Sunday, June 28, 2015

DAY ONE Promotion

Five years ago Tyler Clemente, an 18-year-old freshman at Rudgers University jumped from the George Washington bridge, a result of bullying. I wrote about bullying that long ago, and it still goes on today as much as ever. But Tyler’s parents, Joe and Jane Clemente, who formed a foundation honoring Tyler, recently launched a campaign to put a stop to bullying before it can even start.

The incident that brought about Tyler’s death was that he had a date with a man and his roommate secretly videoed them kissing, put it on the internet and it went viral. The roommate and a woman friend were charged with several crimes including invasion of privacy. The roommate only served 20 days and the girl, who did a plea deal, got no time.

Tyler’s older brother was also gay and told Tyler before he went to college. Tyler came out to his mother before he left for college. A huge weight was lifted from Tyler, even though he thought his mother rejected him, which turned out to be far from the truth. Tyler asked for a roommate change after the web cam incident but never said anything to his family about it.

Tyler’s mom lived in a fog for four years, not believing what had happened and not understanding why.  Just recently she has started to move forward. She wants no one else to ever experience what her son did. She speaks out now against cyber bullying, raising awareness and money. Four years ago, when she established the Tyler Clemente Foundation, she vowed to try to end on-line and off-line bullying in schools, workplaces and faith communities.

A few weeks ago she and her husband launched DAY ONE, premised on the idea that if you stand up on the first day of school or work or if on a sports team and say you will never treat anyone differently because of who they are, how they dress or what their body looks like. “If you do, there will be consequences,” Jane said.

According to Jan, this is powerful. Most young people don’t hear a person in authority make a statement about what is expected of them and won’t be tolerated. She says they are not focusing on just bullies but on witnesses, asking bystanders to become upstanders by reporting it. Jane feels she was a bystander by not helping her son and wants to become an upstander now.

Joe Clemente says that parents shouldn’t underestimate what your child is going through. “Even though you may not think it’s a big deal, the child may think it’s the end of the world,” he added.

By doing this project Jane and Joe are learning, not so much to heal, but to live through their pain that they know will never leave them because of Tyler’s unnecessary death.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Another Father's Day

Father’s Day is often a forgotten holiday, overshadowed by the longer standing tribute to mothers. But for the bereaved father, it is a poignant reminder of the bittersweet memory of a loved, now lost, child; bitter for the death and pain and recognition of the inability to stop what happened. Fathers do not often have a chance to share their hurts and concerns. Oftentimes they are unable to do so.

Every father believes in his role as protector of his family. He has been assigned the job of fixer and problem solver. He has been told since his youngest days that he must be strong…and must not cry. But each father among us has had to face that point where no amount of fixing, problem solving, and protecting has been able to stop their child’s death.”

One father says that being a good dad was the thing he did best in his life. He now honors his child’s memory by helping others in the same situation and by talking about him and doing things his child liked to do like attend football games at his high school and wearing his favorite clothes. He is making a personal, private statement that his son still matters to him.

Another father says it took him many years to accept the death of his child, but he has now moved on. “When my daughter was alive, she, with the help of my wife, made a big deal about Father’s Day, always serving me breakfast in bed, giving me a little gift and spending quality time with me. Knowing and understanding how I feel, my wife continues to make it a special day. One of the things we do is visit her grave and tell her what we did that day. At home we light a candle in her memory.

Still another father, who lost his only son, says he wasn’t prepared for how hard that first year without his child would be. He had difficulties concentrating at work and challenges regarding his wife understanding his feelings. What helped was knowing he had been blessed to be a father and would always love and remember all the good times they had together. Death could not take that away from him.

Perhaps this Father’s Day should be a time when family members, whoever they are, give Dad a hug, do something special, help with the chores, and most of all, let him know how important, needed and loved he is.

Happy Father’s Day to all.

Sunday, June 14, 2015

Dedication to Lynn

Today I’d like to dedicate my column to Lynn, my daughter’s best friend. Today she is 49 years old, the same age as my daughter would have been this July 27, had she lived.

Lynn and Marcy were clearly sisters in the best sense possible, always doing things together and sharing their thoughts and feelings about life since they were kids. They were both kind, thoughtful, bright women who enjoyed life to the fullest. They had planned to spend many happy years together as two married couples: traveling, having children and growing old together. But that was not to be.

Marcy died in a car accident only 4 ½ months after marrying. I always found it interesting that Marcy and Lynn ended up getting married only 4 months apart after all the men they went through! Both ended up having excellent taste in men and knew when the right ones came along. They joked about the fact that they now had a new last name, both starting with the letter “L”, both husbands were born on the same day and both became lawyers.

They both loved traveling and did quite a bit before they settled down to their separate vocations, Lynn in the chemistry field and Marcy in the public relations field. Lynn eventually switched to teaching chemistry. Even though they may not have talked every day, it wasn’t necessary; they both understood each other so well.

Marcy died 10 days after Lynn’s wedding, where she served as maid of honor, but her memory and name will always live on in Lynn’s daughter, who was named Marcy, when she was born 15 years ago. Marcy is the second of Lynn’s three children. I am godmother to her beautiful children, and we all see each other as often as possible. I am always included in family gatherings and love being with them.

Lynn was determined to memorialize her best friend. A year after Marcy died, she collected the money needed from friends and family to build a new drama center in her memory at a summer camp. A plaque is on the wall naming the center after Marcy.

Lynn is like a daughter to me and always will be. It is a comfort knowing that she and I will never forget my Marcy and that we will both always love her and remember her for as long as we live.

Happy birthday Lynn. May you always be healthy, happy and live a long, wonderful life.

Sunday, June 7, 2015

Choosing Life

Five weeks ago today, Facebook's Sheryl Sandberg’s husband Dave Goldberg died suddenly. She felt compelled to write her honest feelings of what it is like to loose someone you love, whether it is a child, a parent or a spouse. I believe that what she says is “right on” for loss of a child also. I, too, felt all those same emotions when my daughter died suddenly in a car accident 21 years ago. But, I, like Sheryl chose life and meaning, and helping other bereaved parents like myself. In this synopsis Sheryl expresses her gratitude and thanks to others and expresses what she has learned from this tragic event. See if you can personally identify your feelings with the passages below from the NBC Today Show news feed and whether you can apply them to your loss of a child. I have tried to include key passages. To read the entire text, go to NBC's Today Show from this last week.

“A childhood friend of mine who is now a rabbi recently told me that the most powerful one-line prayer he has ever read is: “Let me not die while I am still alive.” I would have never understood that prayer before losing Dave. Now I do." 

“I think when tragedy occurs it presents a choice. You can give in to the void, the emptiness that fills your heart, your lungs, constricts your ability to think or even breathe. Or you can try to find meaning." She says she chooses life and meaning.

She talks about how both close friends and also strangers pulled her through the difficult moments. She shares what she has learned in the hope that it helps someone else find some meaning from such a tragedy.

Her mother has even tried to fill the empty space in her bed, "holding me each night until I cry myself to sleep. She has fought to hold back her own tears to make room for mine."

We think we know how to react to others when tragedy strikes, but do we really. Sheryl realizes she didn't. "I tried to assure people that it would be okay, thinking that hope was the most comforting thing I could offer. A friend with late-stage cancer told me that the worst thing people could say to him was ‘It is going to be okay.’ That voice in his head would scream, How do you know it is going to be okay? Do you not understand that I might die? I learned this past month what he was trying to teach me. Real empathy is sometimes not insisting that it will be okay but acknowledging that it is not…Those who have said, ‘You will find a new normal, but it will never be as good’ comfort me more because they know and speak the truth. 

I personally remember that when my daughter died and people would ask me how I was doing, I would always say, "I'm okay." One day a friend said, "You're not okay, so don't say you are." I realized she was right, so now I say, "I'm doing the best I can today." 

Sheryl also thinks that even a simple ‘How are you?’ almost always asked with the best of intentions—is better replaced with ‘How are you today?’ When she is asked, ‘How are you?’ she stops herself from shouting, "My husband died a month ago, how do you think I am?" When she hears ‘How are you today?’ she realizes the person knows that the best she can do right now is to get through each day, one day at a time.

About going back to work, she says she thought that work would be a savior, but realized her co-workers wanted to help but weren't sure how. "To restore that closeness with my colleagues I needed to let them in. I told them that they could ask me their honest questions and I would answer. I also said it was okay for them to talk about how they felt. Many were worried they might say the wrong thing. Speaking openly replaced the fear of doing and saying the wrong thing." 

She believes she took gratitude for granted. She now appreciates every smile, every hug. "I am truly grateful to the many who have offered their sympathy and men who are honoring Dave’s life by spending more time with their families. I can’t even express the gratitude I feel to my family and friends who have done so much and reassured me that they will continue to be there. In the brutal moments when I am overtaken by the void, when the months and years stretch out in front of me endless and empty, only their faces pull me out of the isolation and fear. My appreciation for them knows no bounds."

Sheryl, from my experience, I can tell you that it will be a long road but I believe you have started with the first steps to move forward in your grief journey.