Sunday, October 11, 2015

Grief Over a Sibling's Death

You never think it can happen to your perfect family. And then it does. How do sibling’s grieve and what are some paths or directions you can follow or have your parents talk to you about. Parents need also to understand how your grief is different from theirs.

Like every other kind of grief, it will take time to work through it. Everyone’s grief is unique. No two people or siblings grieve alike, so it may take you and your other loved ones different time indicators to work through your feelings of loss or hurt. If you were very close to the one who died, it could take you longer than other family members.

During the initial loss, you may feel anger at the sibling for leaving you, sleep disturbances, tiredness or restlessness at times, trouble paying attention, mood swings, feelings of rejection from parents who are irritable or distracted, or guilt.

Guilt can be complicated if you feel you have done something to cause the death or that you should have been able to stop what happened. On the other hand, you may feel guilty for having a good time or laughing too soon after your sibling’s death, and even for just surviving. All of these things can be talked over with others who understand.

You and your sibling may have been very close and had a unique relationship. Other members of your family may not understand your feelings of love and loss, and you may feel you can’t talk to them. If this is the case, seek out a friend, relative, teacher, counselor, minister or another bereaved brother or sister. They can offer advice on how to move forward. But also be patient with your parents. They are suffering also.

Know that it is okay to cry and feel depressed after such a loss. On the other hand, it is okay to laugh and have a good time with friends. You are not dishonoring your sibling either way.

You may want to live in the past for a while remembering all that you have lost, but don’t forget to continue to move on with your life. Forgive yourself for any fights you had together or mean things you said to each other that were never resolved.

Never think that doing drugs or alcohol is the answer to your grief. You are only hurting yourself when you do this. The same is true when you do things out of anger and don’t really mean them. Don’t fight with your parents; talk to them and let them see how badly you are hurting.

Share your feelings with other bereaved siblings you know or at a workshop or conference. How they coped can give you ideas for your own life.

Always remember you are not alone. Many siblings have struggled through feelings similar to yours. Allow the emotional bond you had with your sibling and your other siblings have a positive effect on your future. They have survived and so can you.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Ending Gun Violence

It’s happened again. Nine people in Roseburg Oregon Community College were killed and another nine injured this past Thursday by 26-year-old Chris Harper Mercer, who had enrolled in the college but did not attend the class where the shooting occurred. Of the nine who died, their ages ranged from 18 to 67 (faculty member). Like Columbine, Sandy Hook, Virginia Tech and many others, we kiss our children good-bye in the morning and never in our wildest imagination think that we’ll never see them again alive.

I know the feeling. I had just spoken to my daughter on Wednesday, March 2, 1994, early in the day before going to teach at my high school, and we were going to continue our conversation later that day when I returned home. But she never got home that day after she and her husband picked up their new car and were going out to dinner to celebrate. She was killed by an impaired driver who failed to see a stop sign in Beverly Hills, CA. No matter the circumstance, too many people are dying tragically because of the actions of others, whether a car crash or gun violence.

There were heroes at Umpqua Community College, like one man who blocked a classroom door and took several shots, but survived. Others who admitted to being Christians were immediately shot in the head. Still others were shot in the leg or elsewhere. One young student was shot in the back and pretended to be dead so the shooter wouldn’t shot her again; he thought she was dead. These are just a few of the stories surrounding the event.

Mercer had attended a school for emotionally troubled kids, but was never ruled mentally unfit, so was able to buy guns…the law in Oregon. Mercer was armed with six guns, body armor and rounds of ammunition. At his apartment were seven more guns and additional ammunition. He left a chilling message found at the scene of the shooting saying that the whole world was against him, that he had no life and no girlfriend. Neighbors where he lived thought he acted strange most of the time, that he was a loner and probably depressed. On social media he showed an interest in other mass shootings and a fascination with the military and the IRA. He enlisted in the U.S. Army, but was kicked out one month later.

The Roseburg, Oregon sheriff will not say his name, thinking that those who do, will only glorify his horrific actions and eventually this will only serve to inspire other shooters.

STATS: One person is killed with a firearm every 16 minutes in the U.S. Every day 92 are killed with firearms including suicides. A total of 153,144 have been killed by gun violence since 2001 compared to 3,046 in terrorist attacks (the majority on 9/11). This was the 4th shooting on a U.S. college campus since August.

Americans agree the violence must end, but are bitterly divided on how to stop it. Republicans say that new laws aren’t always the solution. Gun control is not the answer, according to many. Less than one-half of the population support more control; however, 93% want background checks.

President Obama says he is frustrated and fed up with gun violence. He believes nothing will change until the politics changes and the behavior of elected officials changes. He is going to continue to talk about this. He said the failure to pass gun legislation is the biggest frustration of his presidency.

How can others help to end gun violence? Professionals say to be aware of those around you. Notice changes in behavior and get more involved in alerting teachers, counselors, professionals and even the authorities. Talk to local politicians and see if there is something you or they can do and if a solution is possible.

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Healing Improv

They say laughter is the best medicine. In the case of Bart Sumner, this is probably true. Sumner’s, a professional actor/screenwriter/teacher is the creator and founder of Healing Improv, a non-profit that provides no-cost Comedy Improv Grief Workshops for those struggling with grief.

The workshops are designed to bring a fun and healing experience to individuals or group organizations. Through the use of comedy improv games and exercises, they will help break down emotional barriers, increase communication with others, and shine a light on the fact that even in the darkest times, there is a light forward to a life of joy and hope.

Sumner started this group after his 10-year-old son David died in 2009 during a football practice. He says it kept his emotions open and flowing and taught him that laughing and enjoying life, even in the midst of tragedy, was not only acceptable, but it was downright necessary.

“It allowed me to flex the emotional muscles, making it easier to direct the sadness into constructive grieving,” he said. “It didn’t stop my tears; in fact, they flowed more freely, but that is the goal. Grief is not something you can beat or avoid, it is a necessary process that you must go through and emerge from ready to move forward with life.”

He adds that learning to laugh again, surrounded by others who have suffered a similar loss, keeps the emotions open, allowing you to recognize your emotions and channel them into the healing we all need. Much like tears and sadness, laughter is an uncontrollable reflex emotion that comes whether you want it to or not.

No-Cost Adult Comedy Improv Grief Workshops are two hours long, as are youth and family workshops, sharing personal stories and them playing improve games designed to open up emotional channels and laugh in a safe sharing environment full of new friends that understand what you are experiencing. The next one is Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015. Call 818-784-2007 for more information.
Sumners also recently delivered the closing Keynote speech at the Bereaved Parents USA National Gathering in July as well as other workshops around the country for different grief organizations. He is the author of “Healing Improv: A Journey Through Grief To Laughter,” which chronicles his personal grief journey among other things.

“This workshop made me cry, laugh and helped me begin to understand. Sumner takes you down the rabbit hole with him, but throws you the rope of hope and laughter to pull yourself out,” said Steven Green comedy/author/acting instructor.

“We strive to give people a chance to break free from stifling grief with others who understand, through laughter, energy and love. If you or someone you know needs this in their lives, we welcome you with open arms. It saved me. It can do the same for you,” said Sumner.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Calling On the Bereaved

It is always hard to believe when a friend or a loved one dies suddenly and tragically. You want to pay your respects by visiting, but you don’t really know what’s right or wrong to do once there. Here are a few suggestions of do’s and don’ts that might help.

What to say is probably the hardest thing to do. You don’t want to make it worse. So you don’t want to tell the parents things like, “She’s in a better place” or “God will take care of him.”

It is important not to be scared of silence. Give a hug. Just hold their hand. They may not want to talk. Let them start the conversation. Just let them know through your body language you are there for them. When the conversation starts, the simplest comment is, “I’m so sorry.” And let them take it from there.

Don’t laugh and make jokes at a bereavement call or try to cheer anyone up. That is not your job. And certainly don’t tell inappropriate stories about something funny someone said.

If others bring up some memories of the loved one, you can feel comfortable doing the same. But perhaps the best time to bring up fond memories is a few weeks or months later, when the death is not so new.

You may cry with the bereaved. It is not inappropriate to do so, particularly if you were friends or close to the one who passed. Holding their hand may comfort them as they cry. Bring tissues to pass to those who need them.

Don’t just call the bereaved on the phone. That is very impersonal and can be uncomfortable as you are not able to see their reaction to anything you are saying and vice-versa. Over the phone, you are forced to say something instead of being silent, increasing your risk of saying the wrong thing. If you can’t go in person, write a letter or email expressing your sympathy.

Respect the visiting hours. Don’t come before or after the times posted just because it is easier or more convenient for you. You may be intruding on time they want to spend with just family members.

Don’t be upset or surprised if you don’t get to talk to the mourners. Sometimes there are too many people there and not enough time to get around to everyone. The important thing is that you came and mourners appreciate that.

Offer any help to the mourner. Perhaps you can get them a plate of food or a drink, something they may not be able to do with many people around.

Don’t ask for details about the death. The bereaved may not want to talk about the one who died;  it may be too painful for them at this time.

Talk to others who have come to pay their respects to the mourners. You may know some, but also introduce yourself to those you don’t know. It is comforting to hear from someone who knew the deceased in a different context and had a different relationship with him/her.

We all know others who have died, and if we respected or loved who they were, we will want to be of comfort to the bereaved and their family.

Sunday, September 13, 2015

May Love Be What We Remember Most

Darcie Sims, bereaved mother, was a special person to everyone who knew her. She has given so much to so many that we each have a part of her legacy within our hearts. As a grief counselor, we have her wisdom about life and death and as an author we have her words, emphasizing that she was one of us and knew our hearts. She always had wise counsel and good advice for those who grieve.

I wrote a blog last year the week after Darcie died suddenly. I listed all her accomplishments which I won’t repeat here, but if you didn’t know her, read the March 9, 2014 blog. Some of her thoughts will endure forever because of her down to earth, realistic attitude towards losing someone you love, especially a child. Below are some of the thoughts I remember most.

“We can heal from the terrible hurts of grief, but only if we allow ourselves to claim every hurt and learn to live through them, not avoid them. There are no short cuts through grief.”

“As we listen to each other, we begin to hear our own grief and we begin to build those support systems that will help us through the darkest night, in the most silent moments.”

“Learn to look for moments. You will not forget a single moment of your life. They are all stored somewhere in the recesses of your mind. But we can choose which ones come forward to support us or defeat us.”

“Few books tell us it’s normal to hang on to tiny momentoes of the past, but no one thinks it’s weird to keep the old high school yearbooks.”

“No one can tell you how to grieve or when to heal. I just want to let you know you can find hope and healing and you can find joy once again.”

“Breathe in love and find the memories and the magic of those who have loved us. Love is the magic that heals us all.”

“Each time we reach out across our own pain, to find another hand searching in the darkness, we begin to lighten our own darkness.”

“One day, if you work hard enough and allow it to happen, you will wake up and remember first that your loved one lived, not just that he died. And that is a great day!”

“I found a wonderful old box in the attic and decided to bring it back to life by dusting it off and giving it a good lick of polish. I’ve placed a pad of linen-like paper and a beautiful pen next to it and it sits on my kitchen table, in the center. I can see it every day. Now whenever I think of a blessing in my life, I write it down on one of those lovely linen sheets of paper, fold it and place it in the Blessing Box. I have found myself saying a silent thank you as I placed the paper in the box. Now you will always be reminded of the treasures in your life. These memories and blessings are yours—to treasure, to cherish, to keep, to hold, to share. May love be what you remember most…in your Blessing Box.”

Sunday, September 6, 2015

Richard Edler Words of Wisdom

I only met Richard Edler once. It was at a Regional Conference in Scottsdale, AZ, 15 years ago. For the first time since my daughter died in 1994, I listened to a man who made so much sense to me; what he said, how he acted, his humor, his whole being radiating warmth, compassion, and the caring attitude of one who wanted to help all of us who sat there listening intently, hungry for some knowledge and words that would help us move on with our lives. Clearly, those words came, and I treasured them, for not many years after that, he died suddenly, joining his son Mark, who had died 10+ years earlier.

Richard Edler was a popular and brilliant, eloquent speaker at Compassionate Friends conferences, husband to Kitty and father to Mark. Kitty is still active and a staunch supporter of The Compassionate Friends where she lives and also on the national level.

Below I have printed some of what I call Richard’s “words of wisdom,” three valuable lessons he learned going through the grief journey. Read them and see if you don’t agree and if they help you understand what you are going through.

“Life goes on and we must too. Gradually the pain eases and the warm memories replace the sadness. Gradually, we return to life. One day we find that it is 11:00 in the morning, and we have not thought about our child yet. At first we feel guilt. But then we also realize we are going forward. We will never forget. But we decide that the loss of our child will not be the all-consuming factor in our life. We choose to enjoy friends again. We choose to go out to dinner again. We choose to laugh again. I am convinced that this is what our children would want for us. The pain does not bring our child back. It only makes us miserable without end.

“Become grateful for what we have, not focused on what we have lost. I see people in our chapter meetings who have gone through every parent’s nightmare and want no part of life again. But, I ask that these compassionate friends also think about the ways they have been blessed, as well as hurt. In my experience, most people have more to be thankful for than they realize: health, other children, a loving family, a career they enjoy, financial security, life in a free country, a faith that works for them, a true best friend, a spouse who they love. Nobody has it all. But compared to most of the world, we have a lot.

“The life we now lead will be better than it would have been. That does not make our child’s death a good thing. It just means that our child’s life mattered, and it has changed us forever. It means that in some small way the world will be better because our child lived, and we are the ones who can make it so. We have a new sense of priorities. We don’t sweat the small stuff. We know what matters because we know what is irreplaceable. And we know how deeply other people hurt because we, too, have been there. We know how they feel.

“And when our life is different and better because our child lived, then that child is never forgotten. Each of us would do anything in the world to go back in time, but we can’t. It is up to us now to go forward, and we can.”

Note: Next Sunday I write about another very popular speaker's words of wisdom for bereavement groups across the country and also one who died far too young: Darcie Sims.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Class Reunion Jitters

My daughter died the same year as her 10th annual high school reunion. I had some choices to make at that time, and those choices would define my life at that time and in the future.

Marcy was looking forward to this reunion. She would be able to see friends she hadn’t kept in contact with for one reason or another. She could tell them about her successful career as the publicity director for the L.A. Music Center. She could talk about her recent wedding and how proud she was of her husband and their life together. And she could relive those exciting high school memories with those she knew. But it was not meant to be. She died two months before the reunion. I requested some mention of her be made in the reunion booklet, and so the last page in the booklet simply said “In Memory of…” and the year of her death, 1994, with a picture, nothing more. I was hurt and disappointed that there was no write-up but said nothing to the school or reunion committee. She had been in many clubs, won honors in the debate club and was either in or behind the scenes in all school plays. I would have done a short write-up, if asked, but no one did, I felt hurt that her classmates didn’t care enough to honor her life and mention some of her accomplishments.

Years later, I had my 50th high school reunion. My curiosity urged me to go and see those I had associated with so long before, but I was afraid of the inevitable question, “How many children do you have?” I knew I would stumble on the answer. Of course, all conversation would then stop . The one who asked wouldn’t know what to say after “I’m so sorry.” And I would feel awkward responding, “Thank you.” I would want to say more about her but knew it probably wasn’t appropriate since the person who asked never knew her and would be in a hurry to change the conversation. I’m sure others told stories of great sorrow and pain who did attend the 50th reunion, but perhaps it was easier for them in some way. For me, it wouldn’t have been.

So I avoided the entire scenario that I conjured up in my mind by not going to the reunion at all. During that same period of time I had received a call from the alumni group of my college sorority saying they were putting out a hard covered book of all the alumni, names, addresses, spouse names and of course, any children names and ages. When that question came up, “How many children do you have?” I paused for a short time, then answered, “None.” A few minutes after hanging up, I felt so guilty for not acknowledging my wonderful daughter, I called them back and explained why I had said that. Very calmly they said, “Not a problem, we’ll change it immediately.” So I gave them Marcy’s information, and I had this great big smile on my face when the book came out months later, and I saw it all there.

From that time forward I acknowledge everything about my daughter to anyone who will listen. We want to talk about our children and their lives, however short those lives may have been. We don’t want to forget them, and we want others to know and remember them also.

Now when asked the inevitable question, I directly respond to the person and look them straight in the eyes. “I have one daughter who died in a car accident 21 years ago. She was 27 and my only child.” And then I talk about her. I am proud of her and her accomplishments, and I want to acknowledge them and also let others know how much I loved her.