From Death

The voice of a child calls us back to what matters most.

Life Lesson Learned Through Kids: Miscarriage

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Almost 5 months after my miscarriage, my children continue to discuss the subject of the baby brother that passed away. Their discussion usually emerges when there’s chatter about who the oldest is (and therefore, the boss) and who the youngest is (and therefore, nobody’s boss) and each time, without fail, they’ll include Danyal at the bottom of the sibling hierarchy.

The voice of a child calls us back to what matters most.

Danyal – the Arabic version of the Biblical name Daniel – was delivered 16 weeks into my pregnancy. He weighed a little over 1 ounce and fit into the palm of my hand. There was no heartbeat detected at our latest appointment and since I saw little hands, feet, and limbs frozen on the  ultrasound screen, my husband and I decided to respect his miraculous growth and prepare for a proper burial.

My children visited me at the hospital after the induction and varied between being a little creeped out to just plain enthralled with this tiny human being that just recently had been cuddled inside their mother’s (very comfortable) tummy. Fully shaped miniscule features invited us to imagine what he would have looked like had the pregnancy progressed.

My 6 year old had a number of hidden concerns on the concept of death. He worried that he wouldn’t know anyone the next world (akin to a new classroom or a new school) or how long he would have to wait for someone else to join him in Heaven if he died first. My 4 year old daughter, on the other hand, had an itemized list of people she wished to play with (including a set great-grandmothers who are supposed to be just as sweet, if not sweeter, than her living  grandmothers). Her whimsical desires included eating a mountain made of ice cream and exploring with a handy sidekick named Boots (thank you for sharing, Dora).

Their innocence generated more conversations. Their resilience to a situation as stark as death and positive energy in the light of an often hushed and ignored experience centered my healing process. As they radiated confidence, acceptance, and contentment we, too, shed many clouds of anxiety, anguish, and sorrow. Our broken hearts regenerated with pronounced vitality.


“We have another brother, but he died.”

“My mommy had a baby in her tummy and he lives in Heaven.”

“Does he have diapers his size?”

The idea that there may be no need for diapers in Heaven caused in eruption of gleeful, roll-on-the-floor laughter.

Friends and neighbors offered their help and support, while sharing personal experiences of losing a child, during pregnancy or after. They mentioned numerous women they knew who had tread the same agonizing path of trying to channel grief and find acceptance to an abrupt end. The number of little souls that are remembered, mostly in private, seemed to grow with each conversation, and learned that the finality of a child’s death had visited almost every person I encountered.

Somehow, a child’s questioning can shift the perspective about something that we as a society have neglected. This negligence makes it more difficult to allow room for grief to run a natural path, and a lack of conversation makes seeking solace a difficult path.

Some eyebrows will rise and an awkward pause may interrupt a casual conversation – but continuing to acknowledge the existence of someone we cherish and love who left us sooner than expected may promote another’s understanding of just how often miscarriages occur and how possible it can be for both children and adults to move forward without forgetting.


Resources:

Misconceptions about Miscarriage

Pregnancy Complications

Feeling Exhausted?

Feeling Exhausted? Try These Quick Pick-Me-Ups

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Feeling Exhausted?

I am exhausted.

Exhausted = completely worn out, having trouble thinking and concentrating, body and soul tired, running on empty.

 

I don’t get this way often, but it has been a particularly grueling month or so. A kidney infection that won’t go away (since August). A trip for Davis and I to say goodbye to my Granny while she was still somewhat lucid (Alzhiemer’s). A few days in the hospital for a migraine that is now on week 5. Launching a new blog (from a hospital bed, even). Bidding for a large project for my small business. A mad dash to the airport (with kids in tow) to make it to New Orleans before my Granny died. Her death. Helping my kids process their grief. Winning and staffing that new project. Two memorial services. Managing my own grief.

Those are just the highlights, because I still had all the normal stuff going on – managing a household, parenting, and running a small business. Like I said – I am exhausted.

This litany isn’t meant to be whiny or a pity party – sometimes life just piles on.

I know I’m not the only person who has ever felt worn out like this. You’ve probably been there too.  A major project at work that is behind schedule, meaning late nights. The flu bug that slowly works its way through your entire family. The hot water heater that just went out or the roof that needs replacing. A tween who is just starting all those hormone surges. A best friend who is in the middle of an emotionally difficult divorce. A kid with 3 missing assignments – in ONE class. You know how it feels to be exhausted, too.

The specifics really don’t matter. The reality is that life can leave you worn out from time to time. Once you realize what’s going on, it’s time to do something about it. None of us like feeling beat down – so pick yourself up! Here’s what works for me:

  1. Be gentle with yourself. Recognize that this is a tender time. Don’t over-extend yourself. Say no. Make time to do the things that bring you joy and energy. Give yourself a break if something slips. Temporarily avoid people and situations that make you angry or upset.
  2. Hit the gym. Don’t overdo it. Raise your heart rate. Limber up those tense muscles. Release those endorphins that make you feel good.
  3. Protect your sleep. You know how much sleep you need to feel refreshed. Plan for it. Use good sleep hygiene practices (like no TV watching in bed, keep the room cool, etc… My sleep hygiene is awful and so are my sleeping patterns). Get your circadian rhythms back in sync – turn down lights a few hours before bedtime and open your curtains to let the sunlight help wake you in the morning.
  4. Stop Feeling ExhaustedEat. Put some nutrients in your body. When stressed and pushed for time, it’s easy to eat fast food. Stop! Go to the store and get some fresh veggies and lean proteins. (My favorites are zucchini, carrots, roasted cauliflower, beets or brussel sprouts, shrimp, roasted chicken, and grilled skirt steak.) Don’t make it complicated, just get some good vitamins and minerals into your system. You can even add a V8 or a nutrition drink like Boost or Ensure.
  5. Increase your H2O intake. Being low on water can make you feel run down. This is a no-brainer. Pick up the pace of your water intake. Make sure you aren’t unnecessarily adding to that exhausted feeling.
  6. Laugh. Call a friend your funniest friend. Scour YouTube for the most ridiculous blooper reel.  Look at those stupid cat videos that make you giggle. Whatever it takes, do that one thing that is sure to lighten your mood, to make you laugh and put a smile on your face. Laughter is a great stress-reliever and mood elevator – take advantage of it!
  7. Get social. Call a friend to talk. Eek out a little extra time at lunch to eat with a trusted co-worker. Plan a couple’s date night. Being social can be a means for emotional support or just a well-deserved break.
  8. Plan a break. For whatever reason, your current routine has you run down and exhausted. Plan ahead for a time you can take some time off. It may be a short shopping trip on your own or a long vacation with your spouse. Plan something you can do this week, plan something you can do this month, and plan a longer break that you can look forward to in the future.
  9. Get outside. Sun. Fresh Air. It doesn’t take much time in the sun to boost your vitamin D levels. Low levels of vitamins D and B can make you feel fatigued. You’re totally crammed for time, so combine your outside, sunshine, time with a quick walk or a easy meditation.
  10. Yoga. Meditation. A regular yoga or meditation practice can lower blood pressure, lower cortisol levels (cortisol is a stress hormone), soothe tense muscles, improve functioning for people with chronic health conditions. Even if you’ve never tried yoga or meditation – check it out. Find a local class or a YouTube video or App that’s geared for beginners.

None of this is rocket science, but in the middle of major stress, simple reminders can be helpful. Making easy changes like this can lighten the load when you feel exhausted. Hopefully your recognition that you are exhausted, along with the help of a good friend and some simple self-care measures will have you back to normal quickly. If making simple changes, like these, isn’t helping, think about whether you may need a doctor’s help to feel better.

Exhaustion can be a sign of physical illness or depression,  sometimes it can be hard to distinguish between them. Your doctor can help. Go get a check up. If you have feelings of sadness that last more than a few days and interfere with your ability to manage everyday tasks, especially sadness that interferes with sleep, eating, concentrating, physical aches & pains or are associated with feelings of hopelessness, talk to your doctor and ask for help.

Resources for Stress Relief:

30 Guide to Getting Started with Yoga – Men’s Health

Yoga Basics – REI

13 Foods that Fight Stress – Prevention Magazine

12 Simple Tips to Improve Your Sleep – Harvard Health

Resources for Depression:

What is Depression? National Institute of Mental Health

Depression Overview – National Alliance on Mental Illness

Helping Kids Cope with Death

Helping Kids Cope with Death

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Helping Kids Cope with DeathOur family is facing a new parenting challenge – how to talk with our kids about the death of a loved one. This isn’t an uncommon parenting issue, rather just one we haven’t dealt with directly before now.

In the last few months my 88-year-old grandmother’s health has declined precipitously. In the process, my kids have learned a lot about Alzheimer’s, care taking, hospice, and the dying process.

Our general parenting philosophy is based in honesty, compassion and taking cues from our kids. And like most sensitive topics, we have turned to others and to experts to figure out how to talk with our kids about death. We’ve also done a lot of reading lately. I’m certain we haven’t gotten everything right, but so far this is what’s working for our family:

Take advantage of unemotional opportunities to talk about death.

Fortunately, we’ve been doing this since the boys were little and it has looked different at different ages. Mainly we’ve been answering questions that the boys have:

  • Why did the leaf fall off the tree?
  • Did you do something to make that plant die?
  • What happens to the dead bug once it goes in the trash?
  • What happens to my lizard after we bury it?
  • Will I see our dog again in heaven?

So that last question was fairly emotional for Davis and Patrick. By the time they lost their dog, they already knew about the biological processes of death. They didn’t know all the specifics, but they understood that life had ceased, their dog wasn’t coming back to them and their dog’s remains would return to the earth and decompose. They didn’t have to worry about learning those things or go through the doubt about death being final. They had learned those things earlier in unemotional ways, leaving them more capacity to deal with the emotions of losing their dog.

Be developmentally appropriate.

Through my reading, I’ve learned that there are 4 main concepts kids need to learn about death:

  1. Death is permanent.
  2. In death, all biologic functioning stops.
  3. Everything and everyone dies.
  4. What causes death?

What kids understand about each, should dictate how you approach death. My kids seem to understand all four of these concepts, but are still mainly occupied with concrete notions of death. They understand why Granny is dying and have not been scared that Rob and I shall die in the near future.

The boys have asked some more abstract questions like – what will happen to her, will she go to heaven, will they see her in heaven someday, does heaven really exist and what is it like? The more existential questions about the meaning of life and having purpose in the life you lead are just beyond their current concerns, so we haven’t broached these.

Be honest.

When we saw my grandmother at Christmas last year, it was clear that her dementia was progressing and her body was beginning to fail her. There was no hiding that from the boys. After we left and went back home, it would have been easy to not mention her progressively worsening health. Her death was happening at a distance and the boys didn’t have to face it daily.

But hiding her failing health and deteriorating mental condition would do nothing to prepare Davis and Patrick for her death. They have loved their great-grandmother fiercely for their entire lives and letting her death come as a surprise would be much harder on them. I’m grateful we have had a chance to prepare them.

Being honest doesn’t mean sharing all the painful details. Instead, for our family it has meant a steady, but slow stream of information that help the boys understand that death is becoming closer. It has meant telling them that she is having trouble talking or remembering people, that she can no longer feed herself or get out of bed much. It has meant explaining what hospice care is and why she is using it.

These have been sad conversations, but not scary ones. We’ve kept them relatively short, but let them ask questions, as they need. Their questions have been good guides for us – helping us pace information based on their needs.

Respect their wishes.

I planned a trip to visit my Granny shortly after she entered hospice care. At this point she barely recognized me on the phone. The trip was more about my need to see her, than her need to see me. We asked the boys if they wanted to join me on the trip. They were both very clear: Davis felt the need to see his Granny; Patrick preferred to not have the memory of her being disoriented, confused and frail.

I don’t know if we made the right decision or not, but we chose to respect their wishes. Davis accompanied me on the trip and Patrick stayed home.

Similarly, Davis wanted more information and wanted to prepare himself. Patrick requested that we only give him sporadic updates. They both seem to be processing her coming death in a healthy way, but their approach is very different. We are doing our best to honor their wishes and let them grieve at their own pace.

Model faithful & compassionate caregiving.

In talking with my boys about what would happen after Granny entered hospice care, we talked about mechanics of hospice care and what may happen to her mind and body over the following weeks and months. That perfunctory conversation took a beautiful turn when they asked what they could do for her and how they could care for their Granny.

We talked about being present, even if she didn’t realize we were with her (in person or on the phone). We talked about how their Mimi stopped working a few years ago, so she could spend time with her mother and care for her.

Like I mentioned earlier, Davis joined me for a quick trip to see their Granny. He was patient and helpful. Helping her get out of bed or changing her socks or pushing her wheelchair. These were the tangible ways he showed his love for her. During the trip, he listened patiently to her incoherent conversations, not pushing her or frustrating her – simply being a calm presence in her life.

Share your religious beliefs.

Whatever your religious beliefs or non-beliefs, you likely have some feelings about what happens after death. Kids, even young kids, will have picked up on some popular notions about the after-life.

We have been open with our kids about our personal beliefs and also exposed them to some other beliefs that are commonly held. They are old enough to realize that none of us really knows what will happen after death and to begin developing their own thoughts.

Preview common emotional reactions.

For kids who have never experienced the death of a close friend or family member, they don’t always know what to expect. The feelings that can creep in may take them by surprise or be more intense than they expected.

We have tried to address this by helping our boys know that feelings of sadness or worry are perfectly normal. That they may cry or see others crying. We’ve also talked about how they won’t feel sad all the time and that it is perfectly normal to not feel emotions about Granny’s health all the time. They shouldn’t feel guilty about being happy, even if others around them are sad at the time.

Allow room for ongoing grief.

Grief will be on ongoing process for the foreseeable future in our family. I don’t know what it will look like or how long it will last. I do expect it to come in waves and be different for all of us.

It is important that our kids continue with their normal lives and maintain their routine, but also have room to be sad or worried and know that we’ll help them cope as needed.

We expect our kids to follow a fairly normal grieving process, but will be aware of signs that suggest they need more help than we can provide.

 

We certainly aren’t experts on helping kids cope with death, but so far this approach seems to be working for us. If you’ve helped your child cope with the death of a loved one, what has worked for you?

 

Resources:

National Association of School Psychologists

The Child Mind Institute

Hospice Net