Sunday, May 27, 2012

Memorial Day Tribute

Parades, flags flying, and ceremonies will be held tomorrow for the yearly celebration of Memorial Day, a national holiday to honor soldiers who have served and died in the service of the United States. Amid all these events is a profound sense of remembering and acknowledging those who have served and sacrificed everything for their country, for you and for me.

As I think of all these brave men and women, I get teary-eyed, not only for my child who is no longer here but also for those children of my friends who wanted to serve in the armed forces but will never be able to do so because they died before they could even enlist. Even though I am not related to anyone in the service of our country, I have no problem giving my time this day to say “thank you.” These soldiers have protected all of us, so that we can live a better life. Even if it is just putting a flag outside your home, watching the parade on television or going to a cemetery where many are buried, spending time remembering these fallen heroes is to honor them. They are mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers and someone’s child.

Though it did not originate in the United States, memorial days upon which the graves of the community’s heroes were decorated with flowers and garlands are ancient customs originating in Greece 2,500 years ago. After the Civil War, states began their own designated “Decoration Days.” The terms “Memorial Day and “Decoration Day” were used interchangeably for many years. In May 1868, May 30th was designated as the national Memorial Day we now celebrate the last Monday in May.

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) is the well-known national organization to turn to if you have lost a child or any loved one in the military. In addition to their magazine printed during the year with articles on hope and survival, they offer peer support and assist survivors who have lost a loved one in the line of duty. They hold national conferences this time of year and in the summer, sponsor a “good grief” camp for children who have lost a parent or a sibling. They can be contacted at 1-800-959-8277 or online at for more information.

Memories carry the magic of our history with opportunities for sharing, for understand and for healing.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Post Traumatic Stress Disorder

More than 120,000 children die every year in the United States. One of the most important effects a parent can experience after a child’s death is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD. It is a cluster of symptoms that occurs when a very traumatic incident occurs in a person’s life. This trauma can leave a person feeling powerless, victimized and emotionally, physically and mentally paralyzed.

Symptoms can include: sadness and depression, denial, shock, confusion, anger, irritability, inability to sleep, nightmares, loss of appetite, guilt over the failure to prevent the loss, loss of interest in daily activities, forgetfulness or apathy.

If you or someone you know is suffering from any of these symptoms, it could be PTSD and seeking counseling or psychotherapy is advised. Another way to get help is by joining support groups… a safe place where parents, siblings and grandparents can go and express their feelings and listen to how others have coped. This can be locally or nationally such as Compassionate Friends or Bereaved Parents USA. There are many specific groups such as Parents of Murdered Children, SIDS Alliance or Alive Alone for parents who have lost their only child. Other helpful things to do include: eating well, daily exercise, daily journaling and establishing new routines or hobbies.

The effects of PTSD can be subtle, or they can be apparent. They can include extreme mood swings; uncontrollable outbursts; irrational long-term fears; or physiological symptoms such as headaches, lethargy, digestive troubles, repetitive disturbing nightmares and a change in appetite. Self destructive behaviors such as using drugs or alcohol can also appear.

According to the Post Traumatic Stress Disorder Alliance, recognizing PTSD includes identifying clusters of symptoms that have been present for a month or longer which cause severe problems or distress. Some of the indicators include:

*Reliving the event through nightmares or other uncontrollable thoughts. One can get heart palpitations, headaches or sweating.

*Avoidance of reminders of the event or death such as not going to places, seeing people or doing activities associated with the trauma.

*Sensitivity at all times, making it difficult to concentrate, work, sleep and increasing irritability, aggression, withdrawal or isolation.

Editor’s note: portions of this information gathered from the MISS Foundation who helps families through a variety of resources..

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Happy Mother's Day

Today is Mother’s Day and like all Mother’s Days since my daughter died, it is a very sad one. I always enjoyed celebrating with her, whether it was to go out to brunch or dinner, fix me breakfast in bed, or just opening presents from her and her dad.

First she would bug her Dad to death to make sure he got me something. He wasn’t very good at buying gifts but usually bought something for the kitchen, like a pot or pan, since he loved to eat! Marcy, on the other hand, usually liked to buy clothing for me. She never said it out loud, but I guessed there were some outfits I wore that she wished I would get rid of. That was okay. Whatever I received was great. I particularly loved the cards: from her Dad, a romantic one; and from her, a funny or cute one. Fortunately, I kept them all, so that I can, to this day, 18 years later, still look back at them.

This year we are invited to a friend’s house for a Mother’s Day brunch. I am looking forward to it. I really appreciate it when someone is thoughtful enough to know what a difficult day this is for bereaved mothers. In fact, I rank this day even harder than the holidays at the end of the year: Thanksgiving, Chanukah and Christmas.

My friend said, “I know this is a difficult day for you and some of my other friends can’t be with their loved ones, either because of living elsewhere or because of a death (whether it be a child or parent), so I just thought I’d invite all of you over for a few hours.”

My friend invited us a few years ago, and there were about 12 of us, all there for different reasons, but definitely, a compatible group. I’m sure today will be the same.

Also on this day, I usually hear from a few special people who realize how hard this day is. A couple of them knew Marcy and surprisingly, a few never met her and only knew her through me and what I’ve said over the years about her. But I can count on hearing from all of them and it really makes me feel so good.

After the brunch, my husband and I will take a trip to the cemetery so I can place flowers on my daughter’s grave. Even though he is not her father, he is always so thoughtful about trying to make this day easier for me.

For a bereaved parent, Mother’s Day is, and should always be, a day for quiet reflection and the sharing of cherished memories. I hope you are all lucky enough to have caring friends and relatives to share this day with you. And to all mothers, Happy Mother’s Day.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

The Blessing of a Broken Heart

Sheri Mandell has written a book of spiritual healing, “The Blessing of a Broken Heart,” the story of her young son’s stoning death by Palestinians in Israel in 2004. It is her story and how she was able to survive that terrible day when he was found dead, along with his friend, in a cave near the mountains they lived by. The book has become a play and the one woman show came to a theater in my hometown. I was told by a friend not to miss it, and since I am interested in all things related to a child’s death and the parent’s survival, I went to see it. It is a hard play to say you ‘enjoy.’ No one can even imagine a child being bludgeoned to death, but we know that when God closes one door, he opens another, as I will explain.

Sherri married an Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and moved to Israel, where she fell in love with the land and its people. Her son, Koby, had ditched school that day with his friend and they went into the mountains, where, before that day, he had always been safe playing. Why they decided to ditch school that day, no one will ever know, and why this happened to them will always be another unanswered question. But it did happen and Sheri thought at first, like we all do, that she would never survive her son’s death.

But hope, determination, her love of God, and the will to survive helped herself, husband and other children through the tragedy as it eventually does to most of us. We will never forget our children, but we can do things in their memory and to always remember with love. For Sheri, she eventually noticed that because she lived in an area of the world that was always under siege where no one was safe from terrorism, there were many children who had lost parents in these wars, and many parents who had lost children. She was able to start a foundation which runs healing programs for families that have been directly affected by terror in Israel, having lost an immediate family member to a terrorist attack or an act of war. The foundation sponsors Camp Koby, its flagship program, for children who have lost a parent or a sibling in an act of terror in addition to Mothers’ Healing Retreats for women bereaved by terrorist violence and similar retreats for widows who have lost a husband to terror of war. The site is . Her blessing: to move on with her life and do good things in her child’s honor.

The play brought back many of the same feelings I had after losing my daughter, and I felt I could identify with her feelings of frustration as to why this happened to her and to her son. It was a senseless tragedy as was my daughter being killed by an impaired driver. I would encourage you to get a copy of the book (same title as the play) and read Sherri’s story.

The book has won a National Jewish book award and translated into three languages. Sherri has also won many other awards for her writings and speaks around the world on grief, bereavement and healing. She continues to live with her husband and other children in Israel, where she also teaches writing and works as a pastoral counselor.