Sunday, April 26, 2015

TAPS Seminar in May

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) is once again holding its Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-25 in Washington, D.C. It is specifically for the loved ones of those who served in the military and died. This differs from the other conferences I've told you about recently because it is not only for bereaved parents. It encompasses an entire military family: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and children.

And for the children of these military people, the Good Grief Camp is America’s first established program for children and teens whose parent or sibling has died. Children are paired with trained mentors who support them as they share, learn coping skills and have fun in a place they feel they belong.

All events and workshops take place in (or depart from) the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. Room rates are $129 per night. The seminar registration is $195 and the Good Grief Camp is $75 per child. A limited number of scholarships are available for those facing financial challenges. Tuesday, April 28 is the last day you can register for the seminar and apply for a scholarship. I apologize for this late notice, but I just received the information. If you can't go this year, consider next year. They have been doing these very successful seminars since 1994.

Seminar workshops include topics such as understanding complicated grief, coping with new family dynamics and special issues facing children, parents, siblings and significant others. They also offer workshops that explore alternate methods of expressing grief through art, writing, music, meditation and yoga.

Special concerts, ceremonies, and tours in Washington give you a chance to get out and experience the nation’s capital. They have both traditional events such as Marine Corps Evening Parade, Pentagon tour, Arlington National cemetery and new venues this year.

Rock climbing, kayaking, walking the labyrinth and guided tours of an art museum can be used as metaphors for the grief journey. They will explore active ways of learning coping skills for grief.

If you are 18 months beyond your own loss and ready to be there for others, they offer a full day of training the day before the conference begins, May 21. You will learn more about grief, gain basic helping skills and become part of the TAPS Peer Mentor Team.

Small group settings offer gentle, supportive discussions that allow you a chance to share with others who are facing similar experiences. Some groups are topical discussions and some are reserved for specific relationships.

All these activities make for a perfect weekend, Join TAPS for a weekend of hope and courage in an atmosphere of understanding and support. Share the journey as you honor your loved ones.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oklahoma Bombing 20th Anniversary

Today, April 19, is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Like most things, it seems like it just happened yesterday, A total of  168 people died at the hands of Timothy McVee. Twenty-one children were in the building’s day care that day and only six made it out alive. Today, all of the victims  are being remembered: children, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers.

What we honor today is the resilience of those kids who are now in their 20's. They say they appreciate the little things they have. Some are in college looking towards a good future. Some injuries will never go away like one student who suffers breathing problems and suffered burns over his entire body from the explosion. Another student is an astrology major and hopes to run a hotel one day.

I was in Oklahoma City years after this tragic event speaking to a national Compassionate Friends Conference of bereaved parents and walked over to the must-see memorial that has been built. As you approach the building, a rod iron fence surrounding the building has hundreds of memorials continuously put there from children's drawings and pictures of those who died to flowers, poems and other writings from all the visitors. The inside of the building depicts minute by minute leading up to the explosion, and then the rescue of survivors through photos, film footage and interviews. One can view the iconic picture of the fireman holding a baby covered with blood from the nursery and his tearful expression as he looks at the child who died, as well as other emotional pictures. The sounds of the police and fire engines are always in the background as you make your way through the maze of information that has been put together. They city has done an excellent, realistic job of showing this tragedy.

But the most outstanding memorial is next to this building. For every person who died, an iron chair has been built in a grassy area, 168 of them, surrounded by a water feature. Each chair has a plaque displayed on the front of the chair with that person's name. You can even go in the evening to see this beautiful, moving display, since under every chair there is a light that shines in the evening. It is a stunning, peaceful and beautiful memorial to honor all those brave souls.

As you enter or leave the complex, the following sign on the wall catches your attention:

     We come here to remember those who were killed,
     Those who survived and those changed forever.
     May all who leave here know the impact of violence.
     May this memorial offer comfort, strength,
         peace, hope and serenity.

I will never forget the impact this entire memorial area had on me. Never forget what happened here, it is saying, and pray it will never happen again.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pop-up Memories of Our Children

Those of us who have lost a loved one have had what is called “grief bursts” from something that we may think about that overwhelms and saddens us. It is like a trigger; it can be a song, a smell, a familiar place or someone who looks like our loved one. It brings on emotions in all of us of sad or happy memories, from the initial stage of your grief. These bursts create an opportunity for us to express our sorrow over the death of our loved one. They do not tie to an event that goes along with the memory.

A “pop-up memory,” on the other hand, happens when you least expect it to and as your healing begins and the grief bursts subside. According to author and bereaved parent Nan Zastrow, she defines a grief pop-up as a kind of recognition that instantly recalls an event or moment in the life of the one who died that may have been a forgotten or buried memory. It doesn’t require a specific trigger, it often just surfaces, usually when the mind is peaceful and not focusing on any outside stimuli. The memory (usually a pleasant one) suddenly pops into your thoughts and may make you smile or giggle as you remember a story associated with the recollection. The important element of pop-up memories are the stories that come to the surface.

One pop-up memory I can think of happened when I least expected it to, as do most pop-ups. My daughter’s best friends had gotten their ears pierced when they were very young. I have never had pierced ears nor did my mother. She asked me over and over if she could get hers pierced. I knew it was peer pressure at work, and I always said “No.” Going through a friend’s jewelry box after she suddenly died when I was asked to help clear out her things, I looked at all the earrings there and suddenly, I saw a set that reminded me of one of Marcy’s earrings. One day in her teens she asked me if I still minded if she got her ears pierced. I didn’t like the idea, even then. “You’ll get infections,” I told her. “It’s not worth it.” Of course, I was the over-protective mother, and she begged and begged until I just couldn’t say no anymore. It was the way she did it that always makes me smile when I think of it. Yes, she did get one or two infections but eventually “that, too, shall pass” and it did. After she died, I went through her earring box and picked out the ones I could switch to clip-ons and now proudly wear them, always thinking of her vibrant smile when I, at last, conceded to letting her do what she wanted. She did look beautiful in pierced earrings for the rest of her life.

The good thing about pop-up memories is that you get to think about your loved one and hopefully, a happy time, so you can smile or laugh about it. If it is a good memory, you may want to tell it to those close to you. We always want to talk about our loved ones so they are never forgotten. These memories can bring great comfort and allows us to think of the great happiness they brought to our lives.

When you get a pop-up, you feel like you are right there again and it connects the past to the present moment in your life. Hopefully, these pop-ups will always occur, bringing sweet memories of our child. Merging the past and present confirms that our loved one lives forever in our hearts and our stories. Love never dies!!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Part 2-The DON'T's of Staying Connected After a Child's Death

Last week I gave readers ideas on how to stay connected after a child’s death. This week I’ll tell you what you 'shouldn’t' do in reference to your relationships.

Don’t “not” talk about your child. Certainly there were good things your family did together that are good to remember. Don't pretend your child never existed.

Don’t judge how your spouse reacts to the death. Let him or her do whatever needed. Everyone grieves differently. We don’t want to see our partner upset, but grief is a natural and healthy response to death.

Wait at least a year to make important decisions together, such as moving or getting rid of your child’s belongings. Short term decisions such as planning the funeral or memorial service should definitely be discussed immediately. Try to agree on how you want to do this without upsetting each other.

Don’t worry if you are forgetful or lack concentration and focus. It’s normal. Be patient with yourself as well as your partner.

Don’t shut out your partner. They already feel lonely and depressed. Try to listen carefully to what your spouse says or does and give feedback. Ask them to try to explain those awful feelings that are so hard to get rid of.

Don’t turn to drinking alcohol or doing any kind of drugs. All that will do is hide what is really going on inside you and cause problems between you and your spouse.

Don’t blame yourself or your partner for what has happened. Neither one of you are probably the cause, but in your anger and disbelief about the death, you may say something that is taken negatively or defensively.

During this time in your life, you must take care of yourself, each other and your grief. It is a difficult and exhausting journey, but one you need to get through so you can move on with your life.