Saturday, November 30, 2019

A Hole In My Heart

     I am sure it was with you as it was with me. You felt your child very much missing from your Thanksgiving Day holiday. It started for me on Thanksgiving Day morning when I was watching the Philadelphia Parade on TV. I became agonizingly aware Chris would be missing from today's get together.

     Then at dinner, I stopped and paused in my mind and asked myself what I was doing with all these strangers? Where were Chris and my deceased husband, Fred? Don't get me wrong. I was having a pleasant enough time. My boyfriend's family has embraced me, but there will be two holes forever in my heart, one impossible to fill even partway.

     You know all too well what I mean. You have the same hole in your heart with your now deceased child. That child cannot be replaced with any amount of festivity.

     Some days it is so hard. I go on with a brave face. After so many years, the smile reaches my eyes some days, I think, but not really my heart. Thanksgiving Day it did not reach my heart and that's all right. We're allowed.

     It just so happened at that same dinner, there was a kindred spirit. I never knew the brother-in-law of the host had lost his 16 year old daughter. So true the words, "Be kind always." We shared a little of our experiences. He had been divorced prior to his daughter's death. He said he would rather have gone through thousands of divorces than have lost his daughter. So profoundly had her loss affected him.

     His statement reminded me of what I had experienced with Chris' death. My husband died just six weeks after Chris. I was already numb with grief. So great was my grief over Chris, it was like Fred's death couldn't even register. I had no more grief left in me. I didn't grieve over Fred until several years later.

     It is impossible to measure the grief, the pain, the absolute rawness felt of a child being ripped away from you, even an adult child. Your life seems to come to a grinding halt. Nothing else matters. Yet, your spouse matters, other children matter, your job matters, the bills matter. Painfully, you have to put one foot in front of the other and go on. There is no other choice. You can go into a dark place, but not for  too long. Life calls. You must go on. You can go on. You have to tell yourself you must and you can do it and you will do it. There is no other way, but to choose life or let your grief destroy you and your family. It is a rocky road, but one you can't avoid traveling.

     What to do about the upcoming holidays? Your first instinct is to crawl into a hole and hide and skip all events. If you have family and other children, total avoidance is probably not realistic. I would say be very selective. Choose small groups of close family and friends who are aware and understanding of your situation. Don't feel bad about turning anyone else down. Be firm, but kind. You can always have "other plans" in the face of persistence.

     Try remembering your child quietly with a gift for his or her room. If you have a celebration at home or go somewhere, have your child's favorite dish or dessert or say a commemorative prayer or blessing or give a toast. Try to include your child in the festivities to extend the smile to the hole in your heart. This Christmas Eve, I am going to ask my hosts if we can toast Chris and Fred at our dinner. God bless you all and may He bring you strength and some measure of peace. 


Thursday, November 21, 2019

Words that Pierced My Heart

     "His murder has broken me beyond repair." Such profound words. The words of a distraught father after the recent sentencing of his son's murderer. When I first heard those words on the news, they pierced my heart like a sharp pointed knife. The grief this father expressed was so immense, so poignant and so relatable to us all.

     The situation was the particularly gruesome murders 18 months ago of four very fine young men by two merciless thugs who both got life and additional years without any possibility of parole. How I wished I could have reached out and touched this father and consoled him in some way. I wish I could console everyone of you feeling this way. Yes, grief can and does break you in a very tangible way.

     This brokenness doesn't have to be permanent. Although, some measure of grief will always be with you, it does not have to destroy your life. I beg you not to let it do so. It is a conscious decision which way your grief will take you. It is possible to begin a healing process. I make no promise for total wholeness, but at least a life again that is in some way productive and meaningful.

     When my son and husband died within six weeks of each other as I was recuperating from cancer treatment, I had a moment of clarity one morning while laying in bed. I realized I could let tragedy destroy me or choose to go on with life. So I got out of bed and chose to on with my life.

     I beg you to make that same decision. It will not be a straight road or an easy road. You will have to fight hard within yourself not to give up or give in to your sorrow. You will need help--professional counseling, support group, faith based support, family and friends. You cannot go this road alone. Don't attempt to. There are a myriad of emotions to work through. A big one of mine was anger. I went to therapy, support groups and filled countless copy books with my thoughts and feelings. Went to church regularly and prayed and prayed and did not isolate myself socially from friends and family.

     You have suffered the worst of mighty blows in the loss of your child. Today you may believe you are broken beyond repair. Many days to come you may still believe that. You are not. Don't give up. Don't give in. Please decide to go on. Take that first step today to choose life. It is want your son or daughter would want for you. God bring you strength and some measure of peace. You can go on.


Friday, November 15, 2019

I Feel Your Pain

     The holiday season in many cultures is fast approaching thus intensifying the pain of grief. Pain is what we parents have most in common in the deaths of our children.

     I feel your pain when I remember vivid images of my son, Chris, running track.
     I feel your pain when I remember his voice saying on the phone,"Hi Mom, it's Chris."
     I feel your pain in the dark hours of the night.
     I feel your pain when Chris is missing from the family gatherings he loved so much.
     I feel your pain when I look at photos of Chris.
     I feel your pain at the beach when Chris is not there. He loved the shore.
     I feel your pain when I drive alone in the car without him.
     I feel your pain when I eat alone at our favorite diner.
     I feel your pain on every holiday and every birthday.
     I feel your pain when watching sports on TV.
     I feel your pain when hear guitar music. Chris played guitar.
     I feel your pain in my own anger, frustration, isolation and self-doubt.

     You and I are besieged with the pain of thoughts and questions of why and what might have been's. Time can dull pain, but so can doing some imagery similar to Kathleen O'Hara's book in "A Grief Like No Other." Bear with me here. Be open to doing this. It can help you. Try to see your pain as a large rock or package which you take hold of. Now slowly push the rock or package forward. Practice doing this when you feel your pain overwhelming you. Each time you do it, visualize the package or rock getting smaller and smaller and easier to move or push. Breathe deeply while doing this.

     The pain of our tragic losses will always be with us. But we can learn to live again with this pain and learn to manage it in a way our children would be proud.  We can keep our pain in this symbolic package or under this rock. If we need to, we can take our pain out, examine it, talk about it or mourn over it. But pain need not overwhelm us 24/7. We can feel pain, but gradually contain it. Time and imagery can help lessen the intensity of the feeling of our pain.

Friday, November 8, 2019

Preserving Beautiful Memories

     The beautiful lives of our sons and daughters were halted in this earthly realm when they died. So many futures to be had---additional memories to be made, milestones to be achieved, graduations, friendships, weddings, careers and grandchildren all stopped. All the what could have been's tucked away with much sorrow, tears and mountains of regrets.

     I had my son, Chris, for 23 years. Perhaps that is a much longer or shorter time than you may have had your child.  Chris had just graduated from a technical school printing program. He was somewhat following in his father's footsteps who was a graphic design artist. He was used to his father approving printing jobs and printers calling our home for approval to print his design jobs.

     I like to talk about the memories I do have of Chris. I believe it is our privilege as parents to preserve the memory of our children. Even if people tell us, "Don't talk about that." It's not because we are doing something wrong, but because they are uncomfortable with the fact that our children have died. That is their problem. We have every right to speak of our children. Luckily, I haven't encountered this. But I would avoid discussing my child with these individuals and would save my precious memories for people who know and love me and want to love and remember my child.

     Sometimes I think it may seem strange when I talk about Chris because he is forever young and I am older now. I don't have as many memories of him as a young man as I do of his childhood, especially with him being an only child. Perhaps some of you have the same experience, but I don't let it hold me back. I reminisce away. It gives me pleasure to remember Chris and keep him alive in my mind and heart.

     I like to write things down. I have a small notebook to keep as a journal so I can jot down memories of events whenever they might come to me. That way, in moments of loneliness or prayer, there is a book of memories to sustain me.
     It may happen that you are in a place where you can't talk about any happy memories. 
After a recent death or the tragedy of a violent or sudden death or after a long illness, it may take some time to want to talk about good memories. Initially, there is shock, numbness and a host of negative emotions to deal with. But gradually, a glimmer of life will return. Allow some good feelings to return. Work with them. Hold onto them however briefly. The good memories will come.

     We must keep the memories of our children's beautiful lives within us and around us so we can always fondly and lovingly remember them even when they are gone from this earth.


Saturday, November 2, 2019

"Mama, I'll Be All Right"

     It can be a torment wondering if a child is all right after he or she dies, especially a young one. I heard a beautiful story yesterday which I hope will allay some fears. It was told by a Franciscan Friar, Father Joseph Mary, in his homily at Mass on EWTN television.

     Father Joseph recounted the story of a mission priest's experience with the mother of a little nine year old boy dying of leukemia. The little boy, in the last stages of his illness, told his mother how he liked to fall asleep. He described to his mother that when he fell asleep, he felt at peace. He went on to say he saw beautiful bright light like he had never seen before and lots of other children, all happy. They were all playing with Jesus.

     A few days later, the little boy told his mother the story again. Only this time, he asked her to kneel beside his bed. She did so. He put his frail little hands on her head.  She felt instantly at peace and the warmth of a bright light within her. Her little boy said to her, "I know I'm dying, but Mama I'll be all right."

     Two days later, the little boy died in his mother's arms. Since his death, his mother described on several occasions, how she became filled with peace and a feeling of light and warmth within herself. She knew her son was telling her he was "all right."

     I believe our children of all ages look out for us in the quiet, the peace and the light to tell us they are "all right." To tell us they want us to be all right. Listen.

Friday, October 18, 2019

The Flame Within

         It is a beautiful Fall day in Bucks County PA even though it is brisk and windy. I would like to be out walking, but neck and back problems preclude my walking very much these days. Makes me miss my son, Chris, who was always very perceptive. He would no doubt have something philosophic to say to lift my spirits about my situation. And walk the dog if she were still around.

        That being said, I do have something or someone to share with you. After being alone for 17 years, I now have a wonderful gentleman friend in my life who has been a tremendous support to me in many ways, especially emotionally. Like me, he lost his wife of many years after taking care of her for a prolonged illness. He has six children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren. This relationship is wrapping me in warmth and family again.

        No one can ever replace Chris or Fred or be my own grandchildren. However, I am not isolated. Isolation is the nemesis of grief. You have read this here before. Do NOT isolate yourself. I am not saying get on a dating service and get a significant other. Nor do you need to subject yourself to individuals who are annoying, hurtful or unhelpful. But a supportive system of family and friends is needed. If people offer gestures of help, try to be gracious. Don't push them away even though you really don't feel like being around anyone. 

        In the early phases of your grief, do not refuse to ask for help with the myriad of daily tasks that present themselves like mountains to climb. Everything from just someone sitting with you, to meal preparation, to laundry to walking the dog and grocery shopping. If people hadn't come forward for me and prepared food and gone grocery shopping, I think I would have would not have eaten.

        Once you accept the help of a few people, it builds a network for the future should you need it. I can't emphasize the importance of this enough. Being with people forces us to find inner strength and realize we can carry on. This flame of strength carries on for longer and longer periods of time and gradually you will get stronger. You will still find alone time to grieve, but that is not all you should do, even if that is all you feel like doing. If you are a person of faith, I recommend prayer when alone, even if you have to express anger at God at times. 

         Be not afraid. God or your Higher Power is always with you even though you may feel abandoned. Tell Him how you feel. If you are lonely, despairing, angry, distraught, say so in your prayer.  Family and friends are beside you. They may not know what to say or how to say, but mostly have good intentions. None of us can handle the loss of our child alone. All of had to and still have to reach out for support and guidance. Be not afraid. 



Saturday, October 12, 2019

Nostalgia Brings Tears and Laughter

      I have been away after a long absence of not feeling as if I had anymore to say about grief and parental bereavement. I had to have multiple surgeries for breast cancer. My self-image changed. I was depressed. I didn't feel I could really write and give advice anymore. But friends, family and colleagues have had faith in me so here I am again. I came across this draft and feel it is still relevant as September is always a difficult month for me. It is the month of my son Chris' birthday and 5 days later, the anniversary of his death.
      Looking back, I had had a teary night after a very rough two days.  I had bought a new car and immediately started having problems with it.  Even though the problems had been repaired and resolved,  I still felt very alone one night.  To make matters worse, the following Saturday was the anniversary of my husband Fred's death.  He had been very ill and died six weeks after our son, Chris, died.

     Chris assumed his father's role of keeper of the cars when my husband became ill.  The year after Chris died I cancelled eight appointments to have my state inspection done on my car as it was too painful an association to Chris.  Now, I can look back on this with humor.  I recall how I tearfully explained this to a very young police officer who stopped me for my car being several months out of inspection.  As the officer listened to my story, I could see the anxiety and confusion on his face. He attempted to reassure me with a warning only.  He kept backing away from me to his patrol car.  It is a very vivid memory to me.  He was clearly uncomfortable with my loss and crying.

     As was his colleague, a detective in the same department.  I went to my local police for them to intercede with the police department in the jurisdiction where my son was killed.  I tearfully told my story there too.  The detective did help me, but he didn't want me and my tears sticking around.

     And so it goes.  I really miss them both with nostalgia and an aching heart.  And I miss my dog, Amber, too.  She was with me through everything.  I think I slept with a pillow from Chris' bed and one from Amber that night.

     Sometimes only your memories can sustain you.  I felt very restless that night.  I wished I could have reached out and touched all three.  Had a conversation with them to assure me of their happiness.  I knew they were no longer suffering pain, embarrassment, insecurity or frustration.  They love and are loved by God.

     Through my own fog at times, I can still assure you of this same love surrounding your children.  I believe they are all right as is my Chris.  I miss him terribly but, I do have faith in his immortality. Yes, I did have a brief moment  when I wanted to join Chris, Fred and Amber.  But only briefly, as I know my life and my work are not yet finished on earth.

     This is why, to me, it is important to transform grief into purpose.  This takes time.  Time to accept, forgive and find reasons for gratitude in your life.  All of which, only you can internalize before the pain of grief can be transformed to nostalgic purpose.  It is not a straight, one way line.  You will often go back and forth depending on birthdays, holidays and anniversaries of death.  The important thing, though, is you have more and longer periods of moving forward. Be patient with yourself, your spouse, your kids.

     What helped me to progress, was psychologist and bereaved parent, Kathleen O'Hara's book,  A Grief Like No Other.   If you don't read the whole book or can't read it all, it is still worth getting.  You can page through and just read what you connect with. A key point in the book is acceptance. That is, we as parents must accept what has happened, in order to move forward through any denial, anger, forgiveness and a myriad of emotions. O'Hara goes through the steps and techniques to arrive at acceptance. May God guide you with peace and strength on your journey.