This I Believe

Marlene - Honolulu, Hawaii
Entered on April 1, 2007

We, parents who have lost children, belong to a very special “club.” The only membership fee is the unfortunate event of losing a beloved child. Others cannot belong. It is not that others are unloving or uncaring. There is just no way a person can completely understand without having had the experience.

I have lost two children. In two separate events. No, it’s not fair … but

What I have learned:

1. EVERYONE handles death differently. And there are no predictors of “how” one responds to the death of someone dear, let alone a child.

2. Death is very personal. There cannot be any “comparisons” EVER!

3. No one wishes this horrid event to happen, even to their worst enemy.

4. Most people are terrified of death and/or dying. Because of this fear, many people will offer what seems to them to be “kind” words and/or advice. They simply “mean well.” I suggest you see their fear for what it is and accept their intention. Best words: Thank You. (No matter what they said!!!) You have to live with you.

5. No one actually heals from losing a child. This is a myth.

What you CAN DO is:

On their [expected or actual] birthday, create a literal ritual for celebrating the fact that they were with you for however short or long. Remember the good feelings that “they” gave you. These feelings are living gifts. Yes, this is a day I take pictures out. Put them away at the end of the day. Light a candle.

On the anniversary of their death, create a literal ritual for “remembering.” This one is much harder, of course. I had one of my children cremated and her ashes were scattered at sea. On the anniversary of her death, I go swim IN the ocean and pretend she is holding me up … talking to me … and giving me permission to FEEL whatever it is I am feeling THAT year. Some years are silly. Some horrid crying spells. There is no guilt allowed! (Sometimes I find a treasure on the shore and pretend to think that she left it there: a heart shaped rock … a bit of colored glass.)

6. Let death bring you LIFE! Perhaps the most important lession I’ve learned is that we all must be PRESENT in the moment, for we never know what will happen or when. Death taught me the importance of loving and respecting each and every individual — friends, family … and even strangers. EACH person is a beautiful treasure and gift. People don’t wear flags that let you in on what they are dealing with. I remember thinking (during one of the deaths) how people sounded when they were fretting over things that weren’t actually important. Not really. Death brought me a much deeper understanding of our human dilemma and allowed me not to “tolerrate” differences, but actually “celebrate” them. (Unkind people, and even angry people are just much more afraid than you and I. Perhaps they are the ones that need MORE love.)

7. There is an on-line organization called WHISPERS OF THE HEART. It is a site FOR parents/family members/friends who have lost a child: www.whispersoftheheart.com. There is another wonderful organization called THE COMPASSIONATE FRIENDS. These kind folks are on-line at www.compassionatefriends.org Both organizations are unique but have our in-common dilemma of learning to LIVE (again) and COPE with the realities of the death(s) of a child.

8. It is important to reach out to the people who can help you most. For each person that might mean something different. Over the years I have found information, comfort, challenges and support through counseling, bereavement groups, other parents who have lost a child/children, mentors, teachers, and religious figures.