Thursday, August 21, 2014

Looking Back

In any running activity they tell you to keep your eye’s forward and focused, and to never look back.  When you look back, it slows you down and can cause you to lose your focus.  I remember I was running at a race in junior high, and I could tell with each step, that one of my opponents was gaining speed behind me.  I jolted my head back to see how close they were getting, and in the process they raced passed me.  I felt discouraged and frustrated as I heard my coach’s voice screaming, “Don’t look back Tiff, stay focused! Looking back will only slow you down!”

Moving forward after any tragedy can be very difficult, and many times we find ourselves looking back or stuck feeling as if our feet are planted where we stand.  We don’t want our loved one to feel that they are forgotten or no longer loved.  Many times we get so wrapped up and swallowed in our grieving and forget to move forward.   We look back constantly, not getting to see the great things that are ahead of us.  Our healing progression slows down with each look back.  

A few weeks ago my cousin Ashlee and her three oldest children came to visit Abbey and me.  I couldn't believe the light and joy that I saw in their eyes, and was so grateful to see them progressing and doing so well.  Children have such an incredible gift to make people feel so loved and special.  I was spoiled with hugs and “I love you” statements all week during their visit.  I was amazed at the progress that the children had shown in the last three years.  They walked around with such a confidence and love of life.  I watched them explore more freely and openly than I have seen them do it in years.  I remember going to town with them right after Emmett had passed away.  They had darting eyes and were terrified of everyone.  We never had to worry about them wondering away from the cart, because they were too scared to.  I can’t explain the joy and happiness that this brought me. But how did they get there?

There is no time frame for grieving.  It would be nice to say, “Well it’s been three months now, the grieving is over, and life can go on.”  If only there was that easy button for all of us, but grieving has its own agenda.  Many people have reached out to me with children that have also experienced loss of a loved one.  I remember so clearly sitting in Ashlee’s closet praying and wishing that I could take Ashlee’s and the children’s pain away and make everything better.  I am sure many of you are experiencing those same emotions.  It is so hard to watch those around us grieve, especially little children in which we want to protect from any harm.  Here are just a few things I have learned through my process of helping Ashlee and her family heal and greave.

1.       One on One
Spending one on one time with grieving children is vital.  They need someone to make them feel special, safe and loved.  For many of us who are older, we have seen or heard of many who pass away, and we begin to understand the cycle of life.  That doesn’t mean it makes it easy, but our brains are able to understand and wrap itself around the concept of loss.  For children, it is most likely a new and uncharted path that is confusing and frustrating to them.  Trying to figure out why they are sad, why dad and/or mom are sad, and what next is going to happen.  Many children act out in fear.  Fear that finds its way manifesting in various different ways.  One thing Ashlee and I both did the summer following Emmett’s death, was make sure each child had one on one time.  A lot of times that “one on one” time ended up being car rides to and from therapy sessions, or ice cream on the way home from an activity.  However busy your schedule is, there is always time for the one’s you love most.  Go on a walk exploring, take them on a bike ride, or go swimming.  Activity generates focus and relaxation in a child’s mind, and allows them an escape from their confusion and sadness.

2.       Heal together as a family
This message goes out to parents trying to help a grieving child.  I know this isn’t an easy task, and it’s one that you never wanted to go through, but you will find strength in healing side by side with your child.  When you have a child, your first thoughts are to their well being.  In this situation, I want you to be a little selfish, and don’t put all of your attention and energy in healing them.    If you aren’t taking care of yourself and pulling things back together, how do you expect them too? All of your energy and time towards helping your child heal is wasted when you don’t heal alongside them.   A stable parent heals more than anything else.  I can attest to this.  When we lost my dad, my mom’s stability and mood really affected how much we progressed or digressed through the process of healing.  I remember one day my mom had a melt down and told all of us kids that she just wanted us all to do well, and to be happy again.  All of us were old enough to understand the concept that if Mom’s not happy, no one is happy.  She was putting all of her energy in trying to help us heal, but was making no effort in moving forward herself.  Therefore, none of us progressed.  As soon as she put her focus on healing herself, we all moved forward with her. 

3.       Laugh it out
My mom always said, "Laughter is the best medicine."  I remember so many times coming home from school or work upset, or having an off day, and somehow it would end with me and my mom laughing on the phone, instead of crying.  Even during some of my mom's hardest times of brain tumors and cancer, she had such an optimistic view and a hope for great things ahead. I remember right before one of her brain surgeries, she looked at the doctor and sang, "If I only had a brain," the whole way as they strolled her down the hall. To her, laughter was healing.  While living with Ashlee, our laugh attacks were some of my favorite memories.  The kids would say some of the funniest things.  Bailey came running in one day out of breath and kept saying,"Mom...Mom....Mom...what does a partridge look like?"  Ash and I both look at each other super confused as Ash told her she had no idea and asked why.  Bailey excitedly responded, "Because I looked outside, and I think we have a partridge in our pear tree."  We could not stop laughing, and still to this day laugh about that story.  What makes you happy? It might be things that happen around you, or a TV show.  I promise if you look for it, there is something you can laugh about every day.  

4.       Count your blessings
When things are going bad, the last thing you want to hear is “Count your blessings.”  During the summer I lived with Ashlee, we tried to make it a point to count our blessings.  Every day we counted the children as incredible blessings, but many days we struggled to find more blessings than that.  With more and more information being called in, it was so easy to look at all of the terrible things going on around us, instead of the good.  In any situation where you feel like you have been wronged or you are unhappy with the way your life is, counting your blessings will humble you.  There is always something to be grateful for. Even the little things like someone to talk to, a friend, warm running water, cereal, or a roof over your head. What are you grateful for?  Before putting your children to bed talk about positive things from the day and what you are grateful for.  Allow the child to also show gratitude and remark on blessings they see in their lives. 

Even though we are told not to, we all look back.  But by striving to see the good, spend time with your families and heal, we can progress and heal.  There is not one universal answer for healing, but I recommend following these steps.  Each one of them will bring you joy and happiness on your road to recovery.


Thursday, May 22, 2014

Play Time

Following one of Teage’s counseling sessions Ashlee came home with a look of bewilderment blazon across her face.  Trying to access the situation I found myself quickly glancing back and forth between Teage and Ashlee.  I looked at her trying to find the words to address the situation, but recognized my audience as I sat surrounded by four other children playing on the floor around me. 

This was not a new event in the household.  Streams of information were coming in constantly, and the kids were saying and doing things each day that took us each by surprise and put us in a funk.  More than anything we just wanted these children to have a normal life, and to be able to move on from this event.  Yet how could they when the information and news was streaming in all around them.  As much as we tried to protect them from the world, they were still living in it.  People around them would speak about it, as if the children didn’t understand or were unaware of what they were talking about.  From nightmares, questions and cry sessions, Ashlee and I can attest that they did. We tried to screen things from them to protect them as much as we could by making the house a safe place.  Sometimes that didn’t even cut it.  Many times the kids would wake us up by saying that they had bad dreams, or ask questions such as, “what if the bad guy comes to our house next?”  For those of you that have experienced any form of traumatic events with your children, I’m sure you too have felt similar feelings of helplessness and worry for the sake of your family as we had that night.

As night began to settle in, and all five children were comfortably sleeping in their beds, Ashlee and I finally had a moment to talk about the events of the day.  Night time allowed us to talk about everything and address certain situations or new obstacles to face, yet it made sleep some nights almost impossible.  This time she told me about Teage’s counseling appointment.  The counselor offered a group of different toys and objects to play with.  While joining him playing, she observed his behavior, the way he played with the toys, and the things he was saying during that play session.  Everything he did during that session involved guns, shooting, death, and anger.  To a counselor this is progress in finding out what is going on in his mind and being able to work through the situation.  To a mom, this is traumatizing.

As sessions did go on throughout the summer, we began to see a new Teage.  We were amazed by the changes and transformations that we were seeing.  There were no more nights of sleep uninterrupted, and more feelings of peace in the home.  Not all, but most of this we attributed to play therapy.

What is play therapy?  Within my studies and classes we talked about this form of therapy often when working with children.  It is something that you can even sit down and do with a toddler to help them through their process of coping.  Play therapy is simple, yet requires a lot of observation, patience, and you have to learn to allow yourself to enter into that play mode with them.  For example, if your child has picked up a doll and is throwing it back and forth and playing extremely rough with it, your first impression is to stop what they are doing, and show them the right way to hold a doll.  Within this context of play therapy instead we observe their emotions, how they are throwing the baby around, and what they are saying verbally and non-verbally.  Instead of redirecting the way they hold the doll, ask questions.  Is that doll happy? Is that doll angry?  Does that doll hurt? 

Child Counselors and other professionals within this line of study are amazing at this process.  They have worked it down to a science to help children cope, work through and overcome their situations.  If you don’t feel comfortable or have the means to take your child to one of these counseling professionals, you can do this similar process at home.  It just takes time, patience, toys, and one on one attention.  You could pull out some paper and crayons to draw with, or put a variety of toys on the floor to play with them. 

Generally children under extreme trauma or stressful situations cannot wait to play.  It is their escape from things, and many children will completely immerse themselves in it, just as we do our favorite book or TV show after a long day of work.   By playing a long side them, it might decrease some of their stress levels, and increase their exploration and make them feel safe and protected.  Similar to Teage’s rough play with the toys, we recognized many of the same behaviors with the other kids.  Kaleeya for example loved her gaugy gaugy (doggy doggy) and always had it with her.  On days where she was confused, felt tension in the home or anger, doggy doggy turned into something bad.  She pushed her stuffed animal dog away, would angrily throw it and say, “No gaugy gaugy, bad gaugy.”  Her father Emmett had given her the dog as a gift, and generally she had used it to bring her comfort after his death.  Some days she would experience anger toward him.  Anger that he had left her, confusion as to why, and an anger that she couldn’t fully express or understand.  She expressed a lot of it through her play with the dog.  She would push that dog away as much as she could, hit it with anger and frustration. Then there were other moments when she would hold that dog to her as close and tight as she could.  She would give it kisses, cry and softly say, “I sorry gaugy.”  Often she would hold the dog up straight at her and look face to face with the dog.  Her eyes looking directly into the eyes on the stuffed animal, nose placed together, almost as if doggy could see and feel what she was, and as if it was an expression of wanting to see, feel, and better understand her father Emmett. 

I don’t know the situations of many of your children.  I don’t know if the child has experienced death, divorce, disease, problems with friends, or loss of any sort in their life.  But I do know that quality play time is beneficial and helpful.  It offers another tool for coping, and it can even help you as the parents.  It might seem traumatizing at first, as it did with Ashlee, but opening up and finding the problem is the first step.  Don’t get overwhelmed or frustrated with your child or situation.  You are definitely not alone, and there are many parents out there feeling a sense of hopelessness, confusion, and fear for their families as well.  Just don’t give up! Every trial and obstacle we are given make us stronger and better people.  Look to your sources for strength and comfort.  They might come through therapy, religious beliefs and services, friendships or support groups.  Don’t give up on your fight for happiness. 

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Behind the Smiles

It was the final dance performance of the year, and I could not wait.  I had been dancing since I was three and though I had loved every minute of it, something about this year was different.  I was in that awkward stage between fifth and sixth grade.  If you were able to avoid that awkward stage, you are a very blessed person.  I swear everything I did was awkward, including the way I slicked back my hair and wore one of my many different pair of overalls every day.  Before this age, dance had been my life and it was all I knew.  But dance was all about image.  How you looked, how you appeared on stage, and how perfect you could be.  Not very many people want to go watch a dance performance where the performers are off beat, have ugly costumes, and are not pleasing to the eye.  It is something our society has created.  If an ordinary person played a role in a movie, would we pay to see it? Or does it take a beautiful actor or actress to get us interested in the show?  Where I once was so graceful and thin, I now stood on the stage with my chubby little self, self conscious about my less than perfect state I was in for the performance. 

The lights hit, the music rolled and the smiles locked in.  As the beat continued I wasn't thinking about my love for dance as I had for so many years.  I wasn't thinking about my toes pointing perfectly, and the story we were telling behind our dance moves.  I was thinking ‘get me off of this stage; I am no longer good enough to be up here’.  I looked to the crowd with the final pose holding myself with poise and confidence and not letting anyone know the pain I was feeling.  I couldn't let people know I was hurting because I was raised to be a strong independent young woman who could work through her own problems. 

Many years later after experiencing the death of my father, similar pains penetrated my heart like a million needles stabbing me.  Just as I had done on stage, I smiled and tried not to miss a beat as I danced through this unexpected tragedy.  As guests came and went through the viewing line, I smiled, hugged, comforted and held back the tears.  As the funeral rolled around and each of us got up to speak, I laughed and joked telling happy and funny experiences.  No one, I mean NO ONE needed to know that I was hurting.  I didn't want to appear weak. 

I thought back to the times I had lived with my grandma after the loss of my grandpa and my cousin Ashlee after Emmett’s death. Now it was time for me to put on a smile and carry another’s burdens once more, as well as my own.  There wasn't time to hurt; there wasn't time to show weakness.  Now I needed to step up and be strong for my mom.  I needed to hop up on the stage, put on my smile, and perform with everything I had left in me to keep myself and my family going. 

I thought I was strong enough to do this, but in reality it was causing my life to fall apart.  I started having health problems, emotional problems, and difficulty handling little tasks.  One that experienced symptoms similar to these was Ashlee’s little boy Tytus.  Tytus was a baby during all of the tragedy, but he was probably the child that was the most involved.  He was there for the cries, the pleas for help. He was a witness to the lies and the betrayals.  He experienced the panicked state of loss of hope in his mom during her final moments with Emmett.  He felt the pains of the household and they just built up inside of him.  Ashlee and I loved our time in which we were able to hold Tytus.  It felt like all of our worries and pains were gone for a moment, and that the coos and smiles vanished every pain and worry.  Just like me, Tytus was taking on too much.  

People would mention to Ashlee over and over again that she was lucky that Tytus was so young and wouldn't be affected like the rest of the kids had been.  Boy was that statement wrong.  As time went by the affects of Emmett’s death began to subtly appear outwardly and inwardly in Tytus.  It began with constant spit up, leading to being diagnosed later on with gluten and dairy intolerance.  He was months and months behind all four of Ashlee’s other kids when it came to speaking and communicating.  He once was such a mellow and chill baby, now running around throwing tantrums and objects.  He would be sweet and content for one moment, and then run around the room the next in a fit of anger and confusion.  After he finally grasped the language and began speaking, he woke up one morning with a stutter, barely able to get a complete sentence out.  Babies are affected by death, but so is anyone that holds it in and doesn't deal with it.

One of the things I learned over and over again in my major is to not let others emotions get to you.  You need to be able to find ways to leave work behind and not carry the emotions, problems, and burdens home with you.  It is a little more difficult to understand that concept fully when it is your life.  There is no time to leave the emotions at the door, because they are with you constantly and you are always being reminded of them.  When we try to lead a performance that everything is OK when we are not, we are truly in the long run hurting ourselves.  This statement is true in any given instance of pain and hurt.  Do not bottle the emotions up inside and think that they will disappear.  We need to face things.  Unfortunately there is no “easy button” like shown on the Office Max Commercials.  There is not an easy way to face anything, but there are ways that are easier than others.  There are so many waiting to offer love and comfort for us when we are hurting, but unless we allow the Savior to be a part of our healing process, it will never be enough.  He is the only one that can truly bring peace, understanding, and hope for the future.  The hope that so many of us have lost or found diminished in our lives.  The hope that there are signs of better days ahead and that all will be well.  Don’t take on more than you can handle.  We don’t have to carry our burdens alone!

Monday, April 14, 2014


It was a late afternoon and I sat crammed on one of the girls twin sized beds with Ashlee’s four oldest kids draped on and around me.  Bostyn and Bailey had found a Boxcar Children’s Book and had asked me to read it to them throughout the summer.  It took me back to my childhood as I thought of the many times I had checked out these books.  The books spoke of creativity, adventure and children learning how to survive off on their own without parents.  It had become one of all of our favorite pass times together in the late afternoon.  Multiple times while reading, the kids would stop to ask questions or make comments about the book.  They formed a bond with the children in the book finding lots of ways that they felt they could relate.  Though they still had an amazing mom, they were somewhat excited to find someone to share similarities with in not having a father.  They felt united with these characters.

 As we were reading on through the chapters, Bailey stopped me and told me she had a question.  Thinking that is was going to be related to the book I nonchalantly paused to listen.  She said, “The kids in the book don’t have a mom or a dad, do you think they still celebrate mother’s day and father’s day?” I placed our bookmark back in its place and looked up to four sets of eager eyes staring upon me.  I opened my mouth to speak but before I could her twin Bostyn piped in and said, “Because Father’s Day is coming up in a few weeks.”  I smiled at each one of the kids and responded with encouragement and support and the planning began.  We talked about their father’s favorite things, memories we had with him, and different party ideas we could do for that special day. They were so excited to plan a day to remember their dad.  They formed the perfect plan, angel food cake and all.

I learned something from this experience. We can plan for the big events without a loved one, but what about the moments that catch us by surprise?

A few days ago I was very ill.  I had such a bad fever that I couldn’t move for two days straight.  My bodied ached, my mind was tired and I yearned for the sleep that I was not getting.  I finally got myself out of bed long enough to take medicine and use the restroom.  As I rounded the corner into the bathroom, a memory flickered in my mind.  The last time I had been this sick was about four years ago during my first year at college.

 I had gone to bed feeling fine, and woke up three hours later with a throbbing headache.  The migraine was so severe that I couldn’t see straight, and my balance was so off that I couldn’t walk without falling.  I found myself crawling down the hallway to the bathroom.  Every move felt so heavy as if I was carrying a plow behind me, so when I finally made it I collapsed on the bathroom floor and tears streamed down my face.  I had no idea what I was going to do or how I was going to get through this.  The thought crossed my mind that I should call my parents, but my phone had broken two days before this, so that was out of the question.  I laid there in defeat, truly feeling like my head would explode.  I needed my parents! I crawled back down the hallway and knocked on my roommate’s door.  It was about 2:30 in the morning, so she answered the door with a look of confusion and irritation evident by her expressions.  As she saw the tears streaming down my face she was quick to react.  She retrieved her phone and sat down next to me.  Dialing my home phone number for me, she handed the phone over.  Each ring echoed through my ears, and caused me to cringe in pain.  Finally at last my Dad’s voice came through the phone and all I could do was cry.  I’m pretty sure that is every parent’s worst nightmare having a child call them in the middle of the night bawling.  I was finally able to talk to my dad a little and he offered advice of different stretches to do and medicines to take. My dad was a Chiropractor and I knew without a doubt if I had been home he could have popped my back and neck and all would be well again. I could tell he felt helpless as he sat awake in his bed many miles away.  After consulting me on everything I needed to do, he asked me a question that I will never forget.  He said, “Tiff can I say a prayer with you?” My tears though already heavy began to flood down my face as my dad said a prayer with me over the phone.  In those moments I knew that everything was going to be ok.

As fast as this memory came to mind it was once again gone.  It had completely caught me off guard.  This time I didn’t have a dad to call.  I didn’t have a dad that was going to tell me everything was going to be ok.  I didn’t have a dad that had the faith to say a prayer over the phone with me and bring me words of comfort.  In an already weakened state, I fell to my knees in tears.  These were those moments you can’t prepare for.  Birthday’s and Holidays for me have been much easier because like Ashlee’s kids planned for Father’s day, I found myself preparing mentally and emotionally for those big events. I never realized that a single tiny memory like this could cause me more grief, pain, and sadness than any of those other days had.  I never thought that I could feel so much pain in an ordinary day and moment.

Sometimes it is the little things that are the hardest.  It could be hearing a song on the radio, watching an episode of Grey’s anatomy that flickers a moment of remembrance. Sometimes walking down the street, driving a certain route, or eating at a specific restaurant can cause you to experience that weakening moment of recollection.  The moments you can’t prepare for.

I guarantee these moments will come whether it is one month after the loss of a loved one, or fifty years.  It has nearly been two years since the passing of my father, and though it does get easier, there are unexpected moments like these.  Moments that feel like they set us back in our healing progression.  They might cause us to feel denial, anger, confusion, and sadness all over again.  We have the ability to decide how we are going to look at things though.

Though we can’t always plan and prepare for these moments, when they do come what are we doing? Do we let them pull us back down to start grieving all over again? Or do we allow ourselves to remember them and rise above these challenges? Holidays and big events can still be a happy and joyful experience.  Talk about the memories and make plans as Ashlee’s children did.  Allow yourself to feel joy in remembrance of a lost loved one.  When the unexpected does occur, know that you are not alone and that it happens to all of us.  Though my father wasn't there to listen anymore, I knew that I could still say a prayer and feel that same comfort from my Father in Heaven. 

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Love Can Heal

I sat in Bostyn and Bailey’s room singing songs and drawing pictures one late afternoon as Ashlee put the younger children to sleep.  I watched these girls, so proud of their strength.  I was so grateful that they had each other during this time of pain and sorrow.  My mind wandered down the hall to their one and a half year old little sister.  I wondered to myself if Kaleeya would ever have this same joy and understanding that her two older sisters had when talking about their dad.  So far Kaleeya had been angry, withdrawn, confused and resentful to anyone outside her immediate family.  She had cried more than she had in her whole life, and had been the cause of many tears from the other kids around the house.  She had picked up three different forms of projecting out her emotions.  She would hit, kick, and cry.  Ashlee and I had thought Kaleeya was too young to understand everything, and that this death would be harder on the older kids.  We were very wrong in our assumptions.  SHE WAS AWARE!  She was aware that daddy was gone.  She was aware that mommy was sad.  She was aware of the tension in her family.  She was aware of the people around her hurting, and she was aware of the broken feeling in the home.  Ashlee and I prayed to know how to help her.  We had to learn a way to change this little girl’s perception of death. 

To Kaleeya daddy was there and then quickly gone.  In a way she could have felt like her daddy didn’t want her.  Someone she was supposed to rely on, someone that she loved, someone that she cared for just disappeared one late night.  As many times as you try to explain that daddy went to heaven, there are so many other factors that must be addressed.  Many of the emotions Ashlee has written about of betrayal, resentment, not feeling wanted or good enough were also being felt by Kaleeya.

I was just speaking with a friend about what happens when a parent divorces during a pregnancy or later on after a pregnancy.  He asked me what I thought would be easier on the child. Neither scenario is easier, but I addressed both situations with him. I began by addressing the first scenario.  A child’s father that leaves before they are born will most likely feel that they weren’t wanted, that they were a mistake, and that their father never cared for them.  A child whose father leaves after they are born might feel abandoned. They might wonder if they did something wrong, or think that they never measured up enough. They might blame themselves thinking that they didn’t meet their father’s expectations.  They might feel like they let them him down and that their father is embarrassed by them.  We both sat there spouting off different possibilities to this hard question he had asked.  It made me think of Kaleeya.  Though it wasn’t a divorce scenario, it was a similar loss none the less.  I am sure Kaleeya felt the emotions from both those scenarios, but especially the second one.  ‘Why did my daddy leave me?  Was I not good enough?  Did he not love me enough?  Did he want us?  Why did he abandon me?’  With feelings like these, it makes it easier to understand why Kaleeya was struggling so much.

If your child is having any of these same emotions, whether through loss of death or divorce, don’t feel discouraged.  Many times Ashlee and I panicked and became overly concerned that Kaleeya was never going to live a normal life, and that she would never stop feeling angry or sad about her father’s death.  We began working with her on understanding that her father loved her and it was not his choice to leave her yet.  Love is a powerful weapon, it can heal and harm.  We hear the saying, “faith can move mountains”, in relation to that statement we need to remember that love can move people.  Teach them the power it has to heal.  Recreate that hope within their tiny spirits.  Let them know how proud you are of them as well as their lost loved one is.  Let them know that their lost one is in heaven, smiling down on them and is an angel sent from heaven to protect and take care of them.  Let them know that he or she will always be their parent or sibling.  Let them know that they wish for them to live the best life down on earth that they can, so that they can someday return to be together.  Kaleeya shed many tears that summer, mostly tears of misunderstanding.  Take time to talk to your child and explain.  If you have explained things once, do it again.  Their minds are like sponges, and they will catch on quickly.

Another very important issue that I have already addressed in previous posts is, YOUR MOODS AFFECT YOUR CHILD MORE THAN ANYTHING! If you think you are putting on a good face for your children when you are actually dying inside, they see that.  If they aren’t handling things well, take a look at where you are at.  You are healing too, and it is not easy! You are not only required to pull your life together, but that of your children’s too.  I recognized this as an older child mourning the loss of my own father.  Each of my siblings and I spent most days trying to be tough, trying to pretend that everything was ok, and working to mend our broken hearts.  If our mom was having a hard day though, we all crumbled. All of our effort to hold everything together was thrown aside.  If you are that mother or father, I hurt for you.  I have heard my mom say multiple times that you feel your children’s joys and you feel their sorrows.  You do not have to carry it all by yourself.

The grieving process is lonely and hard, but you do not have to go through it alone. There are counselors and support groups.  Ashlee and I both attended these for an additional resource to our different situation and experiences with loss. Another resource is our loving Savior Jesus Christ that has atoned for us and has felt the anguish we face.  There might be a million people that are going through the same situation as you, but none of them know how you are feeling like the Savior does, “Surely he hath borne our griefs, and carried our sorrows” (Isaiah 53:4).  He knows your pain and sorrows, and is there in moments you feel you can’t continue.  He will carry you, and be there for you and your children through it all. 

Friday, March 28, 2014

This Storm Will Pass: Anger

The door slammed causing everything in the house to jolt in surprise.  Picture frames hung on the wall swayed back and forth.  A few of the piano keys chimed in unison.  The loud echo of the slam, still ringing in all of our ears, caused us to freeze where we were.  Moments following this we heard loud crashing of objects being thrown at the door and walls of Teage’s bedroom.  Ashlee and I both stopped preparing lunch and prepared ourselves for what we would have to combat.  Everything seemed as it was moving in slow motion as Ashlee quickly opened the door and slid into Teage’s room.  I waited in the family room feeling frantic and uneasy.  I quickly picked up Tytus and watched the girls as they were on the kitchen floor reading through books and playing with dolls.  Shouting came from the room; shouts of anger, fear and heartbreak.  Tension rose in the room so I quickly walked over to the CD player and turned on the CD we always listened to during broken moments like these.  The screaming got louder as well as the pleading and cries from a young boy.  I recognized the affect it was having on the rest of the children and me as I became aware of the darting eyes filled with fear and confusion.  I increased the volume once more on the CD player.

 Within only a few brief moments following that, Kaleeya took some of Bostyn and Bailey’s toys from them and refused to give them back.  Bailey and Bostyn already on an emotional roller coaster shouted out in anger and quickly pulled the toys out of Kaleeya’s hand.  Not missing a beat in the drama, Kaleeya wound her hand back and slapped Bailey hard in the face.  Just at that moment Ashlee walked out, snatched Kaleeya up and took her up to her room to talk.  There was yet another door slam.  I now sat in a room of crying children and questioned to myself, how are we ever going to make it through this day.  I silently pleaded to my Heavenly Father that I would be given the strength and words to face this day.  I comforted Bailey, and sent her and Bostyn into another room to play.  I put Tytus down in his swing, and stood prepared and ready for what I would next have to face.  I stood outside of Teage’s door as I heard small hands hitting the surface of the wood.  As my shaking hand clung to the handle on the door I awaited the right moment to enter.  Right as my gripping hand began to turn the handle, Ashlee came bounding down the stairs as tears flooded her eyes.  She looked at me and silently screamed, “I CAN’T DO THIS ANYMORE!! WHY US? WHY THEM,” pointing to her children.  She then sprinted to her room and another door was closed.

I stepped away from Teage’s room not knowing where to enter at this point.  Anger filled that home, bounded against every wall, and into every gap of the home.  Anger even filled my heart.  I sat down all of a sudden feeling exhausted, betrayed, and frustrated.  In watching the outburst of anger in the home, I too had become angry.  Angry with Emmett for not recognizing what he had.  Angry with the choices he had made.  Angry with the choices of the man holding the gun that night.  Angry with the investigators for not having all of the answers, angry with the questions of where I was and what I was supposed to be doing.  Why them? Why us? Why me? 

The front door opened and quickly slammed.  I looked up to see Ali walking around the corner the tears streaming down her face.  She walked quickly past me and made her way into the closet to sit and hold Ashlee as they both held each other in frustration and sadness.

This was by far the most memorable and hardest day for me at Ashlee’s house.  It was worse than any nightmare or situation that I could have thought up in my mind.  The light had diminished and darkness was prevalent in the home.  Anger is such a real and strong emotion.  If you have felt anger in moments of dealing with death, sickness, divorces, or moments of betrayal, know that you are not alone.  It is normal for everyone to go through this stage.  In this stage our mind is beginning to step out of the stages of denial, and it is the first stage of addressing the actual problem and making sense of our situation.

Generally when we confront moments of anger we are quick to ask the “Why” questions.  For those of you who have felt anger or are feeling anger at this time, know that it is normal.  It is OK to ask why, just don’t get stuck in the whys.  This stage of anger generally comes with a realization and a frustration as your mind tries to make sense of the situation you are confronted with.  If someone around you is angry at this time, have patience and consistently love them. So many times we want to have all the answers to fix problems.  This is not one of those easily fixed problems, but here are a few things you can do.

1.       Let them know that you love them unconditionally no matter what.
2.       Be patient with them.
3.       Allow them to feel angry, but don’t allow them to stay in that stage.
a.       Help them get active again
b.      Help them stay positive about their future
c.       Find things everyday to be grateful for
d.      Help them recognize their strength and their need to move on
4.       Give them space and time
5.       If they feel a pity party is necessary, allow it, but know when to intervene.
6.       Always address someone full of anger calmly; you don’t need to make things worse.

If you feel stuck in the stages of anger, find ways to get out of it.  It might be running it out at the gym, or writing down every hateful or fury driven thought so that it is no longer weighing on your mind.  Know that you can do this and that there are great things ahead.  Free yourself from this burden and allow yourself to live.  Anger just weighs you down and is a poison to all around it.  Get rid of it and know this storm will pass.

Saturday, March 22, 2014

Addressing the 'Elephant in the Room'

I have been humbled by sweet comments of support, and those willing to share their questions and experiences on grieving.  This is just one of the first posts directed to those of you who are trying to help a grieving child.  Everyone mourns differently.  I am hoping that by sharing lots of different approaches and experiences, it might spark some ideas or possible solutions to the questions and answers you are seeking.

                A few months ago my thoughts wandered back to memories and experiences of living with Ashlee as it has so many times.  I thought of the crying babies, the endless tears, the questions, and the heart flickering pains. I also thought of the happiness and the good times.  The moments of laughter where kids were being kids, and saying the adorable and hilarious little things they say.  Singing “We All Live in a Yellow Submarine”, at the top of their lungs, all versus might I add, every morning and night for a month.  Don’t know if they know all the words to it anymore, but I sure could pop out a performance of it.  Moments of watching and re-watching tangled until we all could mouth the words to every song and scene. That summer had changed all of us, through the tears of joy from laughing too hard, to the tears of sorrow.  I guess you could say it was the refiner’s fire that molded us into the people we are today.

                This time as I thought back , I thought specifically about Bostyn.  Once so carefree and full of excitement in the world, now full of fear and sadness.  Excited about life and adventurous, now not wanting to venture ten feet from the safety of her family.  Once full of confidence and assurity, now darting eyes and questioning her beauty and self worth. Where had that little twinkle in her eyes gone, or that extra hop in her step? Bostyn was the one on my mind.  She was the reason for the phone call.  My heart told me something was wrong, and I prayed that I would know the right thing to say and do.  Ashlee and I had spoken hours before this call, and she had reassured me of what I felt I already knew, sweet little Bostyn needed help.

                The phone rang and feelings of inadequacy weighed heavy on my mind.  How was I going to help this little girl see her worth?  How was I going to reassure her that life would be good and that these little knocks she is experiencing, only will make her stronger? How was I going to address the subject of talking about losing her father and the feelings she is harboring there?

                The ringing stopped.  Ashlee answered and excitedly handed the phone over, and Bostyn’s sweet voice came on through the other side.  Bostyn didn’t sound like herself.  I asked her multiple questions regarding school, friends, and life in general.  She told me she didn’t really like school.  She felt like she was having a hard time finding a good group of friends that she felt safe, loved, and included with.  She told me that she wanted to be home schooled because that would allow her to stay with her mom all day long.  I listened and offered words of encouragement.  I told her that as hard as school and friends can be at times, they are both good things.  That maybe she is supposed to go to school so that she can be a friend to someone else feeling the same way she is.  I knew most of her fears and heart break came from the tragedy she had experienced at such a young age.  My mind quickened as I tried to think of possible ways to talk about the ‘elephant in the room’, so to speak.  Without a thought to the direction I was going in I said to Bostyn, “Hey want to hear something cool?  Have you ever thought about how much we have in common?  Like we both have twins in our family, we have amazing moms, and both of our Dad’s are in heaven?” There we have it, the bomb was dropped. Bostyn’s voice for the first time lit up as she responded to my question.  I then continued to address the issue by talking about her Father Emmett’s funeral, asking her if she remembers it like I remember my Dad’s.  She mentioned things that I had never thought a young child would pick up on.  She was so aware of the feeling in the room, the emotions felt by all around her, the many hugs she received, and that her dad was gone.  I asked her if she remembered about visiting me and my family in the Boise hospital during my dad’s last few hours.  I will never forget what she said in response to this question.  She said, “Tiff I remember coming and giving you a hug and not wanting to let go.  I remember you held me for a long time, and I remember feeling sad. It was all so sad. I remember everyone at the hospital was really sad that day, and that Uncle Dave had lots of machines hooked up to him. I remember thinking, why does Uncle Dave have to die too?”  What a profound little thought for such a young girl.  She had experienced so much loss, at such a young age.  We finished our conversation that day by talking about how our family is always going to be there for one another.  We talked about our Dad’s being friends in heaven, and how they are watching over us, and most likely laughing at the silly things we do.  We had gone from two complete polar opposites within the context of our conversation.

We have all in some way been victims to loss, disappointment, and sorrow.  Some of us have been willing to share our feelings, while others of us choose to hide our problems and move on with life the best we can.  Some want to talk about it, share memories, while others cringe at the mention of their lost ones name or memories.  As hard as it may be, and as much as it hurts, I challenge you to talk it out.  It does no good keeping those feelings and emotions inside.  We say people don’t understand, but are we letting them in to understand?

To those struggling to work with their grieving children, it takes time.  Not only does it take time to listen, but it takes time for children to fully process it to the point they are ready to share and talk about the way they are feeling.  Find a way to get down on their level.  Talk about things they love, things that are important to them.  Sometimes we wonder why others around us are not opening up to us, yet we refuse to open up ourselves to them.  When we ask a simple question of what is wrong, we will get a simple answer.  Choose to listen. My mom always said, “Remember, there is a reason God gave us two ears and one mouth.  You need to listen twice as much as you talk.” Their responses might not always be what you want to hear, and that is ok.  Think positive and set little goals for yourself.  If it makes you cry every time you mention their name or speak of them, start slowly. Don’t be discouraged if others lash out in sadness or anger and don’t want to talk about it or listen to what you have to say. Remember, everyone grieves in their own way. Be understanding that they are hurting, but don’t give up on confronting and facing the issue.  I promise you though excruciatingly painful and difficult it might be, it will get easier. 

I can’t stress enough how important it is to open up channels to talk about the person you are grieving over.  Share funny memories.  I tried to share memories with the kids that summer as much as I could.  Bostyn and Baileys’ favorite one was of their dad taking care of them as they were babies.  With two babies there is double the spit up, double the diapers, and double the mess.  Emmett had laid both of them down in front of him one day while I was visiting, and made up his own little jingle about them.  He sang these words to his own melody, “A poopin and a fartin and a pucking and a poopin and a fartin and a pucking.”  As gross and lacking in creativity as it sounded, the girls loved it and thought it was hilarious.  Whatever might bring you joy, find ways to laugh again.  If the children are having a hard time, and struggling to find any semblance of hope in their lives, take a look at how you are living.  We as adults set the tone.  If we are positive, they will learn from our actions.  I promise you that the Lord never gives you anything that you can’t handle.  If you feel you are being tried too much at times in your lives, think about how much faith and love the Lord has in you to put you through your own refiner’s fire and melting pot.  It has made you the person you are today, and you should be proud of yourself. Be proud of who you are, and the challenging fight you have endured to become that person.