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:

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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.

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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.

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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 .