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 9

Written by Christine Scott

ChristineIt’s with mixed emotions I sit down to write this last segment of Laura’s Story. As I search for the appropriate words to explain the concluding years of Laura’s life, I pray for courage to confront the painful memories surrounding her death.

Life changed as my family grew. In the early years of my marriage and family life, I included my mom and Laura. It was easy. My family was small and young. We made time for them. We fit our lives into theirs. As the years progressed my kids became involved in various activities. Soon sporting events, dance recitals and school activities crowded our schedule. It was never easy for my mom to bring Laura to these types of activities. We drifted apart, but sometimes we’d go out to eat and we always spent the holidays together.

Laura's Family, Silver Lake

Nate, Christine, LeRoyne, Laura, Eric, and Mom at Silver Lake

Weeks went by where I didn’t talk to my mom. I stopped inviting her to my kid’s activities because she always had a reason not to attend. I think she felt relieved when I stopped asking, but my heart ached for her to be a part of my kid’s lives.

While Mom worked, Laura attended a sheltered workshop where she assembled kits. Laura’s behavior at home was still pretty bad. She often spent all day refusing to get dressed and making it so my mom missed work and important events like my kid’s baby blessings and baptisms. She never hit or pulled my mom’s hair, but she would get in her face and yell. Eventually the doctors listened to my mom and prescribed medication for Laura’s behaviors. They improved a little, but medicine rarely fixes years of ingrained behaviors.

Laura’s health began to decline in her late thirties. She battled pneumonia once or twice a year, requiring hospitalization. Eventually she needed to be on oxygen at night. Many times when she was hospitalized we wondered if this would be the time she didn’t recover. I remember thinking maybe Mom could be a part of our lives after Laura passed away, when the demands to take care of Laura weren’t her main focus—and then I felt guilty for thinking such a thing.

Mom, Laura, Eric and baby Dallin

Mom, Laura, Eric holding baby Dallin

When Laura was hospitalized for the second round of pneumonia in less than six months, my brother, Eric, confided in me that he thought she wouldn’t be going home this time. She recovered enough to be placed in a long-term care facility. During this time Mom retired from her job.

After a few weeks at the care facility, Laura contracted HA-MRSA (Healthcare Associated Methicillin-Resistant Staphylococcus Aureus). The MRSA went into her lungs and the doctors said it had torn them up. They had her in ICU on a BiPAP machine.

A few days passed while the reality of Laura’s death loomed over our heads. I spent hours at the hospital with Mom. There was a time when Laura seemed to be getting better, but the doctors talked about putting in a feeding tube, saying she’d never be able to eat again. The best case scenario for Laura was being released to a long-term acute care facility where she’d always be on a BiPAP machine (which was considered life support because she couldn’t breathe on her own).

After considering the counsel from various doctors, including Laura’s primary care physician, Mom made the very difficult decision to take Laura off life support.

The next evening, we all gathered in Laura’s hospital room. The chaplain met with us first. I don’t remember what she said, but remember her warmth and support. After she left, a nurse came in and administered heavy doses of pain medication so Laura wouldn’t feel anything. After the medication had enough time to take effect, they removed the BiPAP machine.

Laura was the most alert she’d been in weeks. It was probably a relief not to have that machine over her face. And that’s when the doubts started flooding through me. Had we made a mistake? Maybe the doctors were wrong. Maybe she could recover. I’m pretty sure the same doubts were racing through Mom’s thoughts a hundred fold.

I don’t think we ever said goodbye and I don’t know if she would have understood if we did.

As Laura became depleted of oxygen, she was less coherent until unconsciousness overtook her. We watched and waited as her heart continued to strongly beat. The nurse told us the heart would often beat long after the patient stopped breathing.

This made me wonder, if Laura had been normal, would we have run together.  She obviously had the heart of a marathon runner. I felt cheated of having those kinds of memories with my sister. I missed her being whole and beautiful.

Slowly her heart stopped beating and she quietly passed away. One minute she was in the room with us and the next, she was gone. As I look back, the experience didn’t seem real to me. It was like watching someone else go through the steps of losing a sibling.

My grieving process was different after losing a mentally disabled sister.  First there was some guilt because I really didn’t miss her in the sense you miss someone who was close to you. Because of her disability, we never were close and my love for her was different. She was my sister and I was supposed to love her, but there were times, if I’m completely honest with myself, that I hated her. So after she died, I felt guilty for those emotions. Also, there was a little bit of relief—that maybe our family could finally be normal and feel peace. And I felt guilty about that too.

Breathtakingly PerfectI came across this quote by Elder Jeffrey R. Holland a few years after Laura had died when I was asked to give a talk in church on the resurrection of our Savior. Writing and giving that talk helped me through my grieving process. The knowledge that someday Laura will stand before me in her perfect form and we will be able to build that sister relationship we were denied in this life because of her disability brings me great comfort.

 

In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3, details of Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days. Part 6, illustrates the importance of building fun memories with our loved ones, which can ease the grief of losing them. Part 7, Christine remembers her mother’s extreme demands as a young widow caring for three children on her own with the oldest having mental and physical disabilities and the youngest an infant. Unfortunately, Christine, the middle child who didn’t require attention was sorely neglected and often responsible for taking care of her baby brother. Part 8, reminds us of the importance of advocacy and the difference it can make in our lives.

Thanks, Christine, for being a guest author and sharing your life story of living with Laura. You have shown us that growing up with another person who needs a lot of care and attention is difficult. We appreciate your honesty and for sharing your grieving process with us. As a caregiver, your story has made me realize that I need to be more mindful of my own children, parents and other loved ones who may need me. Sometimes it’s hard to see their needs when I’m so wrapped up in the care of Mark. I appreciate your insights.

Laura’s Story, Part 6

In February, Christine Scott started sharing childhood segments of her life with her mentally disabled sister, Laura. It’s been inspiring to get a child’s perspective on her family’s caregiving journey and the trials they had to withstand. The first segment of Laura’s Story, recounts her birth and slow development. In Part 2, Christine recalls the impact of Laura’s seizures and in Part 3,  Laura’s fight with cancer. Part 4, reveals how Christine, at age ten, learned about the accident which lead to her father’s death and Part 5, recognizes the community of angels who helped her family get through their darkest days.

Christine has agreed to share a few more insights on the challenges and rewards of growing up in a caregiving household where another family member requires so much of the care due to health issues and concerns.

Written by Christine Scott

Christine

Christine Scott

To be honest, I want to be finished writing Laura’s Story—and I don’t want to dwell on the next segment because it was such a difficult time in my life. When sitting down to write this, the sadness and loss makes me tired. At this point, I wish the story took a happy twist and I could report on how we all lived happily ever after. However, this story isn’t one of my works of fiction and processing the hardships I experienced is an essential part of my recovery process. Not to mention—many of you have expressed your interest in finishing the story and I don’t want to let you down.

We lived with my grandparents for six weeks after my dad died and then we moved into a rental house around the corner. My mom wanted to stay close to her parents so she could lean on them and have help raising us.  My fondest memory of this house was the crab apple trees planted in front. My grandma would have me pick the crab apples, and then she’d make the best jelly out of them. However, I struggled with the move. The kids at my new school weren’t as friendly as in Morgan. And the kids in the new neighborhood openly made fun of Laura, which didn’t seem to happen as much in Morgan. I missed riding horses with my friend and the bike rides from one end of the Morgan valley to the other. I dreadfully missed living in a small town where there were wide open spaces and next to no traffic. I still do. Some things you never grow out of.

About a year after my dad died, my grandma was hospitalized for pneumonia. After she was released, my grandpa had a minor heart attack and was hospitalized.

A few days later they were getting ready to release my grandpa from the hospital and when my grandma and mom arrived to pick him up, they discovered he had sustained a major heart attack. When the hospital staff approached my grandma to sign the paperwork to treat him, she collapsed. My family always assumed she had suffered a stroke. She was admitted to the hospital.

The doctors operated on my grandpa and put in a pacemaker, but his heart was too damaged. He passed away a few hours later. Grandma was unable to attend his funeral due to her hospitalization.

Laura12

Laura Hill

My mom had moved close to her parents for their support, but within a short year, the situation had reversed and she was the one helping them. Mom rose to the occasion and pulled through even more challenges—once again proving her strength and resiliency. Much of my baby brother’s care fell to me. Laura had reached puberty, which threw her seizure medications off balance so she started having seizures again.

A few weeks ago while reminiscing with my mom about this time in her life, expecting to hear about her struggles, I was surprised by her positive attitude. We discussed the family trip we took to Disneyland shortly before my grandpa died. It was a trip my parents had planned to eventually take, but with my dad’s business struggles there had never been enough money. At this point my mom’s financial situation had significantly improved due to the royalties she had received for my dad’s hang glider plans. So she decided it was time to take her dream vacation to Disneyland. My grandpa didn’t want my mom to go alone, so he and my grandma accompanied her.

My mom packed us all up in her Ford Granada and we headed to Anaheim, California. I remember being excited about staying in hotels and swimming. I loved Disneyland and was completely disappointed when grandpa insisted we leave before dark. My mom loved this trip. It is one of her fondest memories of my grandparents.

Speaking with her about the Disneyland trip made me remember the trip my family took to Lagoon on the Sunday before my dad died. It was a mild fall day and the lines for the rides were short. We were able to go on our favorite rides as many times as we wanted. My dad was attentive to my family and mom was happy. It was day I wished would never end.

As I relived these memories with my mom, I realized that these times we have with our families are precious gifts that transcend the challenges and heartaches. It is when we are together and for a brief time, when life is in rhythm and we feel at sync with the life around us. These moments are beautiful gifts and evidence of Heavenly Father’s hand in our lives—and when remembered—outweigh the grief.

Thanks Christine for sharing another segment of your life with Laura and your family’s caregiving trek. When I read this article, the importance of taking time to play with our families is what stood out to me. As a caregiver it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the time or the money to so. Good memories are important, as you have so eloquently described. A break from responsibilities is essential for the family’s well-being. I’m grateful for the reminder.

 

Offering Love and Comfort

Broken HeartMy brother gave me an article out of the Reader’s Digest, September 2015 issue, titled The Art of Offering Love and Comfort, written by David Brooks from the New York Times.  I appreciated the suggestions and thought today would be a great day to share them in light of the tragic accident that happened in our neighborhood last week.

The Art of Offering Love and Comfort references the Woodiwiss family whose daughter at age twenty-seven died in 2008 from injuries resulting from a horseback riding fall. In 2013, another daughter, Catherine, at age twenty-six was hit by a car while biking to work. She has endured and will continue to endure a series of operations. Her recovery has been slow. Her mother, Mary, talks about the grief that a parent feels when he or she has lost a child and sees another badly injured, “a pain felt in bones and fiber.”

Through the Woodiwisses experiences, they share a few lessons about how those on the outside zone of trauma might better communicate with those on the inside. The right responses are not limited to what is discussed in the article, but rather a collection of their wisdom, which I found useful. My favorite points as written in the dos and don’ts list is as follows:

“Do be there. Some people think that those who experience trauma need space. Assume the opposite. Most people need presence. The Woodiwisses say they were in awe after each tragedy by the number of people, many of whom had been mere acquaintances, but showed up and offered love. They were also disoriented by close friends who simply were not there, who were afraid or too busy.

Don’t compare. Each trauma should be respected in its uniqueness. Catherine writes, ‘From the inside, comparisons sting as clueless, careless or just plain false.’

Do bring soup. Nonverbal expressions of love are as healing as those articulated. When you see a need and act on it, whether it’s a meal, a needed item or helping with a household chore such as dishes or laundry, it is appreciated. The Woodiwisses recall a friend who noticed they didn’t have a bath mat and went to Target and bought one. It was a thoughtful gesture which they will never forget.Don’t say, ‘You’ll get over it.’ Catherine writes, ‘There is no such thing as getting over it. A major disruption leaves a new normal in its wake. There is no back to the old me.’

Do be a builder. The Woodiwisses distinguish between firefighters and builders. Firefighters drop everything and arrive at the moment of crisis. Builders are there for years and years, walking alongside as the victims live out in the world. Very few people are capable of performing both roles.

Don’t say, ‘It’s all for the best.’ Don’t try to make sense of what has happened. Don’t over-interpret and try to make sense of the inexplicable. Some people have a tendency, especially in an achievement-oriented culture, to want to solve problems and repair brokenness.

What seems to be needed is the art of presence: to perform tasks without trying to control or alter the situation.  Allow nature to take its course. Grant the sufferers the dignity of their own process. Sit simply through moments of pain and uncomfortable darkness. Be practical, mundane, simple and direct.”

I’ve touched on the key points of the article which resonated with me. What insights do you have from your own experiences? How have you been helped or how did you help someone through a time of grief and/or affliction? Your thoughts in the comment box are appreciated. Together we can add to this list and help one another improve in offering love and comfort to those who are suffering.

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.

How to Bring Comfort and Support

true-friend-quotationLast Sunday Christine Scott wrote part 1 of a series about her sister, Laura’s Story. She stated, “… what happens when those long awaited milestones don’t happen, when friends and loved ones question your child’s progress, and maybe suggest something is not quite right? When illness and hospital stays become commonplace, how do these parents cope?”

Connecting with someone who is dealing with tragedy or heartache can be uncomfortable, especially if our friend or family is facing something we’ve never experienced. Walls may be raised as a coping mechanism on each side. How do we gently and gracefully break through those walls?

Christine also wrote, “Well-meaning family and friends commented on Laura’s lack of progress, but my mom refused to believe them. Her response: ‘She isn’t that delayed for an eighteen-month-old. She’s just a late bloomer.’ Laura was beautiful. Laura was perfect. She was everything my mom dreamed her to be, so she didn’t listen. Even the family doctor supported my mom’s theory about my sister being a late bloomer. Looking back, my mom admitted she didn’t want to know. She didn’t want to face the hard, cold reality that something was seriously wrong with her baby.”

This heartfelt article made we wonder how we bring comfort and support to family and friends during heartache and trials. How do we know if we are hurting or helping another? Will our advice or opinion give direction or will they resent it? Advice at the wrong time or our choice of words can be damaging to a relationship. With these questions I searched the internet and found, How to Comfort Hurting People and I made a list of suggestions taken from http://www.net-burst.net/help/counsel.htm.

  • Think the best of people. See them in the best possible light. People under pressure can explode at the slightest additional pressure. If you happen to add that tiny extra pressure, don’t take the explosion personally. Do not feel badly about the person or about yourself for what happened.Hold your friend in high regard and know that it is the pain talking, not the real person.
  • Listen intently. Eye contact can reinforce the person’s awareness that you are interested in what they are saying. Be relaxed during times of silence. Perhaps give a reassuring smile or squeeze the person’s hand. Don’t feel pressured to fill the silence with chatter. Have confidence in the comforting power of simply being there. Feel their pain, be thrilled with their triumphs and enjoy their jokes.
  • Regard tears as being as natural as breathing.Give a reassuring squeeze of the hand or by some other means show that you are relaxed about any emotion that is displayed. Assure the person tears are fitting and nothing to be ashamed of.
  • Gently probe.Asking an occasional question shows genuine interest. By asking appropriate questions you confirm that you really want to know and that they are not imposing on you. Of course, there are people on the other extreme who feel offended if asked, so we need to try to raise these matters with gentleness and sensitivity and in a manner in which the person can easily decline to answer without embarrassment.
  • Look for a positive twist to the situation. If every cloud has a silver lining, hunt high and low for it. With great sensitivity, ease the person’s attention in that direction. However,don’t do this in a way that could seem like a put-down, such as giving the impression that they should have seen the silver themselves, or imply they should find the positive side comforting. Leave it to them to decide if it’s the slightest compensation for the pain they are experiencing.
  • Every person is different. What worked wonders for others, could end in disaster despite your best intentions for another. The fact that some people recover or accept a situation far quicker than others can tempt us to give up on the slower ones. Human nature is complex and every person feels and reacts differently.
  • Keep looking for feedback and signs as to adjustments needed in your approach.Not only is every person different, people’s needs change during the course of their ordeal. For instance, when tragedies first hit, a person is often overwhelmed with visitors and attention, but this tapers off until the person is left having to cope with the opposite extreme. Also, be mindful to not over-stay. Make it obvious that you are happy to stay, but ask now and then if they would prefer to be alone for a while or if they would you like to rest now.
  • Don’t be a know-all. Avoid anything that could possibly give the impression of putting yourself above the person. When appropriate, briefly confess you own struggles.
  • Consider practical help, such as shopping, housework, cooking.This may be a valuable way to help.
  • Allow yourself time out to recharge.It is both loving and wise to ensure you have guilt-free fun times. This will do much to keep you primed for doing your utmost in supporting the person. Be mindful, the person might not be in the mood for hearing you describe your fun.

All of us at one time or another will experience grief and devastation. What helps you get through your heartaches? How hard was it to let others in and to accept help? Your comments are appreciated.

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?