Sunday, June 29, 2014

Unique Aspects of Losing an Only Child, part 2

...continuation of last weeks column: Unique Aspects of Losing an Only Child. Please read last Sunday's column before continuing on to this one. This is continued from 6/22/14.

Does losing my only child have to affect my marriage? If anything, it can bring you closer. Your child is part of both the wife and husband and although you may grieve differently, you can still come together and talk about the child, especially the good memories of your life together. The death can also tear you apart because of the differences in grieving techniques, but if you have a good relationship and have always gotten along well, you can survive this too. Surveys show that if the marriage breaks up, it is not because of the child's death, as many believe. There was something wrong with the marriage in the first place. If your marriage is worth saving in your eyes, seek professional help.

Will I lose my friends who still have children? Many believe their friends are uncomfortable around them now that your child is gone. It's that old syndrome: I don't want what happened to you to rub off on me. Grief does shove away friends and scares away so-called friends and rewrites your address book for you. Be prepared to deal with some rejection, but you will always have those good friends that will stick by you no matter what. I lost a few friends. At first I was heartbroken. Why couldn't they understand what I was going through? The good friends who stuck by me made up for that heartache in time.

If I remarry, will I have problems with stepchildren? There is always that possibility. Stepchildren can resent you; they see you as disrupting their lives; they want their mother or father back, therefore, they resent you. As for your new spouse, he/she should be supportive of what you've gone through. They should understand you will have good days and bad days. I am very lucky to have a stepdaughter who is very understanding. She recently had her own child, and I know that now she "gets it" better than any one of her friends that don't have children yet, ever can.

I'm single and lost my only child. What will I do with my life now? What is my reason for living? One thing you can do is to stay in touch with your child's friends. I stayed in touch with my daughter's best friend. She now has three children and I am the Godmother to them. And what a joy they are to me. For some, it may hurt too much, knowing your child should have been able to have her own. Another thing you can do if you have no other family members is to help others by volunteering in a retirement home. These older people are just as lonely as you are. You'd be amazed at the friendships that can form. Of great concern is who will take care of me in my elderly years or if I become ill? That is a serious question that needs to be addressed so that all your papers say exactly what you'd like done, not what the state decides. You need to prepare for getting older for your peace of mind.

How do I get people to understand the "new me?" Attempt to tell others how you have become different since your child died. What has happened has changed you forever. Explain how you have different goals and different priorities now. What was once important to you may no longer have any meaning. Grief makes what others think of us of no importance. It shears away the masks of normal life and forces brutal honesty out of your mouth before propriety can stop you. My child is dead and nothing else is as important as that at this moment. Being bitter doesn't help. What helps is having others understand and be part of your grief journey.

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Unique Aspects of Losing an Only Child, part 1

Questions. Questions. Questions. The bereaved always have questions for those of us who have gone through the initial grief period and have come out on the other side. We know only what we have experienced, but it is a start for those of you who are newly bereaved. I write this column this week and next for those who are now childless. Here are the first five most asked questions. Even if you have other surviving children, you may be able to apply these situations to your own life.

Am I still a mother? The answer is yes, you are and will always be a mother, whether your child is alive or has died. You should always think of yourself in that way, no matter who asks.

Related to this is the question "Do you have any children?" Do you say, no children? Do you say one child (and in some cases, more than one child (with multiple deaths)? Or do you explain your situation? I have been asked that question so many times that I now have my answer: "I have one daughter who died 20 years ago in a car accident." Although the other person may now feel awkward, didn't you, too, feel awkward when confronted with the question and dreading to say the answer? Tell it like it is and go from there. You will feel better acknowledging you are a mother and always will be, and now you can ask the other person the same question and release the tension, letting them talk about their children. You have said what you needed to say and have turned the tables, so that they now have something to say and there is no uncomfortable silence.

There will no longer be any special events in my life like graduation, prom, birthdays, weddings. How will I ever be able to go to another event and not cry my way through it? No, it won't be easy. In fact it took me a long time to attend a special event of even a special friend's child. I explained the situation and said I would have to take a pass; that I hoped they would understand. If they are a true friend, they will understand. Then, little by little I started going to celebrations again. I had to take tiny steps; when I made it through the first one, I continued the tiny steps until I was comfortable about it. And there will be a time when you will be comfortable. Tell your friends to keep trying and not forget you.

Who will I leave everything to? If your only child has died and was not married, you will probably not have any grandchildren. You will have to think about making a new will or trust and think of any legal issues that might entail. You might still have siblings, aunts, uncles, and special friends who you would like to leave things to. Or, if very lucky, you may have a grandchild and the decision will not be that hard. I have put my step-grandchild into my will; I love him very much and since I do not have any living relatives, it was a perfect solution for me. Think about who else you might want to leave things to.

What should I do with my child's possessions? That should be entirely up to you. Don't let anyone influence you. Take your time to decide what you want to keep and what you want to give away to others or even your child's friends. Some parents gain much comfort from seeing, touching, wearing their child's items. Others find it too painful. Again, that is your decision and there is no right or wrong answer. But be sure not to dispose of items too quickly as later you may regret it. I kept all my daughter jewelry because I like to wear it. It makes me feel close to her and we had very similar tastes. Some of the clothes I gave away to her friends, others to Goodwill. The rest I have worn over the years. You'll know when you are ready for a change. And if you want to keep items, store them in an area with a good temperature. I also display some of her belongings, like stuffed animals, trophies she won and photos that were taken of her. Remember, putting your loved ones things away does not mean putting them out of your life.

to be continued next Sunday...

Editor's Note: I discovered two days ago that my web site had been taken down months ago, and I knew nothing about it. Apparently, a new format was now being used in combination with another company, and what I had used for the past 13 years had become outdated. So there I was, no site, no copy, nothing. They claimed to have sent me an email, but I never received it. I finally found a site that achived old websites and there it all was and I didn't have to reinvent it again. So I hopped on the band wagon and have finally gotten my new site up for anyone who would like to go to it for information about my books and more. Sorry for the inconvenience:

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Father's Day 2014

Today is Father’s Day and I wanted to pay tribute to those fathers who have lost a child, no matter the age, no matter the reason.

Sometimes fathers get lost in the shuffle of a tragic event. Many dads are asked by friends, “How is your wife doing?”

“What about me,” some of the father’s shout inside themselves. “I am just as important, and I have feelings too!”

Many look at the male figure as being able to cope better than the female, but that definitely isn’t true. While some men believe they are the rock that holds the family together; and they very well may be, when all is said and done, they too hurt; they too cry for the loss; and they too may very well fall apart.

It is true that men hold their feelings in more so than women. He is the fixer; he is the problem solver. He is told since his youngest days that he must be strong; he must not cry. No matter what he did, he could not stop what happened.

Inside, they think, “Am I still a father if my only child has died?” Rest assured that you will always be a father, whether your child is alive or not. Nothing can take that from you and nothing can take your child’s memory from you or how much you loved him/her.

Perhaps this Father’s Day should be a time when family members, whoever they are, give dad a hug, do something special, help him with the chores, and, most of all, let him know how important, needed and loved he is.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Helping Others Understand and Be Part of the New You

If you want to help others understand and be part of your grief journey, here are some thoughts for you to share with those close to you. Perhaps you can gain a new level of understanding of what you are about in this period of your life and, in turn, allow others to react differently to you as you try to move on.

l. Tell those close to you that you want to TALK ABOUT YOUR CHILD. This is the number 1 thing parents want from others. Most family or friends will be terrified to talk about your child for fear it will be too painful for you. But parents do not want their child to be forgotten, and they are so afraid that after a period of time has gone by, that is exactly what will happen. As a parent, tell them stories of your child, and ask them to respond to events they, too, remember. Make it comfortable for them and , in turn, it will be comfortable for you.

2. Tell others that even if we look all right; even if we say we area all right; even if we act all right, WE WILL NEVER BE ALL RIGHT AGAIN BECAUSE OUR CHILD DIED. We will never get over it or forget it, as some friends and relatives would like us to. These same people also need to accept the fact that we will never say good-bye to our children. They will always be in our hearts, our minds, our very beings. We will never forget them. The slightest thing can trigger a bad time for us. It can be an anniversary, a birthday, a song, or even smells or sounds.

3. Others should understand that THERE IS NO SET TIME LIMIT TO OUR GRIEF. It could take us two years; it could take five years; it could take a lifetime to move on. Explain that we have to do what if comfortable for us.

4. ASK FOR THEIR PATIENCE AS YOU MOVE THROUGH THE GRIEF PROCESS and to call once in a while, invite you to dinner, ask you to go to a movie or lunch. There will be a time when you will feel comfortable again doing those things.

5. ASK THEM TO LET YOU DO WHATEVER MAKES YOU HAPPY; that you may need to try different things before you find what will be right for you in your new life, but that any encouragement means a lot.

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Responses To Bereaved Parents

People may say something to you that you feel is inappropriate to say to a bereaved parent, but I don’t believe the majority of people understand us. They believe what they are saying is “comforting” when it is just the opposite.

The following is my most common list of inappropriate responses to bereaved parents. Try to be understanding when you hear these phrases that will probably “rub you the wrong way.” Or if you feel strongly, you may want to say your reaction out loud. Think of the consequences before you speak. Sometimes it is best to be silent or just walk away.

Below in quotes are responses from others. Following each quote is my silent reaction in italic red type::

“Your child is in a better place.”  No, she’s not. She should be right here with me.

“Aren’t you over it yet?”  I’ll never get over this. In time I may be able to learn to live with the loss, but I’ll never get over it completely, nor will I ever forget.

“I know how you feel.  My dog died last year.”  Please don’t compare your dog to my child. You may have loved your dog very much, but a dog is not a human being, born and nurtured from your body.

“You can have more children.” Maybe I can, maybe I can’t; maybe I can’t bear the thought of ever going through this again, but having another child would not be to replace the one I lost.

“God never gives you more than you can bear.”  Why did God do this to me at all? Am I being punished for some reason?

“Time will heal your hurt.”  Time may ease the pain somewhat, but heal me completely? NEVER!  I will always ache for my child and what we have both lost.

“I understand.”  No you don’t, unless you have also lost a child. Nothing compares. A child should never die before a parent.

“At least she isn’t suffering.”  She is suffering. I am suffering. She had so much more living to do, things to accomplish. No matter what would have happened to her physically; she would have dealt with it and continued living a full life.

“Crying won’t bring her back.”  Crying is a healthy emotion to cleanse your body physically and mentally. No, I won’t get her back, but to hold back emotions is known to cause more damage. If I want to scream and rant, that is okay also.

“It’s time to get rid of her clothes and belongings.”  When I feel it is the right time, I’ll take some action. It could be a month, a year, 5 years, or a lifetime. I will do whatever I want in my own time. I will never get rid of everything. There are some items I could never part with.