Sunday, December 21, 2014

David Civile Foundation for Boating Safety Awareness

 …Continuation from last post about David Civile who died in a Kayak accident in November 2010.

David’s parents, Joan and Richard Civile started a foundation for boating safety awareness in 2011 to honor his memory and to warn others of the dangers and spare another family from a tragic loss.
The foundation also promotes the importance and proper use of personal floatation devices and knowledge of environmental factors such as air and water temperatures. “Knowledge through education, says David’s mother, Joan Civile, can save lives.” “We seek to inform all boaters but with a targeted emphasis on novice boaters using non-motorized recreational crafts, such as Kayaks and canoes.”

By April 1 of last year, New Jersey officials posted safety boating signs at all its parks in Monmouth County. This is a result of David’s dedicated and loving family working with officials. The signs warn kayakers to consider their ability and weather conditions before embarking, to always wear a PFD, to carry a safety whistle, and to let others know of their boating plans.

While the Civile family funded a few signs and presented them to the town of Little Silver, NJ, in 2011, the year following David’s death, the county parks system funded the signs that are posted in their parks. David’s sister says they continue to work on getting out boating safety messages in all other counties in the state.

The kayak washed up that first night on a neighboring island. Family and friends searched for David for four days to no avail. It took two years for David’s remains to be found near where he launched his kayak. Once again the family was devastated.

Joan says her family is so proud of David, through the way he embraced life. “David has taught us many lessons: to live life to the fullest, treat others with respect and courtesy, make the best of any situation, pursue your passions, find humor in everything, live with integrity and honor and remember to be happy with yourself.”

They turned their unimaginable loss into something they hope all kayakers can benefit from. In particular they want retailers to focus more on safety, ask questions when a consumer buys a kayak, where they are planning to go, what river, ocean, lake? What time of year.? Encourage appropriate gear and necessary safety extras like a tether, a radio, and a light.

“We are in the process of partnering with local retailers like EMS to develop Kayak safety kits which will include these items. We have also contacted manufacturers to ask them why such kits are not marketed more often and to keep the prices down so as not to deter customers, and to have a video and/or require boaters watch the short clip before leaving the store. The foundation is also sponsoring assemblies in schools on boating safety that will cover in and off season water temperatures with emphasis on wearing a life jacket. They also hope to encourage retailers to promote the purchase of a dry suit and other essentials.

“The more knowledge boaters have, the better equipped they will be out in the water,” said David’s sister.

At the heart of the mission is a loving family who misses their son and brother. “We know David’s memory will continue in our hearts and live forever and hope our mission will possibly spare another family from our tragic loss,” said Joan.

I hope they have succeeded in their mission and wish them continued succeed in whatever they are able to do for others in David’s memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Mother's Story and Praise for Book

Editor’s note: The following is one of many emails I receive from bereaved parents. I love receiving them and learning about your precious children who have died, for whatever reason, at whatever age. Of course, I also appreciate the very nice comments about my books and like that word gets out about them so as to be useful to other bereaved parents. This email was from Joan Civile. After I read it, I looked up her son’s web site and got an insight as to how much these parents have done in their son’s memory. This is her letter to me. Next week I will tell you about the foundation they started and everything she has accomplished  since his death.


My thoughts and prayers go to you on the loss of your dear Marcy. I am also a bereaved parent since November 2010, and another mom recently told me about your book. I was surprised I hadn’t come across it before, as, like you, I have been reading feverishly since our tragic loss. My amazing (his favorite word) 26 year old son, David, drowned, a novice kayaker, in the Shrewsbury River in Monmouth County, NJ, on November 17. Although athletic, competent, and responsible, he was unaware of the danger of cold water temperatures and wind—oddly enough he called me that morning saying he had purchased water proof pants. He had a floatation seat cushion on board which he used in his canoe; his next purchase was going to be a regular life jacket. He had only purchased the kayak three weeks before and wanted to try it out for an hour. He launched in ankle deep water and assumed he would be safe, as he was an avid outdoors man.

He was a manager at Trader Joe's. They called him “superman” because he was the go to person, with an incredible sense of humor, the kind of person everyone wanted as a friend. We miss him more with each passing day. We just had a balloon launch and party for his would be 30th birthday with 40 close friends and family. We served all his favorite foods, even gave out goodie bags. (Talk about crazy things we do to give us comfort!)

Of course, I could go on for hours, especially since our pain is so heightened during this season. As you mention in your book “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child," we never really heal, and although his four year angelversary is approaching, we still feel breathless and surreal, as it seems like yesterday. Time simply takes away the rawness for we get used to the pain, but the missing part seems to worsen. We seem to be doing all the right things to help us, yet the pain is never ending although we do manage to function with God’s grace and our faith.

 We had a wonderful traditional close knit family. Our daughter, then 29, was always best friends with her brother, as was her husband. David even purchased a condo in his sister’s complex. Life was perfect for all of us.

I have now started a foundation for boating safety in the hopes of preventing our tragic loss from happening to another family: (see Dec. 21 story about the foundation.)

My reason for writing this is to simply thank you for such a helpful and resourceful book. Your gift of expressing your feelings touched my heart. I have read dozens of books and yours is my favorite. I also have every intention of reading your first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” shortly. We also facilitate a Compassionate Friends group in NJ, have a great reading list, and look forward to discussing your book with them.

Again, my heartfelt gratitude for such a wonderful book…God bless…Joan Civile

If you are a bereaved parent, I would love to hear your story also. In an email, tell me what happened to your child, background information and what you have done in your child’s memory to move on with your life. Send to 

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Telling People Your Child Died

When you meet someone new, one of the first questions asked of you is “What do you do for a living?” Next is “Are you married? And then invariably, “How many children do you have?”

How far do you go in telling people how many children you have? Do you say, “I have two children, (when one has died)? Or do you say how many you have now not counting the one who died? Or do you explain your story, going into detail about how your child died?

Everyone has their own way of dealing with this. Some have a great need in the first few months of giving all the details. Others don’t want to talk about it at all.

I read about one mother, Mary Cleckley from Atlanta, Georgia, who met my needs exactly, and this is what she had to say: “The criteria I use in determining if I go any further is whether the person asking is going to be a continuing part of my life. Is so, they need to know about my son, and I tell them. Otherwise, we will be constantly dancing around that fact. Better, I think, to have it out in the open. It then loses its ability to interfere with the relationship. If, on the other hand, the person asking is simply passing through my life, then I feel no need to go any further than “I had two children.” Seldom does anyone catch the ‘had,’ instead of ‘have,’ and pursue it. If they do, or if they ask follow-up questions about ages and professions, I tell them first that my 26-year-old son was killed in an accident. Then I tell them about my daughter. I am comfortable either way. If they are embarrassed, I see that as their problem. Just to show you how different we all are, however, my husband feels comfortable answering, “We have one child.” That is the right answer for him, and that is what he should say.

We must all decide what is right and comfortable for ourselves and then say it. That is how to defuse that powerful question and then it loses its ability to traumatize. Don’t let it be a problem.”

Sunday, November 30, 2014

Worldwide Candle Lighting Dec. 14

This year the Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting is Sunday, December 14, 2014, uniting family and friends around the globe in lighting candles for one hour to honor the memories of the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters, and grandchildren who have died. As candles are lit at 7 p.m. local time, hundreds of thousands of persons commemorate and honor the memory of all children gone too soon.

Now believed to be the largest mass candle lighting on the globe, the 18th annual event creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone.

It started in the United States in 1997 as a small internet observance, but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world of the remembrance.

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.

If no Worldwide Candle Lighting service was held near you last year, feel free to plan one and open it to the public. It can be in a park in your town, a church, funeral home, hospices or even an open field. Compassionate Friends has a section on their website you can use giving suggestions to help you plan a memorial service.

I plan to go to a local mortuary/cemetery that every year has a beautiful ceremony around their Angel of Hope. They read the names of every child either buried there or given to them before the service begins. Songs are sung, candles lit, stuffed animals given to all mourners and each of us is given a long-stemmed white flower to place on the Angel of Hope. It is a beautiful ceremony that draws over 600 people or more each year.

This annual candle lighting event gives bereaved families everywhere the opportunity to remember their child(ren) so that their lights may always shine!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Rethinking Your Holiday Traditions

After your child dies, you may want to rethink how you go about your holiday traditions. What you once did may no longer apply or feel right to you.

If you have surviving children, you may want to keep some of your traditions so that they can remember and talk about their sibling, remembering good times they all had as a family during this joyous time of year. If you are now childless, you may want to start new traditions you feel comfortable with. Either way, changing the way you celebrate the holidays may boast your spirits tremendously.

For those with other children, you can find out from them if they have any suggestions for something new to do during this time of year or something that would honor the memory of their lost sibling. One parent I know asked her children what they would suggest, and the overwhelming ideas she received from her children were to help out in some way at a senior care home. One of the children felt that many seniors feel very lonely during this time of year and wanted to go there and entertain them and bring gifts on Christmas Eve. Another child thought about spending Thanksgiving and Christmas evening with these seniors and bringing them desserts. The parent loved these two thoughtful ideas and knew that her child who died would also have approved. She called the home in her area and they were delighted with the suggestions. Since then, it has become a new yearly tradition for this family.

Another family thought getting away and into a new environment for a few days during the holiday season would help their heavy hearts when the season rolled around. The first year they decided to go to a mountain resort where they could ski and have a good time together. Even though the child who died never left their mind, they found that it was easier to talk about what had happened and how much they missed and loved the sibling. In succeeding years, they have gone to Disneyland, a resort where it is warm enough to swim and sun, and who knows where they will go this year. Going away is not meant to help you forget the child. You will never forget, nor should you. It is only meant to lift your spirits a little during this difficult season.

My favorite story is about how an entire family gets together and dedicates their Christmas tree to the sibling who died. At the top is a picture of the child and the tree is filled with ornaments each child makes dealing with some aspect of the sibling. For example, if active in a sport, a miniature tennis racket or football can be made or bought. Pictures of activities the child participated in, their favorite jewelry, food or car (miniature, of course) and more…all of these things are placed on the tree and then the lights are added. Each year additional ornaments are added and good friends asked to contribute something they remember about the child. It could be an ornament or just a poem, saying or activity they write about. In this way, the child is always remembered and part of the holiday.

It is very difficult for those parents who are now childless. I know of one group of parents who try to get together at a fun location somewhere in the U.S. for the holidays. There they can feel comfortable sharing thoughts and feelings and talk about their children, since they all have this one thing in common. Other parents spend the holidays with good friends and relatives. That is what I do and although I miss not having my child there, and on the way home tears may come to my eyes, I know she is not forgotten by these special people who make me feel comfortable being in their homes and talking about her when appropriate.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting Through the Holidays

When the holidays are near and festivities and social gatherings prominent, we may feel the loss of our loved ones more at this time of the year than any other. We wonder how to get through these special times since we are filled with reminders of what we no longer have. Below I have listed some books that may be of help and support to you that are specifically about surviving the holidays.

When the Holidays Hurt: Practical Ideas and Inspiration for Healing by Nan Zastrow
The death of someone loved may be the reason associated with the lonesomeness and pain. Life and holidays, as you once knew them, have changed. In this collection of articles and essays, Nan writes about managing the traditions, transforming the holiday and allowing family to move forward. Available through

Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss by Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley and Open to Hope contributors
There is plenty of practical advice and encouragement from the stories and articles covering rethinking holiday traditions, gathering at Thanksgiving, finding your way back to Christmas and embracing the New Year with hope. Articles are written by bereaved people representing different relationships and causes of death. Even if the article is not about a child loss, the ideas may be helpful to your situation.

Thoughts for the Holidays: Finding Permission to Grieve by Doug Manning
This booklet begins with thoughts for the holidays, the waves of grief, the holiday dilemma, permission to do what you can do, permission to change traditions, and permission to find safe people. Available through

How to Survive the Holidays When Someone You Love Has Died by Susan L. Fuller
This short Kindle e-book notes that as tempting as it may be to pull the covers up over your head and just wait for the holidays to be over, there is no way of truly avoiding this time of year. With a little bit of planning, it is possible to navigate your way through without totally falling apart, whether you decide to do things completely differently, exactly the same or something in-between.

Not Just Another Day by Missy Lowery
This book covers the more common holidays and gives good ideas for including children in celebrating birthdays and Christmas. Includes a list of things to do to take care of yourself for a month. Available through

A Decembered Grief: Living with Loss while Others Are Celebrating by Harold Ivan Smith
The author coaches you on how to alter traditions instead of abandoning them, appreciate the grief styles of others and befriend your grief instead of dreading it. Topic headings include suggestions like Journal Your Grief, Create Ornaments, and something simple as a Nap! The encouragement to continue on is clearly and gently given.

Helping the Bereaved Celebrate the Holidays by James Miller
A step-by-step guide to designing what you’ll do, the time of gathering, poems, leaser and people responses, and many other general guidelines. Available through

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Active Minds

The suicide rate rose 2% last year and is the 2nd leading cause of death in college students in America. But thanks to an organization started by Alison Malmon at the University of Pennsylvania called Active Minds, this organization fights the stigma of mental illness on college campuses.

On the campuses each year 1,100 back packs are placed on a large section of lawn. They are placed there to lure passersby. Each back pack represents a student who took his life and each one has a story to tell. Active Minds has over 400 chapters across the nation that do this each year on campuses.

One student said, “The back packs are symbolic of what you carry around in life.”

No one wants to talk about it which is part of the problem, according to Alison. Her brother, Brian, committed suicide his senior year in college. He was mentally ill and, although he was able to conceal it, according to Alison, he thought there was no one else who had his problems and nowhere to turn.

On the campuses, Active Mind members meet weekly or biweekly to plan events to raise awareness and issues of mental health and available resources that promote an open dialogue around the issues and serve as a liaison between students and the mental health community. Common events include: Mental Health Awareness Week, campaigns, panel discussions, movie screenings, Stomp Out Stigma runs and stress relief activities during final exams. Counseling centers usually have all the information a student would need.

Alison believes the high-stress environment of college life makes students especially vulnerable to developing problems. Her goal is to bring public awareness to this serious problem. She wants others to know that help is always available. She is certain that by doing this, the organization is saving lives. She hopes more and more people will ask for help through this organization. Visit  for additional information.