Sunday, May 3, 2015

38th Compassionate Friends Conference in Dallas this July

Hope Shines Bright deep in the heart” is the theme for the 38th National Compassionate Friends Conference in Dallas, Texas, July 10-12, 2015 at the Hyatt Regency .

Some of the special events at the conference will include sharing sessions, the walk to remember, picture buttons, hospitality rooms, memory board tattoo wall, reflection room, butterfly boutique, bookstore and keynote speakers.

Over 100 sessions will be available for bereaved parents, siblings and grandparents. They include sessions on circumstances of the loss such as illness, accident, drugs or suicide; sessions for men and women specifically; sessions dealing with healing; the grief related to family and friends, long term and early grievers; using creativity to help healing, and many other topics related to grief. Many sessions will be available to siblings (teen and adult siblings) on how to deal with various issue that may come up with parents and additional siblings such as multiple loss and parents being parents.

Three keynote speakers will highlight the conference. At the opening ceremony Kay Warren, co-founder of the mega Saddleback Church in Orange County, CA, is an international speaker and best-selling author who has a passion for inspiring and motivating others to make a difference with their lives. Her son, Matthew died by suicide at the age of 27. Kris Munsch, whose son Blake was killed in a car accident, tells his inspiring story of survival and how this quest inspired his famous Birdhouse Project. Gary Mendell will speak at the Friday luncheon. He is founder and CEO of Shatterproof, a national organization committed to protecting children from addiction to alcohol and other drugs. He lost his son Brian in 2011 to addiction. At the closing ceremony Christopher Jones, whose son died of Muscular Dystrophy, is the author of Mitchell’s Journey, a popular Facebook blog about his son, his journey and the transformative effects it has had on the lives of his family and himself.

One new addition to the conference is the Creative Café, a three-part specialized area focusing on the use of creative arts, craft making and good self-care practices in the healing process. Each of the three areas originated in one or more of the traditional workshops, but the cafes new come-and-go hours on Friday and Saturday will allow more time and a more conducive environment for personal reflection, for completing actual take-home projects, and for learning about and experiencing resources and techniques to help in the grief process.

The first area in this new Creative Café will provide a rich variety of art materials in addition to collage making. It will be an open all day art studio. It is about getting in touch with where you are in your healing journey. The second area is the crafty corner which will offer make and take crafts that can be completed easily at the conference, as well as those that can be completed at home, using you own loved one’s photos and belongings. The third are is healing haven, a peaceful setting for relaxation, renewal and recovery of the mind, body and spirit.

I believe these conferences are the best thing you can do for yourself. If it is possible for you to attend, go to for more information and registration materials.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

TAPS Seminar in May

TAPS (Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors) is once again holding its Military Survivor Seminar and Good Grief Camp for Young Survivors Memorial Day Weekend, May 22-25 in Washington, D.C. It is specifically for the loved ones of those who served in the military and died. This differs from the other conferences I've told you about recently because it is not only for bereaved parents. It encompasses an entire military family: mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives and children.

And for the children of these military people, the Good Grief Camp is America’s first established program for children and teens whose parent or sibling has died. Children are paired with trained mentors who support them as they share, learn coping skills and have fun in a place they feel they belong.

All events and workshops take place in (or depart from) the Crystal Gateway Marriott in Arlington, Virginia. Room rates are $129 per night. The seminar registration is $195 and the Good Grief Camp is $75 per child. A limited number of scholarships are available for those facing financial challenges. Tuesday, April 28 is the last day you can register for the seminar and apply for a scholarship. I apologize for this late notice, but I just received the information. If you can't go this year, consider next year. They have been doing these very successful seminars since 1994.

Seminar workshops include topics such as understanding complicated grief, coping with new family dynamics and special issues facing children, parents, siblings and significant others. They also offer workshops that explore alternate methods of expressing grief through art, writing, music, meditation and yoga.

Special concerts, ceremonies, and tours in Washington give you a chance to get out and experience the nation’s capital. They have both traditional events such as Marine Corps Evening Parade, Pentagon tour, Arlington National cemetery and new venues this year.

Rock climbing, kayaking, walking the labyrinth and guided tours of an art museum can be used as metaphors for the grief journey. They will explore active ways of learning coping skills for grief.

If you are 18 months beyond your own loss and ready to be there for others, they offer a full day of training the day before the conference begins, May 21. You will learn more about grief, gain basic helping skills and become part of the TAPS Peer Mentor Team.

Small group settings offer gentle, supportive discussions that allow you a chance to share with others who are facing similar experiences. Some groups are topical discussions and some are reserved for specific relationships.

All these activities make for a perfect weekend, Join TAPS for a weekend of hope and courage in an atmosphere of understanding and support. Share the journey as you honor your loved ones.

Sunday, April 19, 2015

Oklahoma Bombing 20th Anniversary

Today, April 19, is the 20th anniversary of the bombing of the Federal Building in Oklahoma City. Like most things, it seems like it just happened yesterday, A total of  168 people died at the hands of Timothy McVee. Twenty-one children were in the building’s day care that day and only six made it out alive. Today, all of the victims  are being remembered: children, sisters, brothers, husbands, wives, mothers and fathers.

What we honor today is the resilience of those kids who are now in their 20's. They say they appreciate the little things they have. Some are in college looking towards a good future. Some injuries will never go away like one student who suffers breathing problems and suffered burns over his entire body from the explosion. Another student is an astrology major and hopes to run a hotel one day.

I was in Oklahoma City years after this tragic event speaking to a national Compassionate Friends Conference of bereaved parents and walked over to the must-see memorial that has been built. As you approach the building, a rod iron fence surrounding the building has hundreds of memorials continuously put there from children's drawings and pictures of those who died to flowers, poems and other writings from all the visitors. The inside of the building depicts minute by minute leading up to the explosion, and then the rescue of survivors through photos, film footage and interviews. One can view the iconic picture of the fireman holding a baby covered with blood from the nursery and his tearful expression as he looks at the child who died, as well as other emotional pictures. The sounds of the police and fire engines are always in the background as you make your way through the maze of information that has been put together. They city has done an excellent, realistic job of showing this tragedy.

But the most outstanding memorial is next to this building. For every person who died, an iron chair has been built in a grassy area, 168 of them, surrounded by a water feature. Each chair has a plaque displayed on the front of the chair with that person's name. You can even go in the evening to see this beautiful, moving display, since under every chair there is a light that shines in the evening. It is a stunning, peaceful and beautiful memorial to honor all those brave souls.

As you enter or leave the complex, the following sign on the wall catches your attention:

     We come here to remember those who were killed,
     Those who survived and those changed forever.
     May all who leave here know the impact of violence.
     May this memorial offer comfort, strength,
         peace, hope and serenity.

I will never forget the impact this entire memorial area had on me. Never forget what happened here, it is saying, and pray it will never happen again.

Sunday, April 12, 2015

Pop-up Memories of Our Children

Those of us who have lost a loved one have had what is called “grief bursts” from something that we may think about that overwhelms and saddens us. It is like a trigger; it can be a song, a smell, a familiar place or someone who looks like our loved one. It brings on emotions in all of us of sad or happy memories, from the initial stage of your grief. These bursts create an opportunity for us to express our sorrow over the death of our loved one. They do not tie to an event that goes along with the memory.

A “pop-up memory,” on the other hand, happens when you least expect it to and as your healing begins and the grief bursts subside. According to author and bereaved parent Nan Zastrow, she defines a grief pop-up as a kind of recognition that instantly recalls an event or moment in the life of the one who died that may have been a forgotten or buried memory. It doesn’t require a specific trigger, it often just surfaces, usually when the mind is peaceful and not focusing on any outside stimuli. The memory (usually a pleasant one) suddenly pops into your thoughts and may make you smile or giggle as you remember a story associated with the recollection. The important element of pop-up memories are the stories that come to the surface.

One pop-up memory I can think of happened when I least expected it to, as do most pop-ups. My daughter’s best friends had gotten their ears pierced when they were very young. I have never had pierced ears nor did my mother. She asked me over and over if she could get hers pierced. I knew it was peer pressure at work, and I always said “No.” Going through a friend’s jewelry box after she suddenly died when I was asked to help clear out her things, I looked at all the earrings there and suddenly, I saw a set that reminded me of one of Marcy’s earrings. One day in her teens she asked me if I still minded if she got her ears pierced. I didn’t like the idea, even then. “You’ll get infections,” I told her. “It’s not worth it.” Of course, I was the over-protective mother, and she begged and begged until I just couldn’t say no anymore. It was the way she did it that always makes me smile when I think of it. Yes, she did get one or two infections but eventually “that, too, shall pass” and it did. After she died, I went through her earring box and picked out the ones I could switch to clip-ons and now proudly wear them, always thinking of her vibrant smile when I, at last, conceded to letting her do what she wanted. She did look beautiful in pierced earrings for the rest of her life.

The good thing about pop-up memories is that you get to think about your loved one and hopefully, a happy time, so you can smile or laugh about it. If it is a good memory, you may want to tell it to those close to you. We always want to talk about our loved ones so they are never forgotten. These memories can bring great comfort and allows us to think of the great happiness they brought to our lives.

When you get a pop-up, you feel like you are right there again and it connects the past to the present moment in your life. Hopefully, these pop-ups will always occur, bringing sweet memories of our child. Merging the past and present confirms that our loved one lives forever in our hearts and our stories. Love never dies!!

Sunday, April 5, 2015

Part 2-The DON'T's of Staying Connected After a Child's Death

Last week I gave readers ideas on how to stay connected after a child’s death. This week I’ll tell you what you 'shouldn’t' do in reference to your relationships.

Don’t “not” talk about your child. Certainly there were good things your family did together that are good to remember. Don't pretend your child never existed.

Don’t judge how your spouse reacts to the death. Let him or her do whatever needed. Everyone grieves differently. We don’t want to see our partner upset, but grief is a natural and healthy response to death.

Wait at least a year to make important decisions together, such as moving or getting rid of your child’s belongings. Short term decisions such as planning the funeral or memorial service should definitely be discussed immediately. Try to agree on how you want to do this without upsetting each other.

Don’t worry if you are forgetful or lack concentration and focus. It’s normal. Be patient with yourself as well as your partner.

Don’t shut out your partner. They already feel lonely and depressed. Try to listen carefully to what your spouse says or does and give feedback. Ask them to try to explain those awful feelings that are so hard to get rid of.

Don’t turn to drinking alcohol or doing any kind of drugs. All that will do is hide what is really going on inside you and cause problems between you and your spouse.

Don’t blame yourself or your partner for what has happened. Neither one of you are probably the cause, but in your anger and disbelief about the death, you may say something that is taken negatively or defensively.

During this time in your life, you must take care of yourself, each other and your grief. It is a difficult and exhausting journey, but one you need to get through so you can move on with your life.

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Staying Connected When Your Child Dies

What do you and your spouse do to stay connected when your child dies?

Perhaps you don’t know or understand your spouse well until a tragedy such as this happens. Sure, all couples disagree during the course of a marriage, but this is completely different.\

You will probably find that you and your spouse grieve very differently and at different timelines. That is very common and you should recognize that and learn how to deal with it, but not let it ruin what you have together.

There is no right or wrong way to grieve. What is good for one spouse may be completely different for the other. You may want to read every book you can get your hands on. Your spouse may want to attend grief meetings that you may not feel comfortable going to. 

Allow room for individual grief, listen to each other, empathize, and try to come together on the important issues you are facing in your new normal. Along the way expect your grief journey to have both ups and downs and many outside issues can affect your grief such as financial worries, moves or even loss of sexuality.

If you believe a grief counselor might help, try to get the name of a good one in your area; preferably, one who has also lost a child and can relate to you better.

If you are both up to trying to work this out yourselves, first talk about your loss and how each of you is feeling about what happened. Don’t hold back. Cry if you need to, but most importantly, be truthful with one another about how this loss has affected you. It is also important to talk about good times you had with your loved one. Remember funny incidents. Laugh when possible. Laughter has been known to be the best medicine, and it can be healing to take a deep breath and relax.

Each spouse should create a list of coping strategies and share them. Some of them you will both agree with and others, not so much. Take the ones you don’t agree with and try to come up with some fresh ideas that might help. You will probably be surprised with how many you agree with and thought you would not, and with the others, you may have to change and/or compromise and try some new techniques to get through the hard times.

We used to take grief and hide it under the table. It didn’t exist for some. Better to forget or worse, pretend it didn’t happen. But since many grief books are out there now explaining that it is okay to grieve in your own way and for as long as you need to, couples can take that first step to healing by trying to understand each other’s viewpoint and feelings.

...more information next week on this topic

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bari: Always and Forever

Coincidences? Or something else? 

I wrote a blog over a year ago how, when I went to a Bar Mitzvah, when I opened the prayer book, first I saw that that particular prayer book was in honor of Marcy, my daughter. Her best friend had bought the space to raise money for the new books. Then I found a paper stuck in the prayer book with my daughter’s name on it honoring her death date. It had been in there for a few months. None of the other books had that sheet in it. They’d been taken out months before. What were the odds that I would pick up the one book out of hundreds that had mentioned her name twice. It has been almost 21 years. I believe it was meant to happen and Marcy was probably watching from above.

When I read the following story (reprinted with permission here) in Grief Digest by Sheila Swedlow, I understood perfectly how this mother felt. Our children are always with us, in life and in death.

                                                Bari: Always and Forever
When my third daughter was born on April 18, 1968, there was never a question as to what we would call her. She was named Bari after my father, Benjamin, who was loved beyond the death of intensity. It is an unusual name, a sweet name, a name of importance; a name that brings a smile.
On April 6, 2009, forty years after her birth, our Bari left our lives forever. We felt as if our souls had been extinguished; our hearts had been shattered; our breathing, diminished. But to this very minute, whenever her name is spoken, we are overcome with a special feeling of warmth and joy. The name Bari is a special ray of sunshine.

It has been two and a half years since our family entered the immeasurably painful and dark world of grief, cut the name Bari keeps appearing at the most unexpected times. It presents itself for a reason—to exemplify the continued presence of my daughter. Her special name appears at the least expected of times and it is welcomed with a feeling of wonder.

As I drive through Long Beach, I can feel Bari in the passenger seat of my Audi. She was always with me, she lived in our home, and she was my companion in shopping. Her presence is always such a strong feeling that I have to look at and touch the now empty leather seat. One day, while gazing at her picture (now placed on my dashboard), a vehicle pulled up next to my car. The writing on the side of the truck read, “Bari’s Van.” It was so strange to feel her distinctly strong presence at the exact time I saw her name appear! Can a coincidence simply be a reality of what is?

After Bari’s passing, my elder daughter, Lori, and I were walking through the town of Cedarhurst. Lori  grieved with the silent ache of losing her sister, but together we gave each other comfort. As we emerged from a local restaurant, suddenly, we saw a brand new sign with dark, bold letters. We stood stuck, as if in cement, because staring down at us were words that read, “Bari’s Fish.” The wonder continued; could a sign be a message?

When it was time to select a monument for my daughter’s grave, the experience was surreal. We had decided that the color would not be gray, for Bari was happy and sparkling, and this stone had to represent who she was. All at once, the perfect color jumped out at us from among the rest. It was a combination of rose and pink, and it was soft and pleasing. We had looked at many stones, but nothing else appealed like this one. It was then that we learned that the name of the stone was listed in their brochure as “Barrie Granite.” It was such an unheard of connection, and it came at such a vital time.

Another year passed after the unveiling at the grave, and my daughter, Amy was preparing a celebration for my twin grandsons’ Bar Mitzvah. Looking for a gown is difficult at any time for me, but shopping with the heaviness of heart in knowing that my Bari would not share in this joyous occasion was additionally hard. Then it happened: Lori ran out of the dressing room with a gown in hand yelling, “Ma, look what I found. Try this on!” It was shocking, unbelievable, more than amazing, for my daughter’s name appeared on the inside label of the gown. I can’t remember the last name of the designer, but that is of no importance. It was her first name that imploded the realization: her name was Bari, the same as my child’s!

It has now been four months since the name Bari has appeared in unexpected places at unknown times. But each time it happens, there is a confused combination of feelings, so intense in nature. An inexplicable wonder occurs that leads me to possibilities and hope. I am enlightened and encouraged because of these miraculous encounters. They are strong and even healing, because with each one there is the awakening that we are never apart from the ones we love.

And so I navigate ahead, awaiting the next word to appear that will speak through in silence and repeat the name, Bari!