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.  

Friday, July 11, 2014

Touching Your Spirit

     It is good to cry, tap into your pain and pray in solitude to hear the Father's voice.  I did this a few days ago.  My prayer was, "Father, speak to me in the darkness."  You can only stuff down your pain for so long before you have to acknowledge it, face it, and try to walk through it.  Not to end it because that will not happen, but to dull it and learn to walk along beside it.

     For me to do this, I have to take a spiritual approach.  Recently, I visited Fatima, Portugal.  Fatima is where Catholics believe the Blessed Mother Mary appeared to three peasant children around the time of World War I.  Miracles of cures and healing have been attributed to Mary at Fatima so people visit there for all types of healing.

     I went there to place my needs and intentions in Mary's hands.  I found it such a place of peace, that one day I broke down and cried and could not stop.  I needed to talk to the priest who accompanied our group on our tour.  I realized how much I missed my son, Chris, and husband, Fred.  Like I said, you can dull the pain, but not eliminate it entirely.  Father recommended I read the books of Joyce Rupp, a Catholic nun, who writes inspirational books on pain, loss and darkness in one's life.

     In Rupp's book, Praying Our Goodbyes, I read the chapter on the loss of a child.  Very moving.  Her words cover a lot of emotion with great understanding and very succinctly unlike a lot of other books.  I was able to read it in a short time and get something out of it.  I was moved to tears by the words of her prayer:  "He (she) can never be replaced.  We search for inner peace, and strain for the acceptance of this reality.... We hurt with the heartache of our loss.  Help us to believe the sorrow will lessen as the days go on..."

     You may feel too angry at God to pray.  I understand this.  I, too at times, have felt anger.  And I have felt too tired, too distraught and too hopeless to pray.  I have found when I tell God how I feel and have a frank discussion with Him, I can move past the emotion to prayer.

     I will pray and hope you find your way to touching some spiritual comfort.  Even if you only say, "God, take this pain away," or "God, help me get through this."  That is enough of a prayer.  Even if you have never prayed, you can pray now with just one sentence telling God what you need.

     My prayer for you is "May you find some comfort today."

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Thoughts on Father's Day

     I want to take a moment on Father's Day  to acknowledge all fathers who have lost children.  Society has so many mythical preconceptions or expectations, especially surrounding grief.  Fathers are expected to be strong, stoic and supportive in the face of tragedy-- there for your kids, spouse and parents.  A very tall order.  Is it even possible?

     What of your own personal feelings and needs when you lose a child?   Someone needs to be there for any parent-- mother or father-- when a child dies.  I am not sure that always happens for fathers.  I am not sure how well many men are able to talk about their feelings or express vulnerabilities in the face of grief.  I think there is tremendous societal pressure to support the mother, but not as much for you, the father.

     I read recently that women cope better after the death of a spouse than do men.  Can the same be true for fathers?  If that is so, perhaps, men have been done a disservice or even overlooked in the grieving process.  Men see themselves as protectors.  If a child dies, do fathers see themselves as having failed to protect that child?  That might seem to be the case.  As I have said in previous blogs, regardless of the circumstances of your child's death, you are powerless to control most things.  You are also human, and as such, you have your limits and imperfections.   It is always there to blame yourself for misjudging a situation or having made a mistake.  You think you  have failed your child who lost his or her life.

     I believe your child is at peace and bathed in love and any mistakes or misjudgments are of no matter to him or her.  Of course, you would rather have your son or daughter with you, but it cannot be.  Acceptance of what has happened is key.  Acceptance takes a long time and your own time when you may feel numb, lost, bereft, hopeless, guilty, angry.  As a first step, I encourage you to acknowledge your own feelings and express them and share them with someone.  Either your spouse, clergyman, therapist.  It is not a sign of weakness to do so, but one of strength in trying to make it through this journey and playing the curved ball you have been dealt.

     You can take many routes.  You can give up.  You can resort to drugs, alcohol, sex, work or fighting with your spouse.  You can try to go it alone.   Or you can shed any stereotypes, and decide to get through your grief by accepting yourself and reaching out for help.  Is it harder for a man to do this than a woman?  I think so.  But if you want to move forward, you have to be introspective and ask yourself how you can get through this loss and who can help you.

     You have the choice not to get through the loss of your child.  It is a pivotal moment and decision.  It is a long journey in which things can improve and in which it is possible to feel emotion again.  But, you have to be willing to embark on that journey.   Will all go forward smoothly?  No.  There will always be steps ahead and steps backward.  Gradually though the pain will soften and you will be able to enter life again.   The one thing it is not possible to do is to hold tightly onto your pain and experience living again.

     Readiness is key.  Take stock of your situation. Ask yourself do you want to improve things or let the death of your child destroy you.  I can't answer this for you, but only for myself.  Maybe you feel you have no reason to live.  I did for a while.  Then I realized all the people who were counting on me to pull through, so I got help.

     God speed you on your journey.

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Another School Shooting

     Today in the U.S. we had the 74th school shooting since Newtown, CT in November 2012.  It occurred in Portland, OR.  The shooter died of apparent self-inflicted wounds, another student was killed and a teacher wounded.  What can we as parents do to prevent such tragedies from happening over and over?

     I think we have reached the point where two things must be done.  First, metal detectors need to be put in all senior high schools throughout the country.  There should be only one school door where it is possible to enter the building.  All students, parents and other visitors must enter through this door and pass through the detector to  enter the building.  When students are entering the building in the morning before school, an armed police officer should be present in the event any weapons are found.  All students must show a student ID to enter as well as parents and visitors having a photo ID to enter.

     Second, it is apparent the there must be on site community mental health services in the middle and senior high schools.  Troubled kids must be identified and interventions done.  There needs to be parent conferences with parents of those students identified as at risk for any reason.  A mental health evaluation and treatment must be made mandatory for any troubled student to continue to attend school.    Often, it is the school who identifies troubled kids before the parents intervene.  So schools need to help get kids into treatment.  Then other times, the parents are crying for help and can't get it.  If services are available at the school, the school can act as a support for parents and students.

     I think it is fair to say we have reached crisis proportions with these school shootings.  The time is past due for no action.  Where necessary, legislation may have to be changed for the greater good and protection of society.  I base my opinions on my 24 years experience as a school nurse in one of the largest urban school districts in the U.S.  Twenty-three years were spent in high risk senior high schools where there were metal detectors.  Students bringing weapons and drugs to school were suspended or expelled and arrested on the spot.  This prevented in school shootings and stabbbings.

     Haven't we as parents had enough terror and heartache with school violence and the loss of life?  It effects all school age children and their parents with unbelievable fear and trauma.  It must stop. I implore anyone reading this to demand change from their school boards and legislators.  This is a call to action and change.  

Monday, May 26, 2014

Honoring Our Military Vetarans

     Today I want to take a moment to acknowledge those parents whose sons and daughters made the ultimate sacrifice in giving their lives in military service to the USA.  May God give you strength and  support to weather your difficult storm.  Please know that we appreciate your children's service and have not forgotten you or your children on this Memorial Day.  I believe it takes special and brave people to serve our country and special families who love, sacrifice and support. God bless you and keep you.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Meeting Challenging Times

     As you read this, you may be wondering how you will survive the death of your child or how you have managed to survive so far.  Difficult questions to answer.  I suppose they have come to my mind as a week ago was what would have been my 41st wedding anniversary.  My husband, Fred, died in 1999 six weeks after our son, Chris, died.  I suppose I am feeling particularly vulnerable because I have been unwell for two months with mild Gullain Barre Syndrome.  Now I am in terrible pain from an old cervical fusion and cervical disc degeneration.

     With my inactivity and pain, my mind has been working over-time.  I have been wondering how I survived so far and if there is comfort or wisdom in my survival for anyone else.  How have I come to be able to write this blog and two children's books and starting a third?

     First I believe my faith in God and devotion to the Blessed Mother brought me through the worst of times.  I still rely on them both with daily prayer and regular church attendance. (If going to church makes you cry, go with someone to a different church or watch a church service on TV instead.)

     Next I made two decisions:  1) Not to let these tragedies destroy me, but to go on with my life;  2) Not to become a bitter, angry person who would push away the very people who could love and support me.  I think both these realizations brought me through my darkest days. My survival became a matter of choice.  Of course, friends, family and neighbors stood by me.  There is no way I could have gone on without them.  I can never repay them.  All I could do was not to give up on myself as they were not giving up on me.

     I also wrote and wrote.  I started with a letter to my son which I buried at his gravesite.  Then, I wrote and wrote and wrote my feelings, my memories, my thoughts which filled several large notebooks. This got all my emotions, worries and frustrations out.  I went out with friends and family when invited as I did not think isolation would be good. I retired from work when a favorable package was made available and took a religious tour to Italy with my church.  I returned to work part-time six months later as I missed it.

     I began to make jewelry and penned two children's books, the first dedicated to my son and the second to my husband.  It gave me great peace to memorialize them both.  For me, doing something creative was very healing.  I also went for counseling and to a support group run by a nun trained in pastoral care.  Was any of this easy?  No, but I felt it all necessary to move through my pain.

     Besides my faith, the one constant in my life was my dog, Amber, who I had gotten for Chris on his thirteenth birthday.  She was always there with love, devotion, companionship, protection and healing.  I based my children's book series on her.

     This has been my journey so far.  There is not an end to this journey, only constant evolution.  I know there will always be dark days popping up with anger and non-acceptance  That is just the way of it even as grief gets less intense.

     I cannot tell you how to make your journey through your grief.  If something here speaks to you, I say try it for yourself.  One thing I can tell you is whatever you decide or try, it will take courage.  More courage and determination than you have ever had to use before in your life. I have learned bravery is needed in the face of life's choices for survival.    


Saturday, May 10, 2014

My Thoughts on Mother's Day

     These thoughts are a reply written this past week to a blog, I Fall to Pieces.  The concern was raised that if you lose an only child, are you still a mother.  The following is my response.
      I believe we are and will always be Moms even though we have lost our only children.  Our children will always live in our hearts and memories.  Although our sons (and daughters) do not exist physically, they exist in another dimension spiritually.  As we continue to love them, they continue to love us as well and watch over us.
      Grief is multi-faceted with so many things to sort out especially in early days.  I lost my husband and son within six weeks of each other.  I regret that I did not spend more time with Chris instead of so much time with his father in the nursing home.  I can't go back and change that.  I have to take limited comfort in thinking I did what I thought was best at the time.  I knew my husband's time was limited.  Little did I know Chris' time was as well.  None of us can see into the future.  We are human and by nature imperfect beings.
      I have learned what circles round and round in our heads matters very little to our children once they have passed over.  They are bathed in peace and in God's love and continued love for us.  Of course, we would rather have them with us, but it cannot be.  One day when it is our time, we will be re-united.  I try to hold onto this and try ways to honor Chris' life.
      It takes much work and soul searching and time to get through this.  It is the hardest battle of our lives.  It does things to our heads and hearts.  There will always be challenges.  Recently, I had some health issue and concerns my cancer had returned.  I honestly had to question myself if I would seek treatment or refuse it so I could re-join Chris and Fred.  I still have not been able to answer that.  I am not really sure what is actually wrong with me or if there is a right or wrong thing to do for me and for those who care about me.  Grief messes with your head.
      You can move through this journey, and as I saw on Facebook, the pain gets softer, but never goes away entirely.  For me, it has helped to work with a grief counselor, memorialize Chris in my own way and to try to interface with other parents.  We can pull each other along.
      It has been 14 years though it seems like yesterday.  I still have times of anger and non-acceptance, but I am able to function and find some satisfaction in life.  I have supportive family and friends with whom I share many memories and the love of Chris and Fred.  Maybe this is as good as it will get and I can live with that.  As we have learned, life does not turn out as we planned.
      My thoughts and prayers are with you on Mother's Day.  I will be with friends who have become my surrogate children and grandchildren.  I think we should spend the day doing what WE want and not fulfilling someone else's expectations. I pray for peace, wisdom and strength for all of us.