Monday, March 9, 2015

My Twelve Steps to Tackle My Grief

     Several people have suggested to me that I write a book, a memoir, about my personal experience with tragedy and grief.  I am not sure if I am ready to do that.
     I believe I have moved forward some in my grief.  I suppose I question if I have moved forward far enough to write my whole story.  Somehow, it seems like going back in time--- back to an extremely painful time by reliving and re-examining all the details stored in my heart and mind.  I would have to re-visit, in depth, all these memories of my darkest days.  Maybe it is best to leave the memories of pain, numbness and paralysis stored in the Pandora's Box of my inner being.
     I often think, too, I may not have that much to say.  To paraphrase Dr. Phil McGraw, "Life's problems are complicated.  The solutions are not."  Below are my own personal Twelve Steps I went through and continue to address my grief.

                                                      Twelve Steps to Tackle Grief

          1)  Early on, somehow I realized in the depths of my depression, I had to go on with life or let grief destroy me.  I chose to live rather than cause myself or those around me more pain.
          2)  I sought spiritual guidance from my pastor.
          3)  I prayed and prayed and did not sustain my anger against God.
          4)  I joined a pastoral care bereavement support group at a local church.
          5)  I sought individual counseling for grief therapy.
          6)  I wrote and wrote in copious journals about my memories, versions of events, my feelings and I began to design and make jewelry.
          7)  I pray for those involved in my son's death and try to forgive them.
          8)  I memorialized my son and husband's lives in my children's books which I dedicated to them.
          9)  I refused to isolate myself and accepted well meaning invitations to get out and about.
        10)  I returned to work so I would have another focus besides myself.
        11)  I reached out to help other parents through writing this blog, my web, bio and publicity.
        12)  I give myself permission to go to a dark place and grieve and climb out the next day.

     It doesn't seem so involved or complicated.  Was it easy to do these things? No.  Was it a straight line forward?  No, life always has one or two steps forward and then a couple backward.  I had to re-trace my steps sometimes.  Did I get frustrated and angry somedays?  Yes, but  I gave myself permission to go to a dark place somedays with the intention of coming out of it the next day.
     My grief journey reminds me of the words of my late husband's cousin.  He was a fighter pilot in the Navy.  He would say, "Don't look back.  Someone could be gaining on you."  That "someone" could be "life" and it can pass us by in the time we have left.
     A child's death can often signal to us as parents the end of our lives.  Years can be spent waiting to die.  Is there life for us after the deaths of our children?  I believe there is and I believe it is a choice for us as parents.  We can take steps to re-kindle a life for ourselves and our families.


Monday, February 16, 2015

Getting Through Tough Times

     I discovered during my recent surgery and continued recovery that grief is not something I could go alone.  I had some misgivings preoperatively as to how I would ever get through surgery without my husband, Fred and my son, Chris.  I was feeling very alone.  How could I be strong with no one really special there for me.  Now I admit, family is not always the support we think, but we like to believe they will be.  But, times of stress are when I miss Fred and Chris the most.
     I prayed for them to be with me.  To watch over me, to protect me, to give me strength and courage and to guide my doctors and nurses.  And they came through for me.  The surgery went well. I was able to stay in the hospital. I had the most wonderful nurses and the surgeons did an excellent job. Still, I did have pangs of emptiness where I missed Chris and Fred.  I just wanted them to be there in the flesh for me.  Something, I am sure, you can relate to.... not having a special person there.
     How to fill the void?  I remember very early on in my loss, (Fred and Chris died within six weeks of each other) I was determined that I wouldn't be an angry bitter person who pushed away the very people who could support me.  Having to walk my dear little dog, Amber, got me up and dressed each day so that was a start.  From there, even though I had to put on a brave face, I went to see friends and family.  I went out with whoever offered to take me anywhere.  Nothing big with large numbers of people.  Just lunch and dinners and very small gatherings.  Many times I felt like Mary Lincoln.  As if everyone was staring at me and waiting for me to completely lose it.  But, I had made the decision not to let these losses destroy me.  It was hard, but people admire courage and rally round. Every part of my being screamed isolation, but I fought it.
     Anyway, this strategy came through for me in my recent troubles.  I could compensate because I have a wonderful network of good friends and neighbors and some extended family. One friend stayed with me the day of surgery and another when I first got home.  Others visited me, drove me and shopped and cooked for me.  They are all truly blessings in my life.
     Today, I am grateful I didn't let my relationships die with my son and husband's deaths.  I was fortunate I had a few people I felt I could talk to.  Friends who did not judge, who did not sermonize,  and who didn't put me on a timetable to be over my grief.  They didn't give up on me so I didn't give up on myself.  I fought staying forever in my son's room, my bedroom and my house.  I learned it's peoples' hearts and intentions that matter more than what they might say.
     Grief is a time for needing people more than ever.  A time to grab onto a hand when one is extended.

Monday, December 22, 2014

Holiday Time

     Greetings to one and all during this holiday season.  I wish you Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah and Joyous Kwanza.  This is a difficult time for me and you.  We must celebrate however feels best in our hearts.  We cannot force ourselves to be merry if we are not.  Or to be social if we long for solitude.  Even when there are other children to make a holiday for, ask for help for those things you simply feel you cannot do.  I find it helpful to do something-- a little gift for my son or in memory of my son-- to bring him into the celebration in some way.  This helps me to celebrate as well. 

     Saying a prayer, making a toast or serving a favorite dish of your lost child can help also.  If you celebrate his or her life, it makes for less guilt if you want to celebrate your holiday. I find it so for myself.  Again, it is not an easy time.  If you do not want to celebrate or are not ready to be with people, that is okay too.  There will always be holidays in the coming years.  Do whatever you can and what is best for you.  Tell friends and family of your intentions calmly and firmly. Do not be drawn into long discussions and explanations.

     So sorry you have not heard form me in a while.  As I have mentioned in previous blogs, I have not been well.  I will have to have surgery in early January.  You may not hear from me for several weeks after that.  I ask for your prayers and positive energy for a good outcome to my surgery and a speedy recovery.

     May you find some peace over the holidays and in the upcoming weeks.


Thursday, September 25, 2014

A Secret Life

     I often think I live two lives-- a public "I have everything together" life and then my private life with my secret pain.  I put on a brave front.  I smile and laugh, but little does anyone know the pain of the loss of my child that is always within me.  I often feel my smile doesn't reach my eyes and heart.  I wonder how people don't notice.

     This phenomenon became clear just a few days ago.  The 15th anniversary of my son, Chris', death was September 24th.  I spent a quiet day at home since I did not feel the energy to go out.  I wanted to crawl in bed and pull the covers over my head for the day.  Instead, I prayed. I watched re-runs of old TV series, did laundry and packed for a weekend writing retreat at the Jersey shore.   It seemed a good way to pass the day as I could distract myself without taxing myself.

     I also sent out an email to my closest family and friends reminding them of the anniversary of Chris' passing.  Clearly, I was reaching out for support and to validate my pain.  It was gratifying to get responses back from almost everyone telling of their support, love, prayers and memories.  Perhaps I should do this more often and bring my pain out of the shadows.  But would this make friends and family uncomfortable and push them away?  Or worse, would it prompt them to tell me not to dwell on the loss of my child and get interested in other activities to distract myself.  How many times have you heard this?

     This does bring up the issue of how to walk the fine line between being overly "needy" or overly "brave. This is hard.  I often find when I tell someone how I am feeling they start going through a checklist of their own problems and needs.  It's discouraging.  I wind up listening to them rather than getting support for myself.  A brave front again.  I feel my head will burst like a damn and all this pain will come pouring out.  Everyone will ask, "What happened?" as they see my life fracture before them.

     I suppose the point is to not let my frustration build up to this.  I may need to avoid those individuals too needy to be of any support if they have no other redeeming features.  Sometimes I have to take a step back and consider their love and affection for me in the balance.  Of course, I have others who are better listeners and are able to give support.  They are the ones I should go to when I need to reveal the secret pain in my heart.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Riots vs. Justice

     I am very angry and upset by recent riots, looting and stealing in the face of what demonstrators, (many not even from the mid-western community), believe was a young man unjustly shot by a policeman.  I am angry because, perhaps, like many of you, my son's killing was never solved.  I further believe that there was police and medical examiner misconduct involved.  This is something that has greatly interfered with my healing and produced much inner turmoil.

     I certainly haven't gone out and burned and looted the town where he was shot, not that I wouldn't like to.  I became even more upset when I looked up some statistics.  Every year in the U.S. around 6000 (SIX THOUSAND) murders become cold cases.  Someone who is somebody's minor or adult child was killed and justice, in effect, was denied.

     Six thousand victims of murder who got no justice, no demonstrators, no riots, no national media attention, no national organization or national political attention and certainly no organizations to pay for high priced lawyers and forensic experts.   In Ferguson, Missouri outside demonstrators admit they have no jobs.  Yet, they have flown in from New York and California and need housing and food once they arrive in Missouri.  I wonder who is paying their expenses.

      I express my sympathy to the parents and loved ones of the young man who was shot.  They should be allowed to grieve in peace.  But outsiders have descended upon their town and the lawyers and the media have gotten carried away further inflaming the situation.

     The demonstrators have expressed:  No Justice  No Peace.  How much more rioting, looting, burning, rock and molotov cocktail throwing will there be if the police officer is exonerated?  Have we become a nation of anarchy?  I would have liked some individuals fired for how they handled my son's investigation and the mayor of the nearby town criminally charged for his undue, corrupt influence over the police and medical examiner and obstructing a police investigation.  Of course, this didn't happen.

     What if each of these 6000 victims' families decided to start a riot to express their dissatisfaction with the failure of police to solve their loved ones' cases.  Imagine how fast they would be arrested without political advocacy and financed demonstrators and experts. When I went to talk to police about what happened to my son, I disagreed vehemently with their findings.  There was no transparency that I could see.

     I had to pay for a private investigation into my son's death which did not agree with the police investigation.  The private investigator, a retired FBI agent, told me I could spend all my time, energy, and resources to convict my son's killer.  He was of the opinion since evidence was tampered with and missing and the chief witness was lying and well connected politically, I would never be successful.  I had no money to pay for internationally known forensic experts to do further investigations.

     I believe my son's murder will be solved one day because someone out there knows something.   He or she will eventually talk out of guilt or to get themselves off in another crime.  My son was a victim, but I have refused to become another victim.   I pray everyday for truth and justice for Chris.  I have tried to go on with my life and honor Chris' memory and life with my children's books.  I dedicated the first one to Chris and he is in both books.

     The point I am making is the criminal justice system fails to serve far too many of us.  No matter our discontent or despair, we did not break the law or sew the seeds for others to do so.  We haven't gotten national attention or political advocacy and intervention even though our children are no less deserving.  Their deaths were just as heart wrenching.

      I believe God sees everything.  I would not want to be any one of those persons involved in my son's death and subsequent cover-up and then face God on judgement day.  Some six thousand killers a year face the same fate.  Divine justice shall be their retribution.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

A Glimmer of a Whisper

     I am convinced within me and you is a tiny glimmer of life or light no matter how bad we feel.  One of my favorite sayings is, The Voice of Life is soft, so we must listen hard."  I could not find the author, yet is very appropriate to you and me--- we who have been surrounded with death and the loss of our children.

     But if you and I are to journey through grief,  we must search for that whisper of a voice or glimmer of a spark of life within us.  Maybe you are feeling dead or numb inside, but if you are reading this, a spark has glimmered within in you or a whisper has spoken to you no matter how briefly.  Perhaps it is the voice of my child or your child trying to speak to me and you to give us courage to go on.  To go on with life and in so doing honor him or her.

     Of course, you and I wish our lives were different.  One thing I have learned, so far on my grief journey, is you cannot reverse life's events.  I know I can only live presently with who or what I still have.  I am trying to move forward with a different life with writing and traveling and being with extended family and friends.

     Will my life or yours ever be the same as before?  No.  Can life again be meaningful and positive?  Yes.  Will there always be pangs of wanting the old life with our children and doubts filled with what if's and if only's?  Yes.  Then this is is the time to search for that whisper or spark of your child's spirit and go on.   Ask him or her to help you.  

Monday, July 28, 2014

Your Dog Grieves with You

     Recently, social media pictured a German Shepherd canine officer placing his paw on the casket of his human policeman partner at the partner's funeral.  I have read dogs can smell and interpret life and death instinctively.  Wanting to know where you have been and what you were doing is supposedly why they sniff you all over when you return home.  By sniffing they find out what went on with you while you were out.

     Also, it is apparent dogs can be tuned into your emotions.  So it would seem when you are sad and grieve, your dog picks up on it.  Dogs, too, surely miss the family member who has died and grieve in their own way.  I would say this is especially true in the death of a child who they have always protected.

     In my own case, my dog, Amber, grieved for the loss of my son, Chris.  Amber always slept with me on the bottom left hand corner of the bed where she could see the neighborhood  through three windows.  After Chris died, she moved to the bottom right hand corner of the bed where she could see the top of the stairs and Chris' bedroom door.  She seemed to be waiting for him to re-appear.  How much you and I pine for our children to return.  And so Amber seemed to be pining.

     One night, a good friend of Chris' visited me.  After he was gone, Amber laid down on the edge of the family room carpet where she could see the front door.  I believe she felt if Chris' friend appeared, he would not be far behind.  She apparently remembered this friend being with Chris.

     Amber made a big, happy yawn when Chris or Chris and I together would give her attention.  After Chris died, she never did this again.  It was if her life was forever changed as was mine.  I believe if you have a dog you have a creature who understands loss.  You can grieve together and get through the tremendous change together.  Hold onto and love your dog.  I know from experience, it can help you both.

     As a final comment, I would say watch your dog carefully as there are those people who believe dogs can see spirits of the deceased.  Like children, they supposedly can see spirits because they have no human adult inhibitions. I remember one time, Amber was standing on Chris' bed and I was sitting on the floor.  There was a rocking chair beside the bed.  Amber's gaze was fixed on the rocker and she was wagging her tail.  I was convinced she could see the spirit of Chris sitting in the chair.  I could not, but there were other similar incidents.

     I took comfort in knowing, through Amber,  Chris was visiting and had not forgotten us.