Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, Marcy

Today would have been my daughter Marcy’s 48th birthday. It is so hard to believe that she was born so long ago (and that I am that old!). Of course, she will be 27-years-old forever. She died on March 2, 1994, a lifetime ago in my eyes. Her father, my first husband, died four years ago in 2010. That is it; there are no siblings on any side of our family, and no aunts or uncles. A few cousins, but I am only friendly with one of them.

Fortunately, I am very close to my daughter’s best friend and always have been. She is like a second daughter to me, and I know how much she misses Marcy and always will. Her life gives me an indication of what Marcy’s would have been like with a husband and children. They were married only 4 months apart and had many hopes, dreams and plans for their lives together, which were ripped apart that March day. 

Marcy’s friend now has three children to whom she has bestowed me with two honors. The first is that I am their godmother and the other is that her daughter is named Marcy after my daughter.

When I met my future husband in 2003, I learned from him that he, also, has one daughter and both his daughter and my daughter were born on the same month and day. Coincidence? No, I believe it was something more, particularly after I got to know her and realized how alike the two girls were in thought, deed and actions.

My husband’s daughter now has a 2 ½ year old son. It has been so joyful to know what it is like to have a grandson, something I thought I’d never be able to imagine. His middle name is after Marcy; she just dropped the “y” when naming him.

Can I say that good can come out of tragedy? Certainly, I can. I’ve had some very glorious moments in my new normal since Marcy died. But it will never be the same without her. I will always miss her terribly and a piece of my heart will always be missing. I have some wonderful memories to always treasure tucked way down inside me. I love when other people mention her name; it gives me a warm feeling, and I realize she will never be forgotten completely.

Happy 48th birthday, my darling daughter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Open Letter to Grieving Friends

The following article, An Open Letter to Grieving Friends, appeared in the Compassionate Friends Magazine, “We Need Not Walk Alone” copyright 2013. I reprint this with permission from the magazine as an example of how one family processed their grief, helping them to survive, normalize and transcend their situation. Author is Wesley Merritt, father, husband, executive, writer and public speaker.

Dear Friends,

Twelve years ago my 15 month old daughter, Sarah, died in a tragic accidental window fall while we were vacationing at a New Jersey beach. Sarah would be turning 14 this past May, which is a fact that never really drifts too far from our thoughts. If you are anything like we were during that first year after Sarah’s death, the lull period after people had gone back to their lives were the moments where we were hit square in the face with the grief of our loss. Things were at their worst when the funerals concluded, attention lessened, and the many others who were so wonderful during the immediate window after the tragedy began to move on…while we were firmly cemented to the tragedy. For us, the hardest time came when things slowed down, and we were left alone to answer the existential question of “Now what?” That was the moment our hard grief work began.

This question is what brings me to this letter. Events over the last few months have seen children taken from us. Violent acts like the Sandy Hook shooting and a local upstate New York car accident that recently killed two high school seniors are just two examples of events that have had great personal effect. While we can’t all fully appreciate every nuance of one another’s pain, we all share emotional proximity through grief, and that is what bonds us together.

So, family…a few suggestions for those of you who are battling the pain of recent loss:

1.      Try to believe that hope exists despite the pain and confusion you may be experiencing now. You can choose to grow and heal. You will get through this. Joy will return if you let it.

2.      Try to focus on individual moments. Many of you likely feel wounded right now. Survival of the bad moments comes through the understanding that everything changes…moment by moment. While you may hurt right now, try to hand on with the understanding that something will come along soon to buoy you up, and it will likely happen in the next moment. You may be familiar with the term “one day at a time…” For the grieving, shorten it. An hour, a minute, and if need be, seconds are what you may require. Have hope that pain is temporary and everything changes quickly.

3.      Try to stay open. When wounded, a natural reaction for people is to close down and hide. Hiding helps us to ignore the pain and stay away from perceived harm. It is also natural that we deflect our pain by judging, blaming, or attaching the cause of our immediate pain to others. When people don’t act the way we think they should, or when someone says something to us that appears insensitive, our inclination may be to judge them. That action, however, works by closing our hearts so we do not feel the full range of emotion, a state that can become toxic over time. Openness, while not always easy, will help us to accept things as they are…acceptance will offer new ways to live, and ultimately show us the path to healing.

4.      Try to feel, grief is a process. While you are inside your moments of pain and longing, cry. Let go. It’s all okay. Tears are cleansing, and the quiet moments after crying open doors to help us heal. At the same time, remember to hug others. Find support in friends. If needed, enlist a professional to listen without judgment. Walk in nature. Write in a journal. Paint something. Draw. Give. Breathe. Listen. Feel. Remember that amazing things happen when you sit and take in what is around you. Personally, we focus on both wind and the light as our source of eternal hope.

In answer to the question, “What now?” I am sorry that I do not have a definitive answer. That said, I believe the ultimate answer lies within each of your hearts, within your spirit and with the love you hold for your missing loved one. Remember, while the past will  change, every new moment offers a new opportunity. The possibilities of your choices are endless, and they offer an amazing way for you to celebrate the lives of your lost love.

In closing, let me just say that all of what I’ve offered above has been summed up through our own family mantra: “Embrace life.” To us, this means that we live differently now, but we also celebrate with a wisdom and clarity we did not have before Sarah died. We’ve had more children; we’ve moved to undertake new pursuits; we dedicated ourselves to causes (organ donation and grief support). We’ve decided to live in ways that embrace love and compassion, which has been borne from an understanding that while suffering exists, joy is still possible. For all of this, we are able to live an authentic life, a life that is better than we imagined it could ever be after our loss.

Peace and blessings,


Sunday, July 13, 2014

Magazine Collage of Your Child

It is always nice to have items in your home to remind you of your child. If you have items you have made yourself, it is even better! One item, easy to make, is a magazine collage of your child in pictures, words and phrases, all of which remind you of your child. You can also include a few photos of your child at special events or just happy moments. This is somewhat different than just a photo collage since it will have words too. Sometimes words and phrases that describe your child become meaningful when combined with just a few photos.

First, buy a large poster board, sold in paper supply stores, like Office Max. Then gather a few magazines together. Look through the magazine at some headlines. For example, if your child was active in school plays, you might find the word “ACTOR” or if he/she was into sports, you might find the word “FOOTBALL” or the phrase “TROPHY WINNER.” If he/she got good grades in school, you can include the word “INTELLIGENT” or “SMART” or the phrase “WILL DO GREAT THINGS,” if available. Pictures in the magazine for any of these could be a football or football game or someone holding up a trophy. You could also find magazine pictures of a clock, representing the fact that he/she was always on time or always late for events. If your son or daughter liked to travel, any magazine photo of a destination would emphasize that. If your child liked to talk on the phone, cut out a phone and paste it on the poster board. If your child liked music, cut out musical notes, sheet music, earphones, or a tape player.

There is no limit to what you can find that will connect you to your child. Just don’t make the poster board too crowded. Be able to see everything, but it doesn’t have to all be in a straight line. Some of the words can be slanted as can a few magazine pictures or some of your real photos. Make it creative, without ruining its appeal.

Make sure you cut out the letters of your child’s name and place them somewhere on the poster board. Copy stores can laminate everything you have pasted on to preserve it.

You have many choices of what to include. Just make sure you get the essence of your child’s personality and no doubt, it will come shinning through as you look at it on your wall with a big smile on your face.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

I Learned to Face My Grief

Alan Pedersen, the new executive director of The Compassionate Friends and featured in my second book as a terrific composer and singer at many national conferences, offers his view to Everyday Health as a contributor, of how he faced his grief after the death of his daughter. He hopes this story is read and shared with many others. Here is a summary of what he said in his own words.

On August 15, 2001, I found out from a friend that my 18-year-old daughter Ashley had been killed in an automobile accident. Little did I know that this one single moment in time would become the demarcation point in my life. Time just stopped, I felt frozen and in disbelief. I was paralyzed and in shock.

Somehow I stumbled through the fog and within a few days, we gathered together family, friends, music and food for what we were calling a celebration of Ashley’s life. I spoke with calm and clarity at Ashley’s service and spent hours hugging and comforting those who attended. Shock is an amazing anesthetic when you are in deep and early grief as it allows you to function. People commented on how strong I was that day. Little did they know that just a few months later, I would become nearly incapacitated by the trauma of my grief.

Shock gave way to the reality of all that I was facing. Grief wore me down until I became a shell of the man I once was. My mind was broken, leaving it scattered and unable to focus. My heart was broken because it hurt so badly I could barely breathe. Grief broke my spirit because it made me question God and anything good in this life. Grief broke my body by zapping it of its energy and leaving me with aches and pains.
Well-meaning family and friends were of little help as I spiraled deeper into the darkest days of my grief. I began to choose isolation over confrontation with those who would marginalize my struggle by suggesting that I take comfort in the fact that God has another angel or that Ashley is in a better place. I began to wonder if I was crazy.

Like most people, I had very little understanding at that time about what grief is, and the real and devastating impact it can have on those of us who are thrust into its path. Many of us do not know what we can do to help ourselves or others when a loved one dies or when we face the grief that comes from a divorce or other losses, such as a job, mobility, health, or our independence. My inability to cope caused me to reach out and seek support.

I first reached out to my local chapter of Compassionate Friends. The first monthly meeting I attended helped so much. I met others walking this same journey who validated my feelings and who understood my pain. It was there when I learned that I did not have to walk this journey alone and where I found the hope to believe that I could survive. My group of new compassionate friends became my trusted family who were willing to walk with me and hurt with me for a long as I would need.

I also sought support from a 12-week grief education program. It was here that I learned what grief really is, what it does to our lives, and how it affects us mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually. Ashley’s death has left me with much unfinished emotional business, and this program helped me to process my pain in constructive ways.

My grief work was hard work, but it began paying off as I was able to emerge from the darkness a stronger person with a clear focus on helping others. Grief has been a transformational teacher. Grief taught me to live in the moment, to value each friendship and relationship, to cherish the gift I am given each day to love and to be loved. Grief taught me to honor the love I will always have for Ashley by living my life.

The Compassionate Friends Conference will be held this coming week, July 10-13. Alan and all the people associated with the conference hope that you can attend in Chicago and learn how to move on with your life after the death of your child.