9/11: The Worst Kind of Loss

9-11_PicWe can all remember exactly what we were doing when the attacks began on 9/11. It was a day that will be forever etched in our memories. For some, the day marked the tragic death of a loved one- a mother, brother, son, co-worker, granddaughter, spouse or friend. An unimaginable loss.

 

Death is an unfortunate part of life, but when it comes as a result of a tragedy, it seems even harder to bear. My family has suffered many losses since that day on September 11th, 2001. My beloved father-in-law passed away after a good long life, and a daily battle to breathe was ended. My young brother-in-law who fought for his country, fought his last gruesome battle with cancer and finally ended his painful journey. Both of these fine men are in a better place, and while we struggle to fill the holes in our hearts, we have peace.

Can You Be 100% Sure You are Going to Heaven When You Die

The losses that haunt us, are the ones we don’t see coming. My husband’s best friend, an active guy and avid golfer, who died in his driveway of a massive heart attack. He was 41 years old. My excited family member who went to the hospital to have twin daughters, and brought home only one baby girl. The year before 9/11, I lost a baby of my own to miscarriage, before ever having a chance to be born.

When tragedy strikes and takes a loved one away from us, we feel a different kind of pain. The peace that can come from knowing that a painful illness has ended, or appreciating a long, full life isn’t there to comfort us. The chance to say goodbye is taken away. And these are the ghosts that haunt our sleep and make it difficult to heal.

Help with Overcoming Grief and Loneliness

So what can we do if we’ve suffered this kind of tragic loss? The kind that rained down on so many families on 9/11. There is never a magic formula to healing- it is such a personal and difficult journey. However, you must always begin with grieving. You have to feel the pain to move past it- really feel it. You can shove it down, avoid it, but it will be there-lurking and waiting to reveal itself. Grieve. When you’ve felt the pain you can begin the long process of healing. And it is there you have a decision to make. Will you live in the past, holding on to the pain of your loss, covered in the death of your loved one? Or will you move ahead, making a new kind of life, and finding a different happiness? A monumental choice to make.

On this 14th anniversary of 9/11, a date that marks so much pain and suffering, a monument now stands in place of the Twin Towers. The damage to the Pentagon has been repaired, and the pieces of the plane in Pennsylvania have been gathered. If you are grieving a loss today, will you pick up the pieces and move on? You are the living, so choose life.

The Last Laugh: Remembering Joan Rivers

Remembering Joan Rivers

Remembering Joan Rivers

My Mom always told me that deaths happen in three’s…as odd as that sounds, it always seems to ring true. Recently, we lost three iconic celebrities: first the tragic death of Robin Williams, then the loss of screen legend Lauren Bacall and this week, comedy and fashion diva Joan Rivers was laid to rest.

Joan’s “in your face” and candid style both electrified and offended. She hit life head on, no matter the circumstances or people involved. Her honest approach to her many plastic surgeries became fodder for some of her best humor. It seems that she applied the same direct nature to her own death. While some may find this odd or even shocking, I find it refreshing.

Since Joan found no topic to be “off limits,” it came as no surprise to me that she had left behind final wishes for her funeral. It was also no surprise that she desired a grand affair complete with Broadway tunes, fellow celebs, and laughter. And her daughter Melissa made sure she had just that, as bagpipes played her final song and a throng of fans gathered on Fifth Avenue, dressed in their best, to honor the fashion diva.

In a society where we struggle with issues of daily life, they all pale in comparison to our issues with death. Joan accepted that death would one day find her, and she had no problem leaving behind instructions for her final wishes. In fact, she wanted to be sure that her funeral was a star-studded celebration rather than a tear-filled, mournful occasion.

I can only hope that we learn a thing or two from Joan as we consider our own dates with destiny. And more importantly, that we know where we are headed when we get there.

Breaking the Silence

Robin WilliamsLast week, we lost a comedy and screen legend and my heart is still heavy. We were forced to say a sad and early goodbye to stand-up comic and movie genius, Robin Williams. The firestorm of comments that erupted following his death, apparently by his own hand, has been amazing and incredibly unsettling at the same time. While droves of Robin “fans” shared memories and condolences with his grieving family, others took the opportunity to chastise Robin (?) by leaving hurtful remarks and belittling the actor on his families social media accounts. Experts than began chiming in to state that his suicide could have been prevented.

I have watched and listened in silent horror and I can stay silent no longer.

It is painfully obvious that our society still fails to be able to frankly discuss death with compassion and without fear of the conversation. We consider ourselves to be a “modern” society and yet we struggle with dying and grief in ways our ancient ancestors did not. Our modern medicine and ideas have left us ill-equipped to deal with the inevitable event of death and dying. We still find ourselves speechless and uncomfortable during times when our grieving friends and family need us the most.

Read “Nine Things Not to Say to Someone Who’s Grieving”

As someone who has had personal experience with these painful matters, I can tell you that it is impossible to pile any more pain, grief, guilt or sorrow onto Robin’s family. You never stop asking yourself if you could have done more…you never stop second-guessing the steps you took, the words you said, the comfort and help you tried to offer. You never stop asking yourself the painful questions that will have no answers.

The only silver lining to this incredibly dark cloud is the public conversation that is now happening about mental illness and suicide. If there is one thing that could make us smile after all of this, it is only the possibility that these conversations could save just one person. Let us find ways to join the conversation to help those grieving, with broken hearts, and those struggling with the grip and pain of mental illness.

How Are You Living?

folded_flag_with_white_gloves

It was a very tough summer for me and my family. We’ve faced multiple losses in a very short time and been surrounded by sorrow and grief. The most difficult loss was the death of my brother-in-law. At only 36 years old, he had spent the past 10 years fighting a battle many of us fear – cancer. As a soldier, he was no stranger to fighting, and he approached his illness in much the same way – head on. His end was long and painful, but his will to live never wavered – even when my sister told him it was okay to “let go.” On a ventilator and unable to talk, he firmly shook his head NO.

It was just a matter of time before he was spending his final days in Hospice. I will never forget what his Hospice nurse told us, ” People die the way they live.” This became even more real as we watched my brother-in-law fight for every minute he could have. Unable to move, talk, open his eyes, eat or drink – he continued to fight. He fought to live just one more minute, one more hour, one more day. On July 24th, 2013 his last day, hour and minute arrived…and he was gone.

My brother-in-law’s death has had a profound effect on me and my husband. It puts life in a very different perspective. I think about how much he wanted to live – even when he really had no “life” left. What if I could treat each day so precious? I have a renewed appreciation for my family, my health and my life.  My husband decided that dwelling on what you “don’t have” rather than what you have, now seemed trivial and unimportant. He has become more content as a result.

Two months ago today, my brother-in-law left us, and it has taken me this long to be able to write again. I knew I must get these important words down, but my heart wasn’t ready to write them. I can only hope that the lesson we learned from watching his life, and death, will stay with us. If we truly “die the way we live,” then we must ask ourselves every day, how we are living.

Why Me?

rain_clouds_2After a miscarriage, Mother’s Day is never the same. As we all prepare to honor and appreciate our moms, you may be struggling with intense feelings of grief and incredible loss. You may even be asking how God could let this happen.

After my miscarriage, I found that the church services I always enjoyed were leaving me numb. Something felt different, and it was hard for me to feel love or warmth or…God. I struggled with this for many weeks as I wandered through the early stages of my painful grief.

Facing a major loss often causes us to confront or even reconsider our basic beliefs about God, religion, death, and the afterlife. Some may turn to God for strength and comfort, while others find themselves questioning the faith they have known all of their lives.

Even those who have no religious upbringing or practices may feel angry with God, or abandoned. Everyone responds to loss differently, but it does have a way of forcing us to confront questions we may have been avoiding…about death…about God…about ourselves.

A traumatic loss can leave parents feeling like they have been shaken to the core. These are the times that cause us to examine what is inside. In the depths of grief you may feel yourself doubting God. Regardless of your religious beliefs, it is common to ask ‘Why God?’ when tragedy strikes.

While some are left angry and questioning how God could allow this to happen, others find that their faith can actually be deepened during such a time.

A belief in God is not a guarantee against pain and suffering. Death is an unavoidable part of life; and faith can be there to help us get through our losses, but it cannot prevent them.

You may not understand or believe in God, or you may have conflicting feelings about the God you love, because you feel He has failed you. If you have unanswered questions, a pastor, rabbi, or priest can offer help. Seek the answers you need.

The above is adapted from an excerpt of the book Hope is Like the Sun.

“In Motion” or Emotion? How Men and Women Grieve Differently

 Men and women often find themselves feeling alone during grief because nature (and society) has equipped us to handle it so differently. These differences can make it harder to connect during the times we need it most, so we must work to understand one another.
 
Men
 
 When facing loss, men generally put their feelings into action. They often experience their pain physically rather than emotionally. A man may tend to focus on goal-oriented tasks that require thinking and action. For this reason, he may put his efforts into planting a memorial garden or writing a eulogy.
 
In other cultures, men have been noted as using rituals to relieve the pain of anger or grief. Physical ceremonies such as shooting bows and arrows have been observed as outlets for grief and sorrow.
 
Activity can give men a sense of control and accomplishment as they experience grief. Even if he decides to share details of his loss with friends, it may likely be during shared activities such as fishing or sporting events.
 
Men will often react to the stress of grief by exhibiting behavior that scientist refer to as “fight-or-flight.” This type of reaction means that individuals who are confronted with stress will either react aggressively (“fight”), or withdraw or flee from the situation (“flight”).
 
A man will often allow himself to cry during grief, but he will usually do so alone, or even in the dark. This may lead other family members to believe that he is not grieving at all.
 
Women
 
In general, our society teaches women that it is acceptable for them to be open with their feelings. They will often feel a greater need to talk with others and share their emotions with supportive friends and family members.
 
In many cases, women seek non-judgmental listeners who are comfortable with a show of emotion. This provides them with an outlet for the grief they are feeling.
 
Women often respond to the stress of grief with a reaction called “tend-and-befriend.” This means that they may feel compelled to protect or nurture their children or others (“tend”) and seek out social contact and support from others (“befriend”). For this reason, women may have the desire to join a support group, while men, on the other hand, generally do not.
 
Even with our society’s ability to accept strong emotions and feelings from women, it is typical for our culture to criticize them as they deal with grief. All too often, women are said to be too sentimental or even ‘weak’ when they are seen expressing the painful emotions of grief. This causes some women to feel the need to suppress their feelings, or believe that they are failing to be ‘strong.’ However, it is often found that women are experiencing the grief- feeling the pain, while others around may be avoiding grief work.
 
 The above information was adapted from the book Hope is Like the Sun: Finding Hope and Healing After Miscarriage, Stillbirth, or Infant Death.