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.