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.