For bereaved parents on World Cancer Day

Today is World Cancer Day; a day of awareness raising, prevention, and celebrating survival. The overarching goal according to WorldCancerDay.org is to reduce premature deaths from cancer, and improve quality of life and cancer survival rates. But as a bereaved parent, I can’t help but also think of the non-survivors. Of the tragedy of losing a child to terminal illness no matter their age and the complexities of witnessing their struggle. So for World Cancer Day, I am posting an excerpt from When Your Child Dies that speaks to losing a child to terminal illness. I am also placing a hope into the world that the goals of today are met over time and less and less parents face this tragedy.

“Caretaking is a demanding process, wearing on a parent emotionally, physically and mentally. If you have witnessed your child suffer and die from a terminal illness, you may have:

  • Faced cycles of hope and uncertainty regarding your child’s survival
  • Witnessed the physical transformation and decline of your child
  • Endured a rollercoaster of temporary recovery and return to illness, sometimes on a day to day basis
  • Made treatment decisions on behalf of your child
  • Discussed final rites and potentially resolved unfinished business with your child
  • Managed shifting roles and disruption of the family system
  • Experienced a series of losses in advance of the death, such as a loss of lifestyle or loss of a job
  • Undergone financial stress and strain
  • Balanced the ongoing needs of your family with the needs of your sick child
  • Experienced emotional or physical burnout and fatigue
  • Managed positive and negative interactions in the medical system
  • Struggled with unanswerable questions such as “Why not me?” or “Why my child?”
  • Felt helpless to stop your child’s physical pain
  • Witnessed your child struggle with the challenges and emotions of facing illness and death

Parents have described a sense of relief and peace mixed with a deep sadness at the time of death. The nightmare has ended; your child no longer suffers. Your recovery from the ordeal requires healing from the exhaustion and restoring your reserves. Practice extreme self-care as you move forward.

For parents who have lost a child to cancer, my heart goes out to you. I hope that in reading this excerpt you see that you are not alone in your experience and that what you have faced is very complex and multi-faceted. It will take time to understand the full impact of your experience on your life. Keep your heart close and allow yourself the time you need.

Thinking of Newtown – Grief and the Holidays

Just last week the media outlets were overtaken by the tragedy in Connecticut. But as things go in the fast paced world of media coverage, new stories overtake the spotlight and the children and adult children who were killed fade into the distance of popular memory. But for the bereaved parents of Newtown, they are reliving the horror each waking moment. Their children have not and will not fade.

When I learned of the tragedy I was devastated. My heart was overcome with agony and shock on behalf of the bereaved parents in Newtown. As we prepare to celebrate the holidays with family and friends the parents and family of the victims again come to mind. For these and all bereaved parents, the holidays can be as challenging as they are celebrated. We feel grief. We think of and miss our children. The following is an excerpt of tips for healthy coping during the holidays from When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parents’ Broken Hearts.

  • Keep things as simple as possible.
  • Allow yourself to talk about your grief and your child.
  • Consider the needs of the family and make decisions as a group.
  • Find ways to create special tribute to your child.
  • Skip the holiday traditions and gatherings if you want to.
  • Make sure to take time to be alone if you need it.
  • Give yourself permission to have fun.
  • Share stories and reminisce
  • Eliminate unnecessary stress.
In writing the book we also learned of different ways parents chose to mark their losses over the holidays. Parents find ways to express their love for their child through unique gestures. Some put an extra setting at the table of a photo on display in the dining room. Others do community service such as volunteering in a soup kitchen or food bank. Through personal rituals parents honour their deceased children and bring their memory into their traditions. Tomorrow when we sit for dinner I’ll be lighting a candle for Alden.
Around the world, when we heard of the tragedy in Newtown, we all felt a desire to reach out and help somehow. I am indescribably grateful to our publisher New Horizon Press and to a private donor who have donated two cases of When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parents’ Broken Hearts to the community of Newtown to assist in the efforts to support the bereaved families. Knowing this brings some peace to my heart when I think of the parents and their sorrow.

 

 

 

 

Blast Off!

Last weekend co-author Randie Clark and I successfully ‘launched’ When Your Child Dies: Tools for Mending Parents’ Broken Hearts. The turnout was perfect. A large enough crowd that we had valuable discussion, but small enough that it still felt intimate. Since it was our first book, and hence our first launch, neither of us knew what to expect, but in the end it went as imagined. We did a short speech, some readings, and answered questions from the crowd. We had a small memorial set up for parents to light a candle or add a flower to a vase. As people came to speak to us, the vase slowly filled. By the end of the night all the candles were lit and the vase was full and colourful. Parents who have read the book approached us to say, “I wish I had had this book from the beginning.” and “Thank you.” Hearing these words from bereaved parents, who we wrote the book for, was rewarding and reassuring. Now our book is out in the universe, or ‘launched’ so to speak, and so far the feedback is encouraging.