Luke William Hahn Foundation

October 12, 2015

Write a New Chapter…

I am reading a really interesting and thought-provoking book right now entitled, “Rising Strong”, by Brene Brown. It speaks a lot to the idea of telling one’s story and making sure to get the details “right”. And that, it’s never too late to write your life story anew. Wouldn’t we all like to rewrite several chapters of our life stories? My love of journalling really does allow me to, if not rewrite my life’s story, then at least let me examine it from a different more objective standpoint. When I look back now at 49, is it the same story I wrote when I was say 30 or 18 for that matter? Can I look at the experiences that happened in my childhood, in my married life or work life with more open mindedness and less bias? It is something I’m learning to do. Most times, it is a difficult thing to try to understand why we or other people chose to pen the chapters of their lives the way they did and it is truly important to embrace our own narratives as well as try to appreciate the life stories of others.

As I sit here at my computer, I take many glances away from the screen and over to the right at my Mom’s obituary which sits where I can see it everyday. Her sweet, beautiful face looking back at me from the small photo. I often wonder what had her life meant to her? Had she any real regrets? Was she really proud of something she did or accomplished? Any poignant advice on aging gracefully? What would she tell me? Unfortunately, we never discussed many of those end of life questions as she truly never gave up hope on beating her cancer-not once! I often thought that she did us such a disservice by not wanting to talk about her life, her battle with cancer or dying. She never talked about what were her best achievements, although I would guess she would have said her children. Or that maybe her biggest regrets would be that she would never see her grandchildren marry and have children of their own. I can only make those assumptions of her story as I will never truly know. However, I understand now that she committed herself to living and that unwavering dedication to living her life to the fullest was her decision. It was her last chapter to write and she wrote it with total conviction. I have to be satisfied with the book she left me. My sister and I are now responsible for keeping her story alive through continuing her traditions, telling her funny tales, remembering her unmistakable laughter, passing on her smile to others and most importantly, loving life. It is a tall order, but it’s a real labor of love.

As each of us are, I am the author of my book. I want to be open, honest and forthcoming with my story. I want it to show my life in a realistic light. I know in my life there is plenty of drama and a great deal of hardships and heartbreaks, but there is also LOTS of love, joy and forgiveness. It is my book to write and from now on I choose to fill it so others will find joy when reading it. I will choose to learn from my mistakes, grow from my shortcomings and see the world with all its faults, disappointments and tragedies with brand new eyes every day. I chose to be happy, find the joy in the small things and be grateful for each and every day I get to spend here on this Earth. I know some of those experiences were also my Moms experiences. They were also in her book. I hope I will make her proud with the remainder of my own story. It is my pen and my paper. It’s time to get writing!

July 1, 2015

Memories of You…..

This week is always the hardest. Not only because it is _5__ years since Luke has been gone, but also because several days leading up to that dayI can remember vividly. And, I want with all of my being to go back and live them over again. Some of those memories bring a smile to my face. For instance, five years ago today (June 30th), I remember taking him to the dentist later in the morning and then stopping at my Mom’s after the appointment to see if she wanted to have a quick lunch with us. He, of course, wanted Burger King and my Mom suggested they take their SSR convertible. It’s fast and loud and can do burn outs, so Luke agreed immediately! As they were heading out Rt. 512, Luke says to my Mom, “Let ‘er rip Gram!!” My Mom floors it and the tires go spinning, making lots of “manly” rumblings. She casually glances over at him and catches him smiling from ear to ear. This is a story about Luke my Mom and I will never forget. Every year on this day we remember it and it makes us smile. Also this week, a familiar and bittersweet sight pops up near our development. The fireworks tent goes up on the main road near our house. It’s really not a big deal for most people, but when I see it, it reminds me of Luke. It was the day before the accident, the Fourth of July. He dragged Kraig and I up to the tent to buy some fireworks. It was one of his favorite things to do this time of year, and of course, we couldn’t say no to him. He picked out about $50.00 worth of loud noise making and colorful displays of fireworks. As in typical Luke fashion,(he was not very patient)he couldn’t wait to set them off. About 2:00 in the afternoon, he began to light them up making ear-splitting banging and popping sounds for almost an entire hour (much to the neighbors dismay-I’m sure)! I can still picture him out there enjoying those fireworks in broad daylight. He finished the rest of them later that night when it was dark. One of the hardest parts of grieving someone you love are the “If I had only known” thoughts:

I would have done ______________________________________. I would have said_______________________________________. I would have experienced ________________________________. I know I would have looked at all of those moments in time with much more appreciation and with more meaning. I would have taken many more “mental pictures” recording all of those moments with more accuracy and importance. I would have known to savor each experience as if my (or his) life depended on it. I would have said, “I love you and I’m proud of you” a lot more. Realistically, is that really possible? I don’t think so, but it is something anyone who has lost a loved one would like to do. As we go into this week-the five year angelversary and what would have been his 18th birthday, I cherish those memories. Even the smallest, most ordinary ones, like two days before the accident walking into the living room long after his bedtime and there he sat watching George Lopez on his “summertime bed”, the couch. Just hearing the theme song from that show, “Low Rider,” brings me right back there in an instant. I can “see” it perfectly. I can remember feeling content, even joyful, knowing that he was enjoying his night watching his favorite show. It’s a parent thing I guess. I love experiencing those little snippets of time travel. I’m grateful for them actually. I wonder……..what would he have been like? what would he look like? what would be important to him? I can only imagine those answers…..and hope that the life he did have with our family, his friends, and everyone who knew him was all that he’d hoped for right up to the end. We love and miss you beyond words my sweet boy.

Love, Mom <3

May 7, 2015

Supporting the Griever…

As our final support groups ended recently, I reflected on the closing topic of taking care of ourselves and accepting support. I love the way the curriculum finishes with those two particular topics. How hard is it to think about our needs and to ask for help when we’re grieving the loss of someone we love? Most times, it’s truly difficult! We think that we can handle it, we’re strong, and other such empowering thoughts, but honestly, we all need to feel cared for and comforted at times. When we’re grieving it’s even more important to allow others to help and to just take things a little easier or slower until we’re ready to face life without our(deceased?) loved ones again.

As a person who always wanted to take care of everything herself and who consistently had the attitude, “I can do this!”, what a lesson it was to learn to allow others to help me. I know I’ve said this many times before, but the sensational amount of people, both in the community and with family/friends, was overwhelming (in a wonderful way). I had to talk myself out of feeling guilty for accepting help. Sounds strange, right? Well, eliminating the “I can do it myself” and “I don’t need help” syndromes are harder than they seem.

There are a lot of times during the grieving process that we just don’t want anyone around us at all. We isolate ourselves from our families, our friends, and the “outside” world. We don’t want to show our vulnerable or “weak” side. We just want to be alone. That’s ok too, but we all need to remember when it’s time to “re-enter” the world, we can and should call on our support systems to companion us along this heart-wrenching journey.

One of the first books I read after Luke’s death was by a man that has become one of my favorite and trusted authorities on grief and the griever. His name is Alan Wolfet, a true giant in the world of grief and loss. His organization, The Center for Loss and Life Transition, has helped countless numbers of mourners and those who companion them. The book, Understanding Your Grief, was an easy read, yet well written book about what it’s like to grieve. I recommend it to everyone. I have used it many times with my adult grief support groups and I’ve gotten wonderful reviews regarding its enlightening, thought provoking ideas. In his book, Alan Wolfelt writes, “Sharing your pain with others won’t make it disappear, but it will, over time, make it more bearable. Reaching out for help also connects you to other people and strengthens the bonds of love that make life seem worth living again”. That quote is so very true. It was an eye-opener for me how the love and support of others could make such a horrific experience just a little bit easier. When I felt lost or alone, someone made me feel connected to this world again.

 

Support doesn’t need to be elaborate. Sometimes, just ordinary acts of kindness and caring are what is needed for the mourner. For me, prayers were offered SO many times for our family. What a beautiful way to show you were thinking of our family and honoring our Luke! Also, having a delicious meal cooked for us was an enormous burden lifted off of me. The girls and I were running to the hospital to visit Kraig so much and the thought of cooking was not at all in mind, it was extremely helpful to have those amazing home-cooked meals to come home to every time. One of the top ways to support someone, I feel, is just being there. Whether the person just sits next to you while you cry or offers a listening ear while you talk things out (sometimes over and over again) is a simple yet vital part of beginning to heal.

Regardless of the kind of support that is offered, it is remembering to accept the assistance that is important. I believe we all want to feel cared for and loved at any time in our lives, but especially, when we are experiencing the pain of losing someone dear to us. Grief is, for the most part, a continuous partner in the life of a loved one who remains here on Earth. Grief holds our hands rather tightly early on in the journey, but with the love and caring of others, it eventually begins to loosen its grip and allows us to walk without it at times. I and my family(my family and i??) are most grateful for the companions that helped to loosen the grip of grief for us. Without your love and compassion, we would not be where we are today.

April 6, 2015

One More Day…

18964_106744872674532_100000170598433_180734_7251725_nOne of my biggest regrets when it comes to the loss of my son is something I didn’t do-something I didn’t say. And, it was that something that haunted me for a very long time after Luke’s death. The morning of the accident I got up early to take my daughter,Lexi to Easton for her senior pictures. It was going to be such a hot and humid day and the photographer had moved up the time so Lexi wouldn’t be dripping with sweat in every photo. I rushed around getting ready to go. I can remember specifically getting to the living room doorway and pausing to see Luke lying on the couch asleep (his favorite place to sleep during the summer months). In a hurry, I glanced in, but didn’t go over to him as I thought to myself, I don’t want to wake him. So, I turned around and left the house-never in my worst nightmare would I have thought that would be the last time I’d see his sweet face on this Earth. It still hurts to think how I was just in too much of a hurry to kiss him and tell him (even if he were asleep) I LOVE YOU. I know in my heart that he knows I love him, but that one single experience has taught me a lot about what’s important in life and to always remember whoever you come in contact with or interact with on a daily basis-it could be the last time. So make it count! Now, I certainly don’t go around thinking to myself every day this could be the last time I see this person so I should say or do this or that, but it reminds me to be in the moment and enjoy the time I am given with the beautiful souls I have the privilege of sharing this Earthly time with.

 

This experience leads me into this weeks group topic of “unfinished business.” It is by far one of the most difficult, heavy topics we discuss in group. It may be one of the hardest discussions we have, but a truly necessary one. We talk about the fact that when you carry around regrets and guilt from “unfinished business” it can be like carrying an extremely heavy backpack. The “weight” might later create issues in your life. Most times, students will talk about the fact that they should have spent more time with their loved ones, some will say could have let them know how they felt about them and others would have been a better friend, child or grandchild. The “shoulda”, “coulda”, “wouldas” can affect a person’s ability to properly grieve the death of their special person. Sometimes, the “coulda, woulda, shoulda” activity that we take part in brings up thoughts such as, was there something he or she could have done to prevent the death of their loved one or could I have treated the person nicer or I should have said I love you. While the activity can be complicated, we also try to “let go” of these thoughts through a symbolic “throwing away” exercise hopefully taking that burden off of them. I think everyone carries around a certain amount of guilt and regret in life-the idea is to not allow it to overshadow the wonderful, beautiful experiences and love they shared with their special people.

 

As with most people, I feel that whether the person was 5, 15 or 95 years old when they died, we will never feel as if we’ve had enough time or experiences with them. We would always wish for just one more day, one more “I love you,” one more hug or kiss. We certainly can get weighted down with all of the things we might have done or said, but that load can be burdensome and heavy. It does nothing to shine the light our loved ones lives have illuminated for us. What we can do is reveal the love and beauty their lives meant to us by showing love, joy and respect to each other every day. Rather than looking back and saying, “if only”- instead we can look forward and to appreciate every smile, every “I love you”, every moment.

 

March 19, 2015

Thanks for the Memories

Our group topic this week is MEMORIES and REMEMBERING. I thought, “What an easy topic this will be to talk about in my blog!” Then I sat down to write, NOTHING, same thing the next day, and the next, well I guess it’s NOT such an easy topic. I mean, really, where do we begin?

Most of us could recall countless memories of our childhood, our high school experiences, great memories of family and friendships and even memories of our favorite travel destinations. We know that some memories are pleasant and some, like a few from my childhood years, not so pleasant. And, when it comes to remembering a loved one who has died, memories can be something of a curse AND a blessing all at the same time. We cherish them, and at times, those same recollections can bring us to tears. I will tell my groups that this is completely normal and to allow their feelings to just be. Many things will trigger emotions when it comes to memories-especially the five senses.

For example, there were times after Luke’s death that I would see one of our neighbors riding his bike down the street and I’d immediately see Luke. I quickly remembered him on one particular sunny day cruising down our road at top speed and flying into our driveway smiling to himself, most likely, for his excellent bike-riding abilities. As I stood there that day, remembering that point in time, I smiled to myself then cried. And, I’ll never forget the time I was driving somewhere and I heard one of his favorite songs on the radio. It brought me right back to Christmas morning when his sister had given him that CD as a gift, he was so happy and thanked Sammi for the perfect present. This time the tears came streaming down my face all the while trying to keep myself from driving off the road.  Very shortly after Luke’s accident, I found his white Fox hat sitting in his room. It was a little grimy and he had written his initials on the brim with an eraser, but it was a piece of him that I could not part with.  I would hold it and smell it because it smelled like him-like the wonderful combination of boyhood, sweat, and dirt. And, each of those smells brought back so many memories. One memory that our family and most of Luke’s friends and classmates would remember is of him wearing that hat at an odd angle on the top of his head looking like it might fall off at any minute. We’re still amazed by that feat. It didn’t take long, however, for that smell to disappear, but I’ll always hold dear the gift that that one small hat gave me. The sense of touch is a little bit harder, but what comes to mind for me is the many dreams I’ve had of Luke in the last four and a half years.  During my dreams, Luke is almost always a toddler. And, each time, in those magnificent nighttime wanderings, I am walking alongside my son and holding his doughy little hand. I can feel him clutching my fingers tightly as we’re guiding each other along a sidewalk somewhere unknown. I always awaken with the feeling of truly being with him and I’ve never forgotten those dreams or the way his sweet little hand felt in mine.

Memories are wonderful gifts that become more and more valuable each day. As we reminisce, these memories will transport us back in time to a place of sheer joy and sometimes overwhelming pain. However, it is so important to honor the memories of our loved ones. Sometimes, I might light a candle or sometimes I go for a ride on my mountain bike and at times I’ll even go (almost as) fast as he used to. Whatever it is you want to do to honor their lives, it is important that you do. It keeps their memory alive for us and for them, it’s like we’re saying, “Thanks for the memories.”

March 3, 2015

Changes….

So, this weeks grief group topic inspired me to write-finally! The topic is CHANGE.

It is a word that puts fear in some and brings out the best in others. Books have been written about it, like the book, Change Your Brain, Change Your Life. Songs have been sung, like Changes by David Bowie or today’s Night Changes by One Direction. It is a subject that a grieving person or child does not particularly appreciate or like. It means that life will be different, definitely not the same as it used to be now that their loved one has died. In life though, we all know, that change as well as loss is inevitable. Most of don’t care to think about it or even do consider it unless something happens to change that.

Recently, in the same week, I encountered two changes not as serious as a loss, but certainly stressful. My oldest daughter moved out on her own and my mom had a serious medical issue. Both changes caused me anxiety and certain amount of sadness. Both also created an instant increase in love and joy. As I look at the negatives of both experiences, I undoubtedly felt an overwhelming amount of anxiety knowing that my first born would no longer be living where I could relax in knowing she was in our home, safe and secure. And, sadness that she was all grown up and living on her own-not needing her Mom for everything any longer. My Mom’s stroke brought about both and anxiety and sadness in knowing that we easily could have lost her to that episode. However, the positives of both experiences were also profound. Each happening strengthened my knowing and reminded me again of the ever-flowing stream of life. My daughter has begun a new life for herself as all young people need to do and I find so much joy in that. My Mom is looking at her life in a new light. Are their areas of her life she would like to change? Will she see the importance of her existence to our family? I hope so! We love her beyond words.

 

After Luke’s death, so much was different. Life was surely not the same. Would I concentrate on the negatives of the change? At first, yes. Our family was smaller, our table which enjoyed the company of five now had to endure meals with one of us missing. Going away as a family would never be as pleasurable as it once had been.. We looked at life with a shadow of darkness, not with the mostly sun-filled days we had once celebrated. As the months and years have gone on, I have begun to encounter those sun-filled days again. As much as it is still difficult to allow those days to warm my soul, I know they are a gift from Luke and I need to enjoy them.

 

Change is not easy but, when you remember the life of our sweet butterfly, it is vital! I will tell the students of my group that. Someone once told me, if a person going through the changes of loss would only realize, that living life after a loss is like standing at the bottom of a small mountain. It will look daunting and difficult, it may even seem impossible, but with each new experience, with each step forward, they will come to understand how and why they need make the journey to the top. Who knows what wonderful, amazing sights they will behold on that mountain. Who knows what life’s changes will bring, but that they should allow the winds of change to blow in and take them farther and farther on down their paths.

 

 

 

 

December 24, 2014

Christmas Eve Blessings

 

On this Christmas Eve night, I would like to post a little about what this  holiday means to me. I usually share my experiences of grief and loss, but today I would like to share my thoughts on hope. I don’t typically post about my personal views on other topics, but I felt inspired this morning on this special day to tell you about an experience I had relating to Christmas.  Hoping you find peace during the Christmas season and in the New Year ahead.

 

As a young child it was the promise of all of the wonderful Christmas gifts under the tree that created the excitement and hope of Christmas morning. Today, it is God’s promise of hope for a life filled with love, joy and light that I look forward to at Christmas time. After Luke died four years ago, the holidays and especially Christmas (Luke’s favorite holiday) were some of the most difficult times to “get through”. The hope that our family’s life would ever be joyous again was so slim that the thought of going to church, celebrating Christmas or anticipating the new year ahead was too hard. It was all just too much. I was so resentful that God took away my only son that even considering to honor his birth and his gift to us was out of the question. I didn’t attend church for the next three years. The faith that I nurtured and cherished my entire life was gone just like my son. I felt I was walking alone on this journey….that God had abandoned me in my life. That he was punishing me for whatever sins or misdeeds I had committed in the forty-four years I had been on the Earth. It was a dark period in my spiritual life.

At about the three year mark, I felt the pull of God to return to my church-the place I grew up creating a bond with God. It wasn’t an immediate happening, but a little experience in New Orleans last year cemented my decision to go back. It was the Sunday before Christmas, a beautiful, historic church named the St. Louis Cathedral was within walking distance of our hotel. I asked my family to attend church with me and they agreed. I was so happy to have everyone attend with me. As I entered through the doors of this old, sacred place, I could feel my heart opening to the experience. We sat in the last row and admired the magnificence of the architecture, the red poinsettias and holiness of it all. Each year the Catholic Church does a reading from one of the four gospels-that year according to the church bulletin, the gospel reading was according to Matthew. I looked forward to hearing the messages of the readings since I felt this might be a good time for God to speak to me through his word. I prayed to him and to Luke that they give me a sign through the readings in anyway they could. When the priest came to stand in front of the pulpit, I was “all ears”, waiting for my message. The priest begins each gospel saying these words, “A reading from the holy gospel according to St.________.” I, of course, expected his next word to be Matthew, but what he said next sent a shock of electricity through my body. Father said, “A reading from the gospel according to St. LUKE!! My heart leapt with joy in my body, I teared up immediately and a huge, wide smile crossed my lips. The rest of the congregation probably thought I was totally crazy. I couldn’t stop smiling or keep the tears from coming to my eyes. As I type this, I can still feel the amazing range of emotions pulsing through my body. Now, I know that some people might say that there was just a typo in the bulletin that day and the name switch could have easily been a mistake, but to me it was just the sign I needed, the gift I was looking to receive that Christmas. In a church so very far away from the one I usually attend, God had shown me in a very subtle way he was still by my side and that, more importantly, he was embracing my son in his arms and loving him for me. This small event opened my heart to God’s word and his promise of a beautiful life filled with love, joy and light. I thanked God and Luke for their wonderful gift. After that Sunday, I began going to my own church here at home on a regular basis. Returning to God wasn’t quick and it certainly wasn’t easy, but when I did come back, it gave me the hope that I needed to live my life here on Earth with love, joy and light. That, truly is God’s gift to us tonight. On Christmas Eve, I believe the promise to us all is that even if life here on Earth isn’t always perfect and sometimes it just isn’t fair, with His guidance and the help of our sweet angels, we will find the true gifts of the season. Wishing everyone a peaceful and meaningful Christmas filled with love, joy and light.

Love,

 

The Hahn Family

 

December 3, 2014

Grief During the Holidays

It has been such a long time since I’ve written. I guess that means I’ve been sleeping through the night with no “waking inspirations”. I should be well rested!

Two weeks ago, I was on a panel of other bereaved people presenting our stories and experiences of grief at a rather large, wonderfully welcoming church in Bethlehem. It was a discussion about grieving during the holiday season and all of the varied emotions, experiences and issues that can arise during this “most wonderful time of the year”.  With Thanksgiving over and the holidays quickly approaching, I thought I might write a blog about this difficult topic.  I am reminded of the duality of the holidays-the coming together of families and noticeable separation of loved ones who have died, the feelings of happiness and “good cheer” and the feelings of longing and loneliness. As well as the expressions of love and the overwhelming expression of sadness. The holidays can mean so many different things to so many.  I think back on our first Thanksgiving without Luke. Kraig was still in rehab at Good Shepherd and we tried so hard to make it “ok” for him and for ourselves, but the longing and sadness were so apparent you could have cut them with our hospital-issued plastic knives. It was the worst holiday on record for our family. Kraig came home a few weeks later on Christmas Eve. We tried our best for the girls sake to create some kind of normalcy -to keep our old traditions in tact, but the hole left by Luke’s absence was just too great. Nothing we did felt even close to right. We were like toy soldiers you see during the Christmas season, painted on smiles with robot-like movements just going through the motions. We had no idea how to act or how to go about getting through this holiday stuff. It was severely painful in so many ways. We did reminisce a little, being led along by the ghost of Christmas Past, as we viewed our “old life” floating above a warm, inviting home all decorated for the season and smelling of newly baked cookies and pine. Our memories were like receiving the best-ever Christmas present, a perfect gift in our minds of how things were supposed to be. We talked about a Christmas morning when Luke was about 18 months old. He had just woken up and the girls rushed in to his room to get him and couldn’t wait to show him all the gifts under the tree for him. He was practically still asleep, but when Sammi placed him on his new ride-on John Deere tractor with the vibrating seat and it started to shake him around, the face he gave us was priceless! We laughed and smiled thinking back to that sweet time. We then remembered him on his last Christmas with us. On Christmas Eve each year, we would each take a turn reading our favorite Christmas stories. Luke usually deferred the reading part to us girls, but that year he chose a book and read the entire story. We all cheered and we were so happy he did it. He, of course, didn’t show much emotion, but we knew inside he was proud of himself.  I rely on these memories when this season of love and family shows up at the end of the year and always gives us a little glimpse of our family without Luke. Nothing we can do or buy or experience will ever give us the joy that having Luke in our lives would bring us. One last memory before I’m done- two years ago our “new” family went away on a cruise for Christmas. It was two days before Christmas and we had stayed in our cabin and watched movies -some of them Luke’s favorites. After the movies were over, we all decided to go out on the balcony to get some air. It was a clear, perfect night-all we could see were stars. They seemed to be surrounding us -not just in the sky above, but all around us like a warm, comfy blanket. We each stood in our own little spot. All at once, my emotions overtook me and I began to cry, the tears running down my face like they hadn’t in a long time. I’m not sure what anyone else was thinking or experiencing, but I couldn’t help but cry for the sadness of losing my only son, for the longing of needing him in my life and most importantly for the love I couldn’t physically give to him or receive.  But, I kept searching in those stars on that beautiful, clear night two days before Christmas for just an inkling or confirmation that my sweet boy was somehow with me -with all of us. As I stood there a few moments more, out of the blue I heard a voice in my head, “I’m here Mom, I’m here with you always”. Those few words gave me peace like no other and I am grateful. I believe it was my Christmas gift from Luke. Unfortunately for all of us grieving, the holiday season is a difficult time, but if you will keep your heart and mind open, there will be gifts from your loved ones. The reward of TRULY knowing they are with you always is a gift rivaled by none.

September 10, 2014

Grief Relief

“Grief Relief”

 

My husband, Kraig, frequently tries to help me out with the programs and/or our foundation’s direction. He’s not too bad with word play or rhyming (He tells me proudly that his father was really good at it too!) So, the past few weeks, he’s been bugging me to somehow use the name – “Grief Relief” as the name of one of our programs. Grief Relief, pretty catchy, easy to remember, its what our foundation is trying to do, right? So, then I wonder, “does that make us then, the grief police?” Aren’t the police supposed to protect and help it’s citizens to travel safely down the highway of life? Don’t they offer some sort of assistance to those who need it? I think they do. Hmmmm…..maybe my husband is on to something here! But, can (the Grief Police) really give people -relief on their journeys down the highway of loss? I’m not sure if that is completely possible.

I’ve read probably hundreds of times how each person’s grief journey is as unique as a snowflake or as individual as a fingerprint. No person’s journey is alike. What might seem like relief to some might just be a hinderance to others. For instance, I found the steady flow of people visiting in the first few months, a wonderful comfort. This support is what made our small, wonderful community so amazing. Whereas, others who’ve had losses just wanted to be left alone and didn’t answer the door when visitors came calling. Another example would be looking at photos of Luke – I kept them all out and about in my house (and added more) so I could see his sweet, smiling face everywhere I looked, others have told me they put every photograph away immediately because they were too difficult to look at after their loss. It can be so easy to make the wrong call when it comes to grievers, which makes naming our program, “Grief Relief” all the more difficult. How can I know what things give people solace, what gives them consolation when we are all so different in dealing with our sadness? When one way of coping with loss brings so much reassurance to some and the complete opposite to others?

If I could offer a little “grief relief” to other people on their journey, I would start out by saying, “no one is an expert on your grief, but you. What you need to get through each day only you can decide.” I could give you lots of advice about what helped me, but you need to figure out what works for you. Speaking of advice, there will be A LOT of well-meaning supporters who will offer it to you, take what you feel is right and discard the rest. So many people just don’t know what to say, so they use the “old standby” phrases like, “Well, he’s with God now,” or “His suffering is over”. Words that are most likely true, but just not what a griever wants to hear, since the bereaved just want their loved ones “with them here on Earth and here and not suffering at all.” Again, it’s just so hard to find the right words to say at a time of loss so just give a hug, hold their hands and later on in their journey, make a point to mention their loved ones name. How very sweet it is to hear someone mention how they remember something funny (or a lot of times NOT so funny) that Luke did or said. It is truly music to my ears! Just knowing someone thinks about my Lukey and then tells me about it, brings me healing like nothing else can. Sometimes the story might even make me cry, but that’s ok too. Since, the outward expression of grief is also vital and healing as well. It is the number one rule in all of my grief support groups, “It’s ok to cry.” Ask any of the students in my groups about our “group rules” and they’ll probably shout out, it’s ok to cry” like a teacher was asking them to quickly answer a question for a review. It has never been an easy one for me to show emotion in public and most times people don’t like to witness someone else crying either, but it is much more important to allow your feelings to surface than it is to push them down where they will come out in other ways at a later time. I’ve read of young children not being able to grieve in their own way, only to grow up (5, 10, 15 years down the road) and have various issues with physical or mental health which no one can explain. It isn’t until they begin counseling that the relationship with their earlier loss explains the problems. One last piece of advice, although there is so much more “grief relief” I could write about- that’s ok, maybe in my next writing. Anyway, find an activity (I must stress-a POSITIVE one) that you can do often to cope with all of the emotions that are experienced in grieving. For me, journalling (surprising huh?) was my soul saver. It was my refuge, my safe haven. I could write about anything in that journal that I might not say to another human being. At first, it was filled with feelings like anger and sadness, then the thoughts turned to letting Luke know that I was creating the foundation and doing good work for him, now I write about my everyday life and the accomplishments of the foundation, but hoping he knows about it all already since most of us know he hated to read! Ha! There are other great coping methods such as dancing, music, creating art and doing something in honor of your loved one. All of these positive approaches can make a huge impact on your passage through grief.

As to whether I will name a new foundation program, “Grief Relief”, I’m not sure, but it is our goal in whatever ways that we can companion both children and adults in our community on their journeys. And, I don’t mean to downplay our role in helping people by using the name, the “Grief Police” because we do take our mission very seriously. I am hoping that in whatever avenues we decide to be of service to others, we do the very best we can with love and compassion in the name of our Luke.

August 18, 2014

Reflections In the Mirror…

As I watched the stunning news of the death of Robin Williams on T.V., it hit me with not just sadness of the passing of a wonderful man, actor and comedian, but also the realization of the ways others see us. Most of had known about the addictions he had experienced and probably everyone knew about the depression he suffered with, but not many knew the severity to which it affected him. That when he looked in the mirror, maybe he didn’t see the greatness to which we all saw him-his amazing ability to make us all laugh or cry-to feel. Maybe his reflection was a dark one-one we certainly never saw. His death-so tragic and unimaginable makes us all take a good look in the mirror and truly see ourselves. The image we must learn to see is not the one we want others to believe of us, it should be the reality of our own being.

For me personally I learned at a very young age, to suppress my true feelings and “put on a happy face” as they say. My father was an alcoholic in which at times he acted out in intense anger during those drinking episodes. I knew to stay away from him while (and sometimes after) those episodes that a lot of times wrecked havoc in our home. As my mom also did, I would just try to keep the peace by pretending everything was “normal.” We just found it was easier to grin and bear it, so to speak. I’ve learned by reading books on alcoholism that this is co-dependency and quite a normal experience for those living with an alcoholic. I could see just a little of the similarities in my life and the life of Robin Williams. Because maybe he didn’t feel it was acceptable for him to be depressed in the public eye, he displayed an image to the world that was truly different that what was actually the case. When he looked in the mirror, just like I did as a young child, we saw the image of a person not quite like the one reflected inside.

When grieving a loss, it can be the same kind of experience. When you lose someone, and for whatever reason you have in your head, you don’t truly reflect how you feel. Whether it is because you don’t want the world to think you’re “weak,” or that you cry. Or whether you “detach” from your feelings because of a learned experiences as a child, grieving can be a “touchy” occurrence. I have admitted to some friends that I found it difficult to NOT smile after Luke’s death. How strange is that admission? I know now that my coping mechanism made me want to immediately cover up my internal feelings and created a real reflex to just smile. One of the hardest parts of my grieving journey was to learn to reflect (truly) what was happening on the inside-on the outside. That when I looked in the mirror, if I saw sadness, anger, resentment or just anguish, I could allow those real emotions to show themselves not just to me, but to others as well. I’m absolutely positive that I am not the first grieving person to feel it’s inappropriate to mourn in public, whether you’re at the grocery store and you see your loved one’s favorite cereal or you’re at someone’s house and a song comes on the radio that reminds you of him or her. When these “reminders” show up and triggers a grief reaction-honor your feelings and then let them go. This is an essential part of healing and one that should not be overlooked.

To be able to express how you’re truly feeling on the outside is freeing. Now, when I’m feeling emotional and need to “break down” I’m learning to do it. I want to look in the mirror and know that I am truly ME. Sometimes, looking in the mirror and seeing your authentic self can be quite a harrowing experience, but I no longer want to feel, maybe like Robin Williams did, that he needed to be someone else in public than he was in private. He must have been in so much anguish when he looked in the mirror and only saw the sad, helpless part of his soul and not the part others saw-the funny, silly, amazing actor/comedian that could make millions of people laugh or cry. Hopefully, as with all souls that depart from this Earth, we will all learn from their lives one lesson or another. The one reoccurring message that keeps coming up for me is, love every person for who they are-for their ”flaws,” their dark sides, and bad moods, as well as their “good” sides because we may not always know what someone is going through in this life.