Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Siblings: The Forgotten Mourner.....

I love winter. I love the way the snow insulates and buffers my world. Today as I’m thinking about winter and the icy roads, the sidewalks filled with snow, I’m reminded of an old friend. I met Michael as I was working in my yard many years ago. I had just purchased my home and I was anxious to put my stamp on it. One summer day, while I was digging and clearing dirt for a pond, I stood up to admire my mess. I noticed a young man and his dog passing by. I must have smiled at him because he turned his wheelchair around and drove up my driveway. We started talking, his beautiful Golden being the ice breaker. His dog was still a pup, full of boundless energy. They didn’t stay long, they needed to finish their walk.

The next day, Michael and his dog were back. We talked about my pond and I told him how I was struggling to get it level. He lit right up, eager to help me.  He suggested places I could arrange the rocks around the outside of the pond. He helped me build up the waterfall. I loved having him around giving me his input and direction. We became fast friends, soon learning about each other’s lives. . He shared how he became paralyzed. At the age of 14, he dove into a neighbors pool and broke his neck.  He was around 30 or so when I met him.

One day it was particularly hot as we worked together. I suggested taking a break so we could get some water for the dog, and a glass of ice water for the two of us. I placed the dog dish on the ground, and handed him his water. He just looked at me. It never dawned on me that he couldn’t move his arms and grab the water for himself. I gently placed the glass to his lips, and waited for his direction. He tilted his head back, and I followed, waiting for him to swallow. Together, along with his beloved pup, we shared our glass of ice water. Michael ended up moving to Florida not long after that summer. He wanted to be in an environment where there wasn’t any snow. A place where he could move around easier. We lost contact after he moved, and I haven’t been able to locate him. I miss him.

My thoughts of winter, Michael and my children all intertwine. I’ve been learning a lot about the types of grieving, the processes and stages. I know what it’s like as a mother to lose her daughter. I needed to learn more about the impact on my children. What is it like to lose a sibling?

The Forgotten Mourner

The loss of a sibling is a devastating life event. When a sibling dies, the world changes in a heartbeat. Oftentimes when such a loss occurs, others fail to recognize that the surviving sibling faces emotional battles on many fronts while working through the loss. Largely ignored, surviving siblings are often referred to as the “forgotten mourners.”

Siblings who play a major part in each other's lives are essential to each other. Adult siblings eventually expect the loss of aging parents, the only other people who have been an integral part of their lives since birth, but they do not expect to lose their siblings early; as a result, when a sibling dies, the surviving sibling may experience a longer period of shock and disbelief.

The Loss of History

Each family has its own special history and the shared bonds that are a part of that history. When a sibling dies, the bonds are shattered, and the history forever has a void that cannot be filled. As they grow, children develop certain characteristics and talents. Brothers and sisters tend to complement each other by developing a balance of interests in different areas. However, surviving siblings will need to redefine their roles in the absence of this relationship.

The Loss of Future

When a sibling dies, all future special occasions will be forever changed. There will be no more shared birthday celebrations, anniversaries, or holidays. There will be no telephone calls telling of the birth of a new nephew or niece. The sharing of life’s unique and special events will never again take place.

Understanding from Others

Society often encourages bereaved individuals to feel guilty for grieving too long. This failure to receive validation of their grief can cause siblings to hide their feelings, causing a type of depression with which they may struggle for many years.
If the surviving sibling is married, stress may also be introduced into the spousal relationship. Individuals grieve differently, and the spouse may be bewildered and even unsympathetic that this loss is causing so much sorrow in their own family. This situation may provoke comments such as, “Why are you so upset? You haven’t been close to your family for years.” While this may sound reasonable, the emotions of grief and mourning are seldom reasonable—or even rational. Spouses may need to be told how they can be supportive. One woman simply asked her husband for a hug whenever she felt especially sad about the death of her sister.

When your sibling dies, you lose a part of your past, your present, and your future. Because of this tremendous loss, it is important that everyone work together to ease the path toward healing.

Grief is real. Grief has physical qualities. Don’t assume the griever is able to take that drink of ice water just because the oozing wound isn’t visible. It’s there.

 Jillian’s sister, Jenni, posted this on her face book yesterday. It says it all:

"the reality is you will grieve forever. you will not 'get over' the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. you will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. you will be whole again but you will never be the same again. nor should you be the same nor should you want to

I love you, kids. And I’m real proud of you all.

~ Peace

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Door Number Three...

Turn off the TV. Shut down the computer, the IPad, your phone. Close your eyes.  Now breathe. In with the good, out with the bad. Free your mind of all distractions. Breathe. Again. Again……

My all- time favorite Bible verse: “ Be still and know that I am God”. Being still doesn’t just happen. I have to allow it to happen. I have to remember that I need create stillness. And when I do, I’m never disappointed. I hear you, God.

I’ve been busy these last few months. Busy grieving. Busy fighting for my grief. By allowing myself to grieve, I’ve put my awareness activities on the back burner. For a variety of reasons, really. Mainly because I have needed to give myself the time and the latitude to work and process through this dismal jungle. But now, I need to make a choice. Am I going to continue with my melanoma awareness involvement like I did while Jillian was still with us, or am I going to slow down, or possibly stop? By continuing my involvement with melanoma and all it entails, is this helping me, or hurting me? Good questions.

While pondering these questions after dinner last night, I came home to an email from a melanoma caregiver. This woman has become very special to me. It is scan week, and she needed to talk. I remember vividly scan week. Scan day. Result day. It’s awful. You try to be positive and tell yourself you can’t wait until you get to hear the good news. That works. For about two seconds.

Your heart is doing flip flops. Your hands shake. Your mouth is dry. You try and read the results from the doctors face as he walks in the room. If he smiles and jokes, it’s good news. If he beats around this bush and talks about everything other than why you’re sitting in that hard backed chair, it’s bad news. FEAR. I will never forget those days, and my heart hurts for my melanoma friends. They will be living with scan weeks forever.  I think about Jillian and her fears and emotions during scan week. What were her fears as she was faced with a melanoma cancer diagnosis? Did she run from life because of it, or did she run with life in spite of it? I already know the answer.

Staying away from the pulse of melanoma isn’t going to take the pain of losing Jillian away for me. It will always be there. You just wouldn’t hear about it as often. I’ve read somewhere that there are three ways people deal with their grief. Some talk about their loved ones often. Some don’t talk about their loss much at all. Others become activists and try to keep their loved ones memory alive. None of them are right, none of them are wrong. They just are. And I’ve decided. I’m door number three.

Life doesn’t necessarily have to be easy. But I believe it does need purpose. So bear with me as I stumble and fall, and laugh with Jillian when she hauls me up. Again and again.

Fall Seven Times, Stand Up Eight.

I hear you, God.


Saturday, February 1, 2014

At Least It's Not Raining.....

Today is my Mom’s birthday. We took her out for dinner last night to celebrate her years (she’d shoot me if I mentioned how many). We shared a great evening filled with much laughter and love.

 I was thinking about my mom as I woke up this morning and was filled with an overwhelming sense of gratitude. The older I get, the clearer I see how we are a product of our upbringing. I’ve been so blessed. I was raised as the middle child in a middle class family. We didn’t have a lot of money growing up, but I didn’t know it then. What I did know was that I was raised with an abundance of love. An overflowing amount of love.

My parents have always been deeply involved in my life, and the lives of my children. My mom was my travel buddy on soccer tournaments for Jillian, and gymnastic tournaments for Jennie.  She helped me tremendously when I was a single mom raising four kids alone. One adventure in particular has stuck with our family throughout the years.

While I stayed home with the other kids, my mom offered to drive Joshua to his evening gun safety class about 10 miles away. It was still light outside as they headed to the school where the class was held, but it had turned dark by the time class was over and they left for home. My mom wasn’t familiar with the route and they got lost. Those were the days before smart phones and GPS devices. So here’s my mom, driving on a dark country road in her sporty Mazda,  lost with a twelve year old kid sitting next to her.

I wasn’t there for the exchange between grandma and grandson as they made their way back safe and sound, giggling and in one piece. But I’ve been thankful ever since for the gift my mom gave Josh that night.

As they were trying to find their way home in the dark, lost, and perhaps a little scared,  my mom turned to Josh in reassurance and said, “At least it’s not raining”. That’s my mom. It never rains.

So the joke in our family when we are faced with difficult situations has become a mantra. At Least It's Not Raining.

Thank you Mom, for teaching me and my children that even if it does rain for us, an umbrella is always nearby. And if there is a storm…. shelter is but a prayer away.

Happy Birthday, Mom. I love you.