Sunday, December 4, 2016

Worldwide Candle Lighting and other info

A reminder that the 20th annual Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting  to  honor the memory of the sons, daughters, brothers, sisters and grandchildren who left too soon will be held. It unites family and friends around the globe when hundreds of thousands of people commemorate and honor their memory. Candles are lit for one hour at 7 p.m. local time. By doing this, it creates a virtual 24-hour wave of light as it moves from time zone to time zone.

It started in the U.S. in 1997 as a small internet observance, but has since swelled in numbers as word has spread throughout the world. Hundreds of formal candle lighting events are held and thousands of informal candle lightings are conducted in homes as families gather in quiet remembrance of children who have died, but will never be forgotten.

Local bereavement groups, churches, funeral homes, hospitals, hospices, children’s gardens, schools, cemeteries and community centers have arranged services for all size groups. Check on the Compassionate Friends Website for postings of where some of these are held. If there are none in your area, you may plan one on your own open to the public and use Compassionate Friends website to help with suggestions on planning the service. It can be as simple as getting into a circle, lighting a candle and saying a few prayers for those who died and perhaps one special prayer for your child before blowing out your candle. In some locations, the names of those who died and are attending the service are named as well as a speaker giving prayers. If planning one for your community, let TCF know, so it can be posted so others can attend and/or know about it. TCF also invites you to post a message in the Remembrance Book which is available during the event at the national website.

The Worldwide Candle Lighting gives bereaved families everywhere the opportunity to remember their child(ren) so that their lights may always shine.
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I read a fabulous idea recently about parents who wanted to honor their daughter who died. They did this by donating children’s books to a children’s hospital for reading and also donating grief books for those parents to read. It has gone over very well. Children were delighted to read or have stories read to them and parents could either read in the hospital or take the books home to read. I would definitely encourage any parents who want to honor their child to take up a  collection from parents who no longer need books for youngsters or to buy new books for this worthwhile project. Contact the local children’s hospital for additional information on how to go about doing this for them.
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If you want to create a memory book for your child who died, Kelly Gerken founded and is president of Sufficient Grace Ministries, a non-profit organization that helps bereaved families create memory books of their children. Kelly and husband Tim lost three of their five children to Potter’s Syndrome in utero.
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A support group for families who have a child suffering from cancer is Cal’s Angels, offering hope and love. Its mission and purpose to grant wishes, raise awareness and fund research to help kids fighting cancer continues Cal’s legacy, according to his parents, Tom and Stacey Sutter. Cal Sutter never gave up hope after his diagnoses of Leukemia. He was always more concerned about the well-being of others fighting cancer than he was about himself during his 14 month battle with the disease.

Sunday, November 27, 2016

Attending weddings, funerals, events after your child's death

Attending weddings, funerals, and special events after the death of your child can be very traumatic for the first year.

I remember two months after my daughter died in a car accident, a dear friend’s son was getting married and I was invited. I agonized for weeks about what I should do. On the one hand, I didn’t want to disappoint my friend, but on the other hand, I didn’t think I could make it through the ceremony without breaking down. You see, my daughter had gotten married five months prior to her death and those wonderful memories lingered in my mind and heart. If I were to see the bride coming down the aisle, would I be able to hold it together or would I think about my daughter’s wedding and be heartbroken?

I finally made a decision. I had to do what felt right for me. Everyone is different. I wanted to go to the wedding, but I just couldn’t. I had to call my friend and explain the circumstances. I thought it would be difficult, but she was very understanding and said she wondered what I would do, didn’t want to interfere, and left the decision up to me. I bought her son a very nice wedding gift, visited him when he got back from his honeymoon and hoped that would suffice. My friend told me her son understood. As time goes on, it does get better.

Attending a funeral of a relative or friend or one of their children is no different as far as emotions are concerned. Again, my mind reverts back to my daughter’s funeral. Many, many people attended, but truthfully, I didn’t see any of them. I was just thinking of what had happened so suddenly. The finality of it astounded me. I would never see her again. How could this have happened to my beautiful child? Children are not supposed to die before their parents.

Depending on when the funeral is (more than a year out is less taxing) and how close I am to the parents or child was one of the decisions as to whether or not I went that first year. I could send heartfelt condolences or offer to send food or flowers to their house if I didn’t feel I could handle going to the service and/or cemetery. 

Unfortunately, there were situations within that first year or so where I knew I must attend to show support and compassion for those grieving. I didn’t have to stay long, just acknowledge and express sympathy to the family and give them all a big hug. After all, I know only too well how I felt during that time in my life. If it is the same cemetery as where my daughter is buried, I use it as a reason to visit her grave. As long as I honored the life and memory of the one who died by attending, I think they understood if my emotions got the better of me and I started crying. Know that there did come a time when I was ready and at peace with these situations, but it does take a lot of grief work and you must do what, in your heart, is best for you.

I remember attending a few special events held for my daughter by her friends months afterwards. This was one area I felt I couldn’t bow out of with any kind of excuse. And to be truthful, I wanted to go to hear what others had to say about her. They were wonderful stories about her life and friendships, some of which I was not even aware. Yes, they tugged at my heart, but I was so proud to know how important she was to others.

We will all at some time in our life, lose someone we love dearly, and there is no way to avoid that. Trust your grief skills to get you through any situation. A loved one may be gone too soon from our lives but never, never from our hearts.

Sunday, November 20, 2016

Thanksgiving Memories

Thanksgiving has not been a fun or favorite holiday of mine for many, many years, but it is getting better with new additions to my family.

At first, I used to love the holiday. Although not that fond of turkey, I never had to worry. My mom always cooked the turkey and dinner and all I had to do was eat it! Easy enough. I must admit that I’ve never cooked a turkey for Thanksgiving in my entire life! Oh, I’ve cooked parts—a breast, a wing and many, many thighs, (my favorite part of the turkey). When my mom died, I still didn’t cook Thanksgiving. Either my sister-in-law did or my husband, at the time, prepared the turkey. I did the trimmings.

One of the last times I saw my family together was Thanksgiving, 1992, when my daughter and her fiance, drove to Tucson from Los Angeles to celebrate with us. Everyone was in a great mood. Always a fair kid, I was informed this was my year for Thanksgiving; next year they would go to her Dad’s in Phoenix. Little did she know that I was not cooking the turkey! The man of the house was doing it and did a great job! We kidded about the engaged couple sleeping in a trundle bed. “Don’t you know,” my daughter said, “that engaged and/or married couples like to sleep in the same bed, close together, not in twin beds.” I replied, “You’re close enough; you’re not married yet! And unless you want to sleep on the floor, this is the only other bedding in the house!” (To this day, it remains the only other bedding in my home, but with new mattresses.)

It was a festive weekend. I did not know it would be my mother’s last weekend alive. She died from heart failure the following week, not much older than I am now. How was I to know that my daughter would only have another year and a half to live before tragedy struck our family again after another holiday season and wedding celebrations, my daughter’s and her best friend’s.

As we celebrate every year, we are always thankful for our health, our families, our comfortable life. But the death of a child changes all that. I do not celebrate Thanksgiving as a festive day anymore. Sure, if invited, I go to a friend’s home, but when I hear others talk about their child, see their grandchildren and hear what they did recently, I always wish they would ask about a story or just mention my child, who they all knew and loved and who also lived a wonderful life for as long as she could. Sure, I wish she was still here, enjoying everyone and everything, but it was not to be.

I do, however, give thanks for what I do have now: a new husband of 10 years, a new step-daughter, who couldn’t be more like my own (born in the same month and on the same day), and recently, her new son, my first grandson, as her proud father, my husband, says to me, “I know you’ll never get over your own loss (and I wouldn’t expect you to), but I’m so glad I could help a little, fill the hole in your heart.”

Happy Thanksgiving to all. Celebrate as best you can with those you love.

Sunday, November 13, 2016

Tributes Digest

To help sustain the memories of children who have died, the Starshine Galaxy Foundation supports the Tributes to Lost Children Community Page on Facebook as a place to post, share, and comment on activities to honor these children and to celebrate their lives.

A biweekly Tributes Digest presents highlights from this community page along with other items of interest. These stories, many of which I’ve read, remind me of my first book, “I Have No Intention of Saying Good-bye” where I tell what happened to the child and then how the parents have moved on and what they are doing to honor their child. Many have causes or have started foundations. All of them don’t want what happened to them to happen to others.

Their stories are touching, and I’ve briefly summarized a few of them to give you an idea of the wide variety of what is being covered.

One of the recent highlights is “Jacob’s Hope.” Jacob disappeared in 1989 and his parents never gave up hope of finding their son. When they recently discovered his remains, they decided to keep the goal through this site of educating the public about those who take children, in hopes of stopping these kidnappings and murders.

Childhood cancer awareness is another topic on the minds of many as is the bodies of abandoned babies left on the roadside. As gun violence among young people become more prevelent, it is noted that we must find ways to stop this violence. Research into stillborn babies and Hemophiliac children is ongoing. And hope is always present as researchers learn more and more each day as to why these illnesses happen.

In the wake of 26-year-old Kayla Mueller’s death (she lived in Northern Arizona), “Kayla’s Hands” was created by her parents to continue their daughter’s humanitarian work she started in Syria to relieve human suffering. She was held for 18 months before she died. The  work they now do to help others is comforting to them and a loving tribute to Kayla.

Two year old Lane Graves was attacked by an alligator in Disneyworld recently, as he stood on a beach at the Disneyworld resort. Friends and family where he lived released 5,000 blue balloons as they stood in a large heart formation to honor and remember him. Disneyworld has since put up protective fences so no one else will get hurt or die.

Mathew Shepard, an incoming freshman at the University of Wyoming who was gay, was lured from a bar by two men who then kidnapped and tortured him and let him die, tied to a fence in an empty field. The voices of gay people are being heard now in greater numbers and they are hoping to stop this vicious violence.

The many deaths of men, women and children on September 11, 2001, will always be a tragedy, but out of that, a living memorial was built in New York to remember all the victims, and many families have started their own foundations to honor their children, relatives and friends and to document the lives of those tragically killed in this terror attack.

All of these deaths and many others are talked about in this Tributes Digest in much greater detail. Activities are held to honor those who have passed away and hopefully, what others have done can help in the healing process.

Their mailing address is: Starshine Galaxy Foundation, 1400 Sherwood Lane, Geneva, IL 60134. Direct any comments, questions or concerns on any post you may read in full on Facebook to:

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Giving Back

Two people who feel that Compassionate Friends has given them their lives back after the death of two of their three children is Jacquin Edwards-Mitchell and John Mitchell. Even though they lost two children, they say they gained a family of thousands, referring to the TCF community.

Fortunately they didn’t let their children’s death destroy their their lives. Both children died by drowning 22 years ago and yet they still attend meetings and try to help others who are going through their grief journey. John and Jacquin run the Manhattan, New York, chapter, going twice a month.

Their two boys were swimming one day and the older one hit his head on the side of the pool. The younger boy dove in the water and tried to save him but to no avail and also died in the attempt. 

They didn’t think they would survive this devastation. Someone told them about Compassionate Friends and they attended their first meeting, feeling a camaraderie with those who had lost a child.

When asked how they survived that first year, the answer was “One day at a time.”

 “Grief doesn’t just go away,” said Jacquin. “You don’t wake up one night and think you are all better. It’s a lifetime struggle and you need other people. You can’t do it alone.” In the first year one needs support--someone to call in the middle of the night who understands what you are going through. The Mitchells try to help those in need through this difficult time. She emphasized that if one chapter of TCF doesn’t work for you, go to another one. Shop around to find the best fit for your needs.

John tries to help men in grief, while Jacquin works on the board of directors of TCF. Someone was there for them and now they want to be there for others. 

Gloria Horsley, grief specialist, says it feels good to help others, and it gives you a chance to give back.

“At TCF you are surrounded by love,” said Alan Pedersen, executive director of TCF.

Whatever you decide is best for your needs, take that first step and you will find that after a while, you will be helping others like yourself. I know it is true. I have given back by speaking at TCF National Conferences and making new friends with those who sought help. It is very rewarding, and in the process of helping others, I also helped myself. 

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Online Chat Rooms

For those needing help to get through their grief journey, the Compassionate Friends offers live online chats. This program was established to encourage connecting and sharing among parents, grandparents, and siblings over the age of 18 who are grieving the death of a child. These chat rooms supply support, encouragement and friendship and encourage conversation among friends who understand the emotions you are experiencing. The following are general bereavement sessions as well as more specific sessions based on Eastern time. The views expressed in this Online Support Community are the opinions of individual visitors and do not necessarily represent the views of the organization. Visit Compassionate for additional information of how to get on to these chat rooms.

9-10 a.m. and 9-10 p.m.                                                         
Moderator: Pat

9-10 p.m.                                                         9-10 p.m.
Bereaved less than two years                            Bereaved more than two years
Moderator: Margo                                            Moderators: Becca and Carol

9-10 p.m.                                                         10-11 p.m.
Parents/grandparents/siblings                         Parents/grandparents/siblings
Moderators: Karen and Walline                        Moderator:s Carol and Jeanne

8-9 p.m.                                                           9-10 p.m.        
No Surviving Children                                    Parents/grandparents/siblings
Moderators: Adaline and Izzy                           Moderators: Carol and Donna 

10-11 p.m.                                                       9-10 p.m.
Parents/grandparents/siblings                             Parents/grandparents/siblings
Moderator: Karen                                            Moderators: Margo and Maureen

9-10 p.m.                                                         10-11 p.m.
Pegnancy/Infant Loss                                        Parents/grandparents/siblings
Moderators: Andrea and Sara                           Moderators: Margo and Maureen

9-10 p.m.                                                         10-11 p.m.
Parents/grandparents/siblings                             Parents/grandparents/siblings
Moderators: Becca and Carol                           Moderators: Leslie and Carol

8-9 p.m.                                                           9-10 p.m.
Survivors of Suicide                                          Parents/grandparents/siblings
Moderator: Izzy                                                Moderators: Carol and Diana

Closed Facebook Groups are also available, but you will have to contact the organization to get approval to join them. These groups are more specific on the loss. They include: loss of a child, loss of a stepchild, loss of a grandchild, sibling bereavement, men in grief, loss to substance related causes, loss to suicide, loss to homicide, loss to a drunk/impaired driver, loss to cancer, loss of a child with special needs, loss to long-term illness, infant and toddler loss, loss of an only child or all your children, loss to miscarriage or stillbirth, and loss to mental illness.

Sunday, October 23, 2016

The Earthquake

Out of the blue one day last week, someone brought up the 1994 Northridge Earthquake in the Los Angeles area. Oh, yes, that was part of a heartbreaking year, when my daughter was in a fatal car crash. Remembering that year, the earthquake triggers some fond memories, certainly not of the damage, destruction and death of many people, but of what transpired that morning of January 17. I received a phone call from my daughter asking if I had heard the news. I looked at the bedside clock which read 6:30 a.m. and said, “No, I was sleeping. What happened?” My daughter told me they had just experienced an earthquake of around 6.1 where she lived with her husband in Sherman Oaks, and she was under the kitchen table!” “Don’t worry, she said, we’re all right, and I called to let you know that.” (Always so thoughtful and considerate). I smiled. “Nothing was damaged,” she continued, but she called me first and needed to make another call to her dear friend’s mother in Tucson to let her know that her daughter was on the East Coast that week and that she didn’t have to worry about her. “Okay, I said. “I’m glad you called me.”

When my daughter died two months later, her friend’s mother came to the funeral. She said it was because she wanted to face me and let me know what a special daughter I had and how much she appreciated that call two months earlier. To myself I said, I know she was special, but it was still great hearing it from others.

All that month and for many after, I received many cards and letters telling me how special she was to others, and it always warmed my heart. Many years later, I even heard from her first boyfriend, who I think always had special feelings for her even after she broke up with him. He told me that it had taken him a long time to get up the courage to write me to let me know how much she meant to him and still does. He reminisced about many events we all shared, again bringing back wonderful memories for both of us.

Every time I hear someone mention 1994, I always associate it with the death of my daughter. It could be a casual remark someone makes about the O.J. Simpson murders, a marriage, a divorce, the death of a well-known personality such as Nixon or Jacqueline Kennedy, a sports team winning a championship or a statistic comparing the population growth then and now. My heart skips a beat when that year is mentioned, even now, more than 22 years later. I want to shout, “Hey, my daughter was beautiful inside and out, and I don’t want her to be forgotten.”  I know I never will.

Because of all the people who loved her, I know that will never happen. And I have made sure of that through all the meaningful things I have done in her memory including setting up a perpetual foundation to give financial aid to college students to finish their degrees.

Not a day goes by that I don’t think of my daughter, who died far too young. She had so much to do, so much to give…And after the pain that accompanies memories of people long since gone, I remember all the good times and the wonderful people I have met while I try to help others deal with their loss as I know my daughter would have wanted to do.