Sunday, May 24, 2015
It is amazing to me that sometimes you find you can do something you were never good at. In my case it was writing a poem. I challenge each of you to try writing a poem about your child who died, how you feel, what you hope for, what you miss, or whatever flows from your heart. I think you will find it a challenging but useful activity during your grief journey. Here is one of the few poems I have written dedicated to my daughter Marcy that can be found in my second book on surviving grief.
As I look up to the sky,
a bright star shines down.
I feel it is you smiling at me,
telling me it is okay for me to laugh,
it is okay for me to be happy again.
I'm trying, I tell you.
It is not an easy road to travel
when you have lost the most
important thing in your life.
But my heart is full with love
from a wonderful man and many friends,
And, of course, I feel your love surround me
on this chilly December day.
It warms my heart and my body as always.
I keep busy and try to make a difference
in this world by helping others.
I do it for you, in your memory,
and I find it is a wonderful feeling.
I know you used to do it also,
You used to help close friends
and even strangers.
I look around me and see young people
enjoying the outdoors, running, playing,
wishing for a good snowfall.
I hear their laughter and their good wishes.
I know there is hope for a better
world when I look into their eyes.
I wish I could share everything I say
and do with you, as I used to.
I miss you so much,
my beautiful daughter.
I think of you every minute of every
day and always will.
I want you to know, though,
that I was always a survivor,and will continue to be one
both for you and for me.
I love you, always and forever.
Sunday, May 17, 2015
It’s been a long time, but I’m so happy to see that Glen and Linda Nielsen will be doing their 6th “In Loving Memory” national conference for bereaved parents with no surviving children April 7 – April 10, 2016 at the Hyatt Fairfax at Fair Lakes Hotel in Fairfax, VA with a $89 room rate.
Glen and Linda have not done a conference since 2001. In fact, I took over for them in 2004 and 2007, and with much help we put on a very nice conference called "Now Childless" in Scottsdale, AZ and have not had once since.
The purpose of In Loving Memory is to provide conferences for bereaved parents where they find encouragement and relief from profound grief caused by the death of their child. There will be many workshops and informal sharing sessions for parents to learn coping skills to take back to their daily lives.
Grandparents, support group chapter leaders, friends and the professionals who assist parents in walking through their grief are encouraged to attend. Special events and activities are planned with a view toward learning and commemoration. Free time has been built into each day to allow time to recharge and refocus in your own way.
Experienced and some new now childless bereaved parents will be presenting workshops with topics relating to our specific concerns e.g.: How do I go on living without my child?, What am I going to do as I age with no children?, What do I do with my and my child’s things?, How do I handle stepchildren?, I am truly alone, as I am single/widowed, How do I plan for a future?, How do I fin d purpose for living?, I’ve had multiple losses and wonder how others have coped, How do I keep my child’s memory alive forever? And so on.
Registration materials will be available soon on the site below. Free parking at the hotel and a free shuttle to major, enclosed shopping centers is available. Centering Corporation will have a bookstore. Authors who have written specific books for childless parents should let the conference know so they can be included. Registration is $75.
More information will be on www.InLovingMemoryConference.org and www.alivealone.org . This is the only gathering that focuses entirely on the needs of parents who have no surviving children.
Sunday, May 10, 2015
There are two other national conferences you can attend beside Compassionate Friends in Dallas that I wrote about last week, plus two regional ones and a Mother’s Day gathering today.
Mother’s Day – Ann and Jim Cook will host the 10th Annual Now Childless Mother’s Day Brunch today at noon, at their home in Northport, Long Island, New York. Spouses are also welcome. If you live in the area, it is an excellent way to meet other childless parents. Being together gives comfort and camaraderie. If interested in attending, email Ann and Jim at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 631-754-9141 or because of this late notice, contact Ann or Jim and ask them to keep you on their list for the next brunch.
Bereaved Parents USA – A national organization to help bereaved parents, it also holds a national gathering. This summer it is at the Sheraton Hartford Hotel at Bradley Airport July 24-26 in Hartford, CT. Speakers will include Sara Ruble, Deb Carlin Polhill, Scarlett Lewis, Dave Roberts, Kelly Buckley and Bart Sumner, all bereaved parents. The signing choir, "Love In Motion" will perform their inspirational songs of Love, loss and healing through sign language. A sibling program is also included. Parents are encouraged to include their children in the gathering. Call Jodi Norman 703-910-6277 for more details or go to the website: www.bereavedparentsusa.org.
POMC (Parents of Murdered Children) national gathering this year is July 30-Aug. 2, at the JW Marriott Las Vegas Resort, 221 N. Rampart Blvd, in Las Vegas, NV. Room rate is $89 per night. This is a very specialized national organization for those children who have died by violence. Specialized workshops will include: prison life, cultural sensitivity, homocide overseas, understanding the criminal mind, solving cold cases, vicarious trauma and burnout and caring overload, preparing for a parole hearing and many more yet to be announced. There are also many activities to participate in. Contact Dan Levey 480-946-3422 or go to the www.pomc.org website for more information.
Sunday, May 3, 2015
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.
Sunday, April 26, 2015
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
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
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!!