In Remembrance

Memorial Day1Cemeteries look beautiful this time of year with decorated graves including flowers, wreaths, balloons and flags adding color and variety to the area. I appreciate having a holiday dedicated to the remembrance of those who have passed and have changed our lives for the better. In honor of Memorial Day, I like to post an article by someone who recently lost a loved one. This year Peggy Martin shared her Tender Mercies amid the challenge of losing her husband of forty-nine years. Her ability to recognize the blessings during this hard time is inspiring. Remembering the purpose of this holiday is to show respect and reverence for those who lost their lives in the U.S. military, I’ve found three thoughts worth sharing.

One of my favorite quotes by Carl Jung, “That which is most personal is most universal.”

This weekend as we honored those who have passed, I thought about the how and why we lost our loved one, is most personal. However, the grief felt with that loss is most universal.

I’ve included five of my favorite quotes concerning grief.

And one of my favorite songs

What’s your favorite quote or thought concerning Memorial Day, veterans, death and grief?

Relating Articles:

Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grief

Blessings From Grief

Twenty Things to Know About Grief

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Laura’s Story, Part 5

ChristineMy name is Christine Scott. I’m a forty-six-year-old mother of five children and I grew up with a mentally disabled sister. In my first segment of Laura’s Story, I recounted her birth and slow development. In Part 2, I told about the impact of her seizures and Part 3, her fight with cancer. Part 4 revealed how I learned about the accident which lead to my father’s death.

Life has a way of going on, even when tragedy strikes. You put one foot in front of the other and get through the hard times. I wish I could say my family survived the year my dad died by praying and relying on our faith, but I can’t. We weren’t the praying type. I believe it was the love and faith of others that carried us through those dark hours and days.

Laura & Chris1

Laura & I

Even though I wasn’t aware of it at the time, my dad’s death shook the small community of Morgan, Utah, and those good people surrounded us with their love and support. Our house was being sold out from under us so we had to move and with Dad gone, there was no longer a reason for us to stay in Morgan. We had planned to move to Ogden, but after his death it was decided we should move in with my grandparents in Kearns, Utah.

My dad passed away on a Wednesday and we had his funeral on Saturday. It was a closed casket viewing because his head was crushed during the accident, with only a graveside service.The service was simple, the way he would have wanted it. Since he was an army veteran, his plot was donated along with his headstone.

Roland Sinfield, an angel in our lives and a colleague of Dad’s, sold equipment and hang gliders out of my dad’s shop and put collection jars around Morgan to raise money for our family. After daddy’s funeral, he gave my mom $700 from those collection jars to help cover funeral and moving expenses.

We had many other angels in our lives and my aunt Jean was one of them. Single handedly she packed up our house—which she deserves a medal of honor for this amazing feat. I’d spent the previous summer in the field by our house, catching the biggest grasshoppers I could find. I put them in mason jars and stacked them in my closet. I don’t know how many jars I collected, but the bottom of the closet was pretty full. After all these years I think Aunt Jean is still traumatized from cleaning out that closet.

Laura 12

Laura, age 12

We moved in with my grandparents in Kearns, Utah. In less than two weeks after my dad’s death, my mom enrolled Laura and I in new schools.When I asked my mom about this time in Laura’s life, she doesn’t remember much about how the events affected Laura. She was struggling through her own pain. She does remember sitting with a counselor at Hartvigsen, the special education school in Granite School District. While getting Laura enrolled, Eric, who was only eight weeks old, began to cry. Laura told the counselor he was crying because we needed to teach him how to talk. My mom said it was so cute and one of her favorite memories of Laura. I’m happy she’s able to look back at this difficult time and find a small amount of joy.

In addition to the angels in our lives to help us through this time, we had our habits and routines. Doing activities which were important like going to school, washing dishes, caring for our newborn baby brother Eric. By getting back to our normal lives—we began to heal.

Laura's family

Family photo with the grandparents we lived with after daddy passed away.

Recalling my dad’s death, I take a great amount of comfort in how we survived this tragedy, in how our family and community pulled together for us. No one wants bad things to happen in their lives, myself included. But if tragedy strikes—I know my family and I will be all right because we’ve been through some pretty rough circumstances and came out stronger in the end.

Thank you, Christine, for sharing how your family coped with the loss of your father. I know from my own experience the value of the love and support from family and friends. The kindness of strangers in a community is heartwarming and uplifting . The total impact of many is huge in carrying us through difficult times. I like the saying, “if you care and you give, you are a caregiver.” This segment of your life truly demonstrates the variety of caregivers. While your mom was the major caregiver for you, your sister with special needs and an infant, thank heaven there were angels that carried her through those dark days. Generally speaking, we often don’t realize the difference we can make in another’s life.

I’m grateful for the angels in my life and in yours.

 

Explaining Death

Laura's Dad5In Laura’s Story, Part 4, Christine shared her memory of the death of her dad.  I imagine the caregiving aspect for her sister, Laura, presented new challenges with the passing of their dad. I look forward to the next segment and learning how they all coped.

I was touched by Christine’s words, “Our adversities don’t define us unless we let them, but experiencing the death of a parent when you’re in your childhood changes your life. You learn the world isn’t a safe place and death is very real and can strike at any moment.”

Although Laura was twelve years old when her father died, her disability made it hard for her to understand death or “going to heaven,” which is what her mom told her every time she asked where daddy was.

The death of any loved one is hard and the recovering process takes time. I remember clearly my first experience coping with the sudden death of an aunt when I was a child. Our capacity to understand death varies depending on age and abilities.

I found an excellent article, http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html#, which describes a child’s capacity to understand death and their possible response to it by age. My summary of the article is as follows:

Before five or six years old, their view of the world is very literal. Therefore, explain death in basic and concrete terms such as the person’s body wasn’t working anymore and the doctors couldn’t fix it. If the death was a result of an accident, you might explain what happened and because of this very sad event, the person’s body stopped working. You may have to explain that “death” means that the body stopped working.

Young children have a hard time understanding that all people and living things eventually die and they won’t be coming back. Even after you’ve explained this, kids may continue to ask where the loved one is or when the person is returning. It’s important to calmly reiterate that the person has died and can’t come back.

The article suggested avoiding the use of euphemisms, such as telling kids that the loved one “went away” or “went to sleep” or even that your family “lost” the person. Because young children think so literally, such phrases might inadvertently make them afraid to go to sleep or fearful whenever someone goes away.

From age six to ten a child can start to grasp the finality of death, however, they don’t understand that it will happen to every living thing one day. Often, kids this age personalize death and think of it as the “boogeyman” or a ghost or a skeleton. They deal best with death when given accurate, simple, clear, and honest explanations about what happened.

As children mature into teens, they start to understand that every human being eventually dies, regardless of grades, behavior, wishes, or anything they try to do. Questions may naturally come up about mortality and vulnerability. For example, a sixteen-year-old’s friend dies in a car accident and a teen might now be reluctant to get behind the wheel or even ride in a car. The best way to respond is to empathize about how frightening and sad this accident was. It may also be a good time to remind your teen about ways to stay safe and healthy, like never getting in a car with a driver who has been drinking and always wearing a seatbelt.

Teens also tend to search more for meaning in the death of someone close to them. A teen who asks why someone had to die probably isn’t looking for literal answers, but starting to explore the idea of the meaning of life. They may experience some guilt, particularly if one of their peers died. It’s best to encourage them to share their grief with you or another trusted, empathetic family member or friend.

A young child might not cry, but react to the news by acting out or becoming hyperactive. A teen might act annoyed and may feel more comfortable confiding in peers. Whatever their reaction, don’t take it personally.

Learning how to deal with grief is like coping with other physical, mental, and emotional matters — it’s a process.

For more information on this topic see http://kidshealth.org/en/parents/death.html#

Related Article: Twelve Things I’ve Learned About Grief 

Thanks for reading. I look forward to seeing your thoughts and/or experiences with explaining death to a child in the comment box below. Sharing what has or hasn’t worked for you could help another person on their pathway through grief.

Laura’s Story, Part 4

Christine

Christine Scott

My name is Christine Scott. I’m a forty-six-year-old mother of five children and I grew up with a mentally disabled sister. In my first segment of Laura’s Story, I recounted her birth and slow development. In Part 2, I told about the impact of her seizures and Part 3, I told about her fight with cancer. Processing the memories and spending time reminiscing with my mother about my sister’s life is exactly what I needed—and my mom too.

 

How come when we finally get our lives into a good place, it seems like forces combine and everything falls apart? At least this is how I used to feel before I grasped a better  understanding of adversity and how it can work in our lives for our progression.

After Laura’s recovery from cancer, life was good for my mom. Laura’s hair came back in thick and with soft waves. She gained weight and stopped catching every virus which came along. Mom’s career at Ogden Weber was blossoming. She had a support system and was learning new things every day.

Then my dad felt like it was time to have another baby. Mom didn’t agree. That ship had sailed years ago for her.

But in the end, Mom lost, Dad won, and my little brother was on his way, which put ten years’ difference in age between us. I can say I didn’t blame my mom. It was like starting over again with another new family. This meant she’d have to quit her job to take care of a newborn and she’d have to face all those what-if’s she’d experienced with Laura.

My brother, Eric, was born on September 2, 1979, a month after his due date and weighed over eleven pounds. Laura loved him. She often touched his hand and made funny faces at him.

Laura's Dad2

Dad, Klaus Hill

At this time, my dad was under a tremendous amount of stress. In addition to my brother’s birth, one of his business associates was pressuring him to motorize a previous hang glider he had built. This man weighed much more than anyone who’d flown this particular hang glider before, which was making it hard to get the design right.

We were currently renting another older home, which the owner sold out from under us. There weren’t any houses for rent in Morgan, so we started looking at rentals in Ogden and my dad would make the drive to Morgan—which meant I’d have to change schools. This was the backdrop to the tragedy which struck my family.

Laura's Dad3

You should have some type of warning before your life unequivocally changes so you have the chance to do things differently—to take advantage of those last moments to say “I love you” and “goodbye.”

October 10, 1979, I woke up late and feeling grouchy. I thought I had missed my bus and daddy offered to give me a ride to school, but I glanced out the living room window and saw kids still waiting in line for the bus.  So I hurried to my bus stop while my dad’s old car rattled by. I had no idea I’d never see him again, but over the years I’ve always regretted not getting that last ride to school with him.

It was during lunch I found out. I was in line getting my food—enchiladas. It’s funny how certain details stay with you for a lifetime. Two women stood at the far end of the room glancing at all the students. When I recognized my neighbor, my stomach fell.

Suzanne, my neighbor, motioned for me to come over. I wandered over, carrying my lunch tray. She told me to leave my lunch and that I was needed at home. Those were the only words she said to me, no matter how many times I asked her what was wrong. She just walked me to her car and drove me home in silence while I silently fought the urge to scream at her.

Laura's Dad

People I’d never seen before crowed into my living room. The county sheriff was there. Everyone stood like statues. I don’t remember who told me my dad had been killed while taking the glider with design flaws on a test flight. I’m assuming it was my mom. I don’t remember if she held me while I cried, but I hope she did. I don’t even remember if Laura was there. I’m thinking she might have still been at school.

Our adversities don’t define us unless we let them, but experiencing the death of a parent when you’re in your childhood changes your life. You learn the world isn’t a safe place and death is very real and can strike at any moment—a fear I’ve always carried for every person I’ve ever loved.

Laura's Dad4

Laura’s disability served as a blessing for her because she didn’t understand death or “going to heaven,” which is what my mom told her every time she asked where daddy was. While alive, he was away from us so much she thought he’d simply be home in a few days. I wonder how long it took before she stopped waiting for him to come home.

I wouldn’t trade these experiences because they have made me more compassionate. I wish my kids knew their grandfather, but the trials we must pass through are not given to us by chance—every hard time in our lives has a specific purpose, a specific design. We may not understand that purpose in this life, but some day we will, and that knowledge is what keeps me going during the dark days.

Thank you, Christine, for sharing such tender and difficult memories. I love the pictures of your dad and can see the passion he had for hang gliders in the expressions on his face.  I imagine this caregiving journey for your sister took an unexpected hard turn with the passing of your dad. I look forward to your next segment and learning how you all coped. 

 

 

There Is Joy

Scan_20151227

June 2003, Wayne and Joy

On Christmas day I received word that my beloved Aunt Joy had just passed away. My first mournful thought was for the sadness it would bring to the holiday. However, as I  visualized the relief from pain and all discomfort of mortality, I pictured the pure joy of Christmas in heaven.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines joy as “the emotion evoked by well-being, success, or good fortune or by the prospect of possessing what one desires.” We often associate joy with Christmas for all of these reasons, but now the connection of Joy and Christmas will have more meaning to me.

Aunt Joy was a delight and always greeted me with a smile. I don’t ever recall her talking about herself, heartaches or disappointments so I didn’t ever think about them until several years ago. It was possibly the first Christmas morning without our children at home. I don’t know why, but I was particularly missing my grandparents who had both passed away. I’d never been to the cemetery at Christmas time, but decided I wanted to leave a flower on their grave. Just before I approached my grandparents grave, I noticed the sweetest little Christmas tree I have ever seen, decorated with homemade ornaments. I stopped to admire it and realized it sat at the head of my cousin’s grave. Karen Rose, daughter of Wayne and Joy Rose, born December 20, 1952 and died three days later. She was buried on Christmas Eve.

Karen Rose

2015, Photo credit: Sharon Rose Crockett

I can only imagine the death of any child would be heartbreaking and losing a baby at Christmas time must add to the distress. With tear-filled eyes for their sorrow, I also yearned to know my cousin. I studied the headstone for information. I quickly covered my mouth to quiet my gasp as I realized our traditional Rose family Christmas party was held every year on the day she passed away. I’d never before linked the two events together and couldn’t recall it ever being talked about. I wondered if anyone else besides Wayne and Joy had made the connection. I envisioned how hard it would be to have a highly anticipated annual Christmas party on their mournful day—yet I could never remember a year when Aunt Joy and Uncle Wayne seemed sad or gloomy. My memories were only of the excitement and joy of the day.

2015, Photo credit: Scott Rose

2015, Photo credit: Scott Rose – Thanks for sharing. I had no idea this many people participated.

 

As a child I knew Wayne and Joy had a tradition of taking their other children on or around Karen’s birthdate to the grave to decorate a small tree with homemade ornaments, but this was the first time I had actually seen it. I was tenderly impressed that after all these years my uncle and aunt, now in their late eighties, still carried on this tradition with their family. For sixty-three years, they’ve celebrated her birth with a Christmas tree and focused on their knowledge that they would someday reunite with Karen. What a brilliant gift it is to realize that long awaited reunion between a mother and daughter is happening right now.
Karen wasn’t the only child that left a void in Wayne and Joy’s hearts. In May, 2006 their son Randy was killed in a car accident at the age of fifty-two. Our Heavenly Father has given us a perfect present through Jesus Christ—who made it possible for families to be gather together, not just at Christmas time, but throughout all eternity.

Karen Rose(2)

2015, Photo credit: Scott Rose – What a great family and awesome sixty-three year tradition. I’m so fortunate to be an extension of this family. Thanks for sharing.

Aunt Joy adequately lived up to her name, bringing happiness to those around her. We will miss her and I appreciate her example of making a joyful life despite her heartaches and disappointments. There is joy when I think of the reunion she is having with loved ones who have previously left this earth to return to their heavenly home.

Death brings serious and abundant contemplation which floods the mind with memories. I remembered a poem I had heard several years ago which touched my heart. I searched for and found the poem I wanted to share with the intent to bring comfort to my family and others who may be mourning the loss of a loved one this season. It’s reassuring to know the spirit lives on and consider the joy of Christmas in heaven.

Christmas in Heaven, written by Wanda Bencke

I see the countless Christmas trees around the world below,
With tiny lights like heaven’s stars reflecting in the snow.
The sight is so spectacular- please wipe away that tear,
For I am spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

I hear the many Christmas songs that people hold so dear,
But the sound of music can’t compare with the Christmas choir up here.
I have no words to tell you of the joy their voices bring,
For it is beyond description to hear the angels sing.

I know how much you miss me, I see the pain inside your heart,
But I am not so far away, we really aren’t apart.
So be happy for me dear ones you know I hold you dear
And be glad I’m spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

I can’t tell you of the splendor or the peace here in this place.
Can you just imagine Christmas with our Savior face to face?
I’ll ask Him to lift your spirit as I tell Him of your love,
Then pray for one another as you lift your eyes above.

Please love and keep each other as my Father said to do.
For I can’t count the blessings or the love He has for you.
So have a Merry Christmas and wipe away that tear.
Remember, I’m spending Christmas with Jesus Christ this year.

First kiss

June 1979, Uncle Wayne our marriage officiator.

Thank you Uncle Wayne for letting me share this story. You are extra special to Mark and I, because you legally joined us together as man and wife. I still remember the advice you gave us, which in part is why our marriage has been so strong. You and Aunt Joy are a great example to us. I’m thinking of you and each one of my Rose cousins—I love you dearly and look forward to giving each one of you a hug.

There is joy when I think of Aunt Joy’s first Christmas in heaven.

It’s Not About Me

It’s my pleasure to introduce you to my daughter’s father-in-law, Chuck Ferguson. Chuck was a caregiver to his wife, Susan, until she passed away from cancer in May of 2003. He cared for her in their home in Richfield, Utah. When she died, they had four grown children and five grandchildren.

Written by Chuck Ferguson

It wasn’t supposed to be that way. Of course, I suppose it never is. When Susan was diagnosed with cancer, it seemed like the end of the world. It was a devastating blow.

Nurse Susan Ferguson, 1972

Susan Ferguson, 1972

It also was a reversal of roles. As a nurse, Susan had been a caregiver since before we were married. She had helped countless patients who were suffering through hard times with a gentle touch and a heart of gold. Now it was suddenly I who was cast into the role of caregiver. It didn’t come easily.

This past July 11th marked 45 years since Susan and I were married in the Oakland LDS Temple. Marriage to Susan was the best thing ever to happen to me. She was the best part of me, and her spirit still is.

It was just before our 29th anniversary that Susan was diagnosed with breast cancer. It came as a shock to our entire family. Susan had regular mammograms every year, always coming up negative. Nevertheless, she had a feeling that something was wrong and decided to have a biopsy. The results showed her at stage 3 breast cancer. Apparently, calcification had masked the cancerous growth.

Despite the bad news, we tried to maintain our normal routines while sandwiching in Susan’s treatments. We tried to keep a positive outlook, pinning our hopes on an experimental stem cell program that seemed promising.

Susan first received four regular courses of chemotherapy. The program then required Susan to be in the hospital for about a month, then another couple of weeks in offsite housing. Between the collecting of stem cells, and the procedure of intense “near death” chemotherapy followed by reintroducing the collected stem cells for recovery, the whole experience could be described as nothing less than torture. After all that, surely the cancer would be defeated.

And so for several months after the treatments we carried on a “normal” life. However, within myself there was a constant undefined feeling of uncertainty, near inner chaos. Looking back, I can see that it affected me in everything I did. I think I knew that, as much as I hoped otherwise, I had a certain sense of inevitable doom. And with it there was a selfish feeling of, “why me?”

Not long afterwards, Susan started having an ache in her hip that would not go away. X-rays showed a fractured hip caused by bone cancer. An oncologist made it clear that the cancer had spread and that Susan was terminal.

It took me a while to overcome the “poor me” syndrome. But finally I began to realize and internalize what became my mantra – “It’s not about me.” It was difficult to be in the ironic position of caregiver for the woman I considered the best caregiver I had ever known. Trying to live up to the standards that she had established as a caregiver were often frustrating. I was required to do many things for which I had very limited training. Fortunately I had the best possible teacher, Susan.

Ferguson Family, 2002

Ferguson Family, 2002

The next three-and-a-half years were the best years of our marriage as we made the most of the time we had left together. We traveled the world and enjoyed special times with our children and grandchildren. It wasn’t always easy for Susan. Sometimes she was sick, sometimes confined to a wheelchair, often tired, or in pain from the medications and treatments. I did my best to meet Susan’s needs, whatever they might be. Frustrations became challenges, and challenges became opportunities to serve the woman that I loved so dearly.

Being a caregiver for Susan demanded a lot—physically, mentally and emotionally. It demanded more than I ever imagined I could endure. But it was easier whenever I looked into my Susan’s eyes and reminded myself, “It’s not about me.”

Thank you Chuck for sharing your story and for reminding us that our challenges are opportunities to serve the people we love. I’m grateful for you and Susan and the four wonderful children you raised together, especially Eldin, who happens to be my favorite son-in-law. When Katie Mae and Eldin were engaged, I knew it was a good match. They both grew up with a parent giving care to another. I love your reminder that caregiving, marriage and life in general, is not just about me.

Chuck remarried the following year and lives with his wife, Suzie, and their daughter, Katie, in the Salt Lake Valley. I appreciate him sharing this heart-felt message with us!

Life’s Lessons

Test - permanet

In writing The Value of Testing article, I gained a new perspective of the purpose and benefits of trials. Every day Mark was continually being evaluated physically, mentally and emotionally. The assessments pointed out what abilities he retained and what he needed to relearn. The information directed the doctor and therapists in helping him through the rehabilitation process. The necessary painful and difficult analysis of his capabilities often left both of us feeling discouraged and overwhelmed for what he’d lost.

During this hard time I was going through a personal examination of commitment, faith, endurance and strength. As I reflected on Mark’s and my own trials, it became clear to me that life is continually testing us. Sometimes we feel alone in our trials and wonder why we’re not getting the help we need or the answer from God. However, in the silence and loneliness, we often learn the most. As I remember, a teacher is always quiet during the test. Life is constantly teaching us something if we just pay attention. Through self-evaluation we can learn what areas we excel in and where we need to improve. A few other tips I found on life’s lessons are shown in these images.

Test - Will

Test - Over again

Test - patience

Test - learn

******

       Illness teaches me to appreciate good health and prompts me to take better care of myself and those around me.

Suffering teaches me the importance of service and giving relief to others.

Death teaches me to be grateful for life and the love shared with others.

Grief teaches me empathy for others and helps me connect with them on a deeper level.

What lessons have you learned from life?