring to your life now and forever.

Sunday, July 1, 2012

Our New Joy

Just a year ago I wrote what it felt like to never become a grandmother if your only child dies. My stepdaughter has changed all that by having a beautiful baby boy recently and bringing us such joy. I dedicate this poem I wrote to my daughter, my stepdaughter, my husband and my new grandson.

My Chld…

Although you are not longer here,
I see your face and hear your words
In whatever I am doing that day
In whatever song I listen to
In whatever decisions I make

When something funny happens
I can hear you laugh
When something sad happens
I can hear you cry

It has been 18 years
And it seems like just yesterday
When I got the phone call
That changed my life forever

No, I screamed, it can’t be
Not my beautiful daughter
My only child
The love of my life...

I am amazed at where I am today
I am happily married
My step-daughter has given us
A grandson to love and cherish
He is so very cute
And although he is not your child, Marcy,
My heart is full of love, of wonder
And of hope that this child will bring
Many years of happiness for myself,
My step-daughter and my husband

My step-daughter has honored me and you
With the middle name of her child
She has named him after you, just dropping the ‘y’
I’m sure you are pleased too

You will not be forgotten
By me, by my husband, by my step-daughter
Or by my new grandson
She will show him pictures of you
Explaining where his middle name comes from
Hopefully continuing a tradition
That will last a lifetime

And the circle of life will continue…

Sunday, June 24, 2012

Jarret's Journey

I recently heard from Tammy Slater, a mother who wanted to share both the fact that she read and enjoyed my book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” along with the information that her son, Jarret, had been murdered three days after his high school graduation. In great detail she told me her story in an email. I have summarized some of the story but left most of the factual information as it was written to me.

Jarret Austin Clark, an only child, was raised by his mother and stepfather. He was active in Boy Scouts, football, baseball, basketball, soccer, skiing and weightlifting. He even enjoyed spending time with his grandparents shooting turtles and snakes at their pond.

“Jarret had a way of capturing your heart with his sense of humor, his personality and his charisma. He could always make his family and friends laugh and everything thought him fun to be around.”

His plan after graduating was to join the Army. But three days after he graduated on May 11, 2006, he was murdered.

“May 14 was Mother’s Day, and we were all going to my parents home for lunch. He had spent the previous night at Wahoo Bay camp site at Ft. Gibson Lake with four other friends. But he never came home that day”.

Authorities believe Jarret flirted with one of the girls and a fight broke out. It is thought that Jarret was knocked out and the group thought they had killed him, when in reality he was just unconscious. They panicked and tossed his body in the lake. The medical examiner ruled cause of death drowning. Jarret was alive when they put his body in the lake.

A massive search began for him and continued for five days. Jarret’s body was recovered from the lake on May 18.

“Those five days of searching were a journey all in itself. You see this type of news on TV and it happens to other families, not your own. Some things I remember very vividly, some things not at all. What I do know is that I couldn’t have made it through those days of searching without the support of my family, friends, co-workers and many volunteers.”

“We went through a grand jury process in December 2008 in Wagoner County. Dealing with the judicial system and the hoops you have to jump through can be very tiring, both physically and emotionally. Strangers volunteered to help gather signatures in order to even have the grand jury. The verdict was no indictment due to lack of evidence. However, as a parent, I felt it was a process well worth our time and effort. It was something we had to do for Jarret.

“Jarret’s murder is a huge challenge to deal with, knowing who took Jarret’s life and knowing they are not being held accountable. I have mixed emotions. I’m angry at those responsible for his death, the justice system, how Jarret’s case was handled and how politics played a part. I’m hurt and heart-broken because my son doesn’t get to continue with his life and live out his dreams while the one’s responsible do.

Over 400 students attended the funeral. “That meant a lot to me. It tells me Jarret touched a lot of lives.”

How did Tammy endure, survive, move on with her life and what she is doing to this day to keep his story alive. Read the conclusion of her story below in last week's column. (Sorry, they were published in reverse order.)

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Continuation of Jarret's story

Continuation of Tammy Slater’s story from last Sunday…

“Some days are harder than others. Some days I feel I have a grip on this new journey while other days I wonder if I’ll ever come to terms with it. I continue to take each day as it comes. It’s been almost six years and still, at some point during the day, I find myself crying. Whatever triggers the tears, I’ve learned it’s okay to cry anywhere, anytime. I do try to take myself to that ‘happy place’ of memories.”

“I try to find ways and do things that help me get through each day. I went crazy with his photos. I scanned hundreds and framed them all. I even framed some of his handwritten school papers and his workout routines. I write to Jarret and I write poems to and about Jarret. I talk to him all the time.”

In 2011, Tammy helped coordinate the National Day of Remembrance for Murder Victims held in Muskogee with over 100 people attending. Families came together and released balloons in their child’s memory. The parents also hung a Christmas ornament at “The Trees of Honor and Remembrance for Victims of Violent Crime” in their town. Trees have been planted in his honor. A picnic bench with his name recessed in the table top, and flowers planted at a park in honor of murder victims were some other things done. She says it makes her feel like a part of Jarret does live on and it also plays a huge part in her healing process.

“We attend Compassionate Friends meetings. I find comfort in their newsletters reading poems and stories that others share. It reminds me that I’m not alone on this journey. TCF plays a huge part in my healing process. I also have a support group where I work, where several moms know what it’s like to bury a child. We’re there for each other and I can truly relate.”

“We also decorate Jarret’s grave for lots of occasions: July 4, Valentines, his birthday, Thanksgiving and Christmas. I make floral arrangements to represent his Bronco team during football season and his basketball team during March Madness.”

“I was told how hard the ‘first’ everything would be and they were right: the first Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, his birthday and other holidays. Fortunately, I have 18 years of great memories to help me get through the difficult times.”

“I prefer to be out of town during holidays, so if we go anywhere we always take key chains with his DOB and Death date along with his website on them. We leave them in places like hanging from tree branches and park benches. Some things are buried in the sand in Maui and since he wanted to go to Las Vegas for his 21st birthday, we did it without him. If in town we take some of his friends out for lunch to celebrate his birthday. Or if it’s Mother’s Day, we go to his favorite place to eat.”

The thought of growing older without Jarret and no grandkids around saddens her. She always thought she would get to watch him marry and have his own family, take family vacations together and always be there for his parents as they grew older.

“The dreaded question, “Do you have children?” seems to come up as we meet new people. I can’t and won’t say, “No, I don’t have any.” It’s not fair to Jarret. I try to keep in mind they don’t know what happened to my son and look at it as an opportunity to tell them about Jarret and what a great son he was.”

“I believe in my heart that Jarret is in a happy place, knowing no pain, no sorrow and no worries. And I believe he’s watching over me. Thinking of how Jarret lived his life makes me want to try and continue to enjoy life to the fullest.”

“I need to talk about Jarret and visit the cemetery. I need to be surrounded by photos of Jarret and see his things. I even wear a ring his gave me when he was in 5th grade that cam out of a quarter machine. It means the world to me.”

“Everyone has to find what works for them to get through the day. But we all share the same bond; we all miss our children. It doesn’t matter how they died or how long it’s been. We share the same pain and the same sadness. But, I do believe we also share that same assurance of knowing we’ll see them again.”

Two grand juries failed to indict anyone, but Jarret’s parents are keeping his story alive with all that they do. They will never let it become a cold case.

Editor’s note: if you have a story about your child you’d like to share, send them to my email address.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This and That


Go to web site and you’ll see Kelly Farley’s new book he is launching to help all dads, Grieving Dads: To the Brink and Back. He knows that this holiday coming up, Father’s Day, is very hard for dads who have lost children. He has done much research on this topic going around the country interviewing these dads in all walks of life and getting their feelings and perspective on this topic of losing your child.

When he went to Buffalo, N.Y. one weekend to interview five dads for his book, he had the pleasure of having Fathers Day breakfast with a dad who lost his son in an ATV accident while on vacation. Sitting there with him in the sunshine on his deck telling stories of his experience, stories he said he had never told before, was a powerful experience and captures the reason why he wrote this book.

“I wrote this book to provide insight to grieving dads and the people in their lives as well as to let other grieving dads know they are not alone. There are tens of thousands of us out there that are struggling to tell our stories.”

The website has many stories, blogs and even asks for support to promote the book to those who really need it. On a personal note: to all dads, a very happy Father’s Day.


Chris and Carole Jackson from Florida started a Facebook project called the Colton Name Project in memory of their son, Colton. According to the Jacksons, people have been sending pictures from all over the country and the world with his name spelled out with objects, simply on paper but in front of special locations or monuments and even with some famous people holding up his name. “It has been such a special blessing for us,” they said. “It gives us a reason to get up in the morning.

The Jackson’s are also in the process of starting a foundation in his memory to help local children somehow. It’s still in the works and all they know so far is the name—Colton’s Heart. Colton was an organ donor and a young man received his heart. They are hoping to one day meet this young man and the other three recipients of his organs.


If you have a disabled child in a wheelchair, you may find the blog: an interesting read. Unfortunately, because of copyright laws that the mom has attached to her blog about her son who lived for 20 years, I can not tell you much about him. Suffice to say that this mom has poured out her heart about her son, who had a lot of physical ailments, a lot of operations, but chose to live in spite of all his challenges, smiling courageously through everything he was dealt. I find it hard to believe that these special children can deal with everything thrown at them and come out of it all shining. It warms my heart as I’m sure it will yours.


If you have young children at home who have lost a sibling, you may find that if they are preschool, they will probably not understand that death is final. They will think that they will see that person again. They may also falsely think it was their fault that the person died. Parents need to reassure the child that is not the case. As they grow and go to school, the child will gain a more mature understanding of death and begin to realize that death is final and people do not come back to life. They could also have scary beliefs about death, like believing in the “boogey man” who comes for the person. They will probably ask a lot of questions and may reject old friends and seek those who have experienced a similar loss. As a teen, they have a full adult understanding of death even though they may withdraw, become sad or lose interest in activities and hide their true feelings. Parents should try to be patient and understand all these feelings.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Commonalities Between Bereaved Parents

Commonalities exist between all bereaved parents. As I did research for my books, I found these five to stand out among many. They are:

1. Parents want to leave memorials of some type to honor their child
2. They choose to find a cause, a reason to move on with their lives.
3. They believe everyone grieves differently and at different rates, and that as painful as it is, it is important to go through this process to come to terms with the reality of their loss.
4. They know they will have setbacks or rushes of emotions that will be overwhelming when they least expect it, but that doesn’t mean they will not heal.
5. They believe they are different people now than they were when their child lived with different goals, different priorities, different friends and a new life, with a new richness to it that focuses on what our children left us, the gift of having them.

1. LEAVING MEMORIALS- What better way to remember and honor your child and allow others to do the same. There are so many things you can do from starting a scholarship, buying memorial bricks on certain new buildings, donating to your church or synagogue a piece of art in their memory, to collecting money to build a building in their honor, speaking to schools and organizations and doing your own quiet memorial at home or cemetery. Whatever you choose, know that your child would be proud of you working through your grief.

2. FINDING A CAUSE- Many parents become active and/or get on boards of various grief organizations such as Compassionate Friends or Bereaved Parents USA on a national or local level. Or they might try to change laws that would have saved their child’s life. Don’t think you have to do this immediately following the death of your child. Having a cause or new purpose in life can be very rewarding and you will know when it will be right for you.

3. EVERYONE GRIEVES DIFFERENTLY- Many parents are relieved to find out that they are not going crazy or that their spouse grieves completely opposite of them. It is perfectly normal to grieve differently and at different rates, and each should give the other space to do so. It is very important to communicate during this period in your life, so that your marriage does not suffer. Talk about your child. Remember the good times. Talk about your fears, your hopes for your new future and how you can accomplish all this together during your darkest hours.

4. SETBACKS- We may have setbacks for many years to come, particularly when our child’s name is mentioned, hear a song they used to like or go to an event they used to participate in. Don’t look at this as though you will never heal. This is very normal. Don’t listen to those who say, “When will she ever get over this?” They don’t understand and never will. New friends say to me, “I could never live through the death of my child.” What choice do we have. This has happened and we can’t change it. But we can learn a great deal from adjusting to the situation. I don’t like it. I want my child here with me, but I know that will never happen, so we move on, keeping our child in our hearts forever.

5. DIFFERENT PEOPLE NOW WITH DIFFERENT GOALS- Because of the death of our child, our life changes, our priorities change and what was once important to us may no longer have any meaning. Our friends change and so does our address book. I can not believe how some good friends did not want to have anything to do with me after my daughter died. New friends came out of the woodwork and are still friends today, 18 years later. I realize some did not know what to say to me or how to react, but if they had told me that, I would have worked at making them comfortable around me. Instead, they faded into the background. My new friends talk about my daughter and allow me to do the same. The following saying comforts me: a friend is one who knows you as you are, understands where you’ve been, accepts who you’ve become, and still gently invites you to grow.

I invite you to grow, to learn to love life again and to work your way through your never-ending grief journey.

Editor’s note: this is an abstract of a much longer and more in-depth article in my recent book “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child.”