Sunday, December 27, 2015

Presidental Politics and Parental Grief

The White House has often been home to parents who mourn lost children. Their reactions to their loss and their decisions to not run, may or may not have changed the course of history. Historians are still out on this one.

Most recently, when Vice-president Joseph Biden Jr, announced that he was not running for president in 2016, he cited his son, Beau’s death, and his struggle with his grief as the main reason. Biden, it seems, took his time to decide, since it was well known that he wanted to be president one day. But those of us who have lost a child know how emotionally draining it is to even function day to day. And a president’s responsibility for the entire nation is a huge job and can’t be taken lightly.

We often think of a president as someone who is immune from tragic events, but many of our presidents have lost one or more children, particularly in the early part of the 20th century when as many as three in 10 infants died before their first birthdays. I thought you might like to hear of some of these losses.

Probably, one of the most famous presidents who lost a child was John F. Kennedy, whose son Patrick Kennedy, died just 39 hours after birth. He was pre-mature and had complications. 

The same with Christine Reagan, Ronald Reagan and Jane Wyman’s daughter, who died shortly after her birth in 1947.

Dwight D. Eisenhower and Mamie’s first son, Icky, died of Scarlet Fever at age 3.  From then on, he sent his wife flowers year on his son's birthday. George Bush’s second child, Robin, also died at age 3 from Leukemia.

Another very famous president, Abraham Lincoln, lost the third of his four sons, 11-year-old Willie of Typhoid Fever in 1862. He also lost Edward, his second son at age 3 in 1850. 

William McKinley’s two children, daughters Ida and Katie, died early deaths.

For some presidents, the loss of their child affected them greatly and they suffered setbacks and recover very slowly, if at all. Franklin Pierce witnessed the violent death of his third and only surviving son, Benny, in a train accident two weeks before his inauguration and did not do well afterwards. 

Nor did Calvin Coolidge, whose second son, 16 year old Calvin Jr., died in 1924 of a staph infection acquired after playing tennis without his socks. He did not seek re-election in 1928 because of this death. “The power and the glory of the presidency went with Calvin,” he said. 

Theodore Roosevelt’s son, Quentin, was shot down by a German pilot in 1918. Roosevelt died brokenhearted six months later in 1919.

Many other presidents lost children and one running for president in 2016, Carly Fiorina, lost her 35-year-old stepdaughter, Lori Ann, who died of a drug overdose. She speaks bluntly about her pain, gets it out in the open and doesn’t try to hide her feelings as some do. She and others believe that not hiding their anguish is one of the best ways to deal with their grief.

Most have one thing in common. They recovered and moved on with their lives and experienced what some experts call post-traumatic growth, positive changes after a crisis, including a greater appreciation of life and personal strength. Others suffered depression and other psychiatric conditions and had to seek help.

We all cope differently and there is no right or wrong way to grieve a child’s death. It is and should be an individual's choice as to how he/she deals with it.

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Perfect Christmas Gifts

Editor’s note: I have asked my friend Sandra Howlett, grief specialist, for permission to use one of her writings during this holiday season. This is directed at everyone, bereaved or not, about what you can do to make this a special holiday for everyone. At the same time, bereaved parents can honor their child who died with many of these deeds. Happy Holidays to all.
This is the season where many people spend tremendous energy and money on gift giving. This can be stressful and worrisome in addition to the strain on your credit card. What if you had an alternative? What is the ‘perfect gift’ and how much would it cost? There are a host of alternative gifts that are sure to fit your budget and your heart.

The Gift of Your Time—Being with someone, giving them your undivided attention, is perhaps one of the most precious, priceless gifts you can offer. You may put together a puzzle with a child or go for a walk or visit someone in a nursing home. Whatever you choose, you are creating a memory of caring and sharing.

The Gift of Listening—Good listeners are rare treasures. You have an opportunity to allow someone to tell their story and pay full attention to them. This means no interruptions, no chiming in with your story…only listening to theirs and asking questions for more details.

The Gift of Your Talent—What do you do well? You don’t need to be perfect, just a cut above some others? Do you make great banana bread? Can you fix a leaky faucet? Can you take a letter for someone unable to see or write anymore? What can you do with ease that you could share with others?

The Gift of Your Smile—Have you noticed the faces of others while you are out and about? Some people seem distracted, frustrated or borderline miserable while going about their daily doings. Offer them your smile—a free gift of encouragement. Make eye contact and connect with a smile and a gleam in your eye. You just might be the person who turns their day around…and it is sure to lift your own spirits along the way.

The Gift of Your Forgiveness—Forgiveness is highly personal and should never be forced on anyone. Consider for yourself, is there something that you have carried too long and paid too high a price for? Who could you release from judgment today? Maybe it is yourself.

The Gift of Your Acceptance—Sometimes the greatest gift we can offer someone is to love and accept them—as is. We could give the same gift to ourselves. Rather than harsh comparisons with others that are inevitably hurtful to someone, what if we allowed ourselves to hold pure, unconditional acceptance of another person…and let them know that?

The Gift of Your Remembrance—This could be a card or call to someone you do not see often with a simple ‘thinking of you’ message. These spontaneous remembrances are some of the sweetest in life. Enclose a story, article of interest, clipping or a favorite memory. What a terrific surprise this can be.

The Gift of Your Treasures—What do you have that you are willing to share with another? I’m not talking about donations to the local thrift shop. I mean items of interest or beauty in your home that have served you well, given you pleasure and you are now ready to share them with others. If you have things that you want to eventually bequeath to your loved ones, go ahead, give them a gift now so that they can properly thank you and you can live to see them enjoy the treasures!

The Gift of Your Anonymous Good Deed—Do something for someone else anonymously. Be creative and have fun with this. You could pay for someone’s meal, leave a pot of flowers on someone’s doorstep, wrap one of your favorite books and send without your return address---the list is endless and exciting!

The Gift of Your Appreciation—Make a list of 10 things you appreciate about a specific person and send it to them. Combine personal, serious and humorous attributes of your friend. I guarantee  this will be one gift that is neither discarded nor forgotten.

Sunday, December 13, 2015

Light a Candle Tonight

Tonight at 7 p.m. you are asked to light a candle in memory of your child, son, daughter, brother, sister and grandchild, all gone too soon.. If you do, you will create a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone around the world.

This small gesture is now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the 19th annual Worldwide Candle Lighting. Hundreds of thousands of persons commemorate and honor their memory.

This ceremony 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.

The Compassionate Friends and allied organizations are joined by local bereavement groups, churches, funeral homes, hospitals, hospices, children's gardens, schools, cemeteries, and community centers. Services have ranged in size from just a few people to nearly a thousand.

Every year you are invited to post a message in the Remembrance Book which will be available, during the event, at TCF's national website. Here are a few examples from previous years:
     "Mommy and Daddy miss you and always will."
     "I light my candle for Timmy. May the beauty of his life live on forever."
     "Miss you every single day. My heart and life will never be the same."
     "I hope you liked the poem I read at church about you. The love will never fade, my son."
     "To our precious grandson. We will never forget you."

The Worldwide Candle Lighting gives bereaved families everywhere the opportunity to remember their child(ren) so that their lights may always shine! 

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Gifts From Your Child's Life

At the holiday season, bereaved parents do a lot of remembering of the one no longer with them. I choose to remember all the good things that my child gave me, not material gifts, but gifts from the heart: love, laughter, joy, sharing, caring, and many more. You may want to invite your child’s friends or relatives to be part of what will be your collection of gifts from your child. After all, friends and relatives were inspired by his/her actions in a positive way and they, also, may want to remember.

There are many ways to do this. Most importantly, write these gifts down on colorful strips of paper to keep close to you. Some choose memory boxes to place these strips of paper; others choose to display them at holidays and other times during the year. Some may want the boxes to remain private and choose not to share them with others. Others find that putting the decorative papers on hand-made ornaments and hanging them on a tree every Christmas or placing them in a stocking with your child’s name on the stocking is evidence that someone lived and was loved by many. I choose to place them in a scrapbook and when I look at them, it eases the pain of the loss. My daughter’s friends and co-workers have participated.

Most importantly, wherever you place these papers, you will know they are tangible evidence that someone lived and was loved by many. Even though the person is no longer here, you will always have these gifts of the heart that are treasured.

Let peace and joy return to warm your heart again this holiday season, so that you can always be comforted to know the love, laughter and precious words that were exchanged between your loved one, yourself and others.

Light a candle this holiday season in celebration of a life and love shared. May you always remember through shared words the one who brought such happiness to all. 

Happy holidays to all of you.