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Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Merry Christmas Rachel

Wishing you all a Merry Christmas!  

The holidays can be difficult, as so many things can trigger memories.  For me, even though this is the seventh Christmas without Rachel, I still have a hard time.  In the wee hours of Christmas morning, I found myself unable to sleep, truly missing my daughter.  As the tears flowed unbidden, I longed to have her near.  

Recent events of the tragedy that befell Sandy Hook has reminded me of what is missing in my life.  As I thought of all those parents, both young and old, who this holiday would not be able to watch their child open gifts, my heart sank.  My heart longed to reach out to them, knowing full well the emptiness that is staring them squarely in the face.  Of unopened gifts, of promises broken, dreams left unfulfilled, and of all the doubt and confusion that we are left with.  

As a parent, the loss of a child is beyond anything we can explain, it is a hurt and pain that we carry with us always.  Each passing year eases the ache, but we still feel the absence.  Yet, in my hurt I feel the warmth of Rachel's love, her endearing presence, and I know in my heart of hearts that she is near, that she is with me always.  

A beautiful song was sung at the Christmas Eve Mass, that pulled at my heart strings: 

 When Love Was Born by Mark Schultz

Starlight shines, the night is still
Shepherds watch from a hill
I close my eyes, see the night
When love was born

Perfect child gently waits
A mother bends to kiss God's face
I close my eyes, see the night
When love was born

Angels fill the midnight sky, they sing
Hallelujah, He is Christ, our King

Emmanuel, Prince of peace
Loves come down for you and me
Heaven's gift, the holy spark
To let the way inside our hearts

Bethlehem, through your small door
Came the hope we've waited for
The world was changed forevermore
When love was born

I close my eyes, see the night
When love was born

As I listen to the lyrics, as I tried to sing along, the words of the second stanza gripped me, and all I could think of was the night Rachel was born, and how an unbelievable love had entered into my life.  The love of mother and child, a love that allows us to look beyond any imperfection to see, truly see, the beauty that lies within.  A love that reaches beyond the the grave, a love that conquers all, a love that even death cannot diminish, but rather grows even stronger.

Rachel, like your loved one, may be gone from sight, but the love that permeates our very being, lets us know that they are very near.  That they are very much a presence in our lives, and that we are forever changed, because they were a major part of it.  It is the memories that they created, that help me and so many others, face the holidays and special events.  It is the cherished traditions, and the start of new ones dedicated to the memory of our loved one, that see us through.  Let these memories bring you comfort, let them fill you with love and joy, and if they bring a tear or two, let them flow; allow the healing to begin.

Merry Christmas Rachel, and to all those who are spending their first Christmas in heaven.  Let your love pour down on us all, keep us all safe, and hold us gently as we travel through our grief.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Let Their Light Shine

As so many of you are very much aware of, this nation has been rocked by the tragic events in Connecticut.  So many innocent lives lost, so many hearts broken, so many arms left empty.  Since last Friday's news, my heart has continuously ached, there is a heaviness I cannot seem to shake, and I am reminded of how precious and fleeting our lives truly are.  Somber reminders that we need to live each day as if this is our last, to love unconditionally, and to be present, truly present to those that matter in our lives.

Losing a child is by far one of the hardest things to face, parents just DON'T bury their children, it should always be the other way around.  Yet, I have learned personally that life does not follow or obey the rules.  We live by life's whims and begin to learn to live, fully live in the moment, taking no one for granted.  These past few days are strong reminders of what I have loved and lost, of missing and longing, of wanting just one more glimpse of my daughter.  Yet, I feel her presence even more, I know she is very near, as I type, her smiling face stares back at me from the photo on my desk, reminders that my life has been forever changed.  A reminder that I would not have wanted it any other way, that the gift I was given the day she was born, cannot be taken from me, and that my life is forever enriched because she was a part of it.  

Twenty-seven people lost their lives this past Friday, and countless others have also been taken violently from us, let us not forget, let us keep them all in our prayers, and let us strive to help each other heal.  Let us continue to pray that as a nation we address the key issues that were the underlying causes of such a tragedy, in the hopes of preventing this scene from ever happening again. 

There are always lessons to be learned, there are always I told you so's and what if's, but these are irrelevant in light of what has happened.  Let us look at the pain and suffering of all those impacted by this tragedy, the families, the emergency personnel, faculty, community and it's surrounding neighbors; let us care for these, be a reassuring presence, a beacon of hope and forgo our judgements and assumptions.  Let us keep in mind that these families have faced the unfathomable, their minds have played out and will continue to play out this tragic scene in their heads, until they finally come to peace with it.  Until then, we all need to be a comfort to them, a willing ear allowing them to share their stories and their loved ones stories, assuring them that their loved one truly matters and is not forgotten.  

As a parent, my greatest fear was that my daughter would be forgotten, that Rachel would fade into the sunset.  It is for this very reason that for me and countless others, we remember, we say the 'Name' over and over again, and we want you to ask about them.  Yes, it may bring a tear to our eyes, we may be sad for a moment, but the greatest sadness for me at least, was thinking no one cared or that Rachel was forgotten.  As these families face the dark days ahead, please be gentle with them, please allow them to grieve in the only way they can and know how to.  Many of us who have experienced profound loss understand all to well the need to go through the grief, to cry, to scream, to be angry and to just be.  

No two people experience grief in the same way even if the loss is the same, and for this reason, we must not impose are own misconceptions of the grieving process, but allow them to muddle their way through.  Grief is definitely hard work and no one can do it for us.  As a wise professor once told me, 'we hurt because we love, if we did not love, there would be no pain.'  But who among us, would have wanted to miss out on the love, for all the pain in the suffering, I would not have given up one precious moment with my daughter.  

Remember to allow yourself to grieve, be good to YOU, take care of YOU, and do not be afraid to reach out to others.  No one has to go it alone.  Trust me when I say it, the hardest thing for me, was reaching out for help, but when I finally came to the conclusion that I could not handle it on my own, was the day I let the healing begin. 

My thoughts and prayers are with every family member as they face the unimaginable, as they prepare to say good-bye to their beloved child and loved one.   Know that even though I may be miles away, I stand beside you in spirit and in love.  May their lives continue to shine through each and every one of us. 

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

That First Step

'The journey of a thousand miles, begins with a single step.' Confucius

That is the same for the grieving, we can only and should only take one day at a time, and when necessary one moment at a time. Some days we will get further, seem to be taking longer strides, and yet others, we are unable to get up, let alone begin to walk. 
Grief is a journey, it's path not always clear, but there is a destination, there is a light at the end of that dark tunnel. You and I will and do survive, we just need to give ourselves time. Time to heal, to accept, to begin to live again, to be who we are becoming. It is not easy, it is not a short trip, and it gets frightening and messy at times, and that's okay. Just allow yourself to deal with your emotions, don't bottle them up, or push them aside. Face them, name them, do whatever it takes - this is a 'single step' bringing you closer to healing. 
Be good to you, take care of yourself, and above all, know that you have earned the right to grieve, it is after all, all about YOU! and what your are experiencing. We may understand each others loss, but the pain and hurt is as unique as you are, and none of us knows what you are going through. But you are not alone, and there is always someone willing to listen and simply hold your hand. A friend, family member, counselor, support group or any combination, can help you during this difficult time in your life. 
Do not be afraid to reach out to others for not be afraid to take that first step.
Blessings! until we meet again.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

Happy Birthday, Rachel

Happy Birthday Rachel

It's hard to believe that Rachel would be celebrating her 30th birthday today.  It seems incredulous that this is the sixth birthday without her.  Yet I would not have traded a moment of the time we were given with her, I treasure every precious memory.  

Today we will honor and remember her by participating in a butterfly release, her nephews will help set them free.  It is important and healing to remember our loved ones in special ways; to take the time to acknowledge their gift to us, and how they made a difference in our lives.  

Blessings! until we meet again.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Enough Already

Time marches on, life continues to move forward and we find ourselves wondering, 'where has the time gone.'  It is hard to believe that six years have passed since Rachel's death, and yet there are times it still feels like yesterday.  There are times when the tears still flow unbidden, when a jarring pain reminds me that I still hurt, that I still feel the ache of loss, that there is still something crucial missing from my life.  I often hear people say comments like, 'Well, you should be over that by now, after all its been a few years.'  'Enough with the remembering already, get over it.'  Or they have totally moved on with their lives and have kept you at arms length.  Personally, I have not heard these comments directly, they have been cautiously, filtered to me from others.  

There is a support group that meets regularly that I facilitate, and some of the questions that arise are: 'How long should I keep my loved one's memory alive?  When is it TOO much?  Is there an appropriate time limit for such things?  Is it odd to want to remember them in special ways?  In delving more deeply into the questions, you can hear the underlying misgivings that society imposes on personal grief.  Often you will be surrounded by people who you care for and love, who you trust, and yet, these are the very people who will not dare to mention 'the name' for fear of causing pain.  And if you dare to speak of your loved one, they deftly find ways to change the subject.  Thus raising the question of remembering and memories--is it okay? 

For many of us, it is the precious memories of our loved ones, that sustain us and helps us get through the darkest of days, it is these very memories, that help us get up each and every morning.  The memory that we loved someone so deeply, that someone meant and means that much to us, and that they loved us.  We want and need to let the world know that this person was truly important to us, that they were and still are an integral part of our world.  Is it ever too much?  That is hard to say, there are situations when the grief and mourning can and do become obsessive, for some it becomes all consuming.  In an article by Amanda R. Bell, What is Traumatic Grief?, she writes: 'Traumatic grief is an extreme, unhealthy reaction to the death of a loved one, typically a spouse.'  The person grieving, cannot accept the death of their loved one, thus closes themselves off from entering into the healing process.  These individuals can often 'express suicidal thoughts and desires, have unusually strong reactions to daily life, and difficulty functioning.'  It is always advisable to seek counseling or professional help, if your grief becomes too much for you to handle alone. 

For the most part, it is not TOO much, and is a very normal part of our grieving and acceptance of our loved one's death.  Many people and organization, have annual events in memory of loved ones.  I, myself, will be attending a butterfly release this weekend in memory of Rachel and other family members; and this past weekend, Rachel was remembered in a memorial Mass on the anniversary of her death.  These are just a few of the many ways that loved ones are remembered and honored.  

As for time, is there ever a limit?  As a bereaved parent, I know my loss is life-long, and if you ask any parent, they will tell you that they still remember, they will always remember, and their grief is forever.  The same is true for so many others, be it a spouse, a close friend, a parent, a sibling, they all feel a sense of loss, even years later.  There is no set time frame, no gauge to measure grief by, no linear chart that says on this date you will wake up and your grief is over, gone!  Grief is unique, no two people experience it or go through it the same way.  The key is to acknowledge the grief, to enter in to it, and to allow ourselves to feel it and express it.  Get messy, allow it to transform you.  Find others who are willing to enter into the darkness with you, who are willing to companion you on this long and arduous journey, who will cry and rejoice with you, sit quietly by your side, and hold your hand when needed.  The good news is that in time, you find comfort in the memories, you find joy in the pain, and you begin to see with eyes that take nothing for granted.  You begin to live again, knowing that you are loved ever more deeply, and that your loved one is ever more present to you, a part of your very being.  

Feel free to do special things in remembrance of your loved one.  It gives meaning and purpose to their lives and yours.  A memory garden; a memorial plaque or stone; a gift given annually in lieu of a birthday or anniversary of your loved one; a scholarship fund; clothing or donations to the needy in memory of a love one; are just a few of many ways that loved ones can be remembered.  Be creative, let your loved one guide you, look at what they loved to do; what charities held a special place in their heart; what were some of their hobbies; what causes did they feel strongly about.  If their death was as a result of life threatening diseases or illness, find ways to increase awareness and help promote a cure; participate in annual walks, races, and relays.  There are countless ways that we can turn our grief into healing; that our loved one's death can bring about good.  The sky is the limit, and remember with grief 'everything is normal,' and odd behavior is to be expected.  Just remember if anything  becomes too much for you to handle, there is no shame, I repeat, no shame, in asking for help, ever!  It takes more courage to admit we need help and to ask for it, than to try to go it alone.  None of us needs to travel this road alone, there is always a willing ear, a helping hand, if we just ask or dare to reach out.  

Our loved ones lived, they loved and they are very special to us.  We have to right to mourn and grieve them, to remember them, to shed a tear or two for them, and to always keep them safe in our hearts.  We are who we are because they touched our lives in their own very special way.  For me that is the very reason, I choose to remember my loved ones in very special ways; why I share Rachel's story, and why so many share their stories with me and others.  They are and will always be LOVE, a part of our very being, and with their guidance, a major part of who we become.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Finding Strength in Numbers...

Just yesterday I attended yet another family funeral.  It seems as I get older there are more and more of them.  As my family ages; illness, accidents or longevity takes over, and we find ourselves saying good-bye too often.  Yet, there is a beauty in the funeral experience.  Yes, I said beauty!  As I sat at the funeral home; while I waited for the procession to start for the Mass, and then again toward the cemetery; my daughter's funeral came vividly to mind.  I remembered  the sadness of the days, but I also remembered the outpouring of love, the kind words of family, friends and even strangers.  And most importantly, the message spoken loud and clear - here was someone who was special to so many people, here was someone that lived, loved and left so many wonderful memories.  Memories to be cherished and shared; yes they may bring tears occasionally, or find us laughing out loud, but they serve as reminders of what they meant and still mean to us.

When I think back to almost 6 years ago now, I still recall the people who went out of their way to let us know they cared, to hold our hands or to simply share their strength but standing silently by our side.  The community had a chance to say good-bye, acknowledge the grief, and enter into our pain, even if only for a brief moment.  This 'chore' as so many people see it, is one of our first tentative steps toward healing and accepting our loss.  Humanity's need to say good-bye, to come together to comfort and console one another, speaks of our need to nurture and be nurtured. 

Also funerals, like weddings, allow us to catch up with relatives and friends that we have not seen in a long while or even years.  It gives us a chance to reminisce about what we have meant to one another, to feel the connecting thread in our lives.  As I spoke to relatives and friends, yesterday, the same theme came flowing through the words I heard.  There was a familial bond that could be felt by those present, a connectivity that could not be explained.  A strong message that family mattered above all else, and that no matter what twists and turns may have occurred, we were all where we needed to be at that very moment.  That the foundations of love, compassion and strong family ties, had been laid down long before many of us came into existence.

It is this very foundation, that has helped me during many a dark day.  A gentle reminder that there are people in my life who care, who want to be there for me when I need, who are willing to stop, if even briefly, to enter into my pain.  This coupled with my faith, has made the journey easier to bear, it is the conviction of being loved and capable of loving, of learning to give and when necessary to take (even when it seems to be against our very nature), to allow ourselves to be in the moment.  As Fr. Joe said yesterday, 'it is us allowing a glimpse of God's mercy and grace to shine through who we are.'  'To be a window into Heaven, and all God wants us to be to one another.'  We do not walk alone, and on those days when we do feel all alone, it is our faith and the companionship of others that keeps us going.  

Yet so many of us are not necessarily blessed with big families as I am; but if we are willing to venture out; to reach beyond ourselves, to stretch into the uncomfortableness; we too will find a helping hand.  A cherished, close friend, a counselor, a support group, or someone in our work environment or faith community, who will lend us an ear, is an asset to be treasured.  Finding such a gem helps us along this long, arduous journey.  Yes, it is work and it gets messy, but the only way to heal is to go through it, and what better than finding someone to take along.  Someone who will push, pull or simply sit beside you when you need to rest.  We all need one another, and none of us is an island, and even on those days when we feel so isolated, someone is busy building a bridge.  

Let love flow through you, to you and out again.  Allow others to be there for you, and do not be afraid, or too proud, to reach out to others.  Remember 'there is strength in numbers.'  Take care of yourself, and allow others to care for you, and keep in mind, that grief takes time.  So allow yourself all the time you need.  Grief is all about YOU at this very moment, and only YOU know what you are experiencing, just know that YOU are not alone, ever!  Our loved ones may leave us physically, but their presence is a major part of our very being.  Love knows no boundaries, and what we shared with our loved ones, is no exception.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Here I go sighing again.

It is truly amazing to see how far one can come in life, even in the face of adversity.  Recently I spent a week with youth and young adults in a leadership institute, and what a wonderful experience for all involved.  For me, being surrounded by so many youthful, energetic teens has a way of bringing out the fun-loving, carefree person I can be at times, reminding me of the potential that each individual has.  But, alas, being with them also reminds me of what I had with my daughter, how she loved to have fun, how she was so full of life, and how much she dreamed of and planned for.  

Ironically, I was okay for the first 2-3 days.  As the week continued I found myself sighing more deeply (a sign of stress or anxiety) and I knew, this week was taking me on a emotional roller coaster ride.  I was being reminded of what I lost, what could have been and what dreams had been shattered.  But with all this, I was also surprised that I was in control.  How?  Well I didn't find myself crying as they shared their dreams, hopes and even fears with me and the other adult leaders.  I was able to hear their stories, understand their trials, and enter into what they were experiencing without my feelings and emotions taking over.  

Just a couple of years ago when I was also on team for this same institute, I would find myself crying often and uncontrollably.  The teenagers who had attended would actually glance over at me if they knew what was being shared would evoke tears.  They knew that they could make Rose Mary cry easily, and I did.  To actually be able to replay this segment of my life, in a similar scenario, and see the difference, has a healing quality.  This retrospection helps me to see and grasp that I have in fact come a long way, that I am healing, that I am embracing the new 'normal' in my life.  

Will I ever be the same person I was just over 5 years ago?  NO!  How can I be, I have had to reach into areas of myself I did not know or even dreamed existed.  I have had to find a strength that I did not believe was even humanly possible.  My outlook on life remains positive but now I look at it from different angles.  I am not afraid to look deeply into anyone's eyes, to see the person that dwells within, to see the real individual; the one with joys and sorrows, with hopes and disillusions, with courage and trepidation.  To see the person who wants to be everything they dream of, but holds back because life can sometimes be difficult.  No I am not the same.  Yes, I may appear carefree, smiling and hopeful, but yet, like so many people I meet and so many of you who read this blog; so much lies beneath the surface, so much is hidden, unseen by the human eye. 

My grief and pain has taken me down roads I would never had dreamed of, opened up new doors that I would never have looked at, let alone knock on, and taken me into places that the bravest of people would not dare venture into.  Yet here I am, arriving at my new self, unsure of who I am yet, but certain that I am were I need to be at the moment.  What does it all mean?  Who knows!  Do I like this new me?  Yes and no.  Yes, because I know I can be there if someone needs understanding, compassion and a listening ear; and no, because I arrived here because of my daughter's death. Believe me when I say, how much I wish I could have changed the outcome, how much I wish my daughter was still a physical part of my life.  I look at my grandchildren and wonder if she would have had children, what would she be doing right now, and so on.  No different, really, than anyone who has faced the death of a loved one.  Yet, we all make it somehow.  We don't find something to fill the void, nothing can do that.  What we do is accept that there will always be a certain emptiness, a hole that we learn to live with, and through faith, we cling to the fact that our love transcends even the greatest of abysses and that for me, I will see Rachel again.  

My strength comes from knowing that Rachel guides me, is there when I need her, and lets me know from time to time that she is near.  There are reminders of her presence in my life, and they happen when I seem to need them most.  There isn't a day when Rachel isn't a part of it.  And on those days when I cannot seem to hear the gentle reminder of her presence, someone or something lets me know.  Just as your loved ones do the same for you.  

We all have dark days and difficult times, we all struggle with life's twists and turns, but if we allow ourselves to grow, to reach out to others, we can find a way through it.  I could not have come this far alone, and I know that I will continue to need people in my life; and that my journey is far from over.  So why would I want to go it alone.  Why would anyone want to travel alone?  The most important thing to remember as we travel life's roads, is to give ourselves the time to take in the scenery, and to allow ourselves to heal.  All the speeding in the world may appear to get us to our destination faster, but in the end, what we left uncared for, catches up to us.  So take your grief slowly, allow yourself the luxury of going through it, rather than circumventing it.  It is when we give ourselves permission to grieve, to fully grieve, that we begin to heal.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Rachel, We DID It!

This past weekend was a very busy one for my family and I.  

Friday night was my son's prom, an exciting time, a right of passage of sorts, a chance for seniors to let loose after 'making it.'  My husband and I watched as our handsome son left for his prom, grateful that he made it this far; excited that he was attending the festivities, and with a sharp realization that now he would be entering fully and completely into the 'adult' world.  Just one of many milestones we as parents cherish and tuck away into the treasure trove we keep in our hearts.  

Sunday, my youngest grandson was baptized.  I watched as my daughter and her husband beamed at their youngest son, as he was prepared to be received into our faith community.   I was proud of my growing family and the beautiful experience of being a grandmother.  All you grandparents out there fully understand and know what I am speaking of.  It is amazing to be part of our children's milestones, but there is an unexplainable pride, when we witness the transformation of our own children through the eyes of our grandchildren. 

Saturday, was my special day, I crossed the college stage.  I had completed my Certification in Thanatology (the study of death and dying) and was now a college graduate.  It was wonderful, exciting, oh I could go on and on; let's suffice it to say I felt really good about what I had finally accomplished.  I awoke Saturday morning with an excited energy and an 'I can't believe I really did this' frame of mind.  As I showered (a place were many brilliant ideas are often born), I began to think of Rachel, and how she had been all set to return to school to complete her education.  The Friday before her death she had called to ask me to get her high school transcripts, I was to fax them to her the following Monday.  She was registered and just needed a copy of her transcript, I remember how happy and excited she had been that day.  

As this thought bounced around in my head, the tears began streaming down my face.  And then it hit me, I knew exactly what I needed to do.  'Rachel,' I said out loud in the shower, 'you are going to cross that stage, you are walking in with me.'  As I stepped out of the shower with tears and a broad smile, I now found myself getting ready with a new resolve.  I was fulfilling Rachel's dream with the realization of mine.  The course I had completed was one I would not have even considered 6 years ago, and here I was now a 'grief facilitator,' someone who can walk besides others in pain.  I was here because of the turn of events in my life, because Rachel had placed me where I needed to be - helping others; something she loved to do.  Out of personal loss and tragedy, came new hope and life.  

Fully dressed, cap and gown draped over my arm and Rachel's photo in my hand, I headed out the door on my way to my graduation ceremony; to say I was beaming, would be an understatement.  My classmates knew my story and were happy with my decision to carry Rachel's photo.  We were given alumni pins and one of my fellow graduates suggested I use it to pin Rachel's photo to my gown; at first I wasn't sure, then I looked at him and said thanks, what a great idea; and so not only was she with me, now everyone could she her crossing that stage as well.  It was perfect.  She would be captured in my photo as I crossed the stage.  

When it was finally our programs turn to make our way across the stage, I felt as if I had wings.  That feeling that you are exactly where you need to be, were you are meant to be, and that every obstacle has helped form the 'you' you are becoming.  It is an amazing feeling propelling you forward, moving you to a new potential, to an awareness that everything in life is meant to teach; is meant to strengthen; is meant to form and shape us.  That every stumble, every setback, only gives us new resolve to try again, to trust again and to believe that we are better for where we've been.  Each scar reminds us of how far we've come, and how much more still lies ahead, and that each turn in the road offers us an opportunity to become more acquainted with the person we are meant to be.  

Life does not always play by the rules, and we are not always dealt the cards we need to stay in the game; but somehow we manage to make it.  We find ways to use what we have been dealt, giving ourselves the opportunity to find creative, new ways to get back into the game; and we do!  

Rachel began the dream, and I simply fulfilled it for her.  We both graduated that day, and her and I walked hand in hand across that stage.  A mother living out the dream of her daughter, through the very same spirit that had given her the wings as a child to take flight, allowing her to be transformed into the beautiful young woman she had become.  The chrysalis transformed into the beautiful butterfly, whose brief time on this earth, transformed the lives of countless others; and still continues to transform my life.  Rachel is a very important part of who I am and continues to be a strong presence in my life.  I sense and feel her presence in every aspect of my life, a constant reminder that she is near, and holds a very special place in my heart. 

Our loved ones are always with us and their love transcends death.  It is LOVE that surrounds us and keeps us strong, it helps us heal as we make our way through grief, giving us the courage and strength to grow; to become.  Love conquers all and it is love that keeps us going.  

Blessings! and until we meet again. 

Thursday, May 24, 2012

Keeping Memories Alive...

Keeping memories alive...when someone we love dies, we often fear that we will forget them.  We fear that we may forget what they look like, their fragrance, their smile or the sound of their laughter.  For a while, those were my fears, I remember a dream I had with Rachel shortly after her death; it was a still photo.  I awoke that morning thinking why a photograph, why was it a image of her only?  What did it mean?  Looking back now I realize that it was my fear of forgetting her, of not having my daughter physically present, only her photographs.  But in time, I have come to realize that I haven't forgotten her, will never forget her, I can't forget her.  She is on my mind each and every day, and simple things remind me of her presence.  Ironically I hear her laughter in her sister's laugh, I see her playfulness in my grandson's antics, and recognize her ways in things her brother does.  So many subtle reminders that she is still very much a part of my life.

There are so many ways we can honor and keep alive the memories of those we love.  As we approach our Memorial Day Holiday (United States), we remember all those who have died to keep us free.  We remember also our loved ones, who shaped us and helped us become the persons we are.  This upcoming weekend affords us the ability to remember not only our fallen heroes, but all the heroes in our lives. 

But it does not have to be contained in one weekend per year, we can honor and remember our loved ones in various ways throughout the year.  In my city, we have memorial runs for deceased members of the community;  my brothers participate in motorcycle runs for various causes in memory of my dad, and others who have died from cancer; to name just a few.  I honor my daughter's love of life, people and sharing by writing and sharing her story through my blog.  Others have set up scholarships, community drives, planted a garden or tree, and so many other ways that are too numerous to list.  

Photo published with permission of Normand Fontaine.
Recently a friend, along with his family and friends, honored the memory of his wife, Janice, by participating in a fund-raiser, Purple Stride, to help find a cure for pancreatic cancer.  It was something he knew that his wife would not only love, it would have been something she would do, and that she would be cheering them on.  To make the day even more memorable, he had T-shirts made with a photo of Janice and what she meant to the wearer.  It was a wonderful day in which he was surrounded by a loving family and wonderful friends, as you can see from the faces in the photo he forwarded to me.  And I truly believe Janice was smiling down upon them, very proud of all of them.

We are only limited to our own limitations when it comes to honoring and remembering our loved ones.  Like anything else in our grieving, it is finding what is best for YOU, and what you are comfortable with.  A simple memory garden may be all you wish to do; visiting the grave and insuring that there are always fresh flowers or that it is neatly groomed; all these are gestures of remembrance.  They all serve to remind us that the person we love, the person who died, is still very much an important part of our lives; that they are not forgotten, and they remain ever present in our hearts.  Love is felt even over the chasm that is left by death.  We feel their presence, walking beside us, in even the most subtle of ways, and our memories and what we do to relive them, reinforces the love we shared and continue to share with our loved one.

May your memories bring you comfort, and may we always remember our heroes, both national and personal.  May their strength and courage serve as a reminder that we all survive,

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Invitation:  Please feel free to share your own memorial/remembrance stories and photos here on the blog.  So many of us gain insight and information from others.  A journey shared makes the distance feel so much shorter.  Thank you!

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Wow! Really! is that the only thing you can say?

Why do simple phrases set me off?  Often I will hear people speak about what can get under their skin.  Anything from certain sounds (fingernails on chalkboards instantly come to mind), smells, or cliche phrases that seem to slip from lips unbidden, to mention just a few. 

Thinking back to Rachel's death and the days, weeks and months that followed, I remember certain things and words that would irk me to no end.  For me it was - 'be patient' or 'have patience;' - WHAT! my mind would scream.  Why do I need to be patient? 

Yet now reflecting back on those days (I still do not care much for the phrase, and you will not catch me using it when speaking to someone who is grieving) I think I understand why it bothered me so.  I had no patience, I wanted answers and I wanted them now.  My own inner turmoil caused so much impatience with myself, why could I not function, why was thinking, and doing and being so difficult.  People around me added to the mix, I grew impatient with them for not getting it, for not trying to understand my pain, for not being there.  Impatience surrounded me, so when someone said a simple 'be patient' I would lose it internally, luckily only voicing my dislike of the phrase to people who were at least patient with me.  There were a host of other phrases, words and expressions that got to me as well, as I am sure you can think of one or two yourselves.     

In those dark early days of grief, we are trying to breathe, to get by, to understand, and when we hear, see or are reminded in anyway of our uncertainty and confusion, we feel angered.  Angered at the source for the reminder; angered at ourselves for being so befuddled, and angered at the situation we find ourselves in.  It is the frustration that causes our reaction and disdain, it reminds us of how vulnerable we are, and how uncertain our lives can be. 

In time we find our reactions ease up, we may still not care for this stimulus, but we at least tolerate it, and keep it to ourselves.  We begin to understand the underlying meaning of what it represents, and start to find ways of coping and getting through it.  For me it was learning to give myself time; time to accept Rachel's death; time to allow myself to grieve at my own pace; time to teach myself to be patient with me and in turn, with others.  It was not and has not been easy, there are still occasions when I want to scream; when I want the answers right now; when nothing is making sense.  But if grief has taught me anything is that we do have to be 'patient' with ourselves; we do have to give ourselves 'space;' and most importantly, allow ourselves to heal using whatever methods work best for us.  Whether it be journaling through our loss, writing our story, or simply helping others; we find ways of making it safely across the abyss that is grief.

When a statement, comment or any other stimulus causes any anxiety; stop! and ask yourself:  Why does this get to me so?  Where am I right now in the midst of all this confusion?  What remains unanswered for me?  Is it a personal reflection of how I feel?  Sit quietly and reflect on these questions or any other questions you wish to formulate, and allow yourself the luxury of letting go.  For me, I would journal with these questions, writing whatever flowed from my thoughts onto the blank pages before me.  Often when I was done writing, I would not read what I wrote, I would simply close my journal and not give it another thought.  This simple exercise freed me up to move on to something else, it was load-lifting for me; a great way to get rid of all the extra baggage I was carrying.  

You may not be a writer and that's okay, just simply reflecting on the questions you formulate, it also a great help.  Like anything else in grief, you need to find what works for you, and only YOU know what that is.  Remember always to be kind to yourself, to give yourself all the time you need, and to take care of yourself both physically and emotionally.  Also finding others who are willing to listen, who understand the journey you are on, can and is an immense help during difficult times.  Reaching out to others helps everyone involved.  Grief may leave us feeling lonely but we do not have to be alone.  

So the next time you feel frustrated, angered or think the world is out to get you, stop and allow yourself to take a deep breath, and know that you will be okay and that you are not alone - ever!;  your loved one is right there beside you guiding you through this journey.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Strangers on the surface only...

It is not too often that we see charity played out in our day-to-day lives, but I recently not only witnessed it, but experienced the most beautiful manifestation of this act at it's finest.  This post is not about my journey through grief, but how we truly matter to each other, even in death.  It demonstrates how intricately we are all connected, and how the death of a total stranger left a lasting impression on me and others present on that fateful day.  This is an excellent example of how a simple man's death brought a community together...

  “We are One Body…”
Every once in a while we are given small glimpses of heaven; today was such a day.  Earlier in the week I had been told by my pastor that a gentleman had died, and that sadly he had no family or friends.  He explained that the funeral director had called him, and wondered if he would be willing to say a few words at the grave.  Strongly believing that every child of God deserves a proper funeral complete with Mass, he told him that he would have a funeral Mass for this man.  The response was not out of the ordinary, “Father, it will just be you and I at this Mass.” 

But our pastor is a determined man, and began to share this man’s story.   He reached out to the parish community, via the St. Vincent de Paul Society; the Charismatic Prayer Group; Parish Council; Music Ministry; basically any one he came in contact with.  He spoke to the principal at the parish school and elicited her help as well.  He asked me to get the word out, knowing I would use my Facebook connections to reach as many people as possible.  He simply reached out on behalf of this man, for this man.  I promised I would help spread the word, but was not sure if I would be able to attend; but would do my best to be there. 

This man’s funeral was held at 9 a.m. few days later; I arrived a few minutes early.  There were a few people already gathered and I thought to myself, this is a good number of people.  As I sat waiting for Mass to begin, slowly more people began to enter the church filling in the seats all around me.  About a few minutes before the Mass began, the students, faculty and staff of the school made their way to their reserved seats. 

Music programs were distributed bearing the name of the deceased, and for all outward appearances the church was filled with family and friends of the deceased.  It looked like any other funeral I had attended, so what made this one so different.  This man was unknown to any one of us gathered; we knew nothing about him other than his name.  He too, more than likely did not know anyone present.  Yet here we all were. 

To my amazement, when the funeral Mass began, the church was full, a special occasion kind of full.  I could feel a profound sadness at this man’s plight, but also an overwhelming joy at how people can and had pulled together when there is a need.  I felt a connection to this man that I cannot or will not try to explain.  There was a special bond, a profound unity with the deceased and everyone present at this Liturgy.  We truly were one body, we were the arms and legs, the eyes and hands, we were ‘Church’ in the truest sense of the word.  This was the true definition of “universal church,” this is the community the Apostles speak of in Acts. 

As I headed back to work, I could not help but think to myself, this is Church, this is the family I am proud to be a part of.  This is what keeps me rooted to my faith, it is these and other simple, yet profound acts of mercy and charity, that remind me of why I am Catholic, why we are in fact considered the “universal church,” and why I call my faith community – home. 

My sincerest gratitude goes out to the many parish communities that were present; several of the area churches were represented.  People from all walks of life sat together as one, in communion with one of our own, one of our baptized brothers.  This was by far one of the most beautiful experiences I have had, this was a magnificent image of Christ represented in his body the Church. 

All this because one man truly believes we are all brothers and sisters in Christ through our Baptism.  

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Oh no you didn't! You had to go there, didn't you!

There are so many taboos in life, so many things that a person can't do, or things that can't be discussed.  Death and dieing are just one of many topics that are skimmed over, not to be discussed.  Yet like taxes, death is a certainty in our lives.  

Recently I was asked to speak to teenagers about death; friends of theirs had experienced the death of a loved one, and the adults felt that it might be a good time to open it up to questions.  Interestingly enough, with the invitation, came hesitation.  What would I talk about?  What details would I share?  What if the parents are uncomfortable with all this?  Was it possibly an over reaction to what was happening?  What if this was a foreshadowing or omen?  So many questions, so many fears spoken and unspoken, but yet this is a very normal reaction to this topic.  As it is with so many similar topics - sex, religion, politics, etc., any subject matter that involves personal opinion, or societal restrictions. To allay any concerns, I simply extended the invitation to any parent or adult that wish to attend. 

The words from a recent Boston Globe article, 'Finding a better way to die' by Dr. Ira Byock, sums up what our society perceives - 'There is this real superstition in our supposedly scientifically sophisticated society that if we talk about death we're going to make it true, and if we don't talk about it, somehow we're protected.'  

Yet death does happen, every day, in every corner of the world, to rich or poor, young or old, healthy or sick.  Death does not discriminate, and we are no more safe from it's grasp than our neighbors or friends.  So whether we choose to silence the conversation, or discuss it, has no bearing on any outcomes.  As a mother who has had to bury her daughter knows all too well, death makes the game plan and sets the rules, we are simply pawns.

Why do I bring all this up?  I feel it is important to allow questions to be answered, to listen to concerns, to allay fears.  When my daughter died, I could not help my other children because I was too embroiled in my own emotional state.  I was no help to myself, let alone anyone else.  One thing I did urge and encourage my children to do, was find someone they could talk to; councilors at school, close friends, family, etc.  What I have come to learn, is that if we don't talk about it, than our imaginations take over and creates a myriad of scenarios.  It is the unanswered questions that lead to restless nights filled with all sorts of nightmares.  Not that there is always answers, but at least acknowledging the death and talking about it, makes it easier to cope with.

As I spoke and shared my story with these young people, I could sense the relief from the adults in the room.  I had managed to discuss a 'taboo' subject without upsetting anyone, well almost anyone.  I began my talk with a simple reminder that 'loss' comes in so many forms, that death is not the only thing we grieve.  Grief, I explained, resulted from change - from parents divorcing; going to a new school; saying good-bye to a friend who is moving away; having a loved one serving in the armed forces; loss of home security/stability; dealing with a family member who is terminally ill; and so many more too numerous to mention here.  Death of course being the most difficult grief to cope and deal with. 

At the end of my talk, I found that there weren't too many questions, however, teens and adults as well took as many handouts as they could, focusing on what was relevant to them.  

If you now someone who is trying to get through a loss, let them know it is okay to talk about it.  Don't be afraid that you won't know what to say, or may not have any answers.  They are not looking for answers necessarily, but for someone who is willing to listen.  And if questions do arise that you cannot answer, its okay to let them know that you don't know, but try to help them find ways to get the answer they need.  Support groups, I can't emphasize that enough, are a great resource for anyone going through a difficult time, regardless of the cause of their grief.  

If you are the one coping with loss, find a willing ear, a hand to hold, and talk.  If you have no one you feel comfortable enough with, find counseling or a support group.  Trust me when I tell you, talking and sharing my story, my feelings, my emotions and confusion, has been a great help to me, helping me to continually move forward. Not everyone feels that this subject is off-limits or taboo, and when you find someone who understands, allow yourself the luxury of speaking from the heart.  
 Our burdens and the burdens of others are so much easier to bear, when we ask for help, or offer help.  'There is no better exercise for the heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.'  ~~ Anonymous.  We do not have to go it alone, nor do we need to fear talking about what troubles us.  Life gives us the circumstances and obstacles, it is our task to find ways of coping, dealing and finding ways to move through our circumstances and obstacles.  Know that you are not alone, ever!

Blessings! and until we meet again.


Thursday, March 15, 2012

From this day forward...

Thirty-one years ago today, I was preparing for the most exciting day of my life.  Today my husband Tony and I are celebrating our wedding anniversary.  As many of you who have celebrated anniversaries, birthdays, or any monumental moments in your life know, there is so much that marks each passing year.  Yes, there are many times in my life that I would like to change, redirect, or eradicate completely, but alas! that wouldn't lead me to where I am today.  

So where am I exactly? That's a great question, and I am sure there is a philosophical response out there somewhere.  But for now, suffice it to say I am where I need to be.  (Sorry, it sounds so cliche!)  Okay, sometimes I really don't know where I am, or let alone know where I'm going.  And unfortunately life does not come equipped with a GPS; so there is no voice reminding me to take the next left or that I am going in the wrong direction.   Over the years I have found myself at times getting to my next destination unscathed, other times having had to make detours along the way, and still other times, totally confused and lost.  Each wrong turn, each moment of total confusion, each dead end, led me to a new awakening, a revelation into who I was, who I am, and who I am becoming.  

For those of you who do not know me, I love getting lost!  Yes! I do.  Always the adventurer, I will often take a wrong turn on purpose to see where it will lead me (unless my husband is in the car).  I will take long drives (even though gas prices are out of this world), camera in hand, and just let the road lead me.  On occasion, I will take a turn that leaves me a bit scared, frightened or totally disoriented.  At these moments, I stop, say a quick prayer for guidance, and retrace my steps.  

Life is so similar, we head out in one direction, finding ourselves going no where near our original itinerary.  When I look back over these 31 years, I can see so many welcomed and unwelcomed detours, dead ends and seemingly endless roads.  My life has been so filled with happiness and sadness, blessings and curses, new beginnings and sudden stops, and yet looking back, I wouldn't change it all that much.  Not that I liked everything about it, but I do like who I have become, and where these bumps have taken me.  

Like so many of us, we have all had our share of ups and downs, but if we allow them to shape and mold us, we become ever stronger, ever more resilient, and we learn to learn from these experiences.  Thinking back to my wedding day thirty-one years ago, I remember being so full of anticipation, so full of hope, and so filled with a wonderment and the excitement of a new beginning.  

Every day is a new beginning for each and everyone of us.  Every new day gives us the choice of discovering who we are, and where we are going.  I am no stranger to loss as you are all very much aware of, and losing my daughter was definitely one of those moments when I came to a sudden stop; when all of a sudden, I had no idea where I was, where I was going, or even who I was.  To say I was frightened and scared would be an understatement at the very least.  

It has been five years, going on six, and I am slowly finding my way.  In that first year after my daughter's death, I was totally lost, totally in the dark, but somehow I continued to travel.  Even though I had no idea where I was going, I chose to allow the road to lead me.  I was very blessed to have wonderful people in my life who served as guides, who where willing to hold up road signs on my journey; and who occasionally would take the 'wheel' when I was totally lost.  I also learned that I sometimes needed to stop and as for directions.  For me it was finding a counselor, someone who would hear me, listen to me, and allow me to say anything and everything, that was jumbled up in my mind.  Someone who had no personal connection to me, my life, or any preconceived notions about me at all.  

If I may impart one small iota of advice, no matter what you are going through, do not attempt to go it alone.  Find someone who is willing to listen, to hear you, and allow you to be who you need to be at that particular moment in your life.  Counseling was a great help to me, also finding support groups with like-minded people (that is people who have experience a loss similar to mine), and just having family and friends who were willing to 'just be there' for me, helped me out of tight situations, dead ends, and wrong turns.

We all face change, challenges and crises in our lives, it is what we do with them that defines who we become.  In the midst of all this celebrating, I am also celebrating my birthday, and when people ask me my age, they hesitate (one - there is the unspoken rule that you don't ask a woman her age; and two - there is the fear that you might just not be welcoming this new year), but I don't mind, I am actually very proud of my years.  I have a mantra that I live by,  'I love were I have been, I cherish where I am, and I look forward to where I am going.'  God willing I will have many more years ahead of me, both in anniversaries and birthdays, and I pray that I will always welcome the adventures that lie ahead.  

Take the journey, live your life, and live it as fully as you can.  Remember also, that even though our loved ones are no longer physically with us, they are always with us, always near, always in our hearts.  They now serve as guides and companions in our life-long journey, an integral part of who we are.  Their love surrounds us and protects us in ways we cannot fathom or understand, and that for me is the greatest comfort of all.

Blessings! and until we meet again.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Four Funerals and a Wedding!

It has been quite a busy time for my family and I, so much has happened in the past few weeks.  The events have brought with them a multitude of emotions, as well as getting under old scars and wounds that I'd felt were beginning to fully heal.  

I have had several funerals, all involving family members or very close friends, each a poignant reminder of my loss, of how much it hurts, and how much they are going to be missed.  Wakes and funerals still have a sting, still cause me to feel a lump in my throat, I walk in with a strong sense of apprehension; to say it is one of my least favorite activities, would be an understatement.  

In the midst of all this, my daughter was planning her wedding celebration.  A small affair by my family standards, but still an emotional, eventful and joy-filled day.  Very contrasting events, that have an overwhelming way of playing havoc with one's emotions.  Events that both speak of life, love, and ironically, new beginnings.  Both require adjustments, changes, new perspectives, and the courage to step totally out of one's comfort zone.  

Amazingly, our lives are filled with life-changing events, from births to deaths, from weddings to divorces, from having a roof over our head to becoming homeless, from beginning a new job to facing unemployment, from buying your first home to losing it to the bank, and the list can go on and on.  All these events and so many more have profound ways of changing our lives, of changing who we are.  But it is the events and happenings in our lives, that form us, making us who we are, helping us become who we can be.  

The past five years of my life, I have witnessed a dramatic change in me.  I have hopefully changed for the better.  I know I have much more compassion for others, I am more willing to see beyond the surface and recognize the hurt that lies beneath.  I have learned to tilt life and events, and see it from as many angles as possible.  I have embraced my own weakness and in doing so have found unfathomable strength, and have gained the ability to recognize it in others.  My loss and life has taught me so much, my only hope is that I can continue to be a willing pupil.  

Life is not always fair, it definitely follows it's own set of rules, but if we are open, we can learn so much from it.  I recently read a quote that speaks volumes to me, from Testing 101: 'When you are going through something hard and wonder where God is remember the teacher is always quiet during a test.'  For me this quote was reassurance that I am not alone, ever.  That my faith, my beliefs, have helped me cope during life's 'tests' and that somehow I found myself guided through the difficulty.  

We will always be faced with trials, we will always come across challenges, how we cope and where we seek help, determines the length of the journey.  My journey has not diminished, my journey is definitely not complete and probably never will be, but I know that through every up and down, through every dark tunnel, I will somehow find my way, will make it.  I will be able to attend life's happy and sad occasions and recognize the gift in every event.  For my family, the blessing of a wonderful son-in-law, beautiful grandchildren, and the promise of life filled with love and laughter.  For those whose loved ones died, the blessing of the life lived, of the friendships shared, of the memories created and cherished, and the joy of knowing that their lives were filled with love and laughter.

Life is a gift!  A gift to be cherished and cared for, to live each day as if it is the only one that matters, to truly LIVE LIFE remembering to take no-one for granted.  And to hold onto our faith, to cling to hope, and to always remember that no mater what - Love conquers all!

Blessings! and until we meet again. 

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Oh so many pieces...

'Look at this photograph...'  Not only did I hear the Nickelback song quite often on the radio, but photos of my daughter popped up in the most unlikely of places. 

There was a recent celebration at our parish for a young man who is about to be ordained, and in a shadow box, were photos of his life.  The photos spanned from his birth up into the present, representing key events in his life and individuals who were an important part of it.  My daughter and father's pictures were among them, a beautiful tribute to what they meant in his life.  He and my daughter are the same age, and had played together as children and had even traveled together, spending time at my parents home in Florida when they were young.  They were friends who were so much more like family. 

My day had began like any typical Sunday morning, up a little later, get ready for Church, take care of our faith formation program and then try to enjoy being with family and friends.  But something told me early on that the day would be a little different.  I awoke to my dog knocking something over and hearing it shatter across the tile floor.  Then as I cleaned up last night's cups and dishes, a glass decided it had had enough and slid off the counter, shattering into finite pieces.  I am not generally superstitious, but my mind wondered if maybe it was trying to tell me something. I swept up the shards and didn't give it another thought.

Later on in the day I received a message from a friend of Rachel's letting me know about a dream she had had a while back.  She emailed me the details of the dream, telling me she felt compelled to share this dream with me, but had hesitated for fear of upsetting me.  She wasn't sure what it all meant, but somehow felt I needed to be aware of it. 

So now I fast-forward to the celebration and the young man's family continually asking me if I had seen the photo.  Yes I had, and thank you, was my reply.  But as the evening progressed and I began to realize the significance of that particular photo, and what my family had meant to this young man; my emotions could not and would not be contained. 

Then it hit me all at once, and now my tears refused to stop.  The broken pieces, the message and the photo all seemed to have a certain relevance.  It was as if I was being reminded that my life is still a mess of broken pieces, there are, and will always be missing pieces and shards, and a reminder that I will never be completely whole again; there will always be that piece that nothing else can replace. 

Then there is the message, a reminder that Rachel is always near, that she is okay and that she somehow finds ways to let me know.  Ironically, the messages seem to appear when I need them most or when events in my life remind me of what is missing.  

We may not always be aware of their presence, we may sometimes ignore it as nonsense, but our loved ones and dear friends are very near.  They watch over us and let us know that we are loved and that the love transcends even from beyond the grave and death.  

It is comforting to know that we are not alone.  Yes, our lives will not be the same, in putting back the broken, shattered pieces of our lives, there will always be that elusive piece.  The one piece that somehow cannot be glued together, that no longer fits, or is simply gone.  But it is in the brokenness that light penetrates, that life penetrates, that we learn to live again. 

I am learning to live again, to accept the brokenness of my life, and to live anew.  I cherish the missing shards, and cracked exterior, knowing that I am loved and that love will always comfort me, surround me.  And the most amazing discovery for me, is that I am whole, even though I am broken.  I am unique, and the missing pieces of my life, allows me to recognize the beauty in this.  I have come to see that true strength is not measured by the amount of weight a person can lift; but how a persons learns to lift themselves up when all else fails.

Blessings! and until we meet again.