Sunday, November 16, 2014

Getting Through the Holidays

When the holidays are near and festivities and social gatherings prominent, we may feel the loss of our loved ones more at this time of the year than any other. We wonder how to get through these special times since we are filled with reminders of what we no longer have. Below I have listed some books that may be of help and support to you that are specifically about surviving the holidays.

When the Holidays Hurt: Practical Ideas and Inspiration for Healing by Nan Zastrow
The death of someone loved may be the reason associated with the lonesomeness and pain. Life and holidays, as you once knew them, have changed. In this collection of articles and essays, Nan writes about managing the traditions, transforming the holiday and allowing family to move forward. Available through

Open to Hope: Inspirational Stories for Handling the Holidays After Loss by Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley and Open to Hope contributors
There is plenty of practical advice and encouragement from the stories and articles covering rethinking holiday traditions, gathering at Thanksgiving, finding your way back to Christmas and embracing the New Year with hope. Articles are written by bereaved people representing different relationships and causes of death. Even if the article is not about a child loss, the ideas may be helpful to your situation.

Thoughts for the Holidays: Finding Permission to Grieve by Doug Manning
This booklet begins with thoughts for the holidays, the waves of grief, the holiday dilemma, permission to do what you can do, permission to change traditions, and permission to find safe people. Available through

How to Survive the Holidays When Someone You Love Has Died by Susan L. Fuller
This short Kindle e-book notes that as tempting as it may be to pull the covers up over your head and just wait for the holidays to be over, there is no way of truly avoiding this time of year. With a little bit of planning, it is possible to navigate your way through without totally falling apart, whether you decide to do things completely differently, exactly the same or something in-between.

Not Just Another Day by Missy Lowery
This book covers the more common holidays and gives good ideas for including children in celebrating birthdays and Christmas. Includes a list of things to do to take care of yourself for a month. Available through

A Decembered Grief: Living with Loss while Others Are Celebrating by Harold Ivan Smith
The author coaches you on how to alter traditions instead of abandoning them, appreciate the grief styles of others and befriend your grief instead of dreading it. Topic headings include suggestions like Journal Your Grief, Create Ornaments, and something simple as a Nap! The encouragement to continue on is clearly and gently given.

Helping the Bereaved Celebrate the Holidays by James Miller
A step-by-step guide to designing what you’ll do, the time of gathering, poems, leaser and people responses, and many other general guidelines. Available through

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Active Minds

The suicide rate rose 2% last year and is the 2nd leading cause of death in college students in America. But thanks to an organization started by Alison Malmon at the University of Pennsylvania called Active Minds, this organization fights the stigma of mental illness on college campuses.

On the campuses each year 1,100 back packs are placed on a large section of lawn. They are placed there to lure passersby. Each back pack represents a student who took his life and each one has a story to tell. Active Minds has over 400 chapters across the nation that do this each year on campuses.

One student said, “The back packs are symbolic of what you carry around in life.”

No one wants to talk about it which is part of the problem, according to Alison. Her brother, Brian, committed suicide his senior year in college. He was mentally ill and, although he was able to conceal it, according to Alison, he thought there was no one else who had his problems and nowhere to turn.

On the campuses, Active Mind members meet weekly or biweekly to plan events to raise awareness and issues of mental health and available resources that promote an open dialogue around the issues and serve as a liaison between students and the mental health community. Common events include: Mental Health Awareness Week, campaigns, panel discussions, movie screenings, Stomp Out Stigma runs and stress relief activities during final exams. Counseling centers usually have all the information a student would need.

Alison believes the high-stress environment of college life makes students especially vulnerable to developing problems. Her goal is to bring public awareness to this serious problem. She wants others to know that help is always available. She is certain that by doing this, the organization is saving lives. She hopes more and more people will ask for help through this organization. Visit  for additional information.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Will I Forget My Child?

Will I forget my child after so long? The answer is “No, you will never forget.” Others may stop talking about your child, but there are ways to make sure she is not forgotten by you or your friends and family. Talk about your child. Tell a story about him/her. Ask the friend or relative if they remember that incident or any other you might enjoy hearing from them. Don’t let them pretend your child never existed or, worse, that you don’t want anyone to talk about them because it hurts so badly.

Not a day passes that I don’t think about my child and all that she is missing…all that I am missing. I try to keep written accounts of memorable events as they come to mind, because even those may fade after a while, and if I can look back and remember my precious child with love, it is a gift. Parents can also post memories on and share your child with others who care.

It has only been the last 20 or so years that people started talking about death…particularly the death of a child. Before then, it was swept under the table and everyone, including parents, pretended it never happened. It was a taboo subject, and no books were written about how to cope. “The Bereaved Parent” by Harriet Schiff brought death to the fore-front in a realistic, helpful way for all to understand. From there, parents started pouring their hearts out in personal books so others could benefit from their experiences, which were then confirmed by grief counselors and psychologists, who also wrote books. Today there are hundreds of books, some personal, some informational. Both of the books I wrote are personal and informational.

There are many ways to pay tribute to the life and legacy, the memory and love for those who have died? Common ones include: a beautiful headstones in the cemetery, a personal website or even a site for all who knew her to share, memorial service, scholarships and anniversary celebrations.

Other ways are memorial jewelry (I have a necklace with my daughter’s picture embossed on the gold), setting up a foundation so others may benefit (I have done this also), memorial bricks in well-known buildings (I have many), tree planting (my former school has planted a tree with a plaque in her memory), DVD of pictures with music (I have this), service projects done in her memory, balloon or butterfly or dove release, articles of clothing or sleepwear made from clothing that belonged to her, jewelry and clothing of hers distributed to friends and those in need, and collages of photos of the child during his/her lifetime.

There are many, many more and if you’d like to tell me about something you’ve done that has been helpful to you, send me an email and I’d be happy to print them in an upcoming column.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

The Heroes of Sandy Hook

The 26th and final playground honoring the children and teachers who lost their lives at Sandy Hook Elementary School almost two years ago opened recently.

This last playground, dedicated to Principal Dawn Lafferty Hochsprung of Sandy Hook, was the fulfillment of a movement started by retired firefighter Bill Lavin, who had the idea to build playgrounds for each of the 26 victims of the shooting in Newton, Connecticut, and do them in towns that were hit hard by Hurricane Sandy two months earlier.

“I think what the families love most is it celebrates who these children were and who the teachers were,” said Lavin. “It doesn’t talk about how they left us nor about the day of the shooting.”

Parents from all over the country volunteered to work for free to build the playgrounds. Everything was donated. Moms and Dads worked dawn to dusk to get it done. The playgrounds were a symbol of their children’s lives. It was important to them their child be remembered in this way. “Our angels are looking down on us and are happy with what was done; it’s beautiful,” said one parent.

Lavin said the heroes of this project are the moms and dads and wives and husbands of Sandy Hook who, while suffering the worst tragedy imaginable, had the courage, strength and generosity of spirit to give to others. When you think of heroes, think of people who, while hurting themselves, pay it forward.

I have personally found doing something worthwhile like this after your child dies gives you some peace and helps you move on with your life, knowing your child will never be forgotten. It is comforting beyond belief, and I can empathize and know what these parents feel and are going through and how proud they are knowing they did something so worthwhile for others to enjoy.

The foundation, Where Angels Play, which was started by Lavin, says they plan to build more where there were other tragedies such as Boston, Colorado, and Oklahoma and bring some joy to other families and communities who need it.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Finding Hope Once Again

It is now October, the Autumn of the year. Children have gone back to school, leaves change colors, animals begin to hibernate, and the amount of daylight decreases until December 21, the shortest day of the year. By Halloween the air becomes nippy.

Those of us who are bereaved watch the seasons change each year, but don’t know how to make the pain go away. We have lost a precious part of ourselves that we would like to have back. But deep down we know that will never happen…so we go on each day, each month, each season, and try to do our best to move on with our lives without our children.

We try to find a new interest, a new cause, a new purpose. We are different. We try not to get stuck in our grief and overwhelmed with pain. We don’t want to live this way, nor, I can guess, do our children want us to. We must accept that our lives have changed.

Change can be difficult but is necessary for us to survive. We must learn to live again, love again, feel joy and peace or our survival will be without value to ourselves or others.

I want to honor my child’s life and her memory by empowering others with courage to continue living life with a sense of grace, dignity, integrity and meaning day after day.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

Manifestations of Grief

For the newly bereaved, there are normal manifestations of grief. Here are some of the ones you may come across:

**Lump in throat, tightness in your chest, palpitations. There is probably nothing wrong with you, except for the fact you lost the most precious thing in your life, so don’t run to the doctor unless a symptom persists or gets worse.

**Difficulty with remembering things. Your mind is full of your loss and it is normal to forget. Don’t even consider that you are getting alzheimers. As time passes and you begin to accept your loss, your memory loss problems will begin to disappear. If you feel you need to see a counselor, don’t hesitate.

**Crying at unanticipated times. Suddenly, a fond memory of your child will come to you and you find it difficult to control your emotions. Crying is a very natural emotion that cleanses, and you will feel better after a good cry.

**Having feelings of guilt and remorse. Depending on how your child died, you may feel guilty about a fight you had the day before, or that you never got to do all the things you wanted to do with them. Just remember, whether you had your child for a short or long time, you were fortunate to be able to do many wonderful things that you will always remember.

**Feeling that life no longer holds any meaning. Of course it does. Honor your loved one by doing something in their memory. Start a scholarship or foundation, set up charity runs and/or give to good causes. You will see how good it will make you feel to know your child will not be forgotten.

**Playing the “if only” game. If your child was sick and you did not take them to the doctor, or if you let them drive the family car and they got in an accident—stop there. You can “if only” yourself to death and it does not do anyone any good. What has happened can’t be undone, so move on and stop blaming yourself. If you could have saved your child, you would have.

**Longing to return to the way life used to be. Nothing will ever be the same again for you, so you must create a new life, with new goals, new priorities and probably new friends. You have changed and it is possible that some of your old friends don’t want to be around you anymore. Seek out those who understand what has happened to you by attending bereavement group meetings and meeting new people.

Additional manifestations include: loss of appetite, nausea, diarrhea, lump in your throat, anger at God, inability to sleep or concentrate, inability to complete normal tasks or read a book and anger at the loved one dying.

If you find yourself falling into any one of these categories, know that the grief journey is a lifetime experience and you will feel better with time. Take it slow, and time will be a great healer for you.

Sunday, October 5, 2014

More Grief Quotes, Sayings and Words of Wisdom

Some time ago I wrote a blog listing some of my favorite grief quotes. Now, years later, I have found many other quotes, sayings and words of wisdom from the famous to the ordinary every day person who has something to say. Some of these will tug at your heart strings no matter where you are in your grief journey. Here they are:

“Time does not really heal a broken heart; it only teaches a person how to live with it.” –Arnold L. Sheppard Jr.

“There’s no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.” –Dwight D. Eisenhower

“It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens, but it’s never gone.” –Rose Kennedy

“Oh heart, if one should say to you that the soul perishes like the body, answer that the flower withers, but the seed remains.” –Khalil Gibran

“In time of sorrow, everyone deals with feelings in unique ways. Try not to hurt if those closest to your heart seem to grieve less or behave strangely. We cannot always see on the outside how someone mourns on the inside.” –Sascha

“The tragedy of life is not death but what we let die inside of us while we live.” --Norman Cousins

“We will never be the same as we were before this loss, but are ever so much better for having something so great to lose.”—found on Cherrylane

In the 1920’s Ernest Hemingway’s colleagues bet him that he couldn’t write a sad story in just six words: “For sale: Baby shoes. Never worn.”—E. Hemingway

“You never know how STRONG you are until being STRONG is the only choice you have.”—anonymous

“Grief is a solitary journey. No one but you knows the gaping hole left in your life when someone you know has died. And no one buy you can mourn the silence that was once filled with laughter and song. It is the nature of love and of death to touch every person in a totally unique way. Comfort comes from knowing that people have made the same journey. And solace comes from understanding how others have learned to sing again.”-- Helen Steiner Rice

“Friends are angels who lift us to our feet when our wings have trouble remembering how to fly.”--- from TCF Taylors, SC Newsletter

“It is a curious thing in human experience, but to live through a period of stress and sorrow with another person creates a bond which nothing seems able to break.” –Eleanor Roosevelt