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

Sunday, January 4, 2015

The Ted E. Bear Hollow organization

Editor’s note: Below is a summary of an organization to help grieving children and, in turn, build hope and support for many around the country.

A place where grieving children, teens and adults find hope is Ted E. Bear Hollow, where mending the hearts of grieving children and teens is their goal. Since its founding in 2001, this program of bereavement support provides free peer support programs as well as training, education, and consultation throughout Nebraska and Iowa. Volunteers support its free programs.

They use only the most passionate, caring trained grief facilitators and it is overseen by an experienced grief expert with a mental health background. Grief facilitators are required to complete intensive, 20-hours of child grief training and are mentored by experienced group facilitators. I say all this to assure everyone that these facilitators will help in every possible way.

Research shows that unresolved grief correlates to issues such as poor school performance and emotional and behavioral concerns, whereas health coping leads to long-term success for the child, the family and the community.

The organization relies on charitable contributions, income from special events held and its volunteerism to support its free programs. Children ages 3-18, who are grieving a death, participate in age appropriate activities to process emotions, enhance coping skills and build hope and support. Families are encouraged to attend a variety of programs depending on their needs and comfort levels.

One of Ted E. Bear Hollow’s goals is to empower the community to be more responsive and supportive of the needs of grieving families. Experienced grief professionals educate community agencies on children’s grief and, at times, consult with organizations following a death in order to provide excellent grief support beyond the walls of Ted E. Bear Hollow as well. Collaborations  for grief education and support have developed with such organizations as local elementary, middle and high schools; universities; childcare providers; after-school programs; and social services agencies. By creating awareness among these providers, Ted E. Bear Hollow hopes that the community becomes a safe, supportive place for all grieving families.

If you find your family in need of help, contact Ted E. Bear Hollow at 402-502-2773 in Omaha, Nebraska.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Still Surprised by Grief

I read an article recently by Penny Young, bereaved mother, from the Alive Alone newsletter about how after 20 years, it still surprises her that grief can overtake her if the moment is right. Her son, Mathew, died in 1994. I have found that to be so true also.

I agree with Penny that I, myself, do not feel the intense sadness that I felt the first few years. Time passing does that, so we are shocked that this can still happen after 20 years!

Marcy’s 20th death anniversary was also this year as was Penny’s, and just yesterday, I was talking to a friend, and when I mentioned Marcy’s name, tears came to my eyes and my friend saw it and, I think, was a little surprised that after all this time I still grieve for her. No one ever says to me, “Aren’t you over it yet?” because they know I will never be over my child’s death, and they are kind and thoughtful enough to respect that. This latest episode only lasted a few moments, whereas, in the beginning, the same situation could have lasted all day or for days on end.

Grief never completely goes away, nor do you always know when it will hit you suddenly, so if you find yourself discouraged that this is happening to you also after many years, don’t be. As Penny said, “There is a difference between new grief and seasoned grief. It is the time it takes to recover…I have learned that grief cannot be predicted, and it still grabs us every once in a while.”

This is particularly true when we see a sunset we wish our child could see or travel to a location we know they would have enjoyed tremendously. Life is never the same after your child dies. As I have said many times, you have to find a new normal, new goals, and new priorities in your life so that you can move forward with joy and determination to live your life to the fullest. It is not an easy task but one that comes with time, hard work, and knowing this is what your child would have wanted for you…to be happy.

Sunday, December 21, 2014

David Civile Foundation for Boating Safety Awareness

 …Continuation from last post about David Civile who died in a Kayak accident in November 2010.

David’s parents, Joan and Richard Civile started a foundation for boating safety awareness in 2011 to honor his memory and to warn others of the dangers and spare another family from a tragic loss.
The foundation also promotes the importance and proper use of personal floatation devices and knowledge of environmental factors such as air and water temperatures. “Knowledge through education, says David’s mother, Joan Civile, can save lives.” “We seek to inform all boaters but with a targeted emphasis on novice boaters using non-motorized recreational crafts, such as Kayaks and canoes.”

By April 1 of last year, New Jersey officials posted safety boating signs at all its parks in Monmouth County. This is a result of David’s dedicated and loving family working with officials. The signs warn kayakers to consider their ability and weather conditions before embarking, to always wear a PFD, to carry a safety whistle, and to let others know of their boating plans.

While the Civile family funded a few signs and presented them to the town of Little Silver, NJ, in 2011, the year following David’s death, the county parks system funded the signs that are posted in their parks. David’s sister says they continue to work on getting out boating safety messages in all other counties in the state.

The kayak washed up that first night on a neighboring island. Family and friends searched for David for four days to no avail. It took two years for David’s remains to be found near where he launched his kayak. Once again the family was devastated.

Joan says her family is so proud of David, through the way he embraced life. “David has taught us many lessons: to live life to the fullest, treat others with respect and courtesy, make the best of any situation, pursue your passions, find humor in everything, live with integrity and honor and remember to be happy with yourself.”

They turned their unimaginable loss into something they hope all kayakers can benefit from. In particular they want retailers to focus more on safety, ask questions when a consumer buys a kayak, where they are planning to go, what river, ocean, lake? What time of year.? Encourage appropriate gear and necessary safety extras like a tether, a radio, and a light.

“We are in the process of partnering with local retailers like EMS to develop Kayak safety kits which will include these items. We have also contacted manufacturers to ask them why such kits are not marketed more often and to keep the prices down so as not to deter customers, and to have a video and/or require boaters watch the short clip before leaving the store. The foundation is also sponsoring assemblies in schools on boating safety that will cover in and off season water temperatures with emphasis on wearing a life jacket. They also hope to encourage retailers to promote the purchase of a dry suit and other essentials.

“The more knowledge boaters have, the better equipped they will be out in the water,” said David’s sister.

At the heart of the mission is a loving family who misses their son and brother. “We know David’s memory will continue in our hearts and live forever and hope our mission will possibly spare another family from our tragic loss,” said Joan.

I hope they have succeeded in their mission and wish them continued succeed in whatever they are able to do for others in David’s memory.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

A Mother's Story and Praise for Book

Editor’s note: The following is one of many emails I receive from bereaved parents. I love receiving them and learning about your precious children who have died, for whatever reason, at whatever age. Of course, I also appreciate the very nice comments about my books and like that word gets out about them so as to be useful to other bereaved parents. This email was from Joan Civile. After I read it, I looked up her son’s web site and got an insight as to how much these parents have done in their son’s memory. This is her letter to me. Next week I will tell you about the foundation they started and everything she has accomplished  since his death.


My thoughts and prayers go to you on the loss of your dear Marcy. I am also a bereaved parent since November 2010, and another mom recently told me about your book. I was surprised I hadn’t come across it before, as, like you, I have been reading feverishly since our tragic loss. My amazing (his favorite word) 26 year old son, David, drowned, a novice kayaker, in the Shrewsbury River in Monmouth County, NJ, on November 17. Although athletic, competent, and responsible, he was unaware of the danger of cold water temperatures and wind—oddly enough he called me that morning saying he had purchased water proof pants. He had a floatation seat cushion on board which he used in his canoe; his next purchase was going to be a regular life jacket. He had only purchased the kayak three weeks before and wanted to try it out for an hour. He launched in ankle deep water and assumed he would be safe, as he was an avid outdoors man.

He was a manager at Trader Joe's. They called him “superman” because he was the go to person, with an incredible sense of humor, the kind of person everyone wanted as a friend. We miss him more with each passing day. We just had a balloon launch and party for his would be 30th birthday with 40 close friends and family. We served all his favorite foods, even gave out goodie bags. (Talk about crazy things we do to give us comfort!)

Of course, I could go on for hours, especially since our pain is so heightened during this season. As you mention in your book “Creating a New Normal…After the Death of a Child," we never really heal, and although his four year angelversary is approaching, we still feel breathless and surreal, as it seems like yesterday. Time simply takes away the rawness for we get used to the pain, but the missing part seems to worsen. We seem to be doing all the right things to help us, yet the pain is never ending although we do manage to function with God’s grace and our faith.

 We had a wonderful traditional close knit family. Our daughter, then 29, was always best friends with her brother, as was her husband. David even purchased a condo in his sister’s complex. Life was perfect for all of us.

I have now started a foundation for boating safety in the hopes of preventing our tragic loss from happening to another family: (see Dec. 21 story about the foundation.)

My reason for writing this is to simply thank you for such a helpful and resourceful book. Your gift of expressing your feelings touched my heart. I have read dozens of books and yours is my favorite. I also have every intention of reading your first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” shortly. We also facilitate a Compassionate Friends group in NJ, have a great reading list, and look forward to discussing your book with them.

Again, my heartfelt gratitude for such a wonderful book…God bless…Joan Civile

If you are a bereaved parent, I would love to hear your story also. In an email, tell me what happened to your child, background information and what you have done in your child’s memory to move on with your life. Send to