Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Daughter At 50

My daughter’s birthday recently passed. She would have been 50-years-old this year, born in 1966. I thought it was a special occasion, even though she died 22 ½ years ago. And 1966 seems like an eternity ago. I wanted to do something to remember her on this special day, but realized I am content for now to reminisce on my own and feel her arms wrapped around me as we said goodbye the last time I saw her at her friend’s wedding.

I know of some bereaved mothers who have a party every year and invite the child’s friends. There is cake, drinks and a balloon release. Then they talk about what they remember. But that was not my style. So I did what I’ve done every year on her birthday. I went to the cemetery, cleaned off her stone and spoke a few words about how much I missed her and loved her. It makes me feel good to do this, as I am the only one who is left in our family that is able to.

As I approached the plaque in the ground this year, I realized someone else had also been there. There was a huge stone sitting on the top signifying to me that someone else also remembered this special day and wanted everyone who passed by to understand that. You can’t imagine how good that made me feel, even though I don’t know, and probably never will, who it was that was there.

This quiet cemetery allows me to go back in time, to remember all the good times—and there were so many—that we had and to tell her what I’ve been up to. She loved traveling, and so do I. I tell her we went on a cruise to the Baltic countries this summer, although I know she died before she could travel there. Last year I went to a Greek Island that was her favorite and tried to immerse myself in the culture to see what she loved so much about it. I discovered it was special in Crete. There is one thing I do when I travel—I take her with me in one form or another. It could be a necklace I wear with her picture on it, or her favorite ring. And at each stop, if there is a beautiful church or synagogue, I go inside and light a candle for her or just say a prayer.

She also loved people, particularly all her friends, and they in turn loved her. When she died I received hundreds of letters and notes about how she was the glue that held everyone together, that she was a kind and thoughtful soul that helped others when needed, that she was a free spirit, and that when she found the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, she was content and happy. All parents would like to know this of their child, and I was lucky enough to have that knowledge.

I think that if I called some of her friends and shared special moments, pictures, and reminisced about her short life, they, in turn, could also share what they remember. That would make this birthday very special. Perhaps one day soon I will do that.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Loss of an Adopted Child

Loss of an adopted child is just as heartbreaking as it would be if the person had given birth herself, according to Peggi Johnson, bereaved mother of 19 year old Jordan, who in 2009 died by suicide. She says she has no idea what happened to trigger his death.

When Peggi realized she couldn’t have children, they went another route: not an agency but a private adoption through a lawyer. She retired from her corporate career and devoted herself to motherhood full time.

Peggi knew who the birth mother was and kept in contact with her for a long time sending pictures and letters about Jordan’s progress as he grew up. But, according to Peggi, the birth mother was erratic in picking up the annual letters and Peggi stopped sending them until the birth mother contacted an attorney and  Peggi updated her again, putting together a package for her. When Jordan died, Peggi and the attorney were unable to contact her for two years but she eventually found out and was very angry. “I wrote a letter of explanation and the attorney handled it.”

Peggi adopted both of her children, a boy and a girl, Jordan and Claire, who is now almost 25. Only approximately two percent of children are adopted. According to Peggi, there are those parents who adopt and also have their own children, for whatever reason they choose. She emphasized there is no difference in how you feel about those who are placed with you and those children who are your own. They are loved equally, she believes.

Growing up Jordan was a quiet boy but smart. He had a lot of close friends who were crazy about him, according to Peggi. “He did not have an impulsive bone in his body. I loved him beyond measure and miss him beyond measure as well every minute of every hour of every day.”

Some of the things he loved were castles, wolves, beanie babies, dinosaurs and Harry Potter. He was an avid reader who adored David Eddings, Robert Jordan JR Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Gorge R.R. Martin, and Ursula LeGuin. He was devoted to his sister, his dog Cassie, his neighbors, his cousins and his youth group. His life was enriched by teachers. He took a PB&J sandwich to school every day through 12th grade!

Peggi and her husband, Jeff, didn’t try to “imprint” and she believe most parents are like this. In other words, she said, “We want to know how they turn out on their own. If my husband and I loved football, we wouldn’t try to force it on Jordan. Children need to make their own decisions about what they want to do with their life. My son was introverted; I tried to be his advocate and let him do and be what he wanted on his own terms.”

Her other child, Claire, always wanted to find her real parents, particularly after Jordan died. “I was supportive about her finding as much family as possible,” said Peggi. Claire now knows her birth mother and has met with her several times. They will be visiting soon again and Claire will meet, for the first time, other close relatives. She is very excited about this, but, as Peggi says, “It doesn’t take away from how she and Claire feel about each other.

“The most important part of being a parent is unconditional love,” she says. “And I did give both my children unconditional love.”

Complications arise when the child dies, because you feel responsible that you were entrusted with this child and you couldn’t keep the child alive. “I don’t think I have healed,” says Peggi. “I think I have a limb that has been permanently amputated, and I try to do the best I can with it. I try to make my life meaningful, productive and helpful to others. That’s the best I’ve got. I endure it as well as I can. I don’t mope around.”

Peggi is a hospice volunteer, writes articles for TCF and presents workshops at the national conferences. She has talked about adopted children at three previous conferences. She and her husband are both active in their local TCF chapter in Virginia, enjoy being with other bereaved parents and do everything they can to honor Jordan.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sudden or Violent Death

Sudden or violent death of a child - workshop

The Sudden Death of a child is very close to my heart. It is the way my daughter died at age 27, and I always want to hear and read more about the topic.

Parents become paralyzed when their child died suddenly. They are in a state of shock, and it can take a long time to comprehend. There is no opportunity to prepare, resolve misunderstandings or, or most important, to say good-bye. My daughter and I had a wonderful relationship and when she was suddenly killed in a horrific car accident four months after her marriage, I couldn’t believe it. Neither can most parents. Our lives are changed forever.

Shock is our first response to news of a sudden death. We can’t believe what has happened, nor can any relatives or friends. It can take days, weeks and in some cases, months, to comprehend emotionally what has happened. You may have a fear of going crazy: what could you have done, should have done. This can lead to anxiety in your chest, lack of sleep, and an inability to function normally. We are angry at the injustice of it all; we anguish that the loss is forever, we yearn to be with the child; we might also focus our anger on those responsible. In my case, the man who smashed into them was never caught.

Bereaved parents also want to reach out for a “sign” from their child, and can be highly susceptible to the power of suggestion.

We ask ourselves “if only” and “What if.” We have guilt about what might have saved our child. Our job is to protect our child and not blame ourselves for what happened. Four important points to keep in mind are (1) talk out your feelings with the family, (2) talk with those who have been there, (3) keep a journal where you can address unfinished issues and say things left unsaid, and (4) the need to blame oneself will move from a main focus of grief to a level of acceptance since many tragedies in life are not preventable or foreseeable.

My biggest focus was on Anger towards those responsible for my daughter’s death. There are often yearnings to die in place of your child. It is suggested you surround yourself with like-minded people, create special ways to remember, talk about your child, keep a special memory album, hold special memorial gatherings to remember and honor the child, hold blood drives, donate toys, become a spokesperson for a cause, have a birthday party every year and do a memorial tattoo on your body. A good site to set up a memorial website for your child is

Many families say that one of the most difficult things is to see the world go on when the child is gone. But there are many ways to remember. Include your child’s name in a conversation. Even if friends are shocked at first, they will get used to it and perhaps feel better about their own memories of your child. Tell stories, make a special memory album others can look at. Honor the child in any way possible. Give back by helping a newly bereaved person.

We learn to accept the death. It can take a very long time because each person’s grief is different. Complete recovery is a myth. We never get over it. The family unit is changed forever and they need both short and long term support when the death comes suddenly. You will find your pain slowly changing from intense to warmer memories and a commitment to lead our lives in honor of our child and in a way that would make that child proud.

These ideas and thoughts are all constructive, representing some good that can come from a tragedy. Reinvest in love, work and living.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Grieving With a Spouse Who Did Not Raise the Child Who Died

Grieving with a spouse who did not raise the child who died - workshop

When you are grieving the death of a child and your spouse is not the mother or father, it is difficult for you to talk to them because they feel you don’t understand. They did not raise your child, they did not go through life’s experiences with the child, so how can he/she share this journey into the past with you, you might think.

Trying to grieve with a spouse who did not raise your child adds an element of loneliness to an already isolating loss. How do you keep this reality from wedging a deep crevase between the bereaved parent and the current spouse? It is true that some couples do okay coping, but at this workshop, parents shared some thoughts about how they deal with this problem.

One husband puts a shield up and doesn’t share his anger and deep grief with his wife. The wife says she suffers for him and tries to imagine what he’s going through. The wife was told by the moderator of the workshop that she shouldn’t expect to understand; that it’s inconceivable to relate to the one who is isolating himself.

Another man who had four children and told his wife to be, "If we marry, we're in this together, She chose to be his children's mother after the death of one of the children. Their marriage is strong because of patience, understanding and good communications.

Whether it’s the mother or father who is suffering, they will never be the same person. We have to recreate a new life to stay together in a different world. It takes a long time to realize you’re a different person and to actually function again. But eventually you do realize that.

Another spouse said her family broke completely and were never the same after the death. They found it impossible to talk to one another and share feelings. They divorced when it became impossible for both to communicate.

One mother said she sat down and wrote a letter explaining her feelings after her child’s death, saying this will all take time, that you are fighting this grief and want the relationship to continue, but it will take time. Let the spouse read it and understand that she, too, was suffering in her own way. She realized things would never be the same but didn’t want the relationship to falter, that there was hope for them. Sometimes a written form of communication can open channels to understanding.

This is also true for siblings left behind, who think parents favored the one who died and react accordingly. They cry around their friends and say they are not loved. This is simply not true, but sometimes a mother or father doesn’t have the capacity to let go of his/her grief for a very long time. If they sat down and explained this to the sibling, matters might improve significantly until things become closer to creating a new normal.

An exercise suggested by the moderator to help calm you down to talk is as follows: sit relaxed on a chair or on a sofa, breathe in through your nose slowly and hold it for a minute. Exhale through your mouth slowly. Do this three times during the day for as many days as needed. It is a form of Yoga. If you can do this in a quiet place, it is a great way to quiet the mind.