Sunday, March 22, 2015

Bari: Always and Forever

Coincidences? Or something else? 

I wrote a blog over a year ago how, when I went to a Bar Mitzvah, when I opened the prayer book, first I saw that that particular prayer book was in honor of Marcy, my daughter. Her best friend had bought the space to raise money for the new books. Then I found a paper stuck in the prayer book with my daughter’s name on it honoring her death date. It had been in there for a few months. None of the other books had that sheet in it. They’d been taken out months before. What were the odds that I would pick up the one book out of hundreds that had mentioned her name twice. It has been almost 21 years. I believe it was meant to happen and Marcy was probably watching from above.

When I read the following story (reprinted with permission here) in Grief Digest by Sheila Swedlow, I understood perfectly how this mother felt. Our children are always with us, in life and in death.

                                                Bari: Always and Forever
When my third daughter was born on April 18, 1968, there was never a question as to what we would call her. She was named Bari after my father, Benjamin, who was loved beyond the death of intensity. It is an unusual name, a sweet name, a name of importance; a name that brings a smile.
On April 6, 2009, forty years after her birth, our Bari left our lives forever. We felt as if our souls had been extinguished; our hearts had been shattered; our breathing, diminished. But to this very minute, whenever her name is spoken, we are overcome with a special feeling of warmth and joy. The name Bari is a special ray of sunshine.

It has been two and a half years since our family entered the immeasurably painful and dark world of grief, cut the name Bari keeps appearing at the most unexpected times. It presents itself for a reason—to exemplify the continued presence of my daughter. Her special name appears at the least expected of times and it is welcomed with a feeling of wonder.

As I drive through Long Beach, I can feel Bari in the passenger seat of my Audi. She was always with me, she lived in our home, and she was my companion in shopping. Her presence is always such a strong feeling that I have to look at and touch the now empty leather seat. One day, while gazing at her picture (now placed on my dashboard), a vehicle pulled up next to my car. The writing on the side of the truck read, “Bari’s Van.” It was so strange to feel her distinctly strong presence at the exact time I saw her name appear! Can a coincidence simply be a reality of what is?

After Bari’s passing, my elder daughter, Lori, and I were walking through the town of Cedarhurst. Lori  grieved with the silent ache of losing her sister, but together we gave each other comfort. As we emerged from a local restaurant, suddenly, we saw a brand new sign with dark, bold letters. We stood stuck, as if in cement, because staring down at us were words that read, “Bari’s Fish.” The wonder continued; could a sign be a message?

When it was time to select a monument for my daughter’s grave, the experience was surreal. We had decided that the color would not be gray, for Bari was happy and sparkling, and this stone had to represent who she was. All at once, the perfect color jumped out at us from among the rest. It was a combination of rose and pink, and it was soft and pleasing. We had looked at many stones, but nothing else appealed like this one. It was then that we learned that the name of the stone was listed in their brochure as “Barrie Granite.” It was such an unheard of connection, and it came at such a vital time.

Another year passed after the unveiling at the grave, and my daughter, Amy was preparing a celebration for my twin grandsons’ Bar Mitzvah. Looking for a gown is difficult at any time for me, but shopping with the heaviness of heart in knowing that my Bari would not share in this joyous occasion was additionally hard. Then it happened: Lori ran out of the dressing room with a gown in hand yelling, “Ma, look what I found. Try this on!” It was shocking, unbelievable, more than amazing, for my daughter’s name appeared on the inside label of the gown. I can’t remember the last name of the designer, but that is of no importance. It was her first name that imploded the realization: her name was Bari, the same as my child’s!

It has now been four months since the name Bari has appeared in unexpected places at unknown times. But each time it happens, there is a confused combination of feelings, so intense in nature. An inexplicable wonder occurs that leads me to possibilities and hope. I am enlightened and encouraged because of these miraculous encounters. They are strong and even healing, because with each one there is the awakening that we are never apart from the ones we love.

And so I navigate ahead, awaiting the next word to appear that will speak through in silence and repeat the name, Bari!

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Living Memories Project

When a dandelion dies it does not simply shrivel up and fall on the ground but rather turns white, and when you blow it, its seeds scatter to the far ends of the earth to begin anew.

I do not want my daughter Marcy to be forgotten. To me, she will, hopefully, always live on in the heart and minds of others, and I believe that, like the dandelion, all the good she did here on earth and the kindness she showed others will help her to be remembered. Her voice may be silenced, but, hopefully, I can continue her legacy by helping others as she would have continued to do if she had lived.

I can see her smiling every time I write one of these blogs, answer an email from someone who needs some advice about how to get out of the hole of grief, or meet a newly bereaved parent and listen to their story at a conference I may speak at. “Good job, mom,” she would say, and give me one of her fantastic smiles.

Besides these goals, by establishing a foundation in her memory to help those in financial need to continue their education and be all they can be—this is another way for me to talk about my daughter and let others know, not only how much I loved her but also continue one of her own goals in helping others that she can no longer be part of.

I am only one of many parents who works on leaving a legacy for one who died too soon. A new example is Meryl and Stewart Ain and Arthur Fischman who have put together a book called “The Living Memories Project,” inspiring stories about moving beyond loss and keeping memories alive (It is very similar to my first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye.”).  This book details through interviews, anecdotes, essays, poems and photographs, the many ways that both ordinary people and celebrities incorporate the presence of their loved ones into their lives. Some who have shared describe encounters or occurrences in which they strongly felt the loved one’s presence, while others have drawn upon rituals or recipes or created a tangible memorial.

The Aims’ son died while serving overseas. “We established the Major Stuart Adam Wolfer Institute so that his legacy of leadership, commitment to his country and community service will continue to live on and will inspire future generations of children, adults and leaders to support U.S. troops stationed overseas and domestically,” they said and added, that in the work they do, they often feel Stuart’s presence.

One reviewer, author and Rev. James Martin, sums it up perfectly. “For most of us, losing a loved one will be the worst tragedy of our lives. And we struggle with how to best honor their memory, indeed, how best to remember them. This moving book not only is a tribute to some extraordinary individuals who have gone before us, but also serves as a guide for all of us who wish to remember those who have touched our lives with their love.”

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Hunger and Grief

Have you ever thought of how hunger and grief relate? In a Grief Magazine article I read, Paul J. Moon, bereavement coordinator for Alacare Home Health and Hospice, brings up some points I have never considered. I share his article with you.

*Hunger can preoccupy us, as food gets on our minds and tends to stay on our minds.
Grief is similar..thoughts and images of loss can preoccupy  us and perseverate. But there is a difference between healthy and unhealthy rumination in grief. The healthy kind assists us to acknowledge our past, reconcile that which can be, extract and learn the humble lessons from that which cannot be rectified and go forth into a future with a mindfulness to not repeat the mistakes of the past, but instead, improve.

*Hunger can influence decision-making. Ever gone grocery shopping while famished?
Grief is similar…as our minds may be preoccupied or weary, we can become distracted, forgetful and vulnerable. In short, our judgments can be compromised. Decision-making can be temporarily incapacitated as we may not be as clear-minded. Whenever possible, give yourself time to think things through; talk matters over with someone you trust.

*Hunger pangs (stomach pains or growling, fatigue, light-headedness, etc) can hurt or be distressing.
Grief is similar…grief pangs can sometimes hurt physically, bring on fatigue, and be flat out exhausting. Grief pangs can manifest in our speech, emotional reaction, body posture, attitudes, etc. Physical rest and bodily maintenance are vital for grievers.

*Hunger can elevate anxiety (feeling shaky, dizzy, heart palpitations, altered breathing pattern, etc.).
Grief is similar…deeper realization of loss can make some of us more nervous, which can lead to brooding: What next? What else can I lose? Who else will I lose? What will happen to me not? Anxiety in grief cannot be ignored (historically, bereavement grief has been considered a form of “separation anxiety”). An encouragement is to balance out anxious thoughts with a focused and intentional effort to make the best use of the time we have every day. This routine may help to somewhat quell anxiety bouts.

*Hunger can make us irritable, grumpy and cranky; our patience can run thin.
Grief is similar…losses we have to face can trigger frustrations, irritations or anger inside us. Such feelings can foster impatience and even blaming others unjustifiably. But we are still responsible for our actions in grief; we must be careful not to drive people away when we most need them.

*Hunger is proof that feeling full is temporary (we may eat and be sated, but it is only a matter of time before hunger returns).
Grief is similar…though immediate sense of loss can be stabilized, and even consoled, sorrow can return in time and in unpredictable ways. It is also only a matter of time before future losses must be faced. This is a mortal’s lot.

*Unaddressed or excessively denied hunger can lead to lethargy, infirmity, including death.
Grief is similar…unaddressed or denied grief can lead to gradual or abrupt self-depreciation. It is evident that grief can spark self-destruction or ruining of others in our lives. We must take care. Grief is not a license for self-absorption or self-centeredness. Our living and remaining relationships still require and deserve our good attention.

*Hunger reveals a fundamental human need: We require food and nourishment.
Grief is similar…Grief reveals a fundamental human need: we require meaningful, fulfilling relationships.

More deeply realizing that our valued human relationships will one day end on this earth makes us hunger for more.
                                                    Much courage to us all.

Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, Centering Corporation, Omaha, Nebraska, 402-553-1200.

Sunday, March 1, 2015

What Changes When Your Child Dies?

What changes when your child dies? When my daughter Marcy died, everything changed! Some of the things that come to mind include:

You no longer have that person that you loved, cherished and meant the world to you. Whether you only had the child for a few months, a few years or through their adult years, you believe your life has lost its meaning. You lose all hope and your future without your child.

Relationships with family and friends change. Family members may not want to talk about your loss or think you should get over it after only a short while. They don’t understand this grief journey is a life-long one with many hills to climb over. Your relationship with your spouse will also change depending on whether you grieve together or separately. If he is not the child’s natural parent, he may not understand your continued grief, and riffs may come up.

Friends may not want to be near you; they are afraid it could rub off on them, or they think you’ve changed and are not the same person you were before your child died. Guess what?  They are right! How can you be the same after such a great loss? Friends can also be insensitive to your feelings and the fact that you cry and are depressed a lot. That could create resentment within you and close communication between you and your friend.

You may lose control over your thought process. Making simple decisions becomes very difficult for you and planning anything seems useless.

Your priorities and goals change. What was once important to you may no longer have any meaning without your child. For example you may have gone to sports games with your child. Now, you don’t want to do anything that will remind you of your loss and the wonderful times you used to have.

Grief work is the hardest thing you will ever do and could take a lifetime to achieve, but slowly, we do realize we are healing, that we do grow from our loss, and we begin to plan what we need and want to do. We realize the future may even hold some happiness. But it can be a very slow process. I believe that something positive will come out of something so overwhelmingly negative. Many of us become better people, more patient, understanding, loving and compassionate. We owe it to ourselves and to our child’s memory to make something out of the life we’ve been given. Time is a great healer. My child would not want me to wallow in grief forever. When the depression lifts, we realize life awaits us.

It’s all very scary, but I realize I can personally do things that will make us both proud and that I am a survivor. I can see it now in all the people I have helped through this unspeakable horror, in my work with TCF conferences, conferences I’ve been in charge of, the two books I’ve written on surviving grief (thanks, Marcy for your inspiration), and particularly through this blog, when people email me and want my help. I try to do what I can. Though I may not always be successful, I feel better for having tried, and I hope that one day those that at first were so negative, will come around and understand what I am trying to do for them. We all deserve to be happy and take a chance on what life still has to offer us.

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