Sunday, November 29, 2015

Writing To Heal

I have been a writer my whole life and one of the things I tell bereaved parents is that even if  they have never written anything before, now is the time to do it. Research has shown that writing about traumatic events can be helpful in the healing process.

Rest assured that writing is a lonely business. You can’t have friends or relatives over to distract you. You must be free to think clearly about what you want to say about your loved one. The hardest part about writing is getting started. Try to get a couple of books that have writing exercises in them.

One of my favorite exercises I used to have to do in a creative writing class is to take a piece of paper and pencil and for 3 minutes write down whatever you are thinking about, whatever comes to mind. It may or may not be important. It may sound stupid to you. No matter, write it down. It could be what you are doing that day, something that happened that made you mad or even happy, or what you need to buy at the grocery store. 

Everything that hurts inside should make it to these pages. It also doesn’t have to relate to anything or even make sense. You may not even realize how much something is on your mind until you write it down. The object is to just write and not stop. These pages are for you only, not to be shared with anyone else. You can keep them from day to day or throw them out.

After this silly exercise, write a serious memory of your loved one. Give as many details as possible. You can use dialogue, metaphors, similes. Just get everything possible down on paper so you can look back at it. Your writing can be something simple like your first Christmas as a family or what happened leading up to your child winning a beauty pageant.  Just remember: details, details, details.

Once you start, you must be committed to the project. Set aside a certain amount of time every day to write either on your computer or on a pad of paper with a pen or pencil. Just keep writing. Not only is it good practice, but by doing it every day, you are more likely to remember events that are stored deep within you.

When you have a collection of writings, you will have to decide what you want to do with these writings, if anything. They can be for you alone or you may want to share it with family and friends. Best of all, you may decide it is so good, you want to publish your writings.

Some other tips for you would include: attend a writer’s conference and learn what you can do with your writings, join a writing group in your area to improve your craft  and receive feedback on your work, and search for other writers who are struggling to translate their grief onto the page. These writers can be a great source of support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to them. 

More than anything, writing your thoughts on paper allows you to look back and remember your special person with fondness and love.

Sunday, November 22, 2015

Dancing In the Rain

I have used the quote “Life isn’t about waiting for the storm to pass…It’s about learning to dance in the rain” in some of the speeches I give at Compassionate Friends National Conferences since 2008 because the image of a storm is a good analogy in understanding our grief and moving forward.

I relate this quote to coping techniques. I talk about such things as making sure you do something for yourself, having a positive attitude, and laughing again. I recently read an interpretation of this quote in a Michigan chapter Compassionate Friends newsletter (no authorship was given for the interpretation) but I thought it worthy of telling my readers this one analogy and see what you think.

Storms can come out of nowhere, like a tornado, seemingly destroying everything in its path and leaving our lives in complete and utter shambles. The darkness and dreariness stay, while lightning continues to flash, stabbing our heart with pain. Thunder clamors constantly, reminding us that our children are gone. The wind howls, imitating our screams and wailing. The rain seems to be endless.

Those who haven’t lost children, who are living in sunshine, cry out to us, “Come in, out of the rain.” They don’t understand that often we’re not able to move. The storm has become our world, for however long we need or choose to live there. But, we do have a choice. We can stay hunkered down under the false protection of denial. We can lock ourselves up in a protective shell and never come out. Or, we can learn to dance in the rain.

However, each bereaved parent must decide what feels best to them. This anonymous author finds herself thinking, “It’s hard to crawl, walk or breathe without my child, and she wants me to dance? I realize she’s not referring to my ability when the child says, ‘Dance, Mom, dance. Dance in the rain. Dance  because you can’t change what has already been done . You have the choice to sit it out or dance. Listen for the music, keep your eyes wide open, go forward, follow the music and dance. Follow me. I am not behind you. I am in front of you. I’m free and I am dancing.’ ”

This child taught her mother to hear the music and her song continues on. “Without it, I couldn’t dance," she says.

If we allow our children to lead us to dance in the rain, they will eventually dance us out of the storms of pain and into the sunshine of peace.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

Personal Thoughts on Living With Grief

Living with grief- I have been doing that for almost 22 years now, and I suspect it will never be any different for as long as I live. I give myself permission to grieve when it is appropriate just as I know when to suck it up and pretend to be fine. I will never get over this loss and only those who have been through this can understand the feeling.

Will life ever be good again? It can be. That is up to the one grieving. Because I choose to embrace life and not wallow in my grief, I made something of my life after my daughter’s death. If she had not died, the path I am on now would never have been. It is because of her death that I am now a different person with different goals, different priorities. And it feels good.

I help others through my writings, through speaking to groups and through meeting other bereaved parents. We all have one thing in common…the love of our child who is no longer with us for whatever reason. And what would I give to have my daughter back with me again… anything and everything. To hold her and tell her that driver didn’t know what he was doing when he ran the stop sign and smashed into the new car she and her husband had just driven off the dealer’s lot not 20 minutes prior.

Many times I think of something I had forgotten to tell my daughter and turn to the phone to call her to share a funny story, relate a significant event or talk about an upcoming party, trip or plans for the weekend. I then take a sharp intake of air as I remember I can no longer do that. I can’t see her, talk to her, or enjoy her company ever again.

I share my story with others and try to give some wisdom and support. Not only does it help me to grow but also I am doing a service to many who don’t know where to turn or how to move on. I keep busy with other things I enjoy doing, but always in the back of my mind is the thought it would have been fun to do that with my daughter, or at least fun to tell her about it.

There will always be a hole in my heart that nothing or no one can fill, but I discovered I could still love and be loved. I can still smile and even laugh without feeling guilty. I can have a good time enjoying my busy life with family and friends and slowly things got better and one day life was good in small ways and then bigger ways.

Even though busy, the pop-up of a smiling face that looks like me, seeing a play together, or a younger girl begging to go to a drive-in movie with her boyfriend, will always bring me back to the reality of what  I have lost, the most important person in my life. I keep it far down inside, and only when I am alone, do the tears begin to slide down my face, as they probably will for the rest of my life. That’s okay, and it’s important to realize the fact that one need not be ashamed of crying and letting those emotions out. I know I feel better after a good cry.

Grief requires us to push the envelope and look outside a bit more to find comfort in meaningful ways and be stronger and wiser. Life will feel better again one day, as it has with me, even knowing I will never forget my loss no matter what anyone says.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Reopening the Comment Section

I digress this week from my usual blogs to give you some information.

I am truly sorry that I can not reopen the ‘comment section’ of each blog I write on Sundays. For many years it was open, and I received wonderful information from many bereaved parents about their own child. Unfortunately, there are those who use internet sites such as mine to simply advertise their products and are not bereaved at all. I was hoping by closing the comment section for a year or so, that would stop, and I could reopen it. But it has not stopped, so I must keep it closed. To date, I have received thousands of spam replies.

This doesn’t mean you can’t write in and comment on one of my blogs that is of special interest to you. I can personally see your comments, but they can’t be made public because there is no one monitoring the site 24/7.

Many have asked questions, and because I have been inundated with these, you may not have heard from me. Please send them to me again with your email, and I will try to send a reply. Truly, I am not ignoring you.

Over 62,000 people have visited my site, and I hope it has been helpful to those who need it the most.
Here are a few comments you might enjoy reading from the 430 blogs I have printed. The title of the blog is at the end.

I could have written this! That is exactly how I described myself in the months following my son’s death…”a shell of the person I once was.” And yes, grief is a transformational teacher. I just wrote on my blog about living in the moment. Three years into this journey I am saved by working to help others. Very few things upset me anymore because it’s all such unimportant “stuff” in the grand scheme of life. It’s very sad that we had to suffer such profound loss to learn these important lessons, but I do believe we are somehow given the life purpose of helping others. I try to impress on people daily just how fragile life is and to appreciate and love all the wonderful things we have in life…I Learned to Face My Grief

Two weeks after my 18 year old son was killed, our very best friends (for years!) told us that life was for the living” and it was time for us to get on with it. We are much more distant friends now!...Responses to Bereaved Parents

I just lost my daughter a month ago to bladder cancer, and it all happened so fast that I can’t even wrap my head around it. I feel as though someone has reached into my body and ripped out my chest, the pain is so intense. I have to push it away and walk around as though I am in a stupor or a trance. I am just existing, going through the motions of living. How do we survive this pain and longing?...Acting Normal After a Child’s Death

Wow, it has been three months that I lost my daughter in an ATV accident, and so glad I found this sight. I am coping but the hole in my heart hurts so bad. Right now it is the worst the pain has been, and I hope one day to move on. I will not let this define me. Thank you for writing. It helps…Impact of Child Loss

On the day our son, age 21, died, his older brother came to be with us along with many friends and family. That night, as we all stayed at our friends’ house, our older son and a friend of the family grieved together and conceived our only grandson. Orion just turned five. He is the reason we are alive. We can hear our son saying, “Lord, I will go with You, but you must send someone to help my parents thru this.” When the grandson was born, we realized we had a new purpose in life. I truly hurt for those parents who have not been given a gift such as ours, and I pray often for them. My husband and I also grieve daily for our son. I At times I feel guilty for grieving when I have been given a grandson. Grief is that way. Thank you, Sandy, for this blog so I could share…Simple Joys of Life

Twenty months have passed since we lost our wonderful son Joe, aged 20 years. Reading your words today have made me realize I am not going mad and I have taken great comfort from your post…What Changes When Your Child Dies

Sunday, November 1, 2015


I have kept a photo album/scrapbook most of my life, particularly after my daughter was born until now, 21 years after she died in a car accident. I try to keep it up to date, but find myself only putting it together two or three times a year. I now have 24 albums. Oh, yes, I keep everything in order from birthday cards, play handbills, concert receipts to photos of the trips my husband and I go on each year to my latest project, keeping all photos of my step-grandson growing up (my husband’s daughter’s son). I love this child like he is my own, and since I can no longer keep anything new from my daughter, I concentrate on photos of the grandson, who, because he lives so far away, I only see two to three times a year. (We do Skype every week, and it’s almost like he’s here next to me!)

But this is only background to the point of this blog. Yesterday was one of the days I found time to sit down and put all the things from the last six months into my newest album. Looking at all the items now in place, I smiled. They are such good, precious memories. It made me want to look back at some of my other albums that had my daughter’s photos and things she gave me in them. I took my copy of her wedding album from the closet and carefully looked at each beautiful picture. With those memories in place, I then decided to look at an older album and found one where she and her future husband were brought to a vacation spot by my husband to surprise me on my birthday. I kept digging and found my daughter at her 21st birthday party, her 20th birthday and all the way back to her first party.

What a joy it is to have these long forgotten memories through pictures that I can look at any time I feel compelled to do so. What makes it extra special is that if I’m having a bad day, (and I still have them) looking at some of these special photos and cards, like the one for Mother’s day that says, “You’re the best Mom for trusting me and letting me do what I choose, even if it turns out to be a mistake. I love you,” put a smile on my face and in my heart. I know I didn’t keep everything, but there is enough.

As I dug deeper into the albums, I was also able to find a few items that I’d forgotten were there that may come in handy in future endeavors. As an example, I am a photographer at heart and may find a good use for some of them.

I am so thankful that I kept all the items that I did. Don’t let anyone tell you that you should get rid of anything or everything that is part of the child you lost. Don’t let anyone say all that memorabilia is of no use to keep anymore, and that a better use for the space it takes up can be found.

My answer to those people is that I find everything I have to be of great sentimental value, and I have no intention of getting rid of it. They are a reflection of the past, my life and my family. No one and nothing will take those memories away from me. They will stay in my albums and in my heart, right where they belong.

And so in the near future, I will again be adding items to my newest scrapbook and be able to look back at them whenever I feel the need.

Sunday, October 25, 2015

Visiting the Cemetery

Some may call my visits to the cemetery excessive. I go on my daughter’s death day, her birthday, my birthday and the holiday season. I also go before an extensive trip, so five times a year.

I go not only to feel close to her but also to make sure I clean her gravestone, which gets full of calcium from the watering and dirt from the rain and mowing. I feel it is important to do that and want it to look nice for anyone else who may come. 
Some may think I overdo it, that it is morbid to go so often, and that I am obsessing. I have a great need to go, to sit quietly, to talk to my daughter and to think about happier times. There is something very peaceful about a quiet cemetery where the only sound is an occasional train passing by very slowly, like they, too, are paying their respects.

Each time I go, I look at a broken gravestone in the row behind my daughter and shake my head. It has been broken for over 15 years. Doesn’t anyone come to visit, and can’t they see how bad the stone looks, broken in half? No attempt has ever been made to fix it. Perhaps the relatives live far away and never come…or perhaps there are no relatives. It makes me sad to see this and more determined than ever to keep watch over my daughter’s grave and hope that never happens to hers.

There are no rules about visiting the cemetery. I believe each person needs to do what is best for them, whether it is visiting every day, every few months or never going back after the funeral is over. Unless one knows the pain of losing the most important person in your life, it is impossible to understand that need.

I go to the cemetery with my husband (not my daughter’s father) but a compassionate, loving individual, who understands its importance to me. I don’t tell anyone else where I’m going or where I’ve been. I know some people get uncomfortable talking about death and visitations, so we go alone.

How often one goes to the cemetery has absolutely nothing to do with the length and depth of your expression of grief. Everyone must do what makes them comfortable, not what pleases others. In this instance, the bereave’s needs come first and one must do what makes one feel better.

Sunday, October 18, 2015

Defining My Life

Author Anna Quindlen stated, “Our lives are defined by those we have lost.” I definitely agree with this statement. I can see that my life would have gone in another direction completely had my daughter lived. Her death has led me to do things I would never have dreamed I could do. Good things, as it has turned out.

For one, I am now a published author. I have learned a lot about surviving grief in the last 21 years and putting a lot of it down on paper in my two books. I vow to help others by what I say on those pages and expose my heart to everyone. It turns out to be a good feeling. “And I smile, hearing my daughter say to me, “Mom, when are you going to write the great American novel?” Little did I ever dream my books would be about her, me and many, many other bereaved  parents surviving the worst possible thing that can happen to us.

In another time and place, I couldn’t have gotten up in front of a group of bereaved parents and talked about my child and my very personal feelings when she died and afterwards. I now speak to groups, both nationally and locally about creating a new normal after the death of a child, how everything is different, how my goals and priorities have changed, and how what used to be important no longer has any meaning. I know what has to be done, and I choose to do it through speaking.

I have become a more compassionate person and try to help those who need guidance in moving on with their lives. I listen to the bereaved. They want to tell their story. I understand that, and I try to be a good listener so that, when I am asked a question, I have an answer for them. It may not be what they want to hear at the moment, but I always ask in the end what I can do to help. 

I agree with author Marilyn Heavilin, who says that she has chosen to make every day count because she-and I-realize life comes with no guarantees. So we live for ourselves and our children. We may decide to do what we know would have made them happy and what would make them proud of us, even though the pain of losing them burns a continuing searing hole in our hearts and always will. We honor our children by making the most of our lives, and we will always remember them.

Yes, my life has changed considerably from ‘happily ever after.’ But I have found joy in what I do and in what I have now, and I must be content with that.