Sunday, October 25, 2015

Visiting the Cemetery

Some may call my visits to the cemetery excessive. I go on my daughter’s death day, her birthday, my birthday and the holiday season. I also go before an extensive trip, so five times a year.

I go not only to feel close to her but also to make sure I clean her gravestone, which gets full of calcium from the watering and dirt from the rain and mowing. I feel it is important to do that and want it to look nice for anyone else who may come. 
Some may think I overdo it, that it is morbid to go so often, and that I am obsessing. I have a great need to go, to sit quietly, to talk to my daughter and to think about happier times. There is something very peaceful about a quiet cemetery where the only sound is an occasional train passing by very slowly, like they, too, are paying their respects.

Each time I go, I look at a broken gravestone in the row behind my daughter and shake my head. It has been broken for over 15 years. Doesn’t anyone come to visit, and can’t they see how bad the stone looks, broken in half? No attempt has ever been made to fix it. Perhaps the relatives live far away and never come…or perhaps there are no relatives. It makes me sad to see this and more determined than ever to keep watch over my daughter’s grave and hope that never happens to hers.

There are no rules about visiting the cemetery. I believe each person needs to do what is best for them, whether it is visiting every day, every few months or never going back after the funeral is over. Unless one knows the pain of losing the most important person in your life, it is impossible to understand that need.

I go to the cemetery with my husband (not my daughter’s father) but a compassionate, loving individual, who understands its importance to me. I don’t tell anyone else where I’m going or where I’ve been. I know some people get uncomfortable talking about death and visitations, so we go alone.

How often one goes to the cemetery has absolutely nothing to do with the length and depth of your expression of grief. Everyone must do what makes them comfortable, not what pleases others. In this instance, the bereave’s needs come first and one must do what makes one feel better.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Defining My Life

Author Anna Quindlen stated, “Our lives are defined by those we have lost.” I definitely agree with this statement. I can see that my life would have gone in another direction completely had my daughter lived. Her death has led me to do things I would never have dreamed I could do. Good things, as it has turned out.

For one, I am now a published author. I have learned a lot about surviving grief in the last 21 years and putting a lot of it down on paper in my two books. I vow to help others by what I say on those pages and expose my heart to everyone. It turns out to be a good feeling. “And I smile, hearing my daughter say to me, “Mom, when are you going to write the great American novel?” Little did I ever dream my books would be about her, me and many, many other bereaved  parents surviving the worst possible thing that can happen to us.

In another time and place, I couldn’t have gotten up in front of a group of bereaved parents and talked about my child and my very personal feelings when she died and afterwards. I now speak to groups, both nationally and locally about creating a new normal after the death of a child, how everything is different, how my goals and priorities have changed, and how what used to be important no longer has any meaning. I know what has to be done, and I choose to do it through speaking.

I have become a more compassionate person and try to help those who need guidance in moving on with their lives. I listen to the bereaved. They want to tell their story. I understand that, and I try to be a good listener so that, when I am asked a question, I have an answer for them. It may not be what they want to hear at the moment, but I always ask in the end what I can do to help. 

I agree with author Marilyn Heavilin, who says that she has chosen to make every day count because she-and I-realize life comes with no guarantees. So we live for ourselves and our children. We may decide to do what we know would have made them happy and what would make them proud of us, even though the pain of losing them burns a continuing searing hole in our hearts and always will. We honor our children by making the most of our lives, and we will always remember them.

Yes, my life has changed considerably from ‘happily ever after.’ But I have found joy in what I do and in what I have now, and I must be content with that.

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Grief Over a Sibling's Death

You never think it can happen to your perfect family. And then it does. How do sibling’s grieve and what are some paths or directions you can follow or have your parents talk to you about. Parents need also to understand how your grief is different from theirs.

Like every other kind of grief, it will take time to work through it. Everyone’s grief is unique. No two people or siblings grieve alike, so it may take you and your other loved ones different time indicators to work through your feelings of loss or hurt. If you were very close to the one who died, it could take you longer than other family members.

During the initial loss, you may feel anger at the sibling for leaving you, sleep disturbances, tiredness or restlessness at times, trouble paying attention, mood swings, feelings of rejection from parents who are irritable or distracted, or guilt.

Guilt can be complicated if you feel you have done something to cause the death or that you should have been able to stop what happened. On the other hand, you may feel guilty for having a good time or laughing too soon after your sibling’s death, and even for just surviving. All of these things can be talked over with others who understand.

You and your sibling may have been very close and had a unique relationship. Other members of your family may not understand your feelings of love and loss, and you may feel you can’t talk to them. If this is the case, seek out a friend, relative, teacher, counselor, minister or another bereaved brother or sister. They can offer advice on how to move forward. But also be patient with your parents. They are suffering also.

Know that it is okay to cry and feel depressed after such a loss. On the other hand, it is okay to laugh and have a good time with friends. You are not dishonoring your sibling either way.

You may want to live in the past for a while remembering all that you have lost, but don’t forget to continue to move on with your life. Forgive yourself for any fights you had together or mean things you said to each other that were never resolved.

Never think that doing drugs or alcohol is the answer to your grief. You are only hurting yourself when you do this. The same is true when you do things out of anger and don’t really mean them. Don’t fight with your parents; talk to them and let them see how badly you are hurting.

Share your feelings with other bereaved siblings you know or at a workshop or conference. How they coped can give you ideas for your own life.

Always remember you are not alone. Many siblings have struggled through feelings similar to yours. Allow the emotional bond you had with your sibling and your other siblings have a positive effect on your future. They have survived and so can you.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ending Gun Violence

It’s happened again. Nine people in Roseburg Oregon Community College were killed and another nine injured this past Thursday by 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, who had enrolled in the college but did not attend the class where the shooting occurred. Of the nine who died, their ages ranged from 18 to 67 (faculty member). Like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and many others, we kiss our children good-bye in the morning and never in our wildest imagination think that we’ll never see them again alive.

I know the feeling. I had just spoken to my daughter on Wednesday, March 2, 1994, early in the day before going to teach at my high school, and we were going to continue our conversation later that day when I returned home. But she never got home that day after she and her husband picked up their new car and were going out to dinner to celebrate. She was killed by an impaired driver who failed to see a stop sign in Beverly Hills, CA. No matter the circumstance, too many people are dying tragically because of the actions of others, whether a car crash or gun violence.

There were heroes at Umpqua Community College, like one man who blocked a classroom door and took several shots, but survived. Others who admitted to being Christians were immediately shot in the head. Still others were shot in the leg or elsewhere. One young student was shot in the back and pretended to be dead so the shooter wouldn’t shot her again; he thought she was dead. These are just a few of the stories surrounding the event.

Mercer had attended a school for emotionally troubled kids, but was never ruled mentally unfit, so was able to buy guns…the law in Oregon. Mercer was armed with six guns, body armor and rounds of ammunition. At his apartment were seven more guns and additional ammunition. He left a chilling message found at the scene of the shooting saying that the whole world was against him, that he had no life and no girlfriend. Neighbors where he lived thought he acted strange most of the time, that he was a loner and probably depressed. On social media he showed an interest in other mass shootings and a fascination with the military and the IRA. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, but was kicked out one month later.

The Roseburg, Oregon sheriff will not say his name, thinking that those who do, will only glorify his horrific actions and eventually this will only serve to inspire other shooters.

STATS: One person is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes in the U.S. Every day 92 are killed with firearms including suicides. A total of 153,144 have been killed by gun violence since 2001 compared to 3,046 in terrorist attacks (the majority on 9/11). This was the 4th shooting on a U.S. college campus since August.

Americans agree the violence must end, but are bitterly divided on how to stop it. Republicans say that new laws aren’t always the solution. Gun control is not the answer, according to many. Less than one-half of the population support more control; however, 93% want background checks.

President Obama says he is frustrated and fed up with gun violence. He believes nothing will change until the politics changes and the behavior of elected officials changes. He is going to continue to talk about this. He said the failure to pass gun legislation is the biggest frustration of his presidency.

How can others help to end gun violence? Professionals say to be aware of those around you. Notice changes in behavior and get more involved in alerting teachers, counselors, professionals and even the authorities. Talk to local politicians and see if there is something you or they can do and if a solution is possible.