January 17, 2007 Edition

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TCF founder offers reflections

By Dana Penn
Guest Writer

The Lawrence County Compassionate Friends met in January and reflected on the first-year accomplishments. We have had up to 15 at our monthly meetings, a slow start but never the less an outreach that will continue and hopefully grow.

More than 40 monthly newsletters are sent out with plans for this to grow, as well. Two special and successful events held were the "Walk To Remember" and the "Candle lighting." Plans will be underway for those again this year.

We would like to say thank you to many in the community that have recognized TCF as an important outreach program as it is meant to be, especially The Times Dispatch for wonderful coverage when requested.

Here are some discoveries that I have made since my journey started in 1991. I know there's many; many here in our community who can relate and hopefully the following can help.

Find those loving people. Surround yourself with people who put no demands on you and let you grieve at your own pace, setting no timetables for you. Caring friends, new and old is a major force in "just getting through another day."

Read about grief. Visit the public library, your favorite bookstore and your local Compassionate Friends chapter library. Locate books written by persons who have "walked your walk" and find out what helped them survive. Inspiring words and stories will fill you with positive ideas, validate your feelings, suggest useful coping skills and offer hope when you feel there's none to be found.

Pamper yourself. Take good care of yourself. Do what helps you the most. Carefully pick and choose things to do that are refreshing to you. Avoid situations and people that drag you down until you are stronger and can handle them.

Keep a journal. Try to write your thoughts and feelings in a special notebook. Record what brings you a moment of joy or what causes turmoil in your life. Write the things you wished you had said, ask for forgiveness if that is necessary or simply tell what your days are like. As time goes on, you will learn a lot about yourself from your journal, tracking the roller coaster ride of grief.

Take time each day to grieve. Set aside a daily time when you can meditate, think, read, cry, look at pictures, pray, feel your child's presence~a time by yourself to sort out your feelings and deal with them one by one. Slow down and make this a priority. Even if it's just 15 minutes, to rearrange, to reflect instead of running from it.

Tell the world how you really feel. Don't be afraid to tell people that you are struggling to take "baby steps" in your grief, that you are not "fine." Be honest. It takes time to go from "fine" to "telling it as it is."

Cry. Release all those emotions instead of stuffing them down inside. Crying is healthy and is a vital part of our mourning. Men, that goes for you too.

Tell your story. It's important to talk, telling your story becomes part of you. It soothes your soul to make sure their memory will not be erased and it is a motivating factor to life going on. This is one reason TCF is so important, you don't have to be afraid of sharing. Everyone understands, your stories are all different but; bottom line is "we've all lost our child."

Teach others to talk about your loved one. Make sure people know that it is "music to your ears" to hear stories or just the mention of their name. Dispel the myth that talking about them is upsetting to you. Hearing their name and knowing they are remembered far outweighs that and makes your heart sing.

Reach out to your spouse/family/friend. Even though you may be grieving differently and feel like you are living on different planets, respect each other's method of mourning. Be sure to spend time together, even if it is just giving a hug, holding hands, walking around the block or sharing a cup of coffee. Give yourselves time to be on the same wavelength. Make sure you get plenty of hugs.

Give yourself permission to be crazy. Doing things that bring pleasure to your heart, but might seem strange to those who are not bereaved, can make you smile and give you momentum. So, send off those balloons with a message attached, bake a birthday cake, sing your child's favorite song, wear their favorite shirt, carry their picture with you, sign their name to a card, save an empty chair for them, collect angels, paint rainbows, look for butterflies -whatever makes your heart feel better~do it. That's one more day that you can survive.

Pray. I suppose we should mention this first. Praying is simply talking, and talking is vital. So, pray to your child and to God. Feel the strength that enfolds you and carries you. This too, is a critical part to healthy grieving.

Establish new routines, traditions. Try some new things that develop new pleasure for your family, whether it is different seats at the table, new hobbies, new ways to celebrate holidays, new friends, doing all those things you put off, or just taking time "to smell the roses." Most find comfort doing things that their child might do: walking the beach, listening to music, being an avid sports fan. Lighting candles, collecting angels or butterflies will start delightful traditions that will keep your children included in every event and at every family gathering. I PROMISE

Invest that special love. Most importantly - don't waste that special love you have. Find ways to keep your child's memory alive: writing, planting a garden, establishing a scholarship, sponsoring a person in need, reach out to other bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents, volunteering. Anything that is meaningful to you. By investing that special love, your child can still make a difference in the world, through you. Offer yourself to others, in spite of your pain - You can! And know you made something good happen because you will always, always have that special love.

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