Friday, January 25, 2013

Animals as messengers of spirit?

I spend a lot of time in my car.  I have a lot of time to think, or sing or simply be aware of the world around me.  I often notice the beauty of nature.  As of late, it's been the scarcity of winter.  A bland yet pure landscape.  Free of the clutter of leaves and flowers.  Only the skeletons of trees stand strong in the wind and weather.  Naked and exposed.  After a snowfall, I notice the purity of the white blanket upon the land.  Last night, it was the light of the nearly full moon, casting shadows in the night, sharing the sky with the stars and planets.  Sometimes the milky way is visible here.  All are beautiful in their own right.

I often see animals.  This month in my travels I've seen deer, many wild turkeys, rabbits (I thought they hibernated!), and many small birds.  Every now and then, I see a red tailed hawk perched on a tree by the highway or gliding about looking for prey.  I love hawks.  I always have.  I don't know why, they are just magical, beautiful and fascinating to me.  I imagine they are there more often than not, I just don't notice them.  So why today?  Why so many?
This is a Harris Hawk.  I took this picture while he was perched on my forearm during a 'Hawk Walk' while vacationing in Ireland.  It was awesome! 

Here is where that intuition comes in.  It always serves me well.  If I listen to it.

I do believe that today, the hawks had a message for me.  I saw not one, but four different hawks today, all almost as if they were trying to tell me something.  All perched on a tree by the highway.  Gorgeous and regal, presiding over their territory.  Perhaps soaking up the warmth of the sun.  Perhaps taking a nap.  Perhaps resting or waiting patiently for it's next meal to happen by.  I saw two more flying low and with determined purpose.  Six in one day.  In a matter of but a few hours.  Intuition told me to pay attention.

What is the message the Universe wants me to get from the hawks?  I asked, of course.  How else is one supposed to discover answers if they don't ask?  The message I intuitively received was the following:  Patience.  Be aware of your surroundings.  Use your vision, literally and figuratively.  When you go after something, do so with commitment using your skills, your vision and your patience for right timing.  Be aware of your connection to spirit.  This made sense to me when I applied it to where I am in my life and some choices and changes I am pondering.

A quick Web search revealed this from

Power, Magic, Messenger
Hawk is the messenger, the protector and the visionaries of the Air.
It holds the key to higher levels of consciousness.
This totem awakens vision and inspires a creative life purpose.

A Hawk totem is filled with responsibility
because Hawk people seek the overall view.
They are aware of omens and spirit messages.
A Red-Tailed Hawk Totem is special.
It has direct ties to the Kundalini, the seat of primal life force.
It is associated with the base chakra .
If you have this Totem, you will be aware of and work towards fulfilling your soul's purpose.
It reflects a greater intensity of energy within your life:
physical, emotional, mental and spiritual forces will all be strong within you.
The Red-Tail Hawk is a permanent totem -- it will always be with you.
It is associated with the number "14" with the Tarot card Temperance.
This card represents the teaching of higher expressions of psychic ability and vision.

Interesting, eh?

When I began my spiritual journey in earnest, about 8 years ago, a mentor recommended a book called Animal Speak.  It's an interesting read, whether you believe in animal totems or not.  I'm not sure what my totem animal is but I wouldn't be surprised if it were a bird of prey.  I think it's time to dust it off.


I find that if we are aware of the signs before us on a daily basis, we have much to learn and much to gain.  Intuition is a powerful thing and something so few of us trust, believe in or listen to.  It can be scary, for not all intuitive messages are clear, 'good', or obvious.  They are at the very least, opportunities to learn and grow.

Perhaps a good exercise is for the next few days, to be aware of your own intuition.  What do you feel, sense, or *know*.  Pay attention to it.  If it feels right, follow it.  See where it leads you.  If you notice number sequences, animals, other 'signs' from spirit, write them down, acknowledge them, tune into your internal compass and see where it guides you.  It doesn't have to be 'serious'.

For example, also in my travels, I drive by a Paper Store.  I had no intention of going in today.  I had nothing I needed or wanted that I was aware of.  That little voice strongly said to go.  So I did.  I wandered around but nothing spoke to me.  I looked for the Alex and Ani bracelet I wanted, but they didn't have it.  I thought that was why I was called to the store and I was wrong.  I kept wandering, wondering why I was wasting this time.  Why did I feel so strongly called to stop at the store?

Then I saw the sale room.  I love a bargain!  As I wandered around I was still bewildered at why I was there.  Nothing spoke to me.  Not even the Vera Bradley sale!  Until I saw it.  The purple Life is Good fleece jacket I coveted before Christmas but refused to pay the outrageous price for.  It was right there.  In my size.  In all it's fuzzy, soft, purple, fleecy glory.  For half price!  Immediately I knew why I had to go there.  A little gift of warmth from the Universe.  I knew I was done shopping.  Yay!  I love when it's something nice like that!

Now, you may think I'm crazy and that's ok.  I respect your opinion.  Or maybe this resonates with you.  The greater message is to be aware of your inner wisdom, your compass, your gut feelings.  They are there for a reason.  Sometimes it's frivolous, like a purple fleece jacket. Sometimes, it's serious, like, could save your life serious.  Maybe it's spirit.  Maybe it's not.  Being aware is never a bad thing.


Saturday, January 19, 2013

Coping with the death of a child and supporting their parents

What happens in the "My Child is Dead" club should be known by everyone in the Universe.  This is not fight club.  This is I can't believe I'm living this nightmare club.

The club shouldn't be a secret.  It shouldn't be hush-hush.  It should be talked about, shared, supported and know across the land. We are hurting.  We need love.  Understanding.  Non-judgmental and unconditional support.  We need to be listened to, not told what to do or how to feel.  We need time.  We need tissues.  We don't need to eat, sleep, 'get over it' or 'move on'.  We don't need to hear how much better off they are, how it was somehow for the best or at least they didn't suffer or are no longer suffering.  WE are suffering.  WE are hurt.  WE need to walk our own road, at our own pace, in our own way. WE will never, ever be the same.  We are not bad, stupid or neglectful parents (though depending on the circumstances of our child's death, some say we are.  I don't have to tell you how painful THAT is).  We are parents who loved our children and now they are gone.  Time may heal, but it doesn't cure.

Joining a club is typically a positive experience, one made voluntarily and with great enthusiasm for the subject. Not so with our club. We are a unique group.  We are the club no one ever wants to belong to.  We are the person you never want to be.  We are the person some of you can't handle being around, because we 'bring you down'.  Because YOU can't deal with our pain.  We have no choice. We are parents who've had to bury our own children.  We didn't expect to join this club and we are beyond pissed that we had no choice but to become a part of it.

To the members of the club who have reached out to me in comments on my blog post about Meghan's Angel day, on her Facebook page and through her Web site, I most sincerely, lovingly and with an open but heavy heart welcome you to the club.  I've heard from so many of you who are also members.  Far more than I ever expected.  Some, very recently have lost your children.  You've lost your unborn babies, infants, toddlers, teenagers or adult children.  They've been lost to cancer, accidents, suicide and medical illness.  None of us ever expected it would happen to us.  Yet here we are.

All of you have commented that in reading my words, you realized you were not alone.  You realized you had similar feelings and experiences  you felt the pain, the guilt and the anger.  Some of you have never shared with anyone how you felt or feel, especially beyond your spouse.  It helped to validate how you felt and that you were not alone. That you were not 'broken'.  You've all done the same for me.  We are bonded in our grief and our love of our children.  Our experiences are different, yet similar.  We walk this road together in spirit.  I've tried to answer you all individually, I'm so sorry if I haven't.  I've read all of your words and said prayers for your children and your families.

This post is for both those who have lost children and those who support them in their loss.  We cannot bring our children back to us in body.  What we can do is honor our feelings, remember them and the joy they brought to our lives, preserve their memory and love them always.  Many of those who lost children or grandchildren, especially recently, have asked how I coped.  Does it ever get better or easier?  Is it a life sentence of guilt, pain and depression?  Will my marriage survive? How am I going to do this?  I hope to help answer some of those questions for you here.

Disclaimer:  This is going to be a long post. Very long.  Although about the loss of a child, much of what I say here is appropriate for any loss of a loved one.

Of course, I can only speak for what I found helpful and that which worked for me.  Know you will find your own ways of coping, processing and integrating your child's death into the rest of your life.  It is my distinct hope that in sharing what I've done the past 8 years to keep Meg's spirit alive in our family, the growth and change her death catalyzed in me and how I've gone through the stages of grief it will help you who is reading this.  Either in your own journey in living your life with a spirit child or in your role supporting a loved one who is.  Please take from this only that which resonates with you and leave the rest.

You already know about my experience of Meghan's Angel Day and how I honor her memory and remember her death ever year.  If you are new here, read my post from December 18th.  You already know about how Meghan's Hope began, what it is and why I devote so much time and energy to educating others about the dangers of furniture tip-over and child safety.  It is how I continue to mother her.  It is how I honor her life and her death.  It is perhaps, her purpose in my life and yours.  In her death, in sharing her story, she has saved thousands of  lives, at least I hope so.  That brings me some peace.  It doesn't lessen the pain of her loss any.

So, what is the experience of losing a child like?  It's a living hell.  You've not known pain until you've held your dead child.  Until you've seen their tiny lifeless body in a casket.  Until you've attended their funeral, buried them and came home without them.  You can never, ever know what it's like unless you've experienced it.  Don't ever pretend to *know* what it's like.  Don't ever say you understand how that person feels unless you've lost a child yourself.  Even then, your experiences and feelings could be very different.  That which comforted you may not provide any comfort and in fact may anger another person.  Please think before you speak.  That is my first piece of advice.

Don't touch their stuff without asking first:  

The day she died, neighbors held vigil at our house.  One of them was a police officer.  He wisely told the women who, in wanting to do something to help, wanted to clean for us.  He told them not to touch anything, the house needed to be exactly as I left it.  They had no idea what or where Meghan's memory would be for me and I needed to have that part of normalcy untouched.  I am so grateful for his words.  I went to that last cup Meghan drank out of in the sink and held it, smelled it, put my lips where hers had been.  If they had washed it, that opportunity to reconnect with one of the last things she touched would have been forever lost.   In a similar story, my mom, in trying to be helpful, vacuumed Meghan's room a few days after she died.  I was pissed.  I never told her.  Sorry, mom.  She vacuumed up bits of Meghan that day.  Her hair, her skin, her smell.  The energy of where she last lay, played, died was disturbed by the vacuum.  I couldn't have known I'd feel that way.  Neither could my mother.  Let it be a lesson, parents, especially mothers need to touch, feel, smell their children.  I sniffed her shoes, her clothes, the floor.  Anyway I could connect with her, I tried.  I still do.

Many people are unsure what to do with their child's room and 'stuff'.  Nothing, until you are ready.  Some people have kept their child's room exactly the way it was left the day they died for decades.  Others tweak it over time.  After about a year, we took Meg's day bed down.  We moved her dresser and I moved my scrapbook and beading supplies into her room.  It's now 'our' space.  Some of her toys are still there and other little bits of her.  Pictures she drew, a box she painted, her hair pretties.  Other things I've packed away and ritualistically go through periodically.  That was what resonated with me.  The windows still bear her finger prints.  The lamp that was on her dresser still has the creased lampshade from when it fell the day she died.  It's a blend of her life, her death and my love for her.  A place for me to be with her, to channel creativity, to meditate to just *be* with her, for it was the last place she was alive in our home and for me, it's sacred.

Don't hound them about eating:

I lost 20 pounds in the two weeks after Meghan died.  I had no appetite.  Everyone told me I *had* to eat.  Fuck that I told them.  I ate enough to survive.  Every person who told me to eat only pissed me off more.  I picked at egg nog, sweets, and pasta.  My go to comfort foods.  I did greatly appreciate the non-stop food train that came to our house for weeks after she died.  That is so helpful. I, nor anyone else in my family, had to worry about cooking or cleaning for weeks.  I'd eat a small bit.  Food arrived, fully prepared, often hot, the containers it arrived in were either disposable or left on the porch the next day to be quietly picked up.  What a Godsend.  Do that.  For weeks, if not months.  There are great services out there like Lostsa Helping Hands and Meal Train to help organize it.  Eventually, I began to eat more.  I slowly regained the weight, but it took years.  I was not overweight to begin with but I was not anorexic.  I just ate a lot less.  I had no appetite.  Depression will do that to you.

Some people will have the opposite reaction.  They'll eat non stop and gain weight.  We all cope differently.  For a time, it's to be expected.  Be sure you get regular health care check ups in that first year.

Sleep may be elusive or all you want to do:

I couldn't sleep.  I later learned I had PTSD.  Every little noise I had to investigate, because I never heard the dresser fall.  I checked on my kids every half hour to be sure they were still breathing.  I'd lie in bed at night, desperate for sleep but unable to.  I closed my eyes and relived everything about her death.  I'd pull the car over frequently to be sure the kids were breathing when driving.  I was afraid to cross railroad tracks. I lived in constant fear of something happening to one of my other kids.  Several people suggested sleeping pills.  I was petrified to do that.  I already had tremendous guilt about not waking up and saving Meghan, the thought of chemically knocking myself out and potentially not hearing something that could save one of my other children was unbearable.  Besides, I don't tolerate medicine in general and I avoid it unless necessary.  It may be very helpful and appropriate for others, it just didn't resonate with me.

How do you prepare for their wake, funeral and burial?

This is really a matter of personal and religious preference.  Some people will choose cremation and a memorial.  Meghan was baptized Catholic.  We chose a one session wake, funeral mass and public commitment ceremony/burial at the cemetery in our town.

We were told to call the local funeral home in town to make arrangements. I called the afternoon she died.  They already knew about her death and were expecting my call. I swear the woman I spoke to was crying as I spoke with her.  We met the next day.  They asked that I bring clothes for Meghan and a blanket of hers.  I chose her favorite outfit.  Pink, sparkly pants with big flowers on them, a pink shirt and her white fleece hoodie with a kitty on it.  Pretties for her hair and pink slippers I had gotten her for Christmas for her feet and of course, pink socks.  I brought the blanket she slept with every night, a pink, flowered fleece blanket.  See a theme here?  :-)   The director explained to us what to expect.  We decided upon calling hours and a time for her funeral.  He helped us to write her obituary.  He called the florist to meet with us that day (it was Sunday) and we arranged a time to pick out a place for her at the cemetery.  We chose a prayer card for the guests of her calling hours.  The entire experience was surreal.  He chose a casket for her.  He simply asked if it was OK if he chose, since there were not many options and he knew how difficult it would be for us to go into *that* room 24 hours after our daughter had died. The one he chose was perfect and beautiful and fit for a little blonde angel.

He called us the next day to let us know she was at the funeral home. Because her death was accidental, an autopsy was required.  So she went from the hospital to the medical examiner and back to the funeral home. He told us we could come see her whenever we wanted to.  We went early the morning of her calling hours with immediate family to see her.  This was so important.  We opted to do it in stages.  Her dad and I saw her first, laid out in the casket.  Then we invited the boys in with us.  Then our parents, siblings and friends in that order.  We took pictures of her that I later scrapbooked.  We had hours to be with her, cry, talk amongst our selves and prepare for the public viewing later that day.   We brought some of her things and pictures to display, my husband made a slide show of pictures of her and our family to be looped, we made a CD of her favorite music to be played in the sound system.  Those who came to pay their respects were probably a bit surprised to hear an array of Disney tunes and Mambo No. 5!  :-)

The calling hours were for 3 hours.  It was non-stop.  We were blown away by those who came.  We stared at her, cried, laughed a bit and comforted our friends and family more than they did us at that point I think.

Her funeral mass was as beautiful as it could be.  I've written about it before, so I won't elaborate here.  We also had it photographed.  You can see it in pictures here with a gorgeous song called 'Visitor From Heaven' Please take a few minutes to watch it, even if you are afraid it will make you cry.  It speaks volumes more than I could ever write.

Innate and mundane stuff will piss you off

You feel as if you are operating in slow motion, everything is foggy.  It's hard to feel anything other than sadness.  If you smile or laugh, you almost feel guilty.  If someone else is smiling or laughing you hate them.  How dare they be happy when you are in so much pain?

You find the mundane things you used to enjoy either don't hold the same appeal or are downright annoying now.  Seeing other children who look similar, act similar or seeing children's things your child would have liked can rip your heart right open.  I can't tell you how many times I'd have something in my hand to buy for Meghan before I realized she was dead, weeks and months after she died.  I couldn't even walk past the little girls clothing section of stores for a year without dissolving into tears and feeling like I got kicked in the gut.

I partially cope with this by purchasing trinkets for Meg's special place at the cemetery, her memorial garden at our home or buying something she'd have loved and donating it to a charity.

Trigger Days and Being Blindsided

There are certain 'trigger days' when you can expect a resurgence of emotion.  They are the difficult days.  The firsts of the first year are usually the most difficult and expected. For a while, for me, it was every Saturday.  Meghan died on a Saturday.  I was hyper-aware of days, times and how it correlated to the day and time of her death and my experiences that day.  Much like a mother remembers her birth story and the birth day of her children, she remembers their death day.  At least I did.

Then it was the 18th of every month.  She died on the 18th.  Even now.  Every 18th day of the month, I think of her angel day.  Now it's nothing more than 'another 18th' without her.  But at first, it was a marker of some kind emotionally and I was more aware and it hurt more on the 18th's.

The big ones of course are holidays, Mother and Father's day, the child's birthday and their death day.  I was surprised how much my own birthday was a trigger for me.  Then there are things like the first day of school or what *should* have been their first day of school.  Going through the milestones of your other children, without the one you lost, wondering what it would be like if they were there for this event, or their own graduations, proms and other rites of passage.  You can prepare for them in some ways, but in others you can't.  I found I dreaded them.  The anticipatory grief was almost worst than the actual grief and pain of the day.

You will be blindsided at times.  You'll think you're fine, having a good day, going about your business, even years later, and then, out of the blue, something will pull at your heartstrings.  A song, a person, something you heard, a child that looks like yours did, it could be anything, anytime and anywhere.  It's to be expected, and even now, 8 years later, it still happens once in a while.  Not nearly as much as it used to, but I expect it will happen forever. For me, a year or so ago, it was a Seventh Generation ad.  There was a little blonde girl wearing a pink shirt looking through a washing machine door.  My heart nearly stopped.  She was a ringer for Meghan! Blew my mind.  Her brother asked how it was possible she was living somewhere else doing magazine ads!

Counseling is helpful, Depression is normal for a time - Please LISTEN 

The loss of a child is up there on the life stress scale.  You have every right to be depressed and for the better part of the first year.  It's an expected grief reaction.  It's not something you get over.  There is help out there.  The Compassionate Friends is a bereavement support group especially for parents who have lost a child of any age.  They have a wonderful Web site and local chapters that offer support meetings. There is a national conference every year and a walk to remember, where walkers carry the name of your child.  This year it is in Boston.  They sponsor a candle lighting memorial around the world in memory of the children gone too soon so that 'their light will always shine' on the second Sunday of December.  I can't recommend them enough.  For parents, siblings, grandparents and friends.

Grief counseling is tremendously beneficial.  It can help you express and validate your feelings.  Help you navigate and process grief.  It's a process.  Many people find it helpful.  I did.  Sometimes, anti-depressant medication is helpful, too.  I strongly recommend it be used together with talk therapy.  Far too many primary care physicians are willing to write prescriptions without understanding why that person is requesting or needing them and without appropriate follow up.

As a friend, offer to listen.  Give them permission to call you anytime, anywhere, for any reason.  You may hear the same thing over and over.  Listen.  Only offer your opinion or advice if they ask for it, especially initially.  Hug.  Say I'm sorry.  Be there.  Offer to help by doing housework, shopping, cooking, errands.  Don't be afraid to say their child's name, ask what they are thinking or how they are feeling.  It's ok to cry, yourself.

How do you answer the question, "How many children do you have"?

It may well depend on the day, how you are feeling and who is asking.  In the first few weeks after she died, I'd just cry if anyone asked.  Avoiding human interaction was my chosen coping strategy at the time with anyone who didn't already know.  Thankfully, I'm pretty well connected with some pretty amazing people, so I had a lot of support and understanding around me.

Many people don't acknowledge to strangers that they've lost a child.  It may be too painful to say out loud or, many of us simply don't want to have to deal with the person who is asking's discomfort at our answer.  It can be emotionally exhausting to deal with the fallout of such an unexpectedly loaded question for both parties.  I think that's unfortunate.  Our children's life and death both deserve to be acknowledged.

In my professional bio, I say that I am the mother of 3.  Two boys who walk this earth with me, and a daughter who flies with the angels.  Most of the time, when asked, I say I have 3 children and leave it at that.  What if they ask a more specific question, like how old are they or are they boys or girls?  Then, I typically say I have 2 sons and a daughter.  I often elaborate on my own and say my youngest son and my daughter are twins, but she died when she was 3 and give the current ages of the boys, because, well, at that point, full disclosure is easier.  You'd be surprised how expressions change and that abruptly ends the discussion.  Some say nothing.  That hurts the most.  Some say they are sorry.  I appreciate that.  Some ask how she died.  I tell them.  They are often moved to tears.  Sometimes, it provides an opportunity for discussion about safety. Sometimes, I end up comforting them.

Some relationships will change

Death has a way of showing you who your true friends are in life.  There are those that are there for you when it's sunny, but it's those who can sit with you through the storms, through the flood of tears, the violent tornadic winds of emotion and offer you a life preserver of unconditional and non-judgmental support that are your true friends.

Family and friends will all cope differently.  Some cope by not coping at all.  They avoid contact with you.  They don't want to talk about your dead child.  They dive into their work or hobbies.  They become 'busy' and unavailable.  You may find that fundamental differences can no longer be dealt with.  Some people you were once close to may drift away and those relationships may end.  Others may become closer and stronger.  New relationships will blossom, perhaps with those who've had a similar loss or experience.

I lost some really good friends after Meghan died.  Some family members became closer, others more distant. I found some new, really amazing friends.  I am grateful for all of them and what they brought to my life in the time they were an active part of it.

People often ask me about their marriage.  Will our marriage survive?  I don't know the statistics.  I do know nationally, the divorce rate is over 50%.  Whether or not your marriage may survive may well depend on how that child died, if blame is placed on the other parent or if  there was already animosity in your relationship.  If your marriage was anything but perfect before your child died, it's going to take a lot of work and understanding to weather the storm of losing a child.  It will take open and honest communication, understanding, perhaps some individual and couples counseling and tincture of time.  Be gentle with each other.  Be honest with each other.  Talk.  It may actually make your marriage stronger.  It may not.  The general advice is not to make any drastic changes for at least a year after the loss of a child because it takes time to process the grief.

My marriage did not survive.  It's a long and personal story and not one I have the intent of ever sharing in a public forum.  Suffice it to say that our marriage was in trouble before Meghan died.  Her death certainly did not help that at all.  There were fundamental reasons why our marriage failed.  It was NOT because Meghan died.  Her death did catalyze a tremendous change in me, my beliefs and my view on life.  The decision to end my marriage was not made lightly, but it was, in the end, the best thing for all of us.

And for those who asked, I recently re-married.  I, of course, never expected to marry again.  In a twist of fate and the way the Universe works is amazing way, he was actually at Meghan's wake.  He was a friend of my sister's, although I did not know him until years later.  He had also seen her alive, a year before, at my sister's wedding.  He is now the proud step-dad of an angel.  He spoke of her in his wedding vows to me.  Not a dry eye in the house...

What about 'signs'

Yes.  I absolutely believe in signs.  This could be, and probably will be at some point, a post in and of itself.  I am highly intuitive and clairsentient and somewhat clairvoyant.  I always have been and sometimes it scares the hell out of me.  I have felt Meghan's presence, that of other deceased loved ones, and in my work the presence of the deceased loved ones of my patients when they are near death themselves.  I've been introduced to many who have crossed over by their still living loved ones in the hours and days before they themselves died.

I have only 'seen' Meghan in spirit once.  The night she died, in my grandmother's arms.  Truth be told, part of me really wants to see her in spirit and part of me is afraid.  Probably why I haven't seen her since.  Her twin used to see her all the time.  He talked to her and played with her.  He still gives me messages from her.

I've had many experiences of signs from Meghan. Details of which I'll save for another time and place, but the thing I see the most are heart clouds in the sky.  There is an album of some of my favorites on her Facebook page.  This one was at her brother's soccer game, near their birthday.

Ways to preserve the memory and creating new traditions

This is a very personal thing.  Here is a list of some of the things I have done or that people have done for me that I loved.

  • A gift made of hand or foot prints.  We have the ones given to us by the ER nurses, I made reverse molds of the plaster heart hand and foot prints and gave them to family as ornaments.  Another person made a stained glass plate of her hand/foot prints for us
  • Jewelry for mom:  I was given a mother and child necklace, several bracelets with Meghan's name,  a tiny tag necklace with the names of ALL my children, and lots of angel pins. My all time favorite piece is a pin made from one of her last drawings, given to me by a good friend.  We refer to it as 'potato Duncan'.   Another one of my favorite pieces is an angel wing necklace.  They are called Brooke's angel wings and Brooke is the survivor of a head injury from a furniture tip-over.  Her and her mom now make these necklaces to raise awareness and funds to pay for her medical bills.
  • House decor - we received lots of angels.  They are all over the house.
  • Keepsake gifts. I scrapbook.  My scrapbook friends made a Tinkerbell pink picture frame of Meghan and wrote a poem inspired by a finger painting her brother had done after she died.  I'm looking at it right now.  Another friend made me a scrapbook page about Meghan and another an entire scrapbook about her. 
  • Pictures - there are pictures of Meghan all over the house.  In her room.  Pictures of her with her brothers in their rooms.  I made both of her brothers a small scrapbook album of just pictures of them with their sister.
  • Ornaments - every year, Santa leaves a Tinkerbell ornament in her stocking.  Her twin usually hangs it on the tree.  This year, it jumped off the tree and shattered.  Instead of getting upset, we laughed and said, "Oh, hi Meggie!  Guess you didn't like that one." 
  • A memorial garden - I have one area that is a Meggie garden.  Pink roses, a butterfly bush, kitty garden statues and Tinkerbell decor abound.  
  • Personalize their cemetery plot:  if your cemetery allows, make it about the child.  We chose her stone carefully.  We choose flowers in colors she'd like.  There are always kitty and Tinkerbell trinkets.  We bring new decor now and then.  Bird feeders and colorful twirly things in the summer time.  A pink tree at Christmas.  A bunny and a basket of eggs at Easter.  A kitty pumpkin at Halloween.  You get the idea.  
  • Celebrate their birth day:  Meg was a twin, so we still celebrate her brother's birthday every year.  It is exquisitely painful to me on this day, probably the second hardest day of the year for me, because I see one where two should always have been. I bring her flowers and a balloon.  Every year since Meg died, we have a family cupcake picnic at the cemetery on their birthday.  We sing happy "bird" day with a suet cake.  We eat our cupcakes. We blow some pixie dust to the heavens and then we run around sill,y just like she used to, and sing "Tinkerbell all the way".  Anyone else at the cemetery that day thinks we're nuts.  We don't care.  It's about Meg, remembering and celebrating HER essence, her joy, her spunky-ness.  What better way than to emulate her?
  • Gifts of honor - I received many notices of masses in Meg's honor, memorial candles with her prayer card on them, a tree planted in the Children's Forest in Israel, donations made in her memory to charitable organizations and especially to the Sterling Animal Shelter, where they received so many donations, they renovated their kitty adoption area and named it after Meghan.  
  • Quilt:  I wanted to have a quilt made of some of Meghan's clothes.  Someone quickly volunteered.  Although I hated to part with that box of clothes, the gift I received in return is beautiful and now I can wrap myself in her in a way.  I can tell you what every scrap was from and what I or she loved about each item.  

  •  Incorporate their life into yours:  Perhaps this is best noted as how I involved Meghan in my wedding day.  We had a chair for her.  I had a tiny picture of her on my bouquet.  We had her special candle centerpiece that we lit as we said the '5 candles' poem.  We had a memorial slide show. 

Perhaps the greatest gift you can give someone who has lost their child is remembering them out loud.  Say their name.  Talk about what you loved about them.  What you remember about them.  Send a card every year on their birthday, their angel day, Mother and Father's day.  Let them know you are thinking of them. That you know it's a difficult day for you, even if it's years and years later.  I promise you, their parents are already thinking of them.  To know their child was not forgotten is the best gift.

Specific to Meghan, the greatest gift I can receive now is the sharing of her story.

If you are a parent who has lost a child, the greatest gift you can give yourself is patience.  Allow yourself to feel what you feel.  Know it's a process.  Connect with those who you feel called to.  Be gentle with yourself.  Know your child's spirit and light will always live in your heart.  Let it shine!

I could write so much more, and will someday.  Hopefully this has been helpful on some level.

Wishing love, light and peace to all of those who have lost a child, a loved one or are supporting someone who has.

Reading between the lines

People are interesting, aren't they?

I've always enjoyed people watching.  The way people dress, carry themselves, speak, act and behave in different situations is fascinating.  Watching interactions and conversations of others can be both entertaining and educational.  There is much to learn from our fellow man, woman and child.  Not only about them and what they are saying, but about ourselves.   How we feel and react to what they are saying and doing holds a wealth of information for us about ourselves. Someone who makes us mad isn't about them, it's about us.  Our reactions are ours and ours alone.  It's not about them, it's about us.

I find that people are most interesting when discussing a controversial or 'hot' topic.  Their body language, tone of voice, speed of language output and mannerisms convey as much, if not more, than their actual words.  This is when we have the most to learn.  About others, the subject matter at hand and most importantly, about ourselves.

What I find most compelling, and to be frank, most annoying, is the utter lack of respect shown to the other person or people participating in the conversation.  So many of us seem to think we are right.  The 'it's my way or the highway' mentality that is all too pervasive in our culture.  They refuse to acknowledge the other person's view point.  Often, not even allowing them to finish speaking before interrupting to tell them why that person is wrong and they are right.  We don't 'listen'.  We 'hear' what we want to hear and if we disagree, immediately start to prepare a counter-argument instead of listening to everything that person is saying, first.

Sometimes they outright ignore evidence.  Sometimes that evidence is incomplete, old, deceptive or outright false.  Instead of a calm, rational, respectful conversation, grown and educated men and women quickly dissolve into verbally abusive and insolent tantruming toddlers who will kick and scream until they get their way and 'win'.  Perhaps most appalling is that this is played out in the national media every day, somehow making it not only acceptable, but expected.

This becomes a bit more challenging when trying to interpret the written word.  Especially that of someone whom you do not know personally.  It is what inspired this post.  I have both a personal Facebook page and a page for Meghan's Hope.  They are completely different and separate.  It's fascinating to me how people behave in their comments on both.

Meghan's page is a professional page.  It has a mission. The mission is simple. Child Safety.  I post links that have to do with child safety.  They are not my opinion or anyone else's opinion.  They are facts.  I don't expect everyone to agree.  We all have a right to parent the way we see is best for our family.  We are human, we have free will.  Life is about choices.  I don't tell people what to do, I tell them what the can do to make their homes and their children safer.  If they don't agree with a particular post, it doesn't bother me.  It doesn't change my goal or the mission of the page.  There are over 11,000 'likes'.  I'd be a fool to think everyone will agree.  I know with that many people, comments will be what they will be.  If they are way off base, abusive, incorrect or inappropriate, I can comment or delete the offensive comment.  If it's respectful or helpful, I let it go.  I've not yet deleted anyone's comments, even though on a personal level, I often disagree with them.  That's not my role on this page.

What I learned is that especially with the written word, it's really difficult to read between the lines.  In everything we do, our life experiences and beliefs influence our opinions and our behavior.  Being aware of this is a skill far too many people are lacking.  Too many people are so blinded by their own beliefs and opinions that they completely miss the point, they can't hear anything else because they refuse to listen.  It makes me sad for the future of our children.

This is what  got me thinking:  I posted the AAP's statement on guns in the home.  It was not my opinion, it was the AAP's. It was several years old, but that's how research goes sometimes.  I didn't include any personal message, just the link.  Almost immediately people started posting they disagreed with ME about guns, some posted although they agreed with most of the info I posted, they were now un-liking the page because of this one post they thought was my opinion or simply disagreed with.  A banter about gun control began in the comments.  I thought to myself, 'Really?  People are going to stop learning about ways to keep their kids safe over something they both misinterpreted and disagreed with.  How sad.  How very, very sad."  I quickly posted a message clarifying the statement was the AAP's, not mine, and a gentle reminder that while I respect opinions may differ and acknowledge that guns are a heated issue right now, this was a page about child safety pure and simple, not a place for debate.  Sadly, more people were compelled to state their agenda.  I wrote nothing more and it ran it's course.

Where did we as a society go wrong and accept this sort of disrespectful behavior as socially acceptable and normal?  Where did we lose the ability to be able to read something and understand the content fully before commenting?  When did it become acceptable to preach false information as fact?  I suspect with the explosion of technology that gave us the internet, smart phones and social media.  We have too much information at our fingertips.  Much of it made up, false, incorrect or opinion interpreted as fact.  It's hard to tell the difference.  We have lost the ability to converse.  The lack of interpersonal contact seems to have given us a sense of security somehow to treat people in ways we probably wouldn't if they were standing in front of us with witnesses to our behavior.  SO much is lost, misinterpreted or simply not there in reading something.  The intent of the author can be lost in the emotions, expectations and beliefs of the reader.  Part of the beauty of conversation is that it is immediate and all those other clues to the other person are available to us because they are right in front of us, the banter is immediate and we know them on a personal level now.

In contrast, my personal Facebook page is just that, personal.  I don't have 500 'friends' because I don't really have that many friends!  I don't want people I don't know and trust seeing pictures of my kids, misinterpreting and sharing my posts nor do I want to see theirs.  I post about topics of interest to me.  I comment to that which resonates with me.  I might share my opinion there,or express a personal preference but even if I disagree with someone, it's respectful and most of the time, accepted as such. My friends are still my friends.  They know me.  They'd expect nothing less.  I may disagree with them or they with me.  It's ok.  That's life.  I don't try to convince them they are wrong if I disagree.  I don't un-friend them because they post something I fundamentally disagree with.  I just ignore it.  Life goes on.  We don't have to agree.  We do have to respect each other.  Seems to be a simple value every person should posses, don't you think?

Generally speaking, I try to avoid conflict.  I  pride myself on trying to be a neutral party, especially professionally.  I try to understand both sides of an issue.  I try to learn facts before commenting.  When I teach, it's based on fact, not my opinion.  Whenever possible, it's evidence-based, research backed fact, not just regurgitating someone else's opinion.  I am aware and respectful of the fact not everyone operates the same way.  Why is it so hard for others to do the same?  In this electronic age, we need to become more savvy at reading between the lines.  We need to cultivate respect.  We need to teach the value of research, and evidence based information. We need our government, educators and society as a whole to demand and demonstrate these tenets of virtue and value.

If we don't, we're well on our way to a verbal and virtual hell in a hand-basket of mis-information with the loudest and most intimidating people 'winning'.  Most likely with inaccurate information.  We're losing social graces.  We're losing the fine art of conversation and interpersonal interaction.   We are doing a tremendous disservice to our kids and our society.  I don't deny I'm an idealist, but I'm sad for our future.  I'm sad for our children and the world they are inheriting.

Perhaps we start with teaching our kids how to read between the lines.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Reason # 323 to stop, look and listen

Today's gift brought to you by Mother Nature.

It was about 6:45 am.  I was sitting at my desk, catching up on email. Using that precious sliver of time between getting the eldest child off to school and before I wake the younger one up.  The cat was being annoying, scratching at the window screen.  I got up to scold her.  She ran away.  I sat back down.  She started scratching again.  I went back to scold her again, this time trying to figure out what she was trying to get at.  A neighbor's cat was sitting on our deck rail, ignoring her.  She wanted to get his attention.  She was failing.  Hence the more frantic scratching.  It was still pretty dark outside, dawn just starting to break.

Then, I noticed the sky was on fire.

It is a partly cloudy morning.  Rain is in the forecast for later today.  The sailor's adage rings true, red sky in morning...  It was stunning!  I grabbed my phone and stood there for the next 20 minutes, watching and photographing the sunrise.  It was gorgeous.  The photos do not do it justice. There were a gazillion other things I should have been doing, but suddenly, appreciating the beauty and serenity of the sunrise we take for granted every day was all that mattered.

I watched the sky turn from red to orange to pink and purple.  It morphed from a bright central focus of color with long reaching rays of light painting the sky shades of pastel to a softer, more generalized orange-yellow glow.  I looked to the northwestern sky, it was a soft purple and pink.  I found myself smiling.  It looked like something one of my children would have finger painted when they were younger.  It was whimsical and ever changing.

The blue hue of the daytime sky started to appear as the sun rose above the horizon.  I watched as the sun kissed the treetops making them appear as if they were glowing.  It was glorious to behold.  The yellow glow of the sun's light softened as daylight broke.  It was almost as if I could hear the wake up call to the earth.

The cat finally settled down in her bed by the bay window.  Just in time for the birds to arrive, singing their morning song, right on cue.  She does enjoy her bird TV!  I listened to them sing their morning song.  I'm pretty sure they were telling me they'd like their feeders refilled.  :-)

An hour later, there is a diffuse pale yellow-white light across the Eastern sky.  The clouds filtering the sun.  To the West, there is a faint purple-blue whitewashed hue to the sky.  The birds are really busy now!  The cat is in her bed on my desk, bathing.  She has no idea the gift she gave me in her misbehaving, but she's clean and adorable.

This morning was a reminder to stop and observe nature as it unfolds and evolves around us.  To realize sometimes those little annoyances in our lives are a nudge toward something greater. We need to pay more attention to the things we take for granted every day.  If we open our eyes and look, we can appreciate what we have, who we are and where we came from in a far greater way.  If we listen, we might not only hear the sounds of nature, but perhaps the call of our soul, of our consciousness.  It might just give us the perspective we need to realize just how fortunate we are to have been grated the opportunity to see this sunrise, for so many others did not or can not.

I remember being in Hawaii many years ago.  On Maui, the touristy thing to do is to get up at the un-Godly hour of 3 am and drive to the summit of Mt. Haleakala to watch the sunrise above the cloud deck.  The drive up was stunning in and of itself.  You have not seen the glory of the night sky until you see it from 10,000 feet in the middle of the ocean!  The 'shooting stars' alone were a treat.  Hundreds of people gather every day to watch the sunrise there.  It is spectacular most days. The day we went, people spontaneously broke into a chorus of "Here Comes the Sun".

I've always loved sunsets and sunrises.  The colors that are painted on the canvas of the sky are gorgeous and never the same twice.  We are given the gift of a sunrise and a sunset every day.  We don't have to be on vacation or in a tropical location to appreciate the beauty around us.  Yet few of us take the time to notice it otherwise.

Go outside.  Stop.  Look up.  Look around.  Listen.  What did you discover today?

Monday, January 7, 2013

The day the angels fell down

"Mommy, when the angel fall down?"

This was the question posed by my 3 year old son, the evening of his twin sister's funeral.  It was Christmas time, December 22nd, and we of course had an angel atop our tree.  That morning, she had fallen off the tree, so we fixed her up straight before we left the house for her funeral.  We didn't think anything else of it.

As we sat watching a TV show together that evening, he randomly asked about the angel.  Assuming he was referring to the morning, my response, of course, was to say, "Honey, the angel is not going to fall down.  We fixed it!"  He said, "Yes, mommy, the angel fall down." He was pretty insistent.  I figured he was tired.  The poor kid had been through so much.

In the morning, upon coming down stairs the very first thing I noticed was that the small angel on top of our mini Christmas tree in the kitchen was on the floor.  I blamed the cat for being mischievous and replaced her.  When we went into the playroom, the angel atop our tree was barely hanging on, tilted very sideways!  Can't blame that one on the cat.  There was really no explanation for it.  Then it hit me.  He was right!  He knew the angel was going to fall down again!  I got my son and showed him.  He smiled.  I asked him how he knew.  He just looked at me and smiled, as if to say "Why didn't YOU Know?"  We put her back on the tree.

Later that evening, an angel I had received a day or two earlier, that was held by a suction cup to my bedroom window was found to be on the windowsill.  The suction cup still adhered to the window!  By the time I found that one, I actually laughed out loud.  I finally got it.  The angels were falling down.  My son knew it was going to happen before it did.  A sign?  Think what you will.  I don't for a minute believe it was only coincidence that nearly every angel in our house fell that day.  Do you?

A rather perfect snow angel, don't you think?

The next day he gleefully played with his sister.  Saying "Oh, Geggie, look!" and then looking at us as if he realized we didn't see her and that he was the only one who could.  He excitedly said he saw her many times in the months that followed, pointing her out with absolute certainty in his voice.  I wish he remembered now what he saw and knew then...

On Christmas night, I remember talking to my older son about Meggie and Heaven and spirit.  He asked if she could see us.  I said yes, I believe so.  He asked if she could see the children in India.  I said yes, I'm sure she can, although I also wondered why a 6 year old child was asking about children in India of all places.  He was on a bit of a geography kick with a Leapfrog toy he'd gotten, so it wasn't so bizarre, but still.  He asked if she knew when bad things were going to happen. I said I don't know, maybe.  He asked if she could stop them from happening.  I said I don't know, probably not, but she could probably help people through it.  I tried to reassure him she was looking out for all of us as our own personal guardian angel.

The next day, December 26th, we woke to the news of the massive Indian Ocean earthquake and Tsunami! Twice in one week, my boys seemed to predict the next day's events.  How did he know? One in our own home, another on the other side of the world!  I was a bit mindboggled.  He again asked if Meggie would be able to be with the children who died in the tsunami.  Yes, yes she would.  I bet she is already there playing with them and their kitties in Heaven I told him.  He seemed to like that answer.

Meg's twin brother coloring, with pink, in her Land Before Time Coloring Book
the day after she died

" Meggie in the Clouds"

Earlier that week, on December 20th, 2 days after her death, her twin did his first finger painting.  It was a landscape.  He was sitting at the kitchen table with my father.  There was a sun and some clouds.  Blue, brown and oranges dominated.  He pointed to a spot in the 'sky' of  his picture and completely on his own, without being asked, said "Meggie there.  In the clouds."  As if to tell us, duh, don't you get it?  She's an angel now!

There were other signs that week.  They began the night she died as I lay awake in emotional agony.  Her twin in bed between my husband and I.  He was asleep and then suddenly opened his eyes, sat up, took my husband's face in his (just like Meghan used to do, but he had never done) and softly patted his face and gently said "It's ok daddy."  I swear it was Meghan's voice, her words, not his.  He closed his eyes and fell asleep as quickly as he had woken.  It was as if he wasn't really even awake, but channeling her.   When I finally dozed off for all of about a half hour in the wee hours of the morning, I woke to see my grandmother and Meghan floating above my bed.  I literally shook my head and thought I was dreaming.  I remember smiling again, realizing Gram really was taking good care of her.  I felt a sense of calm and gratitude.  I wanted them to stay forever and talk to me, but they were gone almost as quickly as I saw them.  I still don't know if I was really awake or in an another space and time, but I saw them.  They looked so... real.  It brought me some comfort.

So when people ask me about signs, I say yes.  I've gotten signs.  Many of them.  I believe in them.  I can't always explain them scientifically, but I've no doubt we live on in spirit and can find ways to communicate.  In that first week after she died, I received many signs.  There were many, many more to come.  They've taught me volumes.  I don't believe in coincidence.

It was the start of a spiritual journey that has opened my eyes to my own spiritual gifts and has led me to who and where I am today.  That, however, is a story to tell another day.

Know this.  Twinship transcends death.  Love transcends all.

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Help! And some answers to the questions people have asked

Thank you, again, to everyone who has left me messages from my previous blog posts, especially the one on Meggie's angel day.  I have read them all and since I just can't respond to them all individually, I wanted to address a few more questions that I've been getting here since so many of you have asked the same things.

First off.  I need some help.  With nearly 830,000 people having read that blog post in the past 2 weeks, I know with your help I can do this.  Tonight, I created a petition at We the People.  In order to get it to be considered by the Obama administration, I need 25,000 signatures before February 3rd.  You can find and sign the petition here Petition to mandate warning labels and anchors for furniture, TV's and Appliances

I'm asking for a law to require warning labels and appropriate anchors (to hold the weight of the piece fully loaded) be sold with all furniture, TV's and appliances.  Right now, that is only voluntary and the Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes act from 2005 and 2009 helped to get the standard a voluntary one.  While I am happy there is a voluntary standard it's not enough.  There is little interest in taking it further by our government from a law standpoint, so let's use the voice of the people to make kids safer!  It's worked for plastic bags, seat belts and car seats, why not furniture safety? I was limited in word count so I had to be more concise than I would have liked, but it gets the point across.  Please sign and share the link.  Thank you!

Second, many have asked how to find the Meghan's Hope Facebook page.  It can be found by simply searching for Meghan's Hope on Facebook or here  It's not just about furniture safety.  I post all manner of child and family safety information.

I am also on Twitter, look for chakragoddess.  I'm not very good at tweeting yet.  I'll work on it!  ;-)

Third, many have asked how to secure their furniture, TV's, appliances and other items in and around your home.  Meghan's Hope Facebook page has many of these resources and more in recent posts.  I encourage you to 'like' her page if you are on Facebook.

You can find appropriate anchors at here TV safety straps and here Furniture Safety Straps, your local hardware or department store or at other on line stores.  My personal favorites for TV's are KidKo and Quakehold products and for Furniture, Safety 1st furniture wall straps and KidKo and Quakehold straps.  Quakehold also makes straps for large tube TV's, appliances and very large bookcases as well as for other smaller objects that could fall and still seriously injure or kill a child.  "L" brackets also work quite well and are inexpensive and sold at hardware stores and The Home Depot and Lowe's.  *note*  You need to be sure to use enough anchors to support the weight of the piece fully loaded PLUS an extra 50 pounds (to simulate a child climbing or pulling on it).  This means you may need more than 2 straps!  Also, you need to be sure to secure the screws into a stud and periodically check the straps to be sure they are still secure.  I advise against using 'Mommy's Helper' brand straps or cable/zip ties because they become brittle and break easily and really are not suited to hold heavy pieces of furniture.

A word of caution -  many people have mentioned their children had a dresser or TV fall on/near them and mistakenly believe their child was saved by luck, the fact it was daytime and they heard the crash or because they were in the room.  Or they have not personally experienced it but believe since they are always with their kids, they are safe.  Please don't be lulled by a false sense of security.

While I am thrilled those children were not injured seriously, it was physics that saved them, not luck, proximity or the time of day.  Parents have been in the room and been powerless to prevent their child from dying before their eyes from a falling piece of furniture or TV.  Check out the video by the CPSC Furniture/TV tip over PSA from the CPSC, it's a must see.

Also, it's not just toddlers and babies that are at risk.  Children as old as 10 have been killed by falling furniture and TV's, in fact adults have too, just not as commonly as children.  The ONLY way to keep your children safe is to secure ALL furniture and TV's to the wall.  Not just in their room, not just dressers and bookcases.  Everything!

I'd also like to thank those of you who have complimented me on my writing and encouraged me to pursue my dream of writing a book someday.  I really appreciate your support and hope to make that a reality sooner rather than later.  If anyone has any contacts who can help me in that endeavor, let me know!  Also, if anyone knows how I can clone myself, that'd be most helpful as well!  ;-)

I've said it before, but I will say it again, I cannot adequately express the depth of my gratitude for the way Meghan's story has been shared and taken to heart.  To know that literally hundreds of thousands of children will sleep safer tonight because of her story brings tears to my eyes and warmth to my heart.  Thank you, thank you, thank you.

If you still have a question that I missed, please message me again here or through the Facebook page.  It's not intentional!  Thanks!

Thursday, January 3, 2013

When all else fails, eat cake!

My posts have been a bit heavy as of late.  Since this blog is titled Love, Light, Laughter and Chocolate,  I decided everyone needs a dose of silliness today.  So today, it's about laughter and chocolate!

Anyone who knows me knows my favorite food group is cake!  I have a wicked sweet tooth, and thankfully, have been blessed with a metabolism able to keep up with my love of cake, chocolate and all manner of yummy goodness.  Sugar is my drug.  I freely admit that.

I recently re-married this past September.  After meticulous research, we opted for cupcakes from a local Italian bakery.  This was by far one of the most important wedding decisions to make!  ;-)  I take my cake very seriously!  They were yummiliscious!  Our photographers did an amazing job capturing our cupcake tower and the fun we had with it.  I thought I'd share it with you.  I hope it makes you smile today.

 Do I look excited, or what?!  I was!

We did not do a cake 'ceremony'.  The cupcakes were self-serve, so we did our silly photos before we even formally said "I do"!

And, yes, we are silly.

 Tower of deliciousness!
For inquiring minds, the flavors were Italian Wedding Cake, Spice and Chocolate with cannoli filling.

 A close up.  Makes me want one for breakfast.

All hail the cupcakes! This one was a spice cake version.  One of my favorites!  I really wanted to eat it right then, but we had to go get married!

Although many of my posts are deep, personal and introspective, I am, by nature, a rather silly and fun-loving person.  My family knows the importance of a sense of humor.  Laughter really is the best medicine.  

I hope you got a chuckle today.

Now go forth and eat cake!  

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

You can't help how you feel

Many wonderful people have left sweet, loving and heartfelt comments on my blog post from December 18th and on Meghan's Hope Facebook page.  I've read each and every one of them.  I'd like to respond to each one individually but I am not sure that is a reasonable expectation.  Instead, I will try to respond more globally here over several posts.

First off, thank you so much for your condolences and for sharing that post.  Even now, 8 years later, it is music to my ears to hear people say they are sorry for my loss.  To see Meghan's name, especially those of you who said you listened to Meggie, made me smile.  You acknowledged her life, her meaning to me, her spirit.  Her name is sweet music to my ears.  Hearing how her story has been shared and shared again (that one post has been viewed more than 270,000 times thus far) is so overwhelming, it makes me SO very happy and grateful.  To know that many more children will sleep in safer rooms and homes tonight because of Meghan's story is exactly why I wrote about it. Thank you.

In reading everyone's comments there are several common themes and emotions expressed.  Sadness was probably the prevailing emotion.  So many of you wrote through your tears.  I am deeply touched by it.  I must say I am both sorry I brought so many of you to tears yet in another way, so glad I did.  Choosing to write such a personal, detailed and raw emotional account of that day was not made lightly.  It took 8 years for me to feel comfortable enough to put my heart out there for the public to see.  It was not without risk.  People don't like to talk about death.  They don't like to think about death.  They have no idea what it's like to hold a dead child, unless they've experienced it themselves and no one ever wants to think about that.  I threw it out there in everyone's face.  Exposing oneself in such a vulnerable state, you never know if or how people will respond.  I hoped people would be supportive, that they'd be able to *be* with me, that they'd be moved by our story of love and ultimately it would make children safer.

I know it was not easy for many to read.  I know not everyone was able to read it or all of it.  Many of those who commented had near misses with falling furniture or TV's and their children and it hit really close to home in a 'it could have been me" sort of way.  To all of those parents, I'm so glad it wasn't you and I'm so grateful for your support and sharing of Meghan's story.

Others had lost children to other causes.  Cancer, stillbirth, prematurity, car accidents, genetic diseases, fires, suicide and more.  I am so very sorry for their losses as well.  I can't imagine their experience, for it's different, yet the same.  Reading my account of Meghan's angel day brought back their own experience.  Some are just not able to go 'there' into their pain as I did.  It triggers their pain and grief.  I understand that.  I respect that.  I knew it was likely to happen for some people who read it.  We all grieve differently.  We all process differently.  There is no right or wrong way, just your way.  This is a very important lesson for those supporting someone who has lost a loved one to know.

My way is (obviously) to write and talk about it.  It's how I process.  It's how I heal.  I know not everyone wants to hear it or can handle it.  While I understand, appreciate and respect that, I still have to do what's best for me.  Because in the end, only I know what's best for my heart and soul.  There is much more to it than that, but that's for another post on another day.

Many who have lost a child or loved one commented on how it reminded them of how they felt the day of their own child's death, how they wished their friends and family knew what their experience was like, even now, years later.  Many shared the same frustrations with how people respond after the death of a child or any loved one, thinking they are being helpful in what they say or do but really just adding salt to the wound.  In a way, it helps us parents who are members of this club we never wanted to be a part of know we are not alone.  That our experience of grief is our own and different, yet much the same.  Being able to connect with someone who understands that is healing and validating in and of itself.

Many of you commented on my 'strength'.  It is not about strength at all.  Strength is a physical attribute.  My desire to write, to talk about, to share Meghan's life and death, and the mission I have in Meghan's Hope is all about love.  Nothing but love.  Love for my daughter, love for families of all kinds and L.O.V.E.   I am not strong.  I just want others to learn from my mistakes.  I'm just a mama who loved her daughter and never wants another mama to ever know the pain I do, to never have to go through what our family did.  It's really that simple.  Love.

Here's the crux of today's post:  Feelings need to be validated!

The one thing people have said many times over to me over the years, whenever I've expressed how I feel responsible for Meghan's death is that I shouldn't feel guilty, that it was not my fault.  Many who have commented on my blog posting have said the same.

Guilt is defined as a feeling of responsibility or remorse for some event...whether real or imagined per

While I appreciate that those who told me it was not my fault meant well, what they don't understand is that no one can help how they feel.  It is what it is.  Would you say the same to me if I said I felt sad or angry or depressed because of Meg's death?  Probably not.  Those are more 'acceptable' emotions for people.  Guilt is an emotion we as a society are not comfortable with.  Responsibility is often a concept we as a society are not good at.  We like to blame anyone and anything but ourselves. In times of grief there is a tendency to want to 'make it better' with platitudes.  It rarely makes it better for the person experiencing the grief.

There are certain facts in the story of Meghan's death.

  • Her dresser was not secured to the wall
  • It fell on her and killed her
  • As her parent, I would be the one responsible to do something to protect her, whether or not I knew to secure her dresser or thought it was necessary are secondary.  
  • Had her dresser been secured to the wall, it would not have fallen on her that day and she would be alive
  • I could have easily blamed any number of other things.  Her father for convincing me it wasn't a danger, the manufacturer, the pediatrician for not warning me like they do about other childproofing 'necessities', 'bad luck' or 'God' somehow needing her.  None of those things resonated with me.  I don't believe in being a victim. I don't believe in blame.  I don't believe in 'luck' or 'coincidence' or even a God that would think a child should be anywhere else besides their mother's arms. 
In saying that it was my fault, in saying that I carry guilt in my heart for not keeping her safe, I'm telling you how I feel.  I feel sad that she died.  I'm sad that I didn't do everything I could have to prevent it from happening.  I am accepting responsibility for my in-action.  No, I didn't think her dresser would tip.  Still, I had other things secured to the wall, I could have done the same to her dresser, I didn't.  I let others convince me it wasn't necessary.  I was wrong.   I paid for it with my daughter's life.  The harsh reality is her death could have been prevented.  Nothing will ever change that in my heart, my head or my soul being.  It is how I feel.  It's how I will always feel.  Nothing anyone can say will ever change that.  

It doesn't mean I'm stuck there, for I'm not.  If I were, I'd probably never have ever gotten out of bed again. I certainly wouldn't have been able to write all that I have.  I wouldn't be able to function the way I am. I don't wallow in it.  I've processed it. I've accepted it.  I've integrated it.  It's part of who I am.  It's changed who I am.  I can only hope I'm a better mother, educator, and human being for it. I can only try to prevent it from happening to others. 

The thing is, accepting responsibility for your role in and accepting your feelings of guilt over your child's death are not bad.  It can be a very important part of healing.  Not everyone feels a sense of guilt.  Yet so many other parents feel responsible for their child's death, especially those who were born premature or were stillborn or lost shortly after birth.  There was likely nothing that could have been done to know or prevent their deaths, but yet they feel responsible, somehow guilty.  If only they had....  They need their feelings to be acknowledged and heard. They often carry that burden with them to their own grave, too afraid to speak it, too afraid to own it because society has assigned such a stigma to it.  Because everyone tells them it's not their fault and not to feel guilty.  Imagine how painful that is, to feel so strongly and yet no one is willing to engage in conversation about how YOU feel because THEY can't fathom it or are not comfortable with it. 

Here's a secret, it doesn't change how we feel.  We feel the way we feel.  We can't help it.  It's a part of us. It may or may not be 'true' to you, but it is to us.  No matter what you say, it doesn't change how we feel right now.  In fact, it can make it worse when well meaning people tell us not to feel a certain way, because our feelings are not being validated and accepted for what they are.  Grief is hard enough without people telling us what we feel is wrong!  Frankly, no one knows how we feel except for us.  What all grieving people need is to be supported in their grief.  To be listened to and heard.  To have their feelings validated, accepted, explored.  Whatever those feelings are and no matter how often they might change.  Be a good listener.  But don't tell them they are wrong for how they feel.  

Please don't take this the wrong way.  I deeply appreciate the sentiment and well-intentioned statements of everyone who told me not to feel guilty and that it wasn't my fault. I really do.  I see this as a tremendous opportunity to share with you how I arrived at that place in my heart and head and that it's really OK.  I'm OK.  I want to shed a bit of light on what is helpful and what is not to many who are grieving.  They don't need to be told what is right or wrong.  They need to know whatever they feel is OK and you are there to listen whenever they want to talk about it. 

What's a better thing to say to someone you know who is grieving?  "I'm so sorry, I can't even imagine what that's like"  "Do you want to talk about it?"  "Tell me more about how you feel"  "Can I do anything to help?"  "I'm here for you.  Anytime you want to talk, just call"  Or how about a hug, some shared stories and tears and some tea... or chocolate?   Listen.  Be there.  Surround them with love and support.  That's what they need.  

Thank you, for listening.  I'm going to go have some chocolate.  Care to join me?  

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What it's really about

A new year.  A new month.  A new day.  A new hour.  A new minute. May 2013 have an abundance of time for you and yours. What will you do with that time?

My biggest complaint is always that I don't have enough time.  For what?  There are the same 24 hours in every day.  There always has been.  I have come to realize I am the one, the only one, responsible for how I use that time.  I know I can't do it all.  No one can.  One must prioritize.

Did you make a resolution?  Perhaps several of them?  I am always perplexed by the practice of new year resolutions. Why do we all wait for January 1st every year to make resolutions?  What is it about the artificial  beginning of  a 'new year' that makes us think choosing this day will somehow be better than any other to better ourselves?  How many of us find ourselves making the same resolutions year after year?  Eat better.  Exercise more.  Get organized.  Be a better person.  How many of those resolutions are forgotten or how many of us 'fall off the wagon' days or weeks into the new year and then wait for the next year to try again?

With every breath we take, we are given a gift.  A chance.  An opportunity.  We have so many choices.  Every single day.  Seize the day.  THIS day.  Who knows if your next breath will come?  If the next day will come?  If that person you want to talk to will still be there tomorrow because you were 'too busy' today.

If you do fall off your resolution wagon. Simply get back on!

I think what it's really about is awareness.  It's about letting go of the past.  It's over.  Done.  Can't be changed.  Perhaps a ritual of releasing old hurts, wounds and pain is needed.  Make a list, write a letter and then tear it up, bury it or burn it in a physical representation of that which you are releasing.  It's liberating! The past no longer serves you.  Let go of the old and negative energy, make room for the new and positive new you!

I just asked the angels using my oracle cards what they suggested I offer to you by way of advice.  The card I drew was "God Box"  It says "write any worries, concerns, or desires on a piece of paper you put in a special container called a 'God Box', as a way of letting go and allowing the Divine to help you."  I do love how the Universe works sometimes.  One of the ways I am honoring my truth is by getting more in touch with the Divine and tuning into the messages I receive instead of ignoring them.

All you can change is everything from this moment forward.  Focus on the positive.  The possibilities are endless!

Instead of specific resolutions per se, why not vow to be a more loving, honest, compassionate and giving human being?  Be more mindful and aware not only of yourself and your actions but those of everyone around you.  Why not vow to find balance in work and play?  You can accomplish so much more in personal and professional growth when you vow to make global changes in mindset and focus over specific little things.  Set ego aside and see the bigger picture.  Focus on what's *really* important in life.  Don't complain, make changes.  Live life. DO.  Be present.  What makes you happy?  Do it!  Make this the moment you look deep inside of yourself for your truth.  Find it, speak it, live it, share it.  Be not afraid.  Do not let fear stop you, let it liberate you through positive action in the light of Divine and Universal and unconditional love.

I hope it involves taking good care of yourself, so you can be there in body, mind and spirit for your friends and family.  I hope it involves thinking before speaking and considering consequences of your words and actions.  Count to 10 before you speak, especially if irritated or angry.  I hope it is about respect for everyone, even those whom you have differences of opinion with.  One can express their opinion without judgement.  I hope it involves love and good will toward your fellow man and woman and child.  All of them, everywhere.  May it shine with unconditional love, boundless compassion and be peppered with abundant joy, laughter and fun.

Happy today!

Peace and light.


Happy New Year!  2013 sounds so futuristic, doesn't it?  Maybe I'm just old...  ;-)

I envision a future filled with love and light.  A future where everyone lives in peace and harmony.  Where children are safe.  Where there is no judgment.  A future filled with laughter and joy.  Where people learn to get along, putting ego aside (attention those in politics!) and do what is best for the greater good of the world.  I'm an idealist, you might have guessed...

The end of the year often brings reflection over the past year and resolutions to 'change' for the coming year.  This day for me is not about an ending, but rather a beginning.  Yesterday, I spent a bit of time reflecting. It was 8 years ago New Year's Eve that Meghan's Hope was born.  Two weeks after she died, our awareness campaign began in earnest.  The day was not chosen because it was New Year's Eve, it was simply when I was emotionally and physically able to do so.

It began as an email I sent out to my friends and family the evening after she died.  I was unable to sleep, I had to do something.  So I warned others of the dangers and begged them to secure their furniture.  It became a one page flyer so it could be shared, with a now relatively 'famous' picture of her as it's the one most commonly used in the media in print and TV stories about her and the dangers of furniture tip-over.

On December 31st, 2004, the original Meghan's Hope Web site was born.  At first it was just that flyer.  I added additional information as I found it and eventually resources.   Over time, it began to look more like a real, albeit primitive, Web site.  We had a guest book.  It quickly filled with posts of support.  I had big plans for a non-profit organization and educating the community.  I had the expectation people would want to do everything they could to make their homes safer.  I wanted to reach out to furniture stores, department stores, parents, teachers, doctors, anywhere children were.  I was sure people would be on board.

Sadly, it did not go as smoothly as I envisioned.  Initially, media was interested and did print and TV stories, it was short lived and much of the message I wanted to convey was lost in the sound bytes they did not choose to use.  I quickly learned media has their own agenda and it didn't always match mine.

Stores did not start to carry the furniture straps like I'd hoped and asked for (though some now do, many more that should, do not - attention Wal-Mart and Target, Home Depot and Lowe's!).  Local furniture stores and businesses wouldn't answer my letters or phone calls.  They would not display our brochure.  I reached out to those I could, attending safety fairs, handing out brochures to my childbirth classes.  Asking friends and family to hand them out and share via word of mouth.  There was an initial push of support, but it quickly dwindled.

A few years later, the Web site was hacked.  I had to take it down and re-design the Web site.  No easy task for this technologically challenged mama. It was re-born a few years ago as it is now.  I hate that I don't have the time or the skills to easily update it.  Web design is not my forte.  Divorce, attending to my boys and their soccer passion, returning to work full time and life in general gets in the way of being able to devote the time and energy into Meghan's Hope that I'd like to.

What I do have, is the wonders of social media.  The Meghan's Hope Facebook page is now the heart and soul of my mission.  It is the primary way I share safety information and Meghan's story.  It is truly the hope of her story, that others not suffer the same fate.

I also partner with Katie's Foundation for Child Safety as a member of their BOD to raise awareness as Katie died from a fallen wardrobe just a month after Meghan did.  They are a 501 C3 non-profit.  We had two bills before the US House of Representatives, both titled the Katie Elise and Meghan Agnes Act.  Both died in committee.  They did get the attention of the CPSC, Consumer Union and ASTM (a voluntary standards organization) and some of the changes we wanted to become law are now part of the voluntary standard like warning labels about the dangers for furniture tip-over and tethering straps being sold with the furniture.  Because they are voluntary, not every manufacturer follows them.  The tethering devices sold with the furniture are not always sufficient to actually hold the weight of the furniture fully loaded with a child pulling on it, but there has been progress.  We are still working on making it mandatory.  We need help.  Our lawmakers are not particularly interested.  Granted, they have bigger fish to fry in their eyes, but hello, children are our future and mamas are a force to be reckoned with.

The dangers of TV tip-overs also needs to be addressed.  It's clear from the many, many messages I've received in the past two weeks that like me, people just didn't know of the dangers.  They don't know it can happen, how fast or how easily it can happen, how often it does happen and how deadly it can be.

This blog has become another vehicle to share her story and raise awareness.  Not as a primary focus, for this is my personal blog and I write all manner of things.  I do hope you find it all interesting and helpful on some level.  December is a 'Meggie month'.  Hence, many of my posts are about her or my experience as her mommy.  Which brings me to the re-birth of this year.  Actually, the re-birth of Meghan's Hope (and mine) in the past two weeks.

I'd like to take this opportunity to express my gratitude to everyone who has read and shared my post from the 18th of December about being with me in my grief on Meggie's angel day.  I am absolutely blown away that more than 135,000 people have read that post in the past two weeks!  YOU have helped me to accomplish what I've been trying to do for the past 8 years.  In a matter of days, her story has likely reached more people and inspired them to act than anything I've written, shared or said in person, on TV or in print media in the past 8 years combined.   It is a testament to the power of social media.  It is why I wrote what I did.  I hoped in by sharing the depth of my grief, others would be moved to action.  It is why I tirelessly ask everyone to share her story, her Web site, her Facebook page.  I did not expect the response it received but I am so immensely grateful for everyone who read and shared it.

Now is the time.  Seize the day!  Save the children!

To read the many messages of support on the blog, her Facebook page and personally sent to me brought tears to my eyes.  Not so much because of what they said, but because they read it.  Because they were moved to protect their own children.  Because Meggie quite possibly saved someone else's life.  It is such sweet healing balm to my heart.  To hear people say they read it and have already secured their furniture and TV's as a result is the best gift I could have received this holiday season.  To hear the far too many stories of other children who had furniture or TV's fall on or near them but were fortunate enough to survive made me realize how important it is they share their stories as well.  Their parents realize how 'lucky' they are and how important it is to secure the furniture and TV's.  Sadly, fewer people learn or are motivated to action from a 'near miss' story than from a death story.

The parents who wrote to me to share their own stories of loss, who could relate to the emotion I described, who shared my frustrations, helped all of us to connect and heal a bit.  They know the loss of a child and had no idea how easily and unexpectedly they could lose another to a piece of furniture or a TV.

When I posted that flyer 8 years ago I imagined a response akin to what has happened in the past 2 weeks.  Imagine what could happen if this wave keeps going across the nation and around the world.  If it's shared on more and more message boards and Facebook pages.  Think of all the lives that could be saved!  It gives me hope that my wish for safer children is within reach!  You, Meghan's new messengers, have the potential and the power to reach far many more people than print or TV media can or have to date.

So now, I ask of you, how do we reach more people?  How do we educate everyone and save more lives? If you have connections to anyone who can help, use them!  Do you known anyone in the media who could write or do a story on radio or TV?  Ask them to share her story.  Ask me for some brochures.  Who can we get the info into the hands of?  Real estate agents when they sell a home?  Pediatricians, chiropractors, dentists, day care facilities, pre-schools, and elementary schools.  Local hospital postpartum units in their discharge packets and in their childbirth classes.  Local furniture stores.  Any child focused play space.  Lets do it together!  Let me know if you have any ideas!

As I reflect upon the past year, it will most certainly include a debt of gratitude to all of you who took the time to read that post and were moved to action.  For every life Meggie has saved, I see her sparkle a little brighter.  That sparkle helps to heal my broken heart.

Thank you.

Wishing a safe, peaceful and prosperous New Year to all.