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.