Thursday, November 29, 2012

Preparing for the Holidays

~ by Kenneth J. Doka, PhD, MDiv, Sr. Consultant to HFA; Professor of Gerontology at the College of New Rochelle in New York.

“When we are in the midst of grief, the last thing we may want to think about is the holidays. We may have little desire to participate. We may simply refuse to make plans, wishing the holidays would quickly, if not painlessly, pass.”

     The holidays are tough when we are grieving a loss. Holidays are centering moments in our lives, full of memories. We remember the Thanksgiving the oven broke down, the Hanukkah or Christmas gifts we received. It is very easy for our longing for someone we miss to become intense.
     There are other reasons the holidays can be tough. We often see reminders everywhere:  the perfect gift or a holiday card addressed to the person who died. They are stressful and busy times. This stress is difficult to bear when coping with grief. We might feel so out of step with the season. Our sadness seems magnified against the joy of others. Finally, in the midst of winter, we may feel more isolated and alone, the deepening darkness a reflection of our inner being.
     That is why it is essential to plan. We need not spend a great deal of time thinking of holiday menus or planning the perfect gift or care. I am speaking of something more important – planning how to get through the holidays.
     The danger is drift. It is easy in the stressful times of the holidays to surrender our decision making to well-meaning others, like the sister-in-law who will not take no for an answer. The result is that we find ourselves drifting into activities that are tiring, painful, or that don’t meet our needs.
    The first thing we need to do is to choose. What activities do we really want to do? What activities do we need to do?  What doesn't need to be done this year? We might decide to not send cards or host a dinner.
     As for the activities we choose, we must find the best way to do them, consistent with our own needs. For example, if we decide to give gifts, we might consider how we wish to do this. Do we simply send a check, shop from the Internet or a catalog, or shop with a friend?
     With whom do we wish to spend the holidays? Who can be present with us as we grieve? Who will understand that we may not be our usual selves?
     Sometimes it is a choice not to make a choice. Grief is often a roller-coaster experience, full of ups and downs. Grace knew that. So she decided that she would keep her options open until that very morning. She knew she would spend some time with her in-laws, but would wait until that day to see where she was on that roller coaster before committing to a particular schedule. We need to remember to remain flexible. For Tom, he decided to take his own car so he could leave when he was ready, rather than be obligated to wait for others.
     We need, too, to recognize the individuality of grief. For some of us, the holidays are difficult and stressful. There may be others of us who welcome the diversion  and find comfort in the bustle of activity. Still others of us might find ourselves torn between both feelings. It is the range of reactions that makes our grief unique.
     Once we have made our choices, we should communicate those decisions to others. Part of that communication is listening to others. That may add a third “C” to our holiday plans – compromise.
     The holidays are approaching so we need to plan. But we may want to remember this recipe:

Choose, Communicate and Compromise

Monday, November 26, 2012

When my child has died - please.......

Thank you to Paula B. from Beverly, England for sharing this - every mom whose on this journey, understands these statements all too well...

When My Child Has Died
~author is unknown but she knows she was a woman

When my child has died, please… 

  • Don’t ignore me because you are uncomfortable with the subject of death. It makes me wonder if what happened means nothing to you.
  • Acknowledge my pain, even if you think it shouldn’t be as great as it is… (because I’ve ‘only’ lost a baby or one of four!)
  • Losing a child is one of the most difficult experiences to face and the depth of my grief will shock even me as it returns in waves. A tremendous number of emotional and physical hurts will come my way – please don’t minimize them.
  • Please be aware that holidays and anniversaries will be particularly difficult times.
  • If you invite me for lunch or bring a meal around (and please do) in the midst of my grief, please expect to talk about my loss. It’s all I’m thinking about and I need to talk it out; small talk neither interests nor helps just now.
  • Please don’t change the subject if I start to cry. Tears and talking about it are the healthiest way for me to release my intense emotions.
  • Telling me that So-and-so’s situation must have been much worse won’t make mine easier. It only makes me feel you don’t understand or can’t acknowledge the extent of my pain.
  • Don’t expect that because my child is in heaven or ‘with God’ I shouldn’t be hurting. Even the most fervent believer in God would rather have their child with them. My arms ache to hold my child and I miss him or her so much. And God might not be finding favor with me right now.
  • Now is not the time to tell me about your own childbirth or child’s experiences… It reminds me in the most painful way of what I’m missing.
  • Don’t remind me that I’m so lucky to have other children. I am and I know it. But my pain is excruciating for this child; the others don’t take that pain away. Indeed, they can add to it because I’ve got to comfort them as well.
  • No matter how bad I look, please don’t say “You look terrible.” I feel like a total failure right now and I don’t need to hear that I look awful too.
  • Don’t devalue my experience or my child – the feelings of deprivation are so intense. A child who has never breathed is nonetheless missed so if I’ve ‘only’ miscarried or my child was stillborn, don’t forget he/she was a very special, unique person.
  • Please don’t suggest my child can be replaced by my having more. Would you say “Don’t worry, there are plenty more fish in the sea,” to someone who had just lost their husband?
  • When you ask my husband how I’m doing – please don’t forget to ask him how he’s doing too. He has also lost his child. If you ignore his hurt it suggests that his pain doesn’t exist or doesn’t matter.

Thursday, November 22, 2012

On this Thanksgiving

On this Thanksgiving, raise your glass and toast you child or children who are now angels, be thankful for the ways in which they touched your lives and the memories and joy they left behind.. From our families to yours, we feel your heartache, but know that you are in our prayers and we hope you will find peace this Thanksgiving and joy in the memories of your child…Cherie Houston


The thought of being thankful
fills my heart with dread.
They’ll all be feigning gladness,
not a word about her said.

These heavy shrouds of blackness
enveloping my soul,
pervasive, throat-catching,
writhe in me, and coil.

I must, I must acknowledge,
just express her name,
so all sitting at the table,
know I’m thankful that she came.

Though she’s gone from us forever
and we mourn to see her face,
not one minute of her living,
would her death ever replace.

So I stop the cheerful gathering,
though my voice quivers, quakes,
make a toast to all her living ~
That small tribute’s all it takes.

~ Genesse Bourdeau Gentry from
Stars in the Deepest – After the Death of a Child

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Memories of Thanksgiving since my child died

As we prepare for Thanksgiving, know that your feelings are normal – grief is a roller coaster journey of ups and downs and there is no right or wrong way to “behave” or grieve, so be patient with yourself and others and know that whatever you decide to do about these upcoming holidays is your choice and those who love you will hopefully understand… But know that your tremendous heartache will ease-this mother ‘s memories are a reflection of so many of our memories and I hope it will help you in some small way… Cherie Houston 

~ by Priscilla J. Norton, TCF, Pawtucket, RI

I remember –
the inability to chew or swallow that first Thanksgiving after Linda died; the choke-backed tears, the sick heart, the hollowness, the painful memories of Thanksgivings past and the blessed relief sleep brought to my pain.

I remember –
the busyness of working as a volunteer that second and third Thanksgiving after Linda died; the good feeling it gave me of “running away” from it all, and the blessed relief sleep brought to my pain.

I remember –
the inability to prepare any of her favorite foods that fourth Thanksgiving after Linda died; the tears that fell at the smell of turkey cooking, the parade, football games, the emptiness, the incomplete family, and  the blessed relief sleep brought to my pain.

I remember –
awakening with a lightness and joy in my heart that fifth Thanksgiving after Linda died; the thankfulness for having my remaining family together,  the beautiful memories of past Thanksgivings, the “wholeness” of me and the blessed relief peace brought to my pain.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Thanksgiving-My Child has died, can I ever be thankful?

This time next week it will be Thanksgiving and for many of us who've lost children, we can't imagine being "thankful"...  Almost a year after my son Bobby died and just months after I'd begun this blog and first began receiving emails from mom's and others outside of our group, I received this story about Thanksgiving - I apologize but I didn't save the name of whom sent it to me, but I want to share it with you.. 

The holidays are difficult, and for some, as hard as we try we can't seem to get back into them the way others wish we would...  but I find her comments in the last paragraph comforting and inspirational, and what I've learned since Bobby's death (also 2 months before Thanksgiving in 2009) is that I am thankful - I am thankful he was born, that he was my son, that I enjoyed him for 36 years and 23 days and that he gave me two beautiful grandsons who remind me of him every time I look at them and I'm glad that Bobby is now with his 2 angel sisters in heaven; and I'm thankful for my wonderful husband Dan, 2 incredible sons Ric & Sean & 2 great step-sons Dan Jr & Doug, 5 daughter-in-laws who I love Margaret, Jennifer, Nikki, Suzanne & Mandi, my adopted daughter Jennifer and 9 1/4 grandchildren that I've been blessed with.. Yes - I have a lot to be thankful for..


~ By Linda Moore

Dear friends...If this is your first Thanksgiving since the death of your child, I am so very sorry. There is nothing I can say here to make it better, wish I could. Everyone has to do the holiday thing in their own way...whatever might make you the most comfortable. I will share with you part of my Thanksgiving story…

For years our family had gone away for Thanksgiving. We were joined by extended family and it was always a good time. When our kids were little, we all went camping, cooked the turkey outside in a smoker. Some great memories there.

As the kids got older, and I figured out that fixing a big meal outdoors was only fun for everyone else, not the ones bringing everything for it and fixing it! Our game plan then changed and we began going to a hotel on the beach in Carlsbad. Now that was the say to go. We had a big suite, nice heated pool at the ocean’s edge and maid service!!

Then one year, Brad died two months before Thanksgiving. I could not fathom feeling Thankful. My child had died!! 

All the hotel arrangements had been made the year before. We were on automatic pilot and just went with the flow. I did insist on everyone sharing a memory with Brad and lighting a candle in his memory. When I made this request, there were probably some anxious moments…I don’t remember, nor did I care. In some ways I think it was good for us sticking with some of the traditions that Brad loved and adding new ones to honor him. Was it hard? No doubt. Should we have stayed home, gone somewhere else? No matter where we would have gone, he still would not have been there...there is no getting around that. The pain would have been with us no matter where we were.

We told Brad we loved him, writing it in huge letters in the sand. I spent quiet moments by myself, walking on the beach. I cried by myself and with others. I even laughed a couple of times as we shared silly moments of other Thanksgiving days with Brad. Most of the day I felt I was in the “twilight zone” - participating but removed.

That night, when I was by myself, I sat and wrote a letter to Brad – a letter telling him how thankful I was that he was my son, that I had him for those 17 years, 364 days...That I was thankful for every moment, great, good and not so good. I was thankful for the love we still had.

Have I ever had a “normal” Thanksgiving again?, I have rearranged things in my mind...some
things I keep to myself so others can fully enjoy the day. But I always include Brad in some way. I cannot change that he is no longer physically I have to change my world to make way for this new life of mine and make the best of it.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Special Thanks to our Soldier Children

On this special day, November 11th, intended to honor our veterans, I wanted to find just the right words of thanks for those children and for our moms who raised those beautiful children, children who choose to defend us and gave the ultimate sacrifice: their committment to defend our country, our freedom and our ability to decide what it is we believe in... So I've decided to reprint our Blog from Veterans Day 2 years ago-Nov. 11th, 2010, which does just that.

The moment those children (adults, men & women, some young, some not so young, but to a mom no matter what their age they are always our children); made the commitment to join the armed forces, their lives and their families lives changed forever.

Some, sadly, were not meant to come home alive. The how’s of why they died while in the armed forces isn’t important ~ they were soldiers and died as soldier; they were a parent’s child and died a parent’s child that is all that matters. For their sacrifice to agree to serve our country and protect our freedom, we are and will always be eternally grateful. We assure them and their parents, that they will not be forgotten – sleep peacefully our beloved soldier children and know we will be forever grateful that you were here and for all that you did ..Cherie Houston

I couldn’t find just the right words, but thought this note written in 2010 on “Independce Day” speaks volumes to our soldier children’s memories…

~ July 4, 2010 ~ Eileen Marie Hines: To All Our Soldiers and their families

I am very humbled and grateful to be able to speak out concerning so many of our children that have died for us and their country. I know many people who's names would never fit in a large book, through my life, that spoke of soldier's, men and women alike that were just your average next door neighbor that loved and believed we live in the best country in the world!

My husband and I have raised our children to respect, and honor those that are serving in any capacity for freedom and helping other folk less fortunate than our people are here in the United States.

There is something mentioned somewhere that when one human being suffers, we are all touched by their suffering. This applies as well to our fallen comrades. We are so very, very, proud of them and their families for having given the ultimate sacrifice. We also know that it was not in vain. What we don't understand now, will become clear to us later.

The Commander-in-Chief, (GOD) has them safely with HIM for the present. We will get to see them later. I'm sure the medals HE will be passing out are far more wonderful. I know several, personally that have passed on to HIM. I miss them, but they made a difference for a lot of folk. Thank you- You will never be forgotten, just like those that are serving our country now will not be forgotten.
Sincerely, Eileen Hines

Saturday, November 10, 2012

I will be there mom...

I've usually posted this poem the day before Christmas - Christmas Eve, but I know I need to be reminded of this throughout the month of December and quite honestly throughout the entire holiday season from Halloween until after New Years Day... so I want to share this with you early this year (and I'll post it again Christmas Eve), in the hopes that it will remind you also, that your child is with you - maybe not in body as we'd wish, but with us nonetheless...  I pray this helps to give you a little more strength and peace this holiday season - Lots of hugs and love.... Cherie Houston

~ by Sharon J. Bryant

Mom, tomorrow I will be there
Though you may not see
I'll smile and remember
The last Christmas, with you and me

Don't be sad mom
I'm never far away
Your heart has hidden sight
My memory will always stay

I watched as you touched the ornaments
Sometimes a tear was shed as you did
I touched you gently on your shoulder
And on tiptoes I proudly stood

I'm only gone for a little while mom
I'm waiting for the day to be
When God calls out your name mom
We'll be together, just you wait and see

But until that time comes
Carry on as you did when I was there
I tell the angels how much I love you
There are angels here everywhere!

I stand behind you some days
When I know that you are sad
I want you to be happy mom
It would make my heart so glad

So on this Christmas Eve, Mom
Think of me as I will be thinking of you
And touch that special ornament
That I once made for you

I love you mom and dad, also
I know you know I do
And I'll be waiting here for you
When your earthly life is through

Love, Your child in Heaven

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

A siblings view of the holidays...

When a child dies in a family - everyone is affected - not just immediately but forever.. Yes the ways in which we are each impacted are different, but nonetheless each persons grief and heartache are important and need to be recognized...  As the holidays approach, I thought it might help to glance inside the heart of a sister, who lost her brother - although we don't know her or her brother, her heartfelt story allows us to celebrate their family ...Happy Birthday Sean-you aren't forgotten...Cherie Houston

~ by Traci Morlock, a Bereaved Sibling - BP/USA St. Louis Chapter

The worst time of the year for me is the holidays. I guess the worst part of the holidays is the changing of the seasons.  My brother, Sean, always loved Fall. For him it was a romantic time of the year. Sean’s birthday is November 11, the height of Fall. So, the holiday season begins for me with the first leaf falling off the tree. As Sean’s birthday approaches, I find myself getting sadder and sadder. I never know how much I really miss him until I realize he’s missed another birthday. As the other holidays grow nearer, I begin to dread them more.

The first year, no one wanted to have Christmas, but we felt we needed it for my daughter. Her birthday is Christmas Eve and she turned two that year. Doing Christmas for her makes it a little easier but, at the same time makes it that much more difficult.

Sean thought we needed holidays all year long. While helping my Mom put up Christmas decorations, I look at our family picture above the piano, the last of the five of us. I told my Mom that we would never be that happy again. I know that is a sad thing to say, but I know a part of me will always be missing.

Each year I feel a numbness set in over the holidays. The numbness begins around Sean’s birthday and ends after the first of each year. Sean’s been gone almost four years (can it be that it’s been that long?)

The year of Sean’s death, my Mom didn’t know what to do with the ornaments that Sean had collected over the years. The Christmas before Sean died, my Mom purchased a miniature tree for the family room. Sean made fun of it. The next year, Mom purchased Sean his own miniature tree for the family room. Sean’s tree is filled with all of his ornaments and his used guitar strings for tinsel. Sean’s tree goes up right after Thanksgiving and doesn’t come down until after January 24th, the anniversary of his death. This tree has actually helped to make the holidays seem a little brighter. 

A part of my brother is there in that tree. I was out shopping a few weeks ago and I bought an ornament that would go perfectly on Sean’s tree. The ornament is the first one I have purchased for Sean since he died. Just buying that one ornament has actually made me look forward to the holidays.

I know the holidays will never be the same without our “Holiday Clown,” but we will make new memories, laugh and cry at the old ones, and just survive this time of year. I wish you a peaceful holiday season filled with precious moments and happy memories. I also hope that you can share a smile.  Peace, Traci Morlock   

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Some Suggestions for Thanksgiving (and other holidays)

~ By Diane Zarnkoff, TCF, Simi Valley, CA

Throughout our lives, expectations of things to come are based upon past experiences. If, in the past, you had set a glorious table and were the perfect host or hostess, it is very possible that friends and family will expect more of the same this year. They may not be aware that you are not looking toward the holidays with a fun and games attitude. They probably do not know that in anticipation of  Thanksgiving, Christmas and Hanukkah, you may feel anxiety and fear.

They are probably thinking this year will be different and some sadness will accompany it, but I don’t think they are aware of your anguish, especially if it’s been “awhile.”

I would like to suggest to you that in fairness to yourself you need to be honest about your feelings and, just as important, you need to communicate these feelings to those around you. I really don’t think it is necessary for you to believe that because you set a tradition and always made the turkey, fried the latkes, and always had the family over, you need to feel obligated to do it again this year.

Perhaps you would like (and need) to tell everyone:
  • Someone else will have to do dinner this year.
  • You want to make dinner in your home, but you need lots of help because you don’t have the energy to do it.
  • You want to go to the parties, but you are afraid you may break down and cry or want to leave in a hurry and you want them to know in advance this is really okay.
  • You want to tell them it’s okay to talk about your child. Not to, makes it very uncomfortable.

 The list goes on, but the point is that to pretend everything is “just fine” is a lie and that’s not fair to you or to the people who you love.