Sunday, December 30, 2012

At This Holiday Season

Note: This blog was scheduled for last Sunday, but I felt compelled to write about the Newtown school deaths. I hope you can still use some of these ideas this year, if not for the Christmas season, then for another holiday.

At this holiday season, if you are hurting badly because of the loss of your child, whether it is a new loss or one you’ve been living with for many years, start making a list.

Only this list will not be “What I want for Christmas…” We know what we want, but we also know we can never have it again. No, this list is a list of things you can do to get through the holidays, a list that might help you move on and out of that depressive state.

There is nothing to make me feel better, you might say. It is true that nothing will make everything all right again, but maybe these few ideas will brighten up your holiday and get you started to battle any demons you may still have.

1. Make lots of handmade gifts (it takes up time and lets you be creative) and give them not only to friends and relatives, but also give some to a children’s hospital, an orphanage or a senior home. You are not the only lonely person out there with a loss. Everyone has a story to tell.

2. Contact an organization that allows you to adopt a child or a family for the holidays and buy toys and clothes or anything you are told that they may need. You may want to tell the family you are doing this in your child’s memory.

3. Make time to do something you enjoy or go someplace you’ve always wanted to go to at this time of year, but never got around to doing it.

4. Visit the cemetery where your child is buried and decorate the grave with seasonal decorations. Take others with you if you’d like. Sing songs, tell stories or jokes; make it a happy visit.

5. Say a prayer during the holiday and be thankful for all the little things and the people in your life who have helped you and made a difference. Then tell your child how much you love them and always will.

6. Finally, at this time of year, it is appropriate to burn a candle in your child’s memory. Surround the candle with pictures of you and your child and the family having fun during the holiday season. Below is a poem appropriate of the season to honor their memory from TCF Atlanta online.

Memory Candles

As we light these four candles in honor of you, we light one for our GRIEF, one for our COURAGE, one for our MEMORIES and one for our LOVE.

The first candle represents our grief. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

The second candle represents our COURAGE to confront our sorrow, to comfort each other and to change our lives.

The third light is in your MEMORY, the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other, the silly things you did, the caring and joy you gave us.

The fourth light is for the light of LOVE.

As we enter this holiday season, day by day we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your living brought to each of us. We love you.

--from Holiday Help: Coping for the Bereaved, by Sherry Gibson, B.S., R.N. and Sandra Graves, Ph.D.

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Remembering Newtown

Tears weld up in my eyes every time I hear or read about the Newtown massacre of 20 children and 6 adults at the school there. How could this have happened? How could the 20-year-old’s mother not have known how sick her son was? And the parents: what they must be going through, having to bury their 6 or 7 year old child? So many questions and situations, but not many answers. We will never know the real story behind what occurred, but we all understand its aftermath, because we have all lost children also and know how these parents feel.

They are in shock; they can’t believe what has happened so suddenly and so tragically. It will take a long time before they can accept that their child is even gone. I know it was a long time for me…almost three years before I one day caught my breath and realized I would never see my daughter again. That was when the tears flowed their hardest. (Like one mother said… it is like a tsunami: if you flow with it, you will survive, but, if you let it overtake you in its path, you won’t survive.)

A few suggestions for these parents, yourself or any others who have recently lost a child in any situation:

1. Journal your thoughts and feelings where you are now up to a year from now (the hardest time for you to remember later on when you are able look back). You will be surprised to learn what you were thinking and feeling then as compared to now. I wrote my feelings down in my first book 11 years ago and am stunned now to reread it and understand how much I would have forgotten if it had not been written down.

2. Every time you think of a good memory of your child, write it down. Keep thinking of these memories and continue writing them. When you are not in good shape or feel like it, look at some of these memories to help you smile through your tears, and perhaps even laugh.

3. Don’t worry that you’ll forget your child. You won’t. They lived and made wonderful memories for you that you can keep in your heart forever.

4. Let others help you who have been in the same situation, whether it is a friend, family member, priest, rabbi or a local or national support group. Not only will it be comforting to tell your story, but you know they will understand what you are going through and can perhaps have some suggestions for you.

5. Keep talking about your child to keep his/her memory alive. Doing activities, giving donations, building memorials also helps.

6. Cry whenever you feel like it. You are not going crazy and crying is a cleansing emotion that allows you to feel better.

And let us not forget the staff members who also lost their lives at that school. We have not forgotten you and your bravery in saving many children that day.

Remembering Forever: Charlotte Bacon, 6; Daniel Barden, 7; Olivia Engel, 6; Josephine Gay, 7; Ana M. Marquez-Greene, 6; Dylan Hockley, 6; Madeleine F. Hsu, 6; Catherine V. Hubbard, 6; Chase Kowalski, 7; Jesse Lewis, 6; James Mattioli, 6; Grace McDonnell, 7; Emilie Parker, 6; Jack Pinto, 6; Noah Pozner, 6; Caroline Previdi, 6; Jessica Rekos, 6; Avielle Richman, 6; Benjamin Wheeler, 6; Allison N. Wyatt, 6; ADULTS: Rachel Davino, 29; Dawn Hochsprung, 47; Anne Marie Murphy, 52; Lauren Rousseau, 30; Mary Sherlach, 56; Victoria Soto, 27.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Turning Grief Into Action

One of the ways to help you move on with your life is to turn your grief into action. Many parents have found a cause to channel their heartache into something useful and beneficial for others. In most cases, parents will tell you, it is to make sure what happened to them doesn’t happen again to someone else. For some it is legislation; for others, it is talking to groups and telling their story for simple awareness of a situation. Whatever the reason, this is a healthy way of making a difference and honoring their child with the work they do.

One mother is working relentlessly to improve school bus stop safety. Her 13 year old daughter was hit in a crosswalk while waiting to catch her school bus. Her new role is advocate. It is a role that has often proved frustrating, but she continues to work for changes. No one was cited or reprimanded for the accident. It was deemed a horrible, heart-wrenching accident. Since then she has enlisted elected officials, pushed for greater oversight by the California Highway Patrol and urged bus and school officials to consider changing procedures. Three students saw the accident have raised thousands of dollars to cut down the view-obscuring eucalyptus, lengthen the crossing signal and create a bus safety video to show to students. The mother speaks to anyone who will listen about bus stop visibility and overgrown vegetation on Sunset Boulevard. Her husband has urged her to move on, but she can’t. This is her mission now. There is progress with alternative bus stops, but she is not satisfied yet. Moments of joy in doing something for her child mingle with ceaseless heartache that only a mother knows. This is her life now and however long it takes, she is willing to continue her efforts in her child’s memory.

Another mother whose daughter died in a car accident by a drunk driver believes the driver should have gone to prison for life. He only got six years and then four years probation. The mother worked with SADD and MADD and spoke at boys’ and girls’ clubs about having the right to say, “No, I won’t get in a car with someone who is impaired.” Through these organizations, she then became involved with the Victim’s Impact Panel where criminals are required to listen to parent’s stories. Hopefully, they begin to understand the impact of the loss on families. Doing this work is how I deal with the rest of my life. She hopes she is making a difference.

“It was little things that alerted me something was very wrong with my son, but I didn’t want to acknowledge it,” said another mother. It turned out her son was schizophrenic and eventually committed suicide. For many years she felt tremendous guilt. Finally she began to do volunteer work for the Mental Health Association by going into schools and telling principals about some of the programs available to help kids and what the symptoms of this disease are. Teachers and all school personnel listen to what she has to say. In classrooms she tells her story; they see how she was affected and those who had suicide thoughts, rethink the fact that their families would, indeed, miss them. It is important for her to tell everyone she comes in contact with that she does this because she won’t be part of the shame and stigma attached to mental illness.

Your situation after the death of your child is as heartbreaking as these three women. I encourage you to work your way through your grief and find a new purpose to make a difference in your life and in others.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Creative Outlets on Grief Journey

Keeping your mind occupied during your grief journey is important. Creative activities can be very helpful when grieving.

Giving a gift of stained glass art is a way to welcome new parents into a grief group. One mother showed she cared and understood what these new grieving parents were experiencing. Most of the stained glass she makes are hearts with the deceased child’s name in the middle, a way of showing the parents that their child is always in their heart. This can be done on your own or an entire group of mothers can work together on this type of project. Using their hands is not the only benefit, but also, “it gives us an opportunity to talk,” said Christine Gaudet, who lost her 18-year-old son in an accident on May 29, 2011. “More than making something, it is a time to get together with people who understand your particular pain,” she added. Gaudet also tries to individualize each heart, using the child’s favorite color. Other stained glass objects may also help. Think about your child and whatever comes to mind that they were fond of can probably be done in stained glass.

Another creative activity is making a memory book. Memory books can hold not only pictures but also items from your child’s life, such as awards they won or writings from school. I remember my daughter made a certificate at school that said, “World’s Best Mom and Teacher” and drew a 1st place ribbon on the side of it. She was 6 years old at the time, and 40 years later I still have and treasure that paper.

Listening to soft music can be soothing to the heart, relaxing and put you in a good place. I know that when I am anxious or need to relax and think of something other than my child, I concentrate on playing the piano, and it calms me down. Or just putting on headphones and listening to music with or without words may bring back memories that were forgotten.

Still others will knit baby bonnets, jackets and blankets to donate to friends or local hospitals. Knitting in a group and the talking done among the parents, as author Ann Hood, who wrote “The Knitting Circle” will tell you, can help in the healing process.

By using their hands, these parents don’t have to think, and it can lead to some new discoveries, like a good memory you would like to remember. Memories of your child are important to hang on to.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

16th Annual Candle Lighting

The 16th Worldwide Candle Lighting this year is Dec. 9, next Sunday at 7 p.m. During this time hundreds of thousands of bereaved parents will light a candle to honor and remember any child who has died from any cause at any age.

Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the candle lighting creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held as well as thousands of informal candle-lightings are held in homes in quiet remembrance of our children, gone too soon but not forgotten.

For those of you who would like to plan an organized memorial service in your home town to last from a few minutes to as long as you’d like, here is how you can go about doing it.

1. Choose a chairperson to organize the event. The chairperson will need volunteers to help and you should start in the early fall.

2. Do a timeline for when things should get done. Finalize location, and order candles in September. In October select readings, poems and presents; arrange for music, prepare flyers to communicate with the public and include a map. In November, write and deliver press releases to local media and if there is a TCF chapter in your area or closeby, have them notify members. In December, reconfirm location, music, presenters and print program.

3. Determine a location that can hold many people. Some groups choose a park setting, since there is no limit to who can come. Get permission to use a park early.

4. Publicize the time. If you are not connected to TCF, say in your literature that the service is held in conjunction with the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting. Fill out an online submission form at the national website: to provide information so that it can be posted prominently with all other known candle lightings. This allows those who visit the website and wish to attend a candle lighting in your area to know of your event. Contact interested local groups, churches and funeral homes and contact a variety of media including newspapers, television and local talk show radio. Some stations may broadcast a public service announcement about your service at no charge.

5. Stress in your publicity that this is a remembrance program rather than a holiday program.

6. Ask those involved in planning to come one to two hours ahead of time to help with the preparations. Carry a cell phone just in case.

7. Invite the media to attend, but do not permit any interviews during the ceremony or taking of pictures.

8. Consider including the following in your program: MUSIC playing softly while you distribute candles. The popular song “Precious Child” is very appropriate. READING of messages posted throughout the day at the national website to show the unity this event creates throughout the world. READ the names of all the children being remembered or go around the room and have a parent or family member say the child’s name. Mention in general terms that this is held to remember all children, siblings and grandchildren who have died. SOCIALIZE after the program so those who want to can share thoughts. Provide light refreshments

9. Emphasize in all publicity that anyone not able to attend may participate by simply lighting a candle at home alone or with friends and family.

On the website you are encouraged to post a memorial message of remembrance that their light may always shine.