Saturday, January 9, 2010

Kindred Spirits

Venturing out for the first time in a couple of days was refreshing. Being a readaholic one of my many stops was at Barnes and Noble. First to the art books then to the self-help books. One that caught my eye is titled "When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter" by Judith R. Bernstein Ph.D. I usually avoid grief books but this one seemed different. While reading the introduction my heart began racing and the tears rolled down my cheek.. I begged them to stop I did not want to have a complete sob fest in the book store. I put the book back on the shelf and walked quickly to the bathroom to get something to wipe away the tears. Breathe deeply change your thoughts you can get through this I told myself. One of the tools that my counselor gave me when going through counseling after the death of my 18 year old son Andrew in 2003 was to set aside a time during the week when I could feel free to grieve. I was so afraid to do things because I thought I might just break down in public and scare the people around me.

7 Jars of Peanut Butter is based on the premise that everything I need is provided for me. I knew this book was one of them. I have still not gotten past the introduction but I would like to share some of it with you. Judith R. Berstein Ph.D. is a psychologist whose son died in 1987 at the age of 26 of cancer.
  "For the first months, we were wrapped in the warm blanket of caring friends and family. Later, we were lost. How are we to live with this for the rest of our lives? Will the crushing ache in my chest ever lessen? Can we ever return to our old selves, involved in the lives of our daughters, caring about our work, hobbies, friends, or the changing of seasons?
            How is it possible to get from this day to a time when you are once again able to enjoy the colors of a rainbow? And after the holocaust of grief has spent its wrath, can those colors ever be quite the same again?"

        "Experts were saying we should return to normal after six months or a year, two at most. I asked myself how you ever get over this? What can be normal again after you've lost a son?"

        "We know that we will never get over our grief and return to our old selves. But there is nothing written about how we evolve and what we become as a result of having our lives turned inside-out by the death of our children."

This book is about her research on long term parental bereavement. She interviewed parents who had lost a child who was at least 2 years old and it had been over 5 years since their death.

        "Basically, I learned that most of us do get back on track after being derailed by the death of our children, However, it is not the track on which we had been traveling before our children died. Often we have an altered destination, new insights, new traveling companions, and new reasons for being on the trip at all.
        We know that our grief will never end. We will mourn for our children every day for the rest of our lives. We will never return to normal. But we will live again. We will be able to enjoy the bittersweet colors of a sunset. We may be productive. Laughter is not out of the question. Life will be forever colored by what has happened. For every parent who loses a child, one life ended and another life is indelibly changed. This is the story of that change."

This is what I have told everyone who asks me does it get easier with time? I say NO! You just learn new ways of dealing with it.

    "Our attitudes toward life change dramatically following a trauma. We don't get over a trauma; we adapt our way of thinking and feeling about the world as a consequence."

    "Along with "overcome"' the word "recovery" is often seen in association with grief. The premise of the current study is that grief, or any major trauma for that matter, is never overcome nor does recovery take place. The course of healing involves integrating the trauma, not overcoming it."

    " We cannot be sad to recover, in the sense of returning to a former self, from any major trauma. Trauma as shattering and cataclysmic as losing a child, as rape or abuse, as addiction, as natural disaster, and so forth, leaves indelible imprints on our lives. We are not the same having traveled that road as we would have been had we been spared the journey."

"This book will not talk of recovery. The premise of this book is that the word is a misnomer and creates a fictitious mind-set: that major loss is ultimately wrapped in a neat package and segregated from the rest of the experience until it goes away."

"People don't recover; they adapt. They alter their values, attitudes, perceptions, relationships, and beliefs, with the result that they are substantially different from the people they once were."

"The bereaved parent has to come to terms with a world in which it is possible for children to die, a world of different hopes and dreams, a world of muted sunsets. The victim never see life through the same lens again. If you look at it that way, it becomes foolish to ask when victims of trauma should be over it. If we are to help and understand trauma victims, should we not ask instead where they are in the process of learning to live with what happened? Where is that process in five, ten, thirty years? These are the questions I set out to ask."

I know I am quoting a lot from her book. AND it is just the introduction! Last year one of my goal rocks was to find kindred spirits. I thought it would be my creative art friends. I am finding several of them are my grieving parent friends.

"Years ago I was out of the country for several months. When I got to Customs at Kennedy Airport, the inspector smiled warmly and said, "Welcome Home!" The moment brought tears to my eyes. It was so good to be home. That is the same feeling I got in meeting the parents for these interviews, that it was so good to be home. That same sentiment is expressed by many of the parents; when they are with another bereaved parent they feel connected to a kindred spirit, someone who is on the same wavelength and speaks the same language; they feel at home. In our workaday world no one sees the aspect of us that is bereaved parent. A time progresses, we speak less and less frequently of the children we lost; yet those children are aften no further from our hearts that our surviving children. When we meet other beeaved parents, we're home--with people who know that language and who understand the subleties foreigners can never truly know. We can show each other pictures of the child we lost. Despite differences in age, religious beliefs, education, and all other variables that usually define our social affiliations, there is a bond. The strength of that sense of connection surprised me. Many of the interviews ended with a spontaneous hug."

While driving across the U. S. of A. I have thought about interviewing those friends and families behind the roadside markers where a death has occurred due to an accident. I know they all have a story to tell. Now the thought could be kindred spirits as well.

"I learned a great deal from the parents I interiewed. I learned that I am not crazy when I see a young bearded man in the supermarket who looks just like Steven and I follow him up and down the aisles grateful for a moment with my son. I learned that I won't ever get over that feeling. I learned that I can live with that and still revel in the day. I learned that people have an aspiring level of  generosity, a strength of character, a capacity to be nourishing to others when they themselves are depleted. I am indepted to the kindred spirits who accompanied me on this journey and taught me so much."

So looking forward to reading this book. I know it is what I need for my journey right now. My goal is to motivate people to reach their highest on the path that is theirs!



  1. Continue your journey Lisa...and know that those who love you are here with you...holding your hand, holding your heart, sharing your spirit.

  2. Thank you for sharing your thoughts on the book "When the Bough Breaks: Forever After the Death of a Son or Daughter". Reading this book can help many parents and grandparents come to terms with the death of a beloved child. I really liked the comment how when parents are first dealing with the post traumatic stress associated with the loss of a child they are wrapped in the loving arms of family and friend, but the loneliness really sets in when those loving arms aren't there anymore.