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Monday, November 29, 2010

Did you get it all done?

The last few days were a whirl wind of activity.  For those of us in the United States, 'black Friday' is a major shopping day; some people go as far as camping out days in advance.  They want to be the first in line to get all those special deals that all the advertisements have been promoting.  I watched as some of my family and friends planned out their approach to this bargain hunters euphoria.  

The plans are laid out, they decide which stores to begin at, best route, who is going, and what time they should meet up.  It is actually quite fascinating to observe.  As for me, I simply slept in the Friday after Thanksgiving, and took it easy the entire day.  It was perfect.  

I started thinking about all the things we plan ahead for, how we plan out our route, develop our itineraries, and make a list of everything we will need.  Once this is done, we now wait for the moment, and pray it all goes well, and that everything is done and completed without a hitch.  

But all the planning in the world, never quite prepares us for the death of a loved one, even if their death is anticipated.  The death of my daughter was the last thing I ever expected, after all she would definitely be outliving me, or so I thought.  When I lost loved ones to illness, we knew that death would be the eventual outcome, but even with this knowledge, and some brief discussion as to what we could plan on, it never happened the way we wanted or expected.  

Yet if we lived each day as if this was the only chance we had to get it right, would we plan and prepare, or would we fully live each day not worrying about the next.  Would we let each day take care of itself, or would we try to plan ahead.  For so many, we just go about our lives in the frenzied rush that all too often disguises itself as our lives.  Causing us to miss out on so much that is surrounding us, our lives, and who we are.

We may do some planning, especially if there were individuals who we needed to see, business we needed to tend to, a trip we want to take, and some preparing for the inevitable.  Would we get so wrapped up in all the chaos, preparation and planning, that we miss out on all that is important in our lives.  Would we take those people in our lives for granted, or try to enjoy all they have to offer.  

As I thought about all this, I realized how Rachel's death made me look at life from a totally different perspective.  Yes, I have my frenzied days when I cannot seem to get anything done, let alone get out of my own way.  I have those days were I need to plan ahead, and still yet, I have those days were I let things happen as they may.  It all depends on what needs to be done, when it needs to be done by, and what I feel are my priorities.  

When I look back at the last four years of my life, I realize how many times I just let my life happen.  I neither forced anything upon certain days, nor did I try to fill in any voids with busyness, I just let them happen, especially in the first year.  I remember how each day I awoke, and literally let it fall where it may.  There was no organization or structure on these days, just a compliance of sorts, letting whatever happened, happen.  I actually had almost an entire year of just 'letting' it happen, allowing each day to shape itself with me in it.

The beauty of grieving, it that it is all good.  It is what works for you, not what works for me, your sibling, or other relative.  ONLY you know what is best for you, you are the only ones that fully understands what you are going through.   You need to respect yourself, what you are going through, and allow yourself the time to heal, at a pace that is right for you.  

So plan if you have to, prepare the way, or just simply allow life to unfold before you.  Allow your own life to unfold, do not hold onto what cannot be returned to any of us.  Live your life as if today was the only day that mattered, the only chance to get it right.

Take nothing for granted, live each day fully, and enjoy all those people who have entered your life.  Gain from them , take what they offer and allow yourself to grow.  By doing this you allow yourself to heal, to see life for what it truly is 'a gift,' and teach yourself the importance of making every day count.  

On those occasions that you do find yourself spinning, just stop, take a deep breath, and allow yourself to step back.  This is your chance to make a difference, to help at least one other person change their course as well.  So grab life with gusto, live each day, and know that your life is all the better for knowing the person who died. 

Always remember the love, the relationship you shared, and that sometimes on those crazy days, your loved ones, all too often, are the beacon that lights your way.  There spirit and their love are your guides on those crazy, frenzied days, when nothing seems to go according too plan.  


Blessings! and until we meet again.


Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving With You

Happy Thanksgiving!

Today we are grateful for so much in our lives.  We are grateful for our families, friends, and everyone we encounter, near and far.  This is the one holiday of the year that we take stock of everything that has enriched our lives.  Even though our hearts maybe saddened by the fact that some of our loved ones cannot be present, we know that they are with us.  

My prayer for you this Thanksgiving Day is that you may find joy in all the simple things life offers, the smile on a baby's face, the gentle nod from a stranger, and the warm embrace of family and friends.  All these things are what truly matters, these are the treasures that we keep safe.  

I have already shed some tears, I have already laughed, the feast is ready to be served, and now we wait for our guests to arrive.  We will enjoy the meal, each others company and the stories that are shared, it is a good day.  I love Thanksgiving.

If you are unable to join family on this holiday, know that you are not alone, you are never alone.  We are all together, we are all family and even though we may not be physically together, we are all together in spirit.  Our hearts see and understand what our minds and common sense cannot comprehend.

For some of you this maybe the first holiday without your loved one, I know it is not easy, I know it does not feel or seem right, but even though they are not present, they are very much a part of this day.  It is okay to cry, it is okay to laugh, and it is okay to include them some how.  I have made Rachel's favorite dessert and have plenty of extra stuffing, just in case.  You will do what is right for you, but remember the love, and that will guide your through this day.

Wishing you all the best this Thanksgiving Day.

Cherished Ritual
Lord, as we pause in our busy lives
to gather around the Thanksgiving table,
sharing the precious bond among family and friends,
let us remember that this abundant harvest,
this feast of delicious and nourishing dishes
is the fulfillment of our faith
that You will always provide for us.
As we go through this cherished ritual,
the Thanksgiving holiday ceremony,
let us feel the comfort of Your care for us
in every bite we eat and enjoy.
In this tradition,
begun by courageous travelers long ago
to thank you for their lives and safety,
we thank You
for the joy and happiness you give us, to lift us up,
and also for the sometimes difficult lessons and challenges
You give us to make us stronger, better,
and more aware of our need for You.
Thank you for the support and courage You give us
to get through troubled times.
Thank You for answered prayers
and also for the times You said "no,"
to keep us from stumbling off Your path for us.
We know that in all things,
You are working for our good.
Now, as we draw together in unity
to savor this wonderful dinner,
we are thankful for those who prepared it,
for those who join us to enjoy it,
and most of all, we thank You, Lord,
for the many different kinds of blessings
You continually grant us.
We pray that You'll bless this food,
and bless all of us as we gather together.
In Jesus' name we pray; Amen.
By Joanna Fuchs
 
 
Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Will you remember me?

Will you remember me?  Tell me you won't forget me?  These are words we have heard many, oh so many times, and we have more than likely said them ourselves.  No one wants to be forgotten.  

I look at the small children in my life, and I see this played out whenever they are around.  They are not subtle, they do not sit there just waiting for someone to notice them, they let you know.  They call out your name, look Titi (cute version of the Portuguese word for aunt, tia), look Dina (my godchild's name for me) or mom, or grandma, or whatever name they have for you.  They keep doing this till you take notice.  

Sometimes all they want is a simple acknowledgement that you know they are there, or that you see them.  They do this often when there are others around, especially the adults.  The adults in my life act a little more differently, they may try to speak louder, speak over someone, or a few more subtle ways, like coughing or tapping on the table.  My favorite is when they try to make their way into your view, sometimes obscuring all others from your view, making sure that you see only them.  

However and whatever is done, the goal is to seek out your attention, insuring that they are your only focus at the very moment.  Wanting to be acknowledged, wanting to be noticed, wanting you to know them, understand them and most importantly, remember them.  

When someone you know is dying, one of their biggest fears is that they will be forgotten.  Oh, not right away, because of course there is the funeral and the grieving, but what happens in the weeks, months and years that follow.  Will someone still think of them fondly, will they remember their birthday, their favorite color, food, etc., will they mention their name, will they share their story, all these things course through their mind.  

For those of us who are grieving, we too have the same fear for our loved one.  Will I be the only one that thinks of them, will everyone forget them, will anyone care that they lived and died, will they be afraid to even mention their name?  All these things run through our minds, but I have come to learn that people don't forget our loved ones, no more than we do.  They may not mention them, but occasionally they will say or do something that lets you know they do remember.  

I think of all the times since Rachel's death that someone has said a kind word, let me know they think of Rachel, or that they still keep her picture nearby.  I also find that attending services like the one I mentioned a few days ago, reassures you that even if they do not know your loved ones name, they still want to you know they matter, that they should be remembered. 

I have started reading a very interesting book, it was one that was recommended reading for the students at the college I am attending.  It is entitled 'tuesdays with Morrie'  by Mitch Albom; the subtitle simply states: 'an old man, a young man, and life's greatest lesson.'  It is a very quick read, one you hate to put down, a true story about living, truly living.  One of the most interesting statements and lessons for me was 'when you learn how to die, you learn how to live.'  How intriguing, I must learn to die in order to live, how can that be?  

Then I started to think about my recent assignment, that of planning my funeral, it wasn't that bad to do.  I thought about it, wrote my obituary, and planned out everything.  Upon completion, one of the first things that struck me, was that I have done so much in my life, and I know that I still have so much more too do.  But death is not so frightening, it holds promise some how.  For me, being reunited with loved ones, no more pain or worries, no more uncertainty or doubt.  So have I learned to die, I wonder! am I truly living?  I cannot honestly say I have the answer to that one, I guess I am still a student, and hopefully I am open to learning.

Besides this statement, I realized that the book was a sharing, the author wanted everyone to know this man, as he knew him.  And the old man, in sharing his story, wanted others to understand and to see what opportunities we have by choosing to live.  There is no doubt in my mind that this old gentleman will not be forgotten, his story lives on, just as he lives on in all those he touched.  That is what we want for ourselves for our loved ones.  

I am constantly reminded of how even years later, a loved one is remembered.  In this same book there is an interview, and the gentleman speaks of letters he has been receiving from people.  He responds to the writer of one particular letter, sharing his own grief journey, and the pain of losing his mother.  As he relates the story his voice cracks,  the interviewer looks at the gentleman and says 'that was seventy years ago your mother died.  The pain still goes on?' 'You bet,' Morrie whispered.'  

We don't forget, do we?  And even though it is not a constant, debilitating pain, we still ache for those we have lost, even so many years later.  We remember them, we think of them, we are grateful that they were a part of our lives, a part of who we are.  They are not forgotten, they are always with us, always near.  We just have to let them in, let them be part of us, allow ourselves to see them and feel them with our hearts.

So when someone asks you, 'Will you remember me.'  You can simply answer 'yes.'  

As we prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving Day tomorrow, think of all your loved one meant to you.  Think of all the things you are grateful for because of them.  Celebrate with them, for them and because of them.  They are always with you.  Love transcends and goes where all else fears to go.  Love is the greatest give they give to us.  Because of love, we refuse to forget.  Because of love, we choose to live.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Words of Remembrance...

God gave us memories so we could have roses in December. - Anonymous.

It is only with the heart that one can see rightly: What is essential is invisible to the eye. - Antoine de Saint-Exupery.

Two very simple quotes with so much wrapped within.  They remind us that what we love is still very much a part of us, a part of who we are.  

We have the memories, and these memories like flowers in a garden, can be gathered anytime we need to be uplifted.  Think of the last time you brought home a bouquet of flowers to brighten up your home, especially if the day had been gloomy and gray.  The beauty of the colors, the types of flowers and the scent, all filled your senses, helping you find a bit of sunshine in the midst of all the gloom.  

Our memories are just the same, they fill us with a sense of warmth, remembrance and love.  They are the sunshine through the dark days of grief, they are the joy through our acceptance, and they fill us with a love that never dies.  They are definitely our 'roses in December.'  

Of course, it is when we look upon all this through the heart and not our minds, that we begin to realize that we are not alone.  Our loved one is always with us, has always been with us, even though we can no longer see them, we see them with our hearts.  We can feel their love, their very essence all around us, they are as near as our heart.  The mind cannot perceive what the heart understands.  

Memories, I believe, are so very important, and when our loved one dies, we not only need to remember them, we want to share these memories with others.  When Rachel died, I decided to share some words of remembrance at her funeral Mass.  This was my opportunity to not only say a few words, but to help those present have a glimpse of who Rachel was and what she meant to us.  I also knew that her death would raise a lot of questions, especially since she was young.  All her friends were present, many of her cousins were there, there was young and old alike, and all wondering, 'Why.' 

So I wrote some words of remembrance (elegy) that I shared on the day of her funeral on September 16, 2006.  This is what I wrote and shared:

Rachel,

Daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin and friend.

Rachel (which is Hebrew for Ewe or Beautiful) was and is a beautiful individual, a precious gift that we have had and shared for 24 years.  She was a young woman who always wore a smile; her eyes lit up when she saw someone she loved and cared for.  Even when she herself may have been hurting, she tried to make you stop hurting.  She would make us laugh, smile and simply forget about our troubles if even only for a little while.  

The holidays, gatherings and any occasion for celebration was something Rachel loved and looked forward to.  She would always call and ask if she could bring a friend or two or three.  Even though she already knew the answer, she always asked anyway just to hear me say, 'You know everyone is always welcome; I've made tons of food.'  She shared our family philosophy: 'There is always room for one more.'

Rachel was someone who gave of herself unselfishly, she had a strength that she herself did not realize she possessed.  She had the ability to make you feel loved and at that moment as if you were the most important person to her.  Your burdens became hers, your joys and triumphs also hers.  She was always a hug away.

I know her Dad and I are going to miss her; that smile, her laugh and the warmth she shared freely.  But we know that she is always going to be in our hearts, always a presence in our lives; and if you will let her, in your lives too!

Don't feel anger or bitterness, this is not unfair or unjust; but simply a call to come home.  To be free from the trappings of this world and to be home were she has been welcomed into Jesus' embrace.  Rachel has fulfilled her mission and has accomplished so much more than many of us will in a life time.  Just look around you and you will see that she has managed to move mountains.  She has brought so many of us together to spend some time with her, to laugh and share our fondest memories of her; and even give us a chance to stop and spend time with those we may have not seen in a while.

We may have lost our daughter and we know that we will be unable to hug and kiss her or simply hold her hand, but we know she is hugging and kissing us at this very moment and I definitely know she his holding my hand!  But one thing is for certain, that because of Rachel, we have gained so many more children through her friends.  So many of you have called us mom and dad, and we would be honored if you still feel like you can.

Rachel we are so proud of you and the wonderful person you became and we will always cherish everything you brought into our lives.  We love you and now await that day when we can ask, 'Rachel can I bring a friend.' 

With all our love, 

Mom, Dad, Andrea & Jacob

And Rachel, Sebastian is wagging his tail as I write this...I Love You!

These words allowed me to share my daughter then and now.  I hadn't read this in a while, and I had forgotten some of what I had written and realize that even then, I knew the memories were important.  That the memories would be what sustained me.  I guess my heart could see what my mind had yet to grasp.  

If you didn't get a chance to write words of remembrance when your loved one died, you can still do it now.  Take a few moments to write down everything they meant to you, everything you would want someone to know about them.  Get the tissues ready, have them nearby and just allow yourself to write, to cry, to laugh, to see with your heart.  I cried when I wrote this over four years ago, and I cried tonight as I typed it into this post.  

Just know that you are loved, that you loved and that your life would not have been the same had you not had this person in your life.  That you would be missing out on all they had to give, all they had to offer, and how they enriched your life.  Let that be what sustains you, what brings you your 'roses in December.'

I miss Rachel a lot, and there isn't a day that goes by that I don't think of her, wishing I could see her one more time.  Yet my heart sees her all the time, because she is always there, and also because, 'What is essential is invisible to the eye.'  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

I don't think I can do it!

Where do we go from here? Where do we even begin? Can we begin again, is it even possible? So many questions we ask ourselves, especially when the holidays are staring us in the face.

Next week, next Thursday to be exact, we will be celebrating Thanksgiving. It is a wonderful holiday, one that I truly enjoy. I look forward to the cooking, baking and just getting ready to share my home with others. It is one of those holidays that comes with very little fan fare. There is no commercialization, no presents to buy, no cards to mail out, unless you want to, and no rushing around. It is one of those holidays to lets you simply enjoy family and friends.

For those of us who have lost a loved one, finding things to be grateful for can be very difficult. We may go through the motions, we may try to enjoy ourselves, but it is not easy. I remember that first Thanksgiving, I cooked, made a few desserts, cried while peeling potatoes, and just went through the motions. We had gone away, a suggestion from my counselor, so that we were away from what was familiar.

My family and I rented a condo, packed our bags, all the fixings and headed north. It was nice, our children were there, my mom, and 2 of my three brothers with their families. We spent four days up north, just relaxing, playing games or watching movies. My counselor was right the change of scenery did make it easier to get through.

Not everyone can take off for the holidays, but we can find ways to keep our loved one an important part of our celebration. You can make donations to organizations that help others, food pantries, homeless shelters, children's programs, etc. If you have the strength, make and share their favorite food or dessert. Set a place at the table for them. You can all share something you remember about your loved one that you are grateful for. Light a candle in their memory. Be creative.

One thing that is important to remember, is you need to do what is best for you. Keep in mind that we also cause added stress, by worrying about how we are going to handle the holiday. I remember just a few weeks before Thanksgiving, getting all worked up, telling myself there was no way that I could handle it. I was sure that I would be reduced to an uncontrollable, sobbing mess. I did cry, I did feel sadness and emptiness, but I made it through Thanksgiving, the next day and even the day after. I survived and it wasn't as bad as I had anticipated.

One thing I know for sure, is you need to take care of yourself. I found myself getting sick every 6 weeks, my immune system was doing it's own thing. I was not getting enough sleep, my eating habits were so screwy, and I was in a funk. So try to get some rest, try to eat well, and if possible get some exercise. For me, I found walking very relaxing and helpful. I would take a walk wearing my sunglasses, and I would just let the tears flow with every step I took. It was very therapeutic, and got me out of the house.

We all deal and cope with death in our own way, and what might work for me, is no help to you. You will need to find what works for you, what makes you feel better, what allows you to heal. Don't let anyone tell you that what you are doing is wrong, remember no one but you knows the pain you are in. Our grief is a unique as we are.

However you decide to celebrate the holidays, or maybe not celebrate at all, is what is right for you. Keep in mind that even though you are in pain, and it hurts, there are other family members who are hurting too. Like you, they too many not be sure of what to do, or say. Some may wish to talk about it and others may avoid the subject as if it were the plague. We all handle it differently, and we all worry about each other, and in the hopes of being helpful, may choose silence.

So be patient with yourself, with your family and with your friends, know that they love you and they too miss your loved one. If you find that you have no one to talk to within your family or circle of friends, reach out to support groups, counselors, your priest or minister. There are also many organizations, such as Visiting Nurses Association, Hospice, Compassionate Friends and so many more, who offer special programs to help the bereaved get through the holidays. Check local papers, hospitals, churches, synagogues, etc., they may very well be aware of what is happening and being offered in your community.

I know for a fact that you can and will survive, and when you look back you will realize that it wasn't as bad as you feared. So allow yourself to remember, allow yourself to feel the love, and most importantly allow yourself to grieve in your own personal way.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wishing you all a very Happy Thanksgiving!  May you be surrounded by love, laughter and happiness, and know that your loved one is always near, always in your heart.  

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Like a Shooting Star

Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy. - Eskimo Proverb

This evening I attended a beautiful interfaith service entitled 'Hope.'  It was hosted by the local Visiting Nurses Association, and all were welcome to attend.  Upon arrival at the church, attendees were given a program, a gold star, a scroll and a candle.  I received my treasures as someone put it, found a seat and sat there just taking it all in.

There were many more people than I had expected, and the church was pretty full.  They said the welcome and opening remarks, a blessing was then offered in four different languages, Portuguese, French, Hebrew and English.  Throughout the service we were treated to the angelic voices of the choir, and their opening song was 'Amazing Grace' which I never tire of hearing.

I sat there trying to keep my tears at bay, as I listened to the music, took in the sights, and realized that everyone present had said good bye to someone they loved.  Then one of the staff members  invited the children present to come forward and sit around the altar.   She was going to share a story with them, each child was given a copy of the book so they could follow along.   She began to read the story, 'Lifetimes' by Robert Ingpen & Bryan Mellonie, it spoke of death, but in a way that made it all seem natural.   I would strongly recommend getting a copy for any child in your life who has had a loved one die.

Right after the storytelling, a young man came up to sing a tribute to his grandfather, and all those who served in the military, he was 6 years old, and did a wonderful rendition of 'When Johnny Comes Marching Home.'   Now you have probably already guessed it, I couldn't stop the tears, listening to that little boy proudly sing a song in honor and memory of his grandfather, just pushed me over the edge.

As I sat there, I realized that early on in the service, the children were the first to be consoled, to be addressed.   All to often, they are pushed aside as the adults try to cope with their own grief, forgetting that the children are hurting too.  They like us, want answers, want to know why someone they love very much has had to die.  The children, like that 6 year old, also want to be part of what is happening, they want to be included, and well they should be.   This person meant something to them too, they played with them, gave them hugs and kisses, spoiled them with treats, and just loved them unconditionally.

The quote at the beginning of this blog was one of a few quotes that were used throughout the service.  The chaplain who was leading the service also shared the story of the Little Prince
by Antoine de Saint-ExupĂ©ry.   In Chapter 26, the Prince prepares to leave which saddens his companion.   He leaves him with this comment, 'In one of the stars I shall be living. In one of them I shall be laughing. And so it will be as if all the stars were laughing, when you look at the sky at night . . . You--only you--will have stars that can laugh!'

The Prince continues by saying, 'And when your sorrow is comforted (time soothes all sorrows) you will be content that you have known me. You will always be my friend. You will want to laugh with me. And you will sometimes open your window, so, for that pleasure . . . And your friends will be properly astonished to see you laughing as you look up at the sky! Then you will say to them, 'Yes, the stars always make me laugh!'

When she had finished, we were all invited to come forward and hang the stars we had been given in memory of our loved ones.   Each person present hung their star, and after everyone had gone back to their seat, the overhead lights were dimmed and the stars were illuminated.   What a beautiful image it portrayed, and that we all have our own shining stars.

This was followed by a reflection from a family member, and then we lit the candles we were given, the lights were dimmed again, and we were all invited to say aloud our loved ones names.  People called out the names in unison with others, but it did not sound chaotic at all, it was actually quite lovely to hear the different voices call out a loved ones names.  This simple act allowed everyone present to let the world know that this was someone very special.  This was a person that they still love very much and that they miss dearly.

The candles representing the light our loved ones gave to us, the light they leave for each one of us.  Even though their candle may have been extinguished, a spark managed to remain in each one of us.  And every once in a while it glows, and we see it reflected in others, we see it shine in our own eyes, we recognize it in simple things, like the sunrises, the sunsets and the twinkling stars. It reminds us that they are always with us, always in our hearts.

I truly enjoyed the evening, I was with others who are coping with the death of a loved one, who understand the pain.  I felt a comfort in knowing I was definitely not alone, there are so many who are traveling this journey with me.

After tonight's service, I would strongly recommend attending any services that may be offered in your area.  It is an opportunity to be with others who have experienced the death of a loved one.  Especially if you feel you cannot speak of your loved one at home, with friends or at work.  Here everyone knows that it is important to talk about your loved one, to share their life story, to let others know what they meant to you.  To speak of them and remember them fondly. 

By sharing Rachel with all of you, by taking this journey with you, and allowing my self to be open to your wisdom, I am allowing myself to heal, to move forward.  It takes time and requires you to be patient with yourself, allowing yourself to move at the pace that is right for you.  There is no rushing grief, you need to allow yourself to take it one day at a time.

Be good to yourself, participate in remembrance services, or any other opportunities to share your loved one with the world.  There are many events offered right in your very own communities, especially now as we prepare to enter into the holiday season; a time when our pain seems to somehow intensify.  Check in your local papers, your house of worship, public libraries and even doctor's offices, they may have a list of upcoming events.  It you cannot find one in your area, ask your priest or minister to remember them in a Mass or Sunday service.  

Whatever you decide to do, know that it is what is best for you only.  Remember none of us needs to go this alone.  There are so many others who are willing to help us along.  We just need to take the first step and reach out to others.

Remember to let your memories sustain you, let love give you strength, and when you look up to the sky and spot the stars, just remember that they are shining down on you.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

If only I had taken the time...

The other day someone made a comment, and earlier today, it suddenly resurfaced.  I had completed my assignment for my class, my personal funeral arrangements.  As I worked on my obituary, I started to think about some of my accomplishments, my hobbies and such.  Then I remembered what my professor said about the word 'avid.'  

Whenever he spotted that word in some one's obituary, he interpreted it to mean, that they had little time for anything else.  If, for example, they were avid golfers, it pretty much meant that on any decent day, they could be found teeing up at the local golf course.  Which unless, they dragged the family along, meant they were simply having 'me' time to the exclusion of their families.  So as I listed my hobbies and activities, I wondered had I ever participated in activities that would exclude my family.  Other than work and  business travel, I really couldn't think of any.  

There are many things I enjoy doing, but for they most part they require the participation of a few people.  Traveling for example, one could do it alone, but for the most part it is so much more fun with others.  I remember the vacations we would take with our children, those were some of the best.  Whether we went to the beach or an amusement park, we all had fun.  We enjoyed each others company.  

Even some of the other activities I love, like reading, I would wait till the children were in bed before picking up the book.  The main reason being that once it was quiet, I could truly delve into those chapters.  A lot of my thought process came from my youth, my parents did so much with us, activities were always meant to be fun for everyone.  So of course, when my husband and I started a family of our own, we just kept that same thought process going.  

When Rachel died, I had very little regrets.  We had done so much with Rachel, and for Rachel while she was alive.  Do I wish I could have done more, absolutely.  Which one among us can honestly say they have done everything that wanted to do with a loved one.  There are events that I regret not being able to share with my daughter.  There are trips that we can no longer take together.  No more lunch dates, coming home for Sunday dinner, and no more birthday candles to blow out.  

But if I put all this aside, there is so much more that was accomplished, that we did get to do, and all these piled up and laid side by side, far out weigh the regrets.  So when you find yourself being tugged at by regrets, stop and look at what you did with your loved one, what was accomplished.  I know when I look at the positives, I smile through my sadness, knowing that I did okay as a mother. 

Regrets do cause pain, especially if like I mentioned earlier, you were so involved in activities that excluded your family.  The death of a loved one, can cause so much turmoil.  When my professor shared his feelings about the word 'avid,' he also shared a story of someone who was actually an avid golfer.  This man lost his son, the day before his son's death, he had played golf, hit a hole-in-one, and when he got home gave the ball to his son.  The next day his son was killed in an accident, this gentleman has been unable to play golf since, he felt that his passion for golf, robbed him of spending time with his son. 

Time is so fleeting, and not one of us knows how long we have on this earth.  Yet, I am just as guilty as the next person, of putting career, volunteering, and a host of other activities and such before my family.  Up until Rachel's death, I traveled for business, I worked weekends, and late into the evenings some days.  I also had my own business, which I operated out of my home, but yet for a few months a year, I would be off limits to my family.  Sometimes I would get home from my regular job, to start working on my clients files, maybe grab a quick bite with my family, or skip dinner altogether because there was just so much to do.

Now, such things seem trivial, they really don't seem to matter.  My perspective has taken a whole new course.  Yes I still have my hobbies, I still love to travel, but I no longer work in a job that requires me to work all sort of insane hours.  A job that keeps me close to home, instead of thousands of miles away, that understands if an emergency arises and I need to leave.  These are the things that truly matter.  It does not mean that I am inflexible, not at all, if I am required to work an occasional weekend, I am fine with that, if I need to travel, its okay.  It is just that it is not a constant thing, as it was with me before. 

Something that has always haunted me is when my other daughter was being inducted into the National Honor Society in high school.  We had an event coming up for work which would fall on or about the same time.  So I asked my boss at the time, if she knew the exact date yet, and I explained my situation.  Her response to me was, if it should happen to fall on the same date, just have your husband video tape it for you, we need you here.  I was crushed, but I was left with no choice, this was my job and we needed the income, so needless to say, I missed out on a very important event in my daughter's life.  So when Rachel died it all came crashing in on me, and I realized that nothing was worth missing out on your childrens' lives for, or any family member for that matter.  

Life unfortunately doesn't always allow us the luxury of choice, especially if we are dependent on our incomes, which most of us are.  But we can choose to make a difference in the lives of our loved ones.  We can choose to spend time with them, I learned to pencil dates with my children, and would take the day off from work and maybe catch a movie, go to the beach, or any other fun activity of their choosing.  That was advice given to me by senior managers who had learned the hard way.  

So when your child asks you to play catch, or read to them, stop, look at what needs to be done, and really look at what is your priority.  If your dad or mom call, and want to see you, take the time.  Make that call you have been putting off, send that note you have been meaning to write, don't wait, don't give yourself anything that can cause regrets.  Yes there will be times when you cannot stop what you are doing, but let those be far and few between.  Trust me, take it from a reformed 'work-a-holic' there really isn't anything that can't wait, unless of course you are performing brain surgery, or giving birth.  

I have come to learn that the dishes wait to be washed, the house does not clean itself, it waits patiently for me to finish whatever I'm doing, and I really don't need to bring work home from the office, it can and does wait till tomorrow. 

So enjoy every moment, live for the moment, reduce your risk of 'regret.'  You and your health depend on it.  We are given the precious treasure of time, but with it comes limits and we are not told in advance how much we receive, so do not squander it, live it.  Use it wisely, and spend it on your family and friends as much as possible.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

I'm with the Family!

I come from a big family, my dad was one of 20 children, no twins, just one born every 13-15 months.  It has been loads of fun growing up, we always had an abundance of cousins to play with, and even more fun as adults.  Today one of my cousins sent a message asking how many cousins we actually have.  I started doing the calculations, and just on my dad's side I have 29 first cousins.  My mom's side I have 15 first cousins, giving me a grand total of 42 first cousins.  

As the messages began to go back and forth, a common thread could be seen.  In every posting, those that responded all agreed that family is the most important thing.  That family is a unit you can depend on through thick and thin.  They are there for you no matter what.

Every time our family has had some difficulty or gone through some tough times, every body immediately stepped up to the plate.  In every incident, we have gathered, prayed, brought food and taken care of minor details.  Rachel's death was no exception.

In those first few hours, my brothers arrived immediately, followed closely by my brothers and sisters-in-law, and of course friends.  We were surrounded by family and friends all day long.  As the news quickly spread through my family, things started happening without my knowledge.  They began calling everyone that they felt needed to know, they started praying for us, for Rachel, so much was going on behind the scenes.

The next day, they sent flowers and planters, they stopped by, brought food, took care of little things, or just sat there with us.  Every member of my family did something in their own way.  Could I ever stop thanking them for all they did, not in a million years.  They each went above and beyond anything that was required of them.  They hopefully know that we truly appreciate everything they have done for our family, but I believe there aren't enough words to express my gratitude.  

I know there are some families who are not as blessed as ours, who haven't spoken, who don't get along.  But there must be people in your lives who you know, that if push came to shove, they would be right there for you.  We all have at least one person in our lives whom we can depend on, who lets us be us, who accepts us as we are.  That in my book, is family, too.  

According to the Helpguide.org article, Coping with Grief and Loss, Support for Grieving and Bereavement by Melinda Smith, M.A., Ellen Jaffe–Gill, M.A., and Jeanne Segal, Ph.D., Last modified: November 2010, one of the first bulleted items in the section: Finding support after a loss is:
  • Turn to friends and family members – Now is the time to lean on the people who care about you, even if you take pride in being strong and self-sufficient. Draw loved ones close, rather than avoiding them, and accept the assistance that’s offered. Oftentimes, people want to help but don’t know how, so tell them what you need – whether it’s a shoulder to cry on or help with funeral arrangements.
They truly want to help, they want to take care of you, make sure you are all right.  Sometimes they may not say the right things, they may act peculiar, but they mean well, and want only the best for you.  I know for a fact, that so many of your family and friends, wish they could some how take away your burden.  

They ache for you, they may not understand your pain, but they some how want to try to make it better.  I think of my childhood, and how my aunts and uncles would instantly kiss a boo boo better, if one of us got hurt.  They tried to help make the pain go away.  It is the same with a death, and the subsequent pain it causes, they want to kiss it better, make the pain go away.  

The support our family received from family and friends did not stop once the funeral was over, it continued, it still continues.  I still get calls from some telling me they are thinking of me, ocassionally I still get a card letting me know Rachel is being remembered in Masses, or a donation has been made in her name.  And the best thing of all for me, is they remember Rachel, they talk about Rachel, they do not treat her name as something of a taboo.  She is still very much a part of all our lives.  

That's what 'family' can do, however you define family.  Even with all their quirks, and idiosyncrasies they are still the ones I would go to without hesitation if I ever needed help.  They have shown time and time again, that when all the cards are down, family is always the first priority.

So look to your family, or friends, anyone who you know and believe can support you, be there for you and help you carry your burden.  We need each other, we need to know that others care, that our loved one meant something, to not only us, but to others as well.  These are the people in our lives that won't run and hide every time you mention your loved ones name.  Rather, they will sit with you and remember, cry and laugh with you, and just let you be you.  

What ever your support systems is for you, be it family, friends, or support groups, allow them to be there for you, allow them to help, to make it better.  They cannot take your pain away, but they can definitely help you carry it.  Don't be afraid to share your load, I have said it before, grief is to heavy a burden to carry on your own.  Let them help.  Let them love you.  Let them take care of you, that's what they know how to do best.

Always remember that love is all things, love never fails, love never ends.  Love is all we can give each other at times, it is what sustains us through good or bad times.  So let the healing kisses and hugs begin, and let them ease your pain.

To all our family, thank you for being who you are, thank you for being there for us when we needed you the most.  Thank you for being a major part of our life, and Rachel's.  We love you all so very, very much.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Whoa, Should I be having a Good Time!

We had a great time this past weekend.  We joined some family and friends for a celebration 'Dia de Sao Martino' (St. Martin's Day), Portuguese style.  There was plenty of food, new wine and music. My husband and I really enjoyed the evening.  

Today in class we discussed bereaved parents and how it is the worst pain imaginable.  We discussed some of the things that each parent faces and what is faced together as a couple.  In an earlier posting I discussed the statistics of failed marriages after the death of a child, so I won't go into it again.  But one of topics struck a cord.  Guilt!

Wow, it's been four years, I can't really still be feeling any guilt, I'm over that!  Yet, am I really?  As I began to say, we enjoyed ourselves this weekend, it was good to get out, and have some fun.  We danced all night, laughed and joked, and enjoyed each others company.  Yet every time I got up to dance with my husband, I kept thinking of Rachel.  She was on my mind all evening.  She loved to dance and as I watched the young couples twirling around the dance floor, I couldn't help but think of Rachel.  

Then you start to wonder, should I really be having fun.  Should I be laughing and joking around?  Rachel is not here, this isn't right, I should really not be having this much fun, after all I am a grieving mother.  But yet we did have fun, we did laugh, we did dance and we enjoyed the evening.  

It's funny how we look at things, how we perceive life around us, how simple acts like dancing and laughing, cause you to question what is right or wrong.  There is no right or wrong, and how we act all depends on us, who we are.  

My professor asked if I had felt guilty, or still feel guilty, and it made me think and realize that sometimes I do.  Sometimes, I feel it is not right that I should be happy, that there is joy in my life, that I can move forward.  Of course some days and events make it worse than others.  For example, when my grandson was born, I was ecstatic, and so sad at the same time.  I felt as if I had been deprived of something critical, it was unfair that my daughter could not be present for my grandson's birth.  Worse yet, my grandson would grow up not knowing is auntie. 

So many emotions course through our bodies after we have lost a loved one.  Special events, or simply going out to dinner with family or friends, seems to be a betrayal of our loved one.  We find ourselves feeling guilty because we are celebrating, we have gone out, we are smiling and happy, it is not fair.  

When these feelings of guilt strike, I mull over them for a while, and then start to think, what would my daughter really want me to be doing.  Would she expect me to mope around, shoulders drooped and looking all forlorn, or would she expect me to be enjoying my life.  Rachel was full of life, everything was an adventure of sorts, she got herself into trouble on occasion, but enjoyed her life for the most part.  She always had a smile on her face.  

So I let go of the guilt, and begin to enjoy myself, and offer up my enjoyment and fun to her memory, thinking of her always.  This helps me cope with the guilt and other feelings, and lets me share with Rachel, allowing her to be part of my activities.  And somehow, she becomes very present.  This past Saturday, while we were sitting at the table enjoying the wonderful food, Rachel's name came up several times.  It was as if my fears that I should not be having fun were allayed, it was okay, I could have fun.  

My husband turned 50 a couple of years after Rachel's death, and my children and I were thinking of have a bash to celebrate.  Even before we could say anything to anyone, my husband said he did not want anything big.  Rachel was gone, and he could not have a party without her being present.  We celebrated quietly with my children and son-in-law, and then my husband and I took off for a mini-vacation.  
Was it guilt, yes!  My husband did not feel it was okay to have a party without Rachel being present.  It was not right, his little girl would not be there, so there was no way on earth that he wanted a party.  We understood, we accepted my husband's wishes and we allowed him to cope as only he could.  

Guilt, however, like any emotion, should not be a dominating factor in your life.  It should not govern your life, it should not stifle you, you need to live as you would be expected to do so.  That is what your loved one would want and expect from you.  Nothing more!  

What we need to begin to do, is let go, to allow ourselves to forgive ourselves, to look at what may be causing us to feel guilty.  As I wondered about Saturday evening, and being out, I realized that my moment of guilt was caused by a feeling that I should not be having this much fun.  It was also feeling as if I were being judge for my behavior, as if somehow I was wearing a label that said, 'look I am a bereaved mother, my daughter died only four years ago.'  

But of course there are no labels, only the ones we give ourselves.  So it is up to us to remove them, to free ourselves from our own shortcomings and misconceptions.  We need to live, it's okay to live, we were born to live life, to brush ourselves off when adversity strikes, and to gain strength from life's trials.  We need to allow ourselves to become fully alive, we need to bloom like the flowers, knowing all too well that the bloom will fade, and the petals will fall.  The most important thing to remember is that like the flower, we shed beauty in the world around us, even if only for a brief time.  

Keep in mind that unresolved guilt can be destructive, it does not allow for healing, leaving you to blame yourself.  Believing that you could somehow have prevented the death.  But you couldn't have stopped it from happening, and all the guilt in the world, won't bring your loved one back.   

So learn to live, let go of any guilt, and cherish the memories (fond ones, bad memories can add to one's guilt).  That is what you want for you, that is what your loved one would want from you, so go out, laugh, enjoy life and dance, and know that your loved one is always with you.  

Always remember the love!

Blessings! and until we meet again.


Saturday, November 13, 2010

It's all your fault!

“There's no tragedy in life like the death of a child. Things never get back to the way they were.”  President Dwight David Eisenhower


Today I watched a couple of the investigative shows I enjoy.   In both shows, they dealt with individuals who had major tragedies in their lives.  The first lost his wife, and the second his youngest daughter.  In both scenarios neither of these individuals could accept the death of their loved one.  They held onto to the anger, for them is was a source of solace, of strength, it was their motivators.  

 

Anger is so very real with grief, for most of us we come face to face with it after the dust has settled.  The funeral has passed, the calls have stopped and we are left to think about what has happened.  We become angry at what ever we may perceive as the cause.  

 

When Rachel died I was angry at myself first, I could have and should have been able to prevent it.  At least that is what I believed.  I then became angry at Rachel, she should have known better, she should have pulled over when she started getting tired.  It took a while to realize that there really wasn't anything anyone of us could have done.   Now we are spent, no longer having anger to hold on to, we begin to move on, look for ways to cope.


We move on, but life is never the same, especially when we have had to say good-bye.  For a parent, there is always something missing, there is that one empty chair, one less person at the dinner table, etc.  Our lives are never the same again, even though we may smile, we may appear to have moved on, we know all to well the emptiness.  I have heard it said over and over again, that there is no worse tragedy than to lose a child.  I can attest to that.  


Although death leaves us with voids in our life, some are anticipated.  The death of my grandparents, was sad and tragic, but they had lived full lives, it was the natural order of things.  When my father died I had a hard time with it, but he had been ill for a while, and my brothers and I, even though we denied it, knew that it would be the eventual outcome.  It is not to say that any of these deaths were easy, on the contrary, they all had a major impact on me.  But when Rachel died, it took everything to a different level.  This is a pain that I can't explain to anyone who hasn't experienced it, it is a longing that cannot be fulfilled.  It is akin to be surrounded by water when you are thirsty, but being unable to drink.  


I know sometimes I speak in generalities, but today, these two shows spoke to the devastation that occurs in families.  The pain and anguish that is left in the wake of the death of a child.  Anytime a young person dies, it breaks the natural order of things.  You are supposed to be born, grow up, mature, enjoy your life and then die at a very old age.  Your children should be the ones to bury you, not the other way around, and they definitely should outlive their grandparents.  That's the natural order of things, right?  


Rules, what rules.  There are none in life.  Every loss is hard to bear, every loss leaves us questioning why; every loss leaves us feeling abandoned and alone.  Whether it be your child, your spouse, parents or some other significant person in your life, it can be so hard to deal with.  The most important thing is to get past the anger, letting go of it completely.  If you find that you are holding on to anger, find ways to release it.  Safe ways!  


Anger should not control or consume you, it should not govern your life.  If you or someone you know has not been able to get past the anger, please find help for yourself or them.  Anger can become the only focus of a persons life, causing them to project it onto others.  It can lead to harm of oneself, loved ones, or can cause relationships to fail.  Please find outlets for your anger.  Allow yourself to be free.  


I think of Rachel, my dad, my grandparents and other deceased family members, and I wonder, would they want me to be angry, would they want me to blame the world.  Of course not, so if not for yourself, for them, for their memories.  We need to be the person they knew, the person they expect us to be.  Just like you want to see a loved one succeed, so too do we try to do what our loved ones would want.  We want to succeed for them, move on for them, always remembering them as we go along.  


So let go of the anger, let go of the bitterness, let go of resentment or even thoughts of revenge, and live, truly live.  We can all become prisoners of our own thoughts and ideas if we let ourselves dwell on all the bad things in  our lives.  We are better than that, we can overcome, we can find strength in all our adversities, we can become more caring, compassionate people.  Through our understanding of all things related to our particular grief, we can help others find ways to move beyond the anger to find healing.


Love of course is the band-aid that can patch up any wound.  We may be left with a scar, but we can and do move forward, never forgetting, just moving.  We are sustained by the fond memories of our loved ones, and we find ways to live again.  Love is the key to all healing.


Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Life-long learning.

You learn so much sometimes when you are not even trying.  Over the years I have had my share of life experiences some good, some I'd rather forget, but in every event there has been a lesson.  We don't realize it at the time, but years later it dawns on us.

When my daughter died I learned that people really do care, even if they say the wrong things or act totally opposite of what you expected.  I have come to realize that we are all humans and with this fact comes some character flaws.  We all make mistakes (yes, we do), we all find ourselves getting into trouble at some point, and we often speak without giving much thought to the impact our words may have. 

Yet it is the 'character flaws' that we miss the most sometimes.  Those little quirky things that they said, the totally out in left field comment, and the 'oops' I made a mistake, and I think I'm in trouble.  I could do with out the trouble part, but the rest, how I long to just shake my head one more time, say 'what where you thinking,' or just smile at something they said.  I remember times when Rachel would makes us laugh so hard, we'd be crying.  Or when she would have us trying to figure out which end was up.  When trouble hit, I remember how she new that she could count on us to help her as best we could.  

All these things we realize were learning moments, opportunities for us to challenge ourselves to look beyond the surface, to see who they truly are.  To see past the 'flaws' to the person that has such a significant impact in our lives.  I watch at times how others interact with their loved ones, how a learning moment is happening right before their eyes, and I wonder will they understand it as such.  How many of these moments have I squandered away, how many have I missed?  The answer for me, is way too many! 

Yet I wonder, would I have truly changed anything?  Have I totally ignored all the lessons laid before me?  I want to say no, I have learned, I am still learning, and yes, I am willing to continue learning.  I am sure that many of life's lessons I have filed away, wanting to ignore them, act as if they never happened, but I know eventually they will resurface.  

Years ago, our family had a home fire and we were left 'homeless' for four months.  We were not out on the street, we were able to stay with family, but I came to fully understand how vulnerable we truly are.  How in the blink of an eye so much can change.  That lesson made me look hard at those who may be suffering from homelessness, from alienation, who, even with a roof over there head, still feel like they don't belong.  I now look at someone who is homeless, ostracized, or lonely and feel a sense of empathy, and realize that most of the times it is due to circumstances totally out of their control. 

The same is true for those of us dealing and coping with the death of a loved one. We now fully understand the pain of loss, the pain grief brings with it, the emptiness and the sense helplessness. Recently we have had several young people and children die, and each time I hear this, my heart aches, truly aches.  I feel for those parents immediately.  Just this past week a young soldier was killed in action from a neighboring state.  I live within minutes of the border, and drive through the state quite often.  The flags are all being flown at half-mast until the young man is laid to rest.  Each time I see those flags, I think of his mother, all the unanswered questions, all the uncertainty, and all the what ifs, that are now are running through her head.  I think of his father, and know how he will struggle to console his wife, and try to come to grips with this death himself.  

Just a little over four years ago, I would have been saddened by the news, but I would more than likely not have given it much more thought.  Now it is if I am drawn to it, as if I want to help them so how.  I find myself thinking, I could help them, I could walk with them, help them know that they are not alone.   Share what I know, what I have come to understand, what I still struggle with and so on.  I also realize that I need to feel this way, it is my way of working through my own sense of helplessness.  If I can help someone else, I now know that I am helping myself, I am playing an important role in my own healing. 

When I reach out to someone who is hurting, share in their pain, I am dealing with my own.  I am letting my self know that it is okay, that I can cry, that I can long for and still want what is missing.  There is an old cliche that says 'there is strength in numbers' and how so true.  When I am reaching out to someone who is hurting, together, we can face what lies ahead.  

After Rachel died, I had and still have a friend who would call, stop by or take me out.  We would go for a walk, grab a cup of coffee at a local coffee shop, or go see a movie.  I also developed friendships with other moms who had lost a child.  These women helped me, served as guides for me, letting me know I was not alone.  I also knew I could call them, reach out to them whenever I needed to.  They would listened to me and even when I rambled and made no sense at all, I knew they understood.  They had been there.

We can learn so much from life, if we allow ourselves to be open.  We need to approach life as children do.  I watch my grandson, and I marvel at his reaction to everything, how excited he is when he sees a colorful leaf, hears a bird singing, or his amazement when the dog barks and wags his tail.  The wonderment of all things, the excitement of seeing everything for the first time, and the joy of learning.  

Let everything that has happened to you, both good or bad, serve as an opportunity to learn, to teach, and to allow yourself to be ever changing.  

We all have our difficulties, we all have struggles in life, but we also have our joys and triumphs.  When we cannot seem to understand, let someone who has been there guide you.  In time you will be the guide for someone else.  Most importantly allow yourself to learn, to be open, to reach out, and to know that you are not alone, there is always someone who can help, who can lead, who can just stand by and make sure you are okay. 

Rachael has shown me so much, both in life and even more so after her death.  She continually helps me to learn, to see the gifts I have been given, and to understand that others are also seeking, reaching out and walking the same paths as me.  

We are not alone.  We are cared for.  We are loved.  We are so many things to so many people.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.