Newsletter of The Compassionate Friends

Atlanta Area Chapters

Spring 2004

"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 

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Educating Merna
By Alice Wisler

A few excruciating days after my four-year-old son Daniel died, I got a phone call from Merna, an elderly woman in our church. “Just think,” she said, “God needed another flower in his garden and he chose Daniel.”

I felt something sour in the pit of my stomach and my swollen eyes widened in disbelief. Too numb to say a word, I let her continue, telling me I’d be fine and to carry on with my life and family.

By the time I got off the phone, anger had risen within me.

“God needed another flower!” a fellow-bereaved mother spat out when I conveyed my conversation with Merna. “Did you let this woman know how blasphemous that sounds? As though God is greedy and takes. That is not the nature of God.”

Little did I realize at that critical time during the early months of my bereavement journey that part of being bereaved is having to deal with those who want to console but are basically clueless. I’ve had to learn that I need to guide them in knowing what is appropriate and what is not. I’ve had to help those who want to comfort me understand just how to go about doing it. It’s like having a broken leg and being called in to teach the doctor how to fix it. Isn’t he supposed to know what to do? Likewise, aren’t others supposed to know how to soothe the bereaved person’s wounds and what to say and what not to say? 

Occasionally a newly-bereaved parent, spouse or sibling may encounter a person who knows that saying, “I’m so sorry” is really about all that can be said. There is no magic formula of words that make the pain of grief go away.

But people still try. It seems that everyone has an answer to our pain. “Don’t dwell on the death. Don’t think about it,” many will say. However when they are faced with the agony of loss, suddenly their advice does not work, not even for them. I’ve even heard psychologists and grief counselors say that the advice they’d once given was immensely lacking and did not work when they suffered their own loss.

My friend Jan’s father died a few months ago. She has already planned not to attend church this Father’s Day, her first one without her dad. I tell her this is understandable. Her mother and siblings don’t agree with me. “Daddy would want you to go to church on Father’s Day,” they insist. Jan feels it will be too painful to go to church on this day without him. Finally she tells her family, “I’ll decide what to do when I wake up that morning.” 

Grief is unique, as unique as the relationship we held with the loved one who has died. My middle-aged friend, Kathi, says people look at her funny when she breaks down in tears over the death of her aunt. “She was more than an aunt,” explains Kathi. “She was a mother to me.”

Many tell us that time heals our wounds. But then I turn to the words of fellow-bereaved parent, Henry Nouwen, and wonder if this is only another myth we’ve created. Nouwen writes: "Real grief is not healed by time... If time does anything, it deepens our grief. The longer we live, the more fully we become aware of who he/she was for us, and the more intimately we experience what their love meant to us. Real, deep love is, as you know, very unobtrusive, seemingly easy and obvious, and so present that we take it for granted. Therefore, it is often only in retrospect – or better, in memory – that we can fully realize its power and depth. Yes, indeed, love often makes itself visible in pain." 

I’ve lost contact with Merna over these five years. But since then I have had plenty of her types enter my life. One changed the subject when I told her about losing Daniel. Being the stubborn person I am, I gently brought the conversation back to him. I liked this woman, a co-worker of my husband’s, and was certain she could do better about handling my grief than changing the topic to her pet dog. I continued to talk about Daniel and how it is without him. She was touched by the things I do in his memory. By the end of our talk, she was asking questions about what he had been like. There were tears in her eyes. I felt I had given her permission to show her empathetic side.

Yes, I’m all for educating the Mernas of our society. I even hope that someone, somewhere has been educating her. Perhaps she’ll call one day and ask how I am. And when the topic comes to Daniel, maybe she will let me talk about how much I miss living without my blond-haired, blue-eyed son. I can always hope.

We're Only Human
by Cathy Seehuetter, ST. Paul, MN TCF

'Guilt Days': There is neither rhyme nor reason to when they will occur, even eight and a half years after my daughter Nina's death. I had one just the other day. I suppose it didn't help that it was a dreary stereotypical Minnesota day in February with depressingly gray skies and temperatures outside registering teeth-chattering, sub-zero cold with just enough snow fall to make venturing out problematic. These surroundings made it quite easy, even without any apparent good reason, to plummet into a "blue funk". My state of mind then heads in a negative direction ultimately sliding into a bottomless pit of senseless guilt.

In my experience with my friends who are bereaved parents, most admit that they experience this same phenomenon. I don't think there is anyone among us who can say after the death of their child that they don't regret something that they did or didn't do, said or didn't say to that child while they were living. It doesn't matter that the reasons for our feelings of guilt may be unfounded or even seem foolish, the fact remains that we have them.

For example, on birthdays or holidays where I would customarily give a gift, if inexplicably I recall the "toy cash register incident,' I am guaranteed an instant "guilt day". In explanation, year after year Nina requested a toy cash register for a present; even to an age that I thought was unreasonable to want such a thing. For some reason, unbeknownst to even me, in my eyes it was a silly gift; something that she couldn't possibly really want or even use once she got it. Needless to say, I never bought it for her. I can tell you, though, that even to this day when I walk through the toy department and I see a toy cash register I feel a deep sadness and tears come to my eyes because I didn't buy her the so-called "silly" present that she obviously really wanted.

Just innocently strolling through a toy department and seeing a toy cash register can begin a domino effect of guilt feelings, a chain reaction of remembering even the tiniest self-perceived slight or any incident that I wish I could take back where Nina is concerned. Such as the time she wanted me to give her a ride to Girl Scouts, which was only four blocks away from our house. I had a migraine headache and could barely lift my head off the pillow and therefore couldn't give her one. So she hopped on her bike and about a block from our house hit a bump in the road and was thrown over the handlebars breaking her collarbone! Even though I know realistically that I couldn't have done anything different considering the circumstances, when I am in the throes of a 'guilt day", the thought of that particular occurrence can send me in a downward spiral of culpability. 

In actuality, chances are pretty good that if my daughter were alive today and I brought up these two happenings from the past she would probably tell me that I was correct in thinking she would have tired quickly of the toy cash register, and that she knows I couldn't physically have driven her to Girl Scouts with a migraine; that she never blamed me for the collarbone fracture in the first place. But because our child who died cannot give us confirmation that they understood our reasoning and that our actions were 'okay' with them, we are left to wonder what they were thinking and feeling regarding the particular situation that makes us feel guilty. Therefore, when we are having a 'guilt day" our tendency is to blow it out of proportion and thereby imagine the worst.

Expressing those feelings of guilt to a trusted friend or family member can be helpful. Talking about your feelings may also help you to let some of it go. That person may even remind you of something you had forgotten about on those days when you are sucked into a vortex of guilt and rendered incapable of remembering any of the positives. For example, a dear friend reminded me--one time when I was bushwhacked by a "guilt day"- -of something she thought was extra special I had done for my daughter; something that she thought went above and beyond the call of duty as a mother. Nina had called me from school to sweetly beg me to pick up a Valentine's gift for her boyfriend. One of the gifts was glow-in-the-dark stars like she had on her bedroom ceiling. She told me where to get them (a specialty store at a mall about 30 minutes away). I could tell by her voice how important it was to her, so I dropped everything and off I went to the mall. Little did I know that it would take three trips to three separate malls in different parts of town before I found a store that had any left in stock! Luckily, I made it home just minutes before she and her boyfriend arrived. I recall her exquisite smile and hugs of genuine thanks for my efforts. I remembered how gloriously radiant and pleased she looked when she came upstairs to show me the red shirt with the Tweety-Bird (her favorite) insignia on the turtleneck collar that her boyfriend had given her. Thankfully my friend steered me in the direction of these happy memories and positive reflections of Nina's last Valentine's Day and thereby broke the cycle of more negative thinking.

I believe that no one is harder on themselves than bereaved parents. Even as irrational as it is, we feel that we failed as our children's guardians, that we should have been super-human and able to protect them from cancer, drunk drivers, criminals, drugs, depression, congenital illnesses, and a host of other unspeakable evils with the potential to take away their precious lives.

The bottom line is that we are not invincible or perfect; we are only human. We did the best that we could with what we had to deal with at the time. Our children know this; they love and forgive us for our own humanness and associated imperfections, and I believe would want us to forgive ourselves as well.

Seasons of Grief
By Sandy Goodman, Riverton, Wyoming

It is winter today. There is no sun, not even a flash of light to focus on. The air has become murky, as if it has solidified, losing its clarity. Ice covers everything, smothering any life that might have been.

Staring out the window, I compare the bite of winter to my grief: the coldness, the shadows, and my reluctance to breathe in any more discomfort. Grief, like winter, appears uninvited and unwelcome. We habor the pain and wonder why we must endure the distress, while all along we feel the imminent arrival.

Winter compels the earth to rest. Everything stops struggling, stops performing, and sleeps. Abruptly, nature's need to "do" is gone and "being" is all that is necessary. All that was living before appears lifeless. The leaves disappear from the trees, flowers no longer grace our gardens, and the grass is entombed by snow. But what is going on beneath that which we see? Are the flowers really gone, or are they only changing ... becoming new, becoming different? I ponder how much further I dare go with this. Can I contend that grief, like winter, is a gift? Can I talk about the metamorphosis of grief, and contemplate gratitude for its presence? I do not know, but that is where my thoughts are leading me.

Grief necessitates a sabbatical from living. We stop struggling, stop performing, and freeze. Our compulsion to "do" dissolves, and "being" is all that is possible. Our life as we knew it disappears, dreams are shattered, and our hearts are ripped from us in the blink of an eye. We are gone, lost in our grief. However, what is transpiring in our heart? Is everything gone, or is it only changing ... becoming new, becoming different?

Grief is harsher than winter. The tasks of daily living are amplified, and what was once soft and blurred becomes sharp and ragged. While winter invariably ends and I remember that spring will arrive, grief makes no such promise. I must wait without assurance. There are moments when winter is beautiful: a blanket of fresh snow on Christmas morning or the surprise of a warm breeze in February. There are nights when winter is hard and ugly, when temperatures plummet and the howl of the wind threatens our sanity. 

Grief is the same. A special memory comes into my heart and grief becomes bittersweet ...beautiful. Then, a letter addressed to my son arrives in the mail, and I am back to the harsh reality that he is gone.

My grief transformed me. It tore out everything within me and said, "There! It is GONE! What are you going to do? You have NOTHING LEFT TO HANG ON TO! You must begin again. You must change."

And change is what I did. As winter alters the earth, my grief changed me. It gave me an interlude to step back from living and just be, a space in my existence to feel only that which I needed to feel. It was a time for reflection, reprioritizing and searching. Without it, I would remain as empty as a garden that never rests.

"But it was painful, horrifying and devastating," you say. "How can you be thankful for such a thing?"

Grief, like winter, freezes our world. Both appear painful, horrifying, and devastating, but it is our preparation for, reaction to, and perception of, that creates our discomfort. If we deny that death is possible for those we love, we will be stunned and terrified by its occurrence. If we react to the first blizzard of winter with panic and fear, we will be too afraid to honor its power. If we perceive a fatal ice
storm as an act of God, we will shake our fist at Him and spend more time than we have asking why. Moreover, if we distinguish death as the end of a loved one's existence, we will be eternally saddened by their absence. The path to spring, to the end of winter, requires only our patience and perseverance. The path to healing from loss requires that and more: it requires that we learn to think differently.

We are a society that fears death. We consider it a conclusion to life, love and all that came before. Those who die either cease to be or they exist in a place that is unavailable to us. It is not surprising that fear is present. However, if we alter our beliefs, we can then change our preparation for, reaction to, and perception of death. We cannot eliminate the winters of our grieving, but if we come to know that death is a change in form and not an ending, we can lessen our suffering.

When my son died in 1996, I had no other option but to change my thinking. I could not live another day presuming he no longer existed. By saying to myself, "often I am changing my perception of death," I announced to the universe and my higher self that I intended to change what I believed. I placed my intent, reached for it, and settled for nothing less.

I began searching for and finding information to support my new perception. I read books about life after death, mediumship, after death communication, spirituality and reincarnation. I perused websites, joined email lists and joined chats where these topics were addressed. I found like-minded friends who understood what I was feeling. I observed mediumship activities on television, at seminars, and on the Internet. I began to support my new belief system with knowledge.

I invited experiences by talking to Jason and asking him to come to me in a dream or to give me a sign of his presence. I meditated and made myself more aware of that which isn't seen or touched. I opened up a doorway of possibility and welcomed all that came from love to enter.

Finally, I accepted what had happened and expressed gratitude. When the lights went off and then on again for no apparent reason, I was quick to say, "Thank you." If I was only thanking the power company, it didn't matter. No one knew. The more I accepted as real, the more I experienced. We hear often that "seeing is believing," but this is about "believing is seeing."

My journey has been both desolate and inspiring. There have been moments when I thought the cold and darkness would never end and moments when tears of joy washed away the pain.

I invite you to walk the path of grief a little differently: to nurture winter's bleakness and look deep into its purpose. Just as we must think differently to see winter's grace, we must think differently to see the gift of grief. It is there, buried beneath a frozen crust that protects and restores while the winter of our soul ... ensues.

Sandy Goodman is the author of “Love Never Dies

Anniversaries of the Heart

"The holiest of all holidays are those 
Kept by ourselves silent and apart; 
The secret anniversaries of the heart."
-Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

With these words, the poet describes the universal human experience  for the deeply-moving events that occur in our lives; for me, and  I  suspect for you, the words apply most often to the times of loss or  sorrow or grief. Those days should be, and indeed shall be, secret  and honored anniversaries of the heart - not to be abandoned nor  dismissed as though they were just another day, which they can never  be. But there are other days as well which are holy holidays - days  which only we celebrate because they too are secret from or  unrevealed to most. They are the days of firsts, the days of  achievement, the days of graduation, the days of recognition, the  days of laughter and joy, the days of hugs, and maybe even the days  of happy tears.

Thankfully, they can be just as special as the others. None replaces  another as no day in our lives replaces any other, but each takes its  proper place in the whole cloth which is ours. For some, the fabric  is tightly woven like canvas with the threads of myriad events  crammed close together, while for others who live to be quite  old...the threads are looser like burlap. But for each, our days are woven together - the weak with the strong, the bright and the dull,  the beautiful and the painful - to make the tapestry of our existence. Just as every thread is important to the strength and usefulness and beauty of the cloth, so is every day, every secret anniversary of our  hearts, important to the calendar of our lives.   ~James Clark, TCF, Nashville, TN

~from TCF Atlanta Online E-Newsletter

Just a response to the article on guilt...I bet we as bereaved parents could write a book on guilt. My worst battle with it was Steve's last birthday, (I did not know at the time it was to be his last) I failed to get him a card. And he was very vocal about it. I tried to make it up by sending flowers, and a card to apologize. And we talked and I told him that since I had taken the night off work to take him to dinner that somehow a card just slipped my mind. I swore to myself that his next birthday would be so much different, a lavish card and all the trimmings. But now all I have is the guilt. I truly believe no matter what we have done or said, comes back to us in ways that we would do differently given the chance, this is where we must be very careful, quilt can come in and turn everything upside down and inside out! We must remember that we are human and prone to mistakes, but we must not let quilt ruin our memories with it's poison. 

~ Sheila Simmons

If Only's

All the little words and deeds,
seemed so unimportant at the time
Now come rushing back, playing havoc in our mind.
Taunting us with feelings that we didn't do enough
Words left unspoken,
undone deeds and other countless stuff.
The weight of guilt is heavy, and threatens to wear us down
As it parades through our minds, never making a sound.
Replays of times we wish that we could redo
All the things we would say, all the deeds we would do.
But we can not bring it back,
correct the wrongs we think we've done
As we slowly replay them in our minds,
over and over one by one.
Guilt is a poison that tears us apart
Leaving us empty with an aching hurting heart.
If our child were here I know what they would say
"Mom, Dad don't do this, don't let guilt have it's way.
You did the very best you could, you truly gave your all
So don't let guilt rob you, don't for it's lies do fall.
All you did you did with love, and your best at the time
So don't let guilt steal that, don't let it haunt your mind".
But we are but human, and never satisfied
And good is never good enough no matter how we try.
There will always be hindsight,
things we wished we'd done
And guilt is always waiting
to point out each and every one.
We must not let guilt consume us,
get a foothold in our mind
For it is poison to us, and treats us so unkind.
For love should have no regrets, no sorrow to look back on
Love is the greatest gift we have to give,
so guilt does not belong.

Little Ditty for a Support Group "Junkie"

Chat rooms, grief books, support emails, 
some heavy and some light, 
have kept me from feeling isolated 
especially late into the night.

As I sit at my computer by the window reading
and responding to my "new kin,"
passerby neighbors who may see me
 have no idea what lies within.

Outward appearances are so deceptive,
 I have to give a smile,
but I get such comfort here in this transparent world, 
if only for a while.

My new unseen friends are a lot like me, 
and they span across the globe,
It's amazing how comfortable I am "chatting" with them 
as I sit here in my robe!

Inventions may come and go 
and we all have our favorite one,
For me it's the Internet which I use to help me deal 
with the loss of my son..

I'll send this little ditty to all my friends who I'll never get to meet but on whom I lean,
And I'd like to say thank you and God bless us all, 
who read this on their screen.

Alice Stephens
Colin Stephens mum, United Kingdom

Sorry to pester you all again but I had to respond to the  "Wonderful 'Ditty"!!! that Alice wrote, it rings so true.

Its 8:30 Sunday morning, I am in my robe, fireplace is on in the next room and I have large cup of coffee next to my mouse, Christmas music is softly playing and I prepare to greet and share with my "new kin." Alice your ditty said it so well, thanks for sharing it cousin.  While so many are preparing to go to church I still sit here in my robe and my wife yells down "get off the net! your eggs are getting cold." I say 'just a minute Hon I'll be right up and twenty minutes later I head upstairs and warm my eggs in the microwave [what a wonderful invention].  I am sorry, but I feel more connected to God and his goodness as I communicate with my bereaved brethren on the net than I do going to church. Going to church does not make you a good Christian anymore than standing in a garage makes you a car.  I still go to church on occasion and applaud those that do but it is not a scheduled part of my life. 

I have just started my 17th year without my precious 9 year old son Kelly.  The first 10 years I did not have the Internet, surfing was something done in the ocean and I grieved in the solitary confinement of my soul and the letters written to my son. The world had long forgotten this beautiful child as did our larger circle of family and friends.  I had never heard of TCF or BPUSA. My only connection to my distant "kin" was a wonderful newsletter call Hope for the Bereaved that connected me to other grieving parents and our secret society of pain.  The world had thought I had moved on and finally 'gotten over it." By outward appearances it looked as if I had.

It was about that time that I started to compile things for a manuscript to attempt writing the book I had promised Kelly I would write. Typing on my 'Brother' typewriter so fancy it even had 'spell check' (another wonderful invention) and I proceeded to put pain to paper as I said I would. Secretly on the nightshift at work I used their computer more and more as the book was taking form.  Seeing that the computer document programs left my 'Brother' in the dust I purchased a computer for home. I could now cut and paste to my hearts content and type away madly without thoughts of correct spelling and the familiar smell of ''white out.' The book was actually taking a tangible form, you could now hold my grief in your hands.  I became my own grief group as I immersed myself into so many forbidden memories and I processed my grief once more. Digging into these old memories and reflecting upon them released so many more that I had long forgotten; that were collecting dust behind grief's door.  Soon Kelly became alive again and I could feel my heart swell, emerging from my prison and out of my "gotten over it" cell.  Let me feel the pain, this farce has gone on long enough.

The book soon became a reality and was actually in a few stores and I was even asked to come to speak at some local church grief groups, it was then that I heard of TCF.  I signed up for Internet service and found out what surfing the web really meant.  It opened a whole new world of sharing and caring and I found many grief sites, message boards, memorial pages and a plethora of services that connected so many grieving hearts from all over the world.  I soon found myself traveling and conducting workshops, helping to heal and give hope to so many bereaved parents.  I had no idea the enormity of child loss and no longer felt that I was alone in my continuing pain of learning to accept the unacceptable. There are lots of us out there just a key stroke away.  So I now sit at my computer on Sunday mornings and some days late at night and go surfing to share with my 'new kin' from Atlanta to the Netherlands, from Denver to Wales and together we find comfort in those who truly understand.  Thanks again Alice.

Love and light …Mitch Carmody

Life is a cycle - part of a whole, and death is part of life.
By Renee Little, TCF SLC

Nature can be very healing for our spirits and souls. Many of us have had experiences that draw us closer to nature for healing. It seems so much easier to feel closer to God in the great outdoors. In the days after my son's death, I found myself drawn to the outdoors by digging and cleaning the flowerbeds and feeling the moist fragrant earth beneath my fingers. It seemed to ease my intense pain and shock. Others viewed my behavior as strange, but at this point I realized that my healing would come from Nature. I needed the assurance that life does renew itself even in the face of death.

That summer I found myself hiking on the Colorado Monument every chance that I had. I would lie on the rocks and feel the heat come up through my body and warm me. That winter I would cross-country ski on the top of the grand Mesa. The quietness was almost deafening and the only sound was the singing of the birds as they perched on the bare branches of the trees. The snow glistened in the sun and felt crisp beneath our skis. The stillness and openness would work its magic on my tortured soul and a peace would fill me. 

When we moved from Colorado to North Carolina, my black lab and I took many enjoyable walks in the numerous rural parks. Having always lived in the West with its desert terrain and scarcity of trees and greenery, the abundance of trees and greenness was overwhelming and stifling until we became accustomed to it. While walking through a dense ceiling of branches, we came upon an area where the trees had been cleared. On one side was a fenced area and as we approached, I saw many graves. Some had headstones and many just had large rocks with writing on them. On closer inspection, I realized that this was a cemetery for the children of two families in the 1800's. The ages ranged from infants to 18 years of age and there were over a dozen. I remember that it gave me such a feeling of sadness and grief, but also of being connected, as I felt such a bond with these parents who had also suffered the loss of children. This somehow lessoned my own loneliness and I realized that life was indeed a cycle and that we are all part of the whole. Life does keep renewing itself. Think of all the children who had been born since these had died. 

Life is constantly renewing itself. The tender new leaves on the barren trees, the crocus, tulips and daffodils poking up through the earth represent new life and Springtime. My son died in the Spring, but it is still my favorite time of year and in the succeeding years I have learned that Life does indeed renew itself each Spring regardless of how dead and lifeless I may be feeling.

~ from Healing After Loss by Martha Whitmore Hickman

And time remembered is grief forgotten,
And frosts are slain and flowers begotten,
And in green underwood and cover
Blossom by blossom the spring begins.
~Algernon Charles Swinburne

Though we can scarcely believe it when our grief is new, there will come a time when what we remember will be not the so-sorrowful occasion of death, but the rich and happy times in the life of our loved one.

It won't happen all at once, any more than winter passes in one glorious sunny day that takes away all the cold and melts the snow. But one day, just as crocuses and daffodils appear one at a time as solitary harbingers of spring, we will find ourselves smiling (laughing, even!) as we remember our loved one.  The lift of that memory is, for a while at least, far removed from the overriding sadness we've known.  "Blossom by blossom," memory by memory, the springtime returns.

Somewhere in the midst of my grief is the confidence that spring will come.

Only Surviving Siblings: Am I an Only Child Now?
~By Daniel Yoffee

In families with only two children, the siblings often look out for and protect each other, which makes the loss of one even more difficult for the surviving child. The brothers and/or sisters looked forward to a long and enjoyable future, never thinking that they would be separated. There was the assumption that the siblings would grow old together, reminiscing about the past. Not only are there the intense sadness and feelings of total devastation, but the surviving sibling may feel a huge sense of responsibility for the future care of the parents. While both siblings are alive, there might not be much thought about the loss of a parent, as they believe they will always be there to help each other make decisions when the time comes-that they would always go through everything together.

Another concern is that the surviving sibling won't have any family to rely on to remember the past.  With the loss of a sibling, we are left an immense grief and a "new reality" that we never wanted, never asked for. The anguish and loneliness are over-whelming. Those who have no surviving siblings to share their thoughts, feelings, memories, and pain are left to deal with a wider range of issues.  Bereaved parents often have a hard time with the question "How many children do you have?"  Many only surviving siblings also have a hard time dealing with similar issues. They may not be up to explaining what happened. It often depends on the relationship to the person asking. The best choice is to answer whichever way is easier emotionally. Another question surviving siblings often ask themselves is "Am I an only child now?" The sibling who has died will always be their brother or sister, but they may want to spare themselves the pain of people's reactions to hearing of the death (or just the pain of having to say it, which is hard enough). It is so difficult to process the fact that this one person, who shared the past, will not be a part of their future. It's good to remember that no matter how the question is answered, we will always be an older or younger brother or sister.

First TCF Meeting - A Story of Survival

I attended my first TCF meeting three weeks after my Nina died. I was lucky to have a funeral director who was involved in TCF and passed the information on to me within days of her funeral. I remember that I counted the days until that first TCF meeting. I needed to be around other people who were devastated like I was...who knew how hard it was to get out of bed in the morning.... who knew the difficulty of waiting for that beloved child to come through the door and of course never did. I wanted to be around others who didn't expect me to be "normal" again. 

But the evening of the first meeting I remember sitting in my car in the parking lot for what seemed like forever. When I finally made the decision that, yes, I was going to go in, I trudged up the sidewalk and saw the sign on the door that said, "The Compassionate Friends Support Group" and suddenly my legs felt like they had been dipped in cement. To enter through that door meant I was part of a group of people that I never wanted to be a part of. There was nothing that frightened me more from the time my first child was born - the possibility that I would lose any of my children. I always included in my prayers each evening that God could do whatever he wanted to with me, but please, please never take my child. So to enter that building meant I was one of them - that the reality was that I was one of "them".

When I walked in the meeting room I was greeted by a woman who gave me a huge hug and made me feel that I was in the right place. She introduced me to another woman who had lost her child suddenly through an accident just as I had. Since then that woman has become my best friend. As everyone went around the circle and introduced themselves and said how long it had been since their child died (some even 10 years before) I remember having conflicting feelings. On the one hand, how could they be laughing and finding joy in their life again. But on the other hand, maybe this meant I too would survive the worst loss - that I would find my smile and laughter again. I felt safe there, I felt understood there. And I didn't want to leave that cocoon of understanding and go out into the real world that still went on as if nothing happened - that didn't understand that the world as I had known it had ended on May 11, 1995.

Five years later I am co-leader and newsletter editor and have rarely missed a meeting. And five years from now I still plan to be there so that I can greet that person attending their first meeting, look into their eyes where I know I will see the same hollow look mirrored in my own when I was newly bereaved, and let them know that if I survived the unthinkable, they can too. 

Cathy Seehuetter
St. Paul, Minnesota TCF Chapter
~lovingly lifted from TCF Atlanta Sharing

Spring is Coming 
by Evelyn Billings, TCF Springfield, MA

If you are newly bereaved and looking toward your "first" spring, you may be surprised by some of the feelings you may experience during the next few weeks. We hear so much about the beauty of spring – the new life and the feelings of renewal that are supposed to accompany this lovely time of year. During my "first" year, I expected that spring would cheer me up, and make me feel lots better. How surprised and frustrated I was when, on one of those truly magnificent spring days as life seems to burst forth everywhere, I was "in the pits." When a friend said to me, "Doesn’t a day like this really lift your spirits and make you feel better?" I had to reply honestly that I was having a really bad day -–that the sense of loss and emptiness was greatly intensified.

Gradually, I began to realize that my expectations for spring were unrealistically high. I had looked forward to spring with the wrong kind of hope. When we are newly bereaved, we are constantly looking for something to take away the pain and make our lives all right again. Unfortunately, there is no magical event or moment when this takes place. It does happen, but only with time and the grief work which we all must do before we can be healed.

The coming of spring cannot make everything okay again. What is can do, however, is remind us that regardless of what happens in our lives, nature’s process will continue, and that can offer us hope.

I am looking forward to spring this year. I welcome the sun’s warmth, the return of the birds from their winter in the south, and forsythia, the daffodils and the greening of the world. Know that someday you will once again welcome spring. Be gentle and patient with yourself and with nature. Don’t expect too much. Be ready to let a little of the hope that spring can offer into your heart.

Bent But Not Broken
~Donna Frechec, TCF Enid Chapter 

To the Mother who has lost her only child, or has no surviving children, the thought of Mother's Day sends a stabbing pain that only the ones of us who are in this situation can understand.  We begin to notice Mother's Day cards slipped in right after Valentine's Day along with the Easter cards.  Even before Easter the TV advertising starts.  We try to blot this all out but our subconscious keeps reminding us, the day is coming closer. 

For the first two years we celebrated Mother's Day for my mother and sister very quietly.  The third year after my daughter Shawna's death, we decided to go to a local restaurant featuring a nice buffet.  We arrived early hoping to avoid the crowd.  A very flustered hostess greeted us and found a table for us.  The tables had been pushed close together to accommodate more people.  It was already becoming very crowded.  She asked the question, "How many Mothers?" It was then we noticed the flowers she was carrying.  Someone managed to stammer out, three- three- Mothers.  She handed us each a flower, while glancing around to find a table for the next group of people.  She didn't notice the one she handed me was pretty battered. 

My sister wanted to give me hers or get another.  "No, it's ok," I said.  The stem was bent, but not broken completely.  A wilted tired flower was hanging from the stem.  I brought it home and propped it up in a glass of water to revive it.  You see, I could identify with that flower. 

As a Mother without my child, I have felt so bruised and battered.  Somehow through all the pain, tears, and loneliness, like the flower, I have been bent but never quite broken. 

A Mother's Day Gift to God 

Lord today is Mother's Day, but our hearts are split in two 
Half is with the child still here, the other with the child that is there with you. 
All the lovely presents are a nice surprise 
But the one thing we want most is missing, and tears fill our eyes. 
We know when you sent them Lord, you didn't promise how long they would stay 
All you said was to love them and treasure each and every day. 
But Lord it crushed our hearts, when you called for their return 
We feel like half a Mom, as we ache weep and yearn. 
But Lord tell them we love them just as much as we did before 
And could you please make a window, so they can see through heaven's floor. 
Let them see that they are missed and thought of with each breath 
And that a Mother's love begins before life, and does not end with death. 
So on this Mother's Day the greatest gift we give to you 
For Lord we know you missed them, and you love them too. 

by Sheila Simmons, TCF Atlanta Online

Sending warm embraces and thoughts to all the Mother's and wishing you a warm and peace filled day.

Awkward Silence
a poem by Richard Dew, M.D., TCF, Knoxville, TN

I wish that someone would say his name. 
I know my feelings they're trying to spare, 
And so we go through the charade, the game, 
Of dancing around the ghost that is there, 
Trying to avoid evoking a tear, 
Or stirring emotions too painful to bear. 
That he be forgotten is what I fear, 
That no one will even his presence miss, 
As if there were no trace that he was here. 
Be referring to him, my purpose is 
Not to stir pity or keep things the same, 
But my heart will simply break if his 
Memory will die like a flickering flame. 
I just wish someone would say his name.

Margaret Gerner
St. Louis, MO BP/USA Chapter

I wouldn't go to one of those grief meetings.  It's morbid – people sitting around talking about the dead. How wrong  those people are! 

In so many ways, those who attend are saying, "I  am hurting now, but I want to go on with my life." They are saying, "I  am crying now, but I want to laugh again." They are saying, "I am sick in  body and soul; help me get well." I see these things as healthy, not morbid. 

It is not easy to walk into a meeting of any kind  alone, especially one where the subject is very emotional; but once  there, it takes only a few minutes to find out we are not alone; that there  are those who care about us and want to help us. We see others hurting and  suddenly we want to help them. I don't see that as morbid. 

A grieving parent wants to talk about his beloved  child who is no longer physically part of his life. That child has died with a tragic suddenness or as a result of an illness that usually takes  older people. We want to know why or find a reason or some meaning in our  child's death. I don't see any morbidity in trying to understand. 

Memories of our child are all we have left. We  have a driving need to hang on to those memories lest we lose that small bit  of our child. It is not morbid to want to keep that small part alive  forever, at least in our hearts and minds. 

To walk into a bereaved parents meeting is a loud  shout - "I want to live and be happy again." It is a cry that "My child is dead, but I know he would want me to go on and be a better person for  the suffering. It is a confirmation that "Even though part of my life is  gone, there is a reason to go on." There is nothing morbid about doing  what is necessary in order to re-enter the mainstream of life. 

Memorial Day

For each grave where a soldier lies at his rest
For each prayer that is said today out of love
For each sigh of remembering someone who died
Let us also give thought to the mothers and fathers,
the brothers and sisters, the friends and the lovers
whom death left behind.


A New Season
A New Way of Coping
By Darcie Sims

Spring is the season of shifting, sorting and cleaning house. Spring  brings with it a sense of renewal, a sense of wanting to lighten the load, clear the air and simplify living. It's a time to clear away the baggage of winter's grief and to shed the overcoat that seemed to shelter us from the pain.

Spring is the time when we get a new sense about the cycles of life. When tulips bloom, trees bud and the garden begins to awaken, there comes a change in perspective. We may be able to see things in a new light, with new vision, with a clarity that can only be borne in the fires of loss. We will never go back to being who we were, but we can establish a new sense of self as we work through our grief. We can create a "new normal" as we learn to adapt to the changing demands of grief. We can get through this time of sorrow, but we will not get over it.

We simply learn to look at things differently in the early light of spring. The death of a loved one teaches us to embrace the moments of our life rather than waste them in search of tomorrow. Grief is a thief, stealing away energy and time, and I no longer want to be a victim of anything. There is so little time in life, when you really think about it. I no longer want to waste any of it. Sometimes I forget and I get caught up in all the "little stuff," like schedules,and chore lists and meetings and appointments.

Then I need to step back, take a breath and slow myself down. Then, and only then, can I begin to hear the new rhythms of whoever I am becoming. I am forever changed because someone touched my life. I want to remember that - always!

The lessons of our losses cannot be ignored nor negated. They simply are too expensive. I no longer want to count what I have lost. I want to acknowledge the blessings of the springs that I did spend with my loved one. I do not want to cloud the joy of our life together with a long list of things that I didn't say, things I didn't do, things I didn't mean.

The line between the living and the dead is so thin that it is not visible, but it separates those who are moving forward and those who are standing still in grief and regret. I will no longer live my life so that I am building up a bank of regrets that will have to be paid at the end of a loved one's life.

The time to say I love you is now. The time to settle the argument is now. The time to give a hug, a kiss, a handshake, an encouragement is now. The time is now, and now I want to take the time. Funny how that works. When you have too little time, it seems an impossible task to grab more. When you have too much, it seems an impossible task to spend it. The time to live is now.

I want to live my life with as few regrets as possible. So, from now on, I'm going to:

Tell people I love them, now
Open all presents, now
Eat chocolate once a day
Exercise daily, but give up being guilty if I don't
Give up being guilty about anything
Dance more
Learn to play the banjo
Tell people I love them, now
Keep my To Do List under control
Read more
Listen more, talk less
Eat vegetables once a day (but not spinach or beets)
Wear comfortable clothes
Give up panty hose
Tell people I love them, now
Finger paint
Hug the grandchildren, my spouse, my children
Run through rain puddles
Bake cookies
Tell people I love them, now
Dream more, worry less
Follow my dreams instead of just dreaming them
Relax more
Sit down
Tell people I love them, now
Be sad when I am, happy when I am
Try to just be, not always do
Tell people I love them, now

Someone you knew, liked or loved has died. You did not. Whatever the reasons for this turn of events, you have the opportunity to change your life to better reflect your dreams, passions and ambitions. Take a look at who you are, what you are doing, why. you are doing it and begin to make the changes you want in order to live the life you want to be living instead of the one you are enduring.

If you still love your work or your home or your daily life, take  renewed pleasure in the small moments that make up a single day. If you are not happy with your life, your home, your job, begin to work toward finding something that makes your spirit soar. Life is simply too precious to waste in wishing it were something else.

Live your life in celebration and gratitude of those who have so lovingly shared their life with you. Cherish those moments you spent together and live your new life now with a renewed commitment to living as fully as possible. It is acknowledging and living the pain that brings forth the energy and strength to allow hope and healing to return. No matter where you are, no matter what memories you carry with you, may love be what you remember the most.

reprinted permission granted by Bereavement Magazine


I shall be telling this with a sign
Somewhere ages and ages hence;
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I -
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

~Robert Frost from The Road Not Taken

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