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…