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.