Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Stuck On You: After Death, Is it Devotion or Baggage?

I am always seeing metaphors. 

When a mammoth pine topples in the forest, it retains its anchoring grip on elements of the environment. Rocks and soil pack the lattice of roots that now face skyward. It will take decades and decades of weather and rot before a letting-go.

Author photo

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How long should grief take?

The Condolence Coach has skewered some psychological models that want a quick exit to mourning. In What's the Big Hurry? Stop pushing the bereaved I highlighted the heavy burden of expectation placed on a grieving person. It seems to me, in a world that celebrates the "individual," we must acknowledge "different strokes for different folks...even when it is socially awkward.

Wearing your late husband's flannel shirt or pursuing regular paranormally-channelled conversations with your dead child are choices. Unusual comforts in grief should not be judged more severely than the spectrum of comforts we each choose just to make it from sunrise to sunset: shopping, tattoos, exercise or extreme sports, alcohol, drugs...

Devotion or baggage?

Devotion delivers comfort but I would suggest that baggage delivers stress. If an ongoing bond with a deceased person engenders feelings of gratitude, warmth or inspiration--human growth and awareness of our interconnectedness are nurtured. 

If an ongoing bond with a deceased person engenders feelings of powerlessness, obsession, guilt, anxiety, or the burden of unfinished business--harm is inflicted and human growth is stymied. This grieving person is stuck.

Helping someone get unstuck

Source: Michael Jastremski
As you observe how the scales of positive or negative seem to tip, remember that giving advice is tricky. In fact, the Condolence Coach wants you to avoid giving advice and instead, ask for advice! In essence, you are asking the stuck person to tap into their own inner wisdom.

This nugget from the writers of Highexistence.com point out:
"Once we stop taking guidance from all of those outside sources who tell us what we should do, we are free to explore what we want to do, what we’re meant to do, and what we’re truly capable of."
 An important component of your help is to stay in the present: focusing on the present circumstances and emotions of someone who seems "stuck."
  • How are you today? 
  • What are you doing to care for yourself, today?
  • How did thinking about [person/stuck situation/behavior] make you feel?
  • Is there another way to consider that [stuck situation] so it feels better?
  • If I was feeling the way you are now, what would you tell me to help me move forward? 

If you're the one who is stuck

Michelle Maros, Creative Director of  Peaceful Mind Peaceful Lifedescribes 5 Gentle Reminders for When You're Feeling Stuck. She reminds us that this time in life has a purpose, but to find it and move forward requires some reflection:
"Often times when we are feeling stuck, it’s a sign that there’s an action we could be taking (or that our soul is begging us to take), but for some reason we just aren’t. Usually it’s because we are afraid. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel fearful, but it’s important to recognize that this fear is what is bringing you this feeling of “stuckness.” If this resonates with you, ask yourself what small, gentle action you can take to move yourself forward."

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"Small, gentle action" is a beautiful way to proceed. In the grieving process, you--or a person you are helping, could make a once-daily choice from a checklist such as this:

  • Sort belongings of the deceased into groups:  donations, legacy gifts to friends and family, discards, returns to lenders or businesses (such as medical supplies), and even a group for shredding-destroying old records or extremely private, confidential material (use caution before an estate is settled--consult an accountant or attorney.)
  • Take action on one item or one group described above:  start with an item that will warm your heart or the heart of the recipient.
  • Do one experience or action that you "used to" enjoy:  jot a poem your journal; sit down at your piano; walk in a park, museum or gallery; pick wild raspberries; go out for coffee or an ice cream cone; get a massage, facial or manicure.
  • Do one experience or action that satisfies a dream:  rent an RV and go somewhere; refresh an area of your home; adopt a shelter dog or cat...or learn how to volunteer at the shelter!

 As Michelle points out, you may, at first, feel that your "efforts aren't working," but she encourages that positive outcomes--even 'magic' are the result of patience and positive action.

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

It’s a Baby Not a Bump: Being Sensitive to Infant Death

Infant Memorials

Before I retired from funeral service, I met with and provided support to thousands of grieving families but there is one thing I didn’t do more than a few times:  assist in planning a memorial for an infant. I believe the problem lies in an institutional mindset that miscarriage, preterm and newborn infant death is a medical event. It is an appalling emotional disconnect. Sure, expectant mothers utilize the expertise of medical staff and remarkable technologies but this is human life, not automobile repair.

Block O Love
Sarah Klockars-Clauser
The words of Fawn Briggs in her guest post on the forum, WantedChosenPlanned, express the personhood of an in utero infant. In I Miss Her So Much, Fawn emphasizes the joy of a relationship that begins from the moment of pregnancy realization.
“I had been up late unable to sleep and my sweet baby girl Phoenix Quinn had been so active.  I was having contractions so when my husband got up for work I asked him to stay home with me because I thought we would be meeting our baby early.”

I have learned so much by blogging and teaching as The Condolence Coach, and encourage readers to increase their sensitivity and skill in responding to different types of loss. One size does not fit all.

Death of a Child: age is irrelevant!

My lessons about what a parent feels at the death of a child began with book research; I met women who had faced tragedies and found unique peer support in organizations such as Parents of Murdered Children and Compassionate Friends. The urge to express sympathy is a beautiful part of being human but it is full of pitfalls. Saying “I know how you feel” is just one of them. Offering a rationalization--”at least you got to hold her”-- about the baby or child’s age as a formula to determine degree or duration of grief, is another one. Sheryl will never forget the knock on her front door and the message delivered by a uniformed police officer; losing her son in a car accident propelled her into Grief 101. She has never graduated from that ‘class’ but Sheryl and her husband did progress from simply receiving the support of other Compassionate Friends parents to being chapter leaders in their community.

Don't Hide the Life

I learned from Sheryl how important it is to recognize the person:  use the baby or child’s name and do not hesitate to talk about him or her.
 “Don’t try to protect the bereaved from their own feelings. My child’s memory will be with me forever and my emotions will be what they will.”
This concept is exactly what prompted me to reblog an essay by Alexis Marie Chute, 5 Lessons Little Kids Teach Us About Loss. A life is a life--even when the loved one is no longer present. She wrote:
“My seven and four-year-old kids bring up Zachary all the time. If someone dies, they mention Zach. If I am asked how many kids I have and I say, “Three,” I am immediately corrected. “No, Mom. You have four kids!” they say proudly. Sometimes I worry how others will respond to this behavior from my children, but then I give my head a shake. Talking about those we love, even if they have passed, should be the most normal thing in the world.”

Grief: Feel it, Don't Fix it

When I discovered and began writing about Angels Above Baby Gowns, a home-based volunteer organization supporting parents whose infant has died, I interviewed many women with infant loss stories. Through facebook, they learned how to donate a wedding gown or...they may have been fortunate to deliver in a hospital with neonatal bereavement support. I accompanied the Angels Above Baby Gowns team as they made a delivery of preciously crafted memorial gowns to a birthing center.
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We met registered nurse and bereavement counselor, Roxanne, who, for over a decade, has extended herself, often at personal expense, to make every baby’s life significant. Roxanne reminded us that 50% of all pregnancies are lost in the first three months. "One is too many," she lamented.

When a baby does not survive, Roxanne initiates steps to support the grieving parents:  a simple tag is placed on the door of the mother's room to remind staff and visitors of the bereavement.
She creates a decorative certificate called a Record of Birth, honoring the birth no matter the survival outcome. And, if culturally appropriate, she will take inked impressions of the infant's hands and feet.
Angels Above Baby Gowns are frequently used during the farewell period. At this hospital, parents are invited to bathe, dress, and cradle their baby. Roxanne explained:
"This is something you can't fix. There is no timeline and we don't rush a family. After dressing a baby in a beautiful gown or wrap, we take photos. A 'bereavement gown' provides tremendous comfort to parents and later, that gown will be a special keepsake--even bearing the scent of their child. Gowns for boys are uniquely accessorized such as having a tiny bow tie. 
Even though they are in shock, parents love every keepsake."

If you have personally experienced the death of an infant--or know parents who have, stay true to the wisdom you or they have earned, and gently teach others how to support families like yours because we all need to remember:  it’s a baby, not a bump. Remember, too, that in many cases, expectant grandparents also grieve this baby! My post, When Grandparents Grieve has had nearly 10,000 views!

Read more posts about baby gowns:

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Grief Is Exhausting: Nourishing a Friend's Energy

Grief is exhausting

One of the most common statements about the grief journey is how "it wipes you out."  I love how The Grief Toolbox contributor Gman8361 gets right to the point in How to Deal with the Exhaustion of Grief:  
"Losing a loved one is like being hit by a bus. It immobilizes us. The shock waves are immense, and roll over us again and again, relentless and debilitating. Some days, we can barely lift our heads. Chronic fatigue, even exhaustion, is a common and natural experience for those in heavy grief."

Face it:  your grieving friend needs massive transfusions of your love, patience, and help.  The kind of help you may offer should tune into their life and circumstances.
  • Do kids need carpooling?
  • Does a home landscape need periodic care?
  • How about spending some time with their family pet? (it knows the sh#!t has hit the fan)
  • Would a grocery run ease stress?
Traditionally, neighbors brought casseroles--prepared foods-- to a grieving family, and that is still a lovely thing to do. 

I have gotten into the habit of packing a few extra snacks when I join friends for a hike, and these simple energy balls are well received. Loaded with nutrition and energy boosting natural sugars like dried fruit and locally sourced honey, they comfort and satisfy. Don't like raisins? Use another dried fruit like chopped dates. Easy to make, easy to store: share a zipper bag of this snack with a grieving friend, soon.

Deborah’s Energy Balls

In a large bowl, mix ingredients in the order listed, reserving the coconut for finishing.

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 to 3/4 cup ground flax seed or 'meal'
1 cup dark raisins
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup almond butter
1 cup honey, locally sourced*
finely flaked, unsweetened coconut, for rolling

This creates a firm mixture but try to blend all ingredients. To make the balls, spoon up dough, shaping into balls, then roll in a bowl of fine coconut. Place on parchment lined sheet. Baking is unnecessary. Freeze to firm, then package in zipper bags and continue to store, frozen. To serve, allow some thawing.

*honey from your local bees and blossoms may boost  your immune system.  DO NOT give honey, whether raw or pasteurized or contained in a recipe such as this, to children under the age of 12 months.

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When Dad Dies: Helping Teens and Young Adults Grieve and Grow

les livres
 Sarah Klockars-Clauser
Considering the dozens--even hundreds of books you've lugged in your school bookbag or backpack over the years, there was always one missing.

There is no handbook for life. 

We learn as we go:  by example and by experience. This is the story of a young college student suddenly faced with the death of her dad. She wasn't given a handbook for that significant journey, either. But eleven years after the death, Michelle calls the grieving process "one of my greatest teachers."

What I Wish I'd Known Before An Unexpected Loss

by Michelle Maros   
Reblogged from Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life.org text and story photos property of the author.

Happy Sunday my friends!
This week’s blog feels like a bit of a doozy, but to be honest, it’s a topic that I feel like I’ve been yearning to write about for close to 10 years. Perhaps for catharsis, or for inspiration, we will see. Truthfully, the impetus and inspiration for the blog this week came from a popular television show, as odd as that might sound! I am a super fan of the show This Is Us. I find it very relatable, cathartic, and thought provoking.
For those of you who don’t watch the show, the most recent episodes dealt with a very tragic and unexpected loss of one of the main characters.The loss of this character felt devastating, and while watching I kept wondering what I would do if in that situation. How would I deal? Can you imagine one day having someone in your life and then the next day not? Unimaginable loss.
After a moment, I realized that I didn’t have to imagine too hard. I brought myself back to my own reality. That story is my story. I have been there in my own way, and it took me a minute to own that I, too, am a person who has experienced tragic, unexpected loss. But I also know that I am not alone. It happens to people every day. Likely many of us have experienced an unexpected loss, a tragedy, an injustice, a sadness…and it is brutal.
I’ll share a bit about my own story and then I’ll delve into what I know now and what I wish I’d known then.
When I was 21 and just about to go back to college for my senior year, my mom and I booked a girls trip to California. Upon arrival after a five hour flight across the country, I turned on my phone to find dozens of concerning text messages regarding the wellbeing of my dad. I will never forget returning a call from my step-dad in a chipper tone to let him know we had arrived, only for him to respond with a very stoic, “I need to speak to your mother.” I will never forget the knowingness in my gut that something was very wrong, that was shortly confirmed by my mom’s expression on the phone. No words had been spoken, but I knew. My dad has unexpectedly passed in his sleep.
I will never forget the feeling of still sitting on an airplane on the tarmac at LAX trying to come to terms with the news and also trying to figure out how on earth would we be able to get home. We luckily were able

On the flight back to Florida after we received the news.

to find a flight back east that day, however, I’ll also never forget the five hour flight back (pre-wifi days), where I had to sit with myself in silence and in shock and contemplate what had just happened to my life.
My dad was a huge part of my life, we had our issues of course, but he was one of my favorite people. 
It feels like there is nothing that can prepare you for events such as these, but I’ve learned so much stemming from that day close to 11 years ago, on loss, grief, acceptance, growth, rage, and a whole slew of emotions. I’ve been a witness to its process. It’s probably been my biggest teacher.
So when I watched this TV show recently, and witnessed this loss again, it took me back to that moment on the plane, and it got me thinking. Tragedy is everywhere, and it feels insurmountable when it’s happening. Losses can rock us to our core, bring us to our knees, and immediately change the courses of our lives. There’s no way around it.
So I asked myself, what would I have wished I had known before life took it’s turn?
This is what I came up with:
Life is fragile. It sounds cliche but when it happens to you, you know that in any moment life can go upside down. Though much easier to do in retrospect, try to take in and savor the moments of your life that are unfolding right now.

Me and my dad (circa 1987)

Life is a gift. This really puts a lot into perspective for me. I find the pettiness and shallowness of ordinary life falls away when I remember that it is a blessing to be alive, especially with loved ones surrounding me.
Life is messy. It’s silly to expect every day to be rainbows and butterflies. The bad isn’t necessarily bad. It’s preparation. Take each hit and learn from it, you never know the value it will bring you in the future.
Life has purpose. Every moment is brought to us for a reason. We are living our own unique lives on purpose. Our stories are precious and our paths are unchartered.
Life is unpredictable. We just don’t know when life will swoop us up and change our course, so be present, be gracious, be passionate, and be grateful. Life is ever changing, this moment never stays the same.
After writing all this down, I then thought it might be nice to give you a little bonus! 
It’s great to have the lessons before, but it’s also really helpful to know the biggest lessons learned after too.
There are no rules to heartbreak. You don’t have to follow anyone’s mold of how to cope. Allow yourself to feel in your own time, space, and pace.
The new normal is uncomfortable. When managing a loss it’s very uncomfortable because there is something in your life that is missing, that can’t return. It’s a new normal. Be gentle with yourself and you slowly acquaint yourself with life as it is now.
Reflect back, but don’t live there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relived moments with my dad. Sometimes it feels very torturous, sometimes cathartic. Allow yourself to take in the memories, but try not to live there. Hold close to what has happened, but be present in the now.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s journey. There are times that I have downplayed my own heartbreak because in my mind it wasn’t “tragic enough.” Whatever that means. If you’re going through something that’s difficult for you, it’s exactly that. Difficult for you. It doesn’t matter the degree of difficulty. Comparison in heartbreak is a game that no one wins.
Allow yourself to feel. After my dad died I was really an emotional mess. I was young and going through a lot and had a lot of emotions. Sometimes I would get down on myself for “not being over it yet.” I vividly remember someone close to me saying that I get a whole year after he died to just cope. That brought me a sense of relief in the moment, but when that year passed I thought to myself, “Does this mean I all of a sudden have to act as if I’m okay”? The truth is the feelings are always just below the surface, even now, and I no longer try to push them away. When they come, I feel them, but I don’t let them consume me.
Get help as often as needed. Having a trusted team of support is crucial. I would not be a functioning human if it wasn’t for my family, my counselors, my therapists, my coaches, and my true friends. And I have no problem being vulnerable enough to ask for their help, when I need it. Even now. This also goes for outside the times of crisis, but especially true in these circumstances.

The last birthday that I was able to celebrate with my dad (2006).

Cultivate a new relationship on your own terms. It wouldn’t be a Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life blog without a little bit of woo. One of the most comforting aspects of losing a loved one is the ability to cultivate a relationship even after they’ve passed. I still talk to my dad, I ask for signs from him. We have a new relationship now, and it’s absolutely perfect. He is my cheerleader on the other side, and he helps me in so many ways. So if you’ve lost someone, you can miss their physicality, but remember you can still have them in spirit.
Phew! I told you this one would be a doozy! I really hope that any of you who have experienced a loss or something of this nature finds some sort of comfort from this blog. Please remember that this is all my own personal experience and not meant to be an all-encompassing “how-to” but simply my take on it all.
Michelle Maros,
Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life

Do you crave a few moments of gentle reading? 

The Condolence Coach confesses... I was tired of reflexively clicking on one or two news sites only to scroll through a sea of stories about humans behaving badly! With a simple keyword search, I discovered the antidote to trashy news. Read more gentle wisdom to "make your everyday life an inspired life" at  Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life.org

To learn more about supporting a grieving teen:
Condolence to Teens

Share this story...
and Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 6, 2018

Was It a Peaceful Death? Opening the Door to Healing Conversation

Source: Michael Jastremski

The everywhere-ness of life

Not long ago, a friend known for her goodhearted nature confided to me that a member of her church had lost a family member; it was announced to the congregation during the routine list of meetings, fundraisers, and children's activities. "Later that week, I saw her in the grocery store, and felt tongue-tied to say anything. I didn't want to upset her." This hesitancy is very common, I explained to my friend. But I assured her that a brief acknowledgement like "I was sorry to hear the news of your dad's death," has great value. I also explained that feelings of grief reside with the grieving: caring remarks do not cause grief.

When I learn of a death during a conversation 

Feather in bush
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I like to ask questions that immediately inform the family member that I am not afraid to talk about death. I want them to lower the social barrier they've learned to quickly erect; to understand that I care about their experience with this crucial moment of our humanity.

Before you ask a question

You too, can reverence this deeply moving experience by offering cues of invitation. But first, be aware of the situational moment! Are you or the bereaved in a hurry or obviously on the way somewhere? Have you met during a social occasion that dictates a light or celebratory mood? How much privacy do you have? Most importantly, tune into the person who had the loss. Something has prompted her to share 'my husband died in December;" so your compassionate interest certainly begins with "I'm so sorry. How are you [and your family] doing?" 

As you tune into responses and weigh the situational moment, you will know whether to quickly conclude with a hand on a shoulder, a hug, a suggestion to soon meet for coffee or a walk. If you are fortunate to sense the right blend of privacy and interest, you may begin asking gentle questions.

Begin with one question 

The Condolence Coach is not handing out free passes for nosiness. You do not have the right to pry, request medical details, financial arrangements, or confessions of grief's darkest moments. If you do not know the decedent's name, do ask, and as questions are used, include the person's name!

If the death occurred due to tragic or criminal circumstances

Compassionate interest begins by giving the bereaved a moment of control. Your one question should be: "Do you want to tell me about [it] [name]?" 

If the death was of natural causes such as advanced age, disease

Compassionate interest begins by acknowledging mortality. Your one question may be: "Was it a peaceful death?"

I follow up by asking, "Did you use hospice?"  Thankfully, end of life support has become the norm, with hospice providers routinely referred. Hospice is a specialized type of care that may address the patient's physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs; often, many support services extend to family caregivers. It can be comforting for a grieving person to speak about good end of life care because it acknowledges that something went right: one of the many caregiving and health advocacy decisions felt like TLC-- tender, loving, care.

If there was a hospice used, here are a couple followup questions:
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  • What did you think of the hospice? 
  • Which services or staff did you find most helpful?
Remember that compassionate interest and opening the door to healing conversation should not feel like an interview. At all times, allow the bereaved person to be in control. Be sensitive to cues of facial expressions, body language. Keep it relaxed and simple. The conversation will come to a natural conclusion like water filters into the ground at the end of a creekbed.

Be thankful

As the conversation ends, express gratitude for the trust and sharing you've been given. "Thank you for sharing this with me" is sufficient. Consider a warm handshake or pat on the shoulder--certainly a hug, if appropriate.

Learn more! Click on the topic links throughout this post to read other relevant Condolence Coach posts!

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5 Lessons Little Kids Teach Us About Loss: Guest post by Alexis Marie Chute

Once again, Grief Digest Magazine, produced by Centering Corporation has inspired me with an excellent article. 

What are your views and concerns about how children view death? 

  • Do you feel youngsters should be protected from sad events? 
  • Do you hire a babysitter when you have to attend a funeral or memorial service?
  • Do you tell the kids you "have somewhere to go" instead of explaining the occasion? 
That's how it went in my childhood; my siblings and I did not visit a grandmother's deathbed or attend her funeral; when an uncle died in a farm tractor accident, my dad travelled alone to attend his brother's services and comfort surviving family. 

These are very common responses, but Alexis Marie Chute tells a different story. When her newborn survived only one day, her whole family faced the loss. Here is her story...

Alexis Marie Chute

 5 Lessons Little Kids Teach Us About Loss

by Alexis Marie Chute

I think it’s safe to say that our society does not prepare us for the death of a loved one, either in how to experience it when it is happening or in how to grieve afterward. We are taught to shelter the living from death as if it is an unfortunate reality, better ignored than embraced. Grieving individuals, and those that support them, often struggle for a vocabulary to talk about the loss and the resulting feelings. Instead we have a vernacular ripe with cliche that leaves mourners wanting and isolated, instead of comforted and encouraged.

I experienced all of this when I lost my son, Zachary, from a cardiac tumor at birth in 2010. He was minutes old. He died in my arms. That day was a stake in the road for me; I ceased to be my old naive self and began – what is called in grief literature – my “new normal.” As I look back on myself, I recognize that much of the trauma of Zachary’s death came from my childlike desire that we all will live forever and that everything will be okay. My parents did not talk to me about loss when I was little. I wish they had.

My husband, Aaron, and I have been honest with our living children about Zachary, what happened to him, how it affected us, and how we still miss him today. That discussion has opened the door for my children to think about death. Some of their responses have taught me valuable lessons.

1. Talk about the dead.

This sounds like something out of the Sixth Sense movie or the perfect set-up for being labeled the weirdo at the party. It shouldn’t be. Children are not predisposed (unless we teach them) to the negative societal taboos around loss. My seven and four-year-old kids bring up Zachary all the time. If someone dies, they mention Zach. If I am asked how many kids I have and I say, “Three,” I am immediately corrected. “No, Mom. You have four kids!” they say proudly. Sometimes I worry how others will respond to this behavior from my children, but then I give my head a shake. Talking about those we love, even if they have passed, should be the most normal thing in the world.

2. Accept death as a natural and beautiful part of life.

We have a cultural obsession with youth and beauty. This is one area, among many, where the cult of celebrity sets us up for heartache. We do not have public and prolific guidance to help us accept death as inseparable from life. I believe life and death are yin-yang, two equal parts of one complete whole. In contrast, our society has erected opposing notions of life and death as one being good and the other bad.

Children, however, when spoken to about death as a part of life, do not fear it as a scary monster to avoid, but integrate it into the fabric of their understanding. There are many natural parallels that children more innately connect with on this topic. The seasons are one example. Leaves fall from the trees each autumn and we have winter. Then new life grows again in the spring. A seed that is buried in the ground, just when we’ve nearly forgotten about it, sprouts and blossoms into a flower. In a short span of time a great grandparent passes and a new sibling birthed. This is all natural, cyclical, and connected.

3. Think about death and strive for personal understanding.

My older children used to go to a day-home while I worked. One day the woman who ran the home took a step closer to me than normal and in a hushed voice said, “I just wanted you to know, your kids were playing make-believe today and they said the baby-doll died. I made sure to tell them that they shouldn’t play like that.” Instead of being concerned, I was proud that my kids were working out their own personal understanding of our experience and what death means to them! They were doing that in the only way they knew how - through play. When I talked to them about it, I affirmed their actions and encouraged them to make-believe however they wanted. They were not distracting themselves or repressing their feelings on loss, like so many adults do, only to rack up steep therapy bills just to re-open their hearts in this expressive way.

4. Loss is a family matter, not only a solo experience.

The bonds between family are not severed because of loss. That is what my children have taught me. When my kids talk about Zachary, he “is” their brother, not past tense. We talk about how Zach lives on in our hearts. If we are discussing loneliness, my kids pipe up and say, “You are never alone because Zachary is right here,” as they point to their chests. I know they do process the loss in an individual way, we all do, but in mourning and celebrating Zach’s life, it is a family matter.

My daughter, Hannah, my seven-year-old, will draw a portrait of our family and, without prompting, include Zach in the picture. That is her solo action, but she immediately shows Aaron and me the drawing, and then hangs it from the fridge with magnets. As a family, on the anniversary of Zach’s birth, and death, we take the day off from work and school and bake a cake, go swimming, plant a tree, and just generally cuddle-up and spend quality time together. I believe because of this, the kids do not feel they carry their grief, or the weight of death, all on their own. It is a shared experience and therefore shared support and love.

5. Speaking of love… It never dies.

My kids often say, “I love my whole family! I love Mommy and Daddy, and Hannah, and Eden, and Luca, AND Zachary!” They talk about loving their unseen brother. They talk about missing him and wishing he was alive and with us. In these moments, I take a deep breath, pause from busyness, and feel my own love for Zachary and the throb of ache in missing him and the life I had hoped we would share together. Yes, my child died and that is my personal tragedy, but the love I have for him can never be taken from me. Though society uses phrases like “move on,” I choose to take the lead from my kids. Zachary is a part of us and we love him – present tense, and that is okay.
Expecting Sunshine, A Memoir by Alexis Marie Chute

In her memoir Expecting Sunshine, A Journey of Grief, Healing, and Pregnancy After LossAlexis shared her journey--from pregnancy and the discovery of Zachary's in-utero condition, to the family's decision to always love him as son and brother: present tense!
Click here to learn more about the book

Alexis Marie Chute is the author of the award-winning memoir Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Alexis Marie is a writer, artist, filmmaker, public speaker, and bereavement expert. Learn more about her book and documentary, Expecting Sunshine: The Truth About Pregnancy After Loss, at www.ExpectingSunshine.com. She is a healthy-grief advocate educating others on how to heal in creative and authentic ways. You can also connect with Alexis Marie Chute on Facebook, LinkedIn Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and YouTube.

 Visit Alexis' bereavement blog:  www.WantedChosenPlanned.com

Condolence Coach Photo
The Condolence Coach did a 5-part series on how to understand and respond to a family facing miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death:
  1. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Soothing a Terrible Loss
  2. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Someday I'll Meet My Brothers
  3. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Delivery at a Birthing Center
  4. Angels Above Baby Gowns: A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend
  5. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Heartbeats and Lightening Bolts
And remember that the grieving family includes grandparents:

"Punk Bird" by Suzy St.John
A widely celebrated project for kids is the creation of a memory box. Here's how to introduce the idea:  Grieving Children and the Memory Box Condolence Gift

In this season of giving thanks, I say to all readers:

Thank you for caring!