Newsletter of The Compassionate Friends

Atlanta Area Chapters
Summer 2003

"The mission of The Compassionate Friends is to assist families in the positive resolution of grief 
following the death of a child and to provide information to help others be supportive." 

A Nonprofit Self-Help Organization Offering Friendship and Understanding to Families 
Who are Grieving the Death of a Child 

By Sally Migliaccio, 
West Islip, New York

Are the grim, leaden skies somewhat lighter?
Have I learned even black clouds might part?
Has the pain that once battered me morning and night
Finally lifted a bit from my heart?

"Not so!" I whisper defensively.
Grief's claws are still raking my soul.
I've battled this sorrow for many a year
To wrestle away its control.

I've an uneasy truce with unbearable pain,
Most times it is quiescent within.
Then there are times when with teeth bared, it strikes
And I'm thrust back to raw grief again.

I've waged a fierce war for relief from the pain,
Feeling guilty for wanting some peace.
Though I know that less hurt doesn't equal less love,
I am torn between pain and release.

My daughter was born in the month of July
And July is the month when she died.
She molded my life in the years she was here,
And in death, she continues to guide.

I love her no less than I did in her life,
And I've learned that the missing goes on.
So, if misery takes time off for a night,
It will surely return with the dawn.

~reprinted with permission from Bereavement Magazine July/Aug 2003
Toll Free 1.888.604.4673

Post Conference
By Cathy Seehuetter, St. Paul, MN

It is Sunday, one week post the fabulous Atlanta conference. I would imagine that those who are non-bereaved parents/siblings/grandparents might think that is a strange way to describe a conference where the majority of the attendees have lost a beloved child. But those of us who have been to one know exactly what I mean. 

It always takes me at least a week to digest all of what occurs at a National Conference. I need that following week to take it all in. It is exhausting but exhilarating all at the same time. The exhausting part comes from the emotional roller coaster we all ride on a daily basis and a lot of those emotions come into play in not quite a three-day time frame. The exhilarating part is being with the others attending the conference. The warmth and understanding from them is a TCF meeting times 20! Everywhere you turn there are ready hugs. Whether you are in an elevator or walking down a hallway, someone with another picture button of a precious child will stop you and say, "How old was your daughter? Tell me a little bit about her? You two looked so much alike?" etc. Where else do we get an opportunity to freely speak about our child without that other person looking for an opportunity to flee? Where else do you feel that protective cocoon of belonging (though, of course, we wish we didn't have a reason to be there) with the understanding that we NEED to and WANT to talk about our child? 

Though all the workshops are wonderful and the speakers incomparable, the people are what keep me coming back year after year (this was my 5th National Conference in a row). Sitting in front of me right now is the smiling picture of Jessica Bryl. I received a "business" card with her picture from her parents, Dan and Betty. I only need to look at that bright grin to know that I will push for people to stop using their cell phones while driving their car (and now have their personal bumper stickers saying the same to push the cause). And one with a picture of Kara Leigh Broughton from Alabama and one of Betty Farrel's precious granddaughter Sarah. Kara's mother Joyce stopped me in the gift shop and recognized my name and then gave me a hug and thanked me for some of the things I have written. Betty, Sarah's "nana", hugged me for my contributions to Atlanta Online Sharing as well. I cannot tell you how much this meant to me. When someone writes something they hope that they will say something to touch even one person, to perhaps help them to know that they are not alone. 

I got to see and personally meet a lot of the contributors of Atlanta Online Sharing.  What a marvelous idea that Jayne and Wayne came up with for this very special sharing session! (You two are the best!) I now have bumper stickers from the Patterson's from Georgia, who lost their precious son to the unthinkable; that someone would take another's life, that I think says it all: There is the picture of a handgun with the symbol of a circle with a line through it meaning "NO handguns" and to the right of that is a group of people hugging with the words, "The only arms we need." How true! And to see Norma Grove, who has survived the deaths of four children (yes, just like Dan Bryl, she is my hero too) is always an inspiration. 

The conference really radiated the epitome of "Southern Hospitality."  I have never encountered a friendlier bunch from not only the conference attendees, but the people in the hotel and elsewhere in general. Having Jayne and Wayne in the hospitality room was so welcoming. 

I look forward to seeing you all again. I didn't adequately express in words how much you all mean to me, but I can tell you that you have made an enormous impact on my life. 

Love, peace, hugs and much thanks!
Cathy Seehuetter, Nina's mom forever

Sharing Thoughts from the Conference

Dear TCF,

It was a wonderful experience to share with all of you at my first Compassionate Friends Conference. I left there feeling like a butterfly that had stepped out of its cocoon. Something overwhelmed me at the conference. I was enthralled by the way that everyone introduced themselves. When I said, “I am Ashanti’s Mommie.” It was as if something was reawakened in me. Five years ago, after Ashanti’s life was so tragically snatched away, I always thought of myself as, “I WAS ASHANTI’s MOMMIE.”   I left the conference experiencing the words of Faye Martin, “ Out of the depths of despair, we rise with our fires of hope.” Thanks to all of you for helping me further along the way on my grief journey.

I was so happy when the lady who received the centerpiece that I placed in memory of Ashanti made herself known to me. Now, I really feel that I will celebrate the life of Ashanti forever.

Sincerely,  Muriel 

Sibling Grief - Certain Words
By Scott Mastley, Duluth, GA

My mother paged me while I was at work this afternoon, and I called her at home.  She asked if I would like to go see a movie.  Her question triggered many thought waves.  I wanted to go with her, to be with her, but I couldn’t just leave work.  I wish I could have protected her from the loneliness.  She was having a rough day like me, and I needed to talk.  How was dad at work?  Was he struggling to perform like me?  Did he have to concentrate to finish anything? 

I regret not doing what is most important.  I should have talked with my boss and left work to be with my mother when she wanted to spend time with me.   I feel great sympathy for my parents, but I have to admit that I don’t grieve with them.  We don’t grieve together.  We talk about it, but we usually grieve on our own.  I’m guilty of trying to protect them in the same way that my friends try to protect me.

My parents say, “We are here for you.  Call us when you need us.” 

I say, “ I know. I will.”

They say, “You haven’t.  You know we think about it every day, all the time.  We can talk about it.”

I say, “I don’t want to be depressing.”

They say, “You can be depressing with us.  It is depressing.”

I say, “I know.  I know.  I’m here for you too.  I just don’t want to come out there and cry.  I want to be positive.”

I think about how I always say “it” referring to the car accident, to Chris’ death.  I should say “him.”  I say “it” because the accident took his life; it was the turning point.  I am really talking about Chris, his life, and his absence.  I’m tired of thinking about the accident, picturing the scene, remembering Chris’ last words, and imagining him as he arrived at the hospital.  These things are too painful. It is hard to say that Chris died or that he is dead.  If I say that he died, in my mind, it implies that he was sick or weak and that he could not sustain himself any longer.  He was vibrant and healthy and full of life.  The life didn’t leave him on its own; it was knocked out of him in a car accident. 

I know that there are people who are walking along the street when they suddenly die.  They were also vibrant and full of life. This is just an example of one of our little struggles.  I hear surviving siblings say, “My brother was killed in a car accident.   A tumor killed my sister.  My little brother lost his life to an accidental drug overdose.  My big sister didn’t make it through surgery.”  We generally prefer to say that something is responsible for taking the life of our sibling.  Saying that he died on a Monday doesn’t place accountability for his death on any event.  If the event had not occurred, our siblings would still be here, so we feel a need to mention the event in connection with the death.

It is difficult to say that my brother is dead.  It is shocking to hear myself say it.  The word is final and leaves no questions.  It lets you know that Chris is gone forever.  He’s not going to show up later in the evening.  He is not going to call.  He is not going to write a letter.  He is dead.  I hate to say it.  He did die and he is dead, but I squirm when I say it like that.  It is so matter of fact.

~reprinted with permission

Sweet Sixteen

Dedicated to the memory of my daughter, Chari Alleece Hanshaw, 
who would have been 16 years old on April 20th, 2003. 
By Sibyl F. Cole © April 13, 2003

A Hallmark card you’ll never read;
Certain answers that I still need.
A birthday cake you’ll never bite;
Sixteen candles I’ll never light.
On the day you left this earth,
Six years had passed since I’d given birth.
Not a day goes by I don’t think of you;
Because of this, my heart is blue.
The dinner table has an empty space,
Where I should see your smiling face.
A prom dress I’ll never buy;
No special date with that perfect guy.
No Pomp & Circumstance when you graduate;
Only empty nights I’ll stay up late.
How could life be so cruel,
When I’ve tried to live the Golden Rule?
I know you’re in a better place,
Surrounded by God’s endless grace.
I’ll always love you, I want you to know,
But life goes on, so I must go.
Stay sweet, my angel, gone through Heaven’s gate;
I’ll see you again, and I can’t wait.

Do’s/Don’t; Helps/Hindrances
By Barbara Parsons, Sugar Hill, GA

My name is Barbara Parsons and I have been a bereaved parent since November 24, 1991 when my son Robert died by suicide.   Robert had a learning disability and with that came self esteem/self value issues and lots of frustrations.  We worked very hard to help him with this and although school was difficult, he fought hard for every grade he earned.  He was a sensitive child and the “listener” in his group of friends.  He was always available to listen to other kids problems, yet he rarely, if ever,   talked of his own.   We looked at this as a positive characteristic, little did we know at the time how detrimental this was.  As an adolescent he did not know how to “let go” of all his peers woes; he added them to his own.   In Nov. 90 at age 14 some of his behavior patterns changed and  he started acting out.  We initially thought this was due to adolescence and hormonal changes, after all, this is what other parents said their kids were acting like.  For Robert though, it was his crying out for help.  A school counselor suggested that we get professional family counseling.  On our first visit, the counselor spent some initial time w/Robert alone.  Robert revealed to the counselor that he felt suicidal.  We immediately took him for a psychiatric evaluation and he was diagnosed w/clinical depression.  We returned home with medication and continued with counseling.  After about 6 months, Robert seemed to be doing better, talking more and less dark days.  The summer before his death was one of his best and the counselor agreed to give us “some time off” although he had not yet discovered the root cause of Robert’s depression.  Our encouragement was short lived.  As the start of school approached we could tell that Robert was withdrawing and shortly after school started his Dad and I agreed that we should go back to counseling.  Robert had another thought altogether.  He reluctantly went to a few sessions and he started on medication again.  He never made it to his last counseling session..  He completed suicide on Nov. 24, 1991.  The mask of depression had hidden him from us and it was worse than we or the counselor knew....we all ran out of time.   Robert shed his mask thru death and I took up another type mask altogether.

Grief from the death of a child is the most significant self-evaluation a person can do, mentally, physically, emotionally, both for the parents and family.  For a long time, it is a life of extremes.  Elation/depression; peace/pain; riding the wave/drowning in the wave; guilt/anger/desperation; loss of the familiar, I think you get the picture.

While I have experienced all the stages of grief, the “guilt period” was the longest and hardest  for me;  the if Onlys; why didn’t I; why did I; what did I do wrong; why didn’t the school see the gravity of his depression; why didn’t the counselor “fix” it (he was the professional, after all);  I am the parent, surely I should have known how depressed he was; why couldn’t I see it in his eyes;  why didn’t he reveal his pain to his Mother, surely I could have saved him. I loved him more than life itself; didn’t he know that; didn’t he feel that.  . What was in that last drop of water that made his cup overflow.  I kept asking the questions; trying to find answers and someone to blame.  I finally had to accept there were few, if any, answers and  blame went nowhere..  Robert made a life altering decision while in a hopeless state.

Don’t take away my grief.   I need it......I need to go thru each phase/stage to get to healing.  I need to go thru it so I can get beyond surviving to “thriving”.   I need to go thru it and embrace it and incorporate it into my new normal so I can let  Robert’s “death” go and establish a new relationship with my son and remember his life and who and what he was to me.   Although I didn’t ask for it, I need this journey to find out who and what I am now and what I will do with my life now.

Tell me it’s OK....Okay to feel angry, guilty, depressed, desperate, sad, for these are normal feelings for grieving.   Tell me in time I will be able to turn my anger into forgiveness and my guilt into regret. Tell me I won’t feel sad forever; that this intense grief  will soften.  Tell me this time frame is different for each person so I won’t try to hurry it along based on another’s grief or what the world thinks is an appropriate time to grieve.  Don’t tell me that time heals, tell me that time offers the opportunity to heal.    Don’t tell me I’m doing well and are a very strong person.  I may be those things, but mostly I feel weak inside.  Tell me its okay to challenge my faith because my faith can withstand the challenge and offer me comfort and rest.

Let me talk....I need to tell you about his depression and troubled last year.  I need to tell my story over and over and over, for hearing it with my own ears and saying it out loud gives it less control over me.   Let me talk... I am desperate to tell you about my son, our good times, our not so good times; what a great hug he had; what his laughter did to my soul; let me tell you what I miss about him....just let me talk and while I’m talking....just listen.

Tell me about support groups.....tell me about The Compassionate Friends.  This is where I’ll meet other bereaved parents who have walked this journey and will help me heal.  They will offer compassion only born of the same tragedy and will not judge how my son died, but ask about his life and show me that somehow I will make it.  Tell me about Survivors of Suicide support group for this is where I will be able to seek some understanding into my son’s mind and the side roads I must travel because he took his own life.

Be honest with see I’ve been given something  no one should have to go through so there’s nothing you can say or do that would bring much more pain.   If you think I’m stuck in my grief  and yes sometimes we do get “stuck”....   tell me (gently please) and I’ll do my best to see it for myself and work hard to get beyond  stuck.    You see, sometimes we get tired of grieving and want to put it away for awhile, but that’s not the way grief can be relentless, but we must choose to go thru it and remember that healing, surviving and thriving are the goals. 

Tell me about re-entry...what does it mean....for a bereaved parent it is baby steps back into life again....for a lot of us, it’s just getting out of bed in the morning or cooking a meal; a smile or maybe even laughter.  Tell me about reinvestment...doing something that will give me or someone else some satisfaction at the end of the day.  Something that will give meaning to the meaningless.

And last....dare me to dream again so that  when I’m ready, I will look beyond today, beyond the pain, and into the future and although my son Robert will not be physically walking with me, he will be walking with me in my heart.

(Barbara is our new Georgia Regional Coordinator)

If I am to wear this mourning cloak,
let it be made of the fabric of love,
woven by the fine thread of memory.

~Safe Passage Molly Fumia


Birthday Blessings

Two decades ago, on this day, 
A son was born,
A husband & wife became mom & dad,

Two decades ago,
The future was full of hopes,
dreams & unlimited possibilities,
All the tomorrows looked bright

Two decades ago
Life was just beginning,
So much to look forward to.

Two decades later
We still remember
The cake isn't lit with twenty candles
There are no gifts to unwrap
No address to send a card to,
No hugs, nor phone call,
No happy birthday greetings shared with loved ones.

Two decades later,
We still remember.
Instead of twenty years, we had fourteen,
The best years, a blend of love & laughter,
school & sports,
Trials & tribulations,
travels & typical growing-up turmoils,
Scouts, camping & summer vacations.
That blend created the family memories we now treasure

Two decades ago,
We thought it would last forever.
Now, two decades later,
We still remember,
It's a birthday still,
A life too special, too precious,
Still a part of our lives today, yet in a very different, unexpected and unwelcome way,
We wish we could light all twenty candles on the cake,
But the light of James' life that lit our lives
Glows brightly today and every day
And will never be extinguished

Not two decades later,

Not ever.

With Love From Mom, Meg Avery
In Memory of James on his 20th Birthday–July 15, 1983

Different Drummers
By Sandy Goodman

My eighteen-year-old son died in 1996. Jason was embarking for boot camp the next day and was out with friends. The four of them elected to scale a three-story building to view our "main drag" one last time. On the way back down, Jason reached out and grabbed a high voltage line. He died three hours later at our local hospital.

We live in a small community in the middle of Wyoming. There were no Compassionate Friends chapters, no grief support groups of any kind, and since we work in a social service field, no counselors that we felt could objectively “treat” us. Miraculously, the Internet became available to me at just the right time, and I was able to climb from ground zero to the first rung of the ladder by using online support. During that first year in cyber land, I learned about TCF and my husband and I attended the National conference in Philadelphia in 1997. We came home determined to launch a local chapter, which was officially chartered in December of that year. 

None of this is going to be news to you, but allow me to say it anyway. TCF saved us. The camaraderie and support was, and continues to be, my lifeline. After five and a half years, I still come away from meetings with hope having replaced despair. The Compassionate Friends heal, period. You and I know that. Without them, many of us would still be covering our head with pillows to muffle the sobs. However, it was not The Compassionate Friends alone that moved me to the place I find myself in. My son also helped . . . my dead son. That is why I am writing this article.

Shortly after Jason's death, I began conversing with him in my head. I am sure that many of you, if not all, do this. How can we not? Our children should be alive, sitting across from us at the table, or at least only a phone call away. They should be crying for bottles, telling us "NO!”,  scraping their knees, losing their homework, and forgetting to call when they stay out past curfew. Instead, they have suddenly disappeared . . . or so it seems. It should not come as a surprise to anyone that we either talk to them or go insane.

I talked to Jason relentlessly, several times during the day, in the middle of the night, whenever I got into a vehicle alone, and when I was in the shower. Eventually, as he would have in the physical, he got tired of my nagging and answered me.  Suddenly, just as the Compassionate Friends walked with me through the pain of grief, Jason began walking with me in my search for truth. The experiences I have had revolving around life after death are too numerous and too complex to address in this format, but because of what I have experienced, I know that Jason is still very much a part of my life. By changing the way I "reach out" to him, I now realize that dead does not mean gone.

Four years after Jason died, I began writing a book. When the book was released, I did several book signings and speaking events around the country. At every single event, at least one person came to me with a story about a loved one's after death communication. At nearly every TCF meeting I attend, a question will arise or a story will transpire in relation to life after death. I receive daily emails from strangers, containing anecdotes about contacts from those who have crossed over.  Sobbing parents ask,  "Are butterflies a sign?" and "Can she really visit me in a dream?" In nearly all of these situations, they had never before shared their story. Yet here they were, standing before a total stranger, sharing a story of hope and joy while tears rolled down their face.

Jason's death was like someone hitting the delete key in my life. He disappeared, as did I. The former me no longer existed. I was once again in my infancy, and I had to either quit or start over. I chose the latter, but a huge part of that was seeking and finding a belief system that felt good in my heart. I needed to see a bigger picture, and that picture needed to include more than what I had seen in my life "before Jason's death." I suspect that most bereaved parents experience a similar need sift through what is real to them in the belief department. 

"So what?" you ask. "What is your point?"  My point is this. Reading this publication, you are most likely a bereaved parent, grandparent, or sibling. Even if you do not attend TCF meetings, you will eventually find yourself in a helping role with another bereaved person. As helpers, we have an obligation to put aside our belief systems, our presumptions, and our personal fears. We must learn to listen with our heart. 

I find it incredibly sad that people must wait ten years and then stand in line at a book signing to share an untold story with a stranger. They are not waiting because their secrets are of horrendous crimes. They have not remained silent due to shame, doubt, or intense grief. They have procrastinated in disclosing their amazing experiences because they fear disapproval of an unconventional belief. 

Believing in after death communication, whether spontaneous or through mediumship, is believing "outside of the box." It is too . . . weird. Too . . . new agey. Too . . . intimidating.

Judging, instructing, and attempting to convert others is not our mission in a self-help group. Instead, we must endeavor to create a milieu where members feel as if they belong, regardless of their spiritual or religious convictions. Beliefs (or lack of them) should not matter. What must matter is that we connect, heart to heart, and that we listen, with respect for each other and our diversity. The death of our children brought us together and taught us that when it's all said and done, only love remains. Although there are many different paths through the shadows of grief, I believe that every single path leads to the same place of love, hope, and of joy. 

Sandy Goodman is the author of Love Never Dies: A Mother’s Journey from Loss to Love (Jodere Group, 2002), and the founder and chapter leader of the Wind River Chapter of The Compassionate Friends. This summer, she will lead workshops at the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) Conference in Washington D.C. and at The Bereaved Parents of the USA Conference in St. Louis.  You may contact Sandy by visiting her website at


A butterfly came to me today
and landed upon my knee
His wings were heavy from the rain
I knew you had sent him to me

Only an Angel such as yourself
would care about these things
so I dried him with my breath
and sat him on some leaves

As I sat there watching him
soaking in the Sun
I thought how great it must be
to fly it looks like so much fun

My Angel now you have your wings
Don’t let my tears weigh them down
I know someday I will see you again
Until then keep sending the butterflies around.

by Mary Woody

Sunday, July 6 2003 - TCF National Conference
Conference Closing Speech by Charlie Walton
~reprinted with permission 

Thank you for the kind introduction... and for the invitation to speak to this audience of "reluctant heroes."  I clearly remember sitting where you are sitting. watching some poor guy step to a microphone like this. and mentally daring him to try and say anything that would make a difference for me. 

One of the real downsides of writing a few books about anything is that people get the idea that you know the answers.  But the most important thing I have learned in these years of talking with people in grief is that the world's leading expert on your grief... is sitting right there in your chair. 

Human grief has no easy answers.  I named my first book When There Are No Words... because that is exactly the situation when your child dies.  There are no words that help.  The pain comes to stay and. no matter how much people want to kiss it and make it well. grief runs on its own timetable. 

Your kid... was like no other.  Your grief... is like no other.  And the gradual easing of your pain is not going to happen by anybody else's formula.  Maybe the most liberating thing that first book did. was to give its readers permission to grieve in their own time and in their own ways. 


I'd like to spend a little time with you this morning talking about a few things I have learned during the past seventeen years since two of our three sons died.  These are personal observations based on. first, being a bereaved parent. and then drawing on a lot of conversations... and emails... and letters that have come as a result of my books. 

Let me emphasize that this list of "things I have learned"... did not "drop from heaven."  So, some of what I say may be the absolute opposite of what you have experienced.  But. like your mama told you... "If you don't like it, just leave it on the plate." 


The first thing I want to tell you is that... you are stuck with this pain.  You are going to hurt. real bad. for a long time.  And even though everybody around you is going to be wishing your pain away. you're gonna keep on hurting for a long time. 

There will come a day when you will have longer periods between the pains but. at least in my experience. when the memories do come flooding back. even after seventeen years. they are going to hurt just as much as the first day you got the news. 

But the surprising thing is. that's the way it ought to be.  Just think about it.  If I told you that I have the power to wave a magic wand and instantly remove the pain you are feeling. and if you really thought about it for a bit. I think you would say, "Well thanks, Charlie, but I guess maybe I better go ahead and hurt a little while longer." 

Even though your first thought might be "I cannot stand this pain any longer!" . your second and third thoughts would reveal to you that the unprecedented, unequalled pain that you are enduring is actually your tribute to what you have lost. 

What would it say if you had a most precious person torn from your life. and you continued along in your life as if nothing had happened?  Pain is lousy. and it hurts. but the depth of your pain testifies to the depth of your love. and the significance of your loss. 

 You know. nothing gives me more pleasure in life than to hear that something I have written has helped somebody.  I've tried to analyze why my book has helped.  And. beyond the basic fact that I have personally sat where my reader is sitting. there is also the fact that the book does not promise that everything is going to be all right.  I didn't want anybody to tell me "What has happened to you is terrible. but it's gonna be alright!"  I know now that that was true. but I didn't want to hear it then. 

So, I tried to write a book that said, "What has happened to you is terrible". and stop at that. leaving the words about healing until much later when they might be more useful. 

So. "thing one" that I have learned.  Enjoy the pain.  Appreciate it.  Savor it.  It hurts. but it is the appropriate response to overwhelming loss.  Your tears are your tribute to one who has been taken from you. 


Two.  Some of the things I have learned have turned up as chapter headings in some of my books.  Maybe the one chapter heading that has spoken to more readers is the one that says. "People Are Going to Say a Lot of Dumb Stuff." 

Somehow. we expect people to have thought about the words that come out of their mouths as they gather around and try to help.  Actually, very few of us ever really examine the words we say.  We just sort of just open mouth. and spit out some cliché that we once heard. and assume that it will work. 

We also start from the mistaken assumption that our job when we speak to a grieving person is to fix things. to solve their problem. to say some magic set of words that will help them "snap out of it."  It works on television - why won't it work in the funeral home? 

If you want to see a real "spitting contest". just start any group of Compassionate Friends to sharing some of the idiotic things people might have said to them to try and make them feel better.  The stupidity ranges all the way from "God must have needed another angel in heaven." to "You're still young - so you can have other children." to the absolutely abominable "I know exactly how you feel because my pet died." 

Probably the only thing that will keep you from punching out a long-time friend who says one of those dumb things is to make yourself hear what they mean instead of what they say.  People just say dumb stuff. but they mean well. you gotta cut them some slack even though you're the one who is in need. 

For what it's worth. you are probably now permanently cured from saying dumb stuff when you go to try and comfort a bereaved friend.  For starters. if they know what you've been through. they are going to get all kinds of helpful, unspoken messages the minute you walk in the door. 

You also now know... that hugs say things better than words.  I find that looks and hugs are far more eloquent than any words I might put together.  You have before you. if you choose to accept it. a tremendous opportunity to be a lifetime servant of grieving people.  You now hold the hard-won credentials of a person who can truly help... because you know all the dumb stuff not to say. 

A little while back, I got word that the grown daughter of one of my closest friends had been raped.  She was a single parent.  A guy with a crowbar pried open the back door in the middle of the night. came in and raped her... with her children in the next room.  When I got the news, I went straight to my car... straight to my friend's house. knocked on the front door.  My friend and his wife opened the door and I said, "I'm here to hurt with you." 

We hugged and cried together in their front hall.  There were no words to say.  I knew better than to come with encouragement.  I wasn't there to try and cheer them up. or distract them from the pain.  I was there to hurt with them. 


A third thing I have learned over the years. is that grieving people need to tell their stories more times than their friends or family members are going to be willing to hear those stories.  That is perhaps the greatest value of The Compassionate Friends. a group of people who are. not only willing to hear your story again and again. but will sincerely cry with you the twentieth time you tell that story just as they cried the first time you told it. 

These are people who understand. people who listen intently. people who will even help you tell your story.  I don't know if you have noticed it but. if you are sitting in a circle telling what happened to you. those who have heard the story lots of times will actually jump in and add a detail you might be leaving out.  If there is a first-timer in the circle. the veterans may add explanations and clarifications for them. 

It has become their story too.  They have suffered your loss.  They repeatedly provide the exact response you expected from the whole world.  Do you remember your outrage at the world for continuing as though nothing had happened?  Do you remember the urge to scream. "How can you go on like this?  Don't you realize that my world has ended?" 

So, I praise The Compassionate Friends. a group that meets a vital and normal need. the need for someone to listen with sincere interest as we tell and re-tell our stories again and again. 

On the other hand. knowing that we need to tell our stories so many times. should help us be a little more understanding toward friends and relatives who are reluctant to hear our stories again and again.  They don't know. that each re-telling is helping to heal.  They don't know. that each re-telling is therapy.  All they know is that you keep repeating things that make them hurt. and they worry that you might be stuck in that story forever.  People who have not been where you have been have no concept of how long grief takes.  They think it should end in some "respectably short time" after the funeral. 

Kay and I still have some understanding, supportive friends who will come to us as December 15th approaches and say. "I remember that it was about this time of year that Tim and Don died and I want you to know that I am praying for your comfort and I want you to know that those two guys are very much remembered and missed."  These are wonderful friends who have learned... sometimes with a little training from us... that "Grief takes longer than one year." 


Number four... writing sometimes helps.  I have been amazed through the years that people who. way back in elementary school. were traumatized by some English teacher with a merciless red grading pencil. traumatized into thinking that they could never write anything. will suddenly produce beautiful poems and other written sentiments in the process of remembering their children. 

There is something therapeutic about putting things on paper. reading them over. changing a word here. adjusting an emphasis there. that really helps to focus the mind and get some of those inner feelings out where we can deal with them more effectively. 

It works by the same principle as making a list when you've got more to do than you can hold in your mind.  You know. when you think you have a hundred things to do. and then you put that list down on paper. and suddenly realized that you really only had seven things to do.  It's just that they were swirling around in your head so fast that seven things looked like a hundred things. 

So, consider writing down your feelings. if you haven't already.  Don't worry about phrasing things for others to read.  You don't need to start out shooting for publication.  Just put some words on paper that work for you. words that feel good when you read them over to yourself.  Later. if your words help others when they are shared. that's good too.  But, for starters. just dump some of what's in your mind onto paper.  Read it over. work it over. bathe it in tears. until it feels good. 

Writing doesn't necessarily work for everybody. but maybe pulling things out of your weary mind and onto a defenseless piece of paper can work for you. 


Number five is something that gets really mixed reactions when I say it to people.  When you are grieving, I think there is no such thing as "too much physical exercise."  I am not a doctor. and I am not advocating that folks with weak hearts become rock climbers. but my experience and my observation has been that... when it comes to clearing your mind... there is nothing quite so therapeutic as soaking your clothes with your own sweat. 

I am not saying that exercise takes away the pain of grief.  I am saying that. after you rake leaves until you drop. or drag your weary body around the block. or pump that stationary bicycle that's gathering dust in the garage. and after you have a quick shower and towel dry. and then sit down to rest. that's when your mind can get a clear fix on which parts of the hurting were emotional... and which were just from sitting too many hours. popping too many pain pills. drinking too many relaxers. or eating too many servings of tuna casserole just because somebody stuck another plate in front of you. 

It is unfortunate that our modern conveniences have stolen away from us the physical exertions that used to be part of death.  I was in a small town in Honduras when a beloved woman of the village died of cancer.  It gave me a chance to see how things used to occur in our country a hundred years ago.  Some of that lady's relatives had to swing a pick and shovel to dig a grave.  Others had to borrow a truck to go buy a casket from the local wood craftsman.  Lots of activities had to be done in a hurry since embalming was not an option there.  The funeral service was late that night.  Many people stayed all night at the house.  The burial was the next morning.  There was physical work to be accomplished. work that helped people get physically tired. to feel like they were helping. to pay tribute to the life that had ended.  I think we lost a lot when the backhoes and funeral directors started doing everything for us. 

Another thing that strenuous exercise will do is get you so physically tired that your body will finally take you to sleep. even while your mind is still feeling that you ought to observe an all night vigil.  Sleep is as important as exercise.  Neither one is easy during grief. but you can make your reluctant body exercise. and that can make your reluctant mind sleep. 

Sometimes it's important to trick yourself to get started.  Some days. when I really don't feel like going to the gym. I tell myself. "Okay, look.  I'll just go in and do a few really easy things. just a little physical activity. maybe walk around the track a couple of times."  But. once I am there and doing a few easy things. the blood starts to circulate and the joints start to warm up. and before long. I am having a good workout. 

I know you feel lousy.  I know you can't get a full breath. and your heart hurts. but trick yourself into exercising and see if it doesn't help. 

One thing I would add to that. I have found that exercises I do alone work better during times of grief.  I don't want the complications of dealing with other people during grief.  So, I would recommend leaving off tennis... and golf. and any other activity where you have a weapon in your hand when there is pain in your heart. 

You don't need a social experience.  You just need to move the large muscles of your body until you sweat... until you sweat a lot. and get so physically tired that it becomes very clear where your body ends. and your grief begins. 


And speaking of tuna casseroles. that brings me to something else I have learned.  You need to let people help you.  Somewhere inside the human brain, there must be a little sign hanging on the wall that says "A tuna casserole will make things better."  People want to do something to help... and bringing food is the first thing that pops into their heads.  And. unless you want a lifetime supply of tuna casseroles. you'd better give them permission to do things. tangible things. things that will make them feel like they are helping. 

I have heard a lot of people talk about how their friends came around immediately after the tragedy but never came back.  What they usually forget is that. those people said. "If there is anything we can do to help. anything. please let us know."  Now, some of them don't really mean it - but a lot of them do. 

Maybe a day comes when you are thinking "There is no way I can face the decisions at the grocery store today." pick up the phone and tell one of your friends. "Remember what you said about helping?  Well, would that include something as weird as stopping by the grocery store to pick up a few things for a basket-case who is not yet emotionally ready to see her child's favorite food on the shelf?" 

Let people do things.  They don't know how to provide grief counseling... but they know how to mow grass.  A friend of ours tells a wonderful story about going to console a grieving parent and saying as she was leaving, "Is there anything I can do to help?"  And that parent said, "You won't believe this but. on top of everything else. our washing machine just quit working.  Is there any way you would be willing to wash a load of clothes for us?"  Our friend says that it was the most enjoyable load of clothes she had ever washed.  She washed.  She dried.  She folded each piece lovingly.  She felt so good at being able to do something tangible that felt like it was helping.  So. let people help you. 


I learned a new term recently that helped give a name to something I had observed that happens when sudden grief occurs.  A gerontologist at our church was conducting a class on the problems of aging, and specifically, how to deal with aging parents.  One of the things he said is that. as people get older. a phenomenon occurs which is called "personality intensification." 

As the good doctor struggled to explain the meaning of "personality intensification," someone in the class spoke up and said, "Oh, you mean that, as you get older, you just get more like you have always been."  The doctor had to agree that that was a pretty good definition. 

You've probably seen this in older people.  If they were grumpy as young people, they are going to be even more cantankerous as they get older.  If they were sweet and loving and forgiving all their lives, they are probably going to be folks who grow old gracefully.  It's just that aging removes some of the motivation to hide our natural characteristics. and "personality intensification" is the result. 

Well, I think the same thing happens when grief enters your life.  The motivation to monitor and adjust the way you behave just kind of melts away and your personality characteristics intensify.  For some people, that can be a blessing - they may have needed to open up and be less careful about life.  For others, it can be really disastrous. 

Sometimes you hear folks say that the death of a child is likely to cause the death of the marriage of that child's parents.  That's just not true.  What happens is personality intensification.  If there were cracks in that marriage relationship, the stress on those cracks will be intensified by the child's death.  On the other hand. if that marriage relationship was a strong one. it will grow even stronger. 

It is important for us just to know about "personality intensification". to know that it occurs naturally. and to recognize it when the added stress of grief is making it happen to us.  It's not by accident that the customary wisdom of the ages is "Don't make any major life decisions for a whole year after the loss of a loved one."  You are not yourself. and you shouldn't expect yourself to be yourself.  You just gotta tell the world to wait. 


Finally. I want to tell you something that I have begun to realize as the years have passed since the night that Tim and Don. and Don's best friend, Bryan, died.  I have realized that. by their deaths. and the deep permanent scar it left in my life. they gave me a gift of immeasurable value. 

The final gift bestowed by any loved one who is torn from your grasp is a clear and unforgettable awareness of what is permanent... and what is temporary. 

My second book, which is called Packing for the Big Trip, was written because. conversations I had with people about the first book made it so crystal clear that the reason we are all so completely blind-sided by death is that we live in a "death-denying society". a society where the death rate is 100 percent. but where no one wants to mention it. 

I wrote in Packing for the Big Trip. "Every person who dies gives a priceless gift to those who stay behind.  That gift is awareness of death and its manifold implications for our lives.  Death awareness is about living.  It brings the maturity we need to live our lives with wisdom and joy ... to stop cringing at the thought of eventual death... and start living with the daily enthusiasm of those who are packing for the big trip." 

Maybe you are still so close to your child's death that you are not ready to see that there could ever be anything good to come from it.  That's fine.  Maybe you are still wishing you could wring that kid's neck for leaving you here with all this pain.  That's fine too.  But maybe. you are beginning to realize that you have new eyes for the upside down values of our culture. that your "death awareness" has given you greater "life wisdom". that your child's death has given you a gift of life. 


Well. I could go on for a while but I was told years ago by a speech teacher that "the ear cannot hear what the seat cannot endure."  So. let me encourage you to. 

One. recognize that you are stuck with this pain. but that the depth of your pain represents the extent of your tribute to the one that left you. 

Two. understand that people just naturally say a lot of dumb stuff when they are trying to help. and try to be patient and hear what they mean instead of what they say.

Three. understand that you need to tell and re-tell your story a lot more times than you can expect family and friends to hear it. so be grateful for your Compassionate Friends who are willing to hear your story and even make it their own. 

Four. give writing a try.  It can really help to get some of that confusion out of your mind and onto paper where you can deal with it. 

Five. get regular, strenuous exercise. even when you don't feel like you can walk across the room. 

Six. let people help you. for their benefit and yours. 

Seven. watch out for "personality intensification" and give yourself time to become yourself again before you go making decisions while you are "out of your mind with grief." 

And finally. recognize the abiding and valuable gift you have received from the person who went away.  You have an understanding of life and its true values that you could never have had otherwise. 

Let me close with the final words from When There Are No Words.

"My prayer for you is.

that you will have peace.

that you will have good grief.

that you will be honest with yourself. letting out what is within you. and refusing to govern your ways of grieving by what you think others might be expecting that you ought to do. 

that you will allow your loved ones the same right to their own ways of grieving. never assuming that they should want to cry when you feel like crying. or talk when you feel like talking. or sit and stare when you want to. 

that both your life and your death will be greatly enhanced by the perspectives that enter your life when a loved one exits your life. 

that you will become daily more comfortable with the realization that. as my son, Don, used to tell me. 'Death is just a part of living.'" 

`Charlie Walton, Atlanta, TCF
Sunday Closing Speaker, Atlanta TCF National Conference

To email Charlie....

A Father’s Thoughts 

Our son, Jacob, has been gone for 10 months now and it seems like 10 life times.  There are moments when I find it so difficult to continue doing anything and it seems like life is so out of balance now.  My wife and I only had two children, both boys.  Jacob was the younger and he died June 29, 2002.  Just six weeks to the day before Jacob died, my mother died. While at her wake, Jacob and his mother were sitting outside the funeral home in the twilight, and in that quietness, Jacob said to his mother, "Mom, just look at the thousands of fireflies coming up across the cemetery."  And there were, filling the fading light with lights of magic.  Jacob said, "Mom, this is probably the most spiritual moment I have ever had.  All the fireflies rising from the ground are like the spirits of the deceased joining together in celebration."  My wife and my son enjoyed that special time.  And then, six weeks later we lost Jacob.  The light of my life has been extinguished. 

After Jacob's funeral, my wife would spend many, many evenings sitting on the back porch watching the fireflies and remembering that special moment with her son.  But the fireflies would always keep a distance and then one evening, just one flew on the porch and blinked its light at my wife.  All she could do was cry and say, "Hi, son.  I knew you were OK."  And now, for the first time this season, not even a year since Jacob left, the fireflies have returned to the woods behind our house.  And my wife and I sit on the porch in the stillness of the early evening and watch.  We watch the fireflies dance in the woods, waiting for that special one who will come to our porch, blink his light, and once again we will know
that Jacob is doing well as an angel in training that one day we shall joyfully join.

I miss my son, Jacob, so much that it hurts.  Everyday I hope it gets better, but so far it has not ... but the firefly is back and some joy can be found in that.

John Drollinger, Proud Father of Jacob (12/28/80-6/29/2002) and John

In the beginning, memory is a night stalker and imagination its cruel accomplice. 
Why, why?  What if, what if?

Lying tangled and sweating in a nightmare of lost possibilities, we await the mercy of morning.

The dawn brings an unlikely companion:  The past has become a friend.  This is the surprise we have been waiting for.  Suddenly, there is no struggle to hide from memory and imagination.  Suddenly, memory is sweet and imagination liberating.

~from Safe Passage by Molly Fumia

A Butterfly 

Some say a butterfly is a member of the insect world...I say that a butterfly's story has yet been untold...
For I believe a little butterfly is a lovely gift from Heaven above...A beautiful symbol of our children's spirit coming to earth, reminding us of their never ending love. 
~Frances Conner Strasburg, VA

Shared thoughts from the Conference

Dear TCF friends:

After a reasonably long trip home to New Hampshire from the TCF conference on Sunday, and a trip to see my mother-in-law and my ex-husband as well as the rest of the family the weekend before.  I sat at my keyboard on Monday AM and wrote to family and friends about the 'Post-Event Letdown'. I had to write it down to bring me back to focusing on this day.  I brought my mother with me and at her age it was more taxing on her but I believe it was equally healing.  It is funny how an event such as this can be both at the same time.

As I sat at the keyboard, it came clear to me that as important as it was that I be open to the workshops that assist me to the healing point, it is equally important that I be open to the occurrences in my daily life that also assist me in my healing.  It is easy to feel 'let down' because an event is over, (large events, like the TCF conf. or small events, like a friendly encounter with a co-worker over coffee).  It is my choice to be upset that an event is over and I have to get busy and back to work or most thankful that the event or encounter occurred.

All of the workshops that I attended were where I needed to be at that time.  I think each involved tears and laughter.  I think my favorite was the 'on-line' group on Sat. night.  We all had gotten to know each other
during our time in front of our monitors and as we gathered together, even before we started to converse and before I could read name tags, I picked out a few of the members of this group and matched them to names.  I was right in all cases.  I found myself wondering how that could be, but grinned knowing that often times it works that way, and who am I to question such things.

I brought my friend, April from Atlanta to the conference with me.  I encouraged her to attend the workshops that she felt she should attend.  At one point, she entered a supposed wrong room, next to the room she intended to go to.  It turned out that it was exactly where she needed to be.  I don't question that type of occurrence either.

I close this for now with a heavy sigh, a smile and a great dose of THANKFULNESS that I attended the conference this year, as well as equal thankfulness that TCF exists.  I don't think that I would be as functional
as I am without all of you.  As I have been known to say many times, "Together We Stand".  I think it would have taken me a lot longer to stop wallowing 24/7 in the fact that my son Daniel died by suicide 11/2/98 and longer to come to the point that I am so incredibly in awe that I got to share nearly 20 years with this incredible human being that I gave birth to on 3/5/79.

I miss Daniel terribly, but because his physical form is no longer with me; I think it gives me the awareness to appreciate those I am still with and to appreciate them to the fullest today.  None of us knows what tomorrow
will bring but we know we have this moment.

BIG HUGS to all of you who I met this weekend in person and the rest of you on-line friends.  I wish you a peaceful day.  ~  Sally Brocato

Dear Friends,

Since conference I have finally found the courage to tackle our garage again.  This a project that Jefferey and I had started before he was snatched away from me and I just haven't had the courage to get down there again.  Our garage has been the catch-all for things from my grandmother's house, things from my oldest son's college apartment, boxes from previous moves that contained things that apparently weren't needed, and things from my husband's various offices and apartments out of town. 

I found some wonderful gifts for my beginning efforts--a silhouette of Chris and Jeff done on copper before we had Michael, a letter from my mother to my grandmother describing her honeymoon trip with my father, and $33 and many pennies.  I don't know a lot about the relationship between my parents because my Dad died when I was only 7 but that letter and others I found have given me some wonderful clues about how happy they were.  There was even a precious letter from my cousin who is over 50 now that he dictated to his father when he was 2 1/2 and sent to my grandmother.  She was as bad a packrat as I am and I am sooo glad!  Now I don't want to stop.  I want to keep digging, but the dust is getting to me, so I took a break to write this note. 

Thanks TCF and Jefferey for giving me the courage to take a few steps forward in that garage and in my life.

Peace and light, 

Ann Patterson, Marietta, GA

Books by Charlie Walton...

WHEN THERE ARE NO WORDS - Finding Your Way to Cope with Loss and Grief.  This conversational, 96-page book by a professional writer who lost two sons to a sudden accident is designed specifically for persons enduring those first numbing weeks and months of grief.  The book's unique ability to help people seems to lie in its direct approach... with chapters like "People Are Going to Say a Lot of Dumb Stuff," "Inevitable Guilt," and "Getting Mad at God."  It is available from some bookstores, on-line from amazon   Please use the following link:

or from Atlanta's G.A.C.S. Bookstore - 770-243-2370 or 800-241-7888. 

PACKING FOR THE BIG TRIP - Enhancing Your Life through Awareness of Death.  A 112-page book to help all of us enhance our lives by leveling with ourselves about our deaths.  Features chapters like "The Death Rate is 100 Percent," "Eat the Dessert First," and "No Unfinished Business."  It has been called by one reviewer "...the most emancipating book I have read about death."  You will find it either on the shelf or in the database of your local bookstore or you can order it from Pathfinder Publishing of California at 800-977-2282, on-line from amazon  Please use the following link:

 or from Atlanta's G.A.C.S. Bookstore - 770-243-2370 or 800-241-7888. 

TWELVE FACES OF GRIEF, A Grief-Recovery Handbook for Group and Personal Use.  Each of the twelve chapters (1) begins with a fictitious, thought-provoking case study (2) is followed by a set of open-ended discussion starter questions and (3) closes with the author's own observations on the chapter topic.  Chapter topics include:  denial, depression, physical symptoms, psychological effects, fairness, faith, and others.  Now out of print (except in Portuguese) but photocopies are available free from the author for a $5 copying, postage, and handling fee.  Inquiries to 

OH GOD! OH GOD! - Straight Talk About Overwhelming Loss.  A booklet for those trying to survive a sudden life trauma.  Published by Herald of Truth.  Request your free copy from 

TWELVE REFLECTIONS ON THE FIRST 12 WEEKS OF GRIEF.  An Abbey Press CareNote for those trying to survive the death of a loved one.  Available from Abbey Press, One Caring Place, St. Meinrad, IN 47577, 800-621-1588. 

LIVING WITH LOSS WHILE OTHERS ARE CELEBRATING.  An Abbey Press CareNote for those trying to cope with the holidays.  Available from Abbey Press, One Caring Place, St. Meinrad, IN 47577, 800-621-1588. 

LAYING IT ON THE LINE WITH GOD - The Risk of Honest Prayer.  Definitely not a sermon about prayer, but a conversation with individuals and study groups who are honestly asking themselves how prayer works in their own lives.  Chapters include:  "All I Really Want is Everything," "What If I Pray Wrong?" "Even Asking for the Bad Stuff!" and "The Emperor's Clothes."  Available from Christian bookstores, from Atlanta's G.A.C.S. Bookstore - 770-243-2370 or 800-241-7888, or directly from HillCrest Publishing, an imprint of Abilene Christian University Press 

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