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.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pedersen Opens Conference With Words of Encouragement

In the opening ceremony for The Compassionate Friends national conference this past July 10-13, new executive director Alan Pedersen made some comments about his new position, his goals and his songs.

“One thing I want to do," he said, "is to empower people to reach out and continue their child’s legacy." "We are here because a child lived, not because they died. Do not call this a grief conference. Call it a ‘love conference.’ Our children died, but the love we have for them didn’t. We will never get over the death, but we can walk through it."

“The difference between grief, mourning and bereavement is that grief is what goes on inside us (tears, love); mourning is the outward expression of our grief; bereavement is living the rest of our lives with this loss. Pain is the fuel that allows us to get back up and go on with our lives. Compassionate Friends will be there for you—by your side and walk with you.

“The perspective does change. It will get better. Express the love inside you for your child. Think of a loving memory of your child or loved ones. Pull it off the shelf and put it in your heart and mind. Wrap yourself in a blanket of love and celebrate their lives.”

Alan always loved writing music and playing the guitar. After his daughter died, he wrote his first grief song, “I Remember You.” And he played it for his first conference. After that first time, he was asked to speak and sing from then on at many conferences. His words gave comfort to many heartbroken individuals. He continued writing and singing music and did a CD. He closed his opening speech with the song, “Love Lives On.”

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Overview of TCF Conference

The 37th National Conference of Compassionate Friends was held last month in Chicago, IL with the theme “Miles of Compassion Through the Winds of Hope.” As always, I attended, along with 1,500 others to listen to others speak and to give of myself at my own workshop to try to help those in need. For the next few weeks, I will be telling you about some of the workshops I attended, what I got from them and what I think might be of help to some of you.

Some of the highlights included new executive director Alan Pedersen giving the opening speech (highlights will be on this blog next week), orientation for first-time attendees and siblings, over 100 workshops and sharing sessions each night, keynote speakers, silent auction and raffle, the bookstore with many older and newer books, the walk to remember, a butterfly boutique and picture buttons of your loved one.

The keynote speakers included Eric Hipple, former NFL quarterback for the Detroit Lion, whose son committed suicide; Dianne Gray, author and president of Hospice and Healthcare communications, whose son died in 2005; and Alicia Franklin, daughter of Darcie Sims and president of Grief International.

Darcie Sims received the Simon Stephens Award posthumously. It is given to a person who has made significant contributions that have fostered and furthered the philosophy of TCF by practicing or promoting its mission and goals. Darcie brought healing, hope and love to grieving people around the world with her special gift of communicating with hurting people from all walks of life. Darcie was founder of Grief, Inc., a grief consulting business in Seattle, WA, along with being a nationally certified thanatologist, a grief management specialist and a licensed hypnotherapist.

There was a bookstore with all the latest grief books, a silent auction and raffle, a butterfly boutique, hospitality rooms, a reflection room and memory boards with all the children's pictures. If you brought a picture of your child, you could get a button made to wear for free.

Workshop sessions ranged from The Bereaved Parent-Five Years Later and Confronting the Shadow of Loss with Creative Arts to Finding Hope after Miscarriage and Stillbirth to Death from Addiction. Those with no surviving children also had specific workshops as did the siblings and grandparents.

I did three workshops: Dealing With Difficult Situations as a Bereaved Parent, Setting Up Foundations and a panel on Step-parents and Another Marriage. In the first one, I had everyone sit in a circle and we discussed topics such as how do you answer the question about how many children do you have?" Other  topics in that workshop dealt with no one remembering your child or talking about them, others avoiding you and who will take care of you when you're older if your only child has died. For the foundations workshop, I explained how to start one and it's benefits and in the step-parent workshop, we talked about dealing with problems as a step-parent in another marriage, both good and bad p conditions.

The conference had something for everyone and I would encourage anyone who has lost a child or grandchild or who is a sibling to attend next year.