Text Size

January 2007


By Sandee Miller

It is fall -I love fall -the cooler air -fresh and crisp. God's beautiful colors -it can take your breath away. Another season -the seasons of our lives. We know that Summer follows Spring, then Fall, and then Winter.

As children we have so many dreams, plans and wishes. And as we grow there are the seasons of our lives -but always the hopes and the dreams. We grow, our roots grow deeper, we learn to bloom, and we learn to bend. We survive the heat, the rain, and the cold -and again there is always the hope of tomorrow. Then the ultimate joy of our life -a new born baby -part of me, and part of my husband. New life -the circle of life. The dreams come true.

The days of family -those precious, challenging, exhausting, blessed days of watching that baby grow. And even though we see life around us -we feel protected, and we have grown strong, and we will care for this child. We never knew we could love so deeply, so unconditionally.

And then -we never knew we could hurt so deeply -we can't breathe, we can't think clearly, we can't function, we don't want to face the day. Death -the valley of the shadow of death. Our child -our child! Why did this happen?

Who is to blame?

There are no answers to ease the pain. Time does not take the pain away. The days go by -the seasons have lost their beauty, the holidays are a heartache. We see the struggles of our families.

We watch "other kids" grow up.

Our heart is so broken. It is the coldest, darkest, longest season of our life. Then one day we see a small ray of sun. Maybe it was a phone call, or note, or a visit -but it felt warm -if only for a moment. It felt good. How can I feel good -my child is dead. I do believe that God does not give us more than we can handle. He will show us a way, and He will give us strength. He will not abandon us. As the days, weeks, months, and years pass -we have more sun rays -more warmth -even when we least expect it. When we are at our lowest. When we don't want to face another heart breaking day -there is a ray of hope. And with each ray of hope -each ray of light -our shadow is cast behind us.

It has been cold for so long. We don't want to forget those wonderful sunny days -memories -can you see your child laugh and play? Remember the smiles, the pranks -remember? It hurts to remember!

I don't want to remember. And then one day you pick a dandelion -I bet that was the first bouquet your child brought you -and you smile -and you remember. You remember the first days of school, playing in the leaves, snow falls and making snow men. These are precious memories. You look at pictures, you say their name. You really don't know how you got this far. How long has it been? We walk our walk in our own time, at our own pace. What is important is that we walk -and we remember. We celebrate that life -that special life that was given to us -that life that blessed us and filled us with joy. Remember and smile and feel the warmth.

Seasons -there will be cloudy, rainy days, and tears will fall freely. But there is always a rainbow -savor those rainbows. Now it is fall -beautiful leaves in our backyard. Winter is coming and I look forward to the cold winter days, and the snow. And I look forward to the first flower of spring -the dandelions. How do you survive? I don't know -but you do survive. Other survivors helped us. They talked to us, listened to us, laughed with us -wow -we even learned to laugh again. As a parent, when a child dies, your heart aches for those parents. And when your child dies -the reality of the heartache opens your eyes and you see survivors and you truly know how far they have come. You know when they laugh -they also remember.

Mia Vigil is my niece. Linda Vigil is my sister-in-law. Al Vigil is my brother-in-law. Mindy White, and Marlo Brooks are my nieces. They have walked that long valley -that long, dark, cold season of loss, and they came into the warm sun. We remember Mia -she was a joy!

. . . . . . . . . . . . . . .

EDITORS NOTE : Sandee Miller, the author of this article, and her husband Randy, know about grief firsthand, after the 2001 murder of their son Travis David Miller, at the age of 20. They understand 'we are forever changed,' but their healing journey has taken them into support and work with the Albuquerque Chapter of Parents of Murdered Children.

During this last December, we were privileged to join them at a public "Candle Lighting Memorial" with several hundred other parents, family and friends, also "-survivors."

"Mama's Supposed to Protect"

By Diana De Regnier

I can't protect you now,

I can't hold your spirit away and feel my

Sorrow and anger and guilt.

It's time. I can't hold them inside and live too,

All of my strength is going to create a

Grand life to prove you were wrong,

To prove, -that happiness is not a fluke.



By Carol Blackman

Losing a child affects parents in many ways. Because February brings sweethearts to mind, it seems appropriate time to discuss survival skills needed to keep your marriage strong after losing your child.

Long-term stress tends to amplify the little problems that a marriage has weathered or accumulated over the years. If only grief were over when the funeral was over, it would not affect our relationship with our spouse. But with grief being long-term in nature, care must be taken to understand why we grieve differently and why the loss affects us in different ways as mom and dad.

We'll look first at the differences between husbands and wives, then discuss some of the dangers to be aware of and include suggestions for successfully surviving the natural differences between a husband's and wife's grief and the dangers which arise after losing a child.

In marriage, two become one by turning to each other. In grief, two often turn away from each other, becoming isolated and lonely. The deep pain of grief seems to wrap its victim in a cocoon as you focus on your agony. Bereavement makes us very self-centered at the exact time our spouse needs us for support.

Your loss may represent a different meaning for each of you. Men and women both may be plagued with feelings of failure -men especially because they're protectors. Men because they're protectors. Women because they're nurturers.

Marriage can be shared sorrow, but it requires WORK to bring about the strengthening.


Men and women tend to often fall into general differences simply due to our hormonal makeup. Of course there are always exceptions to every rule so you may find in your marriage the roles seem reversed on some of these, but since we generally marry someone with a personality quite different from our own, we find during grief the differences often make it hard for us to understand why our spouse grieves so differently than we do.

Men usually talk for practical reasons whereas women tend to talk for recreation. Men talk about something, come to a solution, then go on. Women just want to talk about what has happened. Finding a solution is not always as important as just knowing someone's listening (preferably her husband).

Men tend to approach situations with their heads -thinking on facts and taking responsibility, and may feel a need to DO something after loss; whereas women approach situations with their hearts and are more concerned with relationships, feelings, other people and rather than be doing something. A woman usually prefers to sit and ponder.

Men often think more about the overall picture while women are concerned with the event's details.

Men usually are more caught up in work outside the home but women are intricately intertwined with their homes and families to the extent that they perceive them a part of their personality or worth. This probably is one reason grief generally lasts longer for women.

Men need to know they've succeeded which is vital for their self esteem. Women also have a real need for success but their need for security, especially after loss, often out-weighs other needs. A bereaved Mom needs to be reminded she was a good mother and did all she could have done for the child's sake. To satisfy her deep need for security she looks to her husband and family. She measures her security by her perception of her value to others.

Men tend to be more reserved in expressing emotions, whereas women are more encapsulated by their emotions, feeling a real need to express what they're feeling by talking. Friction arises when a wife feels her husband is in-sensitive or uncaring about their loss because he doesn't cry, talk about the child or seems to re-adjust to work soon after loss.

Husbands are often frustrated by their wife's emotional outpouring, inability to handle social situations, depression, and lack of desire to resume normalcy of life. Remember too, some people are unable to cry in front of others, even before their own spouse.

To survive, requires you become a 'third' person to each other. Listen to your spouse -accept their form of grief as you accept their normal personality differs from yours. When you interject your grief timetable on your partner you are creating a prisoner which will hinder you from sharing your grief with each other.


Danger #1 > My Way Is The ONLY Way To Grieve! Because one parent finds something very comforting and healing, it's tempting to think the other one needs this too. What is comforting to one, may be sheer torment to their spouse. Recognize that everyone grieves differently. It's often difficult for bereaved parents not to express verbally how they wish their spouse would change. Acceptance of your spouse's different mode of grief can be a tough assignment.

Danger #2 > Death Always Brings Change! Your priorities and commitments fall under attack. All commitments that involved the child come to a screeching halt. Schedules and how you do things are abruptly altered. Suddenly your stability is gone. Even the most simple of life's daily chores become memory-filled challenges. Change pulls our life-preserver from our grasp in the turbulent waters of grief. When a spouse criticizes their partner's grief or lack of grief, the ability to stay afloat is lost. Your home needs to be a safe harbor in the turbulent waters of grief. There's a real need to plan ways to support each other during this time. Seek to be a support and harbor for your spouse rather than becoming a storm they need to seek shelter from. Never use silence as a tool for communication with your spouse after loss -your partner can only interpret it as negative response. Express your feelings, for your spouse has no extra energy to guess at what you might be feeling. Seek to phrase your statements to your spouse so they reflect what you feel rather than placing blame. Learn to say, "I'm having trouble keeping from being upset when you... ," instead of blurting, "You make me angry when you... ."

Danger #3 > Not Meeting Spouse's Need For Love! Everyone needs love, but men and women interpret love differently. Generally speaking, men feel loved when they know they are respected and their sexual needs are met. Women feel loved through tenderness and understanding. Tragedy causes a woman to need extra outward expressions of understanding and tenderness from her husband along with feeling his 'protective care.' Touching, holding, cuddling are critical even though she may have little desire for sex. Many women feel sex is wrong when their precious child has just died, whereas sex reassures men that they are loved, needed and that their wife really cares about them. Men usually relate first sexually, then verbally. Sexual intimacy nurtures the husband's emotional needs. Both parents are very insecure, fragile and vulnerable after loss. Meeting your partner's need for love will bind you more closely together. Knowing someone loves you is a needed security blanket at such a time. It is a MUST that you reach out to each other to keep your marriage from falling shipwreck in the turbulence of loss. What needless added tragedy occurs when a marriage is shattered by loss.

Danger #4 > Surviving Alone! Beware you don't use isolation from your spouse as a tool of survival. Caution needs to be exerted when work, hobbies, social circles or other commitments keep you from spending very much time with your spouse. Be aware too, that spending binges may occur as a sort of diversion from pain. Excess spending only adds to your pain for it usually creates friction with your spouse and puts a squeeze on your finances -thus creating stress.



Suggestions For Helping Your Marriage Survive!

* Determine your marriage will come out stronger!

* Accept the fact that you and your spouse will sorrow differently!

* Don't place bigger-than-life-expectations on your spouse!

* Seek to rebuild your relationship. Remember forgiveness is the very best key to healing.

Some General Guidelines Include

1) Pray that God will give you guidance how best to proceed.

2) Seek to identify the most painful problems to work on first.

a) What is the most difficult part of the grief experience for yourself?

b) For your spouse?

c) What part of your grief is hard for your partner to endure?

d) What does your spouse do that you find painful?

3) Think of all the possible responses to these problems. Seek to rob the problems of their 'crippling power' over you. Write down solutions. Work for understanding and insight.

4) After implementing your plan to deal with the most crucial differences, occasionally re-evaluate things -are we helping the situation or making it worse? Should we do it differently?

5) No matter how estranged you and your spouse may be feeling, try to think of something your spouse especially enjoys and do it. Maybe it's something as greatly appreciated as simply giving them a few minutes to unwind upon arriving home before they start chores or you begin talking non-stop.

6) Recording efforts made daily may help you remember to put forth effort for helping your spouse and enable you to see progress is being made, but never use the record as evidence for planning battle if progress is slower at restoring your relationship than you'd hoped.

Above all, pray for your spouse daily. Pray they'll have a good day, safe travel, that something encouraging will help that day, and so forth.

Don't forget to think about the high points in your marriage before loss.

Marriage requires commitment. Relationships based in feeling don't have stability.

Commitment is the glue that cements your marriage.

If you need outside help with your marriage seek help from a support group for bereaved parents or family counselors who are acquainted with the effects of child loss on a marriage. Try another source if you're not getting the help you need.

Your Marriage Is Worth It.

"My prayer is that your marriage will emerge strengthened by shared sorrow !"


By Samantha Ross

Tragedy appears to generate heightened self-awareness like a snowball traveling downhill gathering speed and size from each new tumble. With the beginning of this new year, and for that matter every new year since my husband's suicide, I reflect upon the quickness of time passing and therefore, the imperative significance of living life honestly and lovingly.

Within the confines of these elements must lie forgiveness.

For without the ability to pardon our imperfections and those of others, we are prisoners prohibiting our movement along the path of discovery and learning upon which we must travel in this lifetime.

Unfortunately every story does not have a happy ending but in some unexplained way perhaps, the rightful ending. In the case of my husband Nick, a jury of one passed sentence. The only evidence presented in the courtroom was the absence of self-forgiveness. For that reason, it is with great vigor that I have sought to forgive Nick for his actions and excuse myself for not decoding his state of mind and preventing the suicide. Could it be the balance of nature is maintained through such a healing transition?

In keeping with the topic of forgiveness, I feel compelled to share a personal dilemma I find myself wrestling with since Nick's suicide. For some perplexing reason, my success with forgiveness in this particular instance has eluded me and a result, my life path travels have encountered a bit of turbulence. But, I am rambling and need to fill you in on the facts.

Outwardly, my parents are very successful people. In societal vernacular. "They have made it." My father is a successful journalist, while my mother is up on all the latest fashions, gives great parties and can converse in five languages. They live in a beautiful home surrounded by all the elegant comforts, dine on the finest foods and vacation in exotic lands. They are sophisticated, charming and intelligent to those in the top social circles.

But like Hollywood backdrop, growing up in my home was confusing. Through the aforementioned increasing self-awareness, I now realize that inwardly my parents are very frightened people. These fears manifested themselves in messages I could decipher as a child. My father was a heavy drinker, workaholic and without emotions while my mother was extremely bitchy and rarely had a kind word for anyone.

"You're just not good enough," though subtle in approach and attractively packaged, this message was constantly reinforced by my parents. A pervasive aura of disenchantment prevailed during all of my developing years. The reference points were numerous, ranging from school grades and my appearance to the boys I dated. Again, I now understand their words were inwardly directed but outwardly verbalized to a child.

So I was showered with the best life had to offer but conversely, never could achieve the status of perfection seemingly possessed by my parents. To combat this dilemma, I convinced myself that my family was special and I lacked the character to fulfill greatness. I was unforgiving in the treatment of myself, which in turn resulted in an abundance of rage often exhibited toward my parents. Naturally, my tears and tantrums did little to endear them to me.

My parents disapproved of Nick from their first meeting. Instead of attempting to squelch their displeasure by ending our relationship, he and I grew closer. Their manipulative behavior, in turn, became more desperate. My mother would not call for weeks at a time and when she did, her manner was strained. The straw that broke the camel's back befell soon after Nick and I moved to Los Angeles. Before Thanksgiving, I phoned my parents with an invitation to join us for the holiday. My mother declined, saying my father was unable to take Friday after Thanksgiving from work. I knew this was merely another ploy to signal their disapproval, as my father's business position afforded him the luxury of vacation days. My frustration with this episode coupled with years of stifling my honest emotions exploded in a short letter stating I never wanted to see them again. That was many years ago, I never heard another word.

Following Nick's death, heightened self-awareness supplied the courage to contact them. I began with cards and letters but received no reply. Then I chanced a phone call to my mother. In that conversation she told me I deserved what happened with Nick and said she and my father did not want to see me. I made subsequent calls to my father with a similar outcome; to much time had passed and they were not interested in a relationship with me.

Which brings me to this moment in time. Ideally, I want to forgive my parents for their inability to love unconditionally and forgive myself for not being a finer person and winning their affection. But instead, I blame myself for the entire fiasco. My intention is not to comprehend their behavior. As with Nick, it is no longer an issue why he killed himself. The point is he is dead and I must go on. Besides, in both cases the majority of questions have no answers. Instead, I am driven by sense of responsibility to heal our familial wounds and share the gift of self-awareness received from the tragedy of Nick's death.

However, I sense my proximity to this situation prevents a clarity of the solution.

On a final note, -I would like to wish all of you a Joyous New Year filled with love, honesty and most assuredly forgiveness.


By Sara Engram

Sometimes death comes slowly, with such obvious wasting of a person's body, that friends may try to comfort the grieving family by suggesting that in this case death was a blessing.

If you are ever tempted to express that sentiment, here's some advice from a man who has been on the receiving end : DON"T! Dave Lewis, a Baltimore man whose wife died a few months ago after a long illness, kept a diary of his thoughts.

Here are some excerpts: "We had been grieving for over two years, increasingly so as the disease took its toll. Yet I was not ready for the overwhelming grief that hit me as Jeannette was wheeled out of the apartment. There is no way to protect oneself against such a loss. Is it true that, at last, Jeannette was released from the grip of that dreadful disease and that I was now free of the agony of seeing one I loved becoming a shell of herself. But it is deep, deep sorrow, not relief, that one feels at the moment of death and immediately following.

"It was only after I had a good cry that I began to feel a developing sense of relief for the two of us. Which leads me to make a major point with respect to those who offer condolences. After a person has had a long difficult illness, people should not say, 'It was a blessed relief.'It is all right for the aggrieved one to think or say that the death provided relief for the patient, but those speaking to the mourner should just stick with: 'I am sorry about your loss. Please accept my condolences.'

"To say that a death provides release from a dreadful affliction is quite true, but it is inappropriate. It diminishes the sense of real loss and palpable grief that the mourner feels and is having a hard time handling. I felt like saying many times that if it was such a 'relief why did I feel so rotten? I was relieved that the hard struggle was over and that Jeannette had maintained her intellectual dignity and independence to the last, but I was not glad when she died!

"The whole experience is much more complicated than -'Wasn't it a blessing?'

I can say that, but I don't like others saying it."


Security code