Sunday, March 25, 2012

Creating Good Out of Tragedy

What do you do with your child's possessions when he/she suddenly dies? No parent likes to think of this possibility, but it happens and usually with no warning.

Eleven year old Nima Gibba left home for school in January of 2009 and never returned. She was a victim in a deadly car accident when a drunk driver ran a red light. Nima's step-mother found going into Nima's room therapeutic--a reminder of the girl she helped raise and the joy she brought. The father found the room to be a source of grief--a constant and painful reminder of Nima's untimely death.

Nima, a sixth-grader, was a positive, generous soul and committed to helping others. The family had planned a trip to the father's home country, Gambia, which the couple now decided to visit as a way of resolving their different ways of coping and brought Nima's toys, clothes, books and other personal effects to give to children in need in that poor country. It became a powerful coping mechanism for them. Three years later, the couple started Nima's Wish Foundation. This new agency seels to aid the Gambian people in many ways, from education and health to improved agriculture and transportation systems. For Nima's parents, it provided an outlet to do something that others cannot--create good out of tragedy.

One of the projects will alleviate some of the work of gathering drinking water by providing solar-run water pumps and storage tanks. Another will provide Gambian women in rural areas, who often walk at least 12 miles a day to gather wood for cooking, with more efficient wood-oburning stoves. They hope this spring to host a large benefit concert for the new foundation.

Nima's parents realize she had a lot of potential to bring people together by doing positive things. They, too, hope to do the same through their foundation.

I know this feeling for when I started a foundation in my daughter's name to help students in college afford to continue their education when all looked hopeless, it was a great feeling. So far two extremely intelligent women who seem like real go-getters have profitted from Marcy's funds. I hope in the future the foundation will help many others. Marcy was able to bring people together; her friends still tell me to this day, almost 18 years later. She had a gift of never wanting others to be the underdogs; she knew what that was like early in life and was determined to overcome any adversity. And she did. It is so sad she never fulfilled her dreams, but I hope to help her accomplish that as Nima's parents hope to help the people of Gambia.

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Sunday, March 18, 2012

Grief Has No Borders

When I was in Brussels, Belgium, recently, I found a reference to Compassionate Friends and a couple's phone number in a magazine called The Bulletin. I called the number referenced and spoke to a lovely British lady who has lived in Brussels with her husband for the past 40 years. She informed me that Brussels at one time did have a Compassionate Friends chapter but no longer. She does still refer those who need help to a chapter as close as possible and answers any questions they may have.

As we spoke I told her that I am very active at the national level of the U.S. Compassionate Friends and speak each year at their national conferences. We chatted for a few more minutes and she invited my husband and I over for a dinner, which I thought was very nice of her. Our first attempt at getting together failed due to a snow storm causing transportation problems, but our second attempt a few nights later worked. They live a few miles from where we were staying, met us at the metro station and drove us to their home.

It was a lovely condominium in an upscale neighborhood where the residents spoke mostly English. They served us a smoked salmon appetizer on bread with drinks, and for dinner we had a fish pie with Haddock and Salmon on a bed of thinly sliced potatoes and cheese. A salad and vegetables with a fresh fruit dessert accompanied the meal. It was all very delicious.

The rooms in their home were large with modern furniture, wooden floors and family pictures all around, both of their son and his two boys and their daughter who died of cancer 23 years ago. They said that it was only when they found the Compassionate Friends support group which used to be active in Brussels, that they knew they would survive the death of their daughter. Since then, they have been the Compassionate Friends representative in Belgium and meet many people who have lost children. They talk to them, at times invite them over for a meal, and even go to their home. They have made many friends from these contacts and feel comfortable with those who understand what they have been through and they, in turn, try to help others as best they can.

We found we had many similarities: both of our daughters were born the same year and her daughter died 4 years before mine. We both lost best friends when our daughters died, while others came out of the woodwork to do anything they could for us. And we both felt there was much to live for and lots we could do to help others. People just don't understand unless they've gone through it, we both concluded. The pain will always be there, but we go on.

I believe she found us very comfortable to talk to as she spoke of her children and told us things she has never been able to talk about before. It was truly cathartic for her to be able to tell someone, who she was sure would understand, about both her daughter who died and her son, who is going through a divorce now.

We agreed to meet again before my husband and I left Brussels to get a bite to eat, chat, and most importantly, be comfortable talking about our children together.

Grief has no borders, my husband said, and he is right. People all over the world lose a child, any age, any cause, and we all go through the same grief journey. If we are lucky enough to meet and share our experiences with others as we travel the world, we are all the better for it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Making Memories Come Alive

What should bereaved parents do if their only child dies and the decision is to have another child? Is your family now three (with the new child) or four (including the one who died)? How do you answer someone you meet who asks in conversation, "How many children do you have?" The following story relates how one friend of mine dealt with this situation.

My friend's twin children died in a car accident about 10 years ago. The mother was driving, but the accident was not her fault. The pain of their deaths, the mother said, was unbearable. She didn't know if she or her husband could go on without them. But thanks to a Compassinate Friends group in her area, they were able to move on with their lives, knowing that their new friends understood what they were going through and would help in any way they could.

As the years passed, the couple spoke many times about either having more children, adopting a child, or living the rest of their lives without children. Their choice was to have another child; they were young enough and felt they had enough love inside for another child. Litttle did they know that God had a much bigger plan for them. Not only did they have another child, but two additional children were born. This couple always emphasized to others that the new children were not there to take the place of the two that had died years before.

And to prove that, they decided to make the memory of the first two children come alive for the other two that now graced their lives by doing a variety of things. First, they always talked about the ones who died. The parents would tell the new children how much they were loved, what they were like, what kinds of foods they enjoyed, what they hated/loved to do, what bothered them, and just how they felt about many things.

The children were always curious and continually asked questions about them and naturally, about the accident. The parents never hesitated to tell them the entire story of what had happened. They were honest about their feelings, and the children seemed to understand and tell others that theirs was a family of six, not four; that two of their sisters had died in a car accident. They embraced the two children who died as part of their lives then and continue to do so.

The second thing the parents did was to take them to the cemetery to see the twins' graves on special occasions such as their birthday, the anniversary of their death dates and especially for holidays such as Christmas and Thanksgiving. They were allowed to decorate the graves on those special occasions and they enjoyed doing it.

Third, the parents always told the children stories about the twins, things that happened in school, awards they won, how they dressed alike and how no one could tell them apart.

By telling stories of loved ones, eventually the past will be recorded and a history of the entire family is born and preserved. Another way to record the past, present and future is to keep precious moments and momentos in a photo/scrapbook of all four children. If videos or DVD's of the children who died are available, it is likely that the new children will want to see them and by doing that, will merge the past, present and future of their family.

If you have a child who died and decide to have other children, it is good advice to incorporate into your life, if at all possible, these and other ways you may think of, for a full past that can be remembered from generation to generation.

Editor's note: if you have other ideas of incorporating this family concept into one's life, please share in the comments section.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

Grieving Lost Life's Events

For bereaved parents who have lost an only child or all their children, many of life's events you thought you'd experience are no longer valid. Depending on the age your child died, you could experience any or all of the following:

First days of school - If you were lucky enough to be able to be a stay-at-home mom, letting go of your child the first day of school, whether it is a day care, kindergarten or first grade can be tramatic for both the child and the parent, but it is an event that you would probably always remember since it was labeled a 'first' in that memory book of yours.

Photos - School pictures were very important to me, and I was lucky enough to get them every year and frame them on a wall of my home for a not only a great momento but also a brillant look at the change in my child over the years. I was also fortunate to have many other pictures, some of which are special, like my daughter's wedding day, but none passed that occasion.

Sporting events - Whether your child liked to participate or just watch sports, live or on TV, this would definitely bring back fond memories of happy times together and then sad they are no longer part of your life.

First dates - An awkward stage of a child's life is that first date, knowing they are growing up, wanting to protect them, but realizing you must let them go out on their own.

Driving lessons - I was always concerned about driving, but was comforted knowing she was a safe driver. I worried about the other car. She was very active and because she was so responsible, I bought her a car immediately upon getting her license and set her free after she passed all the lessons. The irony that she was killed by an irresponsible driver will always gnaw at me.

Awards - Your child probably received awards throughout his/her life and you were so proud. Remain proud in remembering those happy occasions and keep those awards to look back on.

Graduations, weddings, grandchildren, anniversaries, birthdays, vacations or holidays to celebrate as a family - These are all special, happy occasions. If you were lucky enough to experience them, keep them in a corner of your heart forever.

Dealing with missed life events is part of the grief journey. Life does go on, even if you wish it would stand still. New memories can be created, even though we will always remember our children never got a chance to experience some or all of them. The grief journey will last a lifetime. The pain will eventually recede but it will never go away completely. Moving on with your life is the key to surviving the death of a child. Give yourself permission to grieve for as long as you need in any way you need. Then find a new way to channel your grief, and your life will become very rewarding.