Wednesday, August 31, 2011

School Days -- Reminding Teachers About A Loss

School days are here again and the usual anxieties are filling children's heads: a new year of learning, a new teacher, new friends or a new school.  Along with thoughts about wearing the right clothes, hanging out with the cool crowd, comes an additional layer of concerns for those children who are still dealing with a death in the family or perhaps one that may have occurred during the summer.

This school year also brings the commemoration of the tenth anniversary of 9/11 and reminders of this event are all around us: television specials, national ceremonies and the opening of new memorials.  Children and teens are particularly aware of the events of that tragic day and may want to talk about what they remember happening on that day and what it means to them now.  In ten years, their perspective on what happened may have changed in a way they didn't expect.

The following timely article was recently posted on Hello Grief (, a website full of insightful information and other resources for children and adults dealing with grief and loss.  I thought  this article revealed a very important point of view that should be shared:

Reminding Teachers About A Loss
By Hello Grief

As summer winds down, many families are preparing for the annual pilgrimage that is "Back to School" time.  Some children and teens are excited for the new school year, some are nervous, and some are just unhappy to see their days of sleeping late come to an end.  Regardless of where your kids fall on this spectrum, there are some additional things to take into consideration if they have had a loss.

Many physicians, counselors, and friends will encourage a parent or guardian to speak with school personnel immediately following a death in the family.  Taking time to do so can help teachers and administrators to understand the challenges your child may be facing upon their return to school, and help them to know when to reach out to the family.  Teachers who are aware of a loss are more likely to be sensitive to a student's feelings around partcular holidays, such as Mother's Day or Father's Day, and help to present alternate activities when needed.

But what if the loss was not recent?  What if the loss occurred 4, 5, even 10 years ago?  Children and teens continue to move through their own grief with each passing year.  Something a parent or guardian can do to support this process is to meet with teachers and school administrators before the beginning of each school year.  We may assume that the information about a child's loss will be shared with new teachers, but this is often not the case.  A new school year is hectic for teachers, just as it is for families, and all too often, this important information can be lost in the shuffle.  As class sizes grow, school districts change, and new teachers are hired, it is important for each parent or guardian to act as an advocate for their child.

As each year passes, children and teens will develop new understandings of their loss, and new realizations of how it impacts them.  A child taking their first algebra class may feel pangs of regret that they never took up Dad's off to coach them on their math skills.  A teen entering high school may realize for the first time that their big sister will not be there on the first day to help them find their locker.  Things that cause mild anxiety for some students may manifest as hugh stressors for a child or teen who has suffered a loss.  Making teachers and administrators aware of these losses can go a long way in making sure these grieving students are supported during their school year.

If it isn't possible to meet personally with your child or teen's teachers, it can still be beneficial to share this information through a simple email or a letter.  Even sharing the basics, such as who died, when the loss happened, and how your child or teen does/does not like to discuss it can be valuable information to a teacher.  No matter how you share the information, it will offer an opportunity for teachers to better understand your child, and to be mindful of the loss during the school year.

Most teachers and school administrators would prefer to know about any special challenges a student has, and grief can certainly be counted as such.  Taking the time to be an advocate for your child or teen can help to set them up for a successful school year, every school year.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

The Wise Buddha

Health is the greatest gift, contentment the greatest wealth, faithfulness the best relationship -- Buddha

Friday, August 26, 2011


In her best-selling book Simple Abundance, author Sarah Ban Breathnach recommends spending a few minutes each morning and evening listing five things for which you are grateful.  Once a day is good enough for me but at the end of a particularly great or horrendous day you might want to think again about some of the unexpected things that happened to you.

Focusing on the positive aspects of life is what's it's all about.  After a week that started with me taking my son back to college for his senior year in New York City, then an unprecedented 5.8 earthquake in Washington, DC and now the arrival of Hurricane Irene this weekend, I find that I am immediately grateful for many things because I am just trying to go with life's flow of events and remain calm about whatever the future brings.

Here's today's list:

1. Good Health -- a great gift

2. My son -- a very special gift

3.  My job -- an essential gift

4.  My house -- a basic gift

5.  My friends & family -- an emotional gift

What's on your list?

Thursday, August 18, 2011


Resilience is the capacity to bounce back from change, failure or trauma.  Some people are lucky enough to be born with tons of relience and others of us constantly work on it.

If you are looking for insight into the boundaries of resilience, then please read, "Unbroken," by Laura Hillenbrand.  You may remember Laura Hillenbrand for the exceptional research and writing she gave us in her first book, "Seabiscuit."  Hillenbrand's new book, "Unbroken," is the compelling story of Louis Zamperini, a talented and ferociously competitive runner who participated in the Berlin Olympics and is a World War II hero.  He is still alive and kickin' at 94 years young.

I have always been fascinated by the way people handle traumatic or stressful situations because their reaction to it can be revealing.  You may see a side of that person that you haven't seen before and might not want to see again.  But then again you might see a side of someone that helped you through a bad time and you always want to be around that again.  Why is it then, or maybe what is it, in a person's DNA that sends them a signal telling them to maintain their cool while others loose it?  What is it in another person's DNA that jumpstarts a meltdown when they are asked to take on the smallest responsibility?  How does a person keep it together when their circumstances are totally against them?

In "Unbroken," you'll discover that Louis Zamperini is the essence of resilience.

Without giving away anything in the book, Zamperini's Army Air Force bomber crashes and sinks into the Pacific Ocean in May 1943.  This is the beginning of his nightmare and also the beginning of the reader's journey into Zamperini's endurance of thirst, starvation and mental and physical torture.  Here is a glimpse of Laura Hillenbrand's beautiful writing and insight into Zamperini's resolve:

"Few societies treasured dignity, and feared humiliation, as did the Japanese, for whom a loss of honor could merit suicide.  This is likely one of the reasons why Japanese soldiers in World War II debased their prisoners with such zeal, seeking to take from them that which was most painful and destructive to lose.  On Kwajalein, Louie and Phil learned a dark truth known to the doomed in Hitler's death camps, the slaves of the American South, and a hundred other generations of betrayed people.  Dignity is essential to human life as water, food and oxygen.  The stubborn retention of it, even in the face of extreme physical hardship, can hold a man's soul in his body long past the point at which the body should have surrenered to it.  The loss of it can carry a man off as surely as thirst, hunger, exposure, and asphyxiation, and with greater cruelty.  In places like Kwajalein, degradation could be as lethal as a bullet."

Rather than seeing himself as a victim of his circumstances, Louie dug way down deep into himself and found reserves of emotional and mental relience that he must have never known that he had to survive the brutal conditions he was forced to live in.  His journey is truly inspirational.

I salute you, Louie.  You taught me that you have to stay in the game and you can't give up.

Friday, August 12, 2011

The Beach Is The Best

Photo By Emily Noonan

My son and I vacation at Bethany Beach, the same beach we have been enjoying since he was a toddler.  It's also the same beach where I vacationed as a child.  This conjures up all sorts of memories for both of us and it gives my son a sense of stability.  We can't imagine going anywhere else. 

The first time we vacationed in Bethany after my husband's death, it was jarring, but we stayed positive and survived.  I had some meltdowns but they were in private.  More importantly, keeping up the vacation tradition gave us confidence to know that we could go to a special place on our own and then get on the other side of the experience and be okay.  It wasn't the way it used to be, but it wasn't as bad as we thought it would be either.

The beach is also a time to catch up with old friends because we always plan to be at the beach when our friends and their children are also vacationing.  Of course we see our friends when we're home but there are less distractions at the beach and conversations are uninterrupted.  All of the children are mostly around my son's age and they all have a great time when they are together.  The group of us have been vacationing in Bethany for so many years it's hard to count.  Everybody gives each other a lot of room so it's not as though we always do everything as a group and it is definitely understood that people are on vacation time.

We love Bethany Beach and tend to do the same things each year.  We just can't resist that magical formula of sun, sand and salt water that continuously mixes together and becomes some kind of relaxation elixir.  There is something heavenly about sitting in your beach chair (under the umbrella, of course) reading a book, listening to the waves hit the beach over and over that is relaxing, refreshing and soothing to the soul.

Photo By Emily Noonan
All of us like to do the same things so it works out very well.  Basically, we hang out on the beach all day (even if it's overcast), read books (trashy and brainy), eat vacation food (think french fries, steamed crabs, pizza, steak and cheese and ice cream), go to Funland (Paratrooper, The Sea Dragon), play putt-putt (Golf Down Under, Lost Treasure) and shop (anywhere within walking distance).  These activities never get boring to us because we don't do a lot of them when we're home.
Photo By Emily Noonan
This year a new restaurant opened called Matt's Fish Camp.  It's located in an old steak and cheese carry-out place near Indian River Inlet.  It doesn't look like the old place at all which was a typical beach carryout place where most of your customers drive up in bathing suits or carry fishing poles and order food that's really great for elevating your blood pressure and raising your cholesterol levels.

We all tried it for lunch and dinner and loved it!  The new place is very nice, has great service and really tasty food.  The decor is simple with tables, booths, white walls and simple ocean photographs.  Plus the prices are reasonable which is a big help in these tight economic times. 

Photo By About My Beaches
But all of this talk about Matt's cracked me up because I think of the old place where Matt's is now located as an inside joke between my husband and I which was known as "white cheese, yellow cheese."  Everytime my husband and I would drive by it, the first one who would see it would say, "white cheese, yellow cheese."  This quirky phrase came about because one afternoon we drove up for steak and cheese subs.  When my turn came, I gave my order to a young girl chewing a big wad of gum behind the counter.  Without missing a beat she said, "Do ya want white cheese or yellah cheese?"  I started laughing and said, "What do you mean?"  With a straight face, she repeated, "Whadda you whant white cheese or yellah cheese on your sub?"

I thought about it for a minute and said "Do you mean Provolone or American cheese?  Then she looked at me and made a weird face.  "No, I mean do ya want white cheese or yellah cheese?"  This is probably one of the reasons I stopped eating steak and cheese subs shortly after this episode.  I decided to answer her in her language and said, "Two with white cheese, please."

Later when my husband was eating his sub, I asked him if he liked his sub with white cheese.  "What are you talking about?  he asked.  I told him about the counter girl inside and he laughed for a really long time.  This "white cheese, yellow cheese" phrase became part of our beach code, one of those unspoken things that you just say to each other and you both get it right away. 

Photo By Emily Noonan
This is not to take anything away from Matt's.  It's definitely a great place and we would recommend it.  This story is more to explain that this summer we discovered a truth which is that places change and people leave us but through it all we find continuity in life's experiences and the sweet memories of those special times.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Laughing Matters

Friends Can Be Life Savers

The most wasted of all days is one without laughter -- e.e. cummings

A few months ago on a Sunday afternoon, one of my friends and I met up for lunch at a neighborhood place that is casual and comfortable or as we say, the restaurant was "cheap and cheerful.".  We both can be major league talkers but we both also understand the importance of listening so it's not as though we are always talking over each other.  A lot of serious things were happening to both of us and we needed to commiserate.

The neighborhood deli we picked has good basic salads and sandwiches and by meeting there on a Sunday, we thought it would be quiet place to hang out and talk.  Our food had been picked up and we found a table that was out of the way.  We had arrived for a major talkfest and couldn't wait to get started.

We were primed for discussion and instantly started talking about parenting issues, her husband, my lack of one, politics, our volunteer work and other things in our lives that we are passionate about.  I liken this kind of talking to something close to a mental exercise where you take a problem apart, analyze it and then try to find a solution to it.  It's somewhat similiar to untangling a piece of string.  You constantly examine the problem because you need to continuously look at it from different angles before you can figure out how to get the knot undone.

We were yakking away and eating.  At some point, we had noticed that another woman had come in by herself and was eating her lunch a few tables away.  She seemed oblivious to us and was reading a book while eating her sandwich.  I can't even remember what we were talking about but suddenly the woman burped REALLY LOUD. 

Okay, no one burps like that woman burped in public; especially in a small place where everyone knows who the burpee is.  This was like a guy's burp; really deep and loud.  It could have been an accident but who cares.  My friend and I stopped talking and stared at each other.  It was almost as though we weren't sure we had both heard what we know we heard.  We looked over at the woman to see if she was going to excuse herself or at least say something.  She kept reading her book as though nothing happened.  It was as though she was at home and no one else existed.

And then she burped REALLY LOUD again.

This time we started laughing so hard we couldn't even talk.  Every time we looked over at her we started laughing again because she didn't care, wasn't embarrassed and was perfectly happy to keep on burping.  I think it was the combination of this woman's lack of concern mixed with the fact that we knew we shouldn't laugh at her but that made us laugh even more.  I swear we couldn't eat or finish a sentence for a good 10 minutes.  It reminded me of when you see something funny in church and you want to laugh but you know you shouldn't and that makes whatever happened even funnier.

Everyone should have a friend that shares the same sense of humor because laughing together lightens your outlook on life and gives you a reason to believe that things will actually be okay.  I find that the more I think about all the problems I have as a single parent, the more stressed out I get.  Spending time with a trusted friend, sharing your innermost fears, your sadness over the loss of a loved one or bitterness about a work problem is priceless. 

Friendship is a wonderful gift.  Having good friends takes the sting out of the bad times and gives more sparkle to the good times.  Laughing and enjoying yourself doesn't mean we have forgotten the loved ones we have lost.  It just means that our broken hearts are beginning to mend.