Tag Archives: grief

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: part 4

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Well it’s April, folks. Time just keeps passing on by, as it tends to do. I just got back from a Caribbean cruise last week. It’s been one year since my brother’s bone marrow transplant. My little chickpea will be two years old at the end of next month. It’s been five months since her mom passed away. It’s been four years since my mom passed away.

I’ve turned into someone else entirely, over that time. My eyes have been opened to the depths of the human experience. Over the last four years I have witnessed true suffering, pure, unadulterated joy and experienced profound empathy (of which I did not think I was capable).

I can’t emphasize enough how much I feel like I have grown as a person in the last four years. I am easily recognizing who I want to become and the kind of people I’d like to be surrounded by. While I’ve known the direction I’ve been heading for a while, I never felt like I deserved it for myself until recently.

In my mom’s place, there’s an emptiness. The best way I can describe it is, it’s as if my mom and dad are my shoulder angels and both of them rested there my entire life until the age of 27, when my left one disappeared.

The emptiness brought not only a feeling of deep loss, but also an intense questioning of who I really was. Ever since then, I’ve been on the path to figure that out.

I’ve been through many emotions ranging from near euphoria to intense self loathing, but along the way I have found out who I am. I’ve done the work and gotten to know myself well enough to know what motivates me, why it does and how to use that knowledge to better my life. The struggle IS real, and it’s not easy.

However, in my life it’s been better than denial and ignorance. When I say I wouldn’t be who I am without my mom, I also mean that I wouldn’t be who I am had I not lost her. She continues to inspire and influence me to keep moving forward, be more aware and really attempt to see in myself what she saw in me.

That’s how I live. Awareness and facing my life head on is my new normal. It’s not easy and I have to fight constantly, but it’s worth it because the only people who don’t fight for what they want are people who’s spirit is broken. Mine has been on the mend for four years and it’s only going to get better from here.

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Four years, countless tears
I wouldn’t be who I am
I’ll love you forever

RIP, mom.
Peggie Anne Gardner
April 15, 1951-April 19, 2011

Titles are overrated

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Hi there! Well, what a few months it has been since I last spoke. I’m not sure how long this entry will take to write for me to be able to articulate what I’d like to, but I am going to try to at least start.

Can I tell you how much my little chickpea has grown? She’s 16 months old and she’s the cutest thing anyone in this house has ever seen. She enjoys making funny faces, loves animals, and she likes to say “wasssat?!” (what’s that) Spending so much time around a baby, I’ve learned that they change really quickly! It’s really fun to watch her learn how to communicate. She’s a little foodie, so of course her first sign was “more.” In order to get me to make a funny face, she’ll make a funny face. In order to go for a walk, she’ll go get my shoes and look longingly at the door. When I sign and say “I love you” as I put her to bed, she points to me when I say I and herself when I get to you. Then, she blows me kisses. Only she doesn’t know how to take her hand away from her mouth yet so she just keeps it there and smiles. It’s so precious. I really cherish her.

I think the baby is the whole heart of a house that is filled with many that are breaking. Her mom is actively dying of cancer. This house is full of sadness because her mother is involuntarily leaving her husband and children, a husband is losing his wife, a very young daughter and son are losing their mother and a mother is losing her daughter. it’s heart-wrenching, painful, sorrowful and, quite frankly, not fair.

I can’t help but ask myself how it can it be that just over sixteen months have passed and chickpea’s mom is now dying of cancer? I met her and her brother’s mom in her 6th month of pregnancy, one month after she was diagnosed. Up until July, I had only heard stories of the suffering people endure during late stage cancer. Now, I have seen it for myself on a daily basis.

The bravery and strength their mom has shown has been one of the most courageous things I’ve ever witnessed. One thing I hope I can impart on the kids, that I hope they understand really early, is that their mom fought, and fought and fought. She’s lost and lost, and lost again, but every single day she comes back fighting for them.

I know she’s tired, and anyone would be. I am not exaggerating when I speak of her suffering. Even though I recognize that humans are stronger than they think they are and can deal with more than they think they can, she has dealt with at least 100x her fair share with barely a complaint.

I don’t know what to say to her, I can’t even begin to understand how profound this loss is. She got 3 1/2 good years with her son and 9 okay months with the baby before she was hospitalized for increasingly extended periods and ultimately bedridden. Four and a half years and 16 1/2 months is not anywhere near enough time to get with kids she spent a total of 18 months growing inside of her. Why should she already have to say goodbye?

Especially when her kids are so eclectic with advanced personality traits. Me and the little boy quote movie references. I’ve never met a four year old that could use this obscure line from Elf to get a bedtime story:

BB: Can we read a story?
Me: No, the moon is already out on your clock. It’s time for bed.
BB: Not even ONE book??
Me: No
BB (lightly touching hands together, in old woman voice): But the children love the books!

I laughed so hard… what four year old references movies to make an argument?! He has an old soul, I really wish his mom could be there to witness how his personality continues to develop.

My job is unique and emotionally challenging. I have found that practicing mindfulness and coming from a place of complete compassion in my everyday dealings both inside and outside the house has seemed to help me so far.

I have also learned a lot about my own unresolved grief, my own heart and the way I’m living my life. Not only that, but why. This situation has led me to learn to recognize recurring themes and behaviors in my own life and put me on a path to learn to manage them accordingly.

I am inclined to believe that painful situations lead to personal growth and strength, that has certainly been my experience. I’m still not exactly sure why this has all worked out the way that it has, but I’m inclined to believe that I am supposed to learn something from it. Whatever that something is, I know it’s going to be one of the most important lessons of my life.

I didn’t do a recap, but you shouldn’t have to scroll back too far to see the story of what led me to this job.

My other job with the little girl and the newbie is going really well. She doesn’t even want to eat lunch because she doesn’t want to “waste her special ms. kasey time” and cries when I leave. The newbie is now three months old. She’s a cuddle bug and, as her big sister pointed out, is very calm when she’s with me.

I don’t really know what readers will take away from this, other than there are no guarantees in this life. Bad things happen to good people everyday, and I guess the best we can do while we’re living is love with our whole heart, and allow ourselves to be loved.

I recognize that this post is sad, and that’s one of the reasons I had to write it. This situation weighs very heavily on everyone involved. As always, thanks for reading.

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

Year in Review 2012: Final

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All right, all right, I am finally wrapping up my extremely breathy year in review!  Hopefully I haven’t bored you to tears yet.  I’m just going to jump right in to my last trip of the year!

At the end of November, I took a trip to Xenia, OH.  What’s in Xenia, you ask?  Well, that’s where my dear old dad went to high school.  Xenia High School created a sports Hall of Fame last year, and this year my dad was inducted into it for his achievements in football, basketball and track.

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coolest dad ever?

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It was awesome to watch my dad  be honored.  It’s one thing to hear about it from him but it’s quite another to hear other people share stories of his greatness.  The speeches were a riot and it was a really fun, inspiring atmosphere.   I also got to spend time with both my immediate and extended family so it was really enjoyable to catch up with everybody.

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my brother put it best, “do you know who my father is?!”

 

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with my cousin and aunt

The most inspiring thing I heard all weekend was that the kids that go to that high school now walk by the hall of fame, point to it, and say “That’s going to be me up there one day.”

Christmas came quickly, didn’t it?  Every Christmas Eve I go over to my friend Kimmy’s house for her parent’s party.  They always have tasty champagne punch and delicious food.

Photo: happy christmas!

happy christmas!

Photo: best christmas present ever! only had to wait twelve months to get it.

Kimmy caught this at a show last January and saved it to give me until Christmas!

My brother came down to Texas for a few weeks to spend Christmas with my Dad and I.  It was great to have him here, as usual.  We usually don’t do a Christmas tree or lights or anything, but this year my dad put up a few lights outside and I put up a small Christmas tree.  We all made a big Christmas dinner (similar to Thanksgiving), and relaxed the rest of the day, watching movies and napping.

Unfortunately, the week before Christmas, one of my old friends passed away suddenly.  His funeral was the day after Christmas.  Clint was just a big bucket of fun.  There was absolutely no way anyone could ever hang out with him and NOT have fun.

this is a nice picture of us, but…

this is a more accurate representation of the times we had…

He put a smile on the face of anyone he came into contact with and I know he is greatly missed by scores of people, including myself.  Up to that point I was lucky enough never to have been to a funeral for someone my own age.  I really hope I don’t have to do it again until I am very old.   It’s tragic to see life cut short so young and continues to make me think about how short life actually could be, every day since it happened.  One positive that came out of the tragedy– it brought my old friends together again for the first time in around six years.

celebrating our friend

New Year’s Eve was very low key.  I was originally going to go to Austin, but my car wasn’t cooperating so I ended up staying right here in Dallas.  I actually had a very relaxing, four-day “staycation” that culminated on NYE by spending the day at King Spa.  After that I went home, turned on the fireplace, made some hors d’oeuvres, drank prosecco and watched the clock turn to 2013!

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artichokes, tomato, fresh cracked pepper on salt and pepper tricuits

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New Years Day dinner: fried chicken, fried corn! kale greens (for money) black eyed peas (for luck) and jalapeno-cheddar cornbread (from scratch)

What do I want out of this year?  Well, hopefully 2013 will continue to bring clarity for me.  Last year, first finding out how much fear I actually have, followed by finding out that (after MANY years of joking about it) I actually AM a full blown introvert opened up an entirely new level of consciousness for me.  My personality, feelings and actions became much easier for me to understand and that knowledge has set me free.  Realizing that I’m not actually an all-around miserable person has brought me a lot of peace that I have lacked for many years.

This year I have two very specific goals that I’m not going to go into full detail with right now.  But, I can say that for a very, very, VERY long time I feel like I have repressed and downplayed the creative and artistic side of my personality.  I’ve never been particularly confident in my abilities in the arts, but as I’ve reflected on my past and look toward my future, I’m starting to notice that they are of great significance in my life– and it’s helped me figure out exactly what I want to do.  Of course I’ll keep you updated on each journey when the time is right.  What are your resolutions and goals for this year?

Thanks for reading the saga, apparently, that was 2012.  Til next time!