What do you say to a parent who has just lost their child?

What do you say to a parent who has just lost their child?

What words can possibly have any effect?  What can break through layer upon layer of grief and sadness and desperation and fear and senseless guilt and anger and bereftness?

What prayers can you offer them?

I would not be able to breathe.  I would very likely lose my will to live another instant, knowing that Son was not here.    I don’t have any other children, so there would be no need to be strong for the others…

I wouldn’t want to talk to anyone, be comforted by anyone.

There is no comfort when you lose a child.

My heart is breaking for my old, dear friend.  To lose a child so senselessly.  So suddenly.

Being so far away there really is nothing I can do, except grieve along with her.  Leave a message telling her that I’m so very sorry, and that I’m thinking of her.  Lose sleep myself, and check on Son ten times a night.

And hug him tight.  Tight.

I pray she can find a way to breathe.  I pray that she and her husband and her other two  sons can allow themselves to be and do and feel whatever they need to be and do and feel to get through today.

And I pray for the  same thing tomorrow.

Important Document Organization Can Save Time, Money and Grief

Consumer Reports’ blog had a great article today about having your documents  organized in case of emergency.  I’m reproducing their included table here and linking to them.  I figure if maybe I link enough times they won’t ask me to remove it.

The  good news is that I already do most of this.  Spending so many y ears as an insurance agent I saw the value in these preparations.   Something I also recommended that I don’t see here is a written and video inventory of your possessions, including as much detail as possible (where bought, how  much paid) expecially for the big ticket items.

TYPE OF STORAGE DOCUMENT(S) KEEP A COPY? WHERE TO STORE DUPLICATE?
SAFE-DEPOSIT BOX Birth and death certificates; marriage license; adoption, citizenship, divorce papers Yes Home file
Inventory and photos of household property Yes Home file
Deeds, titles, bills of sale, car title, mortgage Yes Home file
List of location of important papers Yes Home file
HOME FILE CABINET Tax returns; supporting documents for past 3 to 7 years No
Passport No
Bank-account information Yes Friend’s or relative’s home or at your office
Insurance policies No
List of all assets, including brokerage and mutual-fund accounts, stocks, bonds, bank accounts, real property, and employee-benefit accounts Yes Friend’s or relative’s home or at your office
ATTORNEY’S OFFICE Will, durable power of attorney Yes Home file and executor or personal representative
Funeral instructions Yes Friend or relative
Living will, health-care power of attorney Yes Home file, physician, personal representative
Location of safe-deposit box Yes Joint owner, friend, or relative
WALLET Driver’s license or other photo I.D. yes Home file
Auto insurance card Yes In car
Emergency contacts No
Blood type, list of allergies, medications No

I don’t know about you, but I know it would help calm me in the time of an emergency to know that much of the information I need is safe and sound, organized and easily accessible.  And when we lose someone we love our grief is tempered slightly by the knowledge that they cared enough to prepare and make the logistics of dealing with the aftermath as easy as possible.

Go forth and organize!

Not in Front of the Children

Kate at One More Thing is doing a weekly carnival of sorts, choosing a topic for other bloggers to write about.  I’ve been on a blogging hiatus (Look!  No posting for weeks and then three in one day!), so this is my first entry.

My post is a bit of a twist on the theme, but this is what’s on my mind today.

An old friend of mine passed away last week, after a courageous battle with cancer.  Monday was Louise’s  funeral, and I attended with Son in tow.

Some think that funerals aren’t appropriate for children.  I disagree.  Death is as much a part of life as anything else, and I don’t think attending a funeral will scar Son for life.

He didn’t know this friend, but we talked about her and I showed him photos of her and her family.  He already has a pretty good understanding of death (as much as a 4 year-old can), as we lost my stepmother two years ago and we still talk of her, and visit her grave.  He asks age-appropriate questions, and I give him age-appropriate answers.

“Is she with G-d?”  Yes, buddy.

” Is she with Grandma?” Well, I’m not sure if they know each other, but they’re both with G-d.

“Will you die before me?”  Yes, I probably will.

“Will I be 87 when I die?”  I don’t know.  But I’m pretty sure you’ll live a very long and happy life.

“Will Louise be a baby again (referring to our previous discussions about where he was before he was born – with G-d)?”   That’s a good question, buddy.  It’s a nice thought, isn’t it?

He was very good during the service – I’ll venture that most of the 300+ guests had no idea that a 4 year-old was present.  We looked at photos of Louise throughout her life, and he was really interested in those of  her as a little girl.  When her young grandson stood up and gave a eulogy Son was rapt, and when the grandson cried Son told me the boy was sad because he missed his Nana.

At the graveside service he asked the Rabbi if Louise was in the box, and the Rabbi explained that her body was there, but her soul was with G-d.  I don’t know if he really understood, but he was very enthusiastic about throwing dirt on her casket (a Jewish tradition).

But I think he would have been happy to throw that dirt anywhere.

And the Soul Wears Out the Breast…

Death can come in an instant, or it can be a long, lingering process as the soul fights the body for just one more day.

When my stepmother died it was nine days from beginning to end, and I didn’t actually believe she was going to die until the day she did. I’ve always thought it was a blessing that she went as quickly as she did, both for her and for my family. Watching a loved one suffer and deteriorate is ravaging to all.

If it’s a sudden death, though, you feel robbed. Robbed of time to say everything you want to say, robbed of one more look, one more smile, and you’d give your right arm for just one more hug. If you believe in G-d, as I do, it’s hard to understand why He would want anyone to linger. Perhaps He’s giving people time to resolve their lives, or perhaps sometimes He thinks the soul has more work to do (have you ever seen the movie Defending Your Life? Go rent it!), or perhaps He thinks someone has more of an impact to make.

That last can certainly be said for Randy Pausch, the computer science lecturer at Carnegie Mellon University whose “Last Lecture” became a huge sensation when it was posted on youtube. I’m sure Randy hoped he’d make an impact on those present, but I doubt he could foresee that his speech would be viewed nearly 4,000,000 times, not to mention the news coverage and clips millions of others were lucky enough to see.

So, yeah, he definitely had more of an impact to make.

Job well done, Randy, but now you can rest.

Thank you for sharing, Randy.

Hello? Hello? Is this thing working…….?

Last August my friend Kate at One More Thing… asked me to write a few guest posts for her while she was out of town. Though I had a Mommy blog I didn’t have a writing blog, so I was honored, excited and a bit intimidated. I’m so glad she asked me because if she hadn’t this blog would never have been born.

I thought you might enjoy reading my first ever non-Mommy blog posts, so I thought I’d re-post them while I’m out of town. I’m not sure if they will run three days in a row, or if I will post new posts in-between. Let me surprise you. And myself.

Here’s the first post.

Okay, so I feel a little bit like Jay Leno probably felt the first time he guest-hosted for Johnny Carson. Well, actually, probably more like Joan Rivers. She wasn’t good enough to step in permanently…and she was probably the only person home when Johnny’s people called.

I don’t even have a regular blog. I just have a Mommy blog. It’s not even that good. It’s got pictures of my son, and every once in awhile I’m clever, but more often than not it’s just … banal.

Kate, though, purports to like my turn of phrase. Huh. She is wicked smart, though. And has excellent taste. And she hates it when people begin sentences with conjunctions. And I do that quite often.

So, let’s talk about epitaphs. I know it’s not a funny topic (unless you consider the one that reads “I told you I was sick!”), but they are on my mind. My Dad asked me (along with my brothers and sisters) to come up with the inscription for the headstone he will share with my stepmother (she passed away last month after an illness lasting all of 9 days). It threw me for a loop at first. Then again, I suppose he could have just ordered one that said, “They were a swell couple!”, but I think his idea to have us decide is really much better.

The funeral home gave us a list of commonly used phrases. I read through them, and at first glance they all seemed trite. I started to realize, though, that they really only seem trite if they’re not about the person you loved. When you start reading the phrases in the context of your own loss, they take on a depth of meaning that’s intensely personal.

Still, we liked the idea of choosing something unique, something that speaks to who they were for each other. We wound up choosing a lyric from one of their favorite songs, and when we told my Dad he literally gasped.

So, here it is:

…And anywhere we choose to be

Will be our rendezvous

And it starts with a conjunction. Sorry, Kate.

Have you ever thought about what yours will be? If at the end of your life you had an opportunity to evaluate it, who would you have been for yourself? For your family? For the world in general? Who would you want to be? Are you on track?

I’ve been thinking about that. There’s room for improvement here. For me, at least.

Crap. Forty-two years old and there’s still things to learn.

~

Editor’s Note: Tomorrow is one year since she passed away. You’re missed, Grandma.

Memories Are Best Kept In My Heart, Not in Drawers and Boxes All Over the House

I’ve learned something from going through all of the clutter at my Dad’s house. I don’t want anyone to ever have to sort through drawer after box after closet of my crap.

So, what am I going to do with all mine?

I have a lot. I’ve saved movie stubs and birthday cards and love notes and locks of hair. I’ve saved t-shirts and brochures and Playbills and candy bar wrappers.

And it’s not organized. There’s some here, and some there. Every once in awhile I’ll take a bunch of it and put it in a box or drawer. These things never go into scrapbooks or anything that would be able to be enjoyed by someone else. But really, who would anyway?

Then there’s my planners. I had saved my daily planners for about ten years, figuring it would be kind of cool to look back in later years and see what I’d done, where I’d been. Yesterday when we were cleaning out the garage I saw them and started thinking about them. Who is going to care that I had a doctor’s appointment on March 28, 2001? Really. I tossed them.

So I got the thought into my head to just get rid of all of the loose memorabilia, the random junk that will mean nothing to anyone but me. I may save a very few things that are very special to me, but they won’t be random pieces of paper or tickets to my 10th Styx concert. Those memories are best kept in my heart.

But not my photos. I’m not going to get rid of my photos.

But they did get me thinking some more. At my Dad’s house there is a closet and a large part of the garage that hold photo albums and scrapbooks and other memorabilia from my stepmother, and her mother, and my grandmother, and any number of older, deceased family members. What does one do with that? My stepmother obviously felt compelled to keep it, but she had no idea what to do with it all either, besides throw it in a closet. No one really wants it, but no one wants to toss it, either. I’d like my Dad to hold onto the stuff from when we were growing up, and his Mom’s stuff. But no one really wants the other stuff. It’s not my decision to toss it or not, and thank goodness for that.

So of course that got me thinking some more. Who is going to want mine?

I have a son. Boys typically could care less about these types of things. He’s not going to want them. Sure, his future wife will want to see and have pictures and some memorabilia of him growing up, but she’s not going to want mine, or my Dad’s.

So, I’m keeping my photos. And a little bit of my memorabilia. And a lot of his memorabilia. And someday, hopefully many, many years from now, he’ll go through it all and decide what he wants to keep, and what he wants to toss. I won’t mind.

All of the memories will live in my heart, and hopefully in his.

She’s gone…

My cousin’s heroic battle against MS & leukemia ended last evening.

To the end she maintained her cheery disposition and displayed remarkable courage. Her struggles are a lifetime lesson to us as her bravery was of the highest order.

Thank you, Cheryl, for wanting to be a mother so badly you refused to allow any doctor to put the words “Multiple Sclerosis” in your medical record until Cam’s adoption was final.

Thank you for all of the funny e-mails you sent.

Thank you for looking at my Dad’s Playboys with me when we were kids, and for explaining a few things to a doe-eyed seven year old. As Deb said, isn’t it ironic that with all the looksies we did at those magazines, none of us wound up with a Playboy body?

Thank you for teaching me the value of disability insurance. I’m so glad yours made your life easier.

Thank you for being the only one of my cousins to come to my wedding, even though you were the one with the most reasons not to.

Thank you for being so honest and open with me these last months. I feel so honored to have been on the receiving end not of smalltalk and platitudes, but of your real emotions, real life and death issues, and real warmth.

Thank you, Cheryl, for being such an inspirational woman.

I love you, Cher. You will be remembered for how you lived. Valiantly.

Love Uncluttered

I spent the past two weeks pretty entrenched in family stuff. My Dad is selling his house and buying a condo on the beach. My sisters were in town, so we’ve been furniture shopping and started to sort through some of the stuff in the house, figuring out what he’ll take with him (15%), what my brothers and sisters and I will take (15%) and what will be sold at the massive garage sale we’ll have (we can all figure out this percentage, I hope).

I’ve talked in the past about the mounds and mounds of clutter and crap my stepmother amassed. My Dad lived in a house full of clutter with her for thirty-five years and never complained. The house was always relatively clean, but there was nary a surface unoccupied. And as each of us moved out of the house she took over our rooms and filled the closets and drawers with little gifts she thought the kids would like, or napkins for a future dinner party, or address books (we’ve found at least twenty, filled with the same addresses over and over and over again). There are hundreds of glasses, every kitchen gizmo and gadget you can think of (and some we still have no clue about), family heirlooms and enough serving dishes to give one to every soldier in Iraq. Well, not really. But a LOT.

Now that she’s not there my Dad’s innate need for order (I am an accountant’s daughter) has resurfaced, and with a vengeance. He cannot tolerate any new mess, any new clutter. Extra food brought into the house for the duration of my sisters’ stay is already out of the house, and my sister doesn’t leave until tomorrow. This after noon he asked us to clean up the kids’ toys, about 1/2 hour before more grandkids were showing up. We explained and he relented, but the mess really bothers him.

His new home will be very different from the one he lives in today. The furniture will be less ornate (his new bedroom and dining room sets are lovely and elegant with very clean lines), there will be surfaces uncluttered, and likely there will be empty drawers. To me a much more relaxing place to be.

But that’s not the point.

What’s so fascinating, so wonderful, so cool, is how he adapted for the woman he loved. She brought him so much joy that he learned to live with the clutter, the shopping bags, and the bills. He didn’t try to control the house or her love of stuff. I don’t think he even noticed that much; not until she was gone.

We all deserve to be loved like that, don’t we?

A Miracle For One Family, Heartache For Others

Back in December Zack Dunlop’s devastated parents were faced with the horrible decision of either keeping their son hooked up to life-support equipment or pulling the plug and letting his body follow his brain into death. He’d been declared brain dead, all of the tests showing no blood flow to his brain after an ATV accident, and his parents eventually decided to let him go. But they wanted to honor his wishes and have his organs donated.

So a helicopter was dispatched to pick up his heart. Then, as his family said their final goodbyes, his cousin (a nurse) ran a knife blade along his foot. And he moved it. They pressed into his fingernail bed. He pulled away his arm.

His family was shocked, and hopeful, and guarded. The doctors were dumbfounded. But how much brain damage was there?

Some, but not much. Since that day 21-year-old Zack Dunlop has made extraordinary strides in his recovery. He’s walking, talking, ready to drive. He still has some issues and is still in therapy, but he’s alive. And vibrant. And alive.

I’m so very happy for Zack, and his family. They truly got a miracle. The doctors cannot explain what happened. As Husband and I watched his appearance on the Today Show and heard his story I got tears in my eyes. Husband noticed my reaction and said, “That’s great, isn’t it?”, assuming my tears were for Zack and his miracle.

But my tears weren’t for Zack, or for his family. My crazy brain was thinking about the many families who had walked in Zack’s family’s shoes. Families who decided to end life support for their child and had no such miracle, and experienced the mixture of grief and guilt that I can only imagine anyone would feel in the aftermath of that decision.

What were they thinking when hearing Zack’s miraculous story? How many were second-guessing their decision? What if…? The unthinkable.

Chances are that there was no hope, no missed miracle for their child (or husband or mother, etc., but I was thinking at that moment only in terms of parent and child). But now, in addition to their grief, they’ll have a whole new level of guilt.

That is possibly the only pain worse than losing your child, I imagine.

And who the heck needs that?

And So The Next Phase Begins

My father just bought a condo on the ocean.

It’s been just eight months since my stepmother passed away, and he’s not been having an easy time. They’d been married thirty-five years, spending twenty-nine of them in a rambling five bedroom house in the suburbs. The last of us left the nest over fifteen years ago, yet they stayed in a home that was way too big just so there would be room for all of us to visit at the same time.

Now he’s there alone, and the motivation to keep the house has waned. He’s trying to have a social life again, but there’s just not much for him there in his family-oriented community. He drives down to see a friend of his who lives on the beach, and there are restaurants and piano bars and a whole other lifestyle that perfectly fits his vision for his life now.

So, he went and looked. Even though the experts say not to make any major decisions the first year after losing your spouse. And he bought the first one he looked at. After all, why look further when you’ve found the perfect place for you?

We think it’s a terrific decision. With three bedrooms we can’t all stay there at the same time, at least without sleeping bags. But three of five kids live within a 45 minute drive, so we’ll let the out-of-towners stay there, which is really no different than before.

He told me today that he had a rough night last night, thinking about all of the changes that are to come. Feeling grief and sadness that his wife won’t be sharing these things with them. Reliving memories of their time in the house, feeling reluctance to let it go.

But today he’s excited. Excited to start the next phase of his life, to make new memories with us, and with new people he’s yet to meet.

He was able to finagle a fifteen minute showing today so that I could see it, and so we could take some pictures and some measurements.

Excited is good.  Moving forward is good.  The new condo on the beach?  Very, very good.

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