Sunday, December 25, 2016

Importance of keeping pictures

If your house was on fire and you only had time to take a few precious mementos, what would they be?

For me, pictures are the most important mementos. They are the one thing you can never replace, especially if they are pictures of a child who died. Grab as many as you can and add other family photos to the ones you chose. We think we remember everything about our loved one who died, but as time goes on, memories fade. And if you have additional children, their lives are important also, so grab what you can. The clothes, the awards, the keepsakes from trips—all of these are important too, but most are replaceable and don’t hold the same sentimental value as a photo.

To make sure of always having photos of the family: children, grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles, I take a number of photos and store them in my safe deposit box at the bank. I know they are safe there and that if anything happens to my home, I will still have precious ones to look at and be able to reproduce at a later time.

Another idea for those who have lost everything in a flood or fire is to ask friends and relatives to share pictures with you that have one or more members of your family in them. It may just be a camping outing, a birthday party or a wedding you all attended. The more you can gather, the better you’ll feel that not everything was lost.

If you put family pictures all over your new abode, you shouldn’t feel strange or embarrassed about doing that. I love surrounding myself with those I love and particularly those no longer here. I like talking about my family to friends when they come over and include my family in my life in any way I can.

As long as I have those precious photos, I feel my life is as complete as it can be, and I can move on from there making new memories but never forgetting the old ones. 

Merry Christmas to all.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Celebrating Hanukkah and Christmas

In a rare occurrence, this year Hanukkah, the festival of Lights, begins on Christmas Eve. It is usually days or weeks before December 25, depending on the Jewish calendar. It lasts eight nights and is marked by the lighting of candles in the home, one candle for each night until all eight lights burn brightly.

One legend tells of finding the Temple in Jerusalem desolate and desecrated. It was cleansed and rededicated by Judah and his brothers. With a little flash of holy oil expected to last only one day, they relit the great Menorah. Miraculously, the oil lasted eight days and over the years the custom of lighting Hanukkah lights developed into the festival celebrated today by Jews all over the world.

Hanukkah is a happy celebration, Jews sing songs, play games (especially with a dreidel—a four-sided top)—eat potato pancakes called latkes, visit with family and friends and give gifts. It is considered a good deed (mitzvah) to give to those in need. Originally, gifts were coins given on one night. Today gifts are often given each night for the eight nights. Gifts can be small and not expensive or elaborate, depending on what people can afford.

If you have lost a child, no matter your religion, Hanukkah and/or Christmas can be a daunting time of year remembering all the good times you had while they were alive. When the time is right—it can be months or even years--get back into the spirit of the holidays by helping yourself and by helping others. 

I have been on the road of grief for many years, but now I have a new reason to celebrate, a grandson. I see those who are ahead of me and know they can help too in many ways. I also see those who are just starting the long journey. I and others can give them words of encouragement and hope that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. I wish you all peace, a pleasant holiday and hope for the year ahead.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

The Grief Journey Never Ends

The grief journey never ends, but neither does the journey of hope. There is no proper way to grieve, no matter what you’ve been told or have heard. There is also no magic formula to help with the pain. We each go through our journey as best as we can. For some it will take a year or two, for others, much longer.

We have choices to make as we go through this journey. With each choice we can become stronger. We can face the future with courage, optimism and creativity. At first we may be afraid to do anything, but day by day I personally choose to be happy. I choose not to wallow in my grief. I choose to have goals and to make them happen. I choose a reason to live and move on with my life. I choose to regain control of my life. Having hope for whatever I choose to do is important to me now. I think I’ve succeeded in this goal. Sure, I miss my daughter. She is part of my heart now and always will be. But being happy is a choice that I have made, no matter the roadblocks.

Over the years I have met so many people, heard so many stories of loss, and I have tried to be part of the recovery process. With books and organizations now to help in that process, the end results is a society of thriving individuals who did it themselves. Although others may help, the inner-most part of the person must also want to succeed. By helping others, I have helped myself and I have chosen the path of helping others get through the pain, the anguish, the sadness and find new meaning in their lives. I do this through speaking at national conferences, at local bereavement chapters and writing not only books on surviving grief, but also (at last count) almost 500 blogs on the topics of coping, personal stories and informational helpful articles for the bereaved. What a cathartic help all this has been for me in return! It was a natural choice. I have been a journalist/writer my entire life.

Trust your own instincts no matter what others say is the key to hope and renewal on our grief journey. If you have dreams you have never been able to fulfill, now is the time to take a closer look at your dreams. Take that leap of faith. Someone once said to me, “Dare to dream and believe in yourself.” For example, if you’ve always wanted to travel, now is the time. Go alone if you must; you will find others on your journeys to exotic lands. And who knows what might come of taking that first step. Don’t fear the future. You’ve already lived through the worst thing that could ever happen to you, the loss of a child.

More and more, people are making bucket lists and following them. Not only does it show that you can accomplish great things, but you will find you have gained control over your life again. I am always reminded of the quote by William Shedd I had for many years on the wall of my classroom (along with others) that I found thought-provoking “A ship is safe in harbor, but that’s not what ships are for.”

Sunday, December 4, 2016

Worldwide Candle Lighting and other info

A reminder that the 20th annual Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting  to  honor the memory of the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and grandchildren who left too soon will be held. It unites family and friends around the globe when hundreds of thousands of people commemorate and honor their memory. Candles are lit for one hour at 7 p.m. local time. By doing this, it creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone.

It started in the U.S. in 1997 as a small internet observance, but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world. 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.

Local bereavement groups, churches, funeral homes, hospitals, hospices, children’s gardens, schools, cemeteries and community centers have arranged services for all size groups. Check on the Compassionate Friends Website for postings of where some of these are held. If there are none in your area, you may plan one on your own open to the public and use Compassionate Friends website to help with suggestions on planning the service. It can be as simple as getting into a circle, lighting a candle and saying a few prayers for those who died and perhaps one special prayer for your child before blowing out your candle. In some locations, the names of those who died and are attending the service are named as well as a speaker giving prayers. If planning one for your community, let TCF know, so it can be posted so others can attend and/or know about it. TCF also invites you to post a message in the Remembrance Book which is available during the event at the national website.

The Worldwide Candle Lighting gives bereaved families everywhere the opportunity to remember their child(ren) so that their lights may always shine.
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I read a fabulous idea recently about parents who wanted to honor their daughter who died. They did this by donating children’s books to a children’s hospital for reading and also donating grief books for those parents to read. It has gone over very well. Children were delighted to read or have stories read to them and parents could either read in the hospital or take the books home to read. I would definitely encourage any parents who want to honor their child to take up a  collection from parents who no longer need books for youngsters or to buy new books for this worthwhile project. Contact the local children’s hospital for additional information on how to go about doing this for them.
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If you want to create a memory book for your child who died, Kelly Gerken founded and is president of Sufficient Grace Ministries, a non-profit organization that helps bereaved families create memory books of their children. Kelly and husband Tim lost three of their five children to Potter’s Syndrome in utero.
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A support group for families who have a child suffering from cancer is Cal’s Angels, offering hope and love. Its mission and purpose to grant wishes, raise awareness and fund research to help kids fighting cancer continues Cal’s legacy, according to his parents, Tom and Stacey Sutter. Cal Sutter never gave up hope after his diagnoses of Leukemia. He was always more concerned about the well-being of others fighting cancer than he was about himself during his 14 month battle with the disease.