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.

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