Sunday, September 25, 2016

Books To Help Young People Cope

Adults are always trying to make sense of the death of a loved one. This is especially true of a child. We know how hard it is for us, so it must be just as hard for children to understand and accept a sibling’s death or a grandparent or parent. Young children will most likely have questions about why death happens and what happens to the people they love after they are gone.

There are a number of books written to provide children with a sense of comfort and to help them understand their feelings of sadness and grief. It is an education all children should have in their life, so that when they are confronted with death of a sibling, parent, or grandparent, their reactions are normal. Here are a few of the books, aimed at 4 years and older.

Muddles, Puddles and Sunshine by Diana Crossley, is an activity book designed to help children ages four and older deal with their feelings after losing a loved one. The activities range from arts and crafts to journaling and allow the child to make sense of the concept of death.

Ladder to the Moon by Maya Soetoro-Ng is a story about a young girl who wants to connect with her late grandmother whom she has never met. When a ladder appears at the girl’s bedroom window, she is able to take a magical journey with her grandmother. The author, who is also President Obama’s sister, was inspired by her own daughter’s questions about her grandmother, who passed away before she was born.

When Dinosaurs Die by Laurie and Marc Brown, offers is a straightforward explanation for young readers about the meaning death, funerals and other concepts dealing with loss. The answers to the questions are designed to spark conversations between children and their parents about feelings.

God Gave Us Heaven by Lisa Bergren and Laura Bryant, who can give younger readers who have questions about what happens to their loved ones after death, a sense of comfort. In the book, a little cub’s father describes Heaven as a beautiful, happy place where loved ones go after they have died.

I Miss You: A First Look At Death by Pat Thomas, explains death to young children in gentle, basic terms that they can understand without subscribing to any particular religious belief. The book explains that death is a natural part of life and that grief is a normal feeling when a loved one is lost. 

Missing Mummy by Rebecca Carr, is a moving story about a little boy who’s mother has died. The story is told from the boy’s perspective, and gives the reader a closer look at all of the emotions a child can experience after losing a parent.

If you are part of a family who has recently experienced loss, perhaps one of these books can help. Allow a child the time they may need to process their grief . Don’t hesitate to seek professional help, if needed.

Sunday, September 18, 2016

A Word of Hope

A Word of Hope
by Sandy Fox

I’ll walk beside you, I’ll be your friend,
Many can’t understand as I do,
How hard this can be.
Grief is powerful
Death of a child is catastrophic
We can’t undo the tragedy,
But we can learn from it.
You have already survived the worst part,
Don’t let it take you down too far,
You will lose friends, 
Change your address book many times,
Take out names of people you thought were friends,
Change your goals and priorities,
Change how you see the world,
You may have regrets, but push on.
You will feel your child in everything you do
That is good. You don’t want to lose that.
One day your smile will return,
So will your laughter,
You will be whole again
And feel good about yourself and others,
You will never be the person you were before the death,
You will never forget what happened,
But you can create a new normal, a rich meaningful life
That includes all those you care about and love.
Make the most of your life and continue breathing.

‘Hope’ will always keep you going.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

September 11, Fifteen Years Later

Today, September 11, is the 15th anniversary of the most horrific terror event to ever occur on U.S. soil, the fall of the twin World Trade Center towers. I can tell you where I was on that day at that hour as I’m sure millions of people can. It is a day we will never forget.

I had arrived in New York at 3 a.m. that morning (my plane from Phoenix had mechanical problems and was 5 hours late). I checked into a Days Inn Hotel in Newark, N.J. and awoke around 9 a.m., turned on the TV and saw what was happening.

I was in New York and New Jersey to publicize my new book on surviving grief, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye,” that had just been published. I had contacted bookstores in the area and a TV station, where I was going to be interviewed. Needless to say, the interview didn’t happen that day, nor for the next seven days that I was stuck in the area because of plane cancellations. Too much was going on, and the TV station was kind enough to let me come back months later for the interview. The bookstores and compassionate friends groups where I was to speak let me go on with the show. But as you can guess, the bookstores were quite empty; everyone was at home or visiting those they knew who were part of the tragedy. The compassionate friends groups had a good turnout and most commented as to how timely my book was then.

A few days after getting home I was contacted by the FBI and asked if I had seen anything that night or the next morning. I hadn’t. It turns out that one of the hijackers was right next door to me. Pretty scary!

We now have a beautiful, poignant memorial in place along with a museum and many memories. Thousands come every day to see it and especially on 9/11 to honor those killed, first responders and everyone who helped to save lives in the aftermath. In the classroom teachers are utilizing age-appropriate lesson plans and teaching students about the importance of remembering 9/11. On social media, you can share your acts of commemoration, tributes and/or messages of remembrance with hashtag #Honor911 or be part of the volunteer efforts.

Since 2001, individuals and organizations have responded to 9/11 with service and volunteer efforts, many supporting the philanthropic wishes and interests of those killed on 9/11. In 2009, this work was formally acknowledged and supported with the establishment of the September 11 National Day of Service and Remembrance. Organized by the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNRS), a federal agency, the official page can be found here: . Download tool kits for the National Day of Service and Remembrance that offer resources for "do-it-yourself" and age-appropriate discussions around service and 9/11.

It is dedicated to keeping alive the spirit of unity and compassion that arose in response to the 9/11 attacks. They promote the annual observance of September 11 as a day of charitable service and doing good deeds. Many ways exist for you to get involved on this day.

In the museum, the memorial exhibition, In Memoriam, commemorates the lives of those who perished on September 11, 2001 and provides visitors with the opportunity to learn about the men, women and children who died. Visitors enter the exhibition along a corridor in which portrait photographs of the nearly 3,000 victims form a "Wall of Faces," communicating the scale of human loss.

Nearby, touchscreen tables allow visitors to discover additional information about each person, including photographs, images of objects and audio remembrances by family, friends and coworkers. Rotating selections of personal artifacts are also featured. An inner chamber presents profiles of individual victims in a dignified sequence through photographs, biographical information and audio recordings.

If you have something you’d like to contribute to the museum, get in touch with  them.

Sunday, September 4, 2016

Offering Sympathy to the Bereaved

Suzie Kolber, a volunteer writer at  asked if she could contribute this information to my blog. I’m more than happy to print any resources or words to help the bereaved. If you have written something or can give me information that I can expand on, please share it with me and if I can use it, I will certainly do so. In the meantime, you can visit this site for additional information on condolence letters, funeral planning resources or writing obituaries.

Saying the Right Things When You Offer Sympathy to Others  by Suzie Kolber
What do you say to your best friend when his father dies? How do you comfort your cousin who has lost a spouse? And what words can comfort a parent who has lost their child? These are common thoughts for anyone when trying to decide how to offer sympathy to a grieving family member or friend.

Don’t avoid the issue. Instead of trying to talk around the subject, acknowledge the situation. It is appropriate to say that you heard that a person died even if it occurred some time ago. This lets the other person know that you are willing to talk about it and allows them to say what they want.

Always be honest and sincere even if that means admitting that you don’t know what to say. Sometimes just saying that you are sorry about the situation is enough. You can say it in a variety of ways such as: “I’m sorry to hear about your loss” or “I’m sorry that you are going through this” or “I want you to know how sorry I am that this has happened to you.” Showing your concern lets the other person know that he or she is not alone.

Be supportive. You may feel like you should be doing something for the grieving person. It feels awkward to just stand or sit and talk about the situation. If you are the type of person who wants to “fix” things, you should use that attitude in this situation. While you can’t fix it, you can do things to make the burden easier.

Some examples of support include helping out with tasks around the house or caring for children so that the bereaved person can deal with other jobs. You may be able to take on some projects that the deceased handled, especially important when the people are older. Maybe he mowed the lawn, or she cooked dinner. Now that they are gone, this task is left up to another family member. They may feel overwhelmed at all of the work they need to do and appreciate you taking on the responsibility for a few days or weeks.

One of the best ways to offer ongoing support is by asking how the person feels. This allows them to deal with their feelings and express any concerns they are having. It is a good question to ask even months later because people may grieve for a very long time. When you receive an answer to your question, don’t assume that means you have to respond or “make them feel better.” Just the act of telling you that ‘today is a bad day’ or ‘I spent the morning crying’ can be enough.

The most important thing to remember about offering sympathy to people who are dealing with the loss of a loved one is that it’s not the words that matter. It’s the meaning and the intention behind the words.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

My Daughter At 50

My daughter’s birthday recently passed. She would have been 50-years-old this year, born in 1966. I thought it was a special occasion, even though she died 22 ½ years ago. And 1966 seems like an eternity ago. I wanted to do something to remember her on this special day, but realized I am content for now to reminisce on my own and feel her arms wrapped around me as we said goodbye the last time I saw her at her friend’s wedding.

I know of some bereaved mothers who have a party every year and invite the child’s friends. There is cake, drinks and a balloon release. Then they talk about what they remember. But that was not my style. So I did what I’ve done every year on her birthday. I went to the cemetery, cleaned off her stone and spoke a few words about how much I missed her and loved her. It makes me feel good to do this, as I am the only one who is left in our family that is able to.

As I approached the plaque in the ground this year, I realized someone else had also been there. There was a huge stone sitting on the top signifying to me that someone else also remembered this special day and wanted everyone who passed by to understand that. You can’t imagine how good that made me feel, even though I don’t know, and probably never will, who it was that was there.

This quiet cemetery allows me to go back in time, to remember all the good times—and there were so many—that we had and to tell her what I’ve been up to. She loved traveling, and so do I. I tell her we went on a cruise to the Baltic countries this summer, although I know she died before she could travel there. Last year I went to a Greek Island that was her favorite and tried to immerse myself in the culture to see what she loved so much about it. I discovered it was special in Crete. There is one thing I do when I travel—I take her with me in one form or another. It could be a necklace I wear with her picture on it, or her favorite ring. And at each stop, if there is a beautiful church or synagogue, I go inside and light a candle for her or just say a prayer.

She also loved people, particularly all her friends, and they in turn loved her. When she died I received hundreds of letters and notes about how she was the glue that held everyone together, that she was a kind and thoughtful soul that helped others when needed, that she was a free spirit, and that when she found the person she wanted to spend the rest of her life with, she was content and happy. All parents would like to know this of their child, and I was lucky enough to have that knowledge.

I think that if I called some of her friends and shared special moments, pictures, and reminisced about her short life, they, in turn, could also share what they remember. That would make this birthday very special. Perhaps one day soon I will do that.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Loss of an Adopted Child

Loss of an adopted child is just as heartbreaking as it would be if the person had given birth herself, according to Peggi Johnson, bereaved mother of 19 year old Jordan, who in 2009 died by suicide. She says she has no idea what happened to trigger his death.

When Peggi realized she couldn’t have children, they went another route: not an agency but a private adoption through a lawyer. She retired from her corporate career and devoted herself to motherhood full time.

Peggi knew who the birth mother was and kept in contact with her for a long time sending pictures and letters about Jordan’s progress as he grew up. But, according to Peggi, the birth mother was erratic in picking up the annual letters and Peggi stopped sending them until the birth mother contacted an attorney and  Peggi updated her again, putting together a package for her. When Jordan died, Peggi and the attorney were unable to contact her for two years but she eventually found out and was very angry. “I wrote a letter of explanation and the attorney handled it.”

Peggi adopted both of her children, a boy and a girl, Jordan and Claire, who is now almost 25. Only approximately two percent of children are adopted. According to Peggi, there are those parents who adopt and also have their own children, for whatever reason they choose. She emphasized there is no difference in how you feel about those who are placed with you and those children who are your own. They are loved equally, she believes.

Growing up Jordan was a quiet boy but smart. He had a lot of close friends who were crazy about him, according to Peggi. “He did not have an impulsive bone in his body. I loved him beyond measure and miss him beyond measure as well every minute of every hour of every day.”

Some of the things he loved were castles, wolves, beanie babies, dinosaurs and Harry Potter. He was an avid reader who adored David Eddings, Robert Jordan JR Tolkien, J.K. Rowling, Gorge R.R. Martin, and Ursula LeGuin. He was devoted to his sister, his dog Cassie, his neighbors, his cousins and his youth group. His life was enriched by teachers. He took a PB&J sandwich to school every day through 12th grade!

Peggi and her husband, Jeff, didn’t try to “imprint” and she believe most parents are like this. In other words, she said, “We want to know how they turn out on their own. If my husband and I loved football, we wouldn’t try to force it on Jordan. Children need to make their own decisions about what they want to do with their life. My son was introverted; I tried to be his advocate and let him do and be what he wanted on his own terms.”

Her other child, Claire, always wanted to find her real parents, particularly after Jordan died. “I was supportive about her finding as much family as possible,” said Peggi. Claire now knows her birth mother and has met with her several times. They will be visiting soon again and Claire will meet, for the first time, other close relatives. She is very excited about this, but, as Peggi says, “It doesn’t take away from how she and Claire feel about each other.

“The most important part of being a parent is unconditional love,” she says. “And I did give both my children unconditional love.”

Complications arise when the child dies, because you feel responsible that you were entrusted with this child and you couldn’t keep the child alive. “I don’t think I have healed,” says Peggi. “I think I have a limb that has been permanently amputated, and I try to do the best I can with it. I try to make my life meaningful, productive and helpful to others. That’s the best I’ve got. I endure it as well as I can. I don’t mope around.”

Peggi is a hospice volunteer, writes articles for TCF and presents workshops at the national conferences. She has talked about adopted children at three previous conferences. She and her husband are both active in their local TCF chapter in Virginia, enjoy being with other bereaved parents and do everything they can to honor Jordan.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

Sudden or Violent Death

Sudden or violent death of a child - workshop

The Sudden Death of a child is very close to my heart. It is the way my daughter died at age 27, and I always want to hear and read more about the topic.

Parents become paralyzed when their child died suddenly. They are in a state of shock, and it can take a long time to comprehend. There is no opportunity to prepare, resolve misunderstandings or, or most important, to say good-bye. My daughter and I had a wonderful relationship and when she was suddenly killed in a horrific car accident four months after her marriage, I couldn’t believe it. Neither can most parents. Our lives are changed forever.

Shock is our first response to news of a sudden death. We can’t believe what has happened, nor can any relatives or friends. It can take days, weeks and in some cases, months, to comprehend emotionally what has happened. You may have a fear of going crazy: what could you have done, should have done. This can lead to anxiety in your chest, lack of sleep, and an inability to function normally. We are angry at the injustice of it all; we anguish that the loss is forever, we yearn to be with the child; we might also focus our anger on those responsible. In my case, the man who smashed into them was never caught.

Bereaved parents also want to reach out for a “sign” from their child, and can be highly susceptible to the power of suggestion.

We ask ourselves “if only” and “What if.” We have guilt about what might have saved our child. Our job is to protect our child and not blame ourselves for what happened. Four important points to keep in mind are (1) talk out your feelings with the family, (2) talk with those who have been there, (3) keep a journal where you can address unfinished issues and say things left unsaid, and (4) the need to blame oneself will move from a main focus of grief to a level of acceptance since many tragedies in life are not preventable or foreseeable.

My biggest focus was on Anger towards those responsible for my daughter’s death. There are often yearnings to die in place of your child. It is suggested you surround yourself with like-minded people, create special ways to remember, talk about your child, keep a special memory album, hold special memorial gatherings to remember and honor the child, hold blood drives, donate toys, become a spokesperson for a cause, have a birthday party every year and do a memorial tattoo on your body. A good site to set up a memorial website for your child is

Many families say that one of the most difficult things is to see the world go on when the child is gone. But there are many ways to remember. Include your child’s name in a conversation. Even if friends are shocked at first, they will get used to it and perhaps feel better about their own memories of your child. Tell stories, make a special memory album others can look at. Honor the child in any way possible. Give back by helping a newly bereaved person.

We learn to accept the death. It can take a very long time because each person’s grief is different. Complete recovery is a myth. We never get over it. The family unit is changed forever and they need both short and long term support when the death comes suddenly. You will find your pain slowly changing from intense to warmer memories and a commitment to lead our lives in honor of our child and in a way that would make that child proud.

These ideas and thoughts are all constructive, representing some good that can come from a tragedy. Reinvest in love, work and living.