Sunday, December 29, 2013

There Are No Strangers

A chapter of Compassionate Friends in Livonia, Michigan, kindly sends me their monthly newsletter as I once spoke to their bereavement group when on a book tour. I thoroughly enjoy reading the articles either written by their members or other TCF members across the country. I was particularly touched by the following article written by Alice Monroe of the Mesa County, Colorado, chapter. I found it to be a true picture of what you would find if you, as a bereaved parent, were to attend  your first meeting as a bereaved parent, and I wanted you to have a chance to read it. Below is the article.

There is a tenderness among bereaved parents. A gentleness far beyond “normal” interactions with people in everyday life. We speak softly to each other and silently acknowledge our mutual vulnerability and fragility. That doesn’t mean we might not hurt each other from time to time through a misunderstanding, but it seems to me, the hurt is never meant to be. We have hurt enough already.

Somehow, there is forgiveness among bereaved parents. Forgiveness that comes from knowing we are just struggling human beings trying to make the best of our lives that will have, forever, an empty hole.

There is a quiet beauty among bereaved parents. A beauty that comes out of the experience of being hit with such pain and love all mixed together that words completely fail us.

There is courage among bereaved parents. The courage to get up, get dressed, and face another day.

We look to each other for the tenderness, the forgiveness, the beauty, and the courage. How often we say, “I’m so glad to know you…but I wish we had not met like this.” And then we often add, “But, would I…could I…have ever felt so close, if it wasn’t for the pain?” Strange, isn’t it, how there are hidden gifts in the middle of unspeakable agony?

The closeness of bereaved parents and siblings is universal. I went to the National Compassionate Friends Conference where 1,500 people, from all over the world and every walk of life attended. It didn’t take a name tag to identify each other. Formal introductions weren’t necessary. The question, “What do you do for a living?” never came up. The words most often spoken were, “Tell me about your child (or brother or sister).” There were no strangers. Even if you were not there…you were there. The invisible link…is love.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Impact of Grief on Marriages

Many parents, who have gone through divorce after their child’s death, are unaware of the following figures: only 16 percent of marriages where a child dies ends in divorce. (It is not 90 percent as some parents believe.) Of that 16 percent, only 4 percent is because of the death, the rest is because their was something wrong with the marriage in the first place.

Couples who believe their marriage is shakey should look for signs of trouble and try to do something about them to avoid the divorce pitfall after a child’s death.

** Keep the communication channels open between spouses. Don’t hide in a corner or curl up in a ball and cry by yourself. You are sad. You are broken. Talk to your spouse about your feelings and allow your spouse to openly talk also. You may find you feel the same about some things and different about others. That’s okay. No one grieves the same, even husbands and wives.

**Be understanding about the course of your grief. Some parents take years to get through their grief journey. Be patient with each other as you both travel that long road.

**Talk about the child. Remember the good times you all had both together and separately with the child and discuss them. Don’t be upset if one parent smiles or laughs about something related to the child. It’s okay. They are not betraying the child or you to have a good moment.

**Recognize that you both will change when a child dies and that your grief, your duration of mourning, and integrating the changes will help in this crisis and bring you closer together. Allow separate mourning when necessary and be respectful of each other’s grief.

**Express your grief openly and don’t keep it bottled up inside because you are afraid to show how much you cared or you are embarrassed to show your emotions.

**Learn a new way to relate to others as a couple now that your child is dead. What you once did together, you can no longer do. Try something new that fits into your life now without your child. When you see other parents and their children together, it will definitely hurt, but you will need to find ways slowly to integrate all these new changes into your marriage and into the rest of your life.

**As a couple, look for some new meaning to your life, something perhaps that you have thought about doing in the future. Now is the time to do it. Look for some good to come out of your tragic loss. Perhaps you have always wanted to get closer family connections to those who don’t live in your city. Or you might have always enjoyed teaching others to paint and may want to go back to school and become an art teacher.

There are so many ways to improve your relationship with your spouse and move forward. Don’t dismiss any of these or other suggestions well-meaning individuals may give you to bring joy back into your life and your marriage. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

More Help for the Holidays

Last week I listed some ideas available to help the bereaved and their families during the holiday season. Here is a list of additional suggestions to go along with last weeks.

**Know your limitations. Grief is all consuming. When the holidays arrive, added stress places demands on your time and emotions. Don’t do too much. Try to do what is best for you at that specific time. Accommodate your current needs.

**Call a family meeting and discuss your plans for the holiday season, understanding that it would be unusual for you not to feel emotionally, physically, and psychologically drained. Don’t set you expectations too high or you may find yourself disappointed.

**Well intending friends and family may want to include you in their plans, believing it best for you to “get away” from grieving your loss. They do not understand that you cannot escape the grief that you feel. This is no obligation to say “yes.” Only participate if you truly want to.

**Try to take care of your health. It’s important that you eat and drink properly, exercise and get plenty of rest.

**Donate your time or money to a school or organization you child enjoyed or perhaps help out at a hospital where needed. There are people out there who can use your help during the holidays, particularly care homes for the elderly. It is a good way to be a friend. Caring about others adds purpose to our lives.

**Take time to do the things you as a person want to do. You may want time alone to reflect or to write your thoughts.

**Consider eliminating such things as the festive decorations, cooking and baking that you may normally enjoy. People will understand if you’re not in a merry or joyous mood or simply don’t have the energy. You may try placing an electric candle in your window in memory of your child. Don’t feel obligated to send out holiday cards.

**If it is necessary for you to buy gifts, consider ordering them over the internet or by phone. Most who are bereaved find it draining to go out and fight through crowded stores bustling with holiday cheer.

**If you want to cry, then do. If you want to laugh, don’t feel guilty. You are not obligated to do anything you don’t feel like doing. Grieving is nature’s way of healing the mind and heart from the worst loss of all. The holiday is for you to hopefully begin to open your heart to the new you.

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Helping At the Holiday Season

The holidays are here. For many who have had a child, sibling or grandchild die, holidays can be a sad reminder of happier family times. Friends and family would like to help but most times don't know what to do. They don't want to say or do something to upset the bereaved, so do nothing, making it worse. In a recent online newsletter, I found a list of ideas for how you can provide support to a grieving family during the holiday season.

**Recognize the holidays have changed for them- don't pretend they haven't.

**Offer to do the holiday shopping/gift wrapping

**Offer to address holiday cards.

**Coordinate holiday activities with surviving siblings. Don't forget them during this important time.

**Invite the family for dinner instead of expecting them to host.

**Be open to the idea that the family may want to end old traditions that have suddenly become painful for them. Suggest new traditions that incorporate the child who died.

**Respect the family's privacy. Don't press for a commitment just to get them involved and out of the house.

**Offer support and patience.

**Give space to grieve, but don't feel responsible to get someone through their grief.

**Express feelings for the grieving person by acknowledging that they are hurting. Give encouragement that they will get through this. Don't try to hurry the process.

**Send a card or note supporting the individual. Recognize and acknowledge that some days are good, some are not so good.

**Reminisce. The number one fear of bereaved parents is that their child will be forgotten. Give them the opportunity to talk about their child and join them in sharing remembrances of better times.

**Above all, don't avoid grieving parents, siblings and grandparents. It is not contagious!

List continues next Sunday...

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Worldwide Candle Lighting

Next Sunday, December 8, is the 17th annual worldwide Candle Lighting remembrance event. I talk about it every year because it is an opportunity for families to join together in memory of all children gone too soon.

In each city there are special events held at churches, mortuaries or Compassionate Friends chapters around the country. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held as well as thousands of informal ones in homes in quiet remembrance of our children who are not forgotten.

Many of these are listed on the Compassionate Friends website,, and anyone can attend these moving events. The national website also invites and encourages everyone to post their memorial message on their message board.

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.

Over the years I have attended a couple of different types of events. One year one of the city’s TCF groups went to a park. There were about 75 people attending. Everyone brought candles and stood in a circle. All the candles were lit and a speaker said a prayer for our children, we said their names and then we blew out the candles. Refreshments were served and we talked and met each other.

Now each year I go to a local mortuary/cemetery where over 500 people attend. Around the Angel of Hope, built about 6 years ago in the cemetery’s children’s section, we all listen to singing, prayers for the children and then are given a white carnation to place at the base of the Angel of Hope as our child’s name is called. An organization each year makes and donates stuffed teddy bears to give to all parents. It is a lovely touch to a perfect evening.

Check out your city and see what is available. If you don’t find anything, why not do something for those you know who have lost a child to make the worldwide candle lighting a special remembrance for them, especially if newly bereaved.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Thanksgiving remembrance

When Thanksgiving rolls around, I am always sad; sad because Thanksgiving was the last time I saw my daughter alive in a family setting and the first and last time I ever cooked Thanksgiving dinner for Marcy and her new husband in 1993. Since then, I am, thankfully, invited to friends or family's homes for the holiday, since most know how I feel about this time of year. Memories are all I have now, but they are warm recollections of a wonderful child. She was a gift that I was able to keep for 27 years, a very special gift. I am indeed thankful every day that I had her for as long as it was possible.

My friend, Genesee Gentry, bereaved mother, a wonderful poet (she has written two poetry books), and active in Compassionate Friends, wrote this poem about Thanksgiving. It might hit home for many of you, because once your child has died, others don't want to talk about the child unless we, as parents, bring up their name so that others will remember also.

The thought of being thankful
Fills my heart with dread.
They'll all be feigning gladness, 
Not a word about her said.
These heavy shrouds of blackness
Enveloping my soul
Pervasive, throat-catching,
Writhe in me, and coil.
I must, I must acknowledge, 
Just express her name,
So all sitting at the table
Know I'm thankful that she came.
Though she's gone from us forever
And we mourn to see her face,
Not one minute of her living
Would her death ever replace.
So I stop the cheerful gathering,
Though my voice quivers, quakes,
Make a toast to all her living.
That small tribute's all it takes.

I hope you all have a pleasant Thanksgiving and a happy first day of Chanukah, which falls on Thanksgiving this year.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Mortuaries/cemeteries Contribute to Remembrances

Mortuaries/cemeteries in many towns and cities across the United States have become more than just a place to bury a child.

At many of them in your home town bereaved parents can find grief resources of all kinds, whether it be books, magazines, or articles catalogued about the loss of a child. You can not keep them, but at least this is a source for you in your time of need. I know that at one cemetery/mortuary there are some grief resource people to help you and classes offered by specialists to show you how to move on with your life. Check out your own city to see what you can find.

And speaking of libraries and books/magazines, one city on the East coast has something unique. It is a wooden box with a door outside their library where people can leave books, and others can come by, see what is there that is of help to them and take them. These are mainly grief books. They are expected to return the item for someone else to read and in the process bring an item (it could be a magazine, an article, or a book they received when their child died), they think might be of help to others and leave it in the box with their returned item. This process has worked well for both those who can't afford to buy grief resources or who think they have stumbled on something others should be aware of. Perhaps it can work for other topics besides grief.

At some cemeteries, a special section is devoted to only children who have died. The section is kept looking pristine at all times and a joy to come to see what other parents have done to decorate their child's grave, showing the child's personality. Stuffed animals, toys, and memorabilia from the child's life make each grave unique. Other parents have gone to the extreme of placing large bronzed statues of their child playing baseball, for example, or any other activity the child was involved in.

In addition, one particular cemetery has a bronzed Angel of Hope, inspired by the book "The Christmas Box," and built with community contributions. Not only do thousands come to see the Angel and their child's grave, but an area around the Angel is reserved for those who want to buy a plaque with their child's name inscribed and other meaningful data on it.

I congratulate the thoughtfulness of these mortuaries/cemeteries who know how important and special all these children were to their parents and others. They seem to have made it a point to honor them. The children left their mark on many that will never be forgotten, and all of these things are a wonderful way to celebrate their lives and help bereaved parents.

Sunday, November 10, 2013

Being Part of Gloria Gaynor's New Book

Singer Gloria Gaynor’s publicist contacted me about 6 months ago, saying she had heard about me and also read my blog for helping others going through their grief journey. She wanted me to know that Gloria was putting together a new book entitled, “We Will Survive” and asked if I would contribute a story for her book relating how her biggest song hit, “I Will Survive” relates to my situation.

I was thrilled to write the story and sent in a story immediately. It was accepted along with 39 other stories. The book will be available December 1, but a special kindle edition on Amazon came out on Nov. 1. Within 48 hours it worked its way to the top of Amazon’s best seller kindle list. It was amazing to me this could happen so fast.

My story was, of course, about my daughter, her death and how I’ve moved on with my life, trying to help others, somewhat similar to my two books, but not detailed like the books. Other people wrote about different kinds of survival from people who lost their homes in natural disasters, and the 9/11 tragedy, to a woman who changed her mind about committing suicide, survivors of incest and domestic violence and a survivor of the Holocaust. All 39 stories found something in “I Will Survive” that enabled them to hang on, get through, and keep moving forward. It is amazing how many people have been impacted by the song even 35 years later.

Gaynor herself relates what the song has meant to her also. It became a symbol of her own quest to survive personal turmoil and tragedy. She tells her story because she feels the cause is so important that if the book’s contributors can expose themselves and tell the truth, she could also.

I’ve also been asked to help publicize the book when asked to do so by radio, television and speaking to groups later this year.

These stories of survival will touch your heart and could help you find the courage to face what is happening in your own life. I believe it is worth a read.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Questions Asked About Our Grief Journey

At a recent bereavement meeting, a guest speaker asked us to answer questions about where we are in our grief journey. I found everyone very receptive and giving excellent answers to what could be difficult for some. After the person who got the question was done, anyone in the group could voice their opinion on the question or ask questions of the one who had. The speaker then told stories related to these questions and embellished on possible answers not thought of.

In the end, everyone seemed to appreciate the thoughtful questions and some of us old-timers could definitely see how others had moved on with their lives when they originally thought all was lost and they could never be happy again.

I wondered whether this would be a good exercise for all bereavement groups that met on a regular basis. Below are the questions asked of the eight members in attendance, one question per person. How would you personally answer them? You might want to try this with another friend who has lost a child, if you are not in a bereavement group.

  1. What have you learned about yourself? 
  2. What advice would you offer the newly bereaved parent?
  3. How are you different from before your child died?
  4. What has helped the most in your own healing?
  5. How have your relationships or friendships been affected?
  6. What is it now time for you to do in your life?
  7. What have you been considering doing and taking action on? What is waiting in the wings for you.
  8. Knowing what you know now, what would you do differently in the grief process?

Sunday, October 27, 2013

The Q.U.I.L.T. campaign

Quietly United In Loss Together (Q.U.I.L.T.) is a Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Campaign started by Nneka Hall, whose child died before birth.

Nneka”s vision for October 15, 2014 is one which includes thousands of families touched by the loss of an infant coming together in Washington, DC to march from the White House to the National Mall where the memorial quilt will be on display. The quilt is made up of panels from each state. After the event, the quilts will return to their respective states and will be displayed during pregnancy and infant loss awareness month.

QUILT’s goals are to (1) lift the stigma associated with pregnancy and infant loss by introducing society to these angels, (2) educate people about the various causes of pregnancy loss and infant death, (3) encourage expectant mothers to be more proactive in their prenatal care., (4) convince some doctors, midwives and doulas to incorporate a kick counting component to all prenatal care, (5) show grieving families where and how to tap into the support available to them, and (6) raise awareness by marching to a location where a memorial quilt, comprised of lost pregnancies and infants who have died, will be on display.

Nneka saw the reaction and lack of compassion from co-workers who told her to “forget about” the child that is not here. “The loss for me was a deadly dose of reality and then to have co-workers say they are uncomfortable with having my daughter’s picture in my office and that I must take it down. It is a very sad uncomfortable reality. Loss is uncomfortable and so is the lack of understanding by those who are unable to put themselves in our shoes.”

“We will march as a united body to remember babies who would otherwise be forgotten, the many causes of pregnancy and infant loss and to take this time to grieve openly without judgment,” said Nneka. “Please honor the memory of an Angel by marching with us on this special day.”

For more information, visit the Quietly Together In Loss Awareness Campaign on Facebook.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Heroin information

Editor’s note: I feel this topic has become so important, I wanted to give you some information about Heroin in case you know someone who can use it to save their child.

“No mother should ever have to bury her child,” said Caroline Casina, bereaved mother from Illinois, whose son died of an overdose.

No parent wants to believe their child is hooked on any drug, particularly Heroin. Nor does any parent want to deal with the aftermath of a drug overdose, resulting in the death of their son or daughter.

Heroin addiction is back. It has hit the suburbs now, where as years ago it used to be only in the inner city. Some statistics: Heroin seizures in the past four years is up 50 percent. Users are up a staggering 75 percent from 2007-2011 to a total of 281,000 people. The fastest growing group of users are under 21-years-old. It has hit the suburbs and rural areas of middle class and affluent America.

Kathy Cane Lewis, researcher, says it starts by using pain pills and when those become difficult to get and too expensive, users switch to Heroin. A bag of heroin can cost as little as $10.

Twenty-four percent of high school kids abuse prescription meds. That’s over 5 million. Kids like Vicodin and Oxycodin, a 33 percent increase in five years. Why? One boy says it for most: because it felt so good, and we didn’t worry about the consequences.

Parents are getting involved, parents like Caroline Casina, who doesn’t want to see this happen to others. First, these parents want a nationwide good Samaritan law. This will allow anyone who is with someone overdosing to dial 911 without fear of getting charges put against them. Illinois is only one of 14 states with overdose good Samaritan laws on the books.

The parents also want people to know about a heroin antidote called Naloxone, which can neutralize the drugs’ effects and save the life of someone who is overdosing. It can cut these deaths in half says Lewis. She believes this antidote should be available over-the-counter. “I want to make sure no more people die. Our goal is to reduce overdose to zero in 10 years. It may not be achievable, but if we can reduce it by 50 percent, that would be a big deal.”

Others have learned hard lessons, lessons they hope others in their teens will listen to. Says one teen, “If you want to lose family, friends, break hearts, then use. If you want to keep friendships, make something of your life and make your family proud, don’t use heroin or any drug.”

“It is an unmanageable, untamable beast that’s a shape-shifter,” says Casina. “It hides in plain sight. It is insidious, clever, and conniving. I don’t think anybody, even a user, fully understands it.”

But she and others would like to defeat it. The question becomes: What can we do about this as a community, a society, a nation? 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Power of Hope

This short piece is by Nan Zastrow, bereaved mom and author. In it, she says she believes that hope is a positive attribute. But hope without some backup plan or some strategy may be disappointing and even threatening in times of crisis. In its simplest terms, hope is a wish or a desire. It doesn't make things happen all by itself. Hope must be developed, cultivated and nurtured to benefit from all it has to offer. Hope requires some action on our part. It is achieved through perseverance, self-direction, planning and commitment. Hope comes from within. I agree completely with her sentiments.

I believe in the power of HOPE. I believe that through our grief everyone has the ability to find hope.

I believe hope is found in
            Saying yes instead of no;
            Loving the concept of living; dying can wait;
            Turning the sad memories to stories of the living soul;
            Forgiving the unforgivable, not planning for revenge;
            Counting your blessings; not your challenges;
Mending relationships instead of replacing them;
Saying, “I’ll always remember”, not “I’ll never stop missing you;”
Getting up, instead of laying down;
Giving in gracefully, when you have nothing to gain;
Letting go,, when you can’t change the outcome;’
Looking for the miracle; not just waiting for it to happen’
Strengthening your spiritual self, not being angry at God for your lack of faith;
Counting your steps forward; not the ones that sometimes drift back;
Saying, “what next?” instead of “why me?”

Hope begins your journey. Believe in it. Trust in it. Imagine it. Build a strategy! Feel the energy! Allow yourself to be enveloped with its radiant embrace. You have begun. You will see dignity and grace in others. Compassion in the human touch. Faith in a power far greater than you. Peace in the order of all things. Wonder in the roads not traveled; Promise in what is yet to be.

Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, centering Corporation, Omaha, Nebraska.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Lessons I've Learned from My Daughter

What did my child teach me from the 27 years of her life and after her death when I also discovered from others how much she meant to them.

Marcy was an outgoing person all her life. She loved having lots of friends, and I had not had time for many friends. I was always teaching and many times even missed out on events she was involved in. Teaching was important to me; I know now nothing was as important as being with my daughter. When she died I vowed to get my priorities straight. Although, still extremely busy after retiring, I now have three godchildren and try to get to as many events in their lives as possible and see them as much as possible. Time passes too quickly not to enjoy everyone and everything. It is the same with my grandson, born less than two years ago, but who lives in a foreign country. We get there a few times a year, but thank God for Skype. We Skype at least once a week, so he doesn’t forget us in these young formative years.

Marcy was always fair with everyone. When her father and I divorced, she made sure she divided her time equally on holidays, one year coming to my home, the next year to her fathers. What a wonderful quality, to show she loved us equally. I have learned to hug those I love more often and tell them how much they mean to me whenever I see them. My godchildren have been instilled with that quality from their mother, my daughter’s best friend. My husband instilled it in his daughter, and I hope she passes it along to her son. Not a telephone call nor a day together goes by with any of these close people ending our conversation by them saying to me, “I love you.” And I smile and return the sentiment.

Marcy embraced each day and each person she was with as though they were the most important thing to her. Her friends wrote me letters after her death telling me she was the glue that held them all together. She was helpful, friendly and when any of them had a problem, she was there for them. I like to think that she got some of that from me, but I know that she discovered most of those attributes herself. I try to follow in her footsteps and am kind to most, when at other times, I might not have been. I’ve learned it does no good to have a bad attitude towards others. Life is too short to hold grudges, so I go out of my way to try to always be kind.

Marcy was a giver. Whether it was a shirt off her back, sharing her lunch with someone, giving someone a ride in her car or loaning a few dollars, it was always because she wanted others to have what she knew they couldn’t get or afford. In my own way I have tried to help others while honoring her memory by giving scholarships to students in colleges who need financial help to fulfill their dreams of a career and a better life. I am confident that if she could have, she would do the same.

I have learned what is important and what is not important in life. After Marcy’s death, I learned to stop what I am doing and enjoy a beautiful sunset, watch the quail in my backyard drinking water from the pond, see the beauty in plants and gardening, and take lots of walks. Even though we were very close, these are some other things I wish I could have made time to share with my daughter. I now share them with my husband and anyone else who is around at the time. I don’t waste the days, the hours or the minutes on trivial things that no longer have any meaning to me.

When I look back and proudly think of my daughter, I know she is there with me every day urging me on to be a good person and do good in this world. I am proud of what she was and what I hope I have become. I will be forever grateful for her love and her life. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013


Last week I was the guest of the group MOM’S FOREVER, a bereaved mothers group in Montreal, Canada. They invited me there to speak about coping and moving on with your life after the death of a child. They had heard from a friend that I speak at many national conferences and said they would pay all my expenses, and in addition, I could sell my books. I agreed.

None of us had any way of knowing what a great turnout we would have…over 160 people, mostly bereaved mothers and fathers. There was one or two who had lost their spouse and even a couple of people who weren’t bereaved at all. They just wanted to hear what I had to say so that they would know how to act and react to those who had lost a child, as one woman said to me as she bought my two books. She looked a little embarrassed to tell me she wasn’t bereaved, but I told her I wished there were more people in this world who cared as much as she did to do the correct thing with bereaved parents. Bravo to her.

After giving my speech sharing coping techniques, teaching others about our grief, pointers for the newly bereaved, pointers for those who were 5 and 10 years out and even those over 10 years, giving examples from my life and others, and going through the grief process, many told me afterwards they had learned a lot and thanked me. It was heartwarming to know that my trip had been worthwhile, and I sold many, many of my books to those who attended.

The Moms Forever group of 8 women had done a great job planning this and carrying it off. They had no idea how many people would show up but did a lot of publicity to make it happen. They were a friendly, exuberant, classy group of ladies, and you would never know each of them had a different story about what had happened to their child and how they were moving on with or without their spouse. I really commend them for their outlook on life. Sure, they had their moments just like we all do, but they understand clearly that time, hope and a willingness to want to find joy again is their goal.

Thanks so much, Moms Forever, for showing me your spirit. I admire you all and want you to know that in the short time I was there I felt a bond between all of us who walk this lifetime grief journey.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Shells From the Sea

Anne, chairperson of one of the committees at the National Compassionate Friends Conference this past July, did something very unique for what is called the ‘reflection room,’ a place of rest and reflection for bereaved parents. Her project was so unique that I though some chapters might want to do something similar, instead of a balloon or butterfly release. It would be up to each group, whether they just do the shell portion or actually throw them back into the sea.

Over a thousand shells were gathered and placed in the reflection room along with four tall lighthouses that were designed and built for each corner of the room (and at the end of the conference auctioned off). Sharpies were provided and those who came in were welcomed to write on a message on a shell or just their loved one’s name and place them under one of the lighthouses or take them home with them. All the shells left were brought back to the ocean from where they originated and each child’s name on the shell was read before being tossed from the boat into the water. See the youtube video of this being done at .

Almost 800 shells were left with messages of love to our children, grandchildren and siblings. “It was amazing,” said Anne, “to watch how each shell reacted differently to the water.” “Some floated while others drifted; some plunged and others dance; a few bounced back out before peacefully floating on. I like to think that the shells took on a personality of the name written on them. It was a unique experience, one I felt honored to be a part of,” she added.

A few comments from those who participated in the shells from the sea:

Gail Lafferty said..."When I wrote my son's name on the shell at the conference I debated whether to bring it home with me but decided he would love it going back to the water where he loved to be and play as a child...thank you so much...this has touched me so deeply...

Julie Diem said..."This was very touching...and honoring. Thank you for doing this. The reflection room and this activity was one of the most moving and healing things for me that weekend. What a thoughtful, beautiful and honoring act for my daughter and 3 grandsons. May God bless you for all you have done for us bereaved.

Jackie Glawe said...The reflection room was serene and calming and I loved the shell idea! Thank you so much for taking the time to take all the shells to the ocean and video and photograph the process as well...

Donna LaPointe said...This was SO powerful. All I can say is Thank You, Thank You. What an incredible testament to our precious children...

Sunday, September 15, 2013

The Tony Brown Foundation

Find and/or create a passion in this world so that you too can live a fulfilling and productive life with purpose after suffering a loss...

That is the mission of the Tony Brown Foundation. Tony died at age 24 from complications during a hospital procedure. Tony loved all sports like football, lacrosse, snowboarding, wake boarding, dirt bikes but especially skateboarding. Broken bones were always in his life. He also loved video cameras. He eventually discovered his dream: to work in the film industry with extreme sports. He died a month short of graduating from Full Sail School in Florida. His future was full of hopes and dreams with a goal to film the sports he loved, have a family and live a full life!

The foundation provides opportunities to explore possibilities to grow, learn and discover new or old passions while moving lives forward in a positive direction. Additional support for those grieving is provided by a support group called Moving Through Grief. They are dedicated to helping families move forward on their grief journey with support, hope and love.

“It is our belief that strength comes from sharing,” said one member.

They have held events such as the annual candle lighting in conjunction with Compassionate Friends worldwide candle lighting; they have donated to the Salvation Army with gifts for children; and to the Valley Food Bank…a huge carriage of groceries. In addition they have hosted a free Angels Across the USA Concert with Alan Pedersen, well known singer, and held fundraisers to contribute to scholarships and blood drives.

The foundation also provides scholarships to help a person attend a Compassionate Friends National Conference and The Camp of Champions. The foundation believes that through these two scholarships, they can provide hope and friendship to those looking to not only learn how to survive the loss of a child but also to those who want to live their lives to the fullest in honor of their loved one’s memory.

A very special Symposium of Life After Loss will be held Oct. 25-26 at the Crown Plaza on Old Ridgebury Rd in Danbury, CT. For all those in the area, it is two days of sharing, growing, learning, discovering and finding hope in your life after loss. Speakers will include Darcie Sims, alan Pedersen, Mitch Carmody, Heidi Horsley and the Love In Motion Signing choir. Registration fee is $75. For further information email:, go to or call 203-805-8239.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Part 2 of Reading Grief Books

continued from last week...

Grief books were a great help to me. Last week I talked about the first one I received that continues to be one of my favorites. This week I'd like to switch gears and tell you about a book called "Remembering With Love" by Elizabth Levand and Sherokee Ilse.

This book has messages of hope for the first year of grieving and beyond. The purpose is to affirm your feelings and bring you hope to light your have a constant source of support. You are not alone. Within this book you will find the voices of many others who have struggled along their own paths, coped and survived. Their experiences emphasize that every individual has a right to their feelings and ways of coping and that no matter what others may say, you have the right to grieve for as long and as hard as you need to. It is their hope that these messages, combined with their words, will help you find the courage and strength that are within you.

Each of the 300 entries includes a wide range of feelings, options, issues and experiences that hopefully, you can relate to as your grief ebbs and flows over time, not only the first year but also beyond. Special days, moments and concerns, a collection of poetry and prose for birthdays, anniversaries and holidays is also included. Each page has a quote from the bereaved of his/her feelings, one or two paragraphs from the author about how to handle the pain, and then a promise for the bereaved to make to themselves to begin the healing process. I found the examples could relate to any death...a child, a spouse, a parent, a sibling..but allows us to identify within ourselves if this is how we feel.

The index at the front of the book is by subject matter, so that if there is a specific topic that appeals to you, it will be easy for you to find.

A couple of examples on these pages inside the book to show you how it is constructed are:

                                     WELL MEANING FRIENDS

"Friends cleaned my house, took everything I had in my daughters' room except their cribs, and put it all away. If made me mad. I felt they were taking away what little bit I had left."

     Our family and friends want to help us in any way they can. They care for us and want to ease our pain. In an attempt to help, they may decide to get rid of the painful possessions that might be reminders of our loved one, or pressure us to take care of this task right away. However, this is a decision which we must make for ourselves.
     If we are distressed because people have made inappropriate decisions for us or given us unhelpful advice, we can consider sharing our feelings with them. We can let them know that while we appreciate their good intentions, they are not being helpful. we can tell them what we might have preferred.

I have a right to my feelings when decisions are made or advice given that isn't helpful to me. When possible, I will ask others to give me the freedom to make my own decisions.

                                CALMNESS FROM WALKING

"During the hard days of grieving, as well as the less intense days that followed, I would take many walks, to be by myself and to reminisce. They always seemed to refresh and calm me, as I recalled my loved one's influence on my life."

     Something so simple as walking may surprise us in its power to calm and refresh us. the adrenaline pumps through our body, our heart beats faster, and our emotions can be refreshed from the exercise of a brisk walk. Or, a slow and peaceful walk can help calm us, even if just for the time being. We may also find walking to be an opportunity to relive the influence our loved one has had on our family's lives.
     When we walk, we can try to keep our heads up high, our bodies straight, and our thoughts open to the moment. We may find this activity quickly becoming a habit--our daily pick-me-up.   

I can use walking to help me gain peace, solitude, and a respite from my daily problems and issues. I will let my walk revitalize my mind and body.
____________         _____________       ______________   _____________    __________

Some pages have poems on them and the author's analyze that. It is their hope that by immersing yourself within these pages you will gather these messages of hope to your heart and your soul, so that you can live the rest of your life 'Remembering With Love.'

Some of the other grief books I enjoyed are "The Worst Loss" by Barbara Rosof, "A Broken Heart Still Beats" by Anne McCracken and Mary Semel, "After the Death of a Child" by Ann Kinkbeiner and "Roses in December" by Marilyn Heavilin. There are hundreds out there now, so look them over and see which ones might be right for you. And don't forget my two books, "I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye" and "Creating a New Normal...After the Death of a Child," both of which were inspired by the books I read and the people I met who needed resources.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Reading Grief Books

I've often been asked, "What were the first few books you read after the death of your child?" I don't mind at all answering that question because I still feel now, as I did back almost 20 years ago, when there wasn't much around to read, that I was fortunate to find and be given books I felt were very helpful to my situation, a tragic auto accident that killed my daughter. This week I will discuss one of my favorites; next week another one.

The first one I received that continues to be one of my favorites is "No Time For Goodbyes" by Janice Harris Lord. As one bereaved mother said in reviewing the book, "You've managed to put together a knowledgeable, compassionate and factual book to help those of us who have been suddenly thrust into the unwilling role of victims...I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your lifeline." I started reading the book and found myself underlining and starring what words, phrases and sentences I believed related to me and expressed my true feelings. There were many. I also enjoyed reading brief excerpts from stories that were told to the author. A few that struck me I've never forgotten that may also be of help to you are:

"You will never forget what happened. If you are afraid to get better because you think you might forget your loved one, stop worrying. You will never time you will remember the happy memories more easily than the painful ones which fill your mind now."

"...People may have commented on how 'strong' you were.  One of the saddest parts of trauma is that people assume you are strong when you really are in shock. You may appear strong, but you feel like a mechanical robot. When the shock wears off and you desperately need your friends, they have resumed life as usual, believing that you are doing fine."

"...many find it helpful to write down six to ten especially wonderful memories. Get them out and read them often so as not to feel yourself slipping into pain again."

"You may be disappointed in family and friends for their lack of sensitivity and understanding. It can make you frustrated and angry. However, you will have to decide for yourself when it is right to give more of your attention to living."

"Try to delay major decisions for at least a year or more. Moving, remarrying, deciding to have a baby, changing jobs, no matter how positive they seem, will create additional stress."

"Feel your feelings---whether they be sadness, rage, vengeance or others. Find a way to express them, perhaps through writing or sharing them with others who understand or through physical activity."

"Be patient with others who say inept things to you. Very rarely are such comments made to hurt you. While most people desperately want to help you, they may not know what to say or do. Try to be grateful for their attempt, if not the end result."

The book also covers the criminal justice system, death of a brother, sister, spouse, parent as well as suicide, spirituality and professional counseling. Not all parts were of interest to me, but I can say that the ones that were I marked and read over and over. In the back of the book is a list of resources of both other books and organizations that might help.

Sunday, August 25, 2013

Choosing Life

Editor's Note: I recently read an article by my friend Marcia Alig of New Jersey, for a Compassionate Friend newsletter. She is very active in the national organization and does much to help them run the national conference each year. I was struck by her words in this article that are so necessary for those newly bereaved to feel and work through. I reprint this article for you and ask you to choose life, as she and I have.

It will never be the same. Never. As a bereaved parent, you have often heard or said these words to express grief's profound feelings of sorrow and disorientation. Your life has suddenly taken an unexpected course that appears both uncharted and endless. Bewildered, you vainly search for pathways back to your former life, until you confront the reality that there is no way back. Your child is dead forever.

It is then that you may say, ...never the same. This is the aspect of grief that Simon Stephens, founder of Compassionate Friends, calls The Valley of the Shadow. It is that very long time between the death of your child and your reinvestment in life. Between. It is not supposed to be a permanent resting place. Although some people do take up residence in the valley, it is a transition from the death of your child to life with renewed purpose. The key to this transition is yourself. You must choose between life and the valley. You and only you can decide. And you must make that decision again and again, each day.

Giving in to the hopelessness of the valley is tempting. Choosing to move on toward life requires a great deal of work. You must struggle with the pain of grief in order to resolve it. It is a daily struggle full of tears, anger, guilt and self-doubt, but it is the only alternative to surrendering yourself to the valley. Little by little you choose to move on. Little by little you progress toward the other side of the valley. It takes a very long time, far longer than your friends or relatives suspected. Far longer than you had believed--even prayed--that it would be.

When one day you find yourself able to do more than choose merely to live but also how to live, you will know you are leaving the valley of the shadow. There will still be more work to do, more struggle and choosing. The valley, however, stretches behind rather than in front of you.

When you have resolved your grief by reinvesting in life, you will be able to realize that nothing is ever the same. Life is change. We would not have it be otherwise, for that is the valley of the shadow. Change has the promise of beginning and the excitement of discovery. Life is never the same. Life is change. Choose life.

Sunday, August 18, 2013

How Animals Grieve, the book

For all my readers emotionally attached to their animals, I'm sure you all realize that animals also have emotions and can feel for us. They can understand when we are happy, and they understand when we are sad. Within the animal kingdom, they share some of these same emotions with each other.

Professor of Anthropology at the College of William and Mary, Barbara King, has written a book called "How Animals Grieve." In her book she discusses how grief emerges from love. She compares it to our own lives and losses. She says that some animals are capable of grief but don't grieve. "It depends on so many factors, some related to the species, others to individual personality and the nature of the survivors relationship with the deceased, as it does with humans also," she added.

King would like us to take away from her book a resonance for animal emotion and inspiration and hope from the animals who freely express their love for others. She hopes that some might even come away from the book with new things to think about in relationship to loving and grieving.

The book also delves into ending all invasive biomedical testing, adding the animal's emotional awareness to a long list of reasons to carry on that fight.

I invite you to read the book and see whether you agree or disagree with her theories, particularly at the comparisons she makes with human grieving.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

News: This and That

Camp Erin

The COPE foundation, a non-profit grief and healing organization dedicated to helping parents and families living with the loss of a child, has partnered with The Moyer foundation, to sponsor the NY affiliate of Camp Erin. Camp Erin New York City is a free, weekend long grief support camp designed to help children and teenagers afes 6-17 who have experienced the death of a parent, sibling or someone close to them.

Camp Erin will take place this summer at Camp Wayne from August 23-25, 2013 (2.5 hours from NYC in the Pocono Mountains.

If you are aware of any child that might benefit from this camp, have their parent contact Ann Fuchs, director, at 914-939-5338 or .

For more information about Camp Erin please visit:

                                    *          *         *

Why Butterflies?

Have you ever wondered why the butterfly is symbolic for Compassionate Friends? Here is the reason:

Since the early centuries of the Christian Church, the butterfly has symbolized the resurrection and life after death. The caterpillar signifies life here on earth; the cocoon, death; and the butterfly, the emergence of the dead into a new, beautiful and more free existence. Frequently, the butterfly is seen with the word, “Nika”, which means victory.

Elizabeth Kubler-Ross movingly tells of seeing butterflies drawn all over the walls of the children’s dormitories in the World War II concentration camps. Since children are intuitive, she concludes that these children knew their fate and were leaving us a message. The Compassionate Friends has adopted the butterfly as one of its symbols—a sign of hope to us that our children are living in another dimension with greater beauty and freedom—a comforting feeling for us.

                                   *         *            *

I would like to apologize to Wendy, a bereaved mother I met at the TCF conference in Boston. She asked to speak to me after a conference dinner and candle-lighting we were having on Saturday night. Due to circumstances beyond my control, I was not able to meet her and did not know her last name or how to contact her to tell her I couldn’t meet with her. I sincerely apologize and hope that if you, Wendy, read this, you will contact me so we can talk.

                                   *         *           *

Safe Place

Safe Place is a retreat for bereaved parents where they will find others at different stages of grief, some moving forward, some stuck, some caught back up with the "normal" time. It will be held this year Nov. 8-10 at the Presbyterian Mo-Ranch Assembly in Hunt, Texas. The facilitators are there to meet you at whatever level you are on.

The retreat is led by other bereaved parents and supported by professional counselors and includes 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 how to move again, even if it is just putting one foot in front of the other for now.

Registration pays for sleeping quarters for two nights, 5  meals, the programming and all materials for the weekend. Scholarship assistance is available.

For more information, call Sue Endsley at 830-238-4455 ext. 226.

Sunday, August 4, 2013

Bears, Quilts and Projects In Memory of Children

The final workshop I want to tell you about that I thoroughly enjoyed was the one on making Bears, Quilts and Memory Projects, given by Kathy Rambo and Gail Lafferty.

If you are at all creative, this is a great way to do things in memory of your child while keeping busy. Kathy and Gail do these projects (or at least start them) at their special Compassionate Friends gatherings, so they can all work together and have the companionship and be able to talk about their child as they show their finished projects.

They have made and showed the audience craft projects such as jewelry, angel suncatcher, T-shirt quilt, teddy bears, explosion photo boxes, origami photo books, photo transfers on canvas, photo pillows and more. They had at least 100 examples of both simple projects and more complicated ones.

The T-shirt quilt is one of my favorites they showed using their child’s T-shirts and explaining how to put it all together. Granted, you need certain supplies to do all these projects and this one was no exception: iron-on interfacing, thread, rotary cutter, border material and 15-20 T-shirts, depending on the size of the quilt you want.

Another favorite they showed but way more difficult was the teddy bear. For this you would need a Simplicity or McCalls 15 inch bear pattern, cotton material, 4 covered buttons of ¾ inches (brand name Dritz), 2 eyes size 18 inch (brand name Darice), 1 nose size 21 (brank name Darice), doll needle (5 inch brand name Dritz), dental floss and poly-fill stuffing. All these items can be found at a fabric store or can be ordered online. From there you need to follow the pattern. It is possible to use your child’s clothing to cover the bear or just part of the bear. You can also put a photo of your child on the stomach of the bear.

One of the simplier projects was decorating an Altoid memory tin. After cleaning the inside and out, decide what theme you want to do. If you have a small trinket of your child’s, you could build you theme around that. Some other ideas are: spell your child’s name with letter beads or something related to what  your child enjoyed doing like a sport or hobby or even a holiday they liked. Choose either scrapbook paper, wrapping paper, a magazine picture or any colored paper to decorate the box. You would need to make a pattern to cut out and trim it to fit. Glue to box. Add the embellishments with either tacky glue or a glue gun. You can also add ribbon around the outside or anything else you’d like. Since you are making this tin with love in memory of your child, enjoy the time you spend remembering your beautiful child and create a keepsake to take with you in your purse, keep by your bed or place on a special shelf.

I have personally done a computer photo transfer to a T-shirt of my two books. (Some parents do a photo transfer to a T-shirt of their child’s photo.) I was surprised at how easy it was to do and how nice it came out. For this you need have a copy of the photo on your computer. Then make a laser print copy (printed in reverse or mirror image) of your photo with special photo paper used to transfer the image on to material. Print the picture on the special photo paper, let it dry completely before placing it on the T-shirt and iron it on with a very hot iron. When it cools, remove the photo paper gently and slowly from the T-shirt and it should look great! Let it dry completely. It will not come off when washing, but do wash inside out.

If you need help on any of these projects or have questions, contact Kathy at or Gail at .

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Estate Planning Workshop

The 3rd workshop at the TCF conference I want to mention for this Sunday dealt with the Now Childless bereaved parents. This workshop broke up into 6 smaller group to discuss the following topics: step-children, widowed or single, seasoned grievers, newly bereaved, the child’s possessions and scholarships and estate planning. After each leader discussed their topic within their group, an informational report was given to the entire group.

I did the “scholarships and estate planning.” Because childless parents have no one to leave anything to, that presents problems for the bereaved. What will happen to all your money and your possessions? I don’t claim to know all the details, but I will give you a brief overview of what I said and what was discussed by the group.

Most bereaved parents want to honor and remember their child in some way. By doing some of the following, you will find that you will be able to accomplish this.

We talked about setting up scholarships in your child’s name for financially strapped students and many parents do that, but the main part of this discussion was dedicated to trusts and setting up an endowment fund.

Everyone should at least have a will. If you don’t, your estate will go to the state and no relatives can claim anything. If you have a substantial amount of money, meaning over $500,000, you should set up a trust and be able to leave whatever you want to relatives, friends and organizations. By having a lawyer help you do this, your estate will not go through probate, if you have less than $6 million (this can change, but I think that is what it is now) and you won’t have to pay any taxes. Paying taxes is the biggest reason trusts are done. Of course, if you are extremely wealthy, anything over the government limit of $6 million, you will get slammed!

You can also designate who will get what from your estate in a written trust prepared by your lawyer. The best way to set this up is to specify “percentages” for each person rather than a set amount of money. You don’t know when you are going to die and therefore, may not have the same amount you thought you might at the time you set up your trust. By doing percentage, it will be based on the total amount of the estate at your death. Your trust can also set up funds for grandchildren and designate an executor to take care of that money, if the child is not old enough, until, say age 25, or any age you want.

I did all types of memorials to honor my daughter, but until I set up an endowment fund for my daughter in her memory, I was not satisfied. Now I am. The fund is run by a foundation (every state has them) and each year from my fund, two or three scholarships for a designated amount (there is a limit of using only 5% of the fund) is given to deserving students who fill out forms and write an essay. I get to read the essays written and comment on which one I like the most. In some cases I even get to meet the recipients, giving me great pleasure. All recipients are given information about Marcy so they are aware of where the money comes from. When the monies grow and are available, I will eventually give to something like a touring summer drama camp, something Marcy was involved in and loved. This is all written in the fund papers I filled out and will be carried out in perpetuity.

The money in the fund is invested, and by doing so, will always be there for others to benefit. I do pay a very small amount of money per quarter for that service. I also get a quarterly statement telling me how the funds are doing in the market. I have designated in my trust that half of what I have will go to Marcy’s endowment fund to help others when I am gone. It is a great feeling knowing everything will be taken care of.

For any additional information, see your lawyer. They will also probably know how to get in touch with the people who run these endowment funds in the state you live.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Loss of an Adopted Child

A new workshop never given before at Compassionate Friends National Conference but always requested was “Loss of an Adopted Child.” Peggi Johnson gave this for the first time. Parents who adopt a child have often typically experienced loss of biologic children or the dream for a biologic child, as well as infertility treatments. They have endured the often difficult and expensive adoption process. They are fervently invested in raising their children. When such a child dies, the grief experienced is complicated, cumulative and intensified.

Peggi had an ectopic pregnancy two years after she married. It was a life-threatening experience, but she pulled through. She and her husband then went through infertility treatment which was complicated, expensive and took a long time. Some of those treatments included temperature charts, hormone treatments, sonograms, injections, surgeries, biopsies, blood tests and loss of dignity and privacy.

Nothing worked. They grieved the loss of a biological child because they knew they were never going to have one.

At this point they went through the adoption process of which there are three kinds: open adoption, closed adoption, and partially opened. Peggi said that there was a tremendous investment with money, financial disclosure, and complicated legal procedures. “You have to be flexible,” she said. They hired an adoption attorney.

On Feb. 27, 1990, their son was born to a teenager. There were health complications and Peggi wasn’t able to bring him home until sometime in March. The birth mother insisted that there be no spanking of the child and the birth father wouldn’t sign the final papers until six months later, so not everything went smoothly

When son Jordan was a year old, they looked into and second adoption and 20 months later brought home their daughter, Claire. Peggi became a full-time mother and couldn’t have been happier. She was always there for them, she helped out at school with field trips and parties. They were healthy, smart, happy children. However, Jordan’s sister, as she grew up didn’t fare well. She was emotionally challenged and was in and out of treatment centers.

Peggi and her husband, Jeff, found that adopted children have more emotional problems as they grow up. Where they were concerned about their daughter, it was Jordan who was having problems and they had no idea. Jordan committed suicide at 19. Both parents and Claire were shattered.

Peggi has come to believe that the loss of an adopted child produces grief that is cumulative, complicated and intensified. “It is definitely a hard journey,” she said.

They do everything they can to honor Jordan: donate to animal shelters, speak to groups and Peggi has served as TCF newsletter editor for her chapter.

She says that what helps the pain management of their loss is to
  1. Be with other bereaved parents
  2. Read about parents who have lost a child
  3. Going to counseling and support groups
  4. Actively seek out distractions (travel, or anything that takes your mind off the death like playing the piano, knitting, gardening)
  5. Take care of your health
  6. Get a dog or cat
  7. Solace of service- Peggi is at peace helping others like Alzheimer patients. "I need tough challenges like this so I volunteer at hospice," Her husband continues to be supportive of whatever she decides to do.

Sunday, July 14, 2013

A Time for Weeping, A Time for Laughter

This past weekend was the 36th annual conference of the Compassionate Friends. This year it was held in Boston, Massachusetts July 5-7. Many keynote speakers and over 100 workshops were held to help all bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings, one of which I did on Dealing With Difficult Situations As a Bereaved Parent. In between all that was going on, I was determined to get to some of the newer workshops that I had never been to before. In the following month each Sunday I will detail some of them for you if you could not attend.

This first one was called “…A Time for Weeping and a Time for Laughter.” Doug and BJ Jensen firmly believe that laughter can be a healer and that you can find joy again after losing a child. It was designed for those further down the grief journey road who are ready to smile and laugh again. They demonstrated this belief through song, sketches, videos and words of wisdom, they conveyed how they got through the death of their 30 year old son, whose depression subsequently led to suicide.

The couple started the now internationally renowned Love In Motion, a 100 hand sign language choir who travel to inspire audiences with their presentations.

With good memories of fun times and extraordinary love they had for their son, they told funny stories of Jay and the family’s life together. The audience roared with laughter at some of Jay’s antics as a young boy, and BJ invited the audience to think of funny stories about their child and share. It was amazing how many stood up and without hesitation told beautiful stories of children who never got to do many of the things they wanted to. One of BJ's stories I enjoyed was the one about Jay at a baseball game wanted a players autograph. The player was signing and Jay stood in line; the signing was cut off right at Jay. His parents were furious. Jay, in his young innocence said to his mom, "What is an autograph?" When BJ told him, he said, "Oh, that's okay. I already know his name."

The couple also did a sketch about being joyful in spite of the circumstances of the death of Jay, who jumped off a bridge to his death. They emphasized that, of course, there were always sad moments but they said, “We choose to remember our loved one’s legacy with laughter.”

Members of the Love In Motion choir then sang the song “Before the Morning” in sign language, expressing that there can be a brighter tomorrow after grief. The couple learned to focus on what they had and what they could do for others.

In addition to all this, they wrote a book, “Finding Hope…After the Devastating loss of Beloved Children.”

In another sketch they showed the difference between how men and women grieve and that they couldn’t agree on anything during much of their grief journey. For example, BJ would camp anywhere there was a condo, while Doug loved camping outdoors. There were also differences in parenting issues. And BJ wanted to talk about Jay after his death, but Doug did not.

In a video BJ went through exercises as Jay silently looked on, hands folded on his chest as his mother did the exercises all wrong; a cute funny video.

BJ also told a story that one night she woke up and heard her son's voice saying he hoped she was happy and wanted her to buy some earings she saw the day before. "The money is in the closet in an old briefcase," Jay said to her. Sure enough, the money was in the old briefcase; the exact amount she needed.

The last song done in sign language expressed the optimism that the Jensens feel. “As long as we have music in our life, our spirit will set us free, ending with their mantra—less weeping, more laughter in your life.”

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Enjoying Being a Grandma

I am visiting my grandson who lives in Europe with his mom and enjoying every minute of it. Even though in truth he is my step-grandson from my step-daughter, I love him just the same as though he was my blood.
He is named after my daughter (his middle name), and I appreciated it so much when I was told that was what my step-daughter decided to do. Although I realize he is not of my blood, I don't really think it matters. I will be called Grandma when he begins speaking, and I really feel like one.
He is so much fun to be with, but, of course like all babies has his good moments and crying moments. He can have a temper when he doesn't get his way and he can look at me with loving, smiling eyes that just melts my heart. I believe his personality reflects what he will become: a sweet, honest, loving man, who will one day make someone very happy.
This is the best it can be for me, since Marcy was my only child, but I am fortunate to have this. I know that many are not as fortunate, but I want you all to know that if an opportunity ever arises where you are put in this situation, make the best of it, enjoy what you now have, and treasure each moment you can spend with the child. It won't heal your broken heart, but it will definitely do a lot to mend it.

Sunday, June 30, 2013

She's Not Forgotten

Every so often something happens to let me know I am not the only one who remembers my daughter, even though it’s been 19 years since she died. Everyone who knew me or her, says, “But it seems like just yesterday.” I know bereaved parents feel that way, but when you hear friends and relatives say that, you realize your child has made an impact.

Recently, since March 2, her 19th death day, four things have transpired that brings a smile to my face and a tear to my eyes.

When I attended a confirmation for my godson, I opened the prayer book and a paper fell out. I clearly saw Marcy’s name under the “We Remember Them In Memorium” page from a March 1 service. It is now May. What are the chances that in that entire stack of hundreds of books, I have taken the one that still had a paper in it from two months ago. Is it a sign from my daughter? Perhaps. I want to believe that she’s telling me she’s okay and happy. But other things would have to happen for me to believe that. And they did.

In my husband’s prayer book on the inside cover, is a sticker that reads, “This book is donated by the Lerner family in memory of Marcy Lewis.” I turned to her best friend, Lynn, who was sitting next to me, and my mouth dropped open. Apparently, congregants could purchase one of these in memory of a loved one. And again, I was told the family had done two books like that and we just happened to get one of them as we walked in. Another sign?

A few days before, I was given a temple monthly bulletin. In it, Marcy’s husband Simon had made a donation in her memory. It was the first time in 19 years I had seen or heard of any recognition from her husband. I subsequently found out that he has been doing this for many years. Perhaps it is his way of honoring her and that is okay. It warmed my heart to know that this beautiful couple still has a connection after all this time.

The last thing that happened was a call from Marcy’s former boss asking how I was doing. He calls every few years. Here is a man who adored Marcy for many reasons, mainly her work habits, her creativity and her loving personality which always made people come to her with their problems any time of the day or night. She was always there for them, and I know that her boss has never forgotten her as he has always spoken highly of her. As Marcy, I, too, was not forgotten by him. He spoke of how each year he tries to get everyone who worked for him together for a lunch. “Many come each year,” he said, “and the first subject they want to talk about is Marcy.”

I know that a year after she died, one of her friends told me that many of their mutual friends got together for dinner to talk about her. I do not know how long that continued as I have not spoken to many over the years. I do have beautiful letters from all of them telling me how important she was to them.

I realize there are many people out there who will never forget her, including myself. It is music to my ears. As one friend said in a letter to me that as determined as Marcy always was, “I bet she is up there trying to get a fourth for tennis.”

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Talking About Memorabilia

In my bereavement group that meets once every other month, one of the mothers wanted to do a program where we all brought some memorabilia from our child and said why it was so special. She said it could be a piece of clothing, honors won, trophies from school activities, photos of a special vacation or anything we wanted. We recently met and did this project.

I believe we all thought it was a great idea. Why? First, we get to talk about our child and how proud we were of perhaps an award won in school or a picture of the wedding day or clothing we still kept for a special reason. Second, most bereaved parents want to talk about their child for any reason so they won’t be forgotten by others.

I know no one in my group will forget my daughter, even though they never met. I try very hard to always remember something she did that I can bring into a conversation both at these meetings or just with friends who have never lost a child. It is always interesting to see the reactions from others. Some just smile. Others ask questions about her and what she was like. That is a good moment.

We all know the names of the sons or daughters who died far too young for so many different reasons in our bereavement group. Our meetings are a comfortable place to talk about them, tell stories, laugh and even shed some tears. Our programs vary. Sometimes we just talk about what is bothering us, sometimes we have guest speakers. And other times we do something related to our child, such as we did at this meeting.

I have four precious boxes of my daughter’s belongings which I never intend to get rid of as long as I’m alive. I knew exactly which box to go to…the one with all the awards she won in grammar school, high school and in organizations she belonged to. My, there were so many. I’d forgotten many of them, so going through the box brought back good memories. I decided to take a few of the trophies and ribbons she had won in school for speeches, drama, writings and art. I knew she was very talented but bringing back those memories are difficult. I was definitely excited to show them at the meeting and talk about all the things she had accomplished.

Some of the other parents talked and showed the following: Donna had a cute pair of baby tennis shoes, a fancy dress, a child’s purse, a beautiful photo and tassel from her graduation; Sheila showed her son’s real baby shoes she’d had white bronzed; Ronnie had a memory box she hangs on the wall with different mementos of her son’s likes, his time in the service and a necklace; Basia showed her son’s outfit when he was brought home from the hospital and some awards; and Dianne had an acoustic guitar her son adored plus a collage of pictures she had framed with a small guitar on the frame. All these things were passed around for viewing and we really enjoyed looking at them.

If in a bereavement group where you live, I invite you to try this or some similar program for one of your meetings.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Flowers Can Brighten One's Day

Flowers can brighten one’s day or help you to think positive thoughts and could possibly improve emotional health according to recent behavioral studies, says Elaine Stillwell in an article she wrote for Grief Digest.

Smell the roses, she says. Slow down, get through another day in our grief journey, smile, see the beauty, add cheer to our day…all reasons to actually enjoy receiving flowers. Flowers can turn frowns upside down, alter our attitudes, slow us down, give us time to enjoy beauty and nature and quiet. An elegant floral arrangement can literally brighten our day. We are more likely to be less anxious, depressed and restless knowing someone cares. We believe we are not alone in our grief because someone cares when we receive flowers.

Filling our home with flowers gives off a message of warmth and good cheer and can do wonders for our personal state of mind. Red roses say “I love you” and sunflowers claim, “You are the sunshine of my life.” White flowers are for reverence and pink flowers show appreciation.

Each color produces a different reaction: red suggests passion, green is nurturing and relaxing, violet generates calm and peace, pink soothes and calms feelings, yellow spreads sunshine, blue relieves hypertension. Sadly, these meanings are not universal as different parts of the world have different connotations.

Flowers can speak volumes; they help express thoughts, feelings and emotions, especially when words are hard to find. Since there are no words that will take away our grief, I’ve learned that flowers can generate positive thoughts, put us in a much better frame of mind and promote our healing.

I have always loved flowers and instead of having them in my home, I bring flowers to the cemetery where my daughter is buried. I started by bringing live flowers. Her favorite was white lilies, as her wedding bouquet displayed, and so I keep that tradition and placed the lilies on her grave stone each time I visited. Because the cemetery has asked us not to put real flowers on the stones anymore, as the cleanup is much harder, I have now switched to silk lilies and put them in the ground right behind the stone. It surprises me how long they last, through hot summers, rainy days and cold days. And the caretakers know how important it is to me, so when they mow the lawn, they are careful not to run them over. It is almost as though she is watching over them and saying to the caretakers, “Don’t ruin my flowers. I love them.”

If my daughter were alive and had her own home, I know she would have planted lots of flowers in her backyard. She adored them. I remember her eyes lit up and it always brought a smile to her face when she received a bouquet.

Surrounding ourselves with flowers is one way to feel better and to experience some welcome serenity when we are battling grief.

As Lady Bird Johnson, who also lost a child, once said, “Where flowers bloom, so does hope.”

Sunday, June 9, 2013


Regrets. We all have them. We regret we didn’t do or say something to another person we should have; we regret we were mean; we regret we had a fight with a friend, we regret we didn’t study for an exam that would have helped us get a better job position.

But bereaved parents probably have the most regrets when their child dies. We didn’t see the signs that they were depressed. We didn’t kiss them good-bye that morning for the first time ever. We didn’t get to tell them we loved them one last time. We didn’t get to say we were sorry for verbally saying harsh things to each other. We never got to go on that vacation we always said we would go on next year. We never got to thank them for helping out with the yard work. These feelings can consume us. Reality tells us that tomorrow may never come, leaving us with the greatest regrets of our lives as far as our children are concerned.

One author, Jackie Hooper, was fascinated with this idea of “what if” and decided to find out what people would say to each other if given a second chance. The response was overwhelming and eventually she turned many of those responses into a book, “The Things You Would Have Said,” a good read for anyone, whether a bereaved parent or not. Hooper received letters from Holocaust survivors saved from death during the war, although not all family members survived; from children who lost siblings; from others who regretted how they acted in school by bullying others, causing the death of a classmate, and many other letters.

Professor Neil Roese of Northwestern University in Chicago has spent 20 yeaers studying the emotion of regret and agrees that if the emotion of regret is channeled right, it can be beneficial. “Regret can serve a healthy purpose if we listen to a message or draw on insight but then move on and focus on the future. It’s the missed opportunities when we could have acted but didn’t that are the most haunting. The things left undone tend to be more powerful and longer lasting, especially if we think about words unsaid, things we wish we had told loved ones before it was too late.

Right after my daughter died I was thinking one day that I’d forgotten to tell her how proud I was of the way she’d responded to an acquaintance who was making fun of another friend. Now I would never be able to do that, nor ever share any secrets we always told each other. It was a horrible feeling.

The Oklahoma City bombing, the World Trade Center, Columbine and everyone else who has lost a child to murder, accidents, suicide or drug overdose…all those parents who wish they could give their children one last hug, one last kiss, tell them how much they are loved and always will be. Perhaps a written letter finally saying what you wish you could have said in person, will help give closure of a sort to feeling held in for so long and can be very healing. It’s worth a try.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

When Will I Heal?

I often get asked after a parent has lost a child, “When will I heal from this unspeakable loss?” I knew I would never heal completely, but I searched for reasons to move on with my life until I found answers. No one has the same experience, not all people heal the same way or at the same time. You need to be patient with yourself and give yourself time to grieve, no matter how long it takes.

You may feel better one day and the next feel worse. You may begin to go through the five steps of grief (shock, anger, withdrawal, acceptance and renewal) and find yourself making progress and then retreating backwards to the beginning. It may upset you, but know that it is normal for this to happen. For example, after getting over the initial shock and anger, you get to the withdrawal stage, and then find that one day you fall back to the beginning stage. It’s like climbing a mountain, getting to a certain point and then your foot slips on a rock and you fall down to the starting area. But what you would do then, you also do in grief. You start again up the mountain and try to reach the top. Just because you start again still doesn’t mean you will get to your goal, but don’t stop trying. When you reach a level where you can look back and say to yourself, “I’ve made it past that original starting point,” keep going. It is not uncommon to fall into the crevice many times and your emotions may get the better of you then. It all looks insurmountable, but I can tell you that you will survive.

One day a subtle shift occurs when you wake up. It is a beautiful morning, birds are singing, the sun is shining in the window and your spirits may soar. You know it will be a good day and you go from there. This process is slow. It can take you three months, six months, even a year or two. But time will be your friend and you will find that eventually you will feel a little better. This doesn’t mean you are healed. You will never heal from the loss of a child, nor will you ever forget the child who brightened your life so much.

You don’t want to forget, and why should you? People may say to you, “It’s been a year. You need to get over this. Forget about what happened.” They don’t understand; they have probably never had a loss this great. Your feelings may be hurt, but you need to tell them that you are doing the best you can and that even though it is a very bumpy road, you are slowly progressing and improving. Your memories of your child will keep you going, and it’s okay to carry those memories with you for the rest of your life.

For myself, not a day goes by that I don’t think of my daughter. When I am driving somewhere on a beautiful day, I often have to pulled over to the side of the road because my grief overwhelms me. It has been 19 years, and I still get teary-eyed thinking of her and all the things she is missing and I am missing by not being together. When I calm down, I continue on.

You, too, will have overwhelming feelings at times, probably for the rest of your life. It is something we learn to live with and accept, for nothing will bring them back. I do know, though, she is in my heart now, and I will keep her there forever.