Newsletter of the Atlanta Area Chapters

November - December 2000

"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

Coming Unwrapped

We wrap ourselves for the holidays much like the presents we give. The brightly colored paper hides what's within. When people look at us they only see the outside.

We promise ourselves we will not come unwrapped. We'll make it through the family celebrations, the church services, and the big occasion. The paper and the ribbon will remain intact.

But it is the small thing that manages to untie the bow. The little insignificant moment, the Christmas parade, the search for the tree, the discovered ornament, the special carol, the memory and the paper gets wrenched off. The true Christmas presence shows itself. The inevitable tide of feelings bursts out of the artificially decorated façade. The emotions pour out. The intense anger wells up. The tears are shed and the holidays come. These are as sure as the tides of the sea and the march of time.

Only a compassionate friend, a bereaved parent, knows of what I speak. Yet the answer isn't in fighting or in denying these feelings. We have paid the price. We have the right to grieve. The resolution of our grief is the grieving. Our hope for all who read this letter is that you will make it through the holidays. We cannot made the apin go away, but know there are others who suffer with you.

We have made it, and together will continue on.

~Hank Hewett - TCF, Scranton, PA 

Thanksgiving at Our House

Of all the holidays, Thanksgiving seemed to mean the most to our Daughter Natalie. When she was small she would get up with me early Thanksgiving morning and she would help me make the fixings for the stuffing. I would toast the bread and she would tear it up into small pieces. After all the ingredients were added and the turkey finally went into the oven we would push the cranberry "log" out of the can and cut it into slices. It would soon be time for the Macy’s parade and we would all sit around the television wondering when we would see Snoopy or Hello Kitty.

My job caused us to move far away from where all our family lived. Sometimes we would have friends or family from out of town but many times we did not. It didn’t seem to make any difference because we had each other and the thoughts of the Thanksgiving Dinner.

When Natalie went off to college I would look forward to the Thanksgiving break like I was a kid counting the days until Christmas. It was a six hour drive to pick her up from school and all the while I thought about how she would describe what the Thanksgiving dinner would be like. She always would make a list to make sure we didn’t forget anything. After Thanksgiving Dinner we had a few movies we always watched. Our favorite was "Christmas Story". We all knew the story by heart, but we laughed just the same.

In October 1997 we took her to the Hospital in a place far from home. She was doing well I enough that she could come back to our apartment for the Thanksgiving Holiday. I had decided that no matter what it took, I was going to cook Thanksgiving dinner just like every year. As always, Natalie made the list and I made the dinner. She couldn’t help me with the stuffing because she had to go back to the hospital for a couple of hours. But when she returned we had our dinner and her Mama and I were pleased that she ate so much of everything. The next morning we heard her in the kitchen searching for the leftover stuffing.

That was the last Thanksgiving we had together before Natalie left us. As it was last year, there is no one to pick up at school, no one to make the list or help with the stuffing bread. But Natalie’s Mama and I intend to make the big Thanksgiving dinner according to our Daughter’s specifications like we always have. We know that somewhere, Natalie will be sharing the Holiday with us and is thinking about the leftovers she will enjoy the day after.

I am thankful that these memories of Natalie are more wonderful each time they come into my mind.

In Memory of our Daughter Natalie

Terry and Evelyn Sparks, Lawrenceville, GA

The Perfect Gift Last year as I was admiring the Hummel plate and bell that my husband and I had purchased to celebrate the birth of our two children, it occurred to me that we had nothing to commemorate the birth of our first child, whom we had lost in October of 1979. My husband and I decided that we would purchase a Hummel for our daughter, Kelly Ann, for Christmas.

The clerk in the store said the Hummel for l979 was a bell, and that it was on sale that day for half price. We were prepared to spend whatever was necessary, but thought it quite a coincidence that only THAT particular piece was on sale.

Every Hummel figurine has a title. When the clerk took the book out of the box, on it was a picture of a little girl waving goodbye. The title said "Farewell". ~Diane Ford 

Spirit Gift

Catharine (Kitty) Reeve

TCF Marin & San Francisco CA Chapters

Grief is such an individual journey. We are cast on its path without our consent, enveloped by a depth of pain we never dreamed existed. We all have times when despair and loneliness threaten to engulf us.

But we do have one companion on this lonely, unsought road. Our child who died. I think there is never a moment in the day when a part of me is not connected to Philip, to our years together - and to our present relationship. Our journey through grief is a good-bye to the physical presence of our children, but it is never good-bye to their spirits and to the essence of their beings. Philip lives inside me now, and the same gifts he gave me when he was physically alive are still available to me through his spirit. In some ways, those "spirit gifts" are stronger, because they are contained and undiluted within me.

When the days get unbearably hard, when I think of all this wonderful young man missed by not getting to live out his life, I try to remember to focus on the present Philip, the one inside me. I try to integrate his gifts into my life, sometimes seeing through his eyes, thinking from his heart and mind. Often when I walk in the hills, I'll hear his voice: "Pay attention, Mom." (He noticed the details in nature so much more than I.)

No matter how old your child who died, the essence of this unique begin remains with you forever. It is through us and others who knew them that our children continue to live and affect our present world. Though not in the way we hoped and expected, our beloved children are still alive.

May the spirit of the child who lives so deep within your heart help you through this month and through every moment of re-establishing your life.

Sharing Ideas for the Holidays

Throughout this newsletter you will see
how some parents include their children 
in the holidays. We thank them for 
sharing these ideas with the rest of us.

Remembrance Cards

Connie Tuggle designs a special card each year to send out. Before Bo's death, she would send Cards with both boys pictures - Bo and Nevada. After Bo's accident, Connie would design a special card with Nevada's picture and some remembrance of Bo.

The picture was drawn by Bo...and Connie had Nevada's picture inserted into the picture. Connie would imprint the card:

Johnny, Connie, and Nevada 
In Memory of Bo

Christmas 1998

 When we take our annual Holiday family picture to send with our Christmas cards, I plan to hold an 8x10 framed picture of Zachary. He is still part of my family, and I want other people to remember that.

In Memory of my Son, Zachary Thomas Schwabe
June 24, 1999 - August 1999 
Tricia Schwabe, Zachary's mommy

A Very Special Christmas Tree

Once upon a time in a big Christmas tree orchard with a lot of big trees, I was a little new sprout just 15 inches tall. The year is 1989.

One day a man, woman and boy came and chopped me down. They took me from all my friends. I was sad and lonely. The next day the boy and woman came home with a coffee can. The put some soil in the bottom with some plant food. They put me into the can then filled it with some more soil.

Everyday they would water me. One day on the morning of the 24th of December, they came into the dining room, took me off of the table and brought me into the kitchen. They put me onto the kitchen table and started to decorate me with lights (that were battery operated), a crocheted star, tinsel and some read and green Christmas balls. I looked like a million dollars.

After a couple of hours, they came back into the kitchen and took me to the car. The boy had put me on the floor of the car so I couldn't see. I went to sleep. It seemed to take hours but it only took a few minutes.

They walked a while until they came to a gravestone that is blue. The boy sat me down just behind the gravestone. I read the words on the gravestone "OUR SPECIAL SON AND BROTHER." I WAS HERE TO CELEBRATE Christmas with their son and brother, Michael Lee. Oh my! What a special place and they picked me to be here with him! Pictures were taken of me and Michael's place. After an hour they left.

Dark came and I was scared and cold but then I had this weird feeling. The feeling felt warm and happy. I wasn't scared anymore either. I couldn't see Michael but I could tell he was watching me and was happy too. I couldn't see him but I heard him laugh because he like me being there.

About three days later they came back and took me away. I waved bye but I made it look like the wind moved my branch. I could feel him laugh and wave bye too.

By Jeremy D. Hale

In Memory of his brother, Michael Lee Bevis-Hale

Special Memory Trees

In response to Handling the Holidays after the death of our children, I want to say that the third year after our daughter Kelley died, we finally put our Christmas back up but decorated it much differently than we did when we had Kelley with us. Now, instead of that tree, we put up the tree completely decorated with angels and ornaments that were Kelley's before she died. We also changed the lights from multicolored to all white lights. We call the tree "Kelley's tree." It brings us great comfort, although it can bring some sadness at times, too. 

We also put up a tree at Kelley's grave every Christmas and decorate it also, with the help of friends and family that put an ornament on the tree each year. This year we have to get a bigger tree, because we have so many ornaments now! It makes us feel so good to see that others still remember Kelley and us at such a difficult time of the year by leaving an ornament or decoration at Kelley's grave.

Angel Hugs, Diana - Kelley's Mom

The first Christmas after my 12 year old sister Ashleigh died, we didn't know what to do to remember her or to do something special for her. What we ended up doing was so special to all of us! It made us all feel that she was with us that day and always. My grandma bought a little tree, and decorated it with sunflowers and white lights. Then each family member brought with them a special ornament that reminded them of Ashleigh. We each showed our ornament and talked about why we had picked it. It worked for us really well. I wanted to share this in hope that maybe this will be helpful to someone else....Thank you! 

Sarah Bruner
Older sibling of Ashleigh Nicole Bruner 

January 23, 1984-October 20, 1996


I was handed a package the other day.
It was wrapped securely to be mailed away 
Attached to the outside as plain as could be
Was a simple note for all to see.

Please rush through the holiday season;
Too painful to open for any reason.
Contained within, find one broken heart- 
Fragile, broken, falling apart.

Tried to go shopping the other day; 
The hype of the season blew me away.

Sat down to write cards,

That was insane.
Couldn't find the list 
Or think of my name.

People say,
"Come over, be of good cheer." 
"Celebrate the holidays,
Prepare a New Year."

But my grief overwhelms me
Like waves in the sea.
Can they cope with my crying,
an unsettled me?

I don't have any holiday cheer. 
Decorations, traditions, big family meal 
I can't do this year.
Do you know how I feel?

Guilty and frustrated!
I've let everyone down!
Our holiday celebrations 
used to be the best in town.

So just ship me away
Address unknown 
When my grief is better
I might fly home.

author Mary J. Pinkava

 Special Gatherings

My daughter and her best friend, Tee Jaye Barnett, age 20, and 2 other friends were on their way back for a UGA football game Oct. 5, 1997, when a parents worse nightmare happen. An automobile accident took Tee Jaye's life instantly and my daughter, Misty Stockton, age 18, lived 9 days before going home..... (Can't stand the be D word).

Sunday after Thanksgiving (Nov. 1997) the Barnett's and my family each had "Open House." to celebrate our daughter's life on earth. We sent out invitations to Misty and Tee Jaye's friends and family asking them to help us "Celebrate Misty & Tee Jaye's" life by purchasing a Christmas ornament of their choice and bringing it to open house. 

Each family had purchased a small 3 foot Christmas tree and permanent black markers. Their friends wrote the girls messages and signed the ornaments and placed them on the tree. Each friend was encouraged to share a happy memory of Misty and Tee Jaye. There was much laughter, smiles and a few tears, as so many of their friends shared memories of the girls with us. 

We had stressed this was not to be another "receiving of family & friends" but a times of family & friends sharing memories and "decorating Misty & Tee Jaye's Christmas Tree". Later that day we carried the Christmas trees to the Cemetery and have used them on their grave every year since.

Sandra Stinson , TCF, Rome , GA

For the holidays, we buy a special ornament for Tyler.  Every year, we add another ornament for him.  One day, we'll put just his ornaments on a special "angel" tree.  I try to find angel ornaments, but I've learned that I have to buy them when I see them, cause often times when I go back later in the year (closer to the holidays) the ornament that I wanted to get was no longer available and I was unable to track one down.  In fact, I've already bought my angel ornament for this year and if I see another I'll go ahead and get it 

Dana Stupka, Alpharetta, GA 

A Special Memory Gift 

Our Sibling leader surprised her parents with a picture (one they didn't know she had) of her deceased brother for Christmas. Her parents were thrilled.

Lynn Vines, South Bay/La Newsletter

The one thing I am beginning is a memory book for all my family and my son's friends. During the viewing, we had everyone who wanted to, write their favorite memory of my son down on paper and put it in a basket. You don't know how many times I have gone back and read those beautiful words of love. Some made me laugh, all made me cry. I have not shared them with anyone else up to this point and I thought I would make a book of all those notes, along with some poetry and pictures and give it out at Christmas in my son's memory. 

Deborah Odom, Loganville, Ga
Ratt's momma (20 forever) 

One of the ways we "survive" Christmas in our home since the death of our four-year-old son Ryan actually evolved from a comment made by my then 6-year-old son, Patrick. He asked me if Santa would know that Ryan was in heaven, or would he still leave presents for him under our tree. From that comment I decided to have "Santa" leave a special gift for/from Ryan under the tree. Since Ryan loved TIGGER more than any of his other toys, Santa always leaves a very special one under the tree for us. It is the first thing Patrick looks for on Christmas morning. 

Wanda Fry, Tucson, AZ

Give a special picture as a gift. Perhaps a family favorite that has been restored and put in a special frame. You may choose to place a sing rose, the symbol of love, next to the picture of your loved one and put it in a special place.

 Last Christmas was the first Christmas without my five year old son Jonathan. It was six months since his death. I didn't think we, all of our family members were going to make it. So, I decided to make him as much of a part of Christmas as I could. I created momentoes/albums of his life for his Grandparents, something a little different for each of them. I realized, they didn't have hardly any day to day regular photos of him, so I gathered all the photos that would  especially bring back memories for them, took the negatives and made copies. 

For one Grandfather, I put together two multi -sectioned (24 different sized holes) picture frames and wrapped it for Christmas. For the other set of Grandparents, I put together three photo albums (theirs I also included my Daughters pictures) and gave it to them for Christmas. I gave it to them on Christmas Eve. There were a lot of tears.... there were going to be anyway, but this way, the sad tears were mingled with such wonderful memories. 

Jonathan was truly "part" of our Christmas. 

Sonya Pace, Jonathan's Mom


I lit a candle tonight, in honor of you 
Remembering your life, and all the times we'd been through.

Such a small little light the candle made 
until I realized how much in darkness it lit the way.

All the tears I've cried in all my grief and pain
what a garden they grew, watered with human rain

I sometimes can't see beyond the moment, in hopeless despair 
But then your memory sustains me, in heartaches repair.

I can wait for the tomorrow, when my sorrows ease 
Until then, I'll light this candle and let my memories run free

~written by Sheila Simmons, TCF Atlanta In Memory of Steven Simmons 


"Who is responsible for this?" the pastor asked. "I can't believe that no one has taken care of it. I have been getting phone calls for two days. I didn't know what to tell them."

For longer than anyone can remember the old Gospel Church atop the hill in Reddington Valley served as a beacon for those who were lost. Not just spiritually but even as a landmark for giving directions.

"Turn down Main Street and head toward the brightest star in the sky. You can't miss it," a traveler would hear.

You see, on top of the old church steeple was a big bright star. It was all one piece and lighted by a huge light bulb. They actually had placed it up there as part of a Christmas display and never took it down.

But two days ago the bulb burned out.

The entire town was lost without it. It seemed that the locals were all turned about at night. The confusion started when someone passing through happened to stop the mayor to ask for directions.

"I looked up and pointed to the star. It wasn't there.
Thinking I was facing the wrong way, I turned around looking for it but couldn't find it," he said. "I think that guy is still riding around town."

Soon the phone started ringing at the old Gospel Church. People wanted to know what happened. The problem was even the Pastor didn't know. That star was just always there. He had no idea who kept it
lit or where the light bulbs were. That is, until the phone rang late that afternoon.

"Pastor, I'm hoping you can help us," the man said. "This is Police Chief Robertson. We just got back from the Delaney house. We found old Jim Delaney dead. It seems he's been dead about two days."

"I'm sorry. I must tell you that I'm not familiar with the man," the Pastor said.

"No one seems to be," the Chief replied. "There are no
known relatives or friends available." 

"Well, if it's a burial service you are looking for, I'd be pleased to do it," said the Pastor.

"That would be great. But there is something else. I'd like for you to come by in about an hour if you can. The house is up the dirt road on Bishop's Hill across the valley from your church."

"I'll be there," he replied.

The Pastor arrived just as Chief Robertson pulled in. "What is it you wanted me to see, Chief?"

"Come inside. I think you'll need this stuff."

As they entered the home you could see stacks of unopened mail along with various books scattered about. "Over here, Pastor. I believe this is for you."

There on the mantle of the fireplace was a box with a small white envelope attached. It said "From the star keeper to The Gospel Church".

The note inside it read:

To whom it may concern:

Back in 1950 my beautiful wife Mildred became ill. We could not afford to place her in a home so for her remaining months on this earth, I took care of her. Before her illness she attended your church every Sunday. It was so very frustrating for her not to be able to, once she got sick. But every Sunday I would position her on the front porch so that she could see the church across the valley.

It was that Christmas someone placed a star on the steeple. Every night Mildred would say her prayers while gazing out at that star. I had just pushed her chair over to the window that night. She was barely able to breathe. As I pulled the shade up I heard her quietly say, "The star. The star is gone." As I turned around she slumped over with one last sigh. The star indeed was not lit that night.

After her burial I approached the Pastor and made a deal with him. I agreed to keep the star lit for as long as I am alive as a memorial to my wife.

So many people had loved that image during the holidays that he agreed to it.

I am near my journey's end. The church can sell my property and all I own in exchange for a favor. I have provided enough light bulbs in this box to keep the star lit a few more years. The key to the church door is inside this envelope.

Please find someone who can take on the task of keeping the star lit after my death. I loved my wife so very much. I want that star to serve as an example of what love can be.

You can say you love someone, but it's not until you show it, that love is made visible.

-- Jim Delaney

"When did you say he died, Chief?"

"Two days ago according to the coroner."

"That's when the star burned out, Chief."

The pastor looked down for a moment, then looked back up, "Consider it done, Mr. Delaney," said the Pastor. "Consider it done!"

Someone sent me this story and it just confirmed my need to light candles on Melanie's grave... Love... I light a candle on Melanie's grave on Sunday night, on Thursday night and again on special occasions. My husband always looks for the light each night as he is driving home. I have since learned that other people, friends of Melanie's, also look for the light and have on occasion lit candles there themselves.

Kathy Thompson (Melanie's Mama) 5/11/79 - 2/15/99

TCF Atlanta Online Sharing

Nuns Are Mothers too

There was a statement in the last newsletter that said "But nuns don't lose their children, it is all theoretical to them." Unfortunately this is not a true statement and I know it was said only because they did not realize that there ARE Nuns who are mothers and do have children who die. Today, and yesterday... and throughout history. 

I am a mother who will be a nun...I know mothers who are now nuns and who have walked this road with us, before us and, no doubt, one day in the future will join us..

As we try to open up the understanding of what it means to be a bereaved parent, sibling, grandparent... may we also realize that indeed, nuns do have children who die. I hope you will somehow make note of this and perhaps a correction so all can know that we must no longer assume that some of us are left out of such grief. ~Christine Gizzonio 

The Simple Thing

Reading the story of "the simple thing" by Fay Harden really struck home with me today. Mothers will often come into my store with their children looking for special gifts for their teachers, coaches, den mothers, etc. I never fail to notice a mother browsing around with her son. 

I can't seem to stop watching their every move, listening to their casual conversation, picking up an item they know the other one would like. Then he says, "Mom, look, did you see this?" and I immediately turn to look, thinking for a brief instant the voice is one I long so much to hear. I fight back the tears waiting for them to leave. I want to tell his mother that she has just experienced a most treasured memory as she unknowingly walks out the door and down the street with her son beside her, in a world that for her is still a place, so normal, so care-free, so predictable and so very taken for granted. 

~Mickey Crawford, Winder, Ga
In Memory of Christopher


For National Children's Memorial Day
and 4th Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting 
December 10, 2000 

As December's second Sunday 
Does approach its 19th hour... 
Special sunset for this one day 
Of exquisite Candle Power! 

Starting in the Land Down Under
As the strokes of seven chime, 
Waves so bright-rip night asunder 
"...that their light may always shine!"

Lustrous gleams worldwide are glowing,
Circling this earthly sphere, 
Love, remembrance we're showing 
For beloved children, dear! 

Dancing lights each tell a story, 
Represent a precious one, 
Send them shimmering up to Glory, 
Let our beams eclipse the sun! 

Down concentric paths we're roaming 
Moving o'er the grassy park, 
Singing softly in the gloaming, 
Whisper names 'round velvet dark! 

Now, 'tis thru 'til next December, 
Tho' the candles flicker still,
Sparkling stars we do remember, 
In our hearts, and always will! 

Vicki Douglas-Otto TCF, Tucson, Arizona 

Holiday Rituals

Many families have found healing during the holidays by creating personal ceremonies or rituals that help them to remember their loved one. Children often find comfort through creating personal ceremonies that give them concrete ways to remember their loved one. Some suggestions for the holiday season include:

Create a Memory Bookabout your loved one. You can include photos, pictures drawn by children, special memorabilia and stories.

Start a New Tradition - for example, a storytelling time to reminisce about your loved one. Children may enjoy hearing stories about the childhood years of a parent or grandparent.

Decorate an Ornament or Candle in memory of your loved one.

Invite family and friends to send you letters and stories about your loved one.

Light candlesin honor of your loved one at the holiday table or at a special place in your home.

Write Lettersto your loved one and place these in a special basket or perhaps in a holiday stocking. Children may want to write about events that were important to them during the past year. The letters may be burned to protect privacy. 

Prepare a Favorite Recipe or Meal in memory of your loved one.

Make or Buy a Giftin memory of your loved one to donate to a charity that is important to your family.

~reprinted from Holiday Hope

Remembering Loved Ones During Special Times 

~written by Karen Dorshimer-Chaplin

In Memory of the naval personnel 
who lost their lives in a terrorist attack on the USS Cole in October, 2000

 As a Nation Mourns

Americans lost their lives again.
Oh why does this have to be?
Why can't there be peace in the world?
Even with no war, lives are lost senselessly.

They say that men & women on the USS Cole
gave their lives for me & you.
But, tell me, why did this have to happen?
After all that our country has been through?

Yes, the world stands to take notice.
To see how we will react.
But lives were taken without a cause.
And that should be the only fact.

The men & women we lost on that ship
were the love of someone's life.
It was a father, a son, a brother or husband.
A daughter, a mother, a sister, or wife.

Oh will the world ever overcome 
the tragedy of this loss?
Will the seas around us ever be calm?
Or will every ship be shaken & tossed?

Oh, as I sit tonight & think of this tragedy,
as I am sure many are doing tonight.
I can't help but think of those precious families
with no sense of peace in sight.

To the many families that lost a loved one,
 hearts grieve for your sorrow.
May the love you lost somehow carry you
through all of your painful tomorrow's.

May you always know that they'll be remembered.
Those lives lost aboard the USS Cole.
As a nation mourns this tragedy, we wonder;
Will this world ever again be whole?

~Author~ Kaye Des'Ormeaux
Copyright 2000
Dedicated to the memory of those lives lost on the USS Cole - October 12, 2000

~Christmas Without You~

It's going to be a sad Christmas this year
without your laughter & without your cheer.
I'll miss the sight of you with your Santa's hat,
and the smile you shared from where you sat. 

I'll think about all the Christmas's in the past,
and hold to the memories that slipped so fast.
For they're all I have left to remember,
on this sad Christmas morning in December. 

I'll think about you and cherish each thought
I'll think of your smile & the happiness it brought.
And as I listen to the church bells ring,
your voice will echo as the choirs sing. 

I can never tell you, my love, how sad it will be
to spend Christmas without you here with me.
I just wish you'd touch my heart in such a way,
that I could live through the pain of Christmas Day. 

And, help me to remember that your love
is still sent to me from the Heavens above.
And although you won't decorate my Christmas tree,
Your spirit will light the lights for me to see. 

Oh, I'll hear your voice in each Christmas song.
I'll see your face in each child that comes along.
And although my heart will be broken and torn...
I'll know you're with Jesus on this Christmas morn. 

No, Christmas won't be the same without your smiling face 
but I'll know you're in a much better place.
I'll think of my precious child in everything I do...
Cause, it just won't be "Christmas Without You!" 

Written by Kaye Des'Ormeaux
Copyright 1998 Kaye Des'Ormeaux
Dedicated to Karen in memory of Jamie
~reprinted with permission

Surviving the Holidays

Christmas last year was so extremely painful being our first without Melanie. 

I had long since given up trying to talk to my family about Melanie. When ever I tried I was rebuffed and
told that everyone grieves in their own way. So each person had a reason or rationale as to why they couldn't talk about Melanie. But I still wanted to make her a part of my holiday.

To assure that Melanie's memory would not be forgotten and to make sure that she wouldn't be left out; I created a memorial to her on one of the mantels. I placed two framed pictures of Melanie, (one: the last portrait of her and one: of her on Santa's lap as a child), in the center of the mantel flanked by candles that I kept lit from the time I rose in the morning until I retired at night. I also included two framed poems that I had found. ( One entitled "Christmas Memories" by Sandy Siewers and the other by Kaye Des'Ormeaux; "Christmas Without You") For I knew that it was too painful for everyone there to have a memorial for Melanie where the poems might have been read but the poems expressed my feelings and I wanted to share them the rest of the family.

I also hung Melanie's stocking along with the rest of the children's stockings on that mantel. On Christmas 
Eve I filled her stocking with a few little things to keep and to place on her grave. Candles, a small candle 
holder, figurines, a small frame for her picture with her name on it and a little photograph folder with 
Mel's name to hold photos of her.

I had also purchased a music box last summer that I had wrapped and kept in my closet. From the time that 
Melanie was about seven or eight years old she had collected music boxes and I had given her one every year for Christmas. My house is filled with all of her varied music boxes of all types, shapes and tunes. Each year I would search thru the shops and catalogs to find just the right music box for her. And when last summer I passed by a shelf of music boxes I auto-matically stopped and studied the different boxes and I had chosen one and was on my way to pay for it when I realized that Melanie was gone.

It was then I decided to continue with her collection. I purchased the music box. A water globe with butterflies. I brought it home, wrapped it in Christmas paper and hid it in my closet. So- by the time Christmas arrived I had forgotten what it looked like. On Christmas morning I allowed my youngest daughter to open it in Melanie's honor. Thus the tradition will continue this year. too.

I also started another tradition that I borrowed from another parent. I had read in one of the holiday 
sharing messages last year of a mother who purchased an angel each year for her child and placed them all on a tree. An angel tree. One angel for every year without her child. 

I went looking last year for my first angel, I wanted one that I could put Melanie's name and the year on. Sort of like "My First Christmas In Heaven." But I couldn't find one suitable. Then one day, while looking thru Christmas Crafts, I came across an Orna-ment Making Kit. It was a cross stitch kit of a little girl angel dressed in white, standing in the snow and hanging a star on a little tree. It just popped out at me and I brought it home and worked on it. I modified it to my liking by enlarging it and adding some detail. But the main thing was I could put Melanie's name on it and the year 1999.

So my quest for another angel for the year 2000 began last year, as soon as Christmas was over, trying to take advantage of the after Christmas sales. I have looked for just the right angel all year. Looking in every catalog, Christmas shop and gift shop. I had just about given up and then wham...again, while looking thru Christmas Crafts a couple of weeks ago, another Ornament Kit caught my eye. This one is also of a cross stitched angel. With a few changes I will make it my own and two angels for Melanie will hang on our tree this year. So something tells me that the hand-made, crossed stitched angels, with Melanie's name and year, will become "My Year In Heaven" ornament from here on out. I hope this helps.

Kathy Thompson (Melanie's Mama) 5/11/79 - 2/15/99

Special Thanksgiving Gift

I am Joanne, Ryan Gallant's mom from Alberta, Canada. First I would like to say what a great help it has been to have this group of TCF on line. It will be four years since my son Ryan was killed in an accident. I have and still go through what you all talk about, as far as people would rather cross the street than risk hearing me bring up Ryan's name, and if his name does come up before they can escape, then there is this awful silence until some one suggests that I should be over it by now. I will never get over it. 

I thought I would share with everyone what my family does for the Thanksgiving holiday. Thanksgiving was our last family dinner together, it was on October 13 in 1996, and on October 20, our lives changed forever. 

Thanksgiving was always a very special holiday for us. We still have the big dinner and invite all the people with nowhere else to go, but we do something very special on the Monday following Thanksgiving. 

Today, October 8 is Thanksgiving in Canada, and everyone will be here. Tomorrow we will clean the highway one mile south and one mile north of where we live, in memory of Ryan. We adopted this section of highway in the summer of 1997 and have been cleaning it every Thanksgiving since. It is the day when we are all together again, as each of us feels Ryan very close to us. 

Doing this cleanup is what gets me through the actual day of Thanksgiving , I look so forward to the cleanup day, that the actual Thanksgiving day goes by quite fast. Up here when you adopt a section of highway, the county puts up signs that say, in our case, In Memory Of Ryan Gallant with the provincial flowers in the background. I don't know if you have the same program in the States, but I thought I would mention it in case. Ryan was a rodeo cowboy who loved the outdoors, and each of my other kids and myself know how he approves of this cleanup done in his memory. Please think of us, and say a little prayer for Ryan on October 20. Thanks again for all the great support you all have given me these years.
Ryan's mom, Joanne 

Lookingfor a special gift this holiday season for a person who is dealing with a tragic loss of a loved one? Well, you don't have to search all of the specialty shops in town to find one. The one gift you can give doesn't cost a dime. Give them the gift of a memory!

A memory gift comes from the heart and will mean more to the receiver than a package wrapped in gold foil or expensive paper. You can make this yourself, with very little time or money. If you feel that this is not enough and you have to purchase something, then add to your present, and include a memory gift.

The main thing to remember at the holidays, or any time of the year, is that a grieving person is thinking about their loved one and hurting. If the one who is gone is not mentioned, it does not ease any of the pain, so don't leave them out for fear of upsetting the ones left behind. Yes, the pain will always be there and you cannot take it away or fix the griever's aching heart, but you can give them the gift of remembering their special someone. So what if they cry, it's a human emotion. Your memory will not cause the tears, the pain of loss did. The worst fear for any grieving individual is that the one who meant so much to them will be forgotten, let them know in some way that this will never happen.

Whatever your beliefs, however you celebrate the Holidays, take a few extra minutes, and write, record, video tape or call someone who needs a Memory Gift, you could be making someone's Holiday Season something very unique.

--Bonnie Harris-Tibbs TCF, Richmond, VA

For her first Christmas in Heaven, I bought some little things to put at her gravesite and I borrowed the idea of having Santa fill her stocking with flowers.  While videoing my son, Matthew (almost 2 now), that morning, we included Marissa's stocking and gifts from Santa.  The flowers we bring to Marissa as a family.  An acknowledgement of her Life and that we remember her and Santa hasn't forgotten either.  I think this will also help my young son to remember that he indeed had a beautiful big sister.

Laurie Myers

Butterflies In November

Thanksgiving was Chad’s favorite holiday. He loved the food and the football games without the hassle of all the Christmas going ons. I have so many memories of Thanks-givings past. I remember the last Thanksgiving we were together. Chad called me from Alabama and said he and Mandy were on their way to Atlanta and to please save him something to eat. I said "of course I will save you some-thing to eat, but I thought you were eating with Mandy’s family?" Chad said "Mom, I think they make their stuffing with "GRITS"….need I say more? Just save me some."

That really made me feel good. He loved my Southern Cornbread Dressing, Turkey, Ham, and all the fixins. We enjoyed so much just being together and preparing the dinner and enjoying the meal. 

Chad died in September of 1996. Thanksgiving came way too fast. For those who have gone through their first Thanksgiving you know the feelings I am describing. Everything seems to go in slow motion with the inability to move forward…. the heaviness and the physical and mental fatigue… the pain in your heart, the lump in your throat and the tears in your eyes. No, I did not want Thanksgiving to come this year or ever again. My daughter was away at school and I knew she would be coming home. My mother was struggling with lung cancer and I knew there would not be many more Thanksgivings with her. What do I do? I think we all decided that if we could just go through the motions it would be better than doing nothing and I think we all did it for each other. 

I cried the whole time I was preparing the meal. I do not remember anything other than the tears. Several friends wanted to join us for Thanksgiving that year and they volunteered to bring a turkey and dessert. I readily accepted their offer. 

We gathered together at noon, my husband said the blessing (which I really had a hard time with) and then I wanted to read a poem in Chad’s memory. I asked everyone if they would bear with me as I read this. Several times I could not speak. The words would not come, but I was determined that I was going to read this poem. When I neared the end of the poem I felt the lump in my throat and I knew I was going to start crying out loud. As soon as I finished I got up from the table and left the room. 

There was dead silence. No one spoke a word. Then I heard one of our friends say "Look at that butterfly. I can’t believe there is a butterfly this time of year. And he looks at though he wants to come in. He is hitting himself against the glass door."

My tears turned from sadness to tears of joy. I knew that was Chad. I knew he had come to get some of my Cornbread Dressing. The only regret that I have is that I did not let him come in. I knew if I went back to the dining room and told my friends that was Chad they really would think I was crazy. If I had to do it over again….it wouldn’t matter but at that time I had not gotten involved with TCF or did not know another bereaved parent….so to me my "crazy thoughts" were just that and I thought they probably were not normal.

We do not have butterflies in Atlanta in late November. I choose to believe it was a sign from my son. 

This will be our fifth Thanksgiving with out him. The pain has softened. My tears do not come as often. The memories are sweeter. My heart is a little lighter. My love for my son is as strong as ever. I feel his presence in everything I do. I do not fear I will forget anymore. I know he is with me.

This Thanksgiving my plan is to make a LARGE pan of my southern cornbread dressing along with Chad's favorite Ham recipe and take these to the hospital to share with my daughter, who is an RN, and all the staff in the PICU at Children’s Hospital – Egleston Campus and the parents who are spending Thanksgiving with their children in the Intensive Care Unit. For some, this will be their last Thanksgiving with their own children. 

The staff at the Children’s Hospital work very long and stressful hours. They are away from their own families on this holiday to take care of the children who are in the hospital. I feel this is a way I can help others and also include some precious memories of my Thanksgivings past with my own son and daughter. I am looking forward to this very much and I am thankful I can be with my daughter.

I wish for those of you who are facing your First Thanksgiving that you can read this and know that it will get better. You will find joy again. There is hope. The love will always remain and your child will always be with you. Of course, it is not like we hoped it would be but it can be good. Our children will always be a "present" part of our lives ….they will not be forgotten.

I pray you find peace this holiday season. I pray your sorrows will soften and your memories bring smiles. I pray you will be able to enjoy your other family members. I pray you know you are not alone.

In Memory of All Our Children

Jayne Newton , TCF Atlanta, Ga

In Memory of Chad Gordon 5/21/72 - 9/3/96

I was told by another bereaved Mother to share this idea with you here goes. I am going to create a tabletop Christmas Tree with all of the decorations reflecting my son....Tanner Jason Tobac, born into the arms of angels, Sept. 30, 1999 - just 5 days before his scheduled c-section arrival. 

I purchased a tabletop tree about 2' tall and the decorations for it are all baby things...tiny pacifiers, baby bottles, baby bracelets, angels, baby blue satin roses, baby rattles, booties, shoes and Tanner was to collect of course some elephants too. I bought wooden letters to spell out his name down the front of the tree so that everyone will know it is just for him and a mini picture frame for under the tree on a little platform. I plan to put it out every year. 

I also made my Mom one years ago for my brother. You can do this for your grown children miniatures that reflect memories of your child. The one I made for my brother had a mirror and a blow dryer because he was always messing with his hair, and Snoopy because he liked him and a mini stereo, and lobsters (for the time we made lobsters together) and a brother ornament. You get the idea....find miniatures and  ornaments and things that reflect your child's personality.

It can be put out every year and added to every year if you like. Hope you like the idea.
Love, Tammy Tobac

The Letter

It was almost Christmas, but there was no feeling of joy in Marian's home. She remembered other Christmases when there had been. That was when daddy had come home from his work in the dead letter section of the post office with a happy smile on his face as he greeted her, her little brother and Mummie. All of this was before her little brother had suddenly become sick and then quickly died before anyone could help him. It seemed to Marian that, in a way her daddy had died too, because he never smiled anymore nor told her stories, nor greeted her with a hug and a kiss. In fact, he didn't seem to care whether she and Mummie were even around. It wasn't easy to write such an important letter all by herself. When it was finished, Marian addressed it to the North Pole and posted it in the corner mail box. The Letter said:

Dear Santa Claus,

We are sad at our house. My little brother went to heaven last spring. You needn't mind leaving me anything, but if you could give Daddy something that would make him like he use to be. I so wish you would. I heard him say to Mummie that only eternity could cure him. Could you bring him some of that?

Love Marian

It was more than a coincidence that the letter reached the dead letter desk of Marian's father instead of being checked by some other man in the department. 

Late that day when Daddy came home, it was almost as if Christmas had already come to their home, for as he opened the door, there was a wide smile on his face. He paused for just a moment, then opened his arms wide, just as he used to do and took both Mummie and Marian into them. A true story retold by Lucile C. Reading - "The Children's Friend" 1970

At dinner we light an Angel Candle for Marissa...the Angel sits atop a star, which is symbolic for us.  Marissa is our "Twinkle Star".  We leave the candle lit all day as a reminder of her presence.  We also take time as a family to talk about our memories of my precious child.  I invite each family member to share their feelings or a special memory of her.  There are tears, but the tears we cry on the inside 365 days of the year, so that is okay...but more importantly, we find ourselves smiling through these tears as we share.  Each family member has a little different spin on what they remember and for me, her mother, I love to hear all the special moments that my child was able to experience.  And, we always release balloons for special days.  We write little notes on them and send them Heaven bound.  My son, Matt, now asks for balloons to send to the sky to his sissy...and he is not yet two.  I think it is imperative for families to acknowledge in some way their beloved children.  They are with us always, and by acknowledging this fact, I find it to be healing for every family member.  I know this is a lot, but I thought I would offer what we have done and plan to do for every Christmas to come.  Thank you. Laurie Myers***Marissa's ^j^ Mommy***

Remembering Last Year's World Wide Candle Lighting

Tonight was my first experience at the Metro Candle Lighting Ceremony and I am sure it will not be the last. It was a time of reflection, a time to share, and time to hold her memory close. I met the friends who had helped me so much in the early days of my grief and that was a true blessing. It was so touching to see all the flames and to know that each one represented a child and a broken heart, many broken hearts I know. It is something that will always be special to me and I am so glad I was able to be there. 

Barbara Sockwell, Snellville, Ga

One sister came alone to light a candle for her two nieces who died. Her sister was holding a candle lighting in her small community in PA and she wanted to come and light a candle for them here. 

We are off to the candle lighting ceremony me, my husband, and my mother organized and we have gotten a wonderful response. I am truly excited. My sister who lives in Atlanta is going to the one in Centennial Park. Hope all goes well for you. God Bless. 

Vicki Emerson 

Secret of the Christmas Box

Why did Mom keep the red and green paper chain with the star?

~by Mark Slater

`As seen in the Readers Digest

It is the New Year, and our family has spent another glorious holiday together. A fresh cover of snow lightly blankets the tracks of yesterday, where my children have made snow angels and rolled down Grandpa's back yard hill, spreading winter's magical frosting from head to toe.

Once breakfast is finished, Mom begins putting away the Christmas tree, an annual task she prefers to do alone. She removes the ornaments one by one, gazing momentarily at the handmade decorations crafted by the children in early years. Then, humming her favorite carols, she wraps each in tissue paper and gently places them in an old cardboard box.

Like a child eating cake smothered in her favorite icing, Mother saves the top of the Yuletide tree for last. Secured atop the tallest branch, reaching heavenward, is a simple precious star, reminding all the Christmas in our home is illuminated with the light of Christ, represented by the new star. This will be the last ornament packed, then placed at the top of the box, where next year it will be the first light of the Christmas season to fill the home.

But there is one more item: a small red and green chain with links cut from construction paper, then pasted together at the ends. It is long enough to circle the top of the tree. It's crinkled, faded links display years of wear, along with tape, staples and paste.

Mom still does not know that many years ago I was watching from the other room as she delicately removed the chain from the tree, one link at a time. After pausing for a moment, she lowered the handmade ornament into a small white box, secured the lid with tape, and reverently said "I Can't wait to see you again."

She placed the white box in the larger box, with room enough only for the star that soon would be nestled next to it. The larger carton was then sealed and slid to the side of the tree to be carried to the basement. At this moment I entered the room and offered to bring things downstairs.

"Certainly," my mother replied. "This box is ready, but be very careful not to drop it." I could see that my mom's eyes had tried to hold back tears, and simple smile still lit her face. I carried the carton down to the storage room, where I quickly went to work. Curious about the event I had witnessed. I removed the tape from the top of the carton and before I could be discovered, lifted the small white box up to the light.

There is was: the answer to my curiosity, the reason for the care, the reserved spot next to the star and, more than anything else, the purpose for Christmas. Written on the side of the box in crayon, with five year old hands, in letters that did not match and learned to one side, was the name "EriCK".

My younger brother, Erick, never lived to see his sixth Christmas or his ornament on the tree, but Mom has saved a spot for it each year, next to the star. S in repair, much like our entire family. And with weary hands and only a mother's love, keeps the chain together.

Now as an adult and a father, I finally understand what together really means.

~lovingly lifted from Bereaved Parents USA/Orange County December 99 newsletter



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