Newsletter of The Compassionate Friends

   Atlanta Area Chapters
November - December 2001

"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


Dear Santa,

You may not remember me, but I was the one in the mall last week with the red coat on.  I asked you to bring me a Barbie car and plane for Christmas.

Well, I am not writing for me, but for my Mom-Mom. Mommy always tells me that when you cry a lot, Santa won't come visit. But I wanted to ask you to make an exception to your rules for my Mom-Mom this year.  You see, she lost her youngest son in the summer time and I can tell she cries when we are not with her.  She misses my Uncle Marshal very very much.

When people ask her what she wants for Christmas, all she says is she wants Marshal back. Santa, I'm not sure if heaven is on your way to my house, but if it is, can you stop and pick him up?  I know this is late, but I didn't think you would mind. You can leave him at my house and we will take him to Mom-Mom's since she doesn't have a chimney. You might need to drop off some of the other gifts first because Marshal is real tall. If you want to, you can leave my presents at the North Pole, I will be happy just to see my Mom-Mom's face when she sees Marshal.

Santa, we eat dinner at 3 o'clock, so if you have time you can eat with us.

Love Briana, Marshal's niece

Sharing Ideas for the Holidays 

The holidays are always painful without our children and as each of us are ready, we begin to re-enter the world and try very hard to include our children who are gone.

Throughout the newsletter you will see how some parents include their children in their holidays. They were kind enough to share their ideas with the rest of us.

November Again…….

I woke up November 1st thinking oh, it's November now, another holiday season begins, our fourth holidays without James, how's it going to be this year, we have to get "through" another holiday, not enjoy another holiday, not plan with a carefree happy heart, but with a heavy one, still. 

Now that it's been 3 years since James died, I really get the distinct impression that the family is really tired of hearing me say/write something about what I wished I'd done, what I remembered him saying/doing when I write about something we did recently or something I experienced with our teenage foreign exchange student living with us that brings back the "if only's" and the "what if's".    In a way, I don't want them to understand, because I don't want any one of them to be walking in my shoes and know this pain, but a smidgen of compassion and understanding is not asking for too much, at least in my book, but my book is an original and can't be found anywhere else, so I can't expect what I would like to expect.  To say I'm just going to put that all behind me and not dwell on the in-laws and the way it used to be is one thing, but to really do it and live it is so hard.  All of us have lost our most precious child, and then to top it off, the losses keep on coming - the loss of life as it used to/should be, the loss of relatives who can't put up with it, the loss of feeling connected to people who used to care, etc. etc. 

I have been looking through my books on ideas and help for the holidays and came across this poem.   It really made me think - especially about the little things I can be thankful for and not for all the things I'm missing and for the way of life that I wish I had back once again.   When in pain and heartache, it seems natural to focus in on all that and think about the unfairness and cruelty that life has turned out to be for all of us as bereaved parents.   I keep a journal but I haven't written in it in such a long time, but after reading this poem, it made me think that in addition to my journal, which are letters to my son James about what I'm thinking, going through, wishing, what the days are like, etc. etc. I should add just one sentence about something I'm thankful for - even if it is really small - like yesterday driving home and watching the colorful leaves fall like rain. 

Meg Avery, Lawrenceville TCF James' mom 
James' mom (7/15/83 ~ 9/22/97)

For That, I am Thankful

It doesn't seem to get any better, 
but it doesn't get any worse either. 
For that, I am thankful.

There are no more pictures to be taken, 
but there are memories to be cherished, 
For that I am thankful.

There is a missing chair at the table, 
but the circle of family gathers close. 
For that, I am thankful.

The turkey is smaller, 
but there is still stuffing.
For that, I am thankful.

The days are shorter, 
but the nights are softer. 
For that, I am thankful.

The pain is still there, 
but it lasts only moments. 
For that, I am thankful.

The calendar still turns,
the holidays still appear and they still cost too much. 
And I am still here. 
For that, I am thankful.

The room is still empty, 
the soul still aches, 
but the heart remembers. 
For that, I am thankful.

The guests still come, 
the dishes pile up, 
but the dishwasher works. 
For that, I am thankful.

The name is still  missing,
the words still unspoken, 
but the silence is shared. 
For that, I am thankful.

The snow still falls, 
the sled still waits, 
and the spirit still wants to. 
For that, I am thankful.

The stillness remains, 
but the sadness is smaller.
For that I am thankful.

The moment is gone, 
but the love is forever.
For that, I am blessed. 
For that, I am grateful...

Love was once (and still is) a part of my being...
For that I am living.
I am living... For that, I am thankful.

May your holidays be filled with reasons to be thankful.  Having loved and having been loved is perhaps the most wondrous reason of all.

From the book "Holiday Help ~ A Guide for Hope and Healing" By Darcie D. Sims and Sherry L. Williams

And For This I Give Thanks

Cathy Seehuetter (Nina's mom) ST. Paul, MN TCF

I am acutely aware that autumn is here. As I write this, the air coming through my window is crisper and the leaves are taking on the golden and scarlet hues of the season. The shorts and tee shirts, which were the summer mainstay of the neighborhood children, are being replaced by sweats and flannels. Pumpkins are replacing pink flamingos as lawn ornaments. The beauty of nature is at its most spectacular. It is unmistakably here, welcome or not...

This will be my fifth autumn, to be followed by my fifth holiday season without my daughter Nina. I find that I am far enough along in my grief to find memories to smile about now, but still close enough to remember those first few years and the piercing stab of pain in my heart that went along with them. Halloween, with memories of the costume party she threw when she was 10 years old, the major production she made out of what she would wear as a trick-or-treater, and as she got older, her enjoyment in passing out candy to neighborhood goblins. Then came Thanksgiving, one of my favorites. I liked the idea of family and friends gathering together with no other purposes other than eating until you nearly exploded and being thankful for each other and the blessings of the past year. No presents required, just the joy of family togetherness - and the knowledge that my children were here, all of them. On that first Thanksgiving the empty chair and place at the table seemed to scream out at me that someone precious was missing. And the message of this particular holiday was thankfulness? What on earth could I ever find to be thankful for?

Some TCF parents have memories of being unable to choke down any morsel of food because they were continually trying to choke back tears that first Thanksgiving. Just wanting to curl up in a ball, pull the covers over their heads, and wake up some time in January after the last remnants of the holidays were cleared away. In all honesty, I cannot tell you even one detail of that first one: where I spent it, who was present, where I was, if I cried all day. I remember nothing.

I do remember three months after Nina had died, though. On a visit to my neurologist I tearfully told him of my depression over her death. His response to me was "Why don't you count your blessings rather than your sorrows? Think happy thoughts and maybe you won't feel so sad." I, of course, asked him if he had ever lost a child. He had not obviously. Only someone uneducated in the school of grief would say something like that.

Almost five Thanksgiving's later, have I found reasons to be thankful? I asked myself this question and decided to put pen to paper. I was surprised to say the list was quite lengthy, so I will only share a few of them. I am thankful for:

- My loving family, and the welcomed joyful additions in the last few years.

- My memory, because now the painful memories are, more often than not, replaced with the beautiful memories of the past, and they were such beautiful memories.

- My life, for whom else will keep Nina's memory alive? Of course, my family, but they have lives, as they should. I am the self-appointed keeper of my daughter's memory.

- Nina. The joy of loving her, the privilege of being her mother. Though I wish it had been much longer, I wouldn't trade those 15 ½ years for anything.

- Smiling a genuine smile, laughing a hardy laugh, and finding my sense of humor again. I sincerely believe that Nina likes to hear me laugh and that she would want me to find humor in life again.

- My sight, because I commented (for the first time in five autumns) on the magnificent colors of the autumn foliage and the grandness of Minnesota's most sumptuous season. I didn't think I'd ever notice again. But I did.

- The Compassionate Friends, who showed me there is life after the death of a child; who allowed me to express my emotions, listened patiently, understood my pain, and welcomed me into their hearts. They helped salvage what remained of my sanity and I will be eternally grateful.

- The opportunity to give back, through TCF meetings and this newsletter. To bring hope to the newly bereaved in the knowledge that it won't always hurt this bad, and that you will make it with the love and support of family and your Compassionate Friends. And, that there will come a time that you too will find things to be thankful for again.

I am told, by those who know, that peace and acceptance are that light we are searching for at the end of the tunnel. Though I find myself still looking for it at times, those further down the grief road have reassured me it will come. Maybe not this Thanksgiving or next, but that it will. And I believe them.


In a year when much was given, much was taken, too.
So we pause and give our thanks for what now is.
Think, too, of what once was,
And we are grateful for the threads of lives gone by
Threads that enrich the fabric of this, the life we know.
- Lois Wyse

Holidays in Heaven

The Holiday Season is just not the same, 
A smile is missing when saying one name.

For parents who’ve lost a daughter or son, 
Nothing can bring back the delightful fun, 
Of watching them talk, laugh, or just run.

The memories are all that we do have now, 
We do go on…..only God knows how.

A New Year comes as midnight arrives, 
Our Angels still a big part of our lives.

If only we could trade the presents we receive, 
For one more day with those whom we grieve!

But nothing can bring back our beloved child, 
The one that laughed, cried, and often smiled.

They are together in a much better place, 
Watching us cry…..touching our face!

Although we miss them on Holidays to share, 
Be assured their loving presence fills the air, 
At home, in church, at New York’s Times Square!

So celebrating the Holidays are now hard to do, 
But always remember they are thinking of you too, 

Wishing you happiness and showing their love, 
Not on this Earth, but from Heaven above! 

-Dan Bryl, Lawrenceville, GA TCF
In Memory of his daughter, Jessica

Remembrance Cards

I sign my son's Ryan's name to some cards. I can't bear to leave his name off of them either. I put a halo over his name. ~Karen, Ryan's Mom 2-17-83 -6-17-99

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. 

Johnny, Connie, and Nevada 
In Memory of Bo Christmas 1998

What I do when I send my cards is I have an angel shaped hole punch, I sign mine, my husband and daughters names and then by them, I punch out an angel. Sometimes I write Shane's name in small letters around it. ~ Judi 

I just have to say after reading the responses and ideas about Christmas cards I actually was excited to do mine this year.  I went out and bought an angel stamp and also typed up some labels on my computer which read: 

December 9, 2001 is National Children's Memorial Day. Please light a candle at 7:00 p.m. in memory of our Kelsey, and stuck them inside EVERY Christmas card this year.  I felt soooo good and felt like I was including her in some way this year and by stamping an angel by our names made me feel like I was recognizing her as a part of our family that I could feel so good and proud  of.  Thanks to everyone who gave out these ideas as it helped me so much this  year as I am missing such a big piece of the link….Tina, Kelsey's Mommy Forever 

I would like to share what I did in regard to Christmas cards the first year Daniel was not with us.  I had a friend take a picture of all of us at Thanksgiving.  Since our family is spread out around the country I was able to have the imprinted cards read 'Peace - from the Brocato and Morrison family of New Hampshire'.  The picture included my Dad, Mom, one Brother, two of my Sons, their combined (at that time) five children, Me and an enlarged picture on the wall of my son Daniel who now abides in heaven.  My Dad was seated under the picture of Daniel, my Dad passed away 4 1/2 months later.  It is a picture we all now have copies of and treasure.  I couldn't leave Daniel out so that is how I handled it.    ~Sally Brocato-Mom of  Daniel - forever 19

I was faced with whether to write my son Brett's name to cards or not also.  To not sign his name would mean we don't acknowledge he is with us but to  sign his name, well maybe some people would think I had finally gone off the  deep end. (I thought I had!) 

What I did was buy a heart shaped stamp and some red ink. Now whenever I send a card, a package or whatever, I always stamp it and in the center of the heart write Brett's name. 

I will never forget Brett and I want all to remember him also. Hope this helps somewhat.  ~Teri Stamos

How Many Stockings Do we Hang?

I began a tradition after that first dreadful Christmas blurr of hanging my daughter's stocking up along with the rest of the family. Then each year I do something special in her memory...  like take a name from an "Angel Tree" at the mall or where ever and buy a gift for a needy child in her memory.  I put the angel note in her stocking.  I make a donation to the Salvation Army to help feed the hungry and homeless at Christmas and I put their acknowledgement in her stocking.  Things like that.  As the years are passing, her stocking is filling up with good deeds done in her memory and things I know she would appreciate knowing were done in her name, my beloved  "Carissa".  It helps refocus the heartbreak of missing her into something positive and helpful.   The pain eases over the years but Christmas is always so hard to get through no matter what.

God comfort you all as you face another Christmas without your precious children.

Peace and Hugs,
Debby, mom to angel Carissa 10/19/94 - 10/20/95

The first Christmas after Dustin was gone, I couldn't bear the thought of just putting up two stockings instead of three, so three were hung, but instead of them being filled with presents, we wrote notes to Dustin telling him how much we loved and missed him, and Merry Christmas in Heaven.

In Memory of Dustin Hayes
December 7, 1978 - October 24, 1997

My Holidays

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year
Celebrate with joy and good cheer
But don't blame me if I can't comply
For if I did, it would all be a lie

Be glad that you're you and not me
because the holidays only bring pain you see
My thoughts are of a Christmas past
And only my heartache seems to last

My only son that I loved so dear
That grew into a man, That I saw so clear
Never did I think that he would leave me
especially with all the presents neatly under the tree

I miss his laughter, his giggle, his smiles
For one of those, I would walk a million miles
His presence was a wondrous thing
And his absence has brought this poisonous sting

My other kids just don't understand
why I can't seem to make a life plan
This, I won't get over and that won't change
I now know love on a different range

So go, be happy and shout with glee
But please don't look with disappointment at me
For my child is in Heaven and I miss him so
Just be on your merry way, but I can't go.

~by Judy Craig, West Memphis, AR
In Memory of her son Larry "Travis " Shaun Carter
10/27/72 - 12/24/98

"A Sign of Hope" 

Since the times, the butterfly has symbolized renewed life.  The caterpillar signifies life here on earth; the cocoon, death; and the butterfly, the emergence of the dead into a new, beautiful and freer existence.  Frequently, the butterfly is seen with the word "Nika," which means victory.  Elisabeth Kübler-Ross movingly tells of seeing butterflies drawn all over the walls of the children's dormitories in the World War II concentration camps.  Since Elisabeth believes in the innate intuitiveness of children, she concludes that these children knew their fate and were leaving us a message.  Many members of The Compassionate Friends embrace the butterfly as a symbol--a sign of hope to them that their children are living in another dimension with greater beauty and freedom-- a comforting thought to many. 


A Special Christmas Gift - A Memory Book

After hearing several surviving siblings discuss the idea in the TCF sibling group, I created a Memory Book for my parents for Christmas last year.   Of course I missed Christmas by a few months and gave it to them in early spring, but hey, they loved it anyway.  It was a big job, but it was very rewarding, and I'm glad I did it.  If you're interested, here's what it took to make it happen.

I made a list of friends and relatives who might want to say something about my brother, Chris, in writing for the Memory Book. I added a few of his co-workers and started tracking down addresses.  I sent them all a note explaining the concept and asking if they would be willing to help me put it together by donating a memory.  I asked them what they remembered about Chris, if they had any stories, photos, or even random observations that they could contribute, and I told them that it would help my family to know that we weren't the only people thinking of him. 

Most people were enthusiastic about it and said they would definitely send me something.  Some people didn't return my call.  And a few promised to deliver multiple times but didn't follow through.  It was a positive project, so I did not pester people about it.  I worked with what I got. Old friends called and said they struggled with their emotions and couldn't find the right words to say what they wanted to say. I assured them that anything would be great. 

When I received the poems, photos, and memories I put them in Pagemaker on the computer by scanning the photos and cutting and pasting the written memories.  You can also do this in Publisher in Microsoft Office 2000.  Make it look like a magazine or a brochure or whatever you have in mind. I used the color laser printer at work and paid them for each page.  I stuffed the pages in clear page-protectors and put the pages in a binder and sent each contributor a copy.  The total cost was around $60.  It took some time, but the articles touched my heart, and the photos made me remember things I had forgotten. My parents and I agreed that it confirmed our best feelings about Chris.  When other people consistently say what you've been thinking, you know that your memory is true. 

If you're up to the task I highly encourage it.
Scott Mastley , Atlanta TCF

Surviving A Sibling
by Scott Mastley, Atlanta TCF

My Brother’s death changed my life.  It presented my most difficult challenge. I had to learn to live without the one person I thought I could never live without.  I had to accept the reality of his death, absorb his absence, and search for smiles. I wanted to grieve fully, but I also wanted to celebrate life in tribute to the positive contributions that my brother, Chris, made to my life.  I wrote Surviving a Sibling for everyone who has experienced or knows someone who has experienced the death of a sibling.   It is not a psychologist’s description of the stages of grief.  It is a personal account of the struggles of surviving a sibling, and in it I answer many of the internal questions that bereaved siblings ask themselves.  How do I deal with people who pretend nothing happened?  How do I approach friends who are afraid to look me in the eye?  Am I going crazy?  Why was it he instead of me?  How will I survive the rest of my life without him?

Grief is often described as a life-long journey, and like other extended journeys, getting started is usually the hardest part.  Surviving a Sibling covers the first few years of my grief process, including counseling and discovering a sibling discussion group in The Compassionate Friends.  Real life examples are taken from the conversations I’ve had with other surviving siblings, from surveys given to bereaved parents and bereaved siblings, and from my personal experience. 

Through my experience siblings will learn that they can make it, that they do not have to give up on the rest of their lives.  They will also learn how to manage the daily struggles of grief.  Jim Dirr, a friend who has buried six siblings and two children, says “You can go around grief, over it or under it.  You can even choose to ignore it, but the only way to successfully survive it is to go straight through it.” 

Death is universal, and everyone is touched by loss at some point in his life.  My way of making a positive contribution to the world is writing this book for those who are bereaved, for those who work with and counsel the bereaved, and for those who know and love the bereaved, specifically surviving siblings.  Bereaved parents want to know that their remaining children will still live fulfilling lives, and since these younger people may be reluctant to share their thoughts with their parents, Surviving a Sibling traces the thought process of a grieving sibling for them. 

The book can also help friends by offering examples of what to say and what not to say, by describing the relentless power of grief, and by revealing the often unspoken expectations that we have on our friends. 

Over the years I have often heard bereaved parents and siblings express a need for such a book, and those with whom I have shared my manuscript have been deeply moved and have expressed their gratitude.  There is indeed a gap in grief literature, and Surviving a Sibling fills it, reaching into the homes and hearts of those who need it most. 

To order a copy of Surviving A Sibling visit Scott's web site:

Send $12.95 each plus $3.00 per book shipping to:
The Box Press, 
P.O. Box 1925, 
Suwanee, GA  30024-0975
*Make Checks payable to "The Box Press"

Memory Tree

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 Angel Tree

Last December I went into a store and saw beautiful chain angels to be placed on Christmas trees. I thought for a minute whether I should buy a few and put them on Michael's tree at the cemetery. Michael was five when he died from complications associated with open heart surgery in 1993. Unfortunately, I quickly realized that they would probably be stolen and decided against buying them. Later that same afternoon and while at my office, I looked out the window through the winter air and thought silently of our precious little boy and those china angels. I then began to write:

"As Christmas approaches, many of us forget that the true meaning of this holiday is to give. We know that Michael would have given his last toy to a child without one. In remembrance of our child: those of you who come to visit Michael may take an angel from his tree and hang it in your home to help keep Michael's spirit alive."

I left my office that evening and went immediately back to the store and bought every single china angel they had. Last year, we went through 200 angels. We could not keep them on the tree long enough. We received notes and gifts at the cemetery from strangers who said they could not take something without leaving something in return. And how special our child must have been. Even six months later a stranger approached me at the cemetery and asked if I would be putting the angels up again this year because every time she got to the tree, they were gone. 

The joy we received in giving the angels was insurmountable. We know there is a part of our son in so many homes and every time these people look at their angels, they will think of Michael. 

`by Lori and Mike Devanney
East Haddam, Connecticut

Dear Friends,

I will be thinking about you all over the Christmas holiday and hoping you can find peace and happy memories of you beloved children.  I promise you things do get better.  It is 9 years since we lost our beautiful daughter and although the pain is always near it becomes a little easier to bear and the happy memories are easier to call to mind.

Love to you all, 
Avril's mom from Liverpool, England.

What we want the Professionals To Know…….

During our last Compassionate Friends meeting we were talking about how to let other people - especially "helping" professionals know about what grief  and loss is really like.  We have often talked about ministers and in my case, I thought about other psychologists.  We also think alot about people in general, employers, family, etc. 

After this meeting, I began toying with the idea of how to let at least one group of professionals know about this and thought about writing an article.  Then came Sept. 11th and shortly after  that I felt "compelled" to do so.  The article has already been accepted for  publication in the magazine of the Georgia Association of School Psychologists and I have sent it along to some other organizations.  If you are able to use it in any way in Compassionate Friends, please feel free to do so. 


Lynda Boucugnani-Whitehead, Ph.D.
Jonesboro, GA TCF

This will not be the typical article you often see in a professional publication.  There will be no references to scholarly works, no discussion of what has been gleaned from years of research, no statistics, no methodology.  Rather, this will be a story from the heart, one that I hope may help psychologists first understand, and then do what they do best.  I had the inspiration to write this article just a week or so before the tragedy in New York.  In my frame of reference, following the horror at the World Trade Center and Pentagon and in Pennsylvania, perhaps this is divine inspiration – this is something I just have to do.

What is it like to live through such a profound grief, to have your whole life changed in an instant, to have much of your future taken away, and to find yourself in a world that you don’t recognize?  We have all had at least a taste of this, as Americans, our lives have been changed by these events.  There is a loss of a sense of security and for what we thought our future would be.  But what about those people who have sustained a more profound and excruciating loss – the loss of a loved one who was treasured and so much a part of the fabric of your very life.  What is it like to have that person taken away so abruptly, to one minute have that loved one beside you as a part of your dream, and the next to have that love ripped away from you?  What do psychologists and other helping professionals need to know in order to help those who have sustained such a loss?

This story is very personal for me and, therefore, somewhat difficult to tell.  As many of you know, my daughter, Maria-Victoria, was killed in an automobile accident just three blocks from my home as her brother was driving her home from school.  A speeding driver ran through a red light and smashed into their car killing Maria-Victoria instantly.  She was 13 years old.  It was a normal day, bright and sunshiny and my life was going along as normal.  My daughter was a beautiful, intelligent and accomplished person known for her extraordinary kindness and compassion for others.  She was innocence and pure love blossoming into a leader of others and she was building the confidence that could have taken her very, very far in this life.  In one second she was here, in one second she was not.  The fifth anniversary of her death was just 2 days after the New York tragedy. 

Within a few months of her passing, I joined a group called Compassionate Friends, which is a self-help group for parents who have lost children.  It was a very good move.  It is said that the most profound loss a person can have is the loss of a child – I can tell you that this is the truth.  However, for those who have not lost children, the most profound loss is the one they have experienced or are experiencing at the present time.  Those of us in this group frequently lament about how ill-equipped others who have not experienced such pain and grief are in dealing with it.  Ministers are often the focus of such discussions for example and we have often discussed how we can let others, especially professionals, know how it really is – what helps and sometimes, more importantly, what doesn’t help.  This is the purpose of this story – this Dialogue – to let my fellow psychologists know some things that in the future will help them be able to help.  It is based on my own personal experiences as well as the numerous Compassionate Friends who have come into my life.

You have all heard or read about the stages of grief.  The work that was done in this area by pioneers such as Elizabeth Kubler-Ross is very valuable in understanding the emotions of grief.  Some professionals may feel that they can help people with grief because they have studied these stages and know the sequence by heart.  Throw it all away.  People who have sustained profound loss do not want to hear about the stages of grief – it’s almost an insult.  They do want to know that what they are feeling is normal, that they are not “crazy”, that others have felt or done the same things.  There is no sequence of grief – it is a constant, evolving journey with many diversions into emotional peaks and valleys along the way.  It is a journey and it is never over. 

It is true that at the time of the event you are in a state of shock and numbness.  In my case after a telephone call, I made my way to the accident site.  It was eerily quiet with cars backed up in four different directions at the intersection, so that I had to drive on the wrong side of the road to get there.  When I got to the scene I was no longer within myself, I must have dissociated.  I felt like I was observing everything as if I was in a movie.  The people in all the cars were watching me.  I imagined they were saying “that’s the mother”.  I was aware that I was playing this “role”.  I imagine that many of the relatives looking for loved ones in New York must have felt this way too.  At the hospital I was placed in a special room – meant to be a comfort but cut off from others.  It did allow me to get out of the movie.  What helped?  Friends coming to be with me.  You need to hold and touch people – you need them to hold you and just “be there” for you.  What didn’t help?  Waiting 1 ½ hours to be told whether my children were alive or dead.  I already knew in my heart and soul that Maria-Victoria was gone from this life but to have a doctor finally come in and say in a cool and dispassionate manner that “your daughter is deceased” made me angry.  A simple “I’m so sorry”, a touch on the hand and some semblance of compassion would have endeared this doctor to me for life.  Why is that so hard to do?

We are blessed with this state of shock that comes almost immediately after suffering a traumatic loss.  It allows us to do the things we have to do.  For many of us this is very, very important.  I needed to make sure that Maria-Victoria had a wonderful, up-lifting funeral service that told the world about the wonderfulness of my little girl.  I needed to write an obituary that would touch the hearts of Atlanta.  I needed to comfort her teachers and students at her school, thereby comforting myself.  I needed to be there for the hundreds of people who came to show they cared.  Some people criticized the news coverage in New York of friends and relatives showing flyers of their missing loved ones saying it was exploitation. I spoke to them through my TV set saying – “you just don’t get it – they need to do this –they need to let others know about the one they love – they need to feel like they are doing something to take care of them.”

What helped me so much in the initial weeks after the accident were touches from the hearts of other people.  I savored all the cards, the incredible amount of food from individuals and whole schools, letters and phone calls from people I had never met who were touched by my daughter’s story and the physical presence of people I was close to.  Such heartfelt gestures give life when life has gone out of your existence.

There is a time when you have to go back to work and start to live this new life.  I was fortunate to have such a wonderful, supportive staff that literally carried me through that first year.  Others are not so fortunate.  Some have to go back to work just days after the funeral and are expected to perform as if nothing has happened.  When a traumatic loss has struck you, you are amazed and perhaps a little bit angry that the world has gone on.  You say to yourself,  “how can these normal things still go on – how can people laugh – don’t they know the world has ended?”  You think to yourself that you will never laugh again, that you will never feel joy again - it’s incomprehensible to think that you could. 

During that first year (time will vary among folks) you are literally “out of your mind”.  Believe it or not, there is actually a “physical pain”, usually in your heart and chest area and all over your body at times, experienced by many that is excruciating and you think will never go away.  Mine lasted about 2 months and then just floated away.  It was a relief to say goodbye to that constant companion.  You are “out of your mind” because you think about your loved one constantly – probably a million times a day it certainly seems.  That doesn’t leave much room for concentration and memory.  Those who have experienced such loss need to know that this is perfectly normal.  It is perfectly normal to put the iron in the refrigerator.  At work if you don’t have support, you will certainly not be able to function like you used to.  You may be able to do some things on “automatic pilot” but this is not the time to be making major decisions and you – and the business you work for – need to give you leeway for your memory lapses and perhaps loss of drive.  Every day is a struggle just to get up and live.  Every day you get up and live is an accomplishment.  So be supportive and tolerant – make it a point to know about these cognitive disturbances, help the person you are helping to understand them.  And – if you can – help their employers to know what to expect and how to give support.

There is no timetable for grief.  It is highly offensive to the grief-stricken to hear things like, “you need to move on”, or to receive messages that you are expected to be back to normal and “over it” in a certain time frame.  I once had a principal come up to me about three months after Maria-Victoria died and say, “well, have you gotten over the death of your lovely daughter?”  I swear this is true.  My response was, rather curtly, “ I will never get over it”.  This kind-hearted man had no clue about how much that remark hurt.  Let me tell you that you never get over it.  You are a changed, different person from the one you were before the death of your loved one.  We don’t want to get over it because that suggests that we can somehow let that love go. 

That brings me to the dreaded “C” word.  A word hated by the bereaved and one especially pertinent to those people who have loved ones missing in New York.  The dreaded C word “closure”.  I hate that word.  I am offended by that word.  Most of the bereaved I know hate it too. There is no such thing as closure – you never get over it and quit expecting us to do it.  People need to learn to say something else to describe people who need to have something happen before they can continue with their personal grief.  Something like “relief from uncertainty” is more like it.

There is usually a lot of support and attention paid to the bereaved at the time of the loss and for a short time afterward.  But after a while that support fades and contacts drop off.  Many, if not all, of my Compassionate Friends report that this is a time when you know who your real friends are.  Sometimes people don’t know what to say and so avoid you.  Especially in cases where children have died, people avoid you because they think it might be “contagious”.  If this most horrendous of nightmares happens to you, it could happen to me.  I don’t want to think about that so I’ll stay away from you.  You may be shaking your head in disbelief, but it is true.  Many find that family members are the least helpful.  They do not want to bring it up because they think it will cause pain to you – but especially to them. 

If you remember one thing from this story, remember what is in this paragraph.  The most precious words a person who has lost a loved one can hear are their loved one’s name.  Say it over and over again.  It will not bring pain – it has great potential to bring joy and to heal.  MARIA-VICTORIA, MARIA-VICTORIA – hearing her name always lightens my heart.  In the beginning, people need to tell their story – over and over again.  Your job is to listen, to give a hug or show that you feel for them.  It was important for those missing loved ones in New York or for those who knew their loved one had died, to “tell their story”.  This is a part of the grief process, and a way to validate the strength of their continuing love for their loved one.  It is a way to honor them and, most importantly, to assure that they will not be forgotten.  That is the greatest fear of those of us who have lost our children (and probably for other bereaved persons as well). We do not want our loved ones to be forgotten.  You are doing the bereaved a wonderful favor when you bring up their loved one’s name and when you reminisce about something that they did or something special about them.  It is a very, very special gift and so easy to give.

There can come a time when the bereaved person starts to refrain from bringing up their loved one’s name or talking about them because they are afraid of making the other person uncomfortable.  A lot of people don’t know what to say and so they say nothing.  You quickly learn who you can trust and who you can’t to spill your heart to.  People are afraid that what they might say will sound awkward or mistakenly think it will bring pain.  This then can be misinterpreted by the bereaved person as a sign that you don’t care.  Never say “I know just how you feel” because you don’t – you have no idea.  Never say, “ I don’t know how you do it – if it was me I’d just die”.  My goodness, that implies that I must not have loved my child enough because I didn’t die.  What helps?  A hug and saying “I think about you often” -  Just a heartfelt hug -  “I was thinking about Maria-Victoria today” - “I know this is a hard time for you” - “ I am so sorry”.

I went to see a therapist for about a year after Maria-Victoria died.  What I liked about her the most was that she told me at the beginning that she knew very little about dealing with grief but felt that she was going to learn a lot by our time together.  She did learn a lot and I got a chance to tell my story, to process how my life had changed and to run through ideas about how to redefine my life and redefine my relationship with my daughter.  In essence, in the long term that is what we, as psychologists, need to do to help others.  When you have experienced a traumatic loss you have to make a choice.  You choose whether to retreat from life, to give up on life and what you held dear, or to grow from this horrendous experience.  Making this choice is not easy, but it is a choice.  You also have to redefine your relationship with your loved one.  You may not have a physical relationship anymore but you can choose to always have a strong and loving relationship.  My feeling of connectedness with my daughter is very, very strong.  She is very much a part of my life and will always be.  I have redefined my relationship with her and do the things I want and need to do to keep our love and connection alive.

As you go on this grief journey, you do whatever feels right to do.  There are no rules.  In the beginning I would go to the cemetery and lay on a blanket and stroke the grass over her grave as if it was her hair.  Imagine the sight of that to one that does not know.  I still, after five years, have not washed the clothes from her clothes hamper (I probably never will).  Before I moved, I would go into her bedroom at night, smell her sheets or sleep in her bed.  I talk to her aloud every day.   These are all perfectly normal things to do.  As a psychologist, it is important to validate to the bereaved person that anything they want to do that brings them comfort is okay.  We all have different ways of grieving and we all need to respect these different ways. 

I am a very different person from the one I was before my daughter died.  I think I’m a better person (a lot of my friends think so too).  What often comes out of tragedy is growth, often spiritual.  I and everyone I know in Compassionate Friends no longer have any fear of death.  Death is the door to where my daughter is.  When fear is gone (the worst that could happen, has already happened), it is a very freeing experience.  You are less afraid of change, you are less tolerant of arrogant, insensitive people or of doing things that don’t have meaning for you anymore and you put your energy toward the things that are truly meaningful in this world.  That doesn’t mean you don’t go through periods of sadness and despair and have to pull yourself up time and again – of course you do -.  You are not necessarily suffering from depression, but profound sadness and there is a difference.  When you are depressed you don’t want to do anything and you don’t grow.  When you are experiencing profound sadness, you still want to grow, to do things that will make a difference; you often feel compelled to do so.

As psychologists, and as friends or colleagues of those who have experienced a traumatic loss, we can help by supporting them on their own personal journeys, not by telling them where and when to go, but by being a friendly landmark along the way.  We help by realizing there is no destination, not even an itinerary.  At five years after my daughter’s death, I probably think about my daughter about 500 times a day, rather than a  million.  Some would call that progress.  I call it evolution.

A few days ago after putting 5 heart balloons and flowers on my daughter’s grave, I found a card and letter put there by one of her friends.  What a gift to me and my daughter.  I close this story with her words so that we can all remember what really matters.

I thought I saw you dancing
but it was only the leaves in the wind
I thought I heard you laughing
but it was only the waves of the sea
I thought I felt you touch me
but it was only a moonlit dream…
but I know I felt you in my heart
because I miss you very much.

I love you

I met a girl about a year ago who when I first saw her I thought it was you.  I had to take a double glance and everytime since then, when I see her from a distance or run into her I always think I see you!  She favors you so much in appearance but I’m sure she could never be as loving, good-hearted and caring as you were.  The angel ornament reminds me of you, always caring and watching out for others!  Miss you more and more each day! 

Friends Forever.
Love Always,


To All Parents 

"I'll lend you for a little time a child of Mine," He said. 
"For you to love him while he lives, 
and mourn for when I come to claim him. 
It may be six or eight years or twenty-two or three. 
But will you, till I call him back, take care of him for me? 
He'll bring his charms to gladden you, 
and should his stay be brief, 
You'll have his lovely memories as solace for your grief. 
I cannot promise he will stay, since all from Earth return, 
But there are lessons taught down there 
I want this child to learn. 
I've looked this wide world over 
in my search for teachers true, 
And from the throngs that crowd life's lanes, 
I have selected you. 
Now will you give him all your love, 
nor think the labor vain, 
Nor hate Me, when I come to call to take him back again?" 
I fancied that I heard them say, "Dear Lord, 
Thy will be done. 
For all the joy Thy child shall bring, 
the risk of grief we'll run. 
We'll shelter him with tenderness,
 we'll love him while we may, 
And for the happiness we've known, forever grateful stay.
But should the angels call for him, 
sooner than we've planned, 
We'll brave the bitter grief that comes and try to understand."
by Edgar Guest 
To God's Chosen Parents of Trey Jones
Submitted by friends, Don and Eileen
In Memory of Trey Jones
10/1/86 - 11/17/99

TCF Atlanta Online Sharing

Anticipation And  All Those “Days”
Barbara Parsons, Lawrenceville TCF
Mom to Robert Parsons (11/07/76-11/24/91) and Kevin

There have been several lately sharing  their feelings of fall/autumn.    Wow, there was a time that I, too, dreaded fall.   Spring and fall are the most dramatic of the seasons and fall always represented to me as much beauty as spring.  The changing colors, the flower bulbs maturing under the soil preparing for their entry into spring,  and the anticipation of holidays were a delight.  My birthday (11/03) and Robert’s birthday (11/07/76) were also another highlight to fall.   Birthdays were (and still are) always so special for our family. 

After Robert’s death on 11/24/91, I learned what the word “anticipation” meant, not as Webster states “pleasurable expectation”, but the anticipation of a bereaved parent.  There is little pleasure in anticipating their birthday, their death date anniversary, Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, holidays, etc.  Planning for these days early on in our grief is like an albatross, we want to do something special for our child/sibling, but the grief is so heavy on our hearts, that we can barely think, much less make it a “memorable” occasion.  Another Webster definition of anticipation “ visualization of a future event or state”  which in some ways is a more accurate way for us to understand the anticipation we feel.   We spend a lot of time and energy trying to visualize those upcoming events and special days without our child/sibling that sometimes the reality of who and what they still are to us gets lost in  the  pain. 

Many have talked about having so many holidays, anniversaries, etc. so close together time wise.  This is true in my case also.  My birthday, 11/03, Robert’s birthday, 11/07, his heaven date, 11/24, Thanksgiving, and 2 other very close relatives have November birthdays.  I have struggled with “November” for almost 10 years now.  After Robert’s death, celebrating my birthday has been pretty much non-existent.  Thanks to my loving family, I was given a “new” birthday 2 years ago.   I was given a rebirth of June 3 (any year, any age I want to be).  We celebrate my birthday in June now which helps a lot and takes some of the pressure and anticipation off when November rolls around.    I can also now celebrate Robert’s birthday, a special meal out with his brother, Kevin, and a balloon lift-off just to let him know how much he is loved and missed. 

Well fall is here again and November is fast approaching.  There was a time when I yearned to be a bear so I could hibernate from mid-October (when the anticipation begins) until the first of the year.  That would get me thru all “those” days of November and the holidays.   Now, even tho I still feel the anticipation days, I look at them thru different eyes, thru the eyes of  “mature” grief, seasoned by many autumns that have passed since Robert’s death. 

A Compassionate Friend

Dear Melanie's mom,

You've been much on my mind since your letter earlier this week. If we knew each other, I'd come sit with you and listen (I'm as silent in person as I am verbal on paper). While we share in common the loss of a precious child, our situations are quite different. Troy lived for almost forty years; in addition, we knew from the git go that, barring a miracle (which, by the way, we did pray hard for) he wouldn't be with us for much more than a year, if that. Finally, family and friends were and are faithful and loving, including those who fall in the "get over it" camp. All this is to say that as monumentally painful as Troy's death has been--and is--I think that walking in your shoes would be all but impossible. It might be worthwhile to get your family and friends to a TCF meeting; once they hear the stories of others, stories that mirror each one in conclusion, differing only in detail, they might just do a complete about face or at least be given cause for further thought. 

Today's offering from HEALING AFTER LOSS concludes with this: "As often as I need to, I will tell my story." Remember that and take heart. 

~Pam Troy, Troy Haney's (1960-2000) mom

Warm and Caring Prayers to all of you at TCF - You have helped me over some Decembers with being some of my Roses.  Today, I was with two other mothers who lost their sons last year.  One in April, One in July and mine in October.  It was our first time being with each other.  For me it was a very warm time.  The Home where we gathered was all bright and cheery.  On her tree was ornaments from over the years.  But what caught my eye was the ornaments of her beloved son Jimmy.  It made me feel like I too can put up a tree this year and go through the ornaments.  Ellen thank you for giving me the courage to put my ornaments from over the years on my tree.  I am also hanging up Brian's Stocking.  I just might want to write him a note and put it in the stocking. 

Again I wish each of you a Holiday with Memories and Comfort.   ~Gale - Brian's mom

Getting Back to Normal?
Shared by Meg Avery, Lawrenceville 
James' mom (7/15/83 ~ 9/22/97)

A few weeks ago an editorial by Leonard Pitts was printed on the sharing line.  It was a great article about the Sept. 11th tragedy.   Yesterday he had this article in the newspaper and I really thought it was worth sharing.   He talks about "getting back to normal" and we as bereaved parents, know that for us there is no getting back to normal, no going back to the way life was when our child was alive.  It's our new normal to do things in memory of our child, to talk about our child and keep their memory alive.  This is our "normal" (like the women Pitts mentions in the article talking about the blonde) and it's part of our normal world to do a memorial balloon release, have a lunch based on what our child would have loved to eat on his/her birthday, place a special ornament on the tree for him/her. 

Now maybe people have an ounce of understanding that we cannot go back in time to those days, the tragedy of 9/11 may have opened a few eyes to the fact that when life is turned upside down & inside out, there's no getting back to the way life used to be.  In spite of the fact that people tell us we should get over it, we should move on, we should return to the land of the living, we know that is not reality and a tragedy of the 9/11 magnitude that has affected so many will maybe give our families a small clue of the way we have to live, of the new roles and lifestyles we have to adopt because of what has happened to us, because of the tragedy in our lives.   People want life to go back to normal, back to the way it was before 9/11 but it won't happen.   People want us to go back to the way it was when our child died, but it won't happen. 

By Leonard Pitts

How are you doing with all this?  Are you all right?  If the answer is no, join the crowd.  Medical experts are reporting terrorism-related increases in high blood pressure, heart ailments, chronic pain.  We've become an anxious nation.  People aren't flying.  People aren't shopping. People aren't sleeping.  People are buying gas masks. And through it all, our leaders - and our hearts - plead for us to just get back to normal.  As if normal were a safe spot on the map, a fixed and physical place from which we were snatched, but, with sufficient determination, can return to again. I used to think that way. Yet as the days pile into weeks, I find myself convinced that there's something futile in that idea.  As the TV news anchors began saying on Sept. 11, everything has changed.  The world is different now.

To wander through America of the 1990's, to survey a nation where crime was down and the Internet making millionaires out of 17-year-olds, was to be seized - if you were historical-ly literate - with an uncomfortable sense of parallel.  A sense that you were living in days of prologue. Prologue to what, you couldn't say.   Still, hadn't we seen this movie already? We had.  Saw it twice in the last century.  It's not that the gin-soaked 20's or the picket-fence 50's were ever as sweet and uncomplicated as memory makes them out to be.  The one decade was filled with political corruption and gang warfare, the other with blacklists and Cold War paranoia.  The point is that each era was followed by another that taught us by comparison what trouble really was - turbulent years that brought global depression, genocide, war, assassination, social upheaval and the specter of revolution.

Now it has happened again.  The 90's - the prologue - came to an end on Sept. 11.  Once again, we wake up in a disorienting new era. And I wouldn't be surprised to learn that our response echoes that of our forebears when the same thing happened to them:  A crying need to get back to normal. Meaning, back to where we were before. But Fleetwood Mac had it right.  Yesterday's gone. We will never again be without Sept. 11.  The only thing we can do now is learn to be with it.  Thankfully, human beings are gifted with an extraordinary capacity for that.  Somehow, we always adapt, always find a way to flourish in whatever wedge of space is left by circumstance.

Consider London during the Blitz.  Night after night, wave after wave of German planes dropping bomb after bomb on civilian targets.  You left for work in the morning not knowing if the office had survived the night.  You slept in underground subway stations, bedding down on the tracks. Your lived in fear, but you lived. In Peter Jennings and Todd Brewster's book, "The Century" a woman named Sheila Black tells a story from that time.  She once came across two women gazing at a bombing victim whose mutilated corpse was in a tree.  The dead woman was a bottle blond, prompting one of the observers to turn to the other and say "My goodness, her roots needed doing, didn't they?" Here and now, it sounds callous.  There and then, it was what passed for normal.  The lesson, then, is that normal is not a fixed position in a world of peace.  Rather, it is weeping, courage, fear, sex, love, laughter - life - going stubbornly on in a world of whatever.

When Will Our Clock Tick Again?

Good morning TCF'ers,….It's 9:00 a.m. and I'm sitting here unshowered, still in my nightshirt. Time was when I'd have had hours of doing, doing, doing behind me by now. But that was then--and this is now. Now time seems to move not. Time stopped, in my world anyway, the afternoon of October 2, 2000. Anyone reading this has lived or is living in a time-stopped world; moreover, I'd wager you could pinpoint the date and hour (and, for that matter, minute) when time as you knew it stopped. Long ago I knew Lillian, a woman who kept time by months/weeks/ days before or after the anniversary of her husband's death. She'd say, "Well, in three weeks Ralph will have been gone a year" or "You know next month it'll be ten years I've been without Ralph." Insensitive because of our inexperience, those of us around her would roll our eyes. And I? I vowed to never be like her. Rule here? Never say never. Sometimes I seem to have become her; at the least I've assumed her method of keeping time. Have you? It seems to me that the death of our children is our Pearl Harbor, our Kennedy Assassination, yes, even our Attack on America. Some, likely even most, would say the comparison is blasphemy, yet I doubt you do.

Pretty bleak this picture. So when I tell you I'm not without hope--that which Emily Dickinson defined as "a thing with feathers"--would you think me kidding? I'm not. At this point I could point to my faith in God, in the living Christ as that which keeps me keeping on, even, yes, when I'm pretty much marching in place. And all of that would be true. But. . .I'd like right now to point to the work of living saints--that would be all of you on this TCF Sharing Line. Your succor and wisdom dispensed always with unconditional love keeps us putting one foot in front of another and sparks hope that one day we may even dance! Indeed, it was the energy and the love in today's postings that pulled me out of the muck, making it not an option that I only read. Peggy Hartzell's directive to, in spite of your grief, get out there and enjoy autumn; Cathy Seehuetter's and Jayne Newton's conversation about what we do with those precious tangibles left behind by our children; the Bryl's letting us know that Monday some sort of justice will be served (which I pray will give them some sort of closure and more than a scrap of peace); Debbie Wiley's showing us that she does endure; Sharon Bryant's message about remembrance and sorrow and national pride--all are illustrations of what's spoken of above.

With hope that the clock will soon begin ticking again,
Pam Troy, Mom to Troy Haney (Oct. 5, 60--Oct. 2, 00)

Memories of September 11, 2001


I am writing because I need a place to pour out some thoughts that are whirling about in my head these days.  Last week when the tragedies occurred here in the US my heart grieved so.  I found it interesting that this time when I saw a tragedy my thoughts were for people and families, one on one -- not for a situation as I had grieved situations in the past.  The loss of Heather has changed me very much. 

A day or so after the collapsing of the WTC towers, I learned that my cousin's son, a firefighter, had been killed while rescuing there.  The grief that felt so bad already became very personal.  I traveled to NYC to be with my cousin in that time.  God was gracious in allowing us time to connect as it had been years since we had seen one another.  I didn't even know her son -- but I knew her and my heart was breaking. 

Traveling into the city I could not help but be overwhelmed by the sights of the city.  The looming smoke and lights dwarf the Empire State Building which I had seen and been to many times as a child.  Getting that perspective also changed somehow my understanding of the impact of grief on so many.

Of course there was all the respect, and honor given to Michael by the city at his funeral.  There I saw the faces of man upon man who had been in the midst of this carnage.  While some are physically broken, what impacted me more was the shock and disbelief in their faces.   They have seen so much and been through so much.  I am a very sensitive person but was in no way comprehending how far this grief and shock had penetrated these men and women who serve the city.  To the ones who came to give me condolences, I found myself locking with their eyes in the depth of their grief and telling them how sorry I was for their loss, and that I would pray for their safety and healing in these days and months to come. 

I traveled home and went straight to bed.  Still in my dress and shoes I lay down on my bed and wept and wept.  My own pain mixing and mingling with all I had seen, smelled and felt from the day.  Having some days go by now, my thoughts and pain are slowly becoming untangled from what is current.  It all sure makes me realize that while I am changed and I believe stronger, there is somehow this piece of me that feels very fragile.  I counsel women all the time who have lost children, but dealing with my cousin and the far reaching effects of this tragedy blew me away.  For a short while I feared that the grief that had come would consume me again because it was so deep. 

God in His mercy helps me to sort it all out and to stand again.  He has also reminded me that when times are taxing on us, we need to pull back from some things and wait until we settle back down.  Sort of the way a wind chime gets rocked out of balance when a piece is ripped off.  In the beginning it rocks furiously trying to right itself, but eventually it's movements become slower and gentler and more stable.  Sounds a bit like all of us I think. 

Thank you for allowing me to just work through some thoughts with those who are more likely to understand me. 

Shalom, Laura

Memories are all we have; they continue to sustain us, while we work towards adjustment of losing our children. So many use the word recovery, or time heals, and in the death of a child, neither of these things occurs. Recovery would mean for us to be able to get back what we have lost, or, to be able to return to our former state prior to our loss, and neither of these things happens for a bereaved parent. Time does not heal, but time does allow for us to be able to learn adjusting to life without our children in it. We adjust to that empty seat at our holiday table; we adjust to singing happy birthday to a picture. We adjust and learn to live with a hole in our hearts.

As we grieve and mourn their physical existence, the memories of our love for that child grow deeper and deeper with time, and it is their memory that gives us the strength to carry on. Their lives held meaning, they were treasures on earth, and the world we live in is a better place thanks to their lives and the lives that they touched while here with us. As long as we keep their memories alive, they continue to live also, not only in our hearts but also in hearts of all that were privileged to know them.

So when the days get to hard to bear, take a few minutes and reflect upon the love that they brought not only into our lives but the lives of others, and take peace in that memory. God Bless each and every parent that has a child in Heaven, for to be able to survive and still carry on after such a devastating loss, you are not only a survivor, you are a role model of courage, strength, and perseverance. May your child’s memory live on everyday of your lives, in everything you do.  ~written by Jody Seilheimer


When life is overwhelming, my blessings hard to see,
I blow the dust from my treasure box, and open carefully.
For held inside this special box, are gems beyond compare,
Things I have treasured, stored away with loving care.

Photos of my angel, a lock of baby hair,
His first pair of shoes, and baptismal wear.
Favorite blanket as a child, books read and worn,
Notes of well wishes for the day he was born.

Toys and stuffed animals, cars of every kind,
Some well worn from the hands of time
All are now priceless, treasures of my heart,
Never with any could I ever part.

Scrapbooks filled with Mother’s Day cards,
All of them he made, he worked so hard.
Stories he had written, medals that he won,
I hold his whole life story, the story of my son.

My hand reaches for the letters, written when confused,
Life as a teen-ager, which life path should he choose?
Mom I’ve met a girl, as pretty as can be,
Think I’m going to ask her, if she will marry me.

Gazing through the album, his wedding filled with joy,
Then two years later, expecting a baby boy.
His dreams were my dreams; I still miss him so,
It’s been two long years now that we had to let him go.

The memories in my treasure box leave me with no doubt,
I was very blessed for a time, in what love is all about.
When life is overwhelming, my blessings hard to see,I lift the lid to my treasure box; he’s waiting there for me.

~written by Jody Seilheimer, Illinois
In Memory of her son Cory Michael Griffin
1/4/72 - 8/30/99

Let Their Light Shine
Susan Larson, Gwinnett Daily Post, December 6, 2000
~reprinted with permission to TCF Atlanta

Matt Abad. Amanda Samford. Michelle Raettig. Gavin Smith. They are among the ninety-eight young Gwinnettians, all under age twenty-five, whose parents and loved ones will be celebrating their first Christmas without them. But then, that all depends on how you look at it. St. John Chrysostom wrote: "They whom we love and lose are no longer where they were before. They are now wherever we are."

Though these young people may no longer live in our homes, they will always live in our hearts. And thousands of Gwinnett families who have been living and loving in this way can attest to that. 

After Zach Jones died in a car accident at age 16 in 1993, his parents Tom and Kathy and brother, Aaron were given a booklet "Holiday Help: A Guide for Hope and Healing" which Kathy highly recommends. "On Christmas Eve we write messages to Zach on a special card and put it in his stocking. We light a candle on Christmas morning and each of us says a little something. We try to think positively about what the celebration is like in heaven and hope that Zach is in someway called upon to help make someone else's Christmas wonderful." Kathy said.

Jim and Meg Avery, parents of James who died in 1997 at age 14, celebrate his life when they light their Advent candles. "We light the candles to acknowledge his presence in Heaven," said Meg. "Then for Christmas day we light all the candles and I read the poem "In the Light." It has five stanzas, each one ending 'I am in the Light.' It is really beautiful."

Some organizations conduct candlelight vigils so friends and families can join together with the departed "wherever they are." But the biggest event for remembering children who are "no longer where they were before" will be on National Children's Memorial Day December 11 in Centennial Park. This worldwide ceremony begins at 7:00 PM in New Zealand where candles are lit so these children's light may always shine. Then candles are lit in each time zone at 7:00 PM creating a wave of light around the world. Friends and loved ones are invited to light a candle wherever they are.

Whether they're lit publicly or privately, the light still shines and the love still glows. Kim Keller, mother of Evan Lowery, said of the 1999 ceremony, "It was a wonderful time when we could all acknowledge the love and presence of our children's spirits that will always be with us."

As for our family, this is the third Christmas we'll be celebrating with Loren "wherever we are." We'll do something "fishy" to shine light on his passion for the sport and his confirmation verse which is engraved on his headstone: Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew 4:19. And we'll light a candle for him.

~article written by Susan Larson
Gwinnett Daily Post, Dec 6, 2000

I really have loved reading about everyone's children and their special Christmas memories. My Nina loved Christmas. From the time she was little she always took whatever little money she had saved up and bought well-thought out gifts for her family and friends. She enjoyed giving gifts to loved ones no matter how inexpensive, making Christmas cookies, decorating the tree, being with family. I think it interesting that the last Christmas that she was with us she bought me a ceramic angel. I hadn't even started my angel collection until after she had died and sometimes I wonder about that gift and why she bought that for me that particular Christmas. Was she sending me a message subconsciously that said "Next year I won't be here in the physical sense at Christmastime, but I will be here with you in spirit." How does that saying go...something like "The presence of her absence is everywhere."  Six Christmases later and I miss her so much. 

Cathy, Nina's mom, St. Paul, MN TCF

A Tradition of Lighting Candles

As we light these four candles in honor of you, we light one for our GRIEF, one for our COURAGE, one for our MEMORIES and one for our LOVE.

This candle represents our GRIEF. The pain of losing you is intense. It reminds us of the depth of our love for you.

This candle represents our COURAGE – to confront our sorrow. to comfort each other, to change our lives.

This light is in your MEMORY – the times we laughed, the times we cried, the times we were angry with each other, the silly things you did, the caring and joy you gave us.

This light is for the light of LOVE. 

As we enter this holiday season, day by day we cherish the special place in our hearts that will always be reserved for you. We thank you for the gift your living brought to each of us. We love you.

~From Holiday Help: Coping for the Bereaved, 

by Sherry Gibson, B.S., R.N. and Sandra Graves, Ph.D.

Special Ornaments

From the time that Melanie and her sisters were very young I have given them each a special ornament which they would open before Christmas and hang on the tree. I started the tradition to quiet the cries of "anticipation" before Christmas and to give them a pre-Christmas gift. They loved and looked forward to the tradition each year. So I would shop and find each girl just the "right ornament." Special for them. 

I intend on keeping up that tradition this year and will find Melanie her special ornament too. But this year I intend on adding a new ornament. A special ornament for Melanie. An Angel ornament with Melanie's name and the year. I have already found the one for this year. It is a lacy, cross stitched, angel that I will make and add Melanie's name and the year 1999. Here after I will look for that special angel ornament to add for each year without Melanie.

Kathy Thompson 
(In Loving Memory of my daughter Melanie Brooke Thompson 5/11/79 - 2/15/99)

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

The Eagle and The Storm

An eagle can sense that a storm is approaching long before it breaks. The eagle will fly to some high spot and wait for the winds to come. When the storm hits, it sets its wings so that the wind will pick it up and lift it above the storm. 

While the storm rages below, the eagle is soaring above it. The eagle does not escape the storm. It simply uses the storm to lift it higher. It rises on the winds that bring the storm. 

When the storms of life come upon us, we can rise above them by setting our minds to our goal and dedicating ourselves to our strength and faith in what we believe in. The storms do not have to overcome us. We can use our own wisdom and strength to rise above them. 

Our dedication to what we believe in enables us to ride the winds of the storm that bring sickness, tragedy, failure and disappointment into our lives. We can soar above the storm. Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down, it is how we handle them. 
We can soar on our wings like eagles, to freedom, on the winds of the storm.

In Memory of All The Families Who Lost Loved Ones 

on September 11, 2001 and the days following…..


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