Saturday, January 25, 2020

Grief Takes Courage

     There is no right or wrong way to grieve. Everyone's grieving process is different. Nor is there a time table for grief. Sadly though, there is reality and the demands of living that intrude upon the grieving process and jolt you back to numbly performing tasks.

     You have lost a child and are falling apart. Yet you have other relationships---a marriage or significant other, children, a job, a home to be maintained and daily chores. Yes, get as as much help for as long as you can. Eventually, though you will be "expected" to return to "normal" whatever that is after losing a child.

     So begins your double life. Trying to smile on the outside---pretending everything is all right while you have this tremendous hole in your heart. I know from experience you would much rather isolate yourself from the world and be left in peace to mourn your child, to cry, to visit the cemetery and to sit and be alone with your memories. Would that it could be so.

     This is where you have to muster all your courage and it is courage to go on with your life. After My son died, I took as much time as I could from work, but out of necessity had to return. I continued to work for two more years after my son and husband died until I retired.

     I'd like to tell you a story to illustrate my point about courage. I worked for a very large urban school district as a school nurse mainly in high school with high risk teens for 24 years. At my retirement luncheon my principal, a former National Football League player who played for the New England Patriots, remarked that it took courage to play professional ball. He went on to say it took real courage after what I went through to come into work everyday and do it with a smile no less. How much those words touched my heart and remain with me today.

     So I salute you my fellow parents who are managing to do the same and not realizing how truly courageous you are. How proud your children must be of you. You have come a long way

     For you parents whose loss is more recent and still not getting out much or returning to work, you may need to give it more time. It may just be too soon for you. You will sense when the time is right. If it has been several months and you are not able to get out, cope with daily routines, family responsibilities or work and you are not in a support group or receiving professional counseling, I urge you to seek help. This is not a journey to go alone.

     May God grant us all courage and strength.   

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Were You a Good Enough Parent?

     Pediatrician Donald Winnicott has a theory that parents don't have to be perfect and that in fact it is better for the child if they are not. He subscribes to the theory that the "good enough" parent is good enough for the child and far better for their emotional development.

     Expounding on his beliefs, he goes on to say parents natural nurturing of children is what is good rather than the intrusion of substituting professional expertise. Along this line is the fear that children have to be protected from everything negative within you and within the world. Children have to understand that you are human and you have limits and the world has limits.

     Otherwise, Dr. Winnicott says the child would go on to live in a fantasy and not develop emotionally. He calls these limits the "good enough environmental provision." This fits into the recent discussions on self blame and self forgiveness.

     If you think you weren't a good enough parent for your now deceased child when he or she was growing up, maybe you need to re-examine this. If you think you didn't do enough to protect your child, maybe you need to re-examine this. If you think you didn't do enough when you child was ill, maybe you need to re-examine this.

     How high have you set the bar? None of us is perfect or super human. We cannot control the actions of others or be in two places at one time. Ask yourself were you good enough? Is it time to forgive yourself? I believe with all my heart your child understands and God understands.


Friday, January 10, 2020

A Path to Forgiveness

                 "A stone is heavy and sand is weighty, but anger is heavier than them both."
                                                                              Book of Proverbs, Chapter 27

     The loss of your child usually causes feelings of anger towards yourself, others or even your child. So begins the process of forgiveness in order to resolve this anger. Speaking from personal experience, the hardest of all is to forgive yourself. 

      Let me start by going to my favorite resource, Kathleen O'Hara in "A Grief Like no Other," and telling you what forgiveness does not mean. She says what is does not mean is reconciliation with an individual(s) or condoning an action or event or forgetting what happened or pardoning what was done. She goes on to say what forgiveness does mean is finding ways of living with an event so it will not destroy you.

     I can give you some examples. Suppose you feel as I did and Kathleen O'Hara did that she should have been a better parent. Or you feel you should have recognized your child's illness sooner or done a better job of protecting him or her. You can do as I did and write a letter to your child and state your heartfelt feelings. This is what I did and buried the letter at the cemetery along with my feelings in order to forgive myself. Kathleen O'Hara says she went to the cemetery and and spoke to her son and asked his forgiveness and she left it there. Perhaps with some thought, you can come up with a similar way fo making peace and amends with your child even in your child's room or at a memorial for your child.

    Suppose you have a sticky problem of having to forgive your child because your child died doing something you did not approve of which caused you additional heartache and anger. Well, I've got you covered. I had told my son, Chris, not to go back to a certain city far from our home to see a young woman he had broken up with because I felt his life was in danger. He didn't listen. He went back one day while I was at work. I couldn't get in touch with him when I got home that evening. He was killed later that night.

     I admit I was angry at Chris for not listening to me and leaving me. His father died six weeks after Chris died. I was beside myself. It was a full 18 months later when a friend told me about a Catholic radio show. I called in and told the priest what happened and how I was having a hard time forgiving my son for not listening to me. He said he would pray for me and my son. I felt like a great weight had been lifted from me when I publicly acknowledged my burden.  I knew someone finally understood. I knew God understood and someone would be praying for me. I learned later it is called giving public testimony much like 12 step programs or support groups. A solution can be as simple as a sympathetic ear or more sophisticated as in professional counseling. The important thing is to open up.

     Perhaps you are angry at medical personnel, the justice system or a criminal perpetrator. As I alluded to above, the key is to find a solution you can live with and not to stew in silence.  Whether you take private legal action, channel your energies into a cause, find a support group or victim assistance network such as NOVA or Compassionate Friends or MADD.  I know there are support groups through medical examiner's and coroner's offices. Often district attorneys and detectives assigned to criminal cases can put you in touch with support groups. You have to take some action for your child's sake and your sake to find that path to forgiveness and discharge your anger.

     Paths to forgiveness are different lengths and different routes, but nonetheless necessary to travel so we are not destroyed by tears of bitterness. We all came to be here by one common, fateful denominator. One thing I am confident of is that our children want us to go on with some measure of peace in our hearts. May God grant us that one thing.


Saturday, January 4, 2020

Anger and Forgiveness

     I apologize for being out of touch. I was away for receiving an award for Empowered Woman of the Year from the International Association of Top Professionals. As soon as I got back, I got a nasty attack of gout. I have been in very bad pain and not up to writing. So sorry. Feeling much better now and back with you though you have always been in my thoughts and prayers, dear fellow parents.

     During my hiatus, a friend gave me a book, "The Dash: Making a Difference with Your Life" by Linda Ellis and Mac Anderson. It talks about what matters is not your birth and death dates but the Dash in between or what you do with the intervening years of your life.

     It seems appropriate to our discussion here because in a sense we have another big Dash to fill. What will we do with our lives from the time our children die until we die. It may be many intervening years. Or will our lives end with theirs?

     For all of us that fateful day, we felt the life drain out of us. Never to return for some of us. Part way to return for the rest of us to go on. We were all left grasping onto our Dashes as best we can.

     Many things can get in your way. Anger, inability to forgive, loneliness, isolation and lack of support and understanding. If the death of your child in any way involves wrongdoing, blame and anger, your must find a path to forgiveness. No one wants to be around a bitter and angry person.

          "Forgiveness does not change the past, but it does enlarge the future."
                                                                                                                      Paul Boese

     If anger and blame are holding you back, consider forgiveness so you can move forward with your Dash. God grant us all peace and strength in the New Year.