Sunday, March 29, 2015

Staying Connected When Your Child Dies

What do you and your spouse do to stay connected when your child dies?

Perhaps you don’t know or understand your spouse well until a tragedy such as this happens. Sure, all couples disagree during the course of a marriage, but this is completely different.\

You will probably find that you and your spouse grieve very differently and at different timelines. That is very common and you should recognize that and learn how to deal with it, but not let it ruin what you have together.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. What is good for one spouse may be completely different for the other. You may want to read every book you can get your hands on. Your spouse may want to attend grief meetings that you may not feel comfortable going to. 

Allow room for individual grief, listen to each other, empathize, and try to come together on the important issues you are facing in your new normal. Along the way expect your grief journey to have both ups and downs and many outside issues can affect your grief such as financial worries, moves or even loss of sexuality.

If you believe a grief counselor might help, try to get the name of a good one in your area; preferably, one who has also lost a child and can relate to you better.

If you are both up to trying to work this out yourselves, first talk about your loss and how each of you is feeling about what happened. Don’t hold back. Cry if you need to, but most importantly, be truthful with one another about how this loss has affected you. It is also important to talk about good times you had with your loved one. Remember funny incidents. Laugh when possible. Laughter has been known to be the best medicine, and it can be healing to take a deep breath and relax.

Each spouse should create a list of coping strategies and share them. Some of them you will both agree with and others, not so much. Take the ones you don’t agree with and try to come up with some fresh ideas that might help. You will probably be surprised with how many you agree with and thought you would not, and with the others, you may have to change and/or compromise and try some new techniques to get through the hard times.

We used to take grief and hide it under the table. It didn’t exist for some. Better to forget or worse, pretend it didn’t happen. But since many grief books are out there now explaining that it is okay to grieve in your own way and for as long as you need to, couples can take that first step to healing by trying to understand each other’s viewpoint and feelings.

...more information next week on this topic

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bari: Always and Forever

Coincidences? Or something else? 

I wrote a blog over a year ago how, when I went to a Bar Mitzvah, when I opened the prayer book, first I saw that that particular prayer book was in honor of Marcy, my daughter. Her best friend had bought the space to raise money for the new books. Then I found a paper stuck in the prayer book with my daughter’s name on it honoring her death date. It had been in there for a few months. None of the other books had that sheet in it. They’d been taken out months before. What were the odds that I would pick up the one book out of hundreds that had mentioned her name twice. It has been almost 21 years. I believe it was meant to happen and Marcy was probably watching from above.

When I read the following story (reprinted with permission here) in Grief Digest by Sheila Swedlow, I understood perfectly how this mother felt. Our children are always with us, in life and in death.

                                                Bari: Always and Forever
When my third daughter was born on April 18, 1968, there was never a question as to what we would call her. She was named Bari after my father, Benjamin, who was loved beyond the death of intensity. It is an unusual name, a sweet name, a name of importance; a name that brings a smile.
On April 6, 2009, forty years after her birth, our Bari left our lives forever. We felt as if our souls had been extinguished; our hearts had been shattered; our breathing, diminished. But to this very minute, whenever her name is spoken, we are overcome with a special feeling of warmth and joy. The name Bari is a special ray of sunshine.

It has been two and a half years since our family entered the immeasurably painful and dark world of grief, cut the name Bari keeps appearing at the most unexpected times. It presents itself for a reason—to exemplify the continued presence of my daughter. Her special name appears at the least expected of times and it is welcomed with a feeling of wonder.

As I drive through Long Beach, I can feel Bari in the passenger seat of my Audi. She was always with me, she lived in our home, and she was my companion in shopping. Her presence is always such a strong feeling that I have to look at and touch the now empty leather seat. One day, while gazing at her picture (now placed on my dashboard), a vehicle pulled up next to my car. The writing on the side of the truck read, “Bari’s Van.” It was so strange to feel her distinctly strong presence at the exact time I saw her name appear! Can a coincidence simply be a reality of what is?

After Bari’s passing, my elder daughter, Lori, and I were walking through the town of Cedarhurst. Lori  grieved with the silent ache of losing her sister, but together we gave each other comfort. As we emerged from a local restaurant, suddenly, we saw a brand new sign with dark, bold letters. We stood stuck, as if in cement, because staring down at us were words that read, “Bari’s Fish.” The wonder continued; could a sign be a message?

When it was time to select a monument for my daughter’s grave, the experience was surreal. We had decided that the color would not be gray, for Bari was happy and sparkling, and this stone had to represent who she was. All at once, the perfect color jumped out at us from among the rest. It was a combination of rose and pink, and it was soft and pleasing. We had looked at many stones, but nothing else appealed like this one. It was then that we learned that the name of the stone was listed in their brochure as “Barrie Granite.” It was such an unheard of connection, and it came at such a vital time.

Another year passed after the unveiling at the grave, and my daughter, Amy was preparing a celebration for my twin grandsons’ Bar Mitzvah. Looking for a gown is difficult at any time for me, but shopping with the heaviness of heart in knowing that my Bari would not share in this joyous occasion was additionally hard. Then it happened: Lori ran out of the dressing room with a gown in hand yelling, “Ma, look what I found. Try this on!” It was shocking, unbelievable, more than amazing, for my daughter’s name appeared on the inside label of the gown. I can’t remember the last name of the designer, but that is of no importance. It was her first name that imploded the realization: her name was Bari, the same as my child’s!

It has now been four months since the name Bari has appeared in unexpected places at unknown times. But each time it happens, there is a confused combination of feelings, so intense in nature. An inexplicable wonder occurs that leads me to possibilities and hope. I am enlightened and encouraged because of these miraculous encounters. They are strong and even healing, because with each one there is the awakening that we are never apart from the ones we love.

And so I navigate ahead, awaiting the next word to appear that will speak through in silence and repeat the name, Bari!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Living Memories Project

When a dandelion dies it does not simply shrivel up and fall on the ground but rather turns white, and when you blow it, its seeds scatter to the far ends of the earth to begin anew.

I do not want my daughter Marcy to be forgotten. To me, she will, hopefully, always live on in the heart and minds of others, and I believe that, like the dandelion, all the good she did here on earth and the kindness she showed others will help her to be remembered. Her voice may be silenced, but, hopefully, I can continue her legacy by helping others as she would have continued to do if she had lived.

I can see her smiling every time I write one of these blogs, answer an email from someone who needs some advice about how to get out of the hole of grief, or meet a newly bereaved parent and listen to their story at a conference I may speak at. “Good job, mom,” she would say, and give me one of her fantastic smiles.

Besides these goals, by establishing a foundation in her memory to help those in financial need to continue their education and be all they can be—this is another way for me to talk about my daughter and let others know, not only how much I loved her but also continue one of her own goals in helping others that she can no longer be part of.

I am only one of many parents who works on leaving a legacy for one who died too soon. A new example is Meryl and Stewart Ain and Arthur Fischman who have put together a book called “The Living Memories Project,” inspiring stories about moving beyond loss and keeping memories alive (It is very similar to my first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye.”).  This book details through interviews, anecdotes, essays, poems and photographs, the many ways that both ordinary people and celebrities incorporate the presence of their loved ones into their lives. Some who have shared describe encounters or occurrences in which they strongly felt the loved one’s presence, while others have drawn upon rituals or recipes or created a tangible memorial.

The Aims’ son died while serving overseas. “We established the Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute so that his legacy of leadership, commitment to his country and community service will continue to live on and will inspire future generations of children, adults and leaders to support U.S. troops stationed overseas and domestically,” they said and added, that in the work they do, they often feel Stuart’s presence.

One reviewer, author and Rev. James Martin, sums it up perfectly. “For most of us, losing a loved one will be the worst tragedy of our lives. And we struggle with how to best honor their memory, indeed, how best to remember them. This moving book not only is a tribute to some extraordinary individuals who have gone before us, but also serves as a guide for all of us who wish to remember those who have touched our lives with their love.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hunger and Grief

Have you ever thought of how hunger and grief relate? In a Grief Magazine article I read, Paul J. Moon, bereavement coordinator for Alacare Home Health and Hospice, brings up some points I have never considered. I share his article with you.

*Hunger can preoccupy us, as food gets on our minds and tends to stay on our minds.
Grief is similar..thoughts and images of loss can preoccupy  us and perseverate. But there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy rumination in grief. The healthy kind assists us to acknowledge our past, reconcile that which can be, extract and learn the humble lessons from that which cannot be rectified and go forth into a future with a mindfulness to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but instead, improve.

*Hunger can influence decision-making. Ever gone grocery shopping while famished?
Grief is similar…as our minds may be preoccupied or weary, we can become distracted, forgetful and vulnerable. In short, our judgments can be compromised. Decision-making can be temporarily incapacitated as we may not be as clear-minded. Whenever possible, give yourself time to think things through; talk matters over with someone you trust.

*Hunger pangs (stomach pains or growling, fatigue, light-headedness, etc) can hurt or be distressing.
Grief is similar…grief pangs can sometimes hurt physically, bring on fatigue, and be flat out exhausting. Grief pangs can manifest in our speech, emotional reaction, body posture, attitudes, etc. Physical rest and bodily maintenance are vital for grievers.

*Hunger can elevate anxiety (feeling shaky, dizzy, heart palpitations, altered breathing pattern, etc.).
Grief is similar…deeper realization of loss can make some of us more nervous, which can lead to brooding: What next? What else can I lose? Who else will I lose? What will happen to me not? Anxiety in grief cannot be ignored (historically, bereavement grief has been considered a form of “separation anxiety”). An encouragement is to balance out anxious thoughts with a focused and intentional effort to make the best use of the time we have every day. This routine may help to somewhat quell anxiety bouts.

*Hunger can make us irritable, grumpy and cranky; our patience can run thin.
Grief is similar…losses we have to face can trigger frustrations, irritations or anger inside us. Such feelings can foster impatience and even blaming others unjustifiably. But we are still responsible for our actions in grief; we must be careful not to drive people away when we most need them.

*Hunger is proof that feeling full is temporary (we may eat and be sated, but it is only a matter of time before hunger returns).
Grief is similar…though immediate sense of loss can be stabilized, and even consoled, sorrow can return in time and in unpredictable ways. It is also only a matter of time before future losses must be faced. This is a mortal’s lot.

*Unaddressed or excessively denied hunger can lead to lethargy, infirmity, including death.
Grief is similar…unaddressed or denied grief can lead to gradual or abrupt self-depreciation. It is evident that grief can spark self-destruction or ruining of others in our lives. We must take care. Grief is not a license for self-absorption or self-centeredness. Our living and remaining relationships still require and deserve our good attention.

*Hunger reveals a fundamental human need: We require food and nourishment.
Grief is similar…Grief reveals a fundamental human need: we require meaningful, fulfilling relationships.

More deeply realizing that our valued human relationships will one day end on this earth makes us hunger for more.
                                                    Much courage to us all.

Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, Centering Corporation, Omaha, Nebraska, 402-553-1200.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What Changes When Your Child Dies?

What changes when your child dies? When my daughter Marcy died, everything changed! Some of the things that come to mind include:

You no longer have that person that you loved, cherished and meant the world to you. Whether you only had the child for a few months, a few years or through their adult years, you believe your life has lost its meaning. You lose all hope and your future without your child.

Relationships with family and friends change. Family members may not want to talk about your loss or think you should get over it after only a short while. They don’t understand this grief journey is a life-long one with many hills to climb over. Your relationship with your spouse will also change depending on whether you grieve together or separately. If he is not the child’s natural parent, he may not understand your continued grief, and riffs may come up.

Friends may not want to be near you; they are afraid it could rub off on them, or they think you’ve changed and are not the same person you were before your child died. Guess what?  They are right! How can you be the same after such a great loss? Friends can also be insensitive to your feelings and the fact that you cry and are depressed a lot. That could create resentment within you and close communication between you and your friend.

You may lose control over your thought process. Making simple decisions becomes very difficult for you and planning anything seems useless.

Your priorities and goals change. What was once important to you may no longer have any meaning without your child. For example you may have gone to sports games with your child. Now, you don’t want to do anything that will remind you of your loss and the wonderful times you used to have.

Grief work is the hardest thing you will ever do and could take a lifetime to achieve, but slowly, we do realize we are healing, that we do grow from our loss, and we begin to plan what we need and want to do. We realize the future may even hold some happiness. But it can be a very slow process. I believe that something positive will come out of something so overwhelmingly negative. Many of us become better people, more patient, understanding, loving and compassionate. We owe it to ourselves and to our child’s memory to make something out of the life we’ve been given. Time is a great healer. My child would not want me to wallow in grief forever. When the depression lifts, we realize life awaits us.

It’s all very scary, but I realize I can personally do things that will make us both proud and that I am a survivor. I can see it now in all the people I have helped through this unspeakable horror, in my work with TCF conferences, conferences I’ve been in charge of, the two books I’ve written on surviving grief (thanks, Marcy for your inspiration), and particularly through this blog, when people email me and want my help. I try to do what I can. Though I may not always be successful, I feel better for having tried, and I hope that one day those that at first were so negative, will come around and understand what I am trying to do for them. We all deserve to be happy and take a chance on what life still has to offer us.