Learning to Live Again

Before Mitch Albom was the best-selling author of Tuesdays with Morrie, he was an award winning sports writer. Then one evening he saw an interview with a favorite college professor that sent his life in a different direction. He called Morrie Schwartz after the interview, began to visit with him regularly and that is when Tuesdays with Morrie was born. What was initially a very small run of books by the publisher became a movement as people passed the book onto friends. Many would say that Mitch always writes books about dying, but they are really lessons about how to live from those who are dying. (View his segment on CBS Sunday Morning here.)

Mitch and Morrie

Mitch and Morrie

Death and the grief that is attached to it can be paralyzing for those left behind. One of the most difficult things about death is learning how to live without the person – and giving yourself the permission to really live. That is so much of what Kate’s Club is about… helping the kids find a way not just to live, but to thrive. As we focus on creating a world where it is okay to grieve, we thought we would share some of the lessons about living to help those who are trying to find their way back.

“Love always wins.”

“So many people walk around with a meaningless life. They seem half-asleep, even

when they’re busy doing things they think are important. This is because they’re

chasing the wrong things. The way you get meaning into your life is to devote

yourself to loving others, devote yourself to your community around you, and devote

yourself to creating something that gives you purpose and meaning.”

“ . . . if you really want it, then you’ll make your dream happen.”

“The most important thing in life is to learn how to give out love, and to let it come

in.”

“Sometimes you can’t believe what you see; you have to believe what you feel.”

“Once you learn how to die, you learn how to live.”

“ . . . love is how you stay alive, even after you are gone.”

“Don’t let go too soon, but don’t hang on too long.”

“As long as we can love each other, and remember the feeling of love we had, we

can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the

memories are still there. You live on—in the hearts of everyone you have touched

and nurtured while you were here.”

“Death ends a life, not a relationship.”

“ . . . there is no such thing as ‘too late’ in life.”

Childhood Grief on the National Stage

This week the National Alliance for Grieving Children will hold its annual symposium in Atlanta. Kate’s Club is honored to be a part of this alliance along with our partner organizations across the country. We join with them in the belief that no child should grieve alone. A huge part of that is creating a national conversation not just about grieving, but living and thriving in the midst of it.

Over the course of the week, we will share what is going at the symposium along with stories of those who are making a conscious effort for grief and life to be a part of our dialogue. CBS Sunday Morning did just this during their April 27 episode. On one of the segments, Bill Geist shared the range of emotions felt by his family when his newest grandchild arrived and his mother-in-law died on the same day. View this segment here.

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Bill Geist’s Grandson and Mother-in-Law

Death and life are inevitably linked and there are lessons learned about living in both as the Geists learned that day.

Thursday we’ll share Mitch Albom’s message about honoring those we have lost and lessons for living that he learned from people who were dying.

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The Sweeter Side of Sorrow

We would like to wish all mothers a Happy Mother’s Day. As much as today is a day to celebrate, many will be hurting and grieving lost loved ones. Mothers grieving children. And, many grieving their mothers. We wish peace and love for you all.

Read this touching account of one woman’s story about finding “The Sweeter Side of Sorrow”.

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Identity Crisis

By Rachel Ezzo

During my time as a staff member at Kate’s Club I have talked about and written much about grief. I have shared my stories about grieving my aunt, my sister, and even my dog. I have lead presentations with children about grieving and how to support a grieving friend. I have shared with civic organizations and corporations the mission of Kate’s Club, to empower grieving children facing life after the death of a parent or sibling, and our vision of creating a world in which it is okay to grieve. Our mission is focused on children grieving a parent or sibling but people also grieve friends and classmates, grandparents and cousins, and other loved ones.

Talking about grief is now a familiar topic for me. It isn’t an easy or comfortable topic. It is part of my job and I understand the importance storytelling has on creating a world in which it is okay to grieve.  Despite that recognition and awareness, there is one area of my own grief journey that I have always shied away from discussing. In the summer of 2006 I discovered that I was pregnant with my first child. Unfortunately, I miscarried that baby at 13 weeks. I had waited until 12 weeks to share the joyous news with all of our family and friends; only to turn around a week later to share about the miscarriage. In the past, I might have discussed my miscarriage with close friends or someone who has shared their own miscarriage story with me. I didn’t discuss it openly because I felt like (and still feel like) people didn’t always value or recognize my loss in the same way that I did. The loss of this pregnancy was a turning point in my life and had an absolute impact on my behavior and plans for the future.

The weekend I miscarried, it was mid-September and my mom and I had been at Stone Mountain enjoying our annual trip to the Yellow Daisy Festival. I had noticed some very light spotting but, after phoning the on-call nurse, we continued to walk around for a bit. I began to get more nervous and panicked about the spotting so we decided to head home for me to rest. Things did not improve. By the time I went to the emergency room that night it was clear that something was very wrong. Having never been pregnant before, I knew that I was likely miscarrying but held onto the hope that my baby might survive. After I finally miscarried the ER doctor, in a very matter of fact fashion, informed me that I had a complete miscarriage and that I should follow up with my doctor. It was very perfunctory and there was little acknowledgement of the loss I felt. I remember sitting in the hospital bed in pain and in shock. I kept thinking is this really over? For the past couple of months I had been planning on a baby, on being a mom. I had loved and nourished this baby. I knew that technically I wasn’t a mother yet but I was already identifying with being a mom and providing for this child. I had not met my baby but I loved it and suddenly it was all gone, the baby and my identity as a mom.

People were very sympathetic when they heard I had a miscarriage but their responses were sometimes lacking in awareness and sensitivity. I heard a lot of comments like – you are still young, you have plenty of time to have more. Really? Could I have more? I wasn’t sure. I had only been pregnant once and it didn’t end well. The doctor had no real explanation for why it happened, “It just does sometimes, something wasn’t right”. I think I was in such a state of shock when I was at the hospital that I failed to ask some basic questions. A few weeks later, out of grief and curiosity, I called the hospital to ask if they had run any tests on the fetus. Yes, I was told, but they were inconclusive. I kept thinking, what did that mean? I was really pregnant, right? I actually asked the person on the phone if I had really been pregnant. Yes, I had been pregnant. They could not determine why the miscarriage had happened or the sex of the baby. For a long time I struggled with the guilt of not asking more questions. Maybe if I had been thinking more clearly and had asked questions sooner I could have gotten more answers. Did I even deserve to be a parent, I thought, if I couldn’t even find out what had happened to my baby? Or what gender it was? I really wanted to know the gender so I could quit calling the baby an “it”. A couple of weeks after my miscarriage I received a reminder about my next prenatal appointment and a reminder about a sonogram. Thanks for the reminder, doctor’s office! (I changed doctors.)

It was a difficult time for me. I was grieving but felt like the rest of the world just kept on moving and I was expected to do the same. People were sympathetic but it felt like many people regarded this as an insignificant loss. I am still not sure if that was real or my perception. I went through a “normal” grieving process. I was sad and angry at times. I was jealous of my pregnant friends. I questioned my ability to have children. I did not lose just that baby but I was also losing hope of ever becoming a mom. I wanted to be a mom but, at the same time, I wasn’t sure that I wanted to go through the uncertainty of another pregnancy. Life was less engaging and had lost some of its color. I stalled for a long time before actually trying for another baby. Eventually I did get pregnant again and gave birth to the most amazing gift I have ever received. Being a parent is hard work, tiring, and expensive! I feel lucky and blessed to have my son in my life. My miscarriage, however, is still a painful memory and will continue to be no matter how many children I have. Every September is a reminder of that loss. I can’t regret that pregnancy. I still feel that, even if for a very short time, I was lucky to have created something so amazing. Would life be different if I had never had that pregnancy or that loss? Would I have my son? When we did decide to try again, I looked for a different job that had less stress and was more family orientated. Would that have happened without the miscarriage?

These questions are impossible to answer. What I do know is that the loss of that baby was part of my journey in life. The grief and loss I experienced was real. Miscarriage is not uncommon and it shouldn’t be a taboo subject. Healing happens much more easily when you have the freedom to discuss your loss and your feelings. As Kate would say, we aren’t meant to grieve alone. I am very thankful for organizations like Kate’s Club that open up the dialogue on grief and loss. Grieving can be an arduous undertaking and feeling isolated can exacerbate your already raw feelings and emotions.

Rachel and her boy, 2010 Photo Credit: Stephanie Zell

The Rules of Inheritance

At age fourteen both of Claire Bidwell Smith’s parents are diagnosed with cancer. By the time she was twenty five they had both died. Rules of Inheritance is her memoir – her own tragic and beautiful journey through her grief.

Claire and Her Mom

Claire and Her Mom

 

Claire tells her story using time, but not chronologically. This allows the reader to see her grief through a variety of lenses – all authentic. Grief is such a difficult emotion to explain, but this authenticity takes you through these dark places as she manages to let the reader feel her pain, feel her grief. She shares everything from her failed relationships to her struggles to discover who she is all while trying to cope with the loss of both parents.

I admittedly cried in this book. A lot. But there were also moments of real happiness as you see Claire rediscover feeling and joy. In her dad’s final moments, he told Claire, “death and birth are such sweet sorrows, he continues. If there were no death, you would never know how sweet life really is. Somebody was smart enough to put that down in writing one day.” When Claire allows you into the sweet moments of her life now, you believe her appreciation for them.

The fifth and final section of the memoir is titled acceptance and opens with the following quote.

“In a strange way, as we move through grief, healing brings us closer to the person we loved. A new relationship begins. We learn to live with the loved one we lost.”  - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

Claire’s journey of acceptance is evident in the letters that she writes to her mother after she has passed. I believe it captures the difficulty of learning to “live with the loved one we lost.” You also see this in the letters she writes to her daughters on her blog.

Claire’s memoir is being made into a major motion picture that will star Jennifer Lawrence – a chance for her story to reach even more people. I will close in Claire’s own words, “all I ever wanted when I wrote The Rules of Inheritance was the chance to help a person or two, to make someone out there feel a little less alone in their grief process. And now all of this (the movie)…I couldn’t dream of a better group of people to help me take my message to a wider audience.”

You can learn more about Claire’s story by visiting her website or reading her memoir.

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