Painting Your Own Masterpiece

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Lauren & her dad

Lauren Seago, Gregory Seago.

Happy Father’s Day, Dad

Contributing Writer: Lauren Seago

Introduced to the crowd as the daughter of the late Gregory Seago, my hands grasped both sides of the podium and I started to cry in front of hundreds of people. In that moment, I looked up to not only see a gym full of people, but to embrace the feeling of grief that had overcome me. I wiped my cheeks and apologized to the crowd because this ‘life’s first moment’ for me was hard — really hard.

I have always heard the first anything is the scariest.

The first moment you step in a classroom full of new faces.

The first time you ride a bike without training wheels.

The first time you jump into a pool without someone to catch you.

Your first date.

Your first kiss.

Your first heartbreak.

I could tell you those ‘life’s first moments’ without your parent get easier over time, but that would be a lie.

My high school graduation was one of my ‘life’s first moments’ that my dad would not be attending. I stood with my graduating class and watched as families flooded through the doors. Moms, dads, grandparents, siblings all filed in to celebrate their soon-to-be graduate and indulge in a huge life moment.

I went on to finish my speech and left the podium to return to my seat. But before I did, I realized that, my life would continuously be filled with many more ‘life’s first moments’ that my dad would not be at. And not just in my life, but my siblings’ as well.

This thought of my dad missing my whole life was extremely overwhelming and discomforting. It was a painful confirmation that my dad was really gone.

There have been so many different ‘life’s first moments’ my dad has missed. From graduations to first days of college, move in days, first days of middle school — the first of everything and anything my dad had missed.

Moving throughout the years, Father’s Day has become like any other day for me. But I don’t avoid it or pretend like it is not there.

One of the biggest things I struggled with was the idea that people paint this canvas of grieving as this terrible ugly picture. Filled with blacks and greys, grieving is portrayed as an emotion that when expressed is a weakness.

See here’s the thing, there’s power in the process of grieving and painting your own grieving masterpiece. You have the opportunity to fill a canvas with mistakes, doubts, and fears, all crafted by your own hand.

Those feelings and emotions come to life when you reach one of ‘life’s first moments,’ or when you finally let lose the words you’ve buried, and it hurts. But it also starts to paint your road to recovery and your very own masterpiece. The colors may bleed together, it may be dark, it might be sad, and anger could radiate throughout, but the thing is, it is not like anyone else’s.

It is your own.

For the longest time, I believed the lie that crying is a weakness, that grieving is a weakness, expressing how I feel is a weakness. Now I know it is apart of my masterpiece.

 Painted and crafted in my own time.

As you celebrate Father’s Day or any of ‘life’s first moments,’ just remember crying, talking about past memories are all different pieces of your own masterpiece, and it will be okay.

Lauren Fathers Day Profile


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to Lauren Seago for contributing to this blog. More than a million people viewed Lauren’s post An Open Letter to Every Kid Who Has Lost a Parent. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @llaureneunice

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

Repeat.

Don’t-Get-on-the-Anniversary-Train-654x436

Honoring the past. Celebrating the present. Building the future. Repeat. Because Family Lives On, love lives on, the relationship never ends.

Read Christina Rasmussen’s beautiful post “Don’t Get on the Anniversary Train

That anniversary train was not fun.

It was all about the death day.

And not about the man I was in love with away from the hospital beds, the morphine and the pain.

It had nothing to do with honoring him.

Nothing at all.


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

All of Us

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I Have a Mother...

Photo credit: Bahareh Bisheh – My Chalky World

Through the engagement on social media, and the post on this blog that’s been read by more than 1 million of you, we’ve learned that not all the motherless and fatherless children who benefit from our program and awareness are younger than 18 years old.

Some who have lost a parent are in college, navigating the transition into true adulthood. We’ve heard from many in the early phases of careers, marriages, parenthood. Those of you are navigating what Kelly Corrigan calls The Middle Place of raising children and caregiving parents. Others are facing an empty nest, trying to figure out what’s next. Sadly, some have had additional losses compound their grief.

Despite our age, we remain motherless and fatherless children and we wonder if they are proud of us, let’s give them reason to be. Let’s heal ourselves, together, by helping others. 

  • If you are nearby, join us at the 12th “Race for Traditions“on April 3oth  – or create a team in honor of a mom or dad.
  • Run with us from a distance One Tough Mother Runner – a virtual race!
  • Simply make a donation of $10 for every child in YOUR household to support the collective children in our program.
  • Participate in the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC) #56164
  • Donate through United Way – #12502 

No child should grieve alone. 

Blink of an eye

 

Helping is healing. Family Lives On needs your help to continue. April is a month of renewal and a focus on raising the funds we need to support the children, teens and families in our program.

 

Shopping at 7-Eleven Got Me Through Losing My Father

Sarah Bridgins' Author Photo

Written by Sarah Bridgin. Originally appeared in BuzzFeed, reposted with the kind permission of BuzzFeed.

After my dad died, the junk food we’d shared when I was a kid comforted me in a way that nothing else could.

The last time I went to the 7-Eleven store near my apartment in Brooklyn, the cashier asked if I wanted to sign up for a rewards card. Needless to say, I did. He searched around for a few minutes without finding one, and eventually I said, “Don’t worry about it. I’m here, like, every day.”

He looked up from the drawer he was poking around in and said, “I know.”

I have lived in New York for more than a decade and don’t generally feel much nostalgia for my childhood in the suburbs of Washington, D.C. The one exception has always been 7-Eleven. When branches of the chain started popping up in the city several years ago, I was thrilled. The first one I went to was near my office in Union Square, to attend the grand opening “party” on my lunch break. If you have ever wondered what a 7-Eleven party involves, the answer is lots of balloons, a van parked in front of the store blaring dance music, and free turkey sandwich samples.

A few months later, I was elated when a sign appeared announcing that the shuttered car repair shop a couple of blocks from my apartment would be turning into a 7-Eleven, even though I knew that this potentially spelled doom for the locally owned “Eleven Seven” bodega across the street. (They have managed to co-exist so far, no thanks to me.)

Going to 7-Eleven was comforting, even though I rarely bought more than a Diet Coke. Sure, these particular stores were a little grimier than the ones I went to as a child, and the one near my office smelled overwhelmingly of pizza grease and freezer burn. But walking under the fluorescent lights, through aisles stocked with gummy slugs and waffle-flavored potato chips, was oddly soothing.

I’ve long had a habit of buying food as a way to deal with stress. When my mother and grandmother both died four years ago, I spent hundreds of dollars I didn’t have at Union Market, stocking my kitchen with pickled figs and cave-aged gouda that cost $25 a pound. I didn’t have the appetite to eat most of it, but knowing the food was there gave me some illusion of control over a life that was starting to feel terrifyingly unpredictable. I might have been burdened with the realization that I could drop dead at any time, but at least I knew it wouldn’t be the result of starving to death in my apartment.

I was already going to 7-Eleven with enough frequency that my dad gave me a gift card for it as a Christmas present two years ago. Then, three weeks later, he died of a heart attack.

My dad had been my best friend. He was the person I called when anything happened, good or bad, and his reaction, his sympathy or his pride, were what gave those events meaning. When he died, I wanted to die. Not in a way that I would have ever acted on, but in a way that made me want to dissolve into the atmosphere like a spray of dandelion fluff. I wanted to float away, separate, become nothing.

My father’s death also ushered in a new kind of food-related neurosis. I didn’t want to go to the grocery store, and I certainly didn’t want to cook. I didn’t want to consume anything that would require my body to expend more than the absolute minimum amount of energy breaking it down.

Every day was a struggle. I started taking pills to help me sleep. I had no appetite and ate whatever people gave me: a tin of mini brownies sent by my aunt, a giant roast chicken delivered by friends. After those things ran out, I didn’t know what to do. Enter 7-Eleven.

My diet has never been great. I cooked occasionally, mostly simple things like soups and chilis. After college, I briefly experimented with being a vegan. But I was never great at self-deprivation, and attempts at healthy eating were pretty half-hearted. Still, there were certain foods I generally considered off-limits: no full-calorie soda, no bags of gummy candy that I would inevitably finish in five minutes, no Bagel Bites and pizza rolls, and absolutely nothing corn-based, crunchy, and covered in cheese dust.

In many ways, what I was eating was the opposite of comfort food.

This all went out the window after my dad died. For the first time in 15 years, I bought chocolate frosted doughnuts (2 for $1) and bags of Cheetos. I bought cappuccinos from a machine and garnished them with the dehydrated mini marshmallows that you could shake out of a plastic jar, like a spice. I made sundaes with Häagen-Daz vanilla ice cream, Reddi-Whip, and Hershey’s syrup. For lunch I ate white cheddar Cheez-Its and for dinner I ate Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese, which I baked in the oven for too long until the perfect crust developed along the edges of the black plastic tray.

In many ways, what I was eating was the opposite of comfort food. Most of it was created in a lab, produced in a factory, and composed of chemicals; mass-marketed and impersonal. But the same qualities that made it seem bland and generic to some people were what made it so reassuring to me.

Now that both of my parents were gone, so was any concept I might have had of “home cooking.” I was an only child with no home to return to. And even if I tried to re-create recipes that my parents made, they would never taste exactly the same. I discovered that one of the only ways I had left of revisiting my past that wasn’t entirely, unbearably, painful was through the processed food that hadn’t changed since I was a kid.

Growing up, I ate a lot of junk. My parents split when I was a baby, and because of my mother’s struggles with mental illness and alcoholism, I spent most of my time with my father. He was a salesman for companies that manufactured restaurant equipment, and spent his days driving around the tri-state area selling pizza ovens and plastic patio furniture to local businesses. He was a wonderful cook when he had the energy, mostly making “man food” — anything that he could throw on our charcoal grill. More often, though, my father would be too exhausted from driving around all day to make anything that took more than a few minutes to assemble.

I had a palate as refined as any child’s, and was just as happy on those nights as I was when he made something more elaborate. Once a week we would have Stouffer’s macaroni and cheese with a side of Stouffer’s “escalloped apples” (which, if you’ve never had them, are essentially a plastic tray of pie filling). To mix things up, he would make Kraft macaroni and cheese and garnish it with slices of deli ham or Lit’l Smokies cocktail wieners. I was a big fan of the entire “Helper” line, including the much-maligned Tuna Helper. The fridge was always stocked with soda, the freezer was full of ice cream and frozen pizza, and the kitchen counter was covered with discount holiday candy or whatever pastries he’d picked up at the Entenmann’s factory outlet that week.

When my dad didn’t feel like making anything at all, which happened a few times a week, we would bring home fast food from one of the many restaurants near our house. Over the years I became something of a connoisseur. Wendy’s had great chocolate chip cookies and baked potatoes. For a while I got the hot ham and cheese at Arby’s, until I wised up and learned to skip the meat entirely in favor of a large order of curly fries and a Jamocha milkshake. All of the food at Popeye’s was amazing, but my favorite thing was the fried crawfish basket, which was only available a few times a year. For dessert there we would get a large banana pudding, which few people knew was on the menu and boasted a perfect Nilla wafer-to-pudding ratio. Red Lobster had the best Shirley Temples. Checkers had the best banana milkshakes.

7-Eleven was where we got banana Slurpees in the summer, and where he bought me last-minute stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Then there was 7-Eleven. That was where we stopped every Christmas morning, before driving to visit my grandparents in Philadelphia. It was where my dad went to get his coffee and newspaper on weekends. It was where he custom-mixed my favorite machine cappuccino (half French vanilla, half hot chocolate, snatching the cup out from under the stream of liquid right before it became nothing but hot water and diluted the whole thing) and got me a pack of Tastykake Butterscotch Krimpets to go with it. 7-Eleven was where we got banana Slurpees in the summer, and where he bought me last-minute stocking stuffers at Christmas.

Junk food was something we bonded over, and my father’s attitude toward feeding me reflected his parenting philosophy as a whole. As an essentially single parent working a full-time job, he didn’t have the energy to stress out about what I was eating, or most of the choices I made. He just wanted me to be happy, and trusted me to make my own decisions.

This did mean occasionally going a couple of days without eating anything green, or showing up to school in a princess costume he’d bought me for Halloween. But it also meant that when I told my father I wanted to move to New York at 17 and go to NYU, he helped me find a way to make it happen. When I graduated and used my expensive degree to pursue a low-paying career in publishing, he was supportive. A few years later, when I started publishing poems and essays in journals that had few readers and no money to pay me with, he couldn’t have been prouder. I never went through a rebellious phase when I was a teenager, because there was never anything to rebel against. We were a team.

So, in the months that followed my father’s death, I went to therapy, took trips to visit friends, and lived almost exclusively on corn syrup and salt. If eating a bunch of crap was going to make it a fraction of a percent easier to get through the day, that’s what I was going to do. It didn’t matter that this food was technically bad for me; it made me feel good in a way that went beyond a sugar-induced serotonin rush. It brought me back to a time in my life when I felt loved, safe, and taken care of.

It’s been almost two years since my father died. My appetite eventually came back, along with the 10 pounds I lost. My diet is more balanced now, probably because my body recognized on some molecular level that I would have died from malnutrition otherwise.

I still eat junk food whenever I’m craving it, which is often, but no longer all the time. There’s a perpetually full candy bowl on my coffee table that currently contains gummy worms, Reese’s cups, and some Cadbury Scream eggs I got for 70% off after Halloween. There are four flavors of ice cream in my freezer and Jiffy Pop and Cheetos in the cupboard.

Sometimes I end up eating this stuff, and sometimes it goes stale and gets replaced. But just having this food around reminds me of my dad and the house I grew up in. It does more than fill me up with empty calories. In its own way, it nourishes me.

Written by Sarah Bridgin. Originally appeared in BuzzFeed on January 5, 2016


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to BuzzFeed for the kind permission to repost this blog in it’s entirety. Read more writing by Sarah on Tumbler.

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

Tradition Tuesday – Jada

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After her father died, Jada and her mom had to leave their family home to move to a small apartment. They were no longer able to host the barbecues Jada remembers celebrating with “grillmaster” dad. Every year, Family Lives On provides Jada’s family the space and supplies they need to host an afternoon of grilling and fun with family and friends.

Thank you, Jada, for giving grief words. #givegriefwords


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

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Tradition Tuesday – Jillian

 

 

Jillian’s dad died in 2013. Trips to Disneyland were her favorite memories of time they spent together. They loved the rides, parades and especially the evening fireworks. The family will enjoy continuing this tradition and celebrating their memories. Check out the special shoes Jillian made for their trip this year- she is so excited!

2015 Disney shoes


Support the Tradition Program

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here.

To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

All She Wanted was to be a Good Mom

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Jenni and her mom

“All she wanted was to be was a good mom – J”


 

 


Family Lives On supports the lifelong emotional wellbeing of children and teens whose mother or father has died. Please donate to help us serve more families and increase the awareness of the impact of grief and trauma on a child. Honor the past. Celebrate the present. Build the future. #givegriefwords

Bindi Irwin – A Finger Trigger

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Performing a dance inspired by her most memorable year, Bindi Irwin and partner Derek Hough chose a contemporary dance set to a cover of the Police’s “Every Breath You Take.”

It would be so easy to assume that in the 9 years since her father died, Bindi is “over it” and has “moved on.” Look at her! She’s on TV, she’s dancing!

In this emotional tribute to her father, the cameras record a “grief burst” triggered by a small gesture of holding a finger. It’s simple actions, smells, sounds, sights and tastes that, often unexpectedly, re-ignite the grief of a child.

The feelings of grief, though painful, are natural. So are anger and joy. Allowing children and teens to feel the sadness is a part of healthy grieving. The challenge for adults is to let them feel it. Resist the well-intentioned desire to try to “fix them,” or help them “move on.” Support them. Companion them. Listen to them.

Sharing her life story, Bindi shows her father is forever a part of her, their relationship unending. Bindi moves forward.


Family Lives On supports the lifelong emotional wellbeing of children and teens whose mother or father has died. Please donate to help us serve more families and increase the awareness of the impact of grief and trauma on a child. Honor the past. Celebrate the present. Build the future. #givegriefwords

As Goes the Parent, So Goes the Child

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This is why Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional wellbeing of children and teens whose mother or father has died. The organization also offers education programs to raise awareness of the impact of grief and loss on a child. Honoring the past, celebrating the present and building the future.

“An important part of grief is finding ways to continue a relationship with the person who has died even though they are no longer fully present.  We have written quite a bit on continuing bonds with deceased loved ones and we believe this is an important part of grieving.

When talking about a deceased loved one is discouraged or avoided, the child is denied the opportunity to continue their bond with that loved one within the familial context.  They may find ways to continue their bond on their own, but given the fact that the child is young, you will always be an important source of memories and information about the person who has died.”

A remarkable post by the very talented writers at What’s Your Grief about the profound influence adults have on the ways in which children learn to cope with their grief.

Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them. - James Baldwin


Donate to support children and teens whose mother or father has died and raise awareness of the impact of grief and loss on a child. Honor the past. Celebrate the present. Build the future. #givegriefwords

An Open Letter to Every Kid Who Has Lost a Parent

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Originally posted by The Odyssey Online. Written by Lauren Seago

Written by Lauren Seago, reposted with her kind permission. Originally appeared on The Odyssey

A letter to tackle different aspects of losing a parent.

Dear Sweet Child,

First off, I just wanted to start by saying you are strong, even when it feels like the world is crumbling beneath your feet.

Secondly, I wanted to say how sorry I am for the loss of your parent in your most crucial years of needing love and words of encouragement. A piece of your world was stripped away from you, and that will never be replaced. Which I know personally, stings so deep.

As you continue to grow throughout your life, I wanted to address some aspects that I have learned on my own are not the easiest to conquer; that in most cases people do not understand.

1. It’s okay to cry, on the real: Forget those people who tell you crying is for the weak. You go ahead and cry; you probably need it.

2.Every holiday is like ripping a Band-Aid off over and over: Your family will laugh about memories from the past when everyone was all together. Reminiscing what your parent was like, their favorite desserts, or how they would laugh a certain way. With a smile plastered across your face, you’ll nod as family members tell you stories and you’ll think about what you would give to have them there with you.

3. Graduating, moving away to college, first date, first real job, any big event will cause a sting of pain: In the moment, you are so happy and excited as these new chapters open up. But later on, once alone, you think about how awesome it would be to have them carrying boxes into your dorm room, questioning your first date, looking out into the crowd at graduation, and seeing them with a camera recording you with a thumbs up. You’ll get chills as you think about how different life would be with them around.

4. You question everything and ask over and over why?: Whether it was a natural cause of death or some accident, you question everything you know and what you believe in (if you believe in anything). You will replay moments in your head questioning your actions asking what if? But if anything, the re-occuring question is why? An answer that is one to be continued.

5. You will be jealous of kids who have both their parents: You will see kids who have both parents and something inside you will stir; a sense of resentment. Because at one time; that was you and the world wasn’t perfect but it was lovely and everything you knew was great.

6. Watching your other parent heal is one of the hardest things you will ever watch: Though extremely challenging and frustrating at times, watching your parent cry to the point of exhaustion will be really hard, but the grieving process does get easier. So hang onto that small nugget of gold.

7. Family traditions will never be the same: Summers of camping and spending endless days on the water, baking rum cakes together, Saturday mornings spent watching cartoons just become a memory that you hold so close to your heart.

8. You become extremely protective of your siblings and whoever makes fun of them for losing a parent: No one messes with your squad but especially when someone brings up how you lost your parent; you go into protective mode. Just remember to breathe and walk in love. Kill ’em with kindness.

9. Heartbreaks hurt just as much, if not more: You will want that one parent to embrace you in their arms with snot running down your nose and tears streaming. You will just want to hear them say, You’ll be all right, kid. I love you and that’s all you need.”

10. The word “sorry” becomes numb to you: People don’t know your story and openly they don’t know what to do besides say sorry. After awhile, you smirk and softly whisper, “Thanks.” The word sorry no longer has meaning after you have heard it over a million times.

11. Pictures and old family videos are possibly one of God’s greatest gift to you: One day you will come across a tub filled with pictures, and as you sit on the basement floor looking through them, you’ll start to cry. Your mind will take you back to that exact moment and right there alone on the cold floor, you encounter a special moment of what life was like then.

12. Death will change you and your outlook on life: Seemingly the small stuff isn’t so bad anymore. You stop complaining and you really take a check of what is important in your life.

13. You wonder if they’re proud of you: When no one was looking and you did the right thing, or when you ace that test you studied so hard for. You stop to think I wonder

14. Hearing old stories from relatives and friends is a great thing: Shocked and trying not to laugh, you can’t believe what your uncle just told you about the one night they all snuck out and crashed a car. These stories will warm your heart, take the time to listen to them.

15. Lastly, you grow in ways you never thought possible: There will be moments where your whole family will be together and you’ll think to yourself how in a weird way everyone has a quirk of that parent. Then looking at your own heart, you realize how much you’ve grown.

As you continue to grow, just remember wherever you are in life, that parent is right there with you, cheering you on and flashing you thumbs up as you graduate throughout the stages of life.

All my love and tears,

A girl who lost her dad

Lauren E. Seago in 500 Words On on Aug 19, 2015

Authored by Lauren Seago

Author’s photo (Lauren Seago)


Be a pioneer in the fight against the debilitating trauma of childhood grief, DONATE to support children and teens whose mother or father has died.

Family Lives On is tremendously grateful to Lauren Seago for her kind permission to repost this blog in it’s entirety. Follow Lauren on Twitter at @llaureneunice

Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here. To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.