Tag Archives: death

On Children and Grief

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On Children and Grief

Hi there!

As usual, it’s been a minute since I have posted.  I could tell you any number of excuses why, but, I’ll spare you and just thank you for reading today.

Many things have happened in the last seven months.  A quick recap: I got my tonsils out, I went on a trip to New Mexico, I’ve even been to visit my brother in the Bay thrice since then.  I’m still in grad school working toward my master’s degree in counseling with an emphasis on grief, expressive art therapy and play therapy.  I still love it.

That’s why I’m writing today, actually.  If you’ve read my blog, spoken to me, or seen me in the last three and a half years, you probably know that I’m a nanny.  It is also very likely you know that princess buttercup and mr. butterbean’s mom died (October 24, 2014).  Having been through the death of my own mother, combined with experiencing life with the kiddos I nanny leading up to, during and after the death of their mom is what motivated me to seek a career in counseling.

Why though?  Well. Losing a parent sucks.  Regardless of the circumstances, it is profoundly distressing on so many different levels- some of which take years to understand- and I’m speaking of this happening during adulthood.  As a child, it’s profoundly distressing on many different levels, for many years and at each new stage of development and for each major life event after the loss.

Kids are resilient, however, that’s a lot of emotions to process over and over for the rest of a lifetime.  Especially if the adult(s) in the family are dealing with their own grief, role changes, financial stress and/or all the other stressors that come along with the death of a loved one.  The kids could easily be overlooked, or due to misinformation, not even acknowledged as a grieving person.

Everyone who  is capable of loving is capable of grieving and everyone-especially the youngest of humans- deserves to have their feelings about the death acknowledged.  It’s hard for kids to articulate what they are feeling, they simply don’t have the language. As a result, sometimes their actions are not easily recognized as being grief related.

Children who experience the death of someone they love need to have a safe space or trusted person to explore those overwhelming and confusing feelings.  This Thursday, November 17th is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day.
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Please join me in acknowledging and furthering a cause that I feel so strongly about that I have dedicated the majority of my current life to be that trusted person not only for the littles that I nanny, but for other children in need, including the kiddos at the organization for which I volunteer- Journey of Hope.

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Newbie training/Orientation in August

You can support the cause and let thousands of grieving children know that you’re on their side by simply wearing blue on Thursday.

If you have a child or work with children, you can print a butterfly for them to decorate and tell them they can hold it up when or if they don’t have the words to say that they’re hurting.  By responding with extra love, attention and empathy, we empower their little souls by helping them recognize that we care and  will do whatever it takes to guide them safely through one of the toughest parts of the human experience.  We can help them learn that in pain, there is strength.

Thank you for reading and I hope you help me will spread awareness of this important day.

Donate to Journey of Hope here

Donate to the National Alliance for Grieving Children here

Read more about what grief looks like in children here and  here

Remembering Mom: part 5

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Remembering Mom: part 5

It feels bizarre that I’ve been grieving for five years.  It went by much more slowly in the beginning.  The sorrow is less all consuming five years in, but the hurt is still there, as I suspect it will always be.

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Mom

I attended a funeral on Friday (my mom’s birthday) and that put me into a state of contemplation.  Death is so final. Obviously I understand that death is final, but I was thinking about it on a deeper level.  The DFW National Cemetery is huge, there are so many graves that it’s almost unconscionable to even wrap my head around.  What happened to all of those families?  Were they able to move forward, or is the loss still affecting the family generations later?

I’ll never know the answers to those questions for those families, but I know the answer for my family.  If I were walking through the cemetery where my mom’s dad is buried, I know for sure that the effect his death had on my mom deeply affected my childhood.

I’m not resentful about this, I point it out to illustrate that there is a cycle that can develop in families if grief and trauma remain unresolved.  Our brains love patterns and seek them from the moment we are born.  If there’s a pattern of sadness and grief in a parent, the baby’s brain will pick up that pattern and light up in the same areas.  If that grief remains unresolved in the parent, as the baby’s brain develops it will continue to follow that pattern.  That pattern of grief and sadness becomes the foundation for all the future relationships the baby has, even though all those feelings could be going on subconsciously in the parent. Isn’t that bananas?

The brain is amazing.  It loves patterns, but is also adaptable.  We have the ability to change those early patterns in our brains at any time.  This is what has been going on with me.  When something clicks in my self awareness and I examine it’s origin, I can create a new pattern my brain can follow that works better for my life.

Look how far I’ve come by simply becoming aware of the deep fear I was experiencing and learning to recognize the negative impact it was having on my life.  I am in graduate school pursuing the career I always wanted but, until recently,  never thought I could actually have.  For the first time in decades, I actually feel ambitious.

Something that has really resonated with me over the last year has been to really take advantage of my abilities and talents rather than minimize them.  When I use my creativity or connect with a child, I feel enriched.  These are my gifts and I think they were given to me so I can use them to influence the world in a positive way.  Maybe not the entire world, but someone’s little word.

I want to be honest and let you know that I still struggle.  A lot of my recent growth has been sparked by having to accept some painful realizations about myself. I still have to keep strategies in place to cope with my anxiety and depression. It’s required if I want to be my best self and I own and accept that.

For me, there has definitely been marked change in the way I grieve at the 5 year mark.  I’m beginning to come around to the idea of letting her go in a way that I wasn’t before.  I was holding on to so much for so long because I was afraid that letting go of those feelings would mean letting go of her.  I realize now that, regardless, she’ll always be a part of me.  I still miss her everyday and I wish she could be here to see the person I am becoming, she’s the one who started me on this journey and she will always be a source of inspiration to me.

RIP, mom. I miss you and I love you so much.

Peggie Gardner
April 15, 1951-April 19, 2011

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Artwork by Logan Pack

 

Remembering Mom Pt. 3

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Hi there. I am all settled in Baltimore. My brother received his transplant and is now making healthy, donor generated blood cells. He has a lot more energy these days and things are looking up. It’s kind of crazy that all this would go down almost exactly three years after we did it the first time. April, man.

My mom’s birthday was April 15, she would have been 63. The anniversary of her passing was April 19. I sometimes wonder what place she would have in all of this if she were alive. I speculate on whether or not she would trust me to take care of Bryant, if she would be here taking care of him too…how she would have handled it. IF she would have been able to handle it at all?

I don’t know, in some ways it’s probably better that she’s not here for this. I, of course, selfishly wish that she was so she could comfort me. So I guess craving your mother’s comfort is something that never goes away with time.

Some things do change though. While last year and the year before I was concerned with what impact my mom’s death had on me, I now find myself looking for answers about the impact her life had on me.

Maybe coming to terms with who exactly she was and what influence that had on me is what I need in order to be able to celebrate her now that she’s gone. Up until a few weeks ago I had been focused on her death and consequently, my grieving.

Now I want to focus on life and healing. The process of grieving led me on this ongoing journey of personal growth. This journey has brought up very important questions about who I am and maybe even more importantly, why I am who I am.

The influences my parents had on me will stay with me forever and I’ve only been looking at the big picture. I am only just now realizing that events that, at the time I thought had no effect on me… are actually at the core of who I am as a person.

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Wedding day!

It’s not always fun or easy to answer questions about who I’ve grown to be. But as my very wise big brother tells me, “once you’re done growing, you’re done living.” I never want to stop growing, improving myself, learning. The bottom line, and I’ve said it before, is that I have a responsibility to the people that love me. You see, if I stop growing, I’m not only cheating myself, I’m cheating the people that love me and the people that I love.

I’m not sure if that makes sense but I hope it does. I can’t explain it any other way except that I never want anyone that ever loves me to feel like I gave up. My mom labeled me a fighter the day I came into this world (prematurely, dangerously underweight with a hernia) and I will remain a fighter until I absolutely cannot win anymore.

So, that’s that. I was able to keep myself distracted on April 19 with some of my amazing friends here in Baltimore. They were kind enough to take time out of their Easter weekends to join me on a local pirate cruise. It was ridiculously fun, I laughed the entire day.

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Getting knifed and photobombed simultaneously

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World class scallywags

Last year, my best friend and I went to the Perot museum in Dallas and also laughed the entire day. I decided that after this year I’d like to try to make it a tradition to make April 19 the most fun day of the year.

Mother’s Day was tough, I can try to laugh as much as I want, but deep down, I never stop missing my mom. The pain is always there. My brother was there for me though, he hung out with me all day, hugged me while I cried and tried to keep me laughing as much as possible anyway. Lots of people tell me he’s lucky to have such a great sister, but it’s me who is lucky.

Next time I’ll write about my trip to Dallas. It was super fun, and nice to have a break and be home. Thanks for reading as always!

remembering mom: year 2

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It’s very strange to  think that I haven’t talked to my mom in two years. I haven’t heard her tell me that I’m her favorite daughter (I’m her only daughter) or that she loves me or simply that everything is going to be all right.

Over the last two years I have realized it’s hearing little things like that, that I miss the most about not having my mom here anymore. Especially since I’m like a child in the sense that I never tired of hearing stories from her about myself as a baby. I always asked to hear, and she would always tell me without complaint, how she was absolutely certain that she was growing a tiny alien when she was pregnant with me. This is because I used to sit in there and run my fingers down the inside of her stomach. I can imagine myself doing it, too. It certainly sounds like something I would do.  She said it was the weirdest feeling ever. It’s because of this story that I tell the kids I watch that I’ve had a tickle monster inside of me since before I was born.

Another good one that I liked to hear her tell is- well, let me back up, the first thing you need to know is that when I was a toddler, I had this weird accent. I really have no idea where it came from, especially considering that as an adult, I have almost no discernible accent. So when I was three, my favorite color was purple (shocking!) and one day, my mom picked out this pink dress for me to wear and I straight up told her I didn’t want to wear pink, I wanted to wear “puhhhpul.” It’s the way she said “puhhpul” that made the story so funny to me. Her impression of me saying purple as well as her telling me that I wanted us to be together because we were “guuhls” (girls) never failed to make me laugh.

I wanted to talk about what has changed in the second year without her compared to the first year.  Everyone grieves differently, and this has been my experience compared to last year: I miss her just as much but it’s a little easier not to cry about it. I don’t get the urge to call her anymore, although I still wish that I could. I still think about her everyday, but not the entire day. I no longer feel the weight of my grief holding me down, although some days are still better than others. And the biggest difference between this year and last is that my memories of her are much more pleasant and I no longer feel any guilt whatsoever.

As far as what hasn’t changed…how much I love her, for one. I still want a hug from her, I probably always will.  I’m also still not ready to celebrate her life because even with so much progress- and there has been a lot of progress– I’m still not there yet. I feel like I can’t truly celebrate her life like she deserves from me, which is genuinely, until I’m more happy that she’s free than sad that she’s gone. I haven’t reached that point yet, even though I realize how selfish it sounds. However, even though I know without a doubt she wouldn’t want me to be sad, she definitely wouldn’t want me to pretend to be happy when I’m not. She knew how important she was and is to me and would be able to see right through it anyway.  She didn’t even have to see me to know if something was wrong, she could always detect it in my voice, even if I was deliberately trying to hide it.  She knows how bad I am at pretending, hell, it’s because of her that I’m so incorrigibly genuine.

I think as a daughter, sister, cousin, niece, friend, babysitter and whoever else I am to anyone- the most important concept I’ve come to accept from a major loss is that now, more than ever, I want to take responsibility for the people that love me. By that, I mean do whatever it takes with what little control I have over how long I live to keep myself happy, healthy and safe so I can be around as long as possible.  I hope that the people that I love take responsibility too, because I don’t want to miss anyone else.  I can see how easy it is to get wrapped up in my own worries, or even fun, for that matter- without regard to what life would be like without me for everyone else.  And I’ve learned that if someone loves me, I should hold that in extremely high regard because I would never wish losing someone you love on anyone.  Especially if I love them, and especially if it’s forever.

Rest in peace, Mom.  It’s been two years since you left, but your influences continue to live on in my life daily.  If I become even half the woman that you were, I’ll be doing pretty well. I miss you and I love you.  You’re the bestest in the westest.

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Peggie Anne Gardner

April 15, 1951-April 19, 2011

remembering mom

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Today marks one year since my mom passed away, and what a year it has been.    So much has happened all over the spectrum.   There was so much change and so many tears.  A few priceless memories and several painful memories.

I remember the especially traumatic events used to replay in my mind in order of appearance in my life and haunt me.  And when those memories weren’t playing, the guilt was.  There were so many things that I wished I would have done.  None of them would have saved her, but I wished I had done them anyway.

Leaving all that behind me hasn’t been easy.  I want to get to the point where my happy memories hit me first.  She wouldn’t want me to be haunted by painful memories. She loved me and was an incredible source of comfort to me and that’s how she deserves to be remembered.

Mom helping me walk

My favorite memories aren’t anything particularly exciting.  Just spending time together and laughing, mostly.  I miss her laugh and her making me laugh. One day, in the hospital, she was about to go down for some sort of scan.  The guy that always came to get her had only met me, but this time my dad and my brother were also there.  He asked my mom who everyone was and she gestured to us and said, “My daughter, Kasey,  My son, Bryant,” and finally she points to my dad (keep in mind, my parents were divorced) and says, “baby daddy.”  Everyone in the room busted out laughing.  I think that was the last hearty laugh we had, the four of us together.

A family classic

I think what I miss even more, is having that extra person on my side unconditionally.  It is such a profound loss, not just because of what she did for me in my life but because she gave me life.  She didn’t have to keep me safe in her tummy for 7 months.  When the doctors wanted to refuse to tie her tubes because they thought I was going to die, she knew in her heart that I am a fighter and I wasn’t going to give up so easily.

She always fought for me and she was always proud of me.  I don’t know many other people’s moms that would walk around bragging that their daughter is a bartender…but mine did.  Annoyingly so, sometimes.  Anyone that ever came to the house, I just HAD to make them a drink.  I just HAD to make hors d’oeuvres.  I hated it, but I know now that she just wanted everyone else to see what she saw in me.  She wanted me to see what she saw in me.

Yes, that’s what I miss most.  She was one of only a handful people in my life that went out of her way to make an effort to make me feel like I was important and that I deserve great things, you know?  Our relationship wasn’t perfect, but when it came down to it, she put in the time.  Even if she was exhausted she would pick up my calls at 3 a.m. to let me vent about work.  Every time.  I miss her so much.

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I had a bond with my mom that I have very rarely seen in other mother daughter relationships or been able to relate to anyone else about.  When I was a little kid, I was always right next to her.  I can’t remember ever going through a time where I was embarrassed by her mere existence, as most teenagers tend to be.  I held my mom’s hand in public until I was 27 years old.  She was my best friend and even though I am not religious, I know that it was no accident that we were placed together in this life.

I can’t say that I will be celebrating my mom’s life today.  I think it’s too soon, I am still mourning her loss.  I can,  however,  celebrate how far I’ve come since that day.  I was sure that I had hit my threshold for emotional pain after the funeral.  But the bad news just kept coming.

If it had only been my mom, I think it would have been easy to let grief completely take me over.   But my brother and best friend were fighting for survival and, even though I was completely broken, I had to get up and fight for them too.  They are worth fighting for.

I would have never thought that in the process I would learn so much about my character.  The difference between what I think I can handle and what I can actually handle is far greater than I previously thought.  I think I have grown more as a person in this last year than I had in the previous 3, combined.

All that and my own personal safety net was gone during all of it.  I know that my mom would’ve liked to see the two big passions that have come out of my experiences.  For one, I love to cook, which I never did before.  While I will admit I had to start cooking out of necessity for my brother, it really turned into a hobby that I throw myself in to.

Second, my mom always said this one phrase to me, from one of her favorite songs.  I thought it was so cheesy and I always rolled my eyes whenever she said it.  She always said, “I hope you dance, Kasey.  I always loved watching you dance.” I quit dance to become a full-time cheerleader when I was thirteen, so it just sounded ridiculous to me.   Well, you can imagine my surprise when I started going to one dance class at my gym and now dance seems to be slowly taking over my life.  I forgot how much I liked it and now I go to anywhere from 3-8 classes a week.  Who knew?  Mom did, of course.

Maybe she’s watching me dance, but honestly, I hope  she’s dancing herself– with her dad, brothers, friends and, as of April 2, 2012 her mom.

Mom, Bryant, Grandma, and myself

Rest in peace, Mom.  It’s been a year since you left and I think of something you taught me everyday.  I know that I am who I am today because of you and  I’ll continue to miss you every day until I see you again.

Peggie Anne Gardner
April 15, 1951-April 19, 2011

On Fear and Fearing

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Hello readers and friends!  Life is still moving forward, which is great.  I have come to realize something about myself that has absolutely made a marked difference in my perspective of situations and I believe it’s a big part of why my life is moving forward now after standing still for so many years, so I’m going to share it with you.

So, I have a certain…fascination, if you will, with psychology.  It was my minor in college and ever since then, there are two things that I have found myself looking for when I study people, either by people watching or watching my real crime shows, or studying character development.   The first  is pretty broad, which is what motivates them to make the decisions they make.  The second is way more specific and also, a little morbid.  I have also sought to find someone, anyone, that wasn’t still ravaged by grief after the loss of a loved one.  Just to let you know, I never have.  But what would motivate me to want to find an example of someone who doesn’t hurt anymore after losing a loved one before it ever even happened to me?  Well, the answer (not so obviously) is fear.

My revelation is that up to this point, I have been motivated by fear, even paralyzed by it at times.  Ever since I realized that my mom could die as a child, my biggest fear was that she would.  I think I wanted to find someone who is seemingly “fine” after losing someone close to them so I could know that it was possible for me before that day came.  Of course having been through it I now know that no one ever gets over it, they just get better at coping.

This same pattern of fear is present in many aspects of my life.  I fear failure, I fear the unknown, I fear more things than I could even list on the page.  However, now that I’ve had this revelation that fear is my driving force in life (which, let me be clear, I wish it was not), I can actually recognize it for what it is and face it.  For example, something as simple as changing where I work out is enough to shake up my nerves.  A new class at a new place?  What if I can’t keep up?  What if I’m terrible?  What if the people are rude?  Normally, I would talk myself out of going all together and just go to my old class where I’m comfortable.  And honestly, I can talk myself out of going to that sometimes too out of fear of embarrassment, which is completely unreasonable.

So, it’s obvious that I get really uncomfortable when I don’t know what to expect.  Normally, that feeling would lead me to think, why branch out if I’m comfortable where I am?  Even though I am great at adapting to situations, why adapt when I don’t have to?  Can you see the danger in this thinking pattern?  The most dangerous fact being that it encourages complacency.  I can’t be the person I am, which is a person who is always striving for more, and be complacent.  I can’t just lie down and let my fears get the best of me.  Hell, I’ve already lived my biggest fear and survived it.  Based on that alone, I should be able to approach  challenges both big and small with at least a little more confidence.

That little bit of confidence is what is keeping me moving forward.  Now that I have learned to recognize fear for what it is in my everyday life,  I can face it head on knowing that no matter what the outcome, I have already survived something worse.  Admittedly, it sounds a little pessimistic, but it’s actually the most motivating realization that I’ve had in quite some time.  What motivates you?