Sunday, December 28, 2014

Still Surprised by Grief

I read an article recently by Penny Young, bereaved mother, from the Alive Alone newsletter about how after 20 years, it still surprises her that grief can overtake her if the moment is right. Her son, Mathew, died in 1994. I have found that to be so true also.

I agree with Penny that I, myself, do not feel the intense sadness that I felt the first few years. Time passing does that, so we are shocked that this can still happen after 20 years!

Marcy’s 20th death anniversary was also this year as was Penny’s, and just yesterday, I was talking to a friend, and when I mentioned Marcy’s name, tears came to my eyes and my friend saw it and, I think, was a little surprised that after all this time I still grieve for her. No one ever says to me, “Aren’t you over it yet?” because they know I will never be over my child’s death, and they are kind and thoughtful enough to respect that. This latest episode only lasted a few moments, whereas, in the beginning, the same situation could have lasted all day or for days on end.

Grief never completely goes away, nor do you always know when it will hit you suddenly, so if you find yourself discouraged that this is happening to you also after many years, don’t be. As Penny said, “There is a difference between new grief and seasoned grief. It is the time it takes to recover…I have learned that grief cannot be predicted, and it still grabs us every once in a while.”

This is particularly true when we see a sunset we wish our child could see or travel to a location we know they would have enjoyed tremendously. Life is never the same after your child dies. As I have said many times, you have to find a new normal, new goals, and new priorities in your life so that you can move forward with joy and determination to live your life to the fullest. It is not an easy task but one that comes with time, hard work, and knowing this is what your child would have wanted for you…to be happy.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

David Civile Foundation for Boating Safety Awareness

 …Continuation from last post about David Civile who died in a Kayak accident in November 2010.

David’s parents, Joan and Richard Civile started a foundation for boating safety awareness in 2011 to honor his memory and to warn others of the dangers and spare another family from a tragic loss.
The foundation also promotes the importance and proper use of personal floatation devices and knowledge of environmental factors such as air and water temperatures. “Knowledge through education, says David’s mother, Joan Civile, can save lives.” “We seek to inform all boaters but with a targeted emphasis on novice boaters using non-motorized recreational crafts, such as Kayaks and canoes.”

By April 1 of last year, New Jersey officials posted safety boating signs at all its parks in Monmouth County. This is a result of David’s dedicated and loving family working with officials. The signs warn kayakers to consider their ability and weather conditions before embarking, to always wear a PFD, to carry a safety whistle, and to let others know of their boating plans.

While the Civile family funded a few signs and presented them to the town of Little Silver, NJ, in 2011, the year following David’s death, the county parks system funded the signs that are posted in their parks. David’s sister says they continue to work on getting out boating safety messages in all other counties in the state.

The kayak washed up that first night on a neighboring island. Family and friends searched for David for four days to no avail. It took two years for David’s remains to be found near where he launched his kayak. Once again the family was devastated.

Joan says her family is so proud of David, through the way he embraced life. “David has taught us many lessons: to live life to the fullest, treat others with respect and courtesy, make the best of any situation, pursue your passions, find humor in everything, live with integrity and honor and remember to be happy with yourself.”

They turned their unimaginable loss into something they hope all kayakers can benefit from. In particular they want retailers to focus more on safety, ask questions when a consumer buys a kayak, where they are planning to go, what river, ocean, lake? What time of year.? Encourage appropriate gear and necessary safety extras like a tether, a radio, and a light.

“We are in the process of partnering with local retailers like EMS to develop Kayak safety kits which will include these items. We have also contacted manufacturers to ask them why such kits are not marketed more often and to keep the prices down so as not to deter customers, and to have a video and/or require boaters watch the short clip before leaving the store. The foundation is also sponsoring assemblies in schools on boating safety that will cover in and off season water temperatures with emphasis on wearing a life jacket. They also hope to encourage retailers to promote the purchase of a dry suit and other essentials.

“The more knowledge boaters have, the better equipped they will be out in the water,” said David’s sister.

At the heart of the mission is a loving family who misses their son and brother. “We know David’s memory will continue in our hearts and live forever and hope our mission will possibly spare another family from our tragic loss,” said Joan.

I hope they have succeeded in their mission and wish them continued succeed in whatever they are able to do for others in David’s memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Mother's Story and Praise for Book

Editor’s note: The following is one of many emails I receive from bereaved parents. I love receiving them and learning about your precious children who have died, for whatever reason, at whatever age. Of course, I also appreciate the very nice comments about my books and like that word gets out about them so as to be useful to other bereaved parents. This email was from Joan Civile. After I read it, I looked up her son’s web site and got an insight as to how much these parents have done in their son’s memory. This is her letter to me. Next week I will tell you about the foundation they started and everything she has accomplished  since his death.


My thoughts and prayers go to you on the loss of your dear Marcy. I am also a bereaved parent since November 2010, and another mom recently told me about your book. I was surprised I hadn’t come across it before, as, like you, I have been reading feverishly since our tragic loss. My amazing (his favorite word) 26 year old son, David, drowned, a novice kayaker, in the Shrewsbury River in Monmouth County, NJ, on November 17. Although athletic, competent, and responsible, he was unaware of the danger of cold water temperatures and wind—oddly enough he called me that morning saying he had purchased water proof pants. He had a floatation seat cushion on board which he used in his canoe; his next purchase was going to be a regular life jacket. He had only purchased the kayak three weeks before and wanted to try it out for an hour. He launched in ankle deep water and assumed he would be safe, as he was an avid outdoors man.

He was a manager at Trader Joe's. They called him “superman” because he was the go to person, with an incredible sense of humor, the kind of person everyone wanted as a friend. We miss him more with each passing day. We just had a balloon launch and party for his would be 30th birthday with 40 close friends and family. We served all his favorite foods, even gave out goodie bags. (Talk about crazy things we do to give us comfort!)

Of course, I could go on for hours, especially since our pain is so heightened during this season. As you mention in your book “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child," we never really heal, and although his four year angelversary is approaching, we still feel breathless and surreal, as it seems like yesterday. Time simply takes away the rawness for we get used to the pain, but the missing part seems to worsen. We seem to be doing all the right things to help us, yet the pain is never ending although we do manage to function with God’s grace and our faith.

 We had a wonderful traditional close knit family. Our daughter, then 29, was always best friends with her brother, as was her husband. David even purchased a condo in his sister’s complex. Life was perfect for all of us.

I have now started a foundation for boating safety in the hopes of preventing our tragic loss from happening to another family: (see Dec. 21 story about the foundation.)

My reason for writing this is to simply thank you for such a helpful and resourceful book. Your gift of expressing your feelings touched my heart. I have read dozens of books and yours is my favorite. I also have every intention of reading your first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” shortly. We also facilitate a Compassionate Friends group in NJ, have a great reading list, and look forward to discussing your book with them.

Again, my heartfelt gratitude for such a wonderful book…God bless…Joan Civile

If you are a bereaved parent, I would love to hear your story also. In an email, tell me what happened to your child, background information and what you have done in your child’s memory to move on with your life. Send to 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Telling People Your Child Died

When you meet someone new, one of the first questions asked of you is “What do you do for a living?” Next is “Are you married? And then invariably, “How many children do you have?”

How far do you go in telling people how many children you have? Do you say, “I have two children, (when one has died)? Or do you say how many you have now not counting the one who died? Or do you explain your story, going into detail about how your child died?

Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. Some have a great need in the first few months of giving all the details. Others don’t want to talk about it at all.

I read about one mother, Mary Cleckley from Atlanta, Georgia, who met my needs exactly, and this is what she had to say: “The criteria I use in determining if I go any further is whether the person asking is going to be a continuing part of my life. Is so, they need to know about my son, and I tell them. Otherwise, we will be constantly dancing around that fact. Better, I think, to have it out in the open. It then loses its ability to interfere with the relationship. If, on the other hand, the person asking is simply passing through my life, then I feel no need to go any further than “I had two children.” Seldom does anyone catch the ‘had,’ instead of ‘have,’ and pursue it. If they do, or if they ask follow-up questions about ages and professions, I tell them first that my 26-year-old son was killed in an accident. Then I tell them about my daughter. I am comfortable either way. If they are embarrassed, I see that as their problem. Just to show you how different we all are, however, my husband feels comfortable answering, “We have one child.” That is the right answer for him, and that is what he should say.

We must all decide what is right and comfortable for ourselves and then say it. That is how to defuse that powerful question and then it loses its ability to traumatize. Don’t let it be a problem.”

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Worldwide Candle Lighting Dec. 14

This year the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting is Sunday, December 14, 2014, uniting family and friends around the globe in lighting candles for one hour to honor the memories of the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren who have died. As candles are lit at 7 p.m. local time, hundreds of thousands of persons commemorate and honor the memory of all children gone too soon.

Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the 18th annual event creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone.

It started in the United States in 1997 as a small internet observance, but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world of the remembrance.

Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held and thousands of informal candle lightings are conducted in homes as families gather in quiet remembrance of children who have died but will never be forgotten.

If no Worldwide Candle Lighting service was held near you last year, feel free to plan one and open it to the public. It can be in a park in your town, a church, funeral home, hospices or even an open field. Compassionate Friends has a section on their website you can use giving suggestions to help you plan a memorial service.

I plan to go to a local mortuary/cemetery that every year has a beautiful ceremony around their Angel of Hope. They read the names of every child either buried there or given to them before the service begins. Songs are sung, candles lit, stuffed animals given to all mourners and each of us is given a long-stemmed white flower to place on the Angel of Hope. It is a beautiful ceremony that draws over 600 people or more each year.

This annual candle lighting event gives bereaved families everywhere the opportunity to remember their child(ren) so that their lights may always shine!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rethinking Your Holiday Traditions

After your child dies, you may want to rethink how you go about your holiday traditions. What you once did may no longer apply or feel right to you.

If you have surviving children, you may want to keep some of your traditions so that they can remember and talk about their sibling, remembering good times they all had as a family during this joyous time of year. If you are now childless, you may want to start new traditions you feel comfortable with. Either way, changing the way you celebrate the holidays may boast your spirits tremendously.

For those with other children, you can find out from them if they have any suggestions for something new to do during this time of year or something that would honor the memory of their lost sibling. One parent I know asked her children what they would suggest, and the overwhelming ideas she received from her children were to help out in some way at a senior care home. One of the children felt that many seniors feel very lonely during this time of year and wanted to go there and entertain them and bring gifts on Christmas Eve. Another child thought about spending Thanksgiving and Christmas evening with these seniors and bringing them desserts. The parent loved these two thoughtful ideas and knew that her child who died would also have approved. She called the home in her area and they were delighted with the suggestions. Since then, it has become a new yearly tradition for this family.

Another family thought getting away and into a new environment for a few days during the holiday season would help their heavy hearts when the season rolled around. The first year they decided to go to a mountain resort where they could ski and have a good time together. Even though the child who died never left their mind, they found that it was easier to talk about what had happened and how much they missed and loved the sibling. In succeeding years, they have gone to Disneyland, a resort where it is warm enough to swim and sun, and who knows where they will go this year. Going away is not meant to help you forget the child. You will never forget, nor should you. It is only meant to lift your spirits a little during this difficult season.

My favorite story is about how an entire family gets together and dedicates their Christmas tree to the sibling who died. At the top is a picture of the child and the tree is filled with ornaments each child makes dealing with some aspect of the sibling. For example, if active in a sport, a miniature tennis racket or football can be made or bought. Pictures of activities the child participated in, their favorite jewelry, food or car (miniature, of course) and more…all of these things are placed on the tree and then the lights are added. Each year additional ornaments are added and good friends asked to contribute something they remember about the child. It could be an ornament or just a poem, saying or activity they write about. In this way, the child is always remembered and part of the holiday.

It is very difficult for those parents who are now childless. I know of one group of parents who try to get together at a fun location somewhere in the U.S. for the holidays. There they can feel comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings and talk about their children, since they all have this one thing in common. Other parents spend the holidays with good friends and relatives. That is what I do and although I miss not having my child there, and on the way home tears may come to my eyes, I know she is not forgotten by these special people who make me feel comfortable being in their homes and talking about her when appropriate.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting Through the Holidays

When the holidays are near and festivities and social gatherings prominent, we may feel the loss of our loved ones more at this time of the year than any other. We wonder how to get through these special times since we are filled with reminders of what we no longer have. Below I have listed some books that may be of help and support to you that are specifically about surviving the holidays.

When the Holidays Hurt: Practical Ideas and Inspiration for Healing by Nan Zastrow
The death of someone loved may be the reason associated with the lonesomeness and pain. Life and holidays, as you once knew them, have changed. In this collection of articles and essays, Nan writes about managing the traditions, transforming the holiday and allowing family to move forward. Available through

Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss by Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley and Open to Hope contributors
There is plenty of practical advice and encouragement from the stories and articles covering rethinking holiday traditions, gathering at Thanksgiving, finding your way back to Christmas and embracing the New Year with hope. Articles are written by bereaved people representing different relationships and causes of death. Even if the article is not about a child loss, the ideas may be helpful to your situation.

Thoughts for the Holidays: Finding Permission to Grieve by Doug Manning
This booklet begins with thoughts for the holidays, the waves of grief, the holiday dilemma, permission to do what you can do, permission to change traditions, and permission to find safe people. Available through

How to Survive the Holidays When Someone You Love Has Died by Susan L. Fuller
This short Kindle e-book notes that as tempting as it may be to pull the covers up over your head and just wait for the holidays to be over, there is no way of truly avoiding this time of year. With a little bit of planning, it is possible to navigate your way through without totally falling apart, whether you decide to do things completely differently, exactly the same or something in-between.

Not Just Another Day by Missy Lowery
This book covers the more common holidays and gives good ideas for including children in celebrating birthdays and Christmas. Includes a list of things to do to take care of yourself for a month. Available through

A Decembered Grief: Living with Loss while Others Are Celebrating by Harold Ivan Smith
The author coaches you on how to alter traditions instead of abandoning them, appreciate the grief styles of others and befriend your grief instead of dreading it. Topic headings include suggestions like Journal Your Grief, Create Ornaments, and something simple as a Nap! The encouragement to continue on is clearly and gently given.

Helping the Bereaved Celebrate the Holidays by James Miller
A step-by-step guide to designing what you’ll do, the time of gathering, poems, leaser and people responses, and many other general guidelines. Available through

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Active Minds

The suicide rate rose 2% last year and is the 2nd leading cause of death in college students in America. But thanks to an organization started by Alison Malmon at the University of Pennsylvania called Active Minds, this organization fights the stigma of mental illness on college campuses.

On the campuses each year 1,100 back packs are placed on a large section of lawn. They are placed there to lure passersby. Each back pack represents a student who took his life and each one has a story to tell. Active Minds has over 400 chapters across the nation that do this each year on campuses.

One student said, “The back packs are symbolic of what you carry around in life.”

No one wants to talk about it which is part of the problem, according to Alison. Her brother, Brian, committed suicide his senior year in college. He was mentally ill and, although he was able to conceal it, according to Alison, he thought there was no one else who had his problems and nowhere to turn.

On the campuses, Active Mind members meet weekly or biweekly to plan events to raise awareness and issues of mental health and available resources that promote an open dialogue around the issues and serve as a liaison between students and the mental health community. Common events include: Mental Health Awareness Week, campaigns, panel discussions, movie screenings, Stomp Out Stigma runs and stress relief activities during final exams. Counseling centers usually have all the information a student would need.

Alison believes the high-stress environment of college life makes students especially vulnerable to developing problems. Her goal is to bring public awareness to this serious problem. She wants others to know that help is always available. She is certain that by doing this, the organization is saving lives. She hopes more and more people will ask for help through this organization. Visit  for additional information.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Will I Forget My Child?

Will I forget my child after so long? The answer is “No, you will never forget.” Others may stop talking about your child, but there are ways to make sure she is not forgotten by you or your friends and family. Talk about your child. Tell a story about him/her. Ask the friend or relative if they remember that incident or any other you might enjoy hearing from them. Don’t let them pretend your child never existed or, worse, that you don’t want anyone to talk about them because it hurts so badly.

Not a day passes that I don’t think about my child and all that she is missing…all that I am missing. I try to keep written accounts of memorable events as they come to mind, because even those may fade after a while, and if I can look back and remember my precious child with love, it is a gift. Parents can also post memories on and share your child with others who care.

It has only been the last 20 or so years that people started talking about death…particularly the death of a child. Before then, it was swept under the table and everyone, including parents, pretended it never happened. It was a taboo subject, and no books were written about how to cope. “The Bereaved Parent” by Harriet Schiff brought death to the fore-front in a realistic, helpful way for all to understand. From there, parents started pouring their hearts out in personal books so others could benefit from their experiences, which were then confirmed by grief counselors and psychologists, who also wrote books. Today there are hundreds of books, some personal, some informational. Both of the books I wrote are personal and informational.

There are many ways to pay tribute to the life and legacy, the memory and love for those who have died? Common ones include: a beautiful headstones in the cemetery, a personal website or even a site for all who knew her to share, memorial service, scholarships and anniversary celebrations.

Other ways are memorial jewelry (I have a necklace with my daughter’s picture embossed on the gold), setting up a foundation so others may benefit (I have done this also), memorial bricks in well-known buildings (I have many), tree planting (my former school has planted a tree with a plaque in her memory), DVD of pictures with music (I have this), service projects done in her memory, balloon or butterfly or dove release, articles of clothing or sleepwear made from clothing that belonged to her, jewelry and clothing of hers distributed to friends and those in need, and collages of photos of the child during his/her lifetime.

There are many, many more and if you’d like to tell me about something you’ve done that has been helpful to you, send me an email and I’d be happy to print them in an upcoming column.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Heroes of Sandy Hook

The 26th and final playground honoring the children and teachers who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost two years ago opened recently.

This last playground, dedicated to Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung of Sandy Hook, was the fulfillment of a movement started by retired firefighter Bill Lavin, who had the idea to build playgrounds for each of the 26 victims of the shooting in Newton, Connecticut, and do them in towns that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy two months earlier.

“I think what the families love most is it celebrates who these children were and who the teachers were,” said Lavin. “It doesn’t talk about how they left us nor about the day of the shooting.”

Parents from all over the country volunteered to work for free to build the playgrounds. Everything was donated. Moms and Dads worked dawn to dusk to get it done. The playgrounds were a symbol of their children’s lives. It was important to them their child be remembered in this way. “Our angels are looking down on us and are happy with what was done; it’s beautiful,” said one parent.

Lavin said the heroes of this project are the moms and dads and wives and husbands of Sandy Hook who, while suffering the worst tragedy imaginable, had the courage, strength and generosity of spirit to give to others. When you think of heroes, think of people who, while hurting themselves, pay it forward.

I have personally found doing something worthwhile like this after your child dies gives you some peace and helps you move on with your life, knowing your child will never be forgotten. It is comforting beyond belief, and I can empathize and know what these parents feel and are going through and how proud they are knowing they did something so worthwhile for others to enjoy.

The foundation, Where Angels Play, which was started by Lavin, says they plan to build more where there were other tragedies such as Boston, Colorado, and Oklahoma and bring some joy to other families and communities who need it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Finding Hope Once Again

It is now October, the Autumn of the year. Children have gone back to school, leaves change colors, animals begin to hibernate, and the amount of daylight decreases until December 21, the shortest day of the year. By Halloween the air becomes nippy.

Those of us who are bereaved watch the seasons change each year, but don’t know how to make the pain go away. We have lost a precious part of ourselves that we would like to have back. But deep down we know that will never happen…so we go on each day, each month, each season, and try to do our best to move on with our lives without our children.

We try to find a new interest, a new cause, a new purpose. We are different. We try not to get stuck in our grief and overwhelmed with pain. We don’t want to live this way, nor, I can guess, do our children want us to. We must accept that our lives have changed.

Change can be difficult but is necessary for us to survive. We must learn to live again, love again, feel joy and peace or our survival will be without value to ourselves or others.

I want to honor my child’s life and her memory by empowering others with courage to continue living life with a sense of grace, dignity, integrity and meaning day after day.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Manifestations of Grief

For the newly bereaved, there are normal manifestations of grief. Here are some of the ones you may come across:

**Lump in throat, tightness in your chest, palpitations. There is probably nothing wrong with you, except for the fact you lost the most precious thing in your life, so don’t run to the doctor unless a symptom persists or gets worse.

**Difficulty with remembering things. Your mind is full of your loss and it is normal to forget. Don’t even consider that you are getting alzheimers. As time passes and you begin to accept your loss, your memory loss problems will begin to disappear. If you feel you need to see a counselor, don’t hesitate.

**Crying at unanticipated times. Suddenly, a fond memory of your child will come to you and you find it difficult to control your emotions. Crying is a very natural emotion that cleanses, and you will feel better after a good cry.

**Having feelings of guilt and remorse. Depending on how your child died, you may feel guilty about a fight you had the day before, or that you never got to do all the things you wanted to do with them. Just remember, whether you had your child for a short or long time, you were fortunate to be able to do many wonderful things that you will always remember.

**Feeling that life no longer holds any meaning. Of course it does. Honor your loved one by doing something in their memory. Start a scholarship or foundation, set up charity runs and/or give to good causes. You will see how good it will make you feel to know your child will not be forgotten.

**Playing the “if only” game. If your child was sick and you did not take them to the doctor, or if you let them drive the family car and they got in an accident—stop there. You can “if only” yourself to death and it does not do anyone any good. What has happened can’t be undone, so move on and stop blaming yourself. If you could have saved your child, you would have.

**Longing to return to the way life used to be. Nothing will ever be the same again for you, so you must create a new life, with new goals, new priorities and probably new friends. You have changed and it is possible that some of your old friends don’t want to be around you anymore. Seek out those who understand what has happened to you by attending bereavement group meetings and meeting new people.

Additional manifestations include: loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, lump in your throat, anger at God, inability to sleep or concentrate, inability to complete normal tasks or read a book and anger at the loved one dying.

If you find yourself falling into any one of these categories, know that the grief journey is a lifetime experience and you will feel better with time. Take it slow, and time will be a great healer for you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

More Grief Quotes, Sayings and Words of Wisdom

Some time ago I wrote a blog listing some of my favorite grief quotes. Now, years later, I have found many other quotes, sayings and words of wisdom from the famous to the ordinary every day person who has something to say. Some of these will tug at your heart strings no matter where you are in your grief journey. Here they are:

“Time does not really heal a broken heart; it only teaches a person how to live with it.” –Arnold L. Sheppard Jr.

“There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower

“It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it’s never gone.” –Rose Kennedy

“Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains.” –Khalil Gibran

“In time of sorrow, everyone deals with feelings in unique ways. Try not to hurt if those closest to your heart seem to grieve less or behave strangely. We cannot always see on the outside how someone mourns on the inside.” –Sascha

“The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.” --Norman Cousins

“We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much better for having something so great to lose.”—found on Cherrylane

In the 1920’s Ernest Hemingway’s colleagues bet him that he couldn’t write a sad story in just six words: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”—E. Hemingway

“You never know how STRONG you are until being STRONG is the only choice you have.”—anonymous

“Grief is a solitary journey. No one but you knows the gaping hole left in your life when someone you know has died. And no one buy you can mourn the silence that was once filled with laughter and song. It is the nature of love and of death to touch every person in a totally unique way. Comfort comes from knowing that people have made the same journey. And solace comes from understanding how others have learned to sing again.”-- Helen Steiner Rice

“Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”--- from TCF Taylors, SC Newsletter

“It is a curious thing in human experience, but to live through a period of stress and sorrow with another person creates a bond which nothing seems able to break.” –Eleanor Roosevelt

Sunday, September 28, 2014

The Stepping Stones of Grief

Come, take my hand, the road is long. We must travel by stepping stones. No, you're not alone. I'll go with you. I know the road well, I've been there. Don't fear the darkness. I'll be with you.

We must take one step at a time. But remember, we may have to stop awhile. It is a long way to the other side and there are many obstacles. We have many stones to cross. Some are bigger than others...SHOCK, DENIAL, AND ANGER to start. Then comes GUILT, DESPAIR AND LONELINESS. It's a hard road to travel, but it must be done. It's the only way to reach the other side.

Come, slip your hand in mine. WHAT? Oh, yes, it's strong. I've held many hands like yours. Yes, mine was, one time, small and weak like yours. Once, you see, I had to take someone's hand in order to take the first step.

Oops! You've stumbled. Go ahead and cry. Don't be ashamed. I understand. Let's wait here a while and get your breath. When you're stronger we'll go on, one step at a time. There's no need to hurry.

Say, it's nice to hear you laugh. Yes, I agree, the memories you shared are good. Look, we're half way there now. I can see the other side. It looks warm and sunny. Oh, have you noticed? We're nearing the last stone and you're standing alone. And look, your hands, you've let go of mine, and we reached the other side.

But wait. Look back. Someone is standing there. They are alone and want to cross the stepping stones. I better go; they need my help. What? Are you sure? Why yes, I'll wait. You know the way, you've been there. Yes, I agree - it's your turn my friend, - to help someone else across the stepping stones.
                                        Author Unknown

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Embracing a New Life After a Tragic Loss

“If you believe yourself unfortunate because you have loved and lost, perish  the thought. One who loved truly, can never lose entirely.”  - Napoleon Hill, American author.

I saw this quote recently and it got me thinking about my daughter’s death. I will never forget her. So, in some sense, she will never be entirely gone. Sure, I’d love to hold her like I did the very last time I saw her. Sure, I’d love to talk to her again. I’d even love to see her one last time. I know I can’t, and that breaks my heart. But I also know I am stronger because she lived, and every day I appreciate life more fully, being able to help others get through their loss, and know I have a reason for being here. I have let go. I have moved on as so many have.

Others can’t move on. I’ve seen them. They have trouble getting out of bed. They can’t function during the day because they are constantly thinking about the child who died. They can’t work. They can’t even cook for their family. Helping their other children with homework is non-existent. And worse yet, they pull away from their spouse and their marriage suffers.

I have a friend who is extremely worried about her daughter, who lost a child. This friend has also lost a grandchild, a double loss for her as she thinks there is no help for her daughter, yet she has a grip on her part of the tragedy. Not so, the daughter. Even though the daughter has two other children, she is angry at everyone and everything. Her bitterness shows in every word she speaks and in every action she takes. She sees no purpose in her life anymore. My friend begged me to talk to her daughter, so one afternoon we all went to lunch when she came to town. I tried to tell her she has a family she must think about. They, too, are suffering: husband and two sons. I’m sorry to say there was no moving her. Nothing I said seemed to get through to her. I feel sorry for the mother who lost her child in an accident, and more so for my friend, who feels so helpless in trying to help her daughter cope. Voltaire, the French philosopher said, “The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.” I do hope she can get help from a counselor, a clergy, relatives or friends.

Eventually, I am also hoping to get her to go to a Compassionate Friends group in the state where she lives (there are over 600 chapters across the U.S.), where all her feelings will be understood by those who attend regularly and say TCF saved their lives. By listening to other stories similar to her own, I refuse to believe she won’t come around. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I continue on with my quest, my reason for being. I know my daughter is with me and will guide me. I know she is proud of me. I remember her always using the phrase “Good job, Mom,” when she was proud of my accomplishments in any field of endeavor. I know she is saying that now after all I have done for others and will continue to do. My loss helped me examine who I am, why I am here on this earth. If others can do this, hopefully it can help them too.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Who Will Be There For Me When I Am Older?

Many single bereaved parents who have lost their only child and have no surviving relatives often wonder who will take care of them when they are older and/or in need of help. They are frightened as they look into the future.

This is a legitimate concern. It has come up at many bereavement conference sharing sessions from those who don’t know who they can turn to?

One suggestion is that good friends can be very helpful. Perhaps you need someone to pick up a few things at the grocery store. You can thank them by inviting them over for lunch or dinner. Or you may want a companion to go out with you to a movie, play or just shopping for some new clothes. Don’t be afraid to ask a good friend if they would like to join you.

If you can’t drive anymore for whatever reason, there are many organizations that will provide free vans to take you where you want or need to go. I know someone who worked for such an organization and became good friends with the surviving parent he helped. Look into social services that are available in your state or city where you live.

Buying long-term care insurance, if you haven't already, is a good idea. When you need it, a qualified professional can come over for a few hours a day, a half-day, or even longer to help you out if your health doesn’t allow you to do all you need done. I can’t imagine what my neighbor around the corner, who has Parkinson’s, would have done without this wonderful companion who helps her now not only get a lot stronger, more confident, and walking again, but also was a wonderful sounding board for listening to stories about the daughter she lost a few years before she got ill.

Many think Hospice is only for those who are dying, but hospice has come a long way since its founding. Its goal now is to pursue quality living with compassionate, quality patient care, so that if someone has special needs, it is available. Whether it is help with paying household and other bills, cleaning the home or seeing that correct medicines are being taken at certain times, Hospice is there to help or to find someone who can. If you find you can’t take a shower by yourself anymore, want a hair cut at home, or want groceries delivered, that can also be arranged.

These are only a few suggestions. Many wonderful people are out there to help and be friends with as you grow older. Getting involved in organizations now, widening your network of people you meet and becoming friends with some of them will help you a lot as you grow older and realize that you are not alone. There are people out there who care.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Grieving People Need to Know

Dr. Heidi Horsley, a licensed psychologist and social worker, who is executive director of the Open to Hope Foundation and assistant professor Columbia University School of Social Work in NYC, gives her professional perspective on four of the most common questions asked by those grieving a loss.

How long should grief last?
“Everyone is on their own personal grief journey. I don’t believe in putting a time frame around grief. The journey of a hundred miles starts with a single step. If you take that next step, you will eventually find your way out of the darkness and back into the light.”

Can you give some examples of healthy ways to process grief?
“It is important to have support when you are grieving and to look towards others who are further along in their journey. Take care of yourself, by getting enough water, eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising. Be kind to yourself and love yourself, you’ve been through a lot. Don’t beat yourself up mentally if you have a day where you don’t feel like or are unable to get out of bed.”

What benefit can be achieved by seeking professional support?
“Losing a loved one is extremely difficult, and often society tends to minimize the impact of losing a family member. As a grief therapist, and as someone who has lost a brother, I normalize what my clients who have suffered a loss are going through. I offer support and guidance, and give clients tools that may help them eventually find hope again. I don’t expect my clients to get over the person who died; instead, I help them to incorporate their loved one into their lives in new and different ways. As a professional, I can also let the client know if I am concerned about something they are doing, particularly if they are engaging in dangerous or harmful behavior.”

What is the most important thing a grieving person can do to help themselves?
“According to the research, gratitude is the fastest way to feel better. Easier said than done, since after suffering a great loss, it is often difficult to find anything to be grateful for. Find gratitude in the little things in life, such as the sun, friends, and memories. You are who you are today because you knew them, they changed your life in profound ways and left you a better person. The best way to honor your loved one is to pay tribute to them by living your life to the fullest with gratitude.”

At you can read many stories and get many perspectives of grief and loss in addition to listening to the web radio program featuring other grief experts who discuss many aspects of bereavement with a main focus on the death of a child and its effects on the family.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ending the Silence

Part 2 Ending the silence

According to author Nan Zastrow, a suicide survivor, “Survivors need not be silent any more. What they long for is the reverberating echo of acceptance, understanding and peace. When you allow a survivor to teach you about the uniqueness of his or her grief, you may learn so much more about the sanctity of life,” said Nan in a talk she gave at the TCF conference.

She says she spent three years hiding from her grief, absorbing every bit of damaging pain, swallowing her hard-earned pride, admitting her feelings of defeat, and finding excuses for what seemed hard-to-believe before she learned she had the power to stop the silence. Survivors want to speak and be heard. Survivors want to let others facing the same tragedy know that they are not different—that loss of any kind still hurts.

From Nan:

The silence ends when survivors are willing to accept no-fault accountability.

The silence ends when survivors rise above society’s judgment, which is often misdirected, misinterpreted and heightened.

The silence ends when survivors quit trying to figure out “why” and accept that they may never know.

The silence ends when survivors realize their loved ones’ choice was not meant to destroy them.

The silence stops when survivors are unafraid to expose raw pain, disappointment and unpretentious conclusions.

The silence stops when survivors speak their loved ones’ names and honor their loved ones’ lives.

The silence stops when survivors remember the awesome memories and tell the unforgettable stories that bring comforting peace to their souls.

The silence stops when survivors hold their heads high and face adversity with determined pride.

The silence stops when survivors vow to coach other survivors to work diligently through their losses, override the taboos and free themselves from lingering grief.

The silence stops when survivors find peace in knowing they and their loved ones will “meet again.”

The silence stops when survivors accept that God put them in their loved ones’ lives to love, accept and believe in them unconditionally.

The silence stops when survivors choose to survive-and live beyond-the tragedies of life.

Nan is the author of five books on surviving grief. Visit or

Sunday, August 24, 2014

I'm Not Afraid to Talk About Suicide

One other interesting speaker I was able to listen to at the national conference was Nan Zastrow, whose son Chad died of suicide 21 years ago. She has authored five books on healing from grief, and at the TCF conference gave a workshop titled, “Ask me—I’m not afraid to talk about suicide.” This is Part 1 of 2.

She suggested “18 Ways to live with loss.” Here is her list that I think will help anyone in this situation.

1. Ask questions and seek answers for as long as you feel a need. It helps you to accept the loss.

2. Suicide is just death by another name.

3. Expect emotional disorder in your life for months and years. Imagination will be your worst enemy.

4. Don’t make excuses for your loved one’s choice. We don’t know what was in their mind.

5. Some family and friends may express disbelief or shock. Allow them to share feelings. Allow them to grieve in their own way.

6. Don’t try to salvage friendships that imply judgment based on the suicide. Friends should not judge.

7.Talk to others with similar experiences, but don’t expect your experiences to be the same. It gives comfort and support.

8. Tell personal stories about your loved one to anyone who will listen.

9. Accept that you will all grieve differently.

10. Let God in when you are ready. Traumatic death can change your belief system.

11.Turn away from guilt.

12. Use social media responsibly. Once it’s on, you can’t take it back.

13. Get professional help if you need it. There is no shame in it. Make sure the person is certified. In addition, join a support group.

14. When you are ready, speak the word “suicide.”

15. Learn everything you can about death, grief, suicide and healing. Read books, attend seminars.

16. Live vicariously in honor of you loved one. Do something that honors their legacy.

17. Teach others about suicide. Shatter the myths. Share the facts.

18. Live your life deliberately. Don’t allow the taboo of suicide ruin your life.

Part 2,  I will cover next Sunday: "How a Survivor Stops the Silence"

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Exploring Grief Through Photography

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at the National Compassionate Friends conference in Chicago recently was “Exploring Grief Through Photography.” Co-presenters Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley introduced attendees to the possibility of exploring the complicated emotions of grief through art and photography. Participants also explored the opportunity to continue bonds through photographing symbolic reminders and spaces that they associate with their deceased loved ones. In this particular session, they discussed the role photography plays in communicating after a loss, processing the complex emotions of grief, and honoring and remembering loved ones.

“No two loses are the same,” said Elizabeth. “No two grievers are the same. We all need to find the tools that work for us,” she added.

These two women love photography and are very accomplished at what they do. They are strong believers in art’s capacity to connect, heal and communicate. “We feel photography is one of the most accessible art forms us regular folks have to choose from,” said Litsa.

Why do we create?

1.      1. To help express our emotions

2.      2. It relieves stress and anxiety

3.     3. It gives us an opportunity to honor our loved one’s memory

4.     4. It changes the way we see the world

5.      5.It provides a time and space where we are present with our thoughts, emotions and loved one’s memory
The two ladies showed us pictures they have taken: like of shoes of the loved one who died or a bike photo leaning against a post with no person in the photo. Or for an old person who died: a picture of objects that remind us of his life. If a baby died before birth, the photographer can do a picture of mother holding a candle on a dark background. You can capture funerals or memorial services. You shouldn’t be judged (Why did you photograph that?) It means something to the photographer, that’s why!

Those who can’t express in words, can do so with photos. It is accessible to anyone; the end result can be literal or abstract; it can be done anytime, anywhere; and it is easily sharable.

Categorizing grief through photographic exercises:

1.      1.Choose 1 or 2 emotions you feel when thinking about death, grief, or a specific loss and express them photographically.

2.      2. Symbols remind us of a person that we have lost. It can be a literal symbol such as a grave marker or personal item or an abstract reminder like a rainy day or a sunset. When parting with important or sentimental objects or moving to a new home, photographs help us to hold on to memories while letting go of physical objects. You can photograph an environment where you would often see your loved one prior to their death or do a photo of a place where you feel your loved one’s absence the most. You can even find a photo from the past and take a picture of it in the same location that the original photo was taken.

3.      3. Hope and strength – the photo may be connected to loved one, or may just be symbols that make you feel your personal growth : strength, compassion, inner peace, health. Incorporate words, verses or quotes that resonate with you in a photo. You can also find or create these words in your environment and photograph them. Gratitude- every day we should find one thing we are grateful for.

The value and healing to be found in photography exists in the process of creation as much as it does in the final photograph. I hope the summary of this session gives you ideas to use from your own life and allows your individuality to shine through.