Sunday, November 27, 2016

Attending weddings, funerals, events after your child's death

Attending weddings, funerals, and special events after the death of your child can be very traumatic for the first year.

I remember two months after my daughter died in a car accident, a dear friend’s son was getting married and I was invited. I agonized for weeks about what I should do. On the one hand, I didn’t want to disappoint my friend, but on the other hand, I didn’t think I could make it through the ceremony without breaking down. You see, my daughter had gotten married five months prior to her death and those wonderful memories lingered in my mind and heart. If I were to see the bride coming down the aisle, would I be able to hold it together or would I think about my daughter’s wedding and be heartbroken?

I finally made a decision. I had to do what felt right for me. Everyone is different. I wanted to go to the wedding, but I just couldn’t. I had to call my friend and explain the circumstances. I thought it would be difficult, but she was very understanding and said she wondered what I would do, didn’t want to interfere, and left the decision up to me. I bought her son a very nice wedding gift, visited him when he got back from his honeymoon and hoped that would suffice. My friend told me her son understood. As time goes on, it does get better.

Attending a funeral of a relative or friend or one of their children is no different as far as emotions are concerned. Again, my mind reverts back to my daughter’s funeral. Many, many people attended, but truthfully, I didn’t see any of them. I was just thinking of what had happened so suddenly. The finality of it astounded me. I would never see her again. How could this have happened to my beautiful child? Children are not supposed to die before their parents.

Depending on when the funeral is (more than a year out is less taxing) and how close I am to the parents or child was one of the decisions as to whether or not I went that first year. I could send heartfelt condolences or offer to send food or flowers to their house if I didn’t feel I could handle going to the service and/or cemetery. 

Unfortunately, there were situations within that first year or so where I knew I must attend to show support and compassion for those grieving. I didn’t have to stay long, just acknowledge and express sympathy to the family and give them all a big hug. After all, I know only too well how I felt during that time in my life. If it is the same cemetery as where my daughter is buried, I use it as a reason to visit her grave. As long as I honored the life and memory of the one who died by attending, I think they understood if my emotions got the better of me and I started crying. Know that there did come a time when I was ready and at peace with these situations, but it does take a lot of grief work and you must do what, in your heart, is best for you.

I remember attending a few special events held for my daughter by her friends months afterwards. This was one area I felt I couldn’t bow out of with any kind of excuse. And to be truthful, I wanted to go to hear what others had to say about her. They were wonderful stories about her life and friendships, some of which I was not even aware. Yes, they tugged at my heart, but I was so proud to know how important she was to others.

We will all at some time in our life, lose someone we love dearly, and there is no way to avoid that. Trust your grief skills to get you through any situation. A loved one may be gone too soon from our lives but never, never from our hearts.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving has not been a fun or favorite holiday of mine for many, many years, but it is getting better with new additions to my family.

At first, I used to love the holiday. Although not that fond of turkey, I never had to worry. My mom always cooked the turkey and dinner and all I had to do was eat it! Easy enough. I must admit that I’ve never cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving in my entire life! Oh, I’ve cooked parts—a breast, a wing and many, many thighs, (my favorite part of the turkey). When my mom died, I still didn’t cook Thanksgiving. Either my sister-in-law did or my husband, at the time, prepared the turkey. I did the trimmings.

One of the last times I saw my family together was Thanksgiving, 1992, when my daughter and her fiance, drove to Tucson from Los Angeles to celebrate with us. Everyone was in a great mood. Always a fair kid, I was informed this was my year for Thanksgiving; next year they would go to her Dad’s in Phoenix. Little did she know that I was not cooking the turkey! The man of the house was doing it and did a great job! We kidded about the engaged couple sleeping in a trundle bed. “Don’t you know,” my daughter said, “that engaged and/or married couples like to sleep in the same bed, close together, not in twin beds.” I replied, “You’re close enough; you’re not married yet! And unless you want to sleep on the floor, this is the only other bedding in the house!” (To this day, it remains the only other bedding in my home, but with new mattresses.)

It was a festive weekend. I did not know it would be my mother’s last weekend alive. She died from heart failure the following week, not much older than I am now. How was I to know that my daughter would only have another year and a half to live before tragedy struck our family again after another holiday season and wedding celebrations, my daughter’s and her best friend’s.

As we celebrate every year, we are always thankful for our health, our families, our comfortable life. But the death of a child changes all that. I do not celebrate Thanksgiving as a festive day anymore. Sure, if invited, I go to a friend’s home, but when I hear others talk about their child, see their grandchildren and hear what they did recently, I always wish they would ask about a story or just mention my child, who they all knew and loved and who also lived a wonderful life for as long as she could. Sure, I wish she was still here, enjoying everyone and everything, but it was not to be.

I do, however, give thanks for what I do have now: a new husband of 10 years, a new step-daughter, who couldn’t be more like my own (born in the same month and on the same day), and recently, her new son, my first grandson, as her proud father, my husband, says to me, “I know you’ll never get over your own loss (and I wouldn’t expect you to), but I’m so glad I could help a little, fill the hole in your heart.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Celebrate as best you can with those you love.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tributes Digest

To help sustain the memories of children who have died, the Starshine Galaxy Foundation supports the Tributes to Lost Children Community Page on Facebook as a place to post, share, and comment on activities to honor these children and to celebrate their lives.

A biweekly Tributes Digest presents highlights from this community page along with other items of interest. These stories, many of which I’ve read, remind me of my first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” where I tell what happened to the child and then how the parents have moved on and what they are doing to honor their child. Many have causes or have started foundations. All of them don’t want what happened to them to happen to others.

Their stories are touching, and I’ve briefly summarized a few of them to give you an idea of the wide variety of what is being covered.

One of the recent highlights is “Jacob’s Hope.” Jacob disappeared in 1989 and his parents never gave up hope of finding their son. When they recently discovered his remains, they decided to keep the goal through this site of educating the public about those who take children, in hopes of stopping these kidnappings and murders.

Childhood cancer awareness is another topic on the minds of many as is the bodies of abandoned babies left on the roadside. As gun violence among young people become more prevelent, it is noted that we must find ways to stop this violence. Research into stillborn babies and Hemophiliac children is ongoing. And hope is always present as researchers learn more and more each day as to why these illnesses happen.

In the wake of 26-year-old Kayla Mueller’s death (she lived in Northern Arizona), “Kayla’s Hands” was created by her parents to continue their daughter’s humanitarian work she started in Syria to relieve human suffering. She was held for 18 months before she died. The  work they now do to help others is comforting to them and a loving tribute to Kayla.

Two year old Lane Graves was attacked by an alligator in Disneyworld recently, as he stood on a beach at the Disneyworld resort. Friends and family where he lived released 5,000 blue balloons as they stood in a large heart formation to honor and remember him. Disneyworld has since put up protective fences so no one else will get hurt or die.

Mathew Shepard, an incoming freshman at the University of Wyoming who was gay, was lured from a bar by two men who then kidnapped and tortured him and let him die, tied to a fence in an empty field. The voices of gay people are being heard now in greater numbers and they are hoping to stop this vicious violence.

The many deaths of men, women and children on September 11, 2001, will always be a tragedy, but out of that, a living memorial was built in New York to remember all the victims, and many families have started their own foundations to honor their children, relatives and friends and to document the lives of those tragically killed in this terror attack.

All of these deaths and many others are talked about in this Tributes Digest in much greater detail. Activities are held to honor those who have passed away and hopefully, what others have done can help in the healing process.

Their mailing address is: Starshine Galaxy Foundation, 1400 Sherwood Lane, Geneva, IL 60134. Direct any comments, questions or concerns on any post you may read in full on Facebook to:

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Giving Back

Two people who feel that Compassionate Friends has given them their lives back after the death of two of their three children is Jacquin Edwards-Mitchell and John Mitchell. Even though they lost two children, they say they gained a family of thousands, referring to the TCF community.

Fortunately they didn’t let their children’s death destroy their their lives. Both children died by drowning 22 years ago and yet they still attend meetings and try to help others who are going through their grief journey. John and Jacquin run the Manhattan, New York, chapter, going twice a month.

Their two boys were swimming one day and the older one hit his head on the side of the pool. The younger boy dove in the water and tried to save him but to no avail and also died in the attempt. 

They didn’t think they would survive this devastation. Someone told them about Compassionate Friends and they attended their first meeting, feeling a camaraderie with those who had lost a child.

When asked how they survived that first year, the answer was “One day at a time.”

 “Grief doesn’t just go away,” said Jacquin. “You don’t wake up one night and think you are all better. It’s a lifetime struggle and you need other people. You can’t do it alone.” In the first year one needs support--someone to call in the middle of the night who understands what you are going through. The Mitchells try to help those in need through this difficult time. She emphasized that if one chapter of TCF doesn’t work for you, go to another one. Shop around to find the best fit for your needs.

John tries to help men in grief, while Jacquin works on the board of directors of TCF. Someone was there for them and now they want to be there for others. 

Gloria Horsley, grief specialist, says it feels good to help others, and it gives you a chance to give back.

“At TCF you are surrounded by love,” said Alan Pedersen, executive director of TCF.

Whatever you decide is best for your needs, take that first step and you will find that after a while, you will be helping others like yourself. I know it is true. I have given back by speaking at TCF National Conferences and making new friends with those who sought help. It is very rewarding, and in the process of helping others, I also helped myself.