Mother reading with her son

While visiting family during Christmas break, we decided to grab a bite to eat. I saw a fountain I thought would be a great distraction for my impatient 4-and-a-half-year-old while we waited to be seated. As I handed my son pennies to toss into the water, I had no idea he would have such a powerful wish.

“I wish that Mommy never dies.”

His words took my breath away. I just stood there with a handful of copper pennies I thought would be meant for garbage trucks, police cars and LEGO sets.

Our family had experienced four deaths in a short 10-month period, and it appeared my son was realizing the permanence of these deaths.

As a child-life specialist who works to support children through their grief, I was witnessing my own son’s emotional torture of understanding death, coping with his fear of loss and trying to understand why his French Bulldog couldn’t come back from heaven.

When we returned home from vacation, his grief began to manifest and triggered some separation anxiety. His transition back to school was challenging, bedtime was a struggle and I noticed he was constantly following me around the house.

One night before bed, he asked me if I was going to die. Part of me wanted to say, “No, never. Don’t think like that.” However, I took the alternative route of responding with empathy, focusing on love and him not wanting me to leave. I wanted him to know I understood his fears and was giving him permission to express them.

Our conversation continued with lots of reassurance on how I will hopefully live to be 100. We ended our talk with lots of giggles, cuddles and reminders that no matter where we are in the world, we are always connected.

After I put him to bed, I had a plan in my head to help him work through his grief and cope with the separation issues. So this is what I did:

Lots of validation — If he begins to get slightly upset about going to school, I talk through the feelings he has expressed to validate them.“You miss me so much when you are at school. I miss you too.”

Normalize his emotions — I try follow up the validation with normalizing the thoughts and feelings he expresses. “It is so hard to go back to school after such a long break. Lots of kids feel the same way.”

One-on-one time — I make sure to spend some extra time with him each day. We sit and eat lunch together, and I hold his hand and carry him around while I smother him with kisses.

Play — I get on the floor and play with him using a child-centered approach. I let him lead the play, choose the activity and give him as much control as possible. I narrate what he is doing, name feelings and just stay present in the moment. It is a nice way for us to both feel reconnected.

Communication — I don’t want his teachers to become frustrated with him as he struggles to separate from me at school. I am honest about the deaths and let them know we are helping him work through it.

Activities — I provide him with a variety of activities that promote self-expression, coping strategies and memory-making around the losses.

The other day he was getting upset about going to school, so I introduced him to an activity about staying connected.

First I read him the beautifully written and illustrated children’s book, “The Invisible String,” by Patrice Karst. It instantly resonated with him. Then, using construction paper, markers and lanyard, I helped him create his own invisible string.

He had lots of choices during the activity of what color paper and markers, freedom to draw whatever he liked, and the length of the string (which ended up being eight feet). He then practiced pulling on the string, as I acted out the tug from my heart. His face lit up with a smile, and I felt like he was beginning to feel a bit more safe.

Grief is hard to cope with, but if you allow kids to feel and express the unpleasant emotions through empathy, play and patience, it will hopefully help them develop healthy coping strategies and resilience.

Follow this journey on Child Life Mommy.

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Just before Christmas, I was stashing some presents at the back of my husband John’s closet. The kids had found all of my other hiding spots, so I thought I’d try a new place. I pushed his clothes and shoes out of the way to get to the very back. I placed the gifts on top of a brown filing box I didn’t recognize. Hmm, what’s in here? I maneuvered my body and saw the writing on the side of the box — “MJK.” The writing was my mother’s, and the initials are my father’s. Oh my god, I’d completely forgotten about this box. I pressed my lips together tightly, thinking about the range of memories this box might contain. Mum had given this box to me three years ago and told me it was my father’s old journals and some of their early letters to each other. The box sat in the hallway for a couple of weeks gathering dust before I asked John to move it. It felt like so much emotion lived inside this box, and I wasn’t sure my heart could take what was inside. I’ll go through it later.

On this particular night, there was a pile of dishes downstairs, and my bed was literally covered with five loads of clean laundry that needed to be folded. I had presents to wrap and boxes downstairs to clean up after decorating the tree. In an attempt to avoid all of that, and feeling somewhat open to facing the onslaught of emotions I knew the box contained, I pulled it out onto the floor of my room. I opened the lid and could see filing folders, binders, photos, a shoebox and a smaller box. I took the shoebox out and opened it. My heart flew into my throat and I gasped. It was the sympathy cards from after he died, and letters to our family, telling us how sorry people were for our loss. There was his obituary and a poem from my brother, written to “Daddy.” Heart-wrenching words from a 10-year-old boy who had lost the one man in his life. I started to remember why this box had sat unopened. Keep the sadness tucked away. Protect yourself from the pain. If I don’t think about it, will it go away?

Then I went through some of the photos. These made me smile. There were photos of him as an infant, photos from his scout troop, photos of him climbing mountains with old-school climbing gear. There were photos of us as a family. There was also a hairbrush — and I brushed my hair with it, thinking about how deep his love runs. I scanned some of the letters he’d written his mother and brother when he was a young man in boarding school. I found the letter from Dalhousie University in 1965 when they offered him a job.

And then I found something I could never have expected. It was a folder of query letters and short stories he’d submitted under a pen name that he’d tried to get published. I’d had no idea he tried to get published in the non-scientific world, and seeing his attempts made me giddy. So I am like you after all.

an abacus pendant

Lastly, I opened the small box. There were four tiny packages inside, wrapped in tissue and bubble wrap. I unwrapped the first one, a flower brooch, then the second one, another flower brooch, then a tiny abacus pendant, and finally another abacus pendant. I laid them on the floor carefully and stared at them for a moment before it hit me. It actually took me a minute to process what I had just unwrapped. These were gifts he’d bought for my sister and I, but never had the chance to give us. He always bought us matching jewelry when he was away so we wouldn’t fight over who got what. I felt them in my hands, turning them over, knowing he was the last person who likely touched them. And suddenly, the tears were pouring out of me — like water faucets switched on.

These gifts had sat in a drawer somewhere and then got packed into this box, where they had lain unopened until now. How is this possible? How is it possible that tonight, of all nights, I found these? I have felt so close to my father lately, and to see all of this so unexpectedly brought me to my knees. I sat there for 10 minutes holding these gifts in my hands before walking downstairs to show John. “Where did you get those?” he asked, but I couldn’t speak. He looked into my eyes and then he started crying. I started to shake and sob uncontrollably. I let the tears just go, and I felt sadness well upwards from the depths of my body. Sadness from 26 years ago, sadness I had locked away tight.

According to the tag on the abacus pendant, it cost $2.30. I can honestly say it’s the cheapest piece of jewelry I’ve ever been given, but it will be the most treasured. As the tears subsided, a flow of ease came through my body. It felt like love — the unconditional kind that never ends, that lives within us and is always ours. Infinite. Sometimes, if we can allow ourselves to feel sad and fully experience the pain, we can find a brighter place inside. Light always comes after the dark — but you have to feel the dark to get to the light.

Thank you, Daddy. Je t’aime. And thank you to my dearest husband, who gifted me a chain for Christmas so I can wear the pendant around my neck. Gifts from the men I love the most, brought to me at exactly the right time.

Lead image via Thinkstock.

This post originally appeared on Into the Light of the Firefly.

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Grief is intensely personal, and yet it is a life experience that affects so many of us. Though the pain may never leave us, it can be possible to find a perspective that helps bring us comfort. And we are far from alone in our sadness or in the search for hope after loss.

We asked our Mighty community for their favorite quotes that have helped them through times of grief. Below are a few of our favorites. What’s yours?

1. “Sometimes it’s OK if the only thing you did today was breathe.” — Yumi Sakugawa

grief meme that says sometimes its ok if the only thing you did today was breathe

“We lost my brother unexpectedly last year. This was something that I read somewhere after our dad had passed away. There’s nothing you can say to someone grieving. So when my niece and nephew called me asking how I made it through when their grandpa passed away, that’s what I told them. They came to me over the holidays and said that was the best thing anyone could have told them. It’s OK to have days that you’re just not OK.” — Cynthia N.

2. “Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding. It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self. Therefore, trust the physician and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility.” — Khalil Gibran

Submitted by Stephen K.

3.  “To have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection forever.” — J.K. Rowling, “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone”

grief meme that says to have been loved so deeply even though the person who loved us is gone will give us some protection forever

“My mom and I used to read the ‘Harry Potter’ books together, and once she passed this quote always stuck with me.” — Hannah A.

4. “It’s OK to feel sad sometimes. Little by little, you’ll feel better again.” — A “Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood” song

grief meme that says its ok to feel sad sometimes little by little youll feel better again

“I know this sounds silly, but it is helping (my mother passed away on Sunday). From the ‘Daniel Tiger’s Neighborhood’ (the kids’ show) song.” — Emma M.

5. “And when people try to minimize your pain they are doing you a disservice. And when you try to minimize your own pain you’re doing yourself a disservice. Don’t do that. The truth is that it hurts because it’s real. It hurts because it mattered. And that’s an important thing to acknowledge to yourself. But that doesn’t mean that it won’t end, it won’t get better. Because it will.” — John Green

Submitted by Laurie B.

6. “Some things in life cannot be fixed. They can only be carried.” — Megan Devine

grief meme that says some things in life cannot be fixed they can only be carried

“This was brought to my attention in this excellent article by Tim Lawrence.” — Kate Y.

7. “Grief is just love with no place to go.” — Jamie Anderson

grief meme that says grief is just love with no place to go

“I can’t get certain people back. But I can choose to put that love into a new direction and create beautiful things to allow myself to heal. Grief makes you feel so out of control, and losing a loved one is like having a piece of your soul ripped from you. But I have learned the only way I can even begin to heal is to look at how I can honor those loved and lost.” — Charlotte F.

8. “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together… there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart… I’ll always be with you.” — A.A. Milne 

“Christopher Robin to Winnie the Pooh.” — Joanna M.

9. “If you’re going through hell, keep on going.” — Rodney Atkins, “If You’re Going Through Hell”

grief meme that says if youre going through hell keep on going

Submitted by Ashton P.

10. “Grief is love’s souvenir. It’s our proof that we once loved. Grief is the receipt we wave in the air that says to the world: Look! Love was once mine. I love well. Here is my proof that I paid the price.” — Glennon Doyle Melton, “Love Warrior: A Memoir”

Submitted by Katie S.

11. “How lucky am I to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard.” — A.A. Milne, “The Complete Tales of Winnie-the-Pooh”

grief meme that says how lucky am i to have something that makes saying goodbye so hard

Submitted by Kelli Martin

12. “It has been said that time heals all wounds. I do not agree. The wounds remain. In time, the mind, protecting its sanity, covers them with scar tissue and the pain lessens. But it is never gone.” — Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Reminded me that it’s OK to not be OK right away.” — Samantha S.

13. “The world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places.” — Ernest Hemingway, “A Farewell to Arms”

grief meme that says the world breaks everyone and afterwards many are strong at the broken places

Submitted by Samantha J.

14. “Nothing you love is lost. Not really. Things, people — they always go away, sooner or later. You can’t hold them, any more than you can hold moonlight. But if they’ve touched you, if they’re inside you, then they’re still yours. The only things you ever really have are the ones you hold inside your heart.” — Bruce Coville, “Jeremy Thatcher, Dragon Hatcher”

Submitted by Zoe A.

15. “May love be what you remember most.” — Darcie Sims

grief meme that says may love be what you remember most

Submitted by Laura H.

Image via Thinkstock.



15 Comforting Quotes That Have Helped People Cope With Grief

When he, my father, passed, I didn’t even know it. I didn’t know how different my world would be, how differently I would perceive it, nor how differently I would interact with everything around me now.

The two-year anniversary is approaching. I just realized moments ago that, like the wine glass that fell earlier in the evening, I am shattered. Now I’m cleaning up my pieces. They are sharp, they cut, no longer beautifully assembled as they once were, but spread out, and broken. The blunt force of my initial grief has faded. Now I’m in the aftermath, cleaning up the pieces of my being and trying to put myself back together again in some resemblance of my former self — post-storm.

As my husband leaned in to kiss me goodnight, he groaned from his post-workout pains. I responded, “That’s what getting stronger feels like.” The echo replayed several times in my head as it sunk in. This is what getting stronger feels like for me. It feels like pain, like fear, like missing your best friend, missing yourself because you can’t find those pieces that were destroyed in the fall. It feels lonely and so morbidly sad. It’s feeling yourself breaking, still. It’s being lost, not knowing which way to turn, not knowing how to navigate my new world. It’s an insatiable craving for connection without a cure.

Yet, for me, it also feels like enlightenment. I’m learning so much all over again. Step by step and day by day, I find my way. It feels like the brink of discovery as I rebuild. It feels like placing my pieces back together, and somehow they fit better than they did before, truer this time. I am simultaneously weaker and stronger in different ways.

This is the aftermath: assessing the damage, redesigning and beginning repairs. A painful process of rebuilding complete with setbacks, delays and missing materials. Maybe once I was a wine glass, beautiful and delicate. Perhaps someday my pieces will fit better as a juice glass, smaller, sturdier and more functional. In the meantime, this is what getting stronger feels like. Come my completion, I will be built stronger.

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Death can have a way of changing you, I’ve found. It may not happen all at once, but when you look back to that day, when you look back to that moment in time, you might realize a marker has been placed in your life. A marker that can forever remind you of before and after, and the person you become in the after may look different than the person who was there before.

Death may make you angry and bitter. Not always, and not every day. But when you look at someone cherishing a moment with a loved one, a loved one you can no longer share a moment with, you might feel angry because you can’t do the same. It doesn’t seem fair. You would beg and plead and give just about anything for one more moment with your loved one. But you can’t. Because they are dead. Death has a way of changing you.

Death can make you sad. At first, it might feel like depression. The simple act of getting out of bed and getting dressed can take every ounce of effort you can muster up. You might feel like staying in bed and crying all day. You may have a hard time imagining how life can go on without your loved one. But it does. Time is a funny thing. It stops for no one. The sad days start to pass. Getting out of bed becomes easier. But the sadness lingers. It just chooses a different way of showing itself. It might wash over you unexpectedly when you hear a sad lyric in a song or watch a sad scene in a movie. You may become more sensitive to sadness. Sometimes it might feel like you seek sad things out, but perhaps they seek you out. Because you can relate. Because death has a way of changing you.

Death can make you question the good. It can make you wonder if there is someone somewhere keeping score. It can make you wonder why you were chosen, why your loved one was chosen. Why me? Why now? Why do bad things happen to good people? You’ll likely never get an answer, but you may always wonder. The thought always lingers there in the back of your mind. It can grow quieter with time, but on the days when you miss your loved one more than anything, it roars like a lion and you will want to roar right back. You may not have even thought you were capable of being a lion, but death has a way of changing you.

Death can have a way of helping you see the light. It’s strange how it works, because at first there is nothing but darkness. You feel lost and alone and scared. Without the darkness, you would never see the stars. One by one, they start to shine, and before long the sun is coming up and bringing with it light. It brings beauty and hope and peace. It shines brighter than you remember and catches and bounces off things you failed to see before. Things that were there but went unnoticed because you are different now. Death has a way of changing you.

I am not the person I was before that moment in time. I will forever look at myself under the lens of loss. I have been broken and put back together. I have known grief. I am fragile. I have scars. I am weak, and I am strong. I am filled with happy memories and sad regrets. I consider myself changed, perhaps for the better or perhaps for the worse. It depends on the day. But I am changed. Death has changed me.

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“You’ve changed.”

Have you heard this since your loss?

Maybe you have.

Maybe you haven’t.

But my guess is you’ve felt it.

You’ve may have felt it about yourself.

You’ve may have felt the eyes of others judging you with those thoughts: You’ve changed.

Here is my question: How could you not? How could you not change? Were you supposed to remain the same? Was a deep, profound and tragic loss not supposed to change you?

A couple of weeks ago, I saw a meme about grief on Facebook that spoke to me. A line in it stated the following words: “an alteration of your being.” Think about those words.

An Alteration of Your Being.

That is raw. And that is true.

I haven’t just changed.

No, it’s more than that.

My very being has been altered.

We all have different stories. Some of us got to say goodbye. Some did not. Some of our loved ones passed peacefully. Some did not.

Regardless of how your loss took place, regardless of the exact details of your story, one thing is almost certainly true: You’ve changed.

I know I sure have.

I went from cloud nine to utter despair.

I went from a man reunited with his high school sweetheart, the only woman he’s ever loved, to a man desperate to try and save that same woman from the cancer taking over her body.

I went from truly happy for the first time in my life, to off-the-charts bitter — terrified that my everything was about to be taken away.

My wife. My stepdaughter. My everything.

There were so many horrific moments during those two and a half years in which she fought bravely against the disease that eventually took her life.

It got to the point where there were moments near the end in which I begged God, with tears from the gut and desperation from the soul, to put her out of her misery. To put me out of mine.

I had changed.

Profoundly.

And then, I changed again.

Shortly before Michelle passed away, while she was in hospice, I had an awakening of sorts.

I realized how blessed I was to have had Michelle in my life for as long as I did. I realized how blessed I was to have my amazing stepdaughter in my life. I realized how blessed they both were to have me in their lives as well.

My bitterness began to fade.

I began to change for the better.

As I stand here today, nearing the one-year anniversary of the day my wife passed away in an unexpectedly beautiful, yet obviously tragic moment, I can say I have changed.

I have changed in dramatic ways. And I continue to change.

There are days when I am a better person. There are days when I am a worse person.

But one thing is for certain, I am surely not the same person.

My outlook on life. My goals. My desires. My heart. My soul.

None of it is quite the same.

I have changed. To my very core. I have changed.

Often for the better. Occasionally for the worse.

I have changed.

And I’m betting you have, too.

After a deep and profound loss, I am now convinced it is impossible to remain the same person you once were.

So the next time someone says, “You’ve changed,” whether it be as a compliment, a criticism or a general observation, tell them you know that.

Tell them you haven’t just changed though.

Tell them what you have truly experienced: an alteration of your being.

Tell them, that for better or for worse, you’ll never be the same.

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