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.