New Empathy for Grandparents

Often it's hard to fully appreciate what a person is going through until you find yourself experiencing something similar.

When Monica and I were dealing with various pregnancy complications during the childbearing years, I was so focused on my own stress that I did not give a great deal of thought to what that must have been like for my parents. Now that my daughter, Emily, is pregnant with her third child and experiencing the complications of preterm labor at 22 weeks, I am gaining a new understanding.

Personally, Monica and I dealt with the loss of Emily's twin, Kathleen's stillbirth, a molar pregnancy, an early miscarriage, and an abysmal prenatal diagnosis, but never had problems with preterm labor. We had a loss between each of our 4 living children, and our youngest daughter, Maggie, was the one where prenatal testing suggested she would not survive after birth. In that case, we got lucky and she was fine.

In part because we live in Minnesota and Emily and her family live in Arizona, Monica and I find ourselves worrying about what is going on or might happen, and feel guilty that we can't be there to help out. Every time their phone number pops up on my cell phone, my heart races a little and I have to swallow hard before I answer. On the couple of occasions that it was Emily or Bryant calling to say they were heading to the hospital to be checked, I find myself going into "Mr. Positive" mode, assuring them that probably everything is fine, but it's always good to go in to the doctor or hospital  if they are worried. My parents often played that role with us, and I guess in part that is why I did not really think those times were all that difficult for them. To be honest, I just didn't think a lot about it.

So, if you find yourself frustrated with your parents fretting or irritated with their erratic behavior, take a minute to think about what this experience is like for them. I can vouch for the fact that it's very difficult seeing your own kids stressed and scared, knowing there is not a alot you can do to help!

"They Were Still Born" - NEW BOOK

They Were Still Born, By Janel Atlas: I was pleased to be asked to contribute a chapter to this new book, which is a compilation of personal reflections on stillbirth. It's a beautiful book filled with a variety of perspectives from those who have lived through this tragedy. Available from Amazon.

Living through the holidays

At a time of year when we all feel like we should be happy, light, grateful, and giving, it can be overwhelming to feel sad, angry, and less than generous. Anyone can experience these emotions, but when you are facing the holidays for the first time after a significant loss, the feelings can be downright daunting.

I have written about the holidays before on here and don't want to repeat what you can already find on this blog, but I do want you newly bereaved parents to know that there are people out here who understand at least some of what you are experiencing, and I hope you will reach out for help if you feel the need. For those of you who have already lived through the first year or two after the death of your baby, one of the greatest gifts you can give this holiday season is to offer your own story of hope and survival. Experts can write about this stuff until they are blue in the face (and what they have to say is very valuable) but often bereaved parents want to hear directly from other bereaved parents. They want to know of someone who can relate to them on that very personal level of having been there. They simply want to hear words of understanding from those who have walked this path.

It's been many years since Kathleen died on that beautiful late September afternoon, but in all the Christmas seasons we have lived through since then, I have not been able to avoid a one where at some point it strikes me how hopelessly sad I was that first year. For me, that memory most often hits me when we are sitting in church on Christmas Eve, listening to music and seeing all the little kids barely able to contain their excitement as they bounce up and down in their Christmas outfits. I love that part of the holiday, but I recall all too well how guilty I felt for feeling anger when I witnessed that for the first time after Kathleen was born. The pain of knowing she would never be one of those kids, nearly tore me apart.

Today, I once again find joy in that vision and comfort in the belief that our child is safe and happy. While that has worked for me, each of you must find your own peace in your own timeframe. Allow yourself to feel your sadness, but do not ever give up hope that your life can be happy again. I firmly believe your baby would not want any less for you.

NOTE: Here are links to some resources that might be helpful (copy and paste link in your browser):

Caregivers make a difference.....

I am speaking to a caregiver conference in Delaware the end of October and need your input. If you could share with me stories about caregivers who made a difference in your grieving (good and bad) I would like to incorporate some of those stories into my talk.

I have been on both sides of this fence and am quite passionate about the impact good (and not-so-good) caregivers can have on families. What do you think?

It's Fall -- here we go again?

I think about "grief triggers" every year at this time because Kathleen died on September 27. The combination of that date along with the beginning of the Fall season always brings both Monica and I down a little. This year there are the added factors of my Dad's death in June and the fact that our youngest child went off to college Labor Day weekend. For the first time in nearly 29 years, we are without kids in the house! (don't do the math)

So, what do you do when you think time has passed, you are doing quite well with your sadness, and then something comes along that makes you feel like you just took a giant step backward?

First of all, I think you need to be able to recognize what is happening. Even after all these years, when Monica and I get a little sad around the time school is starting, I still fail to catch on right away as to what might be adding to that sadness. I guess it seems like it shouldn't be happening any more.

Once you recognize what might be triggering your sadness, the next step is to acknowledge it and know that it's ok to feel that way. It does not mean that you are starting over in your grieving and all the progress you have made is going down the drain. It certainly does not mean that you are losing your mind. But, it also doesn't mean that it's the last time it will ever happen.

I have come to realize that these moments are not only gifts because they make me pause and reflect, they also continue to teach me something.

When Kathleen died, our priest let us down in ways that were nearly unforgiveable, and I have never since set foot inside the church we were members of at that time. Even though we made the move to the suburbs years ago and no longer live near that building, it's not far from my office. Over theyears I have tried to avoid it when I drive down the beautiful street it is located on. This summer, due to road construction, I had to alter my route to work and drove by the church every day. To add to my dilemma, there is a stoplight right in front and I often find myself sitting at that intersection longer than I wish. At first, I did not turn my head. Soon I was glancing that direction but not letting myself really think about it. But then, as the weeks went by, I started letting myself feel my anger and soon realized that it was time to let go of it. Not only is that priest long gone from the parish, I realized how silly it was to not let myself see the beauty of that massive building and recall the positive things that happened when we were members. I had to ask myself who I was really hurting?

I guess my point is that if we remain open to letting ourselves both recognize our grief as well as acknowledge it, there is still room to both grow and heal.

Newly Bereaved Dad

I just lost my baby girls on July 16th. the were born at 19 weeks. I am not sure how to handle everything. I kinda feel like i have no one to talk to.

How can a grandparent help?

I recently received a posting from a grandparent asking how they can best help their son/daughter with their grief? Grandparents are in a very difficult position as they face their own unique grief while at the same time wanting to support their children.

We have several very good resources at for grandparetns, but I think the best suggestions would come from the parents who have gone through this experience. If you are willing, share what helped and what didn't help that your parents did or did not do. I have no doubt that many people will be touched by your comments and hopefully families will have a better experience because of what you have to say.


A different kind of loss...

To get to my age and have both my parents still living is a gift I never took for granted. But it was not until my Dad's death last week that the true impact of my good fortune really hit home. I have spent a good deal of my adulthood talking about the death of my daughter and the loss of my future that event represented to me, but I am now feeling what many others have felt before me -- a sense of losing my past.

I believe it is wrong to compare losses or try to debate which one is "worse," so I won't even go there. Pain is pain, and when you are hurting, it doesn't matter what the cause is, it hurts. It also doesn't matter whether someone has felt a similar pain before you or how many blessings the life that is lost may have brought you. During those moments of grief, it hurts bad.

To be honest, I thought I was somewhat prepared for this loss, and to a degree maybe I was. A parent's death fits more into the scheme of how life evolves so I guess that from that standpoint it was something I knew would likely happen at some point. What I did not anticipate is the emptiness that comes from knowing that someone you have counted on your whole life is no longer a phone call away. My Dad's death came after a brief illness, but we did know the last week of his life that he was dying, so we had some time to bring closure. It was a treasured time that I did everything in my power to avoid, because I did not want to be confronted with having to say goodbye. Now that it's over and I can look back, I know it was the right thing for me to do and I'm glad the decision was not totally left to fate.

Rather than ramble on, I will just say that even after all my talking and preaching about the importance of "being there" and the lessons I tell others Kathleen's death taught me, I still did a lot of the same avoiding I did 25 years ago. I could even get real down on myself for that, but instead I am going to concentrate on the fact that, in the end, I stepped outside my comfort zone and did what I knew I would regret not doing. That feels good, and I have Kathleen to thank.

The lessons just keep on coming............

Facing Mother's Day & Father's Day with a pit in your stomach

I think one of the most difficult things for me is talking to couples who have lost a child in the last year and hear them speak of the dread they feel as Mother's Day and Father's Day approach. I have written about this before and encouraged moms and dads to try and find a way to get through the day as best they can while allowing themselves to celebrate the fact that they are parents of a child they loved very much. I have to admit those words can sound pretty hollow, and I can't help but think to myself, "who am I kidding? -- it sucks and there is no way of avoiding it."

It also may not really help to know that for most of us, it does get easier as time goes by and we heal to the point of being able to feel more of the joy than the pain of our child's short life. It's good to have hope, but you still have to make it through those first holidays where it seems like everyone else is celebrating while you want to crawl under a rock and hope it can just go away.

I hope those of you who read this blog that have a little more time under your belt since your loss, can share things that you found helpful as you faced these difficult times. Some of you may have shared before, but know that there are always new people coming on board who could benefit from your experience and your hard earned wisdom.

There are just a couple of things I want to say again (hollow or not) because I honestly believe they are important to remember:

1) Yes..... you are a parent. For those whose loss was your first child, sometimes it's easy to fall into the trap of not thinking you have the "right" to celebrate these special days. Adding to the misconception is the fact that family and friends wrongly believe that they should not say anything or acknowledge the day for fear it might remind you that your baby died... (if only it were that easy to make the pain go away.)

2) Be creative. If you don't feel you can celebrate the day with the traditional brunch or family gathering, try and think of ways that you can make this day special for you and your baby. If that means going to the cemetary or visiting a place you recall being happy during your pregnancy, allow yourselves the opportunity to do that. Write a note to your child, release a balloon, visit a hospital or nursing home, go for a walk, cry, laugh, plant a bush (or flower or tree), smile..... most importantly, be around people who will let you do what you need to do... no matter who or how many that is.

3) Be hopeful. Ask yourselves what your baby would want this day to be like for you?

I could rattle on for a long time trying to be profound, but I'll spare you that. I would much rather have others of you who probably did a lot better job than myself in dealing with the sadness write your thoughts. It's when you share things that can help others (even if it's letting them know they are not the only ones hurting) that you give your child a voice and let them touch the world and make it better.

Good luck. You are not alone.


A dose of reality...

When Kathleen was stillborn, Monica and I became very close in the initial hours surrounding the event. We leaned on each other in a way that we had never had to before and, at least for me, the realization that I could cry and lose control in front of her without feeling like a fool was a huge thing. I remember saying to her in the hospital, "together we can get through anything."

But the first jolt of reality hit only a day later when we got home. Monica came home from the hospital on our older daughter Emily's second birthday. Even though we were exhausted and emotionally drained, we wanted to move ahead with her family party and keep the atmosphere as normal as possible for Emily's sake.

The morning of the party, I got up early and took down the crib that we had set up for Kathleen. It was gut wrenching for me to walk by that room and see it, and it never occurred to me that Monica didn't feel the same way. And, to be honest, I wanted it put away before the party because I thought it would make some people uncomfortable. As shocking as it was for me at the time, I'm assuming that at least some of you reading this now will not be surprised that my thoughtful gesture didn't set too well with Monica. She was angry that I would not consult her before doing something like putting the crib away, and strongly resented the fact that she would not be able to take her time to go through Kathleen's room and put things away over time.

So -- the fact that we were going to have different needs and different ways of processing our grief hit both of us like a ton of bricks. Unfortunately, it was not the last time we would have to face this reality, and it became a real challenge to move forward together rather than alone.

How have your experiences been? Have ways of handling situations worked well for you that would help others to hear about? Are you struggling with a similar issue that would be helpful to get others' feedback on?

Being able to reach out to others....

One of the greatest gifts I got from Kathleen's life was the feeling that I was better able to understand other people's pain -- especially when it involved the loss of a child. There is something about being a member of this "club" that provides a bond with others who have shared at least a similar experience. While I would give anything to not be part of it, I have to admit that my life seems a lot richer for having met so many wonderful people ... people that I got to know only because we shared the loss of a baby.

I know that especially for those whose loss is more recent, the thought of having the energy or even desire to be pillar of strength for someone else is not high on your list of things to do. But I hope you will consider how much the understanding and compassion you can offer others with similar stories means to them.

For those of you who have been a part of a support group, you probably can better understand what I'm saying. Sometimes just being in the same room with other bereaved moms and dads can help with the loneliness and feelings of hopelessness. While there will be a time when you know it's right for you to move on from that group, you will have likely gained a lot of strength from the stories you heard, the outlooks on life you witnessed, and the wisdom that was shared.

Almost 20 years after Kathleen's stillbirth, my nephew and his wife experienced the full term stillbirth of their daughter, Lillie. The circumstances were eerily similar and there was no doubt that it was difficult to have so many painful feelings brought to the surface once again. But ... I honestly believe that they received the outpouring of support they did because of the things we, and our entire family, learned from Kathleen's death. The bond that we now share with them is one that no one else can completely understand, and that makes it incredibly special.

Have you found yourselves relating to others in a way you would not have prior to your loss? Does it make you angry that you know how they feel, or does it feel good to know you are there for them?

Share Your Dreams

This is one of those posts where I know I might not get any responses, but I'm going to write it anyway.

Do you remember what you thought, felt, dreamed of, when you first found out you were going to be a dad? When first hearing the news, whether it's our first child or fourth, many of us picture ourselves fathering the expected baby. It might be envisioning yourself pacing the living room in the middle of the night with a baby that won't stop crying. Maybe it's taking the child to their first matinee on a Saturday afternoon. Or, maybe it's anticipating the day they will leave for college and wondering how you will ever be able to afford it?

So, what happens when those dreams are shattered? The dreams certainly change, but do they go away? It seems like we not only get robbed of being able to live those dreams, many of us never even get the chance to share them with anyone. Being guys, we sometimes think that to do that would somehow be strange

So, if you like, I hope you will use this blog to tell us what you felt and what you imagined your life would be like with this child. I think it will be good for all of us to know we weren't alone in having dreams, and hopefully it will feel good to have a place to let the world know what they were.

Any takers?

Grief and Technology

I am curious as to whether many of you have an opinion about the most effective ways to receive long-range grief support in today's high tech society?

Obviously nothing can replace the hug or face to face meetings one gets from family and friends. But for those who don't feel that support or live in a smaller community where support groups may not be readily available, what has worked for you? What hasn't? What would you like to see offered?

The internet opens new worlds for all of us every day. Blogs, web sites, chat groups, online memorials, are all becoming more plentiful and I know many wonderful people who invest hours and hours of effort into their outreach to others via these outlets. But, what is missing? What do you find is not as helpful as you hoped it would be?

The company I co-own, A Place To Remember, is always looking for the most effective ways to reach families at the time they need it. That's not easy, since none of us put losing a child on our list of short or long range plans. And certainly, when in the midst of shock and extreme sadness, having to search for help can feel overwhelming. Sadly, every day we hear from people who have stumbled upon a resource they think is wonderful, but they wish it had been available (or they were aware of it) at the time they needed it most.

The high tech world and grief don't always seem to feel like they should go together, but in fact they do. We just need to figure out the most effective way to harness the best of what is available.

Any thoughts?

Please visit ""

Matt Wallace recently posted on this blog and mentioned a project that he and his family are working on in memory of their daughter, Nevaeh. She was a beautiful little girl that brought much joy to their lives and Matt and his wife Jamie are trying to build a playroom in her memory at the Children's Hospital of Wisconsin where she was cared for. Spread the word and hopefully we can help them "move that mountain."

Because this hospital is located in Wisconsin, it reminds me of another great place for grieving families that is also located in that beautiful state. If you haven't heard of Faith's Lodge, go to and learn more about this wonderful retreat center that makes it very affordable for families to get away and replenish their hearts.

The holidays are over, it's January, and it's cold

(at least in Minnesota)

So, how did everyone do over the holidays? Did you learn anything that might be helpful for those having to face a future holiday? Did any of the sage advice that was given out in this blog turn out to be hogwash (at least for you)?

While it's still fresh in your mind, I would appreciate you sharing your thoughts, successes, and disappointments.

While you're at it, how are you coping with the post-holiday crash? Relieved? Sad? If you live in a place like Minnesota, winter can be a beautiful time to enjoy the snow and cold. But because of the length of the season in a place like this, it can also feel daunting to know that it will be several months before you can easily enjoy the outdoors and longer days. Let us know how you are doing and if you have any plans to make this time as positive as possible.