Sunday, January 1, 2017

My Last Post...for now

It has been almost 10 years and 500  blogs since I first started writing this blog for all of you who needed to hear words of comfort and a variety of information of how to move on with your life. Each Sunday I would try to pick a topic that was both timely and of interest to many. All 10 years are here on these pages. I have also written two books on surviving grief: “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” and “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child,” both of which I hope were helpful. It is time now to put my writings aside and do other things, but I want to leave you with the following hints to help you move forward with your life, in addition to the ones I’ve mentioned throughout the years, no matter where you are in your lifelong grief journey:

  1. Seek a grief counselor if you feel you need one. Many are good, but make sure you are not getting advice from the uninitiated. In other words, the grief counselor should also be a bereaved parent, if at all possible. Otherwise, they will give you their advice but probably never understand what you are truly feeling because they have not been through it.
  2. Don’t expect a miracle cure. There isn’t one. A broken heart can not be replaced. It can only be repaired.
  3. Learn from other survivors. Listen to their stories and what they’ve done to move on with their lives.
  4. Reaching out to others who are newly bereaved may be your best therapy because you realize you are not alone. I’ve met extraordinary people who have enriched my life as I hope I have for them.
  5. Talk about your child and let others know you want them to do so too. This is the No. 1 thing bereaved parents ask for others to do the most. They don’t want their child to be forgotten. Others may be afraid at first, but you need to make them comfortable by telling them you’d love to hear a story about them.
  6. Time is your friend. Don’t expect too much of yourself too soon. A good day doesn’t mean you’re moving on. It’s a roller-coaster ride and you may fall back into the hole at any time. Grieving for your child is a life-long process
  7. Do not say “good-bye” to your deceased child or children. Alive or dead, there are no true separations from our children.
  8. Understand that people will react differently towards you and be accepting of that.
  9. Don’t rush into any decisions you might regret later, like moving. Take your time.
  10. Do whatever you want to honor your child and whatever makes you happy, no matter what others may say. It can be a scholarship, having a memorial service or starting a foundation.
  11. Be around people who care about you and your needs.
  12. Take care of yourself physically. Eat right. Exercise.
  13. Whatever you do, remember your reactions are normal.
  14. Expect to be a different person, with new goals, new friends and different priorities.
  15. Find a support group and go to meetings with other bereaved parents. You will feel comfortable talking about your child and everyone will get to know your child and understand how you are feeling.
  16. Don’t be afraid to laugh. You are not being disloyal to your child’s memory by doing so, and laughter is good for the soul.
  17. Always know our kids are watching and routing for our survival. We owe it to them to live our lives in tribute to their memory, to make them proud of us. For as long as we live, they too shall live. Remember too, you are not alone.
I believe that the passage of time, an open heart that embraces life, hard work and a choice to embrace hope, will allow you to survive the most difficult losses and move on with your life. 

I will return, hopefully, from time to time, to continue giving you advice and help wherever and whenever I can. All 500 blogs will remain on this site. Remember, you can always email me to ask anything you feel you need help or advice on. Thank you for following me all these years.

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.

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.