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Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Fragile: Handle with Care!

The packing is almost done, where do I put this, what do I do with that.  So many things to go through, so many things to give away, oh so many things.  We have all had the task of packing things.  It is back to school time and so many of us have helped our kids pack, bundled everything into the car and headed off with them to college. 

If you have ever had to move, you know how tedious it can be; wrap the crystal, label the boxes, get a dumpster.  Then there is the unpacking and trying to find a new home for everything; you may even find yourself with some unpacked boxes months down the road.  It is a great opportunity to clean house, get rid of those items we haven't used in years and make a fresh start.

If you have lost a loved one, you know all too well how painful the packing can be.  Some of you do it right away, better to get it over with; others still years later have not touched a single thing.  My daughter was living on her own and the house in which she rented with three other friends, was being sold by the owner.  So my husband and I had no choice but pack up her things right away.  We rented a U-haul, packed an overnight bag and off we went.  

When we arrived at her place, her roommates and some of her friends where there to greet us and give us a hand.  After tearful hellos and some reminiscing, my husband, two children and I with the help of her friends, began the task of going through her things and packing.  My daughter took on the task of going through her clothes, my son would carry out whatever we had finished packing, and her friends and my husband started loading up furniture.  I had the task of sorting through her paperwork, putting aside things that needed immediate attention, things that I could look at later, and some items I just didn't have the heart to throw away.  

It was bittersweet and exhausting, especially when her scent still lingered in the room, and her very presence permeated everything we touched.  We finally stopped, took her friends out for a bite to eat and then came back to her home.  My husband and I slept in her bed that night, and we both honestly can say it was the best nights sleep we had had in a long time.  If felt good to be where she had called home for almost a year, a place she loved very much, a place near the ocean.  It was a beautiful location, rich in character and steeped in old fashioned tradition, she adored it.  

We arose the next morning ate breakfast with her roommates and finished the task of packing what remained.  We put the last items in the U-haul, closed the truck and went in for a final inspection.  As we headed in it began to rain, it was as if the skies felt our pain and let loose when everything was packed away.  We said our good-byes, promised to keep in touch and headed out the door into our uncertain future.  As we drove along the highway the rain began to subside and as we took our exit to head home, a double rainbow came into view.  It was the most beautiful rainbow we had ever seen, and the fact that we could see two complete rainbows made it that much more incredible.  We all knew it was Rachel's way of saying everything is going to be alright, and I'm okay.  

Hopefully many of you have already been able to pack up your loved one's belongings.  If you have not that is okay too.  Like I have said many times before, you need to do what feels and is right for you.  Only you know what you can and cannot handle at the moment.  Take heart, you will eventually begin to go through their things, you may at first find yourself just holding them, touching them and gently putting them back in their places.   Eventually you may find that you start giving somethings away, you may wish to donate their clothing to charity, find a home for the furniture, and so on.  

When Rachel died, my daughter kept of few articles of clothing and some shoes for herself, and my son kept all her sporting equipment.  The rest of her clothes were donated to a local charity that helped young women get a fresh start, and her bedding and some of the furniture that we could not use was donated to a woman's shelter.  In the true spirit that was Rachel, she continued to help others even in her death. 

You may not be sure what to do or how to begin.  The best place to start is with your loved one, what were they like, what did they value?  Let this guide you as to how to proceed, as to what to do next. 

We have lost many family members and in each instance their personal belongings were packed up differently.  My mom for instance still has a few of my father's clothes hanging in their closet 10 years later.  When my father-in-law died, my husband and his siblings took care of packing, donating and disposing of his items.  My grandfather couldn't even be in the same room or watch us take any of my grandmother's belongings, he wanted nothing to do with it.  He couldn't bear to see her things being packed away and the drawers being emptied, it hurt too much.  

If you find that this task is too much for you, ask for help.  Maybe you are not ready to get rid of anything just yet, but they could be packed away until you are ready to go through them.  Again, whatever works for you is what you do.  If you decide to take on the task, allow yourself to feel their presence in their belongings, smell the cologne that may still linger on a sweater, maybe even their own signature scent.  Let your self cry, I saw a simple quote today that reminded me that it is okay to grieve and cry - "Tears are God’s gift to us.  Our holy water.  They heal us as they flow. " ~Rita Schiano, Sweet Bitter Love, (1997, published by The Reed Edwards Company); so allow yourself to be healed.  Let yourself laugh and smile as you come across reminders of who they were, what they loved to do and what made them special to you.  Share the task with someone or do it alone.  

But know this for certain, that you are only packing away their belongings, the individual is still very much a part of you.  You are not betraying them, you are not putting them away, you are merely packing away what cannot no longer be used.  I chose to keep items that I know meant something special to my daughter, as well as things that held sentimental value to me, and I occasionally will pick them up and remember my daughter.  It is my way of keeping small tokens of who she was around me.  

You will find your way through this, you will pack away some things, donate others and yes you will find a place for some, but most importantly you will find a fresh start, strengthened by the love you shared.  And remember: "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal." ~From a headstone in Ireland.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Do you have the time?

It's Monday, generally a try to recuperate from the weekend kind of day.  If you have the weekends off, then it is try to finish everything you couldn't do last week, and start all over again.  It is never ending, you try to cram a whole lot of fun activities, visits to family, this gathering, that party all in the span of 2 days.  Go back to work get through whatever you have to get accomplished and start looking forward to the weekend on or about Wednesday.  It seems to never end, and as we get older we seem to have less and less time.  

Time, it is such a precious commodity, yet we all to often waste it.  I'll do that tomorrow, I'll call them next week, oh there is plenty of time to do that, and so on.  We are given 24 hours in a day, we spend anywhere from 6 to 8 hours sleeping, 8 hours at work or school, and the rest trying to figure out what's for supper, what bills to pay, and what do I have to do tomorrow.  Time can be our friend or an enemy, it all depends at what angle we happen to be looking at it from.  

When death takes someone from us, we see time as a thief, steeling from us the future.  Taking all our plans and just throwing them by the wayside.  Time also sneaks up on us in the form of guilt, we start to wonder what would have happened if I had just spent a little more time with them, why didn't I call, I meant to visit.  The litany can go on and on.  But time is also a friend during our time of grief, we allow time to pass slowly as we look at the life we shared with our loved one.  As the days and nights come and go, we begin to learn acceptance, we begin to travel further along on our journey.  Time allows us to slowly heal, it does not heal all wounds and I truly believe this.  As a mother, a daughter, niece and granddaughter, I have learned that with each loss I suffered and survived through, I was left with scars.  Some scars are deeper than others of course, but like a person who suffers from arthritis, who gets achy before a storm, every once in a while the scars begin to hurt a little.  In time they are barely noticeable, as is the case with my dad, and still very sore and painful, as it is with my daughter's death.  

I wonder how many of us would do things differently if we knew just how much time we had.  I have seen so many people around me who become reflective and more aware of others when they have suffered the death of a loved one; they seem to recognize how short our time can be.  Still others, even when given a second chance at life, continue on the paths they traveled before, with no regard to the gifts surrounding them.  Or so it seems, I have learned that we act in ways that protect us, from pain, from being hurt again, and sometimes from ourselves.  We keep busy, we rush here and there, we try to cheat time, in the hopes of blocking out any thoughts of their death, our loss, and how everything seems to have changed.  I have learned that judgement is best left to the judges, because unless we are willing to walk in someone else's shoes, we cannot begin to try to assume anything.  We all cope in our own ways, we all do what is best for us, for our pain, for our healing. 

In Ann Dawson's, A Season of Grief there is a section called Time of Longing and in it is a short poem. 

       The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
       But I have promises to keep,
       And miles to go before I sleep
       And miles to go before I sleep.
                                                                      -Robert Frost
                                           'Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening'

The author reflects on the poem by stating that she 'heard the words of the above poem years ago' at the time of John F. Kennedy's death.  She goes on to say, that 'It seemed as if our president had so many more miles to travel on this path before he reached the end of his journey, a journey that was cut short before his time.'  

We all know this sentiment quite well, many of us know someone whom we felt died way too young.  I use the term 'way too young' loosely, because age is a state of mind, and what seems old to someone is very young to someone else.  I had mentioned in an earlier post that when my grandfathers died, I remember being sad and knew I would missed them, but I felt they had lived full lives.  My dad on the other hand, I felt he had died way too young, after all he was only 68.  So I won't even tell you how I felt when my 23 year old died.  But I can say with confidence, that they all accomplished something in their 'time' here on earth.  As long or short as it may have seemed, it was all the time they needed to complete their mission.  And everyone of the members of my family that have died, definitely left a legacy.  They cherished their time, they shared their time with others, they accepted time as their friend and they left us each with the gift of their time with us.  

I googled, 'What is time?' and one of the best descriptions was 'When we think of time we tend to think of the ways in which we measure the passing of time, such as a clock or watch, or perhaps a measured interval of time such as an hour or minute, but not of time itself. So what is time? Exactly what is it that we are measuring?'  If you wish to read on you can visit their website:  What is Time? or just do as I did and google it.  There are some interesting variations on time and our perception of it.  

However you perceive time, use it wisely, enjoy it immensely and relish the time you were given with your loved one.  The time you spent together is more precious than any gem and it is stronger than any diamond, because the love you shared, will survive the test of time.  I love my daughter more today than I did yesterday, and as I approach the fourth anniversary of her death, I can feel her love surrounding me and the gentle hug she is giving my heart as I type.  Remember that the person may have died, but the love goes on and never dies.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Live, Laugh, Love

It's been years since I have participated in a scavenger hunt, but just last night I did.  I have never laughed so hard in my life as we tried to accomplish the tasks required for the win.  It was the older women versus the younger ones, it was fun, competitive and unbelievable how many people were willing to help us with the requirements.  It was fun, enjoyable and I am still chuckling to myself thinking of what we did last night, nothing illegal I assure you, just some good wholesome fun. 

Fun and laughter, something I thought I might never experience again after my daughter's death.  For so many people, when we are grieving, even the thought of ever being able to just smile seems so far away.  Some feel that laughing and having a good time is a betrayal of their loved one, others feel that they no longer have the right to laugh, to have fun.  I have been told that when others where laughing and just enjoying themselves, that the grieving person felt angry, bitter and hurt.  How dare someone have a good time when I am in so much pain. 

I laugh, I smile, I have a good time, and depending on what I am doing, like last night, I think of my daughter and how much fun she would have participating in such antics.  It doesn't mean that a pang of pain doesn't pull at my heart, believe me it does, but that I am able to live, not yet fully accepting completely, but understanding that she is not coming back.  

If you have recently lost someone, you are probably thinking 'this woman is nuts' how can anyone ever be happy again?  I am not saying it is easy, trust me its not, I so wished my daughter was with us last night.  I don't say it out loud for fear of making anyone uncomfortable, but the idea is there just the same.  

Earlier in the day, I had been at a birthday party, and while we were sitting around talking and cooing over the babies that were there, a butterfly floated by; I immediately thought of my daughter.  Let me explain, every time I see a butterfly I think of Rachel, butterflies are for many the symbol of rebirth.  For years the butterfly was etched on tombstones as a symbol of resurrection and new life.  There is a beautiful proverb that states: 'just when the caterpillar thought the world was over, it became a butterfly.'  Shortly after Rachel died, a friend and I went for a walk, we just talked about anything and everything to do with how I was feeling and the death of my daughter.  As we walked along, we noticed a beautiful butterfly that kept fluttering ahead as we approached.  Every time we came closer it would fly on ahead and wait until we approached again.  This went on for the entire time we were walking, which was well over 3 miles.  

At first the sighting of a butterfly would bring tears to my eyes, as time went on they became and still are welcome sights.  When we have gatherings were family is involved and we spot a butterfly we immediately say Rachel is here.  Like the caterpillar, eventually we begin to change, to step out of our old shells, we emerge and reawaken to the new normal in our lives, we learn to laugh again.  We do not forget, but we recognize that we are all the better for having had this person in our lives.  

In the support group that I attended one of the tasks we did was to come up with 5 things that we loved about the person, as well as 5 things we didn't.  We also had to share what we learned from this person.  I learned a lot from my daughter even if her life here was so short, she taught me to love unconditionally, to accept everyone and to truly enjoy life.  To live, to laugh, to love and not be afraid to be myself.  If you take the time to just write down what the person meant to you, how they lived their lives, what you liked and didn't like, you will be astounded by what you reveal to yourself.  When you think about what you learned from this person, you will realize how much they truly accomplished during their time here on earth.  

We want to remember, we want to move forward, we want to laugh again and you will.  Like the butterfly, we are the caterpillar which represents our birth, we become the chrysalis which represents death (for those grieving, it represents a time a great darkness and pain) and then the beautiful butterfly representing resurrection or in our cases a new beginning.  Once the butterfly breaks free of its cocoon, it alights on flowers taking in all it has to offer, spreading its wings, enjoying the sun's rays, living each day to its fullest.  We, like the butterfly, learn to enjoy life's simple pleasures again, we smile, we laugh, we spread our wings, all the richer for having had that someone special in our lives.  To quote my daughter's favorite saying, 'Live, Laugh, Love.'

Courtesy of The Butterfly

 My hopes for you is that you will let yourself transform and enjoy life because of what that person taught you.  Spread your wings and live.

Live….laugh…and Love
By John McLeod

Live well dear friends
In all you do,
Tho' paths be old
Or paths be new,
But to yourself
Be ever true,
Live well!

Laugh often friends
Tho' passing years
Bring, sometimes, smiles
And, sometimes, tears,
For mirth forever
Warms and cheers
Laugh often!

Love much dear friends
For love will bring
The healing joy
And hope of Spring,
Where pain and fear may never dwell

And so Live well,
Laugh often too,
And more, dear friends,
Love much!

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

If there were no tomorrows!

Today my mind is wandering down its own paths, thinking of a friend and how they need my prayers as they deal with the illness of a family member; how I need to go buy a birthday gift, and what will I wear to go out to dinner tonight.  I laugh at times at how much can go on in a person's mind, it's 'mind boggling' at best.

One of the prevalent thoughts that keeps peeking out through the rest, was how I have coped, dealt, handled or whatever you want to call it, with grief.  My earliest recollection of death and dying was going with my parents to a family friends wake and funeral.  My parents are European and there perception of death is that like birth it is a part of life.  I was not shielded from it, it was part of being human, it is inevitable, it is to be expected and understood, not feared or avoided.  Which there really is no way that I have found to avoid it.  At an early age I remember people crying, seeing a big box with a cover on it and lots of flowers.  It was different and I didn't ask questions, I just took it all in, and like most children, listened very closely to whatever conversation I could overhear.  I got glimpses of how he died, how his wife and children were handling it, and how sad that he was so young.  

At about the age of 6 or 7, I remember my parents getting a phone call and me and my brothers being bundled into the car.  Off we went to my grandmothers house, there were some people there already, and others kept arriving, my Uncle Joao had died in some far away country called Brazil.  My grandmother sat quietly, as others bustled around making coffee, getting this getting that, and I remember just feeling sad, and crying because all my aunts and uncles were, and this bothered me.  Why are they all so sad, they are usually laughing and tickling or teasing me, this is not what usually happens when I visit Vavo's house.  I heard the conversations, and they couldn't believe he just died at the age of 39, and that my poor cousins, who I had never met, now had no daddy.  For my grandmother it was hard, yes she had buried 7 other children most in the first year of life, but this was her baby, her first born.  She didn't cry out, but now I understand all to well, how her silent tears screamed from her heart, and I am sure she spent many a lonely night crying when no one was looking.  

Now fast forward to 15, it is just after 6 a.m., the phone rings and in some way I cannot explain, I am awake and I just know something is not right.  I hear my mom say hello, and then a simple when!  I come down the stairs, my mom is crying and trying to reach my dad who had just left for work at 5 am.  She tells me my Vavo Rose just died, and needs to call my dad.  I just sit and cry.  After the funeral and weeks have passed, I start to feel sad, really sad, we always said a rosary every night, reciting the Hail Mary, and all of a sudden I cannot say the ending to the prayer, 'now and at the hour of our ....,' the word death has me shuddering.  If I say it I know I will have nightmares, I begin to worry about my parents, what if I lose this one or that one.  I remember finally asking a priest if this was normal not to be able to at least say my prayers, and he simply told me that I could talk to God anyway I needed to, I didn't have to use written prayers, and I started to do just that.  

Wow I'm 19, I'm engaged and getting married in a few months, I'm excited and of course like any bride to be can't wait.  My Vavo Elvira has been admitted it is October and she needs surgery, okay is what my mom and her siblings agree upon.  At first everything goes well, my grandmother is responding well, November comes she is still in the hospital and we bring a cake to celebrate her birthday.  God willing she will be home soon.  Then all of a sudden something goes wrong, she begins to have some internal bleeding, at first she is still doing fine, and I visit her everyday.  But before Christmas, she has become comatose, and she is just lying there when I visit.  I finally tell my mom that I can't go anymore, it is just to hard for me to see her this way; I stop visiting her and get reports from my mom as to how she is doing.  I begin to pray earnestly for her recovery or ask God to please take her out of this pain.  Just two months before my wedding my grandmother died.  I had to call the dress shop to tell them she would not be needing her dress.  The worst part of all this was the feeling of guilt in being relieved that she was no longer suffering, mixed with the sense of loss.  All this was of course in the shadow of wedding preparations.  It hit me all at once that neither of my grandmothers would be at my wedding.  But never fear, they are always with you, the day of my wedding my grandfather handed me a letter from my grandmother, who somehow knew in her heart that she would not be there that day.  It was a bittersweet gift to receive, but one that let me know she was okay.  

I have since lost my grandfather Manuel and Joao, who both died when they were about 98 years old.  I was sadden by their deaths, but happy in knowing that they had lived full lives, surrounded by their family and friends.

2000, my dad had been living with lymphoma for over 9 years and responding well to all forms of treatment.  At Christmas just before, he had asked us to come visit, my parents were living in Florida at the time, and I was dealing with my nephews illness and the potential risk that he might not make it, and at only 14, my nephew had already gone through a lot, so I said no.  Well my dad had other plans for me, around the end of January my mom calls and tells us my dad is not doing very well, his physician calls and explains what is happening, my brothers and I fly to Florida.  We are with him for a while and even though it looks bad the doctors feel he will recover just fine.  After 9 days, I head back home.  I am home a week when I get the call that my dad had died.  The oldest of my brothers is with my mom so he helps with the arrangements there, and my 2 others brothers and I take care of all the arrangements here.  It is unbelievable, but I know my mom needs me so I go into action.  I had no guilt or remorse, I know I had been there when my dad needed me, and when I had been by his bedside at the hospital, I had told him I wanted him to stay, but it was okay if he had to go.  I reassured him that he had raised us well, and that we would be okay.  So I had said good bye and told him I loved him, even if that is not what I really wanted.  

Since my father's death, we have had several more family members who have died, and each having it's own affect on me, but all this 'experience' if you will never prepares us.  We still react with shock, we still grieve, each death in its own way.  We may have had different relationships with the individual, but they all had some impact on our lives.  And they were someone very special and dear to someone I love very much. 

Death, like birth is a integral part of humanity, to quote Disney's The Lion King - it is part of the 'Circle of Life.'  Our culture and beliefs dictate how we view death, how we deal with it.  For so many, there is the belief of eternal life, for some reincarnation, for others the spirit takes on the form of animals, whatever you believe, is what helps you move forward.  I know I will see Rachel, and all my loved ones again, and it is this belief that sustains me.  Hold on to what is dear to you, and allow yourself to fully enjoy life, and live it as if tomorrow may never come.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Where Am I?

Friday, yeah its the weekend!  Files are put away, computers shut down, and anything that we couldn't get to this week is put aside to be dealt with on Monday.  Just another routine day at the office, or where ever you may happen to work.  Now it is time to get some rest, maybe relax, take it easy or if you are like me, go to a party on Saturday and maybe another on Sunday, at least that is what's in store for this weekend.  

But as you head home, your cell rings and you start wondering, okay what do I need to pick up before I can get home, we probably need milk or something.   You answer the phone, but it is not a routine call from a family member, instead it is harried caller, saying something odd, or so it seems.  You stop a moment, try to collect your thoughts and say hold on, what are you saying, what was that.  Please, I don't understand, what happened.  

In the blink of an eye your whole world is turned upside down, now instead of heading home, you are rushing to a family members home, or to a friends, or to the hospital.  Someone's been hurt, there's been an accident, or any number of possibilities.  You drive on auto pilot and somehow arrive at where you need to be.  You step inside to what seems to be a flurry of activity.  Nothing is making sense, nothing seems real, where am I, what am I doing here, so many questions run through your mind.  

Someone finally realizes that you have arrived, and they begin to explain what has happened, what is being done and what the prognosis is.  It hits you like a ton of bricks, Oh My God, this isn't good, you start making some calls, you try to reach key people.  What happened to just going home and taking it easy, after all this is the start of the weekend.  For so many of us this is the scene that took place as we were informed that our loved one had either been in an accident or had died.  Nothing is the same anymore, the hours begin to melt into each other, days are fused into one, nothing is normal.  Our regular routine is tossed out the nearest window, everything is so new, it is as if you stepped off the plane into a foreign country.  

So now the weeks, months maybe even years have gone by and you have slowly begun to learn to live with a new 'normal,' a life without the person who died.  At first you may expect them to walk through the door, call you on the phone, you may even call their cell phone, I did several times.  I still have my daughter's cell phone number in my contacts list, as well as her e-mail address and her address has not been erased from my address book.  To be honest, I still have the phone message on my answering machine from that fateful morning almost 4 years ago.  

But as we begin to re-emerge into this new world, a world that lacks a certain spark, we find ourselves maybe laughing again, enjoying simple pleasures, maybe even starting a new hobby.  We start to live out our new normal, allowing ourselves to remember, to celebrate and to realize the gift we recieved by having our loved one in our lives.  We still miss them, we still wish they were here, but we learn to 'accept' that they had to go home, that they had completed their mission here on earth.  They may have accomplished so much in so little time, and we take pride in who they were and what they believed in.  We feel the love, we embrace the memory, we live for who we are and what they would wish for us.  We become stronger individuals, hopefully have more empathy for others and realize that every day is a very precious gift.  We need to open this gift every day and share it with not only those we love, but everyone we come in contact with.  We all help each other in many ways, it is the simple things that speak volumes and the kind stranger who sometimes helps us to see more clearly.  So step out, reach out and embrace the newness of your world and try to see it from every angle.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

Sunshine Through the Darkness

It is amazing how wonderful the sun feels after several days of rain, the brightness, the warmth are so very welcome, we feel rejuvenated.  We have had 4 days straight of rain and we all began to feel the effects of the dreary, dark weather.  We felt tired, dragged out, in the morning many of us wished that we could just stay in bed.  It is the type of weather that has us just wanting to curl up with a book, or take a nap in the middle of the day.

It made me realize that grief is similar, in that we seem to be surrounded by the dark, dreary days that come with the realization that someone we love has died.  Once the initial shock has warn off, we begin to feel exhausted, drained, washed out, we want to just sleep or be left alone.  As the days progress the feelings become so heavy that we feel so tired just hours after getting up in the morning.  

After I lost my daughter, within weeks I started to feel tired and every inch of my body began to ache.  I felt as if I were 110 years old; climbing a flight of stairs, was like trying to scale Mt. Everest, it seemed almost impossible.  I would awake in the morning, after barely sleeping, thinking maybe today I can get something done, only to become acutely aware of how exhausted and drained I felt after only being awake for 2 hours.  It was unbelievable, never in my life had I ever felt this way, even when I had pneumonia, I had not felt this drained.  I called my doctor, she had me come in and explained to me that these were symptoms of depression.  When we experience life changing events in our lives, depression can come as a result.  It may happen as a result of the death of a loved one, separation due to divorce, or even something as happy as changing careers or buying a new home.  My physician explained further that depression can and often manifests itself in physical symptoms, as was the case with me.  It also leaves us vulnerable to all sorts of illnesses, in the first six months after my daughters death, I caught a cold every other week.

I had mentioned in an earlier posting that our bodies react to events in our lives, sometimes protecting us and at others leaving us feeling so useless.  Luckily with the help of my doctor, an appointment was made for me with a counselor, and she was a tremendous help to me during this period in my life.  She helped me sort through the depression, understand the waves that sometimes tossed me about, and helped me to see that it was all part of the 'process' that I was going through.  As the months passed I became more aware of my reactions, and I began to fully understand why people can sometimes do what appears to be crazy things, while dealing with a dark time in their lives.   At times I would feel as if I could do almost anything not to feel the pain, not to hurt so deeply, and how I longed to be free from the nightmares that sometimes haunted my nights.  

I would often go to bed only to be unable to sleep because my mind would be racing with thoughts.  My sleep was fitful to say the least, and there wasn't much that could distract me or get my mind off the thoughts of what had happened.  I still experience bouts of sadness, and certain events or dates can and do leave me feeling tired, but I am able to work and function.  There are still many things that no longer are of interest to me, but in time I feel that this too will begin to change.  

I am beginning to see the sun, to feel its brightness and its warmth, I know there will still be clouds once in a while, but that's okay.  I will take is slowly, savor those days and know that the hurting is part of the healing, and like the sun that shines through the clouds, spreading its rays all around us, the love we share will reach out to us from behind whatever darkness we are experiencing.  I cannot say it enough, reach out, find someone whom you can talk to, share your emotions and thoughts.  When we put a voice to what we are feeling, we can begin to learn how to deal with it and find healthy ways of coping. You do not have to be alone in your pain, there are many people who may not know what you are going through, but do understand the pain of loss.  So take that first step and seek out someone you can trust or professional help, start sharing your pain, emotions, and feelings, and begin to let the sunshine in.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

What Day is It?

There are so many dates to remember, our birthdays, anniversaries, first dates, payment due dates, you name it there is probably a date affiliated with it.  As we go about our day to day lives, we glance at the calendar to get a quick confirmation of what day it is.  We keep planners, electronic devices, etc., all in the hopes of keeping are schedules straight.  Dates are generally something we keep tabs on, so as not to forget anything important or over schedule ourselves.  

Yet there are times in our lives when we wish we could forget certain dates.  When you lose someone you love, someone dear to you, dates take on entirely new meanings.  All of sudden, dates are dreaded, birth dates, anniversaries, holidays, etc.  These dates no longer hold the same magic, they now bring pain, sadness and a sense of helplessness.  My daughter died 6 days before her 24th birthday, it was difficult enough to deal with her death, but having to now bury her around her birthday was to much.  She was buried the day after her birthday because there was no way my husband and I could bury her on her birthday.  It was difficult, but somehow we all got through those days.

Shortly after came Thanksgiving and Christmas, and with the death of a loved one, this became a very hard time of year to go through.  The holidays can be very difficult, this is a time when our emotions seem to be the rawest, especially if the holiday held special meaning for our loved one or ourselves.  But somehow through tears, we manage to survive.  Some people choose not to celebrate the holidays, finding it to difficult to decorate, yet others put everything out.  However you choose to cope, is like anything else, what is right for you.  

We continue to move along, and suddenly the anniversary of the death comes into view.  Darn that calendar, did the months have to pass so quickly.  We suddenly realize that it is coming up on a year since we have had to say good bye.  For me that first anniversary was so difficult and fortunately for us, we had a Mass offered in her memory, and many of our family and friends not only went to the church, but spent the day with us.  We cried, we laughed and we truly celebrated my daughter's life.  That is what worked and helped us.  Each of us is different and we all mark certain dates in our own ways.  Some people have a simple service, some quietly let the day pass, others visit the grave and put flowers, or go to a favorite place that they shared with their loved one.  This is all good and yes, allow yourself to do what is good for you and don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  

It will be 4 years in September since my daughter died, and even though a few years have passed it is still very difficult.  Not only do we remember her death, but shortly after I am reminded that she will not be blowing out the candles on her birthday cake.  My dad died in 2000, and every year in February when the date of his death approaches I find myself getting very quiet and thinking about my dad. 

Today I was very aware of dates because a year ago, my Aunt Pat died suddenly and totally unexpected, and what made it even more difficult was that only a month prior, we had buried my Uncle William.  We had one death after another, each very different, but equally difficult to deal with.  

Anniversaries, birthdays or any days that held special meaning for you or your loved one, is going to be very difficult.  The key is to find a way to observe special days that can bring about reminders of what made them memorable and special to all of you.  For the anniversary find ways to celebrate the life that works best for you.  As I mentioned earlier, you may wish to have a memorial service, visit the grave, visit a special place that meant something important to your loved one or anything you feel comfortable doing.  When it comes to birthdays or any holidays that involved getting your loved one a gift, consider making a donation to their favorite charity in their name.  Again, it should be whatever feels right to you.

Whatever helps you get through those days, whatever makes you feel good and eases the pain, is what is right for you.  Let your loved one's presence permeate those special days, let the love live on. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Just Breathe!

Where to begin, today was one of those days that whirl by in a hive of activity.  Off to a workshop first thing in the morning, dealing with traffic and the weather; come home, sit for 5 seconds and then off to another gathering.  Whew!  Breathe!  

As I drove to my destination this morning, very aware of other drivers, road conditions and the weather, I marveled at what was happening around me.  Drivers weaving in and out of traffic, speeding, slowing down, making the most dangerous of maneuvers; crossing from the high speed lane across 3 lanes to take an exit, it was just crazy.  In some cases, I would catch up or pass the very vehicle that had sped by, and my friend and I would just shake our heads and say something like 'wow, they really got far.'  

But how so like our lives sometimes, we race headlong in life, trying to get somewhere and do it quickly, that we forget to take in the scenery.  I am very sure that many didn't notice the hawk flying overhead, or the marshes along the roadside; their focus was to get someplace and do it fast.  We are all guilty of doing this, we rush to work, school or a meeting, get there and rush around the rest of the day trying to get it all in.  We are in such a hurry sometime that we quickly kiss a child on the cheek, a hurried kiss to our spouse, and we wave, not looking back as we rush out the door. 

This hurried life can make the death of a loved one that much more difficult, because we begin to feel guilty, did I take the time, did I say I love you often enough, did I really listen to them, God what was so important that I didn't do this or didn't do that.  The what ifs, should haves, and if onlys can weigh us down, leaving us to feel inadequate, like failures.  But I can tell you they only make the pain and hurt that much more.  All the second guessing in the world isn't going to change anything, know that you did all you could for your loved one.  Rachel died in a car accident, there really wasn't anything I could have done to prevent it, but for months I asked myself, if only I had said this.  I even went as far as telling myself that maybe if she had slept over rather than driving home, she would still be here. Trust me they can haunt your waking and sleeping hours, let them go.  

Easy for me to say, yes and no, it took me a while to realize that all I was doing was torturing myself.  Then I began to look at it from a different angle, what had I done for Rachel?  I realized that I had been there when she needed me, and even when I was busy, I had taken the time to meet her for lunch once in a while.  She found the time from her busy schedule to call home, at least once a week and visited as often as she could.  So I began to realize that I had been there, even when I quickly kissed her good-bye, knowing in my heart, that she knew that I loved her.  I began to let go of the guilt, I began to free myself up, to delve into the memories and I new, truly new, that it was okay. 

As I mentioned before, our emotions take us down so many roads, some are a slow leisurely ride, while others seem to have us careening around some corner, unsure of what lies ahead.  Let them take you where you need to go, but if you find yourself speeding headlong, stop, find a rest area, and just breathe.  If you find that your emotions are so hard to cope with, please find someone whom you can talk to.  Don't be afraid to ask for help, in life we sometimes have to stop and ask for directions.  But the most important thing to remember is that you were someone important to your loved one.  Your lives were intertwined in ways that cannot be explained, even if you didn't see each other that often.  There are bonds in our lives that are strong, regardless of what we feel may be lacking.  Love is a powerful force and it transcends space and time, and 'love never fails.'  We may have had to say good bye, but the love clings to our hearts and surrounds us with their presence.  They are always with us, we just need to slow down, stop, listen and just breathe.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Forecast: Stormy Weather

What a day!  This stormy weather reminds me of how stormy life can be.  You wake up in the morning, see the sunshine and say to yourself looks like it will be a beautiful day.  You step outside and notice the dark clouds approaching, so much for that nice weather.  But life like nature, not only needs the sun, but the rainy weather as well.  Those beautiful days are what sustain us during the dark stormy ones.  As we wait for the storm to pass, knowing all to well that without the water, there is no new growth.  So to when we suffer misfortune and losses in our lives; we have the choice of weathering the storm or letting it sweep us away. 

Just as the plants need the water, we to need the graces that come from our pain.  Like the plants we grow stronger, more resilient, we learn to sway with the winds.  If we are fortunate we have shelter to keep us safe from the storms, we have family, friends and even at times strangers, who say or do the right things at the right time.  These shelters come in and out of our lives as we need them.  They also serve as beacons guiding us when we are adrift in a sea of endless worry, pain and suffering.  Still others help keep us grounded, anchoring us safely to prevent us from being tossed about.  

All too often in the past few years, I have sought out some form of shelter, looked for the lighthouse, or rocked back and forth gently while anchored safely.  All these unsung heroes in my life, helped me through what seemed like never ending storms.  Grief is still a strong undercurrent in my daily life, I miss Rachel, my Dad and all my other relatives who have died, some days are calm and sunny; still others seem to upset me, leaving me tired and exhausted.  

I have recently taken part in a bereavement support group, and when I arrived at the site, all sorts of fears and apprehension came over me like a wave.  I felt nervous, unsure that what I was doing was right, how would I be viewed, would they pass judgment, all the things that often stop us from taking that next step - fear of the unknown.  I took a deep breath and walked in knowing full well that this might be very painful, especially since I would be encountering raw grief.  Grief that was tangible, that penetrated to the core of my being, rehashing all those emotions I felt after the shock of Rachel's death had worn off, and reality had set in.  When I got home that first evening, I was exhausted, totally drained and in bed by 9 p.m., but I felt good.  I had confronted another storm, had managed to come through it, and really felt good about it.  I would like to believe that I helped at least one person who was there that night, but I can truly say, they helped me more than they could ever imagine.  Their willingness to let someone else enter into their pain, the trust of sharing what they were feeling, and the hope that for them, their is a light at the end of the tunnel, was reassurance for me.  It also allowed me to see how far I had already come, and even though I still know that there are many more dark and stormy days to come, I will God willing, weather them safely.  

So take comfort in the rain, savor its nurturing, refreshing and life-giving gift, and await the sunshine with renewed hope.  Take one day at a time and look for those safe harbors in your life, and when you feel uncertain of your next step, just stretched out your hand and let someone else guide you safely.

Blessing! and until we meet again.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Do I really have to go?

It was a wonderful Sunday, regardless of the rain.  We had our annual family reunion, it was a great time.  It is a chance to catch up on what has been happening over the past year, coo over the new additions to the family, and just being together.  With all its excitement and anticipation, it is also bittersweet, so many members of our family have passed away.  In the twelve years that we have held our reunion, we have had to say good bye to too many people; my dad, a couple of uncles, my daughter and an aunt.  It serves as a reminder of how precious our time is here on earth, and how important it is to cherish those people in our lives. 

As you move forward in your grief, you may find yourself having to go out and be surrounded by people who remind you of what you shared with your loved one.  At first it can be difficult, for me, I tended to avoid the familiar.  I didn't want the sympathy and pity, I was much more comfortable in crowds, where no one new what I was going through, thus not needing to explain or guard my emotions.  I also wanted the silence, just being alone listening to the whispers, maybe if I was still I could hear my daughter's voice, feel her presence.  My husband on the other hand, wanted noise and bustle, the silence bothered him, it made him uncomfortable.  

We all react differently, even within our own families, which can lead to some mixed feelings from others around you.  These different reactions also illicit comments from people who believe that family members should be experiencing the same emotions and reactions.  When Rachel passed away, I was unable to go back to my work routine, it was difficult for me to focus.  My husband, on the other hand went right back to work.  This difference within our home brought comments from some who felt that both of us should be moving on at the same pace.  They felt that our grief was the same and that I should be acting as my husband was.  

Grief is very unique to each individual, just as we all react differently when we first learned that someone we love has died, we to respond differently to grief.  Some of us want to keep busy in hopes of not having to dwell on what has happened; some of us cease to function, day to day tasks seem impossible.  As we move forward in our grief we may no longer take pleasure in doing some of the things we enjoy, like reading, watching TV, going out to dinner, etc.  I love to read, but it was months before I was able to pick up a book again, it took a while before I could focus long enough to enjoy the book.  There were days that I felt I was going crazy, and as I mentioned before, speaking to a counselor let me know that in grief, what I thought were odd behaviors, were actually quite normal.  I also found it very helpful to talk to other people who had had a family member who died.  It let me know that what I was going through was very real and normal, especially when I reached out to other parents who had lost a child.  

Reach out to others who have suffered a similar loss as you, another widow or widower, those who have lost a sibling, parent or child.  They are more than willing to share their experience and what helped them get through the darker days.  You will also find that when you speak of your loved one, you begin to feel a sense of acceptance and healing.  Let people around you know it is okay to talk about your loved one, share yours and their story, let people know what they meant to you.  It's okay, really.  Many bereavement sites remind you that "your loved one may have died, but the love never dies." (TAPS)  

So reminisce, take out those photos, smile, laugh, cry, but most importantly remember the love and everything that you shared.  For those of you who may have watched your loved one suffer days, weeks, months and even years, look beyond the recent memories and remember what they meant to you.  Look at those pictures and remember the fishing trips, the summer picnics, the family vacations or the backyard barbecues.  Remember life, rejoice in the life, and always remember the love, they are the gentle whisper, a light touch, and a beat of our heart.  Our loved one is always a part of who we are. 

Blessings!  and until we meet again.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Can I wake up now?

It is a beautiful day and I have just gotten back from working with youth on an upcoming event they are planning.  It is always amazing how much life, energy and enthusiasm young teens can have.  They are so full of life, with so much ahead of them.  They serve as a reminder of what lies ahead, the dreams, hopes and even the fears.  I quietly watch them working, remembering my daughter and how so full of life she was, her enthusiasm and her welcoming presence.  

So where I am going with this, I am simply reminded of how precious life truly is, and how much of it we take for granted. Hopefully for many of you it has not taken the death of a loved one to realize this gift, and how it is entrusted to each of us.  We are all given special people in our lives, some come in the form of relatives, others are friends, some co-workers and still others are simply people who have touched our lives in some way.  They all have an impact on us and how we see the world around us.  

When we have to say good-bye to someone dear, it is always difficult, sometimes we cannot seem to understand the whys or how-comes.   Whether they died after a long illness or were suddenly snatch from our lives, something is now missing from our day-to-day existence.  At first we exist in a state of shock, we function, we get things done, as if some other life force has taken control.  We do what is required of us, we go through the motions and respond as needed to what is being asked of us.  The world seems to be spinning and we seemed to have stop spinning with it.  This is what gets us through the first few days and weeks, as we desperately wait to wake up from the nightmare that seems to be part of our waking and sleeping hours. 

In all the information I have seen and read, this is but one of the many phases or stages we all experience while grieving.  For some this can wear off in a matter of days, yet for others it can go on for quite some time.  Now when I look back in retrospect, I understand that this "state of shock" it what got me through the required actions of calling family, planning a funeral, saying words of remembrance at the Church service, and standing by the casket for our final good-bye.  It allowed me to be there at that moment, to be strong for my husband and children and to comfort Rachel's friends.  It moved me to action, but it is not to say that it kept me from crying or feeling, I just went into "action" and did what was needed of me.  

It is amazing how our minds and bodies take care of us, allowing us to respond to any crisis.  Some of us become quiet and pensive, others react and want results, some of us just survive.  Whatever and however you respond to what is happening to you, is what is right for you, don't let anyone tell you otherwise.  You and you alone knows what it is you are going through, what pain you are in, grief is personal and the hardest grief is the grief you are experiencing.  Nothing that I can think of makes it any easier, even if they had been ill for a long time, the bottom line here is that we have had to say good-bye to someone we love.  

If you are looking for something to read, here are just a few that were a great help to me: A Season of Grief by Ann Dawson; After Goodbye by Lynette Friesen  and from hurting to happy by Barbara Bartocci.  There is a lot of helpful books, information and support, just reach out and you will find something to help you along this journey.  

Blessing! and until we meet again.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Oh So What do you Say!!!

Yesterday I mentioned receiving advice, some of it was welcomed and yet some left me so confused.  I heard some of the most outlandish things, for instance "you have no way of knowing what I am go through."  Hold up here, I thought I was the one suffering, yep, they were right, I had no idea.  And of course, my daughter was young, so I won't even go into the scenarios I heard surrounding her death.  I'm sure many of you have heard it all - "your life will have to change now," "oh, are you going to sell the house, the car, etc."  

At the core of my heart, I really want to believe that these people actually meant well, I am sure many did.  But one thing I have come to know is that people often don't know what to say, so they literally blurt out the first thing that comes to their mind; often unfiltered.  I learned to take it all with a grain of salt, and that people are human, and when they are uncomfortable with a situation, they will often say or do things that they feel are okay.  It makes them feel helpful, if you will.  

If you search what not to say to a bereaved person, you will be amazed at what you will find.  This link Women of Spirit, is just one of many examples of what is out there. 

After my daughter died, I called around looking for a support group, I wanted one that focused on the loss of a child.  There were many for widows and widowers, for those who had lost a parent, but none close by enough for bereaved parents.  So I began to search on-line and once I could focus again, began reading as much as I could.  I also realized that I could not travel down this road alone, and with the help of my doctor, found a great counselor.  Together her and I worked through my emotions and feelings, helping me through this process called grief. 

As I mentioned yesterday, we are not alone, and if we reach out to others, they cannot take away our pain, but they can make it a little easier.  We also have to ask for help, many of our family and friends do not know what they can do to help us.  If someone asks, "is there anything I can do for you," tell them what you need.  They will be grateful to help, and you will feel comfort in knowing that they truly care.  I had many people who either cooked us a meal, ran errands or simply just sat we me in silence.  It was all good, it was all welcomed.  

As for what to say, the words I most appreciated were simply "I'm sorry."  It let me know they cared and allowed me to simply respond with "Thank You!" 

Blessings. and until we meet again.

Thursday, August 19, 2010


Loss of any kind has many affects on us.  We lose our keys, we become frantic.  We cannot find our child in a department store and we begin to dread the worst.  It is amazing how our minds and bodies react to loss.

When someone we love dies, it just simply seems unbearable, regardless of our relationship with the individual.  The emptiness, the fear, anger, despair, and a myriad of other emotions and feelings coarse through us with an energy all their own.  At the moment we are going through it, we feel as if there is no way out of the darkness.  

We are not alone, even if we believe we are.  A gentle touch, a shared tear, and life giving hug, all say we are not alone, even if we do not recognize it at the time.  

As I journey down this road, I am grateful for everyone and everything that has helped me.  And I am very grateful that I am not alone.  Remember to allow yourself to grieve, the best advice I received after my daughter died, was from a 4-year old.  He saw me crying at Mass shortly after Rachel had died and he asked his mom why I was crying, she told him that I missed Rachel and that I was feeling sad.  He simply told his mother, "tell Rose Mary that it is okay to cry, cause crying makes the hurt go away."  Thanks Noah...

Blessings!  and until we meet again.