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.