Sunday, August 24, 2014

I'm Not Afraid to Talk About Suicide

One other interesting speaker I was able to listen to at the national conference was Nan Zastrow, whose son Chad died of suicide 21 years ago. She has authored five books on healing from grief, and at the TCF conference gave a workshop titled, “Ask me—I’m not afraid to talk about suicide.” This is Part 1 of 2.

She suggested “18 Ways to live with loss.” Here is her list that I think will help anyone in this situation.

1. Ask questions and seek answers for as long as you feel a need. It helps you to accept the loss.

2. Suicide is just death by another name.

3. Expect emotional disorder in your life for months and years. Imagination will be your worst enemy.

4. Don’t make excuses for your loved one’s choice. We don’t know what was in their mind.

5. Some family and friends may express disbelief or shock. Allow them to share feelings. Allow them to grieve in their own way.

6. Don’t try to salvage friendships that imply judgment based on the suicide. Friends should not judge.

7.Talk to others with similar experiences, but don’t expect your experiences to be the same. It gives comfort and support.

8. Tell personal stories about your loved one to anyone who will listen.

9. Accept that you will all grieve differently.

10. Let God in when you are ready. Traumatic death can change your belief system.

11.Turn away from guilt.

12. Use social media responsibly. Once it’s on, you can’t take it back.

13. Get professional help if you need it. There is no shame in it. Make sure the person is certified. In addition, join a support group.

14. When you are ready, speak the word “suicide.”

15. Learn everything you can about death, grief, suicide and healing. Read books, attend seminars.

16. Live vicariously in honor of you loved one. Do something that honors their legacy.

17. Teach others about suicide. Shatter the myths. Share the facts.

18. Live your life deliberately. Don’t allow the taboo of suicide ruin your life.

Part 2,  I will cover next Sunday: "How a Survivor Stops the Silence"




Sunday, August 17, 2014

Exploring Grief Through Photography

One of the most interesting sessions I attended at the National Compassionate Friends conference in Chicago recently was “Exploring Grief Through Photography.” Co-presenters Litsa Williams and Eleanor Haley introduced attendees to the possibility of exploring the complicated emotions of grief through art and photography. Participants also explored the opportunity to continue bonds through photographing symbolic reminders and spaces that they associate with their deceased loved ones. In this particular session, they discussed the role photography plays in communicating after a loss, processing the complex emotions of grief, and honoring and remembering loved ones.

“No two loses are the same,” said Elizabeth. “No two grievers are the same. We all need to find the tools that work for us,” she added.

These two women love photography and are very accomplished at what they do. They are strong believers in art’s capacity to connect, heal and communicate. “We feel photography is one of the most accessible art forms us regular folks have to choose from,” said Litsa.

Why do we create?

1.      1. To help express our emotions

2.      2. It relieves stress and anxiety

3.     3. It gives us an opportunity to honor our loved one’s memory

4.     4. It changes the way we see the world

5.      5.It provides a time and space where we are present with our thoughts, emotions and loved one’s memory
The two ladies showed us pictures they have taken: like of shoes of the loved one who died or a bike photo leaning against a post with no person in the photo. Or for an old person who died: a picture of objects that remind us of his life. If a baby died before birth, the photographer can do a picture of mother holding a candle on a dark background. You can capture funerals or memorial services. You shouldn’t be judged (Why did you photograph that?) It means something to the photographer, that’s why!

Those who can’t express in words, can do so with photos. It is accessible to anyone; the end result can be literal or abstract; it can be done anytime, anywhere; and it is easily sharable.

Categorizing grief through photographic exercises:

1.      1.Choose 1 or 2 emotions you feel when thinking about death, grief, or a specific loss and express them photographically.

2.      2. Symbols remind us of a person that we have lost. It can be a literal symbol such as a grave marker or personal item or an abstract reminder like a rainy day or a sunset. When parting with important or sentimental objects or moving to a new home, photographs help us to hold on to memories while letting go of physical objects. You can photograph an environment where you would often see your loved one prior to their death or do a photo of a place where you feel your loved one’s absence the most. You can even find a photo from the past and take a picture of it in the same location that the original photo was taken.

3.      3. Hope and strength – the photo may be connected to loved one, or may just be symbols that make you feel your personal growth : strength, compassion, inner peace, health. Incorporate words, verses or quotes that resonate with you in a photo. You can also find or create these words in your environment and photograph them. Gratitude- every day we should find one thing we are grateful for.

The value and healing to be found in photography exists in the process of creation as much as it does in the final photograph. I hope the summary of this session gives you ideas to use from your own life and allows your individuality to shine through.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Pedersen Opens Conference With Words of Encouragement

In the opening ceremony for The Compassionate Friends national conference this past July 10-13, new executive director Alan Pedersen made some comments about his new position, his goals and his songs.

“One thing I want to do," he said, "is to empower people to reach out and continue their child’s legacy." "We are here because a child lived, not because they died. Do not call this a grief conference. Call it a ‘love conference.’ Our children died, but the love we have for them didn’t. We will never get over the death, but we can walk through it."

“The difference between grief, mourning and bereavement is that grief is what goes on inside us (tears, love); mourning is the outward expression of our grief; bereavement is living the rest of our lives with this loss. Pain is the fuel that allows us to get back up and go on with our lives. Compassionate Friends will be there for you—by your side and walk with you.

“The perspective does change. It will get better. Express the love inside you for your child. Think of a loving memory of your child or loved ones. Pull it off the shelf and put it in your heart and mind. Wrap yourself in a blanket of love and celebrate their lives.”

Alan always loved writing music and playing the guitar. After his daughter died, he wrote his first grief song, “I Remember You.” And he played it for his first conference. After that first time, he was asked to speak and sing from then on at many conferences. His words gave comfort to many heartbroken individuals. He continued writing and singing music and did a CD. He closed his opening speech with the song, “Love Lives On.”

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Overview of TCF Conference

The 37th National Conference of Compassionate Friends was held last month in Chicago, IL with the theme “Miles of Compassion Through the Winds of Hope.” As always, I attended, along with 1,500 others to listen to others speak and to give of myself at my own workshop to try to help those in need. For the next few weeks, I will be telling you about some of the workshops I attended, what I got from them and what I think might be of help to some of you.

Some of the highlights included new executive director Alan Pedersen giving the opening speech (highlights will be on this blog next week), orientation for first-time attendees and siblings, over 100 workshops and sharing sessions each night, keynote speakers, silent auction and raffle, the bookstore with many older and newer books, the walk to remember, a butterfly boutique and picture buttons of your loved one.

The keynote speakers included Eric Hipple, former NFL quarterback for the Detroit Lion, whose son committed suicide; Dianne Gray, author and president of Hospice and Healthcare communications, whose son died in 2005; and Alicia Franklin, daughter of Darcie Sims and president of Grief International.

Darcie Sims received the Simon Stephens Award posthumously. It is given to a person who has made significant contributions that have fostered and furthered the philosophy of TCF by practicing or promoting its mission and goals. Darcie brought healing, hope and love to grieving people around the world with her special gift of communicating with hurting people from all walks of life. Darcie was founder of Grief, Inc., a grief consulting business in Seattle, WA, along with being a nationally certified thanatologist, a grief management specialist and a licensed hypnotherapist.

There was a bookstore with all the latest grief books, a silent auction and raffle, a butterfly boutique, hospitality rooms, a reflection room and memory boards with all the children's pictures. If you brought a picture of your child, you could get a button made to wear for free.

Workshop sessions ranged from The Bereaved Parent-Five Years Later and Confronting the Shadow of Loss with Creative Arts to Finding Hope after Miscarriage and Stillbirth to Death from Addiction. Those with no surviving children also had specific workshops as did the siblings and grandparents.

I did three workshops: Dealing With Difficult Situations as a Bereaved Parent, Setting Up Foundations and a panel on Step-parents and Another Marriage. In the first one, I had everyone sit in a circle and we discussed topics such as how do you answer the question about how many children do you have?" Other  topics in that workshop dealt with no one remembering your child or talking about them, others avoiding you and who will take care of you when you're older if your only child has died. For the foundations workshop, I explained how to start one and it's benefits and in the step-parent workshop, we talked about dealing with problems as a step-parent in another marriage, both good and bad p conditions.

The conference had something for everyone and I would encourage anyone who has lost a child or grandchild or who is a sibling to attend next year. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Happy Birthday, Marcy

Today would have been my daughter Marcy’s 48th birthday. It is so hard to believe that she was born so long ago (and that I am that old!). Of course, she will be 27-years-old forever. She died on March 2, 1994, a lifetime ago in my eyes. Her father, my first husband, died four years ago in 2010. That is it; there are no siblings on any side of our family, and no aunts or uncles. A few cousins, but I am only friendly with one of them.

Fortunately, I am very close to my daughter’s best friend and always have been. She is like a second daughter to me, and I know how much she misses Marcy and always will. Her life gives me an indication of what Marcy’s would have been like with a husband and children. They were married only 4 months apart and had many hopes, dreams and plans for their lives together, which were ripped apart that March day. 

Marcy’s friend now has three children to whom she has bestowed me with two honors. The first is that I am their godmother and the other is that her daughter is named Marcy after my daughter.

When I met my future husband in 2003, I learned from him that he, also, has one daughter and both his daughter and my daughter were born on the same month and day. Coincidence? No, I believe it was something more, particularly after I got to know her and realized how alike the two girls were in thought, deed and actions.

My husband’s daughter now has a 2 ½ year old son. It has been so joyful to know what it is like to have a grandson, something I thought I’d never be able to imagine. His middle name is after Marcy; she just dropped the “y” when naming him.

Can I say that good can come out of tragedy? Certainly, I can. I’ve had some very glorious moments in my new normal since Marcy died. But it will never be the same without her. I will always miss her terribly and a piece of my heart will always be missing. I have some wonderful memories to always treasure tucked way down inside me. I love when other people mention her name; it gives me a warm feeling, and I realize she will never be forgotten completely.


Happy 48th birthday, my darling daughter.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

An Open Letter to Grieving Friends

The following article, An Open Letter to Grieving Friends, appeared in the Compassionate Friends Magazine, “We Need Not Walk Alone” copyright 2013. I reprint this with permission from the magazine as an example of how one family processed their grief, helping them to survive, normalize and transcend their situation. Author is Wesley Merritt, father, husband, executive, writer and public speaker.

Dear Friends,

Twelve years ago my 15 month old daughter, Sarah, died in a tragic accidental window fall while we were vacationing at a New Jersey beach. Sarah would be turning 14 this past May, which is a fact that never really drifts too far from our thoughts. If you are anything like we were during that first year after Sarah’s death, the lull period after people had gone back to their lives were the moments where we were hit square in the face with the grief of our loss. Things were at their worst when the funerals concluded, attention lessened, and the many others who were so wonderful during the immediate window after the tragedy began to move on…while we were firmly cemented to the tragedy. For us, the hardest time came when things slowed down, and we were left alone to answer the existential question of “Now what?” That was the moment our hard grief work began.

This question is what brings me to this letter. Events over the last few months have seen children taken from us. Violent acts like the Sandy Hook shooting and a local upstate New York car accident that recently killed two high school seniors are just two examples of events that have had great personal effect. While we can’t all fully appreciate every nuance of one another’s pain, we all share emotional proximity through grief, and that is what bonds us together.

So, family…a few suggestions for those of you who are battling the pain of recent loss:

1.      Try to believe that hope exists despite the pain and confusion you may be experiencing now. You can choose to grow and heal. You will get through this. Joy will return if you let it.

2.      Try to focus on individual moments. Many of you likely feel wounded right now. Survival of the bad moments comes through the understanding that everything changes…moment by moment. While you may hurt right now, try to hand on with the understanding that something will come along soon to buoy you up, and it will likely happen in the next moment. You may be familiar with the term “one day at a time…” For the grieving, shorten it. An hour, a minute, and if need be, seconds are what you may require. Have hope that pain is temporary and everything changes quickly.

3.      Try to stay open. When wounded, a natural reaction for people is to close down and hide. Hiding helps us to ignore the pain and stay away from perceived harm. It is also natural that we deflect our pain by judging, blaming, or attaching the cause of our immediate pain to others. When people don’t act the way we think they should, or when someone says something to us that appears insensitive, our inclination may be to judge them. That action, however, works by closing our hearts so we do not feel the full range of emotion, a state that can become toxic over time. Openness, while not always easy, will help us to accept things as they are…acceptance will offer new ways to live, and ultimately show us the path to healing.

4.      Try to feel, grief is a process. While you are inside your moments of pain and longing, cry. Let go. It’s all okay. Tears are cleansing, and the quiet moments after crying open doors to help us heal. At the same time, remember to hug others. Find support in friends. If needed, enlist a professional to listen without judgment. Walk in nature. Write in a journal. Paint something. Draw. Give. Breathe. Listen. Feel. Remember that amazing things happen when you sit and take in what is around you. Personally, we focus on both wind and the light as our source of eternal hope.

In answer to the question, “What now?” I am sorry that I do not have a definitive answer. That said, I believe the ultimate answer lies within each of your hearts, within your spirit and with the love you hold for your missing loved one. Remember, while the past will  change, every new moment offers a new opportunity. The possibilities of your choices are endless, and they offer an amazing way for you to celebrate the lives of your lost love.

In closing, let me just say that all of what I’ve offered above has been summed up through our own family mantra: “Embrace life.” To us, this means that we live differently now, but we also celebrate with a wisdom and clarity we did not have before Sarah died. We’ve had more children; we’ve moved to undertake new pursuits; we dedicated ourselves to causes (organ donation and grief support). We’ve decided to live in ways that embrace love and compassion, which has been borne from an understanding that while suffering exists, joy is still possible. For all of this, we are able to live an authentic life, a life that is better than we imagined it could ever be after our loss.

Peace and blessings,

Wes

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Magazine Collage of Your Child

It is always nice to have items in your home to remind you of your child. If you have items you have made yourself, it is even better! One item, easy to make, is a magazine collage of your child in pictures, words and phrases, all of which remind you of your child. You can also include a few photos of your child at special events or just happy moments. This is somewhat different than just a photo collage since it will have words too. Sometimes words and phrases that describe your child become meaningful when combined with just a few photos.

First, buy a large poster board, sold in paper supply stores, like Office Max. Then gather a few magazines together. Look through the magazine at some headlines. For example, if your child was active in school plays, you might find the word “ACTOR” or if he/she was into sports, you might find the word “FOOTBALL” or the phrase “TROPHY WINNER.” If he/she got good grades in school, you can include the word “INTELLIGENT” or “SMART” or the phrase “WILL DO GREAT THINGS,” if available. Pictures in the magazine for any of these could be a football or football game or someone holding up a trophy. You could also find magazine pictures of a clock, representing the fact that he/she was always on time or always late for events. If your son or daughter liked to travel, any magazine photo of a destination would emphasize that. If your child liked to talk on the phone, cut out a phone and paste it on the poster board. If your child liked music, cut out musical notes, sheet music, earphones, or a tape player.

There is no limit to what you can find that will connect you to your child. Just don’t make the poster board too crowded. Be able to see everything, but it doesn’t have to all be in a straight line. Some of the words can be slanted as can a few magazine pictures or some of your real photos. Make it creative, without ruining its appeal.

Make sure you cut out the letters of your child’s name and place them somewhere on the poster board. Copy stores can laminate everything you have pasted on to preserve it.


You have many choices of what to include. Just make sure you get the essence of your child’s personality and no doubt, it will come shinning through as you look at it on your wall with a big smile on your face.