What You Can Say to a Bereaved Parent

I came across this article today, and it is a succinct and honest look at what you can say to someone who has lost a son or daughter.

http://www.today.com/parents/child-loss-what-you-should-should-not-say-parents-t30596?cid=sm_fbn

There is also one thing you may never say, “I know how you feel”.

This is the No. 1 phrase to avoid when consoling a grieving mom or dad.

“It’s not permitted to say that to a bereaved parent unless you are a bereaved parent,” Livingston said. “It betrays such a lack of understanding of what the bereaved parent is going through.”

People are sometimes tempted to list their own periods of grief — the death of their grandmother or a beloved family pet — as a way to sympathize, but those are not equivalent losses, he noted.

“To try to explain to people that this is the kind of loss that transforms you into a different person, that you will never be the same person you were before this happened, is almost impossible.”

This is the main thing. This type if grief is a transformative event. You will never be the same person. Your life will never be the same. Unless you have experienced it yourself, you cannot comprehend the magnitude of the loss, nor the irrevocable change one experiences.

Posted in Blog, Jake Colman, Kindness, Other Media, Support | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

The Memory Labyrinth

Labyrinth-1

We recently went north to attend a wedding in Sebastopol, near Santa Rosa in Northern California. On our way back home, we drove out to the Sonoma coast along the Russian River valley, a lovely 20 miles through rolling forested mountains. We arrived on the coast just south of Jenner around 3 PM. I wanted to photograph some of the breath-taking scenery, and T, who was driving, turned onto a small side road that led toward the ocean. After a couple of hundred yards, the road ended in a wide gravel area where we parked. A trail meandered a short distance out to the bluffs, about 100 feet above the whitecapped-sea.

bluffs

We walked through the rippling waves of dried grass, the wind howling off the ocean. I made some photos, bracing myself against the 30 mph winds. T started walking back to the car as I continued photographing the flowers and golden fields that linked the rolling coastal hills to the sea. I noticed her up ahead, walking back and forth through a field, looking down, stooping occasionally, as if she were picking flowers, but no flowers grew in the dry scruffy grass.

Labyrinth-4

I walked over to see what she was doing and discovered a most extraordinary thing, the Memory Labyrinth.

Labyrinth-5

She had been directed there by a couple she had seen wandering in the field, and the man had insisted, insisted, she go and look at it. He was right. Out there, nearly invisible unless you were right upon it, was a circle about 75 feet across with a sinuous path worn into the grass. From the entrance, the path led you in circles toward the center, back out to the edge, and finally into the very center. In the grass growing between the curves of the path, people had left a staggering collection of artifacts. Intensely personal things. Photographs, painted stones, jewelry, mirrors, shells, feathers, pebbles, sticks, beads, figurines, bottles, every kind of thing imaginable, all nestled down among the weeds. Many of them were clearly memorials, many were messages of hope, strength, peace, and love.

Here, the wind seemed a bit diminished but still powerful. What we noticed was that even though the grasses were rippling in the wind, it moved none of the objects. There was a carved and painted wooden coyote figure perched precariously on a rock, undisturbed. (The coyote is Jake’s spirit animal. When T was in the hospital giving birth, we had a little stone coyote figure that stood watch on her night table. I wore a silver coyote pin during her pregnancy and for years afterward.) Feathers did not move even though the stalks of grass right next to them did. It was if we had entered an energy vortex of some kind. A portal to another place. Time seemed to stop. We walked the path examining each tableau as if it held some special meaning, and each did. Perhaps not for us, but certainly for the person who created it. Many were cryptic, many spoke directly to us. One painted rock, with a six-pointed flower, said “Three Years Mom”. It has been nearly three years since Jake died.

Labyrinth-13

One said, “The bodies (sic) ability to heal is greater than you know”. One said, “Call Your Mother”. It was overwhelming. We made our way to the center, where an altar of sorts had formed with the accumulation of offerings. And it was clear this thing had been there for years. Someone had created it, and hundreds of people had found their way there and left fragments of their spirit.

Labyrinth-7

I stood there, wind whipping my clothes, desperately trying to think of something I could leave. I felt impelled, compelled, commanded to do so, but I didn’t have anything. Jake’s presence hovered over us as I frantically patted my pockets looking for something I could contribute. There weren’t any stones on the ground we could use. Nothing. T joined me at the center and said simply, “Leave your bracelet”. Several months ago, another grieving dad sent me a black neoprene bracelet embossed with “Grieving Dad – Love is Forever”. He got it from the Grieving Dads website, one of the blogs I follow. I peeled it off and laid it on a rock at the center of the altar. (between the spoon and the bottle filled with sand in the picture above).  So now a little piece of me, a piece of Jake, rests among the bits of other people’s lives along the wind-swept Sonoma coast. Who knows if some future visitor may see the black band, stoop to read it, and find an unlooked-for connection.

T went back to the car to get another lens I needed and brought some stones and a stick to make a little cairn at the entrance.

Labyrinth-14

We stood there, tears streaming down our faces, drying in the cold ocean wind. I glanced at my watch. More than an hour had slipped away while we were within the worn path of the labyrinth. It was as if we had been in another dimension, had traveled to another world. We returned to the car and headed south to visit friends who lost their son in a tragic accident, some years ago. As we drove down the coast, through Bodega Bay, and along Tomales Bay, Van Morrison came on the radio singing, Warm Love. The words “…and it’s ever present, everywhere/and it’s ever present everywhere/that warm love” repeated over and over as we wound our way along the inlet that separates Point Reyes from the mainland. Ever Present. Everywhere. That’s Jake.

It is impossible to describe the experience with words and pictures. They are a pale approximation of the power of what lay out in this unmarked field along the coast. If you didn’t know it was there, you would never find it unless some other traveler directed you. Once found, you will never forget it, nor how to get back.

Labyrinth-16

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Post Father’s Day Post

This past Sunday was Father’s Day, or as I now call it, Effing Father’s Day. The third without the son who made me a father. There was a time when I revelled in my fatherhood, had some epic times on Father’s Day courtesy of Jake’s immensely generous spirit and boundless imagination. We also had Boy’s Days throughout the years, times for him and me to hang together, play catch at the park, go to a ball game, launch rockets, golf, shoot pistols, have lunch, or just chill. Those days are long gone; there will be no more of them.

We recently returned from a trip north for a friend’s wedding – the daughter of one of my longest time friends, a girl we have known from before birth. The wedding took place on her mother’s ‘farmette’ a gorgeous property near Sebastopol. Lovely late afternoon ceremony by the pond, spectacular reception ‘on the lahwn’ with dining, dancing, speeches, music and general revelry. As expected, for us, it was a bittersweet time. Intermixed with the joy we felt for the bride and groom was the constant tug on our hearts from our son’s absence and the knowledge we would never dance at his wedding. As we sat at our table with old friends and some new faces, somehow the topic of ‘your passion’ came up. We went around the table with everyone describing their passions. As the discussion got nearer to me, I began to panic. What was my passion? Well, once it was my son and my family. Now …? Mercifully, we were interrupted by the speech from the bride’s father just as my neighbor finished her spiel.

I was never a person who knew what they wanted to do at an early age. I envy somewhat those who do know and pursue their goals with the single-minded purpose that has always eluded me. I have been and done many things throughout my life, but the moment Jake was born, I felt my purpose on Earth had been fulfilled. I finally had a passion to pursue. I did not have a close relationship with my father, and I vowed that I wouldn’t replicate that with my son.I would devote myself to forging the relationship with Jake I would have liked to have had with my dad. And I did. Jake and I had a marvelously close relationship. I rejoiced in Jake, watched him grow into a wonderful person, talented, imaginative, caring, brilliant, empathetic, funny, resourceful, creative, all the things one wishes for one’s child. I always said that Jake was the very best thing I ever did. Our family was strong and vital. Even though we went through the absolute worst of trying times together toward the end, we all knew we loved each other, no matter what.

Then one day nearly three years ago — poof. It all vanished in a puff of smoke.

I ask myself daily, “Now what?” I am struggling to regain a purpose of direction, a passion for anything. As I have remarked before, my emotion-o-meter is stuck on 4. (Until it plunges to negative 100 on occasion. That happens more infrequently than it has, but it still happens.)

T and I managed to extend our trip north into a mini-vacation. We originally planned a 3-week road trip all the way to Seattle and back but had to truncate that due to our cat Dudley’s illness and impending surgery. We stayed with a dear friend in Santa Rosa for the wedding festivities, then after 3 days drove south along the Sonoma Coast through San Francisco to Los Gatos to visit other dear friends who also lost their adult son to a tragic accident some years ago. We sat with them and talked about our loss, our progress, or in some cases our lack of progress. We continued down the California coast the following day driving the storied Route 1 through Carmel and Big Sur to Cambria, along some of the most breathtaking shoreline scenery anywhere. Stayed in Cambria overnight and spent my birthday by the ocean, wine tasting in Paso Robles and driving home. It was lovely but still lukewarm. There is always something missing, and I know what it is. The unspoken absence that we bring with us everywhere we go. There is no escape, no matter how beautiful the scenery, how good the wine is, nor how fresh the seafood. He is always with us.

We had one extraordinary experience which deserves its own post – the discovery of a Memory Labyrinth out in a field on the wind-swept Sonoma coast. Stay tuned for that.

So it’s back to the grind. The daily routine. 20 million things to do and sometimes all I can do is think about Jake and what might have been. All the might have been’s.

I find myself writing less and less, something I have to fight against. I hold it together mostly. I am also preparing for surgery of my own, I’m getting some new hips. That provides somewhat of a distraction from the day-to-day routine. And it is still Day. To. Day. One at a time, yet I plan for a limited future. At least three weeks into the future where I go under the knife. I guess that is progress of sorts, the admission that there will be a future. We are also tempted by the beauty of Sonoma County to chuck it all, cash in our chips and head north. Shake the dust of Los Angeles and all the memories that cling to this house and trade it in for a new life. We’ll see if we can manage that.

Well, not the most coherent of essays, I’ll grant that. But at least I did manage to put some words to paper, or photons. Perhaps it’s the beginning of a trend. That also remains to be seen.

 

 

Posted in Coping, Daily Ramblings, Friends and Family, Jake Colman, Memory, Progress, Sadness | 6 Comments

Help Dudley Survive Bone Cancer

Dudley

5 years ago, a little black cat showed up at our back door demanding to be adopted by us. We named her Lola and made her part of the family. A few months later, she had a litter of 4 kittens in our bedroom closet. We found homes for two of them and kept two of them, Fabio and Dudley. Dudley is the fluffy gray and white one.

From the beginning, Dudley had his own unique personality. He grew into a beautiful sweet cat. He is the mayor of our neighborhood and makes his rounds daily. Several neighbors have told us he hangs out in their yards, everyone loves him. Dudley is clever and dexterous. He figured out how to open our sliding screen door. He scoops food out of his dish with his paw. He often drinks water by dipping his paw in the bowl and licking it clean.

He was the favorite cat of our son, Jake. Jake passed away two years ago, so Dudley is even more special to us.

Last year, we noticed a limp, he was favoring his right front leg. Our vet thought it was tendonitis. He prescribed an anti-inflammatory and Dudley seemed to get better. His limp returned on and off over the past several months, we chalked it up to an injury he may have suffered during one of his neighborhood jaunts.

Six weeks ago, he was unable to put any weight on his leg, so we returned to the vet. X-rays and further tests revealed cancer in the top of the bone in his leg where it meets the shoulder. Cancer has eaten away at the bone causing it to fragment. The good news is that it hasn’t spread to the rest of his body, and the recommended treatment is amputation of his front leg.

Thus far, the diagnostic tests have cost more than $1,600, and the estimated cost of the surgery is $2,000. I have been unemployed for nearly 4 years and our financial resources are strained to the breaking point.

Please contribute what you can so Dudley can live. The prognosis for his survival after surgery is excellent. Cats are marvelously adaptive, and we expect Dudley will enjoy many more years as the three-legged mayor of our neighborhood.

Here is the link to our crowdfund campaign. Please share the link if you can to spread the word.

https://www.youcaring.com/ed-and-terry-colman-582547

Thank you for your kind-hearted generosity.

Ed and Terry

Posted in Honoring Jake, Jake Colman | 2 Comments

Lost in Space

It has been nearly two months since I visited these pages. For some reason, the imperative to write is strangely absent. I have had thoughts of writing about Passover, Mother’s Day, the onset of the summer with Father’s Day, a string of birthdays that we won’t celebrate, ideas have popped into my head, but I lack the will to actually sit and pound out the few hundred words necessary.

I came across this today and thought I would share it. This mother echoes much of what I have written, and for the record, it holds just as true for Fathers.

Mothers Are Not Supposed To Bury Their Children – By MaryBeth Cichocki

I have has a few dreams where Jake has visited, and a friend of his just had a visit from him in her dream last week. He is around. He is still with us. That will never change. But underneath it all, I guess what has kept me from writing anything coherent is that I miss him so terribly much, it is debilitating sometimes. No, all the time. It is the sometimes that I can overcome that disability and go on with the semblance of normality my life has become.

I expect this is another phase I am going through, and one day soon, I will pour eloquence onto the page as never before. We’ll see.

Posted in Blog, Daily Ramblings, Jake Colman, Other Media | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

Letting Go of the Dream

I had a session with M., a biofield healer, the other day. She was repairing my energy fields and at one point she said, “You have to let go of your dreams.” I didn’t ask her in what context she meant that but the statement struck me like a thunderbolt.

We all have dreams. I’m not talking about those wild roller coaster movies we have when we are sleeping, but the things we dream about having or doing. We have dream houses, dream cars, dream vacations, dream jobs, dream relationships; our lives are fueled in part by our dreams. We strive to make those dreams come true.

When I became a parent, many of my dreams centered on my son, my family, our future. We used to “dream build” together. We’d put pictures of houses we liked, pictures of beautiful private planes, boats, places we wanted to visit, up on the refrigerator. We’d talk about how we wanted our lives to unfold, the family compound we’d build on Kauai, traveling the world together in our jet, the success Jake would have as a photographer, an inventor, a chemist, a chef, the things he pursued with such passion at various times throughout his life. At one time, those dreams seemed within reach. We had no doubt we could make them come true.

During the last few years of his life, my dreams became simpler. I just wanted him to survive, to emerge whole and unscathed from the turmoil his life had become, to uncover the root of his discontent and exorcise it once and for all. We still harbored those other, more grandiose dreams, but they were shoved to the back of my mind as we fought for his spirit and soul.

Then came that dreadful December 28 and all the dreams vanished like smoke in a hurricane.

When M. said I had to let go of my dreams, I realized that in some ways I still cling to how I thought my life would be, the ‘before’. I know that life is over, but there is a part of me that won’t let go. I have to let go of all those past dreams, the remnants of my prior life – the life that exploded on the day Jake died. It simply doesn’t exist. He took all of our dreams with him. I have to face my new life with a new outlook. No longer a dreamer, I have to take each day one at a time. It is easy to say, much more difficult to do.

So how do we do that? How do we let go? I don’t have the magic answer yet, may never have it. We get on with our lives, making it up as we go along; I don’t have a clear picture of my future. We grind through the days, getting from morning to night, but we no longer talk of how our lives will be, no more dream building. That family compound in Kauai is just a chimera now. The shadow of a life from long ago.

More than two years into this new life, I am living the life of the ‘after’. Outwardly, it seems fairly normal, but on the inside, it bears scant resemblance to that old life, the life of ‘before’, a life lost forever – now just the figment of a dream.

Some days we talk of selling everything, buying a little camper van and hitting the road. Shedding our old existence like dead skin. Divesting ourselves of the material things that anchor us to this place, to our past life, making the disconnect total. But the thing is, we will always take a part of Jake with us. He will accompany us wherever we go, and that is as it should be. He lives in those dreams, the remnants of the past. That is why it is so difficult to let them go once and for all. It is as if I would have to let him go too, and I cannot do that.

It is a delicate balancing act, holding on to his spirit, yet letting go of the dreams we once inhabited. We inch along a tight wire stretched across the chasm of memory. Don’t look down, keep moving, eyes fixed on the distant other side. Some days we make progress, and it seems a bit closer. Some days it seems as if we will never get there, wherever ‘there’ is. Some days it’s all we can do to keep from falling.

 

 

Posted in Coping, Dreams, Healing, Jake Colman, Progress | Tagged , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A Little Bit of Light

There is a light that burns in every Jewish synagogue, the Ner Tamid.

In Judaism, the sanctuary lamp is known by its Hebrew name, ner tamid (Hebrewנֵר תָּמִיד), which is usually translated as “eternal flame” or “eternal light”. Hanging or standing in front of the ark in every Jewish synagogue, it is meant to represent the menorah of the Temple in Jerusalem as well as the continuously burning fire on the altar of burnt offerings in front of the Temple.[2] It also symbolizes God’s eternal presence and is therefore never extinguished. It is also intended to draw parallels between God and fire, or light, which is emphasized throughout the book of Exodus in the Torah. Additionally, it is often used to symbolize the light released from the shards of the receptacles that God used to create light and goodness. ~Wikipedia

Ever since Jake died, we keep a candle burning on our kitchen window sill for him. Nothing fancy, we get the 3-day candles from the 99¢ store; there is a box of them on the floor of our living room behind the little Dansk day bed. Sometimes we miss lighting a new one in time and it burns out overnight. When I come in to the kitchen in the morning, I get a jolt seeing the tall empty glass with the bit of wax residue and the square of metal that held the wick on the bottom. I hasten to retrieve a new one and light it right away, even before I put up the water for my morning tea. I expect we will maintain our own ‘eternal light’ for the rest of our lives.

We keep it burning for reasons of our own, there is no custom or ritual in Judaism that prescribes it.

When Jake was younger, he fell in love with candle making. It started on an elementary school trip, they made sand cast candles on the beach. He was always fascinated with process and making things, and true to form he threw himself into this new art form. He graduated from sand candles to pouring elaborate candles in a variety of shapes and colors. We made the trek out to General Wax in North Hollywood many times to procure huge slabs of various waxes, molds, wicks, colors, sparkles, pots, tools, all the accoutrements of the trade. He even had a little business selling votive candles to local restaurants. He began by making them himself, but the orders got so voluminous, and the process so laborious, that he soon figured out to just take the orders and have the votives drop shipped from General Wax right to his customers. All he had to do was make the call and pick up the check. As he got older, the candle business fell by the wayside as did his candle making hobby. We eventually sold all the gear as he had moved on to bigger and more incendiary pursuits. Like welding. But I digress.

The ever-burning candle reminds me of that eager little boy asking the managers of the restaurants we dined in, “Would you buy candles from me?” Reminds me of his making decorative candles and selling them, buying cases of round candles, tall candles, fluted candles, tea lights, votives, oil candles, and finally electric LED candles. (We still have boxes of candles in the garage.) Reminds me of the young man who led candle making for the kids in our synagogue every Hanukkah, the festival of light. He was definitely into light and fire. I smile every time I think of it

Jake had a million candle-power personality. He could light up a room with a smile. He brought so much light to the ones he loved and loved him. He sparkled with enthusiasm, with knowledge, with care, with humor, with friendship, with wit, with thought, with the sheer joy of life. Our little candle is but a shard, a pale glimmer of the light that Jake took with him when he left this world. By keeping that tiny flame burning, it brings a little more light into the world in his honor.

Our candle serves as a beacon for his spirit, a light to guide his way home when he comes to visit. In the same way, it is a beacon for my spirit, an eternal connection to the possibility of his return. Not that I expect him to knock at the door, I gave up hope for that long ago. But I know he does come to us periodically. He comes to me in dreams. Sometimes so vividly, I know it is a visit from him. Sometimes his presence is vague and ill-defined, but he is there. Sometimes I can sense him during the day: a sound, a smell, a song on the radio. He is here. He is wherever we are.

We tend that eternal light with the same love and care that we tended him during his life.It is a token of our undying love for him. A symbol to the world that we can never let him go completely. That he dwells in our hearts and soul for as long as we live. That our love never wavers, never goes out, and that love illuminates our lives and the tiny corner of the world in which we live.

Shine on, Jakey Jake. We’ll leave the porch light on for you.

 

Posted in Honoring Jake, Jake Colman, Jake's Spirit, Memory, Visions | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments