Sunday, February 22, 2015

It's All Right To...

It’s all right to…
Scream in the shower
Yell in the car
Cry anywhere you like
Misplace your glasses, the car keys and the car
Put milk in the cupboard, toilet paper in the refrigerator, and ice cream in the oven
Beat up on the pillow, stomp on the ground, throw stones in the lake
Change grocery stores if it hurts
Wear one black show and one navy
Eat French fries for breakfast, toast for lunch, and peanut butter for dinner (as long as you eat)
Write your child a letter. Bake him/her a cake
Smell his/her clothes
Celebrate his/her life on the birthday
Talk to your pets, they understand
Leave his/her room the way it is, for as long as you like
Say his/her name just to hear the sound
Talk about your child to others
Tell loved ones what you need
Say no when you feel like it.
Cancel plans if you want
Have a bad day
It’s all right to hurt
And one day when you’re ready: it’s all right to…
Laugh again
Dance and feel pretty. Have a good time
Look forward to tomorrow. Sing in the shower
Smile at a friend’s new baby
Wear make up once more
Go for a day, a week and even a month without crying
Celebrate the holidays
Forgive those who failed you
Learn something new
Look at his picture and remember with happiness, not pain
Go on with your life. Cherish the memories
And one day when it’s time – it’s all right to…
Love again.

Vicki Tushingham, TCF New Jersey

Editor’s note: This bereaved parent was a prolific writer and good friend of TCF. Her words have always inspired all who knew her.                                                                                                                                                           

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Proactive Grieving Part 2

 continued  from last week. (If you missed last week, please read it first, below today’s blog.)
Where do we start to find peace and turn loss into legacy?

1. We have to make the decision to accept the challenge to survive using the following: identify weaknesses, identify your support, identify goals, create a plan, accept help, and seek tools for the journey.

2. Actively grieve and express your pain. Tell your story.

3. Share your continued struggle with others.

4. Help others who are hurting on their journey. It will help you too.

5. Keep your loved one present in our today…use the present tense.

6. Seek joy, our birthright.

7. Rebuild. Get involved in your journey. Go to TCF meetings. See a counselor or life coach.

8. Rebuild your body: physically , spiritually by eating right and drinking lots of water, spiritually by looking towards God, and mentally by keeping a journal, tracking both good and bad days, and creating a bucket list. Reduce anything that inhibits the healing process (get a massage, cry often, swim, run, walk, sing and dance).

9. Most importantly, create a legacy by writing a book; starting a foundation, organizing a walk, starting a support group, reaching out to others, using your gifts and giving time. Be proactive.

The power in grief is immense. It can destroy us, it can make us sicker than ever, or we can become bigger and better than we have ever been. We can’t change the circumstances of our loved ones leaving us physically but we can transform our lived from the power of that loss. “I have seen so many powerful things people have done for the legacy of loved ones," said Carmody. "Not only can one survive after a significant loss, we can thrive. Surviving is just the beginning. Believe you can."

“Tears are shed when we are born, and they usher us out when we die; the meaning of life is the dance in-between,” he added.

Lee Ann Womach said in her well-known song, “If you get the choice to sit it out or dance, I hope you dance.” You  can sit out as long as you need to but eventually you want to dance our child’s life into the future and that’s what will bring joy back into your life.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Proactive Grieving Part 1

How we process grief in this country has gone under a dramatic transformation, according to Mitch Carmody, bereaved father and well-known speaker for Compassionate Friends and other organizations.

Carmody believes in proactive grieving, that is embracing your grief, taking ownership, finding out more about it, going through it and not around it, and living the loss and not postponing it.

“People are starting to take control of their own journey,” he said. “We have a whole new perspective on loss and recovery. We are starting to talk about loss, show grief on roads, fences, football fields, wherever we can that is appropriate, and even talk it out.”

People have the power to help themselves by helping others. Grief is a life-long journey measured in years, not months. It is what we do in those years that can turn loss to legacy. It takes a long time to process grief. We have good days and bad days; some days we have to start over. By recognizing this, we can control our grief.

Proactive grieving is not going through stages but it is more akin to ascending a stairway…each step negotiated one at a time—on your own time. On his stairway, he has chosen a new model for grieving: shock, trauma, acceptance, introspection, reinvestment and serenity.

With shock, you can’t believe this is happening. You may walk around for months, performing at a perfunctory level, not knowing what we’re doing.

In the trauma stage reality creeps in. The sympathy cards stop coming. People stop calling. This can last months to years. It is critical to move on to the next phase.

Acceptance is where we are challenged to make a difference. People are ignorant of our journey. We must educate them. Help yourself by taking off your mask and let people know we are still grieving.
This leads to introspection and insight. We can’t change what has happened. We need to find ways to go through the journey by looking inside.

By reinvesting we rebuild and have renaissance in our lives. How can I find joy again, laugh again. Reach out to others in honor of your child. When we feel joy, we’ll know it in our mental and physical state.

Then we can possibly find peace, serenity. This is Carmody’s life now. We don’t choose this new life, but it is our life now. We can use every strength of our being as a legacy to our loved one. That’s what will bring us back and make us whole again, according to Carmody. Finding peace is going through grief, not around it, by processing your loss, adapting to its reality and building a new future as a legacy to the loved one who died. Finding peace is turning loss into legacy.

Who can talk about our child better than we can. We become their voice, their arms, their hands. They should have been our legacy, but now it is the other way around: they can help us do that and together it is synergistic. Where do we start? … to be continued next week

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Still Healing from Sandy Hook

I have written before about the heroic teachers of Sandy Hook on December 14, 2012, when a gunman killed 20 children and 6 teachers with 154 shots before he was stopped. Teaching changed in January of 2013, according to one teacher, Abby Clements. “We care about them emotionally as well as teaching them.”

The community is still healing. Divorce, separations, alcohol abuse, drug abuse and domestic violence have been the result of the children’s deaths. All of these parents grieved in a very different way and are still grieving and will continue to grieve for a very long time.

A news story a few weeks ago talks about how these teachers now have a cause that goes beyond caring about these students. For the 37 teachers, the anger about what happened has turned to activism.

They now have a purpose: gunsense. One teacher, Abby Clements, said, “I feel I have a responsibility to make sure that I try to do something. I look at the children every day and I can’t let them grow up in a society where this kind of action is acceptable. I know I don’t want others to go through what we did.”

What they want is to close loop holes that allow online and private sales of guns without background checks. In a survey, 74 percent of NRA members support requiring a universal background check for all gun sales, but, as an organization, NRA does not.

“We’re against a strong lobby, but we know we can make a difference,” said Mary Ann Jacobs, librarian. Some gun owners are afraid of laws infringing on their rights.

“This is not a political issue. The question is, ‘Do you want to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and prevent more gun violence. It’s not, how can we take people’s guns away."

These teachers are pushing for a ban on high capacity magazines for assault weapons. The less capacity, the less number of bullets in a magazine. And more children and adults would have survived. They don’t want a legacy counted in children they helped keep safe two years ago but in the kids they’ll help keep safe from now on.

There have been many, many shootings in schools since and before Sandy Hook. They believe it is unacceptable that 31,000 Americans, from children through adults, die each year from gun violence.

“We have to have that confrontation with law makers; we have to be ready to have that argument,” the teachers say. "We have to save our children."

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Making Choices

Sometimes, what someone writes about coping, strikes you as the truth, especially when you agree completely with that author. Below is one of those essays. Read on and see if you don’t agree with both myself and the author about choices we have to make as bereaved parents.

The everyday decisions that everyone had to make are such things as: what do I have to do today, what shall I wear, where do I need to be, how will I handle the situations I know I will be involved in.

However, when you are a bereaved parents, it is much more complicated. Even these simple mundane activities can be extremely difficult, when you may feel like you haven’t the strength to even get out of bed, nor do you want to. It can be so tempting to remain there and do nothing.

But those of us in grief have to exert extra effort every day to do the things that must be done. Most of our energy is taken by grief, especially at the beginning. We go through the motions of living. If we are to cope with our grief and hopefully arrive at living with our loss, we must put forth that extra effort, for as long as it takes. We must find ways to help ourselves, take an active part in the way we feel. Talking about the loss, crying, taking care of ourselves, joining a support group, getting professional help are some of the things that should help.

But if we do not try to help ourselves, we will surely be stuck. In other words, time alone does not heal. It is what we do with the time that helps us get to a place where we can live with the loss.

We must each decide what it will take for us to cope with the fact that our child is gone and will not return to this earth.

As we know, life will never be the same; we will never be the same. But life can still be good and we can still find joy and meaning in it. We have to try. We have to work at it.

 by Tonya Sandoval, Pueblo Ark Valley TCF chapter, Pueblo, CO

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Angel Gown Project

NICU Helping Hands, which gives support to bereaved families who have experienced infant loss, now has an Angel Gown Program, where wedding dresses are donated and transformed by volunteer seamstresses into tiny angel gowns for those premature babies who die.

One wedding gown can make a dozen or more tiny gowns. The parents then have something special and sacred in which to bury their child. NICU also takes pastel colored bridesmaid and prom dresses to make into these angel gowns. Many groups are now also donating their time to help make these dresses. Friends, family and other groups are donating fabrics and embellishments. For those who may not sew, those who want to, can help by pinning or cutting patterns, doing beading, ironing or just donating their time for whatever is needed.

So far, the group of bereaved parents and others have mailed over 3,000 gowns to hospitals and have 5,000 currently processing for more than 900 seamstresses across the country. What started in Fort Worth, TX by the founder of NICU Helping Hands, Lisa Grubbs, has taken off tremendously. “I’m speechless that so many have responded from across the country,” she said. There are now 164 hospitals across the nation getting these angel gowns that all these volunteers make.

“I knew immediately this was something I would love to do with my own wedding dress and told another mother in our Bereaved Parents group,” said June Erickson of Bereaved Parents of Anne Arundel County in Maryland when she heard about it.  Others followed her lead and the outpouring of support for this project has blossomed.

The NICU Helping Hands Angel Gown Program began in 2013 because they recognized the overwhelming need to support families who lost a baby while in the hospital. The program provides comfort for families by providing a beautiful gown for final photos and for burial services.

“There is no greater gift that can be given to a grieving family than affirming the importance of the life of their child by offering this simple gift free of charge,” the organization said.

Many of the donated wedding gowns are delivered with personal notes. Some heartwarming letters are filled with love and photographs; others have heartbreaking stories of loss. One mother’s baby died hours after being born. “It’s with a lot of joy and love that I give my dress, and I hope that these women realize how loved they are.”

Several dresses were donated on the birthday of children who passed away in the NICU. Others were left as a token of gratitude for babies who made it home and were still healthy. Some of the women wanted just one last picture of their prized possession. One man dropped off a dress he’d been keeping in his closet as a last memory of his beloved wife. He said his wife would have wanted her dress to find new life this way.

No matter how bittersweet letting go of a wedding gown was, every woman and man left knowing that the symbolic love of their dress will be shared with mothers and fathers grieving their little angels.

For additional information on other services or how you can donate your time, contact NICU Helping Hands, 301 Commerce Street, Suite 3200, Fort Worth, TX 76102

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Some Thoughts From Others On Coping

Some thoughts from other local bereavement newsletters and other people across the country on dealing with the death of our children…

Grief is a tidal wave that overtakes you, smashes down upon you with unimaginable force, sweeps you up into its darkness where you tumble and crash against unidentifiable surfaces only to be thrown out on an unknown beach bruised, reshaped. Grief will make a new person out of you if it doesn’t kill you in the making. from Stephanie Ericsson

When asked the question “How many children do you have?” How do you respond? Do you have a standard answer prepared when that question arises? Some parents wish to acknowledge their deceased child and others choose to only mention the children that are living. There is no right or wrong way, sometimes the answer depends on where we are, who we are with and whether we’ll ever see this person asking again. from Karen Cantrell, TCF Frankfurt, N.Y.

Grief work is like winding a ball of string. You start with an end and wind and wind, then the ball slips through your fingers and rolls across the floor; some of your work is undone, but not all. You pick it up and start over again, but never do you have to begin again at the end of the string. The ball never completely unwinds; you’ve made some progress.  from the TCF newsletter, Evansville, IN

Tears have a wisdom all their own. They come when a person has relaxed enough to let go and to work theough is sorrow. They are the natural bleeding of an emotional wound, carrying the poison out of the system. Here lies the road to recovery.  from F. Alexander Magoun

Some of us used to plan budgets a year in advance, managed more then just our household, we planned trips, etc…we were so organized. As bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings we find it difficult sometimes to plan ahead for the next day. It is all we can do to place one foot in front of the other. Concentrating, organizing and planning may not come easy for us anymore. Instead, we may spend those moments loving and cherishing our family and friends, not wanting to let go of those around us for a moment. from Karen Cantrell, TCF Frankfurt, N.Y.

Anyone who has lost a loved one knows that you don’t recover. Instead, you learn to incorporate their absence and memories into your life and channel your emotional energy toward others and eventually your grief will walk beside you instead of consuming you.  from Rashida Rowe

After the death of a child, it becomes crystal clear. We humans are capable of enduring much more than we can ever imagine. Knowing that doesn’t make grief one bit easier. The painful truth is that we simply do what we must do. We do the unthinkable, day after day.  from Carol Clum

Laughter is not a part of everybody’s life, so it is easy to accidentally offend someone with humor. Bereaved parents, especially the newly bereaved, do not feel like laughing, their joy in life has gone. Laughing seems so trivial to them. They can easily be offended. Some bereaved parents feel guilty about humor and laughter. They feel they have no right to job because their child is dead. Appearing joyous can bring condemnation from society, not to mention your spouse, for appearing to not care. People may think, surely if you are laughing you did not love your child as much as I love mine. The truth is, joy makes life better. Joyous talk and laughter do not show disrespect, they show that healing is taking place. If you laughed with your child while they lived, it is okay to someday laugh with your child again. You dear child has never left your heart and their spirit would surely rather fill your heart with joy than sorrow.  from Chuck Prestwood