Tuesday, February 25, 2014

Find Your Rose

                                                       Just remember in the winter
                                                       Far beneath the bitter snows
                                                       Lies the seed, that with the suns love
                                                       In the spring becomes the rose

                                                                                            Janis Joplin, The Rose

     I have had enough of winter, literally and figuratively.  Grief definitely feels like the winter of your life.  Endless, joyless, dreary days with little or nothing to look forward to.

     I am feeling, lately, like not doing much.  I know it is related to needing to reach deep down within myself to renew the spark of forgiveness for those involved in the death of my son.  In times of stress, things have a way of re-surfacing even when you have worked hard on dealing with them.  The inclement weather, with its forced isolation of being housebound, has not been good.

     I am in an angry mood, but when I acknowledge it, I eat less.  I need to start punching pillows again and pray for healing.  Recently my priest at mass spoke about forgiveness.  He mentioned a quote he found on Facebook about holding onto anger and grudges.  The quote likened this to, Drinking rat poison and waiting for the rat to die.  So who gets hurt with anger and other negative emotions?

     True, you and I can feel justified for being angry at the factors and individuals involved with the deaths of our children.  So it becomes a question of which seed to feed, anger or forgiveness.  At some point you and I have to make this choice.  And probably more than once or even daily.

     I know I am not dead inside.  Neither are you because you are reading this.   You are seeking a way to bring some peace and healing into your life.  You and I do have the spark of life that can light the way to the seed of personal growth, our roses.  The rose may be covered with the tears of the bitter snows of loss, but it can bloom again.  A new spring is possible.

     I am proposing an exercise to deal with anger and negative emotions.  If you have no physical limitations to doing so, find something you can punch--- a pillow, sofa, or punching bag, or something you will not injure yourself on.  Now, name your emotion and all the factors or persons you feel negatively about and punch them one by one.  When you feel tired or spent, stop.  Take some deep breaths, cry, laugh, whatever.

    Now, stand and take three deep breaths.  Hold your hands up, palms out.  Start making counter-clock wise motions with your hands.  Each time your hands move away from your body, exhale and blow out all negativity.  Do that five times.  Next, make clock-wise motions with your hands.  Each time you bring your hands close to your body,  breathe in and bring peace and healing to your body. Repeat five times.  Then hold your hands over your head and stretch and deep breathe.  Try to hold onto that feeling of peace.

     Final step, do something to nurture yourself.  It can be a cup of tea, a bath, reading a favorite passage from the bible, listening to music, prayer or meditation or get a massage.  You need this to get through this journey.  It is necessity, not a reason for a guilt trip.

     Practice feeding the seed of hope and love, not negativity.  That seed, with care and love, can bloom into your rose of renewed life.



Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Changing Focus

     My mental outlook has improved from my last blog.  I think, maybe, I was feeling some post-holiday blues and some Valentine's Day dread.  Anyway,  I decided I had to shift gears.  I had to focus on what I have in my life.  Not what I have lost.

     How did I do that?  I used an anger release technique by punching my bed pillows vigorously and repeatedly for several minutes.  One by one, I visualized punching each person I believed had harmed my son, Chris, and each person who denied him justice.  It was very helpful in releasing my emotions.

     I woke up the next morning and realized it takes energy to stay in an angry and negative place.  It seemed better to remember the good things in my life.  My separation from my son and husband, unfair as it seems to me, is temporary.  I believe, someday, we will be re-united in eternity.  Just not yet.

     With prayer, I came to understand how wonderful loving, kind and supportive friends and family have been to me.  It was very good to celebrate Super Bowl Sunday and a little birthday dinner with my husband's family.    I did have to take some deep breaths and put my game face on in more ways than one.  I struggled to go from the negative place to the positive place.

     Before going out, I prayed for inner peace.  I prayed, too, my smile would reach my heart and eyes.  I know in my heart my son, Chris, and husband, Fred, had looked down on our celebration.  I love my husband's family dearly.  They have not forgotten me, Chris or Fred.  For this, I am very grateful and blessed.  Also, my best friend and her family called me to check up on me as I know they were concerned about me because of the previous blog.  I felt very appreciative and touched.

     I reminded myself I am not alone.  I am grateful I can talk about Fred and Chris to friends and family.  At first, they were uncomfortable, but I persisted.  Eventually they came to enjoy my memories and interject their own.  We do indeed have many happy memories and are forging ahead to make new ones.

     We are all fragile in our bereavement, but that does not mean we do not possess inner strength.  Some days, it may be hard to tap into this strength or recognize it at all.  If you are reading this after the death of your child, you do indeed have inner strength.  Please take a moment to validate yourself.

     It may help to sit in a comfortable chair, deep breathe, relax and clear your head.  Concentrate and say to yourself over and over, "I am strong.  I can get through this."  I did this exercise before going out to the party.  If you do this, have courage and explore any thoughts that come up.  These thoughts are something you may want to discuss with a grief counselor  or your support group.  If you don't have either, I strongly urge you to get connected to one and/or the other.  Grief is a journey very difficult to go alone.

     It takes energy and work, as well, to be positive.  But to me, this is energy well spent rather than flailing around in a pit of negativity endlessly.  

Saturday, February 1, 2014

Waiting: Life on Hold after Loss

    I wait for answers, for change, for what I don't know.  The concept of  waiting struck really close to home for me with a Hallmark TV Channel movie this evening.  It was about a woman in World War II who said goodbye to her husband on Valentine's Day, their  wedding anniversary.  He never returned from the war.  MIA.  Every year on Valentine's Day she would return to the train station and wait.  She had gone on with her life, but yet she waited.  As do we all in a way, maybe not consciously.  But, we wait.

     I wish I had a place to wait.  To wait for my son, Chris, to return.  To hear, "Hey Mom," again.  To wake up from a nightmare.  To come out of this parallel universe where parents have lost kids to the regular world of regular parents.  To wait for our time to re-join our children in eternity.  To wait to come out of jumping over the chasm of our world of loss to everyday life.  To wait not to be fragile, but to be a tower of strength.

     It is very hard, each day or some days.  But very hard.  A struggle.  Days or times of grief can come out of the blue.  I sobbed at the beginning of this movie.  I realized how much I miss my Chris.  How hard life is without him and his father.  I know I fill up my pain with food.  Things are made much worse as I have so many regrets about the circumstances surrounding Chris' death.  I came home to find Chris gone.  A note was on the kitchen table saying he had fed the dog.  Nothing else.

     He died alone in a small town by himself in the back yard of the young woman I believe shot him.  He was six hours away from home.  In what I regard as a rotten wasteland of a place in western Pennsylvania.  At times, I am tortured by thoughts and images of what his final moments must have been like.  Did he choke or gasp for air or cry out in pain?  Instead of comforting him this young woman along with someone else cleaned up the shooting scene so a proper investigation could not be done.  She was not mentally ill, but evil.  The product of an evil, corrupt politician father.

     Why do I wait and he was spared?  Why does it seem evil triumphs over good so many times.  Especially in backwater places with inept, inexperienced and corrupt police officials and medical examiners who have forgotten they were sworn to uphold the law.

     Now I am alone to wait for my life to feel better.  The young woman teaches elementary school for her local school system.  A job no doubt arranged by her father who kept all her actions quiet, especially after the state fired her for her conduct.  I wouldn't want her teaching my young child or grandchild.      

     There was never any phone call from the hospital, no call from the local township police, no call from her or her parents.  My local police called the medical examiner who told me not to blame myself and do my best to get over it.  Really.  I wonder if that is what he would do or her father if one of their children got shot and killed.

     Tonight I feel no acceptance or forgiveness.  Only anger and hatred.  God is supposed to see everything.  Perhaps what goes around comes around.  Yes, at this moment, I hate this young woman, her parents, those police and that medical examiner.  I hate the availability of guns.

     With almost daily school shootings, how many more parents will go through what I have been through?  I feel no compassion for this young woman or her parents tonight.  Only for you who have lost your children.

     Yet I know I have to pull it together and wait for a better day tomorrow.  I better pound some pillows and wait for exhaustion to overtake me and anger and hatred to leave me.  More waiting.  

Monday, January 27, 2014

Small Steps Yield Big Gains

     We are now almost at the end of January 2014.  I would like to propose thinking about what the year may hold for you.

     I have set some goals for myself mostly related to my health.  This is important for you, also.  How have you been doing?  Do you eat regularly and try for balance in your food choices?  Do you go to bed at night or stay up and watch TV all night?  Are you sleeping all day?  Maybe checking in with your doctor wouldn't hurt.  You might not have the energy to get there, but go.  I did.  My doctor told me after I had lost both my son and husband, he didn't care how I had to drag myself there, he wanted me in grief counseling every week.  He was right.  I needed it and I went.  I had to.  I had lost my will to live.

     I have joined a weight management support group because my recent weight gain and eating patterns are of great concern to me.  I am not suggesting you try to lose weight now, but try to have a regular meal patterns and eat healthier.  I know I need comfort food, but am trying to avoid junk food bingeing.

     I hope to take a religious tour in September 2014 to Fatima and Lourdes.  I am looking to find more peace-- to put to rest any anger, guilt, resentments or hatred.  If there is somewhere that brings you peace, then I urge you to do what you have to do to get there.

     Writing The Amberella Tales has been very beneficial to me because of including my son in the first and second books and dedicating the first book to him.  I would like to continue the series and possibly publish my third book this year.  But I have to push myself.

     I want you to think how you can move forward even just inches in 2014.  Depending on where you are in your grief journey, the smallest task may seem like climbing a mountain.  And it's okay to feel that way.  But try with something very simple to begin re-claiming your life.  Shower & get dressed everyday, or make your bed or take a walk around the block.  Clean up the house for 15 minutes or do one load of laundry each day.  Anything which gives you some small sense of accomplishment.

     In the two years after Chris died,  I had piles and piles of laundry.  I even went out and bought an extra hamper.  I filled that, too, then piled more laundry on top of it.  I'm not even sure what it all was.  Finally, I had to splurge to get a laundry service to pick it all up, wash it and deliver it back.  I was able to manage to sort it and put it away once the task wasn't so overwhelming.  This was in addition to dishes stacking up in the sink and stuff all over the family room floor.  I know what it can be like when you are trying to survive, but not really living.

     I also had to go back to work and for a short time visit my husband daily in the nursing home.  And you have your obligations, too.  There is work, children, maybe elderly parents.  I know it all makes you collapse and cry.  You have to ask for help or get a cleaning and even laundry service, and order groceries online and have them delivered.  Otherwise, you will feel stressed, guilty and overwhelmed at not being able to get everything done.  The REALITY is you are GRIEVING and CANNOT EXPECT to get it all done.  If you are tending to your personal hygiene, getting to work, caring for other children or grandchildren and getting something to eat together, you are doing super.   If you are at home, pick one thing that bothers you the most and get it done everyday.  You can do it.  It's not easy, but you can do it.

     If you are able to take small steps to start this grieving journey, you will begin to feel better.  Be patient with and good to yourself.  When you start to feel better, you may want to consider something creative that might commemorate you child or something to incorporate your memories.  Some time may have to pass before you are able to do this.

    You can keep a journal which lets you get your feelings out and can help you see your progress.  There is painting, scrapbooking, gardening, quilting and needlework.  Be bold.  Resurrect a dormant skill or try new ones.  Any project in which you memorialize your child will bring you peace.   If you are able, you can volunteer for a cause related to your child's death or establish a fund-raising event for a scholarship or a charity.

     Start with tiny, daily steps.  You can move forward from there to re-claim your life.  It will not be the same, but you can move on from just surviving.  Feel free to comment and let me know how you are doing and what works for you.    


Monday, December 30, 2013

Visiting the Cemetery

    The holidays always bring the question of visiting the cemetery with something special when you may be missing your child the most.   The cemetery has never been easy for me, but the last few years I have come to peace with my visits.  Initially I would be very depressed for days after going. Yet I wanted to go and just prepared myself for feeling bad. Then gradually, I saw it as a time for peace and a quiet place to talk to Chris and my husband, Fred, too.

     If you are wrestling with the decision of whether or when to go or are dreading going, perhaps I can help you with my own experience.
      1)  It may be easier to go with another friend or relative.  I usually go alone, but this year, I may ask a good friend to go with me.  I am feeling the need for support this year.  I have been under more stress than usual and not feeling well.  Sit down and think about your needs and who and what would support you the most.

       2)  After going to the cemetery, decide if you want some quiet time, need to go to church or perhaps you would rather be distracted by being with other people.  The choice is yours.  Do not feel or pressured to do something.  If you must attend a social engagement, then schedule the cemetery for a time in which you will not be obligated to do something afterwards if you want quiet.
       3)  It is okay not to go to the cemetery if you are dreading going or become ill or very distraught by visiting your child's gravesite.  You can sit in quiet and visit with your child anywhere.  It is NOT necessary to go to the gravesite.  You can buy a special plant, plant a special live commemorative tree, bake a special dessert, have a special toast or a commemorative meal at home or in a restaurant.

     Finally, let me leave you with the words of the poem by Mary Elizabeth Frye:

                    Do not stand by my grave and weep
                    I am not there, I do not sleep
                    I am a thousand winds that blow
                    I am the diamond's gift of snow
                    I am the sunlight on ripened grain
                    I am autumn's gentle rain
                    When you awaken in the morning's hush
                    I am the swift uplifting rush
                    Of quiet birds in circled flight
                    I am the soft stars that shine at night
                    Do not stand at my grave and cry

                          I am not there
                          I did not die.

     Our children's spirits go on and we with them.



Saturday, December 21, 2013

Serenity and Wisdom

     My energy and thinking has been taken up by having to deal with illness in a family member.  I realized, I am really powerless to affect any significant change here.  I had to come to this conclusion as I am seeing my own health adversely affected.  Time for the Serenity Prayer:

               God grant me the power to
                    Accept the things I cannot change,
                    The courage to change the things I can,
                    And the wisdom to know the difference.

     We are often powerless to change events or other people.  The only way to shape events is to control or change yourself.  This would seem to be the beginning of insight and wisdom.

      Have a blessed and peaceful Christmas and holiday.  

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Handling the Holidays

     December is upon us.  You and I are having to deal with missing our children terribly during the Christmas holiday season.  This is in addition to normal the stress to get things done.  First, depending upon where you are in this grieving process, do not engage in any social activities you do not feel up to.  A simple statement that you are celebrating quietly or privately this year is sufficient.  Be gracious, but firm.  Do not engage in a discussion or explanation.  Excuse yourself from the conversation if you have to.

     If you have other children, of course you have to make a holiday for them as much as your heart may not be in it.  Please enlist the help of family and friends for decorating, shopping, gift wrapping and meal preparation.  People say they want to help.  Now is the chance to take them up on it.  Grief is a journey you cannot make alone.  You have to ask for help no matter how independent and together you have been in the past.

     I know at times, you may feel like screaming at all the merriment and activity around you, "Stop!  What are you doing?  Don't you know I lost a child."  Sometimes or maybe all the time, you and I feel we are no longer part of the real world where other people have not lost children.  It is as if you and I reside in a twilight zone and wait for things to get better. You and I are aware we have been cruelly robbed of part of our beings and futures while the rest of the world celebrates as if nothing is wrong.

     This detachment was brought home to me when a family member recently described her being in the hospital as "hell."  I wanted to shake her and say, "It is the holidays and I buried a child.  That is hell."  Deep breath.  Would that do any good for her or me?  Probably not.

     What I did do was go for a walk and a coffee and and to do a couple of simple errands to clear my head.  I was able to conclude:  You cannot make someone who does not understand your situation, acknowledge and understand it.  Second pointer is you either have to avoid certain people or take them in limited doses with other people as buffers.  Again, you may have to take someone close to you aside and ask for help in dealing with certain individuals.

     Focus on arranging some quiet periods for yourself or for you and your spouse or significant other.    Try to think of your child being alive in eternity.  Recall good memories and talk to your child.  If your partner does not want to do this, do not force the issue or argue.  Ask for some quiet time to pursue this yourself.   There is physical death and lack of an earthly presence, but I believe there is eternal life where our children are well, happy, safe and at peace from the stresses of the natural world.

     One day I will be re-united with my child and I believe so will you with your child.  It is just not time yet.  You have a longer journey here on earth.  Hold on with faith, hope and courage.  Deep breathe, meditate, walk, exercise, write, draw, paint, listen to music.  Buy your child a special present---  a little something for his or her room to mark the holiday and include your child.  Have a toast to his or her memory.

     Yes, this time of year can make day to day living very difficult especially if you are still struggling to find your footing.  Don't neglect your physical, emotional and spiritual needs.  By all means seek help and support.  Set limits for yourself and boundaries for others.  When faced with some hard task, I repeat over and over to myself, "I can do this."  And I rely on prayer.  Try to attend religious services. If you cannot, then watch some on television.  Try to remember the reason for the season.  The Christ child was born to bring hope, re-generation and spiritual growth to the world.

    I wish you peace and the best Christmas possible and good things and hope in the New Year.  God is holding your child in His hands until you meet again.

 Love to you and your families,