Browsing Tag

Grief + Loss

The Stats are Stacked Against Military Families During Holidays – But These 5 Tips Can Help.

By December 16, 2015 No Comments
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The holiday season is upon us – and for my military family, we’re feeling the impact this year. For our tight-knit family, the holidays mean a moment to relax, unwind, and reconnect with each other, days to dine together, and opportunities to learn family history and stories from one another. These are days in which new family memories are made – and they are simply amazing. But this year, we’re not together. Our loved ones are living in a place that we consider home, some 2,907 miles away!

It’s not easy for us, but it never is. Throughout the year during deployments, families like mine sacrifice time with their military family member, which in my case is my husband. We sacrifice our peace of mind knowing someone we love works in a dangerous occupation. And as part of our commitment to the military, we also sacrifice friendships and closeness with our communities and extended families, plus a stable and consistent home life, each time we move across the country to a new base assignment.

These psychological and emotional stresses, while common for military families (and for many others living many miles away from loved ones) seem to be magnified during the holiday season, since they are times meant to be celebrated with close friends and family.

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Categories: Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

It’s All Just Too Awful: On the Eve of the Int’l Day of Persons with Disabilities, The IRC Shooting Takes Center Stage

By December 3, 2015 No Comments
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I’m sitting here in shock and horror that the only possible post that’s worthy of our parenting blog at this moment is one that is yet again, about senseless, horrific acts of violence.

This one hits much closer to home for me, though. When I saw several alerts cross my Twitter feed on Wednesday afternoon about a mass shooting on the 1300 block of Waterman Ave of San Bernardino, California, my stomach dropped to my feet.

Not only was the locale a mere 20 minutes from my home, but I knew that address to be the approximate location of the Inland Regional Center, an organization dedicated to supporting children and adults with developmental disabilities.

Why would I know that?

Because my sister has developmental disabilities. She’s also a member of and participant in IRC. 

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Categories: Disability + Disability Advocacy, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health

An Open Letter to My Late, Great, Childhood Best Friend

By October 19, 2015 No Comments
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 To highlight the importance of safety training for teen drivers and the impacts of losing someone to an accident, Managing Editor Julia Bennett writes an open letter to her childhood best friend, who died in a crash thirteen years ago today.

 

Ashwee

My friend, Ashley

Dear Ashley,

Today marks the beginning of my thirteenth year on this planet without you, the thirteenth year that the gaping hole of where you should be in my life screams out a reminder to my brain and my heart.

When we were kids, I never imagined that you wouldn’t be around for our adulthood together. It was incomprehensible to me when that thought first crossed my mind a few months after your death. It was like trying to wrap my mind around the concept of infinity. This first up-close experience with the loss of someone close to me, someone whom I had mapped out well into my future self’s life – it did not make any coherent sense. I took it for granted that you would be here.

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Ages + Stages, Tweens + Teens

Talking about Death with Children, Starting with Pets

By August 11, 2015 1 Comment
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One of our readers wrote in looking for advice. She bought a small pet for her three-year-old daughter and the pet recently died. She’s worried that three years old is too young to talk about death and that it might scare her daughter. So we turned to expert Dr. David Rettew, a pediatric psychiatrist, for advice.

Death is a topic that is difficult for everyone but can be especially tough and confusing for children. The finality of death can be a particularly difficult concept to grasp, particularly for preschool-age and younger children.  Even for older children, a true understanding of death doesn’t just appear one day, but becomes gradually appreciated over time.

For children fortunate enough to be spared the early loss of a parent, friend, or loved one, the first real exposure to death often comes with a pet.  While not wanting to minimize how truly painful this can be for some kids, the event can provide an opportunity to introduce the idea of death without it being overwhelming.

In talking about the death of a pet with a younger child, it may be important to stress that death means that the pet isn’t not going to move in the future or “wake up.”  Another good aspect to cover is blame, as a child may mistakenly believe that forgetting to feed a fish one day or mistakenly tripping on the dog was the reason a pet died.  For those who have religious beliefs about death and an afterlife, it can be very comforting for children to hear those thoughts as well.  Perhaps most importantly, listen to your child and show that you are able to hear their questions and concerns.

A couple minor tips about language.  Even for younger children, it is often a good idea to use the word “dead” rather than something that sounds softer like “sleeping.”  The reason for this is that children think quite literally and may begin to associate sleeping with death.  Similarly, a pet or relative with a terminal illness shouldn’t be described simply as “sick” as it again may cause a child to worry that getting a cold may lead to dying. Phrases like “serious disease” or a “body no longer working” might help make establish that difference. If you’ve been through this discussion already and haven’t used all this type of terminology, however, don’t worry.  Most kids develop just fine with our well-intentioned but sometimes clumsy ways of explaining things to them.

Many parents naturally get somewhat emotional themselves in these discussions.  That’s fine and it is healthy for children to see that adults can show intense emotion and still remain intact.  At the same time, children can get overwhelmed and scared around adults who are extremely distressed.

When you do have this discussion, be open and ready for some pretty tough questions.  Are you going to die too someday?  Am I?  In answering these questions, a good general rule is to be a reassuring as you can without being dishonest.  For example, “everybody dies someday, but I’m expecting to be right here with you for a long long time.” Of course, probably the most common question after the death of a pet is – can I get another one?

One idea that can be helpful is to suggest that the family have a small ceremony for the pet.  This can be a nice developmental step in helping your child cope with death and loss. Other kids may want to draw a picture or create some kind of memorial.  If you child isn’t interested in any of those things, however, don’t push it.  People cope with loss in many different ways that can be healthy – if he or she is content with flushing a dead goldfish down the toilet, it is not a sign of a future serial killer. For example, after the funeral of my own father when I was 18 years old, my brother and I just built a bookshelf together for hours.  We had  never done that before nor have we since.

The question of children attending the funerals of relatives is another one that frequently arises.  While the answer obviously depends on many things, I would not be in a rush to take young children to funerals, especially for more distant relations.  If cultural or societal norms encourage this, then likely most children will take comfort in these customs.  Funerals may also be important for children who have lost someone close to them, as mentioned in the ceremony discussion above. In other situations, however, young children may be a distraction to other mourners.

There is no single “correct” way to have these difficult but important interactions with children.  Being thoughtful, available, reassuring, and honest, however, can help youngsters begin to cope with this painful but inevitable part of life.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers, Tweens + Teens

Tragic Events, News Coverage, and Talking to Your Kids. Where to Begin?

By July 27, 2015 7 Comments
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Have you ever been driving in the car or preparing dinner and heard a TV or radio report about a terrible event that’s just happened? What was your reaction to the news story? Was your child with you? Were you worried about their reaction and wondered how you could help them and protect them?  Supporting and protecting your children around traumatic events – that’s what I want to consider with you here.

This is an interesting but distressing topic, and I’ll begin by saying how much I wish that this could only be a theoretical problem. Unfortunately,  as we all know violent crimes are happening everywhere in the world, the news always reports on them and often in detail so it’s only a matter of time until a child hears or sees it. With the recent shooting in in a theater in Lafayette, Louisiana, these concerns and challenges may be fresh in your mind. How do we explain this to our children? In our world, the best case scenario is that this will be a story about other families, families that you and your own family do not know.

In considering this topic, I thought about the many questions from families around the time of the September 11, 2001 attacks by terrorists on innocent American citizens, as well as about questions from families that have suffered a personal violent tragedy like the one in Lafayette. These are very different circumstances, but what I believe that what I have learned from these families and from my personal research can help us to help our children cope with such trauma.

All families are different and so are all the people in them, so some of my considerations will resonate for some readers, and not at all for others. In fact, this will be a successful article only if everyone likes some parts and hates others! The one universal truth is that each parent’s most honest response to a news story, given in the most gentle, respectful way possible is the response most likely to help a person of any age to begin to contemplate it. I will say that again, more summarized: gentle honesty is the best policy. This is true even if each of a child’s parents have entirely different responses to a story.

Think about this statement in relation to 9/11 – this was a terrible thing and some of us were more directly affected than others, but we were all affected. Helping a child grasp that an event of this magnitude would affect anyone enormously and everyone in different ways helps them to learn to trust their own feelings. It also helps children learn that you can’t have “wrong feelings.” Parents talking about their own feelings and reactions to this kind of event help children learn to express themselves effectively in difficult circumstances.

The same is true when a family suffers a violent event. A parent’s honest reaction, when fully understood, is what best helps a child to assimilate an event. As in any other situation, answering all of your children’s questions honestly is most helpful, even when you admit that you don’t know all the answers. A child also needs to learn as he or she grows that not knowing or understanding all of the answers is a part of the experience of being human.

Having said all of this, it is important to consider the imagery and audio that we are exposed to. Even the news media prepares us for exposure when it tells us that images or sounds may be disturbing to some viewers. Images and sound bites that are especially distressing need some filter or preface, usually in words, but, like the news media, I think you can say to a child something such like:

“The news is showing pictures of what happened, but I am still upset by them and I don’t think you should see them.”

A young child will usually be satisfied with such an explanation. An older child may be more insistent and I have found that two responses can be helpful: one is to point out that, in the same way as some movies are too distressing and disturbing, so are the images and sounds from some events. This does make sense to many older children. The other response (for others approaching adolescence who may be harder to convince), is that parents may decide to watch the images with that young person. Good things to do in this circumstance are to point out the news media’s warning concerning the disturbing aspects of the report and to watch the young person’s reaction. If you can see them becoming disturbed or upset, you can ask them if they need to stop watching or listening, and you can even shut off the report.

Children & Tragedy: The Boston Bombing (Photo Via: Salzburg Academy of Media & Global Change)

Children & Tragedy: The Boston Bombing (Photo Via: Salzburg Academy of Media & Global Change)

For some guidance, this is a link to the Motion Picture Association of America’s film rating system.  This can support you in considering when you want to allow your child to see or hear disturbing imagery or sounds.

In relation to actually watching or listening to a news report, I have found that children and youth are most interested in this when they know someone who has been directly involved. This is related to that instinct to know exactly what happened to someone, in part because it helps some of us deal with the denial that we all have when something terrible is happening. A parent and a child can be of two different minds about this and, as a parent, one has to try to be sensitive to this. Letting a child know honestly, “I didn’t watch myself (or I wish I had not watched) because I don’t want to remember this about Jane.”

If a child or teen says they have to know, and you likely know people who feel that knowing what happened is a support to those affected or harmed, then you can find a trusted person to watch this with them. After some events, like 9/11 or the Boston Marathon bombing, family resource centers are set up to help people and families deal with what is happening. For an event affecting fewer people such as the shooting in Lafayette, children’s hospitals and Community Health agencies have resources to help those of all ages who are dealing with a traumatic event.  For further resources of this nature, you can refer to the National Institute of Mental Health’s resource list here.

I have one final piece of advice, learned from a colleague many years ago: remember to look after yourself first before trying to assist your child. It’s difficult because it’s not your first instinct. But those who travel on airplanes have an easy way to be reminded. Every time you fly, the safety message tells you: remember to put on your own mask before trying to help somebody else. It’s a personal reminder to look after yourself first so that you are fully able to look after your children.

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Categories: Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, School-Aged Children, Toddlers + Preschoolers

I Shared A Bed With My Infant and Lost My Son to Sudden Unexpected Infant Death Syndrome (SUID)

By July 12, 2015 36 Comments
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It’s the type of nightmare that you hear about and it brings you to tears

as you cling to your children, feeling so grateful that it’s not your family. This is the type of nightmare that only happens to other people. Until one morning you wake up, and the nightmdare becomes your life. It happened. It really happened to me.

Of course when things like this do happen, other people always want to jump to conclusions and make their own assumptions about what must have gone wrong. Bed sharing accidents only happen to people who have been drinking, on drugs, or obese, right? Surely, this parent or caregiver was not practicing the safe sleep guidelines written by the almighty attachment parenting doctors. The rest of the world always wants to find a fault; any reason they can cling to to believe this would never happen to them. Healthy babies don’t just die, right? Sadly they do. Mine did.

So this is the story of my son, Benjamin David.

As a second-time mom, I didn’t feel the anxiety I felt bringing my first son Trae home in 2011. After a beautiful and peaceful water birth, and Ben latching on and taking to breastfeeding right away, I felt like I could take on anything. I knew that it would be tough and exhausting to take care of my two boys alone, but I was up for the challenge. My heart had never been so full.

Benjamin 2

Amanda, Trae and Benjamin cuddle together shortly after coming home from the hospital.

The night Ben passed away was no different than any other night. I laid him in his cosleeper that was attached to my bed, and I drifted off to sleep knowing that it wouldn’t be long until he woke up again. Ben never slept for long unless he was in my arms. It was only a short while later I awoke to Ben fussing. I took him out of his swaddle blanket, changed his diaper, then I latched him on so he could eat. Not long after he started eating, I fell asleep.

8 A.M. My alarm on my phone goes off. I reached over to turn it off, and I thought to myself it was odd that Trae hadn’t already woken up and dragged me out of bed to turn on Curious George or Thomas & Friends. Then I looked at my sweet Ben, all cuddled up to me as he loved to do. But something wasn’t right. His face was pale and his nostril was stuck halfway down. I sat up and I realized there was a pool of blood next to Ben. I thought to myself, “No. No. This isn’t happening!” I picked up my little 30-day-old son, laid him on his back, and started to gently shake him saying, “Ben! Ben! Wake up! Wake up, Ben!” It was then that I realized he was not going to wake up. He was already gone.

In my shock, I called my family; first my sister, but there was no answer as her phone battery was dead; then my grandma, who begged me to call 9-1-1. I carried Ben downstairs, pacing my living room as I talked to the operator. She asked me a few times if I would like to start CPR. Each time, I told her there was no point. Ben was gone. His little hard body was stiff in my arms, and he didn’t look like my Ben anymore. I knew there was no hope.

Amanda, her eldest son Tre and Benjamin in the hospital shortly after Benjamin's birth.

Amanda, her eldest son Trae and Benjamin in the hospital shortly after Benjamin’s birth.

The ambulance finally arrived, and the paramedics walked into my living room. The male paramedic touched Ben and made the call to try and revive him, took Ben from my arms and ran out my door with him.  As he’s running out, my aunt was running in (my grandma had called her). She had no idea that Ben was dead, she just thought he had stopped breathing but was still alive. I’ll never forget the moment she realized the truth, seeing his body in the EMT’s arms as he rushed by. Her face changed from panic to horror.

I fell to my knees as I begged God, anyone, to bring my son back. It was only a matter of minutes before I felt the hand of the paramedic gently touch my back as he said, “I’m so sorry Mom, but..” I don’t recall what the other words he spoke were. The “but” told me everything I needed to know. They couldn’t get Ben back. He had been gone for hours.

Before long, my house looked like something out of the crime shows you see on TV. Police, detectives, investigators and eventually the coroner arrived to analyze the death scene. My bedroom, my bed where I laid Ben with me had become a death scene. I only had one question for the coroner: “Did Ben suffer?” The answer I got is something forever burned into my mind. I can still remember the look on his face when he answered me, the smell in the room, and even the temperature in my house.

“Babies this small generally don’t suffer when they’re smothered,” he said.

Benjamin nursing in the hospital a few minutes after being born.

Benjamin nursing in the hospital a few minutes after being born.

And that is the moment my whole life, my whole being, was consumed with guilt. I killed Ben? But I knew I didn’t lay or roll onto him. The coroner told us that by smother, he meant suffocation. Somehow after I fell asleep, Ben suffocated. I explained to him that there was nothing blocking Ben’s airway. How did this happen if his nose and mouth were not covered? I did not understand.

As my family and friends started pouring into my house, the questioning began. The detective kept apologizing about the questions he had to ask. “Did you have any alcohol in the last 24 hours? Did you take any medication in the last 24 hours? What position did you find Ben in? What position were you in? Are you sure you have not consumed any alcohol recently?” While the detective was so kind about it, I felt like they were trying to find where I screwed up, as if I must have done something to put myself into an abnormally deep sleep. But there was nothing. I never felt as if I slept too deeply while Ben was in bed with me. Whenever I did roll over in the middle of the night, I would consciously pick Ben up and move him with me. Not once did I wake up facing away from him. That morning was no different than any other.

I call this my hell day. It is the worst story to tell. And it never seems to get easier.

Weeks went by before I got Ben’s final cause of death. It was ruled a SUID (sudden unexpected infant death)- positional asphyxiation due to unsafe sleep conditions. While there was never anything found in his autopsy to prove that he suffocated, nor was his airway blocked when I found him, his death was ruled an accidental asphyxiation.  I was one of the unlucky mothers who got a coroner that refused to rule a death as SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome) because of his sleeping conditions. Naturally, I was angry and consumed with guilt.

Baby Ben

Baby Ben

Grieving your child is up and down at the same time. It’s mad and sad. Grief is every contradicting emotion all at once. I would give anything to prevent others from living this nightmare. Not only do you lose your child, you lose yourself. Life will always be grouped as before your child died, and after your child died. You are never the same.

Since Ben’s death, I feel it is my duty to promote safe sleep knowledge to parents. The knowledge is not always well received. Often I hear the line, “I bed shared with all of my children and they are fine.” I too shared a bed with both of my children. If either of my kids were at a higher risk for this, it would’ve been Trae. Trae was mostly formula fed, I was overweight from gaining 60 lbs during my pregnancy with him, and his dad sleeping in bed with us added a much higher risk of accidental suffocation or parental overlay. Yet, it was Ben who died. My breastfed baby that I gained the recommended 30 pounds with, that I slept alone with, only bringing him into the bed with me for midnight feedings.

I see a lot of information out there on how to safely bed share. After losing Ben, I cannot agree with it. Science has proven time and time again that bed sharing absolutely does increase a baby’s risk of SIDS or SUID. Many people tell me that if their babies were to die for no reason in their sleep, they would want their child next to them, instead of alone. I would also have to disagree there. Never knowing if my baby would still be alive had he been sleeping alone is something I will take to the grave with me. If Ben had died while I was practicing the ABC’s of safe sleep, I feel my life wouldn’t constantly be filled with doubt and guilt. Could his death have been prevented? I may never know. But I would not wish this feeling of guilt and never knowing the answer on anyone.

In memory of: Benjamin David “Benny Bear”
10/20/14-11/19/14

 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Ages + Stages, Mental, Emotional, + Behavioral Health, Newborns + Infants, Science 101 + Mythbusting

Your Genes May Give Your Child a Terminal Disease, But Your Parenting Can Give Them A Full Life

By May 19, 2015 No Comments
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“It’s not your fault.”

This is the one thing I wish I had told my mom so many times in my life before I lost her to breast cancer seven years ago. I wish I had expressed that it was not her fault that I was born with the genetic terminal disease cystic fibrosis. I never once blamed or resented her for the fact that I had inherited one copy of the defective CF gene from her (and also one from my father). I can only imagine that she must have blamed herself every day that I had this disease and what having it meant for my future. I worry that she felt guilt every day for my CF-laden life as a whole – something she probably felt she was half responsible for giving me, and fully accountable for dealing with as my only actively involved parent.

When a child is diagnosed with any setback – disability, disease, chronic illness, or deformity, I imagine that the emotional trauma must be similar to watching horrific battles of war take place – the war that no one comes back from and shares or repeats to anyone else.  The war no one ever asks about. The war that is relived time and time again in the mind of the parent.

I was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis when I was three months old.

Natasha Lungs Photo

After Natasha’s second double lung transplant

I had severe failure to thrive and was literally starving. The digestive system, my digestive system – stomach, pancreas, intestines – is just one of the things that cystic fibrosis causes to malfunction. It gets into every organ. But it most dangerously affects the lungs, causing lung infection after lung infection to the point of fatality at an early age or the need for a lung transplant – which is equivalent to trading one set of problems for another.  For me, it was a trade well worth it – two double lung transplants have given me more chances at life than I would have ever imagined.

But children born with anything from a missing limb to my own terminal diagnosis of CF can live a whole, although maybe unique, kind of full life. In some aspects my life is not on the same timeline as my peers, and in some aspects I have done so much more, and all of that is okay. There is no timeline to being happy or grateful. My mom gave me an empowering upbringing that allowed me to believe that I could conquer anything – that we could outlast everything that CF brought against us. Our fighting genes would not let us lose, so it never occurred to me that there were things that I could not accomplish. The things that I inherited from her, bravery, confidence, will, faith, fight, were all stronger than one copy of a defective recessive gene.

Natasha's Mom in Italy

Kim Kirker, 1961-2007

I wish I could tell her I do not blame her, or begrudge her, but champion her for how she dealt with our prognosis.  If you are a parent facing a seemingly insurmountable diagnosis of your child, protect your child but don’t shelter them, empower them, try to understand their challenges and support them, listen to them, allow them, maybe more gently than some, to live. Be sure to forge a relationship with them, fight with them and even for them, console them and push them. More than anything in the entire world I needed my mom, the most and all that she could give me as a child with a rare set of problems. She was my mom, but also my advocate, my fighter, my hand holder, my tear catcher, my laughter and our relationship was my answer to every “why me?”

I may have inherited a genetic death sentence but I also inherited a great, giant, grand will to live from my mom – all that came from her genes just as much as cystic fibrosis.

Edited by Julia Bennett

 

 


 

Resources:

The Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. Accessed May 15, 2015

The Mayo Clinic: Cystic Fibrosis. Accessed May 15, 2015

 

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Categories: Accidents, Injuries, + Abuse, Chronic Illnesses + Conditions