Sunday, September 21, 2014

Embracing a New Life After a Tragic Loss

“If you believe yourself unfortunate because you have loved and lost, perish  the thought. One who loved truly, can never lose entirely.”  - Napoleon Hill, American author.

I saw this quote recently and it got me thinking about my daughter’s death. I will never forget her. So, in some sense, she will never be entirely gone. Sure, I’d love to hold her like I did the very last time I saw her. Sure, I’d love to talk to her again. I’d even love to see her one last time. I know I can’t, and that breaks my heart. But I also know I am stronger because she lived, and every day I appreciate life more fully, being able to help others get through their loss, and know I have a reason for being here. I have let go. I have moved on as so many have.

Others can’t move on. I’ve seen them. They have trouble getting out of bed. They can’t function during the day because they are constantly thinking about the child who died. They can’t work. They can’t even cook for their family. Helping their other children with homework is non-existent. And worse yet, they pull away from their spouse and their marriage suffers.

I have a friend who is extremely worried about her daughter, who lost a child. This friend has also lost a grandchild, a double loss for her as she thinks there is no help for her daughter, yet she has a grip on her part of the tragedy. Not so, the daughter. Even though the daughter has two other children, she is angry at everyone and everything. Her bitterness shows in every word she speaks and in every action she takes. She sees no purpose in her life anymore. My friend begged me to talk to her daughter, so one afternoon we all went to lunch when she came to town. I tried to tell her she has a family she must think about. They, too, are suffering: husband and two sons. I’m sorry to say there was no moving her. Nothing I said seemed to get through to her. I feel sorry for the mother who lost her child in an accident, and more so for my friend, who feels so helpless in trying to help her daughter cope. Voltaire, the French philosopher said, “The longer we dwell on our misfortunes, the greater is their power to harm us.” I do hope she can get help from a counselor, a clergy, relatives or friends.

Eventually, I am also hoping to get her to go to a Compassionate Friends group in the state where she lives (there are over 600 chapters across the U.S.), where all her feelings will be understood by those who attend regularly and say TCF saved their lives. By listening to other stories similar to her own, I refuse to believe she won’t come around. Only time will tell.

In the meantime, I continue on with my quest, my reason for being. I know my daughter is with me and will guide me. I know she is proud of me. I remember her always using the phrase “Good job, Mom,” when she was proud of my accomplishments in any field of endeavor. I know she is saying that now after all I have done for others and will continue to do. My loss helped me examine who I am, why I am here on this earth. If others can do this, hopefully it can help them too.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Who Will Be There For Me When I Am Older?

Many single bereaved parents who have lost their only child and have no surviving relatives often wonder who will take care of them when they are older and/or in need of help. They are frightened as they look into the future.

This is a legitimate concern. It has come up at many bereavement conference sharing sessions from those who don’t know who they can turn to?

One suggestion is that good friends can be very helpful. Perhaps you need someone to pick up a few things at the grocery store. You can thank them by inviting them over for lunch or dinner. Or you may want a companion to go out with you to a movie, play or just shopping for some new clothes. Don’t be afraid to ask a good friend if they would like to join you.

If you can’t drive anymore for whatever reason, there are many organizations that will provide free vans to take you where you want or need to go. I know someone who worked for such an organization and became good friends with the surviving parent he helped. Look into social services that are available in your state or city where you live.

Buying long-term care insurance, if you haven't already, is a good idea. When you need it, a qualified professional can come over for a few hours a day, a half-day, or even longer to help you out if your health doesn’t allow you to do all you need done. I can’t imagine what my neighbor around the corner, who has Parkinson’s, would have done without this wonderful companion who helps her now not only get a lot stronger, more confident, and walking again, but also was a wonderful sounding board for listening to stories about the daughter she lost a few years before she got ill.

Many think Hospice is only for those who are dying, but hospice has come a long way since its founding. Its goal now is to pursue quality living with compassionate, quality patient care, so that if someone has special needs, it is available. Whether it is help with paying household and other bills, cleaning the home or seeing that correct medicines are being taken at certain times, Hospice is there to help or to find someone who can. If you find you can’t take a shower by yourself anymore, want a hair cut at home, or want groceries delivered, that can also be arranged.

These are only a few suggestions. Many wonderful people are out there to help and be friends with as you grow older. Getting involved in organizations now, widening your network of people you meet and becoming friends with some of them will help you a lot as you grow older and realize that you are not alone. There are people out there who care.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

What Grieving People Need to Know

Dr. Heidi Horsley, a licensed psychologist and social worker, who is executive director of the Open to Hope Foundation and assistant professor Columbia University School of Social Work in NYC, gives her professional perspective on four of the most common questions asked by those grieving a loss.

How long should grief last?
“Everyone is on their own personal grief journey. I don’t believe in putting a time frame around grief. The journey of a hundred miles starts with a single step. If you take that next step, you will eventually find your way out of the darkness and back into the light.”

Can you give some examples of healthy ways to process grief?
“It is important to have support when you are grieving and to look towards others who are further along in their journey. Take care of yourself, by getting enough water, eating healthy, getting enough sleep and exercising. Be kind to yourself and love yourself, you’ve been through a lot. Don’t beat yourself up mentally if you have a day where you don’t feel like or are unable to get out of bed.”

What benefit can be achieved by seeking professional support?
“Losing a loved one is extremely difficult, and often society tends to minimize the impact of losing a family member. As a grief therapist, and as someone who has lost a brother, I normalize what my clients who have suffered a loss are going through. I offer support and guidance, and give clients tools that may help them eventually find hope again. I don’t expect my clients to get over the person who died; instead, I help them to incorporate their loved one into their lives in new and different ways. As a professional, I can also let the client know if I am concerned about something they are doing, particularly if they are engaging in dangerous or harmful behavior.”

What is the most important thing a grieving person can do to help themselves?
“According to the research, gratitude is the fastest way to feel better. Easier said than done, since after suffering a great loss, it is often difficult to find anything to be grateful for. Find gratitude in the little things in life, such as the sun, friends, and memories. You are who you are today because you knew them, they changed your life in profound ways and left you a better person. The best way to honor your loved one is to pay tribute to them by living your life to the fullest with gratitude.”

At you can read many stories and get many perspectives of grief and loss in addition to listening to the web radio program featuring other grief experts who discuss many aspects of bereavement with a main focus on the death of a child and its effects on the family.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Ending the Silence

Part 2 Ending the silence

According to author Nan Zastrow, a suicide survivor, “Survivors need not be silent any more. What they long for is the reverberating echo of acceptance, understanding and peace. When you allow a survivor to teach you about the uniqueness of his or her grief, you may learn so much more about the sanctity of life,” said Nan in a talk she gave at the TCF conference.

She says she spent three years hiding from her grief, absorbing every bit of damaging pain, swallowing her hard-earned pride, admitting her feelings of defeat, and finding excuses for what seemed hard-to-believe before she learned she had the power to stop the silence. Survivors want to speak and be heard. Survivors want to let others facing the same tragedy know that they are not different—that loss of any kind still hurts.

From Nan:

The silence ends when survivors are willing to accept no-fault accountability.

The silence ends when survivors rise above society’s judgment, which is often misdirected, misinterpreted and heightened.

The silence ends when survivors quit trying to figure out “why” and accept that they may never know.

The silence ends when survivors realize their loved ones’ choice was not meant to destroy them.

The silence stops when survivors are unafraid to expose raw pain, disappointment and unpretentious conclusions.

The silence stops when survivors speak their loved ones’ names and honor their loved ones’ lives.

The silence stops when survivors remember the awesome memories and tell the unforgettable stories that bring comforting peace to their souls.

The silence stops when survivors hold their heads high and face adversity with determined pride.

The silence stops when survivors vow to coach other survivors to work diligently through their losses, override the taboos and free themselves from lingering grief.

The silence stops when survivors find peace in knowing they and their loved ones will “meet again.”

The silence stops when survivors accept that God put them in their loved ones’ lives to love, accept and believe in them unconditionally.

The silence stops when survivors choose to survive-and live beyond-the tragedies of life.

Nan is the author of five books on surviving grief. Visit or

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.”