Holiday Traditions — Let It Snow!


Re-Posted from The Huffington Post Blog

By Ronda Lee

My dad and grandparents are no longer with us. Now, more than ever, I try to keep holiday traditions going. My granny would bake and you could smell it blocks away. She was old school — sifting flour, everything by hand. Granny would make a separate “tea cake” just for me, plain Jane. The smell of real butter baking in a cake takes me to a happy place and revives the kid in me.

Christmas time meant a snowball fight with the first snow was always in order. We would rush home after school and start making our stash of snowballs to give us a head start over Dad. Even in college and later in law school, I would miss a day of classes on the first big snow. My nephews were born while I was in college, so I told them we had to be prepared to get my dad as soon as he got out the car then run into the house. It was our only chance for victory. We felt like war strategists, finding places to bunker and hide our snowballs. Dad arrived home and we commenced throwing wildly, but without precision. Danger!

He found a stash of our snowballs. I yelled, “Retreat!” We ran inside the house where we assumed we were safe, like Switzerland.

However, I forgot that Dad was a sore loser and defeat was not part of his vocabulary. He wanted to pummel us. We took off our coats and boots and sat comfortably at the kitchen table with hot chocolate musing over how we got him. At the time, my nephews were still preschoolers. All of a sudden, the basement door bursts open and out comes Dad snowballs in hand. He pelted each of us in the kitchen. Mom was not happy. We lost and had to clean up the wet mess in the kitchen.

I said, “Dad it is the kitchen — safe zone!” He replied that he did not know retreat.

It is a story that is told each year so that even now, my youngest nephew, born after my father’s death knows about snowball fights with grandpa. Since he cannot ambush Grandpa, he likes to ambush his older cousins. One winter, he anxiously waited for snow.

When it finally snowed, he giggled, “Auntie we’re going to get the boys with snowballs.” It is fun, but I have yet to claim victory. The older nephews are athletes and their aim is just as good as my Dad’s.

The only thing I have going for me is that I am Auntie – an adult – and they cannot violate Switzerland (the kitchen)!

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Share your special holiday traditions with us!!! Comment below or email your traditions to Family Lives On’s webmaster. We would love to create a blog post around your holiday traditions!


Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page or follow us @familyliveson Twitter Account or @familyliveson Instagram. To check out our 30-second PSA click here: The Family Lives On PB & J PSA.

Family Lives On’s Tradition Program is a free (to the family enrolled), direct service for children that supports their bereavement process. The program takes place within the child’s daily family life, helping children continue the traditions they celebrated with their deceased parent.



Grief doesn’t magically end at a certain point after a loved one’s death. Reminders often bring back the pain of loss. Here’s help coping — and healing.

Re-Posted from Mayo-Clinic In-Depth

By Mayo Clinic Staff

When a loved one dies, you might be faced with grief over your loss again and again — sometimes even years later. Feelings of grief might return on the anniversary of your loved one’s death, birthday or other special days throughout the year.

These feelings, sometimes called an anniversary reaction, aren’t necessarily a setback in the grieving process. They’re a reflection that your loved one’s life was important to you.

To continue on the path toward healing, know what to expect — and how to cope with reminders of your loss.

Reminders Can Be Anywhere:

Certain reminders of your loved one might be inevitable, especially on holidays, birthdays, anniversaries and other special days that follow your loved one’s death.

Reminders aren’t just tied to the calendar, though. They can be tied to sights, sounds and smells — and they can ambush you. You might suddenly be flooded with emotions when you drive by the restaurant your partner loved or when you hear your child’s favorite song. Even memorial celebrations for others can trigger the pain of your own loss.

What to Expect When Grief Returns:

Anniversary reactions can last for days at a time or — in more extreme cases — much longer. During an anniversary reaction you might experience:

Trouble sleeping

Anniversary reactions can also evoke powerful memories of the feelings and events surrounding your loved one’s death. For example, you might remember in great detail where you were and what you were doing when your loved one died.

Tips to Cope with Reawakened Grief:

Even years after a loss, you might continue to feel sadness when you’re confronted with reminders of your loved one’s death. As you continue healing, take steps to cope with reminders of your loss. For example:

Be prepared. Anniversary reactions are normal. Knowing that you’re likely to experience anniversary reactions can help you understand them and even turn them into opportunities for healing.
Plan a distraction. Schedule a gathering or a visit with friends or loved ones during times when you’re likely to feel alone or be reminded of your loved one’s death.

Reminisce about your relationship. Focus on the good things about your relationship with your loved one and the time you had together, rather than the loss. Write a letter to your loved one or a note about some of your good memories. You can add to this note anytime.

Start a new tradition. Make a donation to a charitable organization in your loved one’s name on birthdays or holidays, or plant a tree in honor of your loved one.

Connect with others. Draw friends and loved ones close to you, including people who were special to your loved one. Find someone who’ll encourage you to talk about your loss. Stay connected to your usual support systems, such as spiritual leaders and social groups. Consider joining a bereavement support group.

Allow yourself to feel a range of emotions. It’s OK to be sad and feel a sense of loss, but also allow yourself to experience joy and happiness. As you celebrate special times, you might find yourself both laughing and crying.

When Grief Becomes Overly Intense:

There’s no time limit for grief, and anniversary reactions can leave you reeling. Still, the intensity of grief tends to lessen with time.

If your grief gets worse over time instead of better or interferes with your ability to function in daily life, consult a grief counselor or other mental health provider. Unresolved or complicated grief can lead to depression and other mental health problems. With professional help, however, you can re-establish a sense of control and direction in your life — and return to the path toward healing.


Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page or follow us @familyliveson Twitter Account or @familyliveson Instagram. To check out our 30-second PSA click here: The Family Lives On PB & J PSA.

Holiday Grieving: How to Best Support the Mourning This Time of Year

Spiced-Gingerbread-Man-Cookies-4-1Re-Posted from Huffington Post Blog

by Dr. Cara Barker 

The table is set. One chair is empty. Meanwhile, the rest of the world goes merrily on its way, as if nothing whatsoever has happened. Traditional songs are sung, festivities held, presents purchased, speculations made about whether the economy is “back.” But there is one group of people too-oft overlooked, not out of indifference, but really out of confusion. What do you do when someone you love is grieving, especially this time of year? Do you really know how to best support those who mourn during the holidays?

Intially, it is tough for those suffering profound loss to find their footing, much less connect with the hustle and bustle of what comes this time of year. Too often, those of us who are aware of the bereaved get tangled up in our efforts to help, feeling incredibly awkward. What follows is a simple guide that can boost your confidence, and their sense of being understood, and loved.

Bridge Building. Keep it simple. The real issue beneath loss is that love needs an outlet and a means of contact. When someone dies, physical connection seems broken. Love’s flow gets interupted. Now, you know what happens when a river gets obstructed: cess, turbulence, and disturbance. Holding back your compassion, for fear of “blowing it,” only makes matters worse. The bereaved are not looking for perfect. They are longing to re-establish connection with what heals their heart. Be this bridge.

What if you simply shared how grateful you are that your loved one is in your life? If you knew the person/s they lost, you could add a brief statement about your appreciation for them, as well. It helps to get specific. What we are “going for” here, is a means of bridge building across the chasm they are feeling, which tends to estrange them from life and living. They are where they are. This will shift, over time, if they are willing to take their time, be real, take themselves seriously, and open to growing forward through what’s happened. But, that is then and this is now. At this time, connection is what’s needed.

Let’s get real. It might surprise you to know, increasingly, what the grieving are finding annoying is the statement: ‘I’m so sorry for your loss.’ Believe me, privately, they tell me.

Listen in, and I’ll share some quotes: “Gretta”: This 47 year Old Dutch widow, who lost her husband four weeks ago, whispers the following:

I know that my friends are trying to be nice. But if I hear that statement one more time (“I’m so sorry for your loss.”) I’m going to scream. I know they don’t know what to say, so they are trying. I wish they wouldn’t try so hard and just be real. I have no idea how to be with myself, especially now with the holidays. I feel really isolated.

“Harvey”: Following a 4 year marriage to his “dream girl,” Helen is killed in an accident two weeks ago. Says he:

I have no idea what to do or where to go this year. I’m alone. Really alone. It’s too quiet. I like the quiet, and I don’t like it. People look at me with pity. I’m uncomfortable at work, although I know people feel for me. But, no one really says anything. I feel like a leper. The subject of the holidays is up and, maybe I’m paranoid or something, but they seem to start to nearly whisper when the subject of plans comes up. I’m afraid they must be worried and not know what to do.

“Martin”: Martin and his wife lost their 4 year old to leukemia in August.

I’m having such a hard time going to work. I can’t even imagine making it through the holidays. Halloween was the pits. Annie was so happy last year, trick-or-treating in her Dora costume. I’m a mess. I never know when ‘the wave’ will hit, and I’m reduced to tears, when I least expect. How in the h—- am I going to get through Christmas? We just love Christmas, always went to our cabin in the mountains. Nobody gets it, either. They try, but they don’t. I need a playbook. So do they.

Playbook for Supporting Those Who Mourn During the Holidays: 8 Practical Tips

Let them grieve. No kidding. Do not underestimate what I call the Power of the Listening Heart.
Make contact statements that are true for you.

Example: “I’ve been thinking about you. I don’t know what to say. I can imagine that the holidays are pretty charged this year.”

Now, just listen.

Your job is neither to be the fix-it person, nor be clever. Lay down that burden. Just be you. When you are fumbling for what to do, say it! e.g. ‘I’m fumbling for what to say. I wish I were good with words.’

Listen to your instinct. Trust it. When the time seems right, say something like:

“I find myself wondering if there is something I can do for you during this time? An errand to run? A time to share a cup of coffee? Maybe we can just be together, without agenda? A walk through the park, or in nature, where we are away from the entire hustle bustle? I’m open to what seems right.”

Offer some form of acknowledgment to them. How can you share something that represents how grateful you are for being in their life? Keep it simple. Perhaps you could do one of the following:
a) Compose a little love note that let’s them know their qualities that you are especially fond of, and give you cause for appreciation for your relationship.

b) Collect some autumn leaves, tie some ribbon/raffia around them, and offer them as a token of your love. If you have the energy: put the aforementioned around a votif candle in a glass holder, and offer it as an ‘I’m thinking about you, especially now.” You won’t find this token at the Mall, nor on Cyberspace.

c) Find a picture in a magazine that reminds you of some memory or dream for the future you share. Mount it on paper, say a few words, and drop it by, or send it.

d) Share a cup of hot cocoa. Feel good remedies are winners.

When you think of this person, call them! Even if you have only a few moments, that’s O.K… You can even say:

“I’ve only got a moment, but I was thinking about you just now and wanted you to know I’m here.”
Evenings can be especially tough since the noise of the day subsides. It’s a great time for check in, just to give the message, ‘you are in my heart.’

Use your own words. You cannot fail.

Remember, your job is not to take away the loss. Your job is to be you, be real, and be a fair witness to one of the most difficult times in your loved one’s life. One of the most supporting factors in growing forward through grief is reconnecting with life without feeling pushed.

Never underestimate the power of your love, the beauty of your outreach. It is a gift that is so rare, it will never be forgotten. It is a treasure so rich, that it cannot be purchased. Priceless, just like you!

Now, your turn. What’s helped you most during the holidays when you’ve struggled, or known someone else who is hurting? What’s helped? What’s hindered? What do you wish others knew about how to build a bridge to you? I’m listening!

Thanks for passing this along to those you love.

Dr. Cara Barker is an author, analyst, and founder of The Love Project, Love Fests and Retreats. For more, see For updates, contact her at, or To save time, click on Become a Fan. Stay tuned for upcoming developments with The Love Project, including “Practicing Love.” I’ve got a great idea for those of you who are willing to step out on the playing field and have an amazing time. Stay tuned! Follow Dr. Cara Barker on

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Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page or follow us @familyliveson Twitter Account or @familyliveson Instagram. To check out our 30-second PSA click here: The Family Lives On PB & J PSA.

Grieving and Giving Thanks: How to Enjoy Thanksgiving Without a Loved One

pooh thanksgiving

“Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.” ― A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Re-Posted from The Huffington Post

By Dr. Carmen Harra

If I recall Thanksgiving in 2003, I see the shining face of my husband, Virgil, from across the table. Healthy, vibrant, and brave, he cracks jokes on his younger cousin over his over-demanding wife. Next to him sits his brother Sandu, chuckling and undecided whether to join in this debauchery. A few seconds later his choice is made and Virgil and Sandu roar with laughter. The two were inseparable and their bond nothing short of admirable. They could not only finish each other’s sentences, but maintained a solid foundation of respect and loyalty. Their common denominator was a boundless love for their family.

In charge of all preparations, Virgil and Sandu acted as the delegates of Thanksgiving, a flagship celebration of family. Fast forward 10 years to the present, and with both Virgil and Sandu missing, I can only imagine what this year’s table will look like. A more somber crowd, there will be no hilarity, no feuding over the last swig of wine, and no brothers-in-arms up to their usual antics. The silence will be felt.

The empty chairs will be most evident perhaps to my cousin Claudia, widow to the late Sandu, who left our family just last spring. Having already endured a number of ceremonial meals without Virgil, I became accustomed to attending festivities without my better half. For the last four years, I intruded on different friends, drove to distant family members, and held my three daughters as close to me as possible. But despite my efforts to be in physical contact with others, I realized one thing: I didn’t really belong anywhere. My two older daughters had families, and although I watched lovingly as they kissed their husbands and scolded their children, I knew I didn’t fit into their immediate familial circle. Even my younger daughter, 27, had a life of her own: a boyfriend and friends and parties to run off to later. I thought, Where will I go when this dinner is over? An unwelcomed answer followed.

My struggle is not mine alone. It is the shared challenge of millions around the world who fight to fill a heartfelt void after having lost their spouse, child, parent, sibling, friend, or worse, a combination of. A dreaded battle, at best. But we as humans come equipped with the greatest, rarest grace imaginable: resilience. This unfailing sense of fortitude and endurance, of getting up and forging ahead, allows us to conquer almost anything. Profound resilience never fails to see us through. And knowing this is the first step towards true healing after loss. Implement my tips below to manage through Thanksgiving without your loved one and feel their consoling company on any day:

Talk to them. Before stepping out for Thanksgiving dinner, speak out loud to your beloved. Conjure their memory in your mind and tell them exactly how you feel. You can confess that you miss them, explain your hardships, even ask for their help. Start by saying, “Well, today’s Thanksgiving and I wanted to tell you that…” The words will flow from there. When you release your emotions and speak your mind without restraint, you feel an instant sense of relief. You will also feel inexplicably connected to your loved one, as if they are there and listening. This will endow you with the hope and strength to go out and enjoy your holiday like you deserve.

Celebrate their memory. Reserve a chair at the dinner table for your precious person, as if they were sitting right there with you. Raise a glass for your dear departed one and toast to their name. Prepare their favorite dish for others to enjoy. Rituals like these serve as a reassuring reminder of the spiritual presence of a late loved one.

Find a strong support system. Spend Thanksgiving with whomever offers you the most moral support. This is the time to take things very easy and do what makes you feel comfortable. Stick closely with those who can boost your strength and vitality, whether they be family or friends. Don’t be afraid to call on people who can show you unconditional love and patience in a time when you need compassionate above all else.

Don’t force yourself. The grieving process is unique for each of us and everyone heals at a different rate. Don’t force yourself to feel happy if you don’t, but do try to stabilize your emotions and use them to a positive advantage. It’s perfectly fine to release your pain and cry as long as this provides genuine relief. Excuse yourself from the table and take a quick walk or meditate in another room for a few minutes. Emotions may be difficult to control, but you should both allow your feelings to run their course while also putting in effort to better your mood little by little.

Find a sense of peace. True wisdom means seeking peace in all situations, especially in those which you cannot change. Attain tranquility by adopting the right mindset, whether it’s reminding yourself that at least your loved one is no longer in pain or that their spiritual presence will forever be felt. Dwell on thoughts that create comfort and serenity and banish those that evoke guilt or regret. Remember that the past is unchangeable and that contemplating “what if” will do you no favors. Understand that there is a greater reason for your dear one’s departure, one which you will fully comprehend in time.

A holiday like Thanksgiving can be burdensome with the one we love absent from the table. But we must not forget that we possess resilience, an inherent gift that helps us surmount any obstacle. Add my advice to your holiday routine to discover a deep-seated sense of acceptance and feel the undying presence of your loved one.

To Virgil and Sandu


For more tips on how to navigate the holidays when you are grieving check out this article, Help Yourself Heal During the Holiday Season by Dr. Alan Wolfelt and many more tips can be found on the The Center for Loss & Life Transition  website.


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.


‘If the cancer takes me, can you take my son?’: Hospital nurse answers mom’s prayers

Wesley and his mom, Tricia Somers, share a happy moment on the beach.

Wesley and his mom, Tricia Somers, share a happy moment on the beach.

Re-Posted from Today.Com

by A. Pawlowski

When doctors told Tricia Somers that her cancer had spread, she turned to her nurse with an urgent question: “Can you raise my son if I die? If the cancer takes me, can you take my son?”

The two women had known each other for just a few weeks, but had formed a bond that would change both their lives. They first crossed paths in the spring at the Community General Hospital in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania.

Somers, 40, had started feeling stomach pain, so doctors ordered a CT scan, which revealed spots on her liver and a tumor in her abdomen. It turned out to be epithelioid hemangioendothelioma, a very rare vascular cancer.

Somers immediately thought about her 8-year-old son Wesley. She was a single mom, with no family who could take care of him if the worst happened. Her parents were both dead and her only sibling lived out of state. So did Wesley’s father, who was not a big presence in the boy’s life, she said.

Somers was in pain again and hospitalized in March. Tricia Seaman, an oncology nurse, walked in one night, introduced herself and told her patient it would be easy to remember her first name since it was the same as hers.

“I remember when she came into the room, it was just an overwhelming feeling I had over me. It’s really hard to understand – it was just a warmth,” Somers said. “I felt calm, I felt at peace, I felt like this woman is going to be the one who’s going to take care of me.”

Tricia Seaman, left, agreed to become the guardian of her patient Tricia Somers’ son when Somers loses her battle with cancer.
As the two Tricias chatted, Somers talked about her son Wesley, while Seaman noticed she was frequently on the phone trying to make sure the boy was taken care of. It was clear Somers didn’t have many people in the area to help, the soft-spoken nurse recalled.

“I felt very sorry for her because I could see her situation was quite serious and also it had to be completely overwhelming knowing you had a little boy and you were in the hospital,” Seaman said.

She was not assigned to Somers after that night, but she kept checking in on her whenever she was at work and they always chatted for a few minutes. On the day she was discharged, Somers told the nurse that her test results came back and they were not good. The cancer had spread to her abdomen wall.

“She said, ‘I’m really glad you stopped by because I have something I need to ask you,’” Seaman, 45, recalled. “She said, ‘If I die, will you raise my son?’”

Seaman, a mom of three teenage girls and a 10-year-old boy, talked it over with her husband. It seemed like fate: The couple had been thinking about adopting a child and they were approved to become foster parents last fall, just as Somers was diagnosed with cancer. Their son Noah was feeling outnumbered by his sisters and the family was ready to welcome another boy.

“We need to try to help this woman,” Seaman recalled her husband Dan saying. “We just need to follow whatever it is God wants us to do here.”

Somers and Wesley visited the family at Easter, and then again on Mother’s Day. In May, she began receiving chemotherapy and was having a tough time: She was disoriented, dehydrated and her legs were so swollen she could hardly walk. Doctors told her she couldn’t go home by herself any more, so she asked the Seamans to take in her son right then. The Seamans invited both of them to move in with them.

The two families have been living together ever since. Doctors told Somers she had as little as a few weeks left to live, but surrounded by the warmth and care of the Seamans, she’s gotten stronger.

“She’s just being loved by a family and she’s a part of a family, and that makes a huge difference,” Seaman said.

“Ultimately, this family has saved my life because I was told in May that I may have a month, and I’m still here,” Somers added.

Tricia Seaman, left, agreed to become the guardian of her patient Tricia Somers' son when Somers loses her battle with cancer.

Tricia Seaman, left, agreed to become the guardian of her patient Tricia Somers’ son when Somers loses her battle with cancer.

Meanwhile, the children have bonded. Wesley and Noah love all the same things: Legos, Marvel super heroes and Xbox, Seaman said. The boys sleep in bunk beds in Noah’s room and have become inseparable, Somers added. Wesley, an only child, loves the siblings he never had before.

The Seamans have made arrangements to become Wesley’s legal guardians when Somers dies.

“My son is well aware that when I pass on, he is welcome to stay here. And he knows that Dan and Tricia will be his guardians. They’ve explained to him that they’ll never be mommy and daddy, but they’re sure going to try to be close,” Somers said.

“They’ve answered my prayers. It’s wonderful, it’s absolutely wonderful.”

Follow A. Pawlowski on Google+ and Twitter.


Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page or follow us @familyliveson Twitter Account or @familyliveson Instagram. To check out our 30-second PSA click here: The Family Lives On PB & J PSA.

A Child’s Eye View of Death: The Power of Picture Books to Explain

Death and bereavement are difficult facts for parents to teach small children, made harder still if they are grieving themselves. But many authors have found elegant ways to start the process.

Re-Posted from: The Guardian


Is Daddy Coming Back in a Minute? Written by Elke & Alex Barser,             Illustrations by Anna Jarvus

By Imogen Russell Williams

Dealing with death, in picture books and early readers, is a challenge for parents and publishers alike. There’s often a knee-jerk feeling of revulsion to contend with – “That’s a bit dark”, or “Surely they’re too young for that?” – the readerly equivalent of the sign against the evil eye.

But toddlers and pre-schoolers are likely to encounter some form of loss, even in their early lives – whether in animal form, or when a grandparent or even a parent dies. For a choked-up, grieving adult, or for one who wants to prepare a child for life’s only inevitability, a well chosen book can speak volumes.

Books dealing with the loss of someone close, especially a parent, are probably needed only in the dreaded specific situation, since reading a story in which a parent dies (outside the safely formula-bound, once-removed world of fairytale) is likely to induce fearsome anxiety in young kids. They’re hard going for adults, too: I only have to hear the title of Elke Becker’s Is Daddy Coming Back In A Minute? to feel a nose-prickling urge to stick my head under the pillow. But Becker’s book, which uses her son’s own words to ask and answer questions about death, is extraordinary, laying out with clarity and tenderness the anxiety, curiosity and unavoidable, drawn-out sorrow that a parent’s loss brings in its wake. Her second book, What Happened to Daddy’s Body?, also deals directly and sensitively with the realities of burial and cremation.


Missing Mummy, by Rebecca Cobb

Similarly, Rebecca Cobb’s Missing Mummy, for the youngest children, and, Holly Webb’s A Tiger Tale, for slightly older readers, focus clear-sightedly on children’s fears, curiosity and feelings of being cut adrift. Webb’s book, about a little girl who’s lost her grandad, deals sensitively with the discomfort of grief’s etiquette, too: Kate is bemused by adult mourners laughing at fond memories, unsure whether and when she is allowed to feel happy.

But what about pre-emptively dealing with death, in more general terms – is it a good idea, or one that generates more anxiety than it allays? Personally, knowing that a much-loved but ancient Jack Russell was soon to be no more, I prepared the ground with my two-year-old, who had already begun to ask questions about what memorials meant. I found myself floundering when I tried to answer these, either overcomplicating matters or abruptly changing the subject (“Oh look – a squirrel!”). I am not a Christian, and didn’t really want to suggest dog heaven (or human heaven, for that matter), but I didn’t trust myself to find the solid middle ground between bald fact and emotional comfort. I tried Goodbye Mog, but I couldn’t read it myself without dissolving into strangulated sobs, which defeated the purpose. (I grew up on Mog myself, and am frankly not yet ready for her to be dead.)

Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 11.08.01 PM

Lifetimes, The Beautiful Way to Explain Death to Children Written by Bryan Mellonie & Illustrated by Robert Ingpen

So I ordered an American book first published in the 1980s, called Lifetimes. This has a calm, inexorable tone throughout, and illustrations which evoke the beauty of death in nature – broken shells, ants, butterflies – as well as the vivid joy of being alive (although the pictures of people are a little dated now). “It is the way they live, and it is their lifetime,” is its refrain. I won’t say it’s a firm favourite of my daughter’s, but it provided me with a solid foundation, a simple, straightforward script – and it did seem to help when the poor old dog disappeared.


Duck, Death and the Tulip by Wolf Erlbruch: making peace with death.

There’s a still more thought-provoking approach in the German book Duck, Death and the Tulip, in which Duck becomes aware, one day, that someone with a skull for a head, and a rather natty tartan coat, is following her everywhere. Eventually, she chums up with friendless Death, talking to him about the afterlife, and what will happen to her after she dies. Then she does die, and Death tends to her body, placing it gently in the river which carries it away.

Making peace with the idea of death as a constant companion, something that awaits everyone, and which is better reconciled with than feared, is an uncomfortable prospect for many parents; unsurprisingly, perhaps, since adults struggle with the idea too, sometimes till the end of their lives. But it might lessen the seismic nature of grief and fear a little, for both young children and adults, if we grew up with the idea of death as both inevitable and essential, instead of keeping it at arm’s length.


Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To enroll in the program as a family in need, donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page.

When Words Fail, Grieving Children can Find an Outlet in Music

Screen Shot 2014-10-23 at 7.51.20 AM

Arvis Jones describes a music therapy technique during a conference for teachers, social workers and counselors. “You have to feel the joy inside yourself to be able to reach kids,” she says.

To help them cope with loss, therapist Arvis Jones uses music as a way to help children express how they feel.

Re-Posted from The LA Times

by Sandy Banks:

Arvis Jones describes a music therapy technique during a conference for teachers, social workers and counselors. “You have to feel the joy inside yourself to be able to reach kids,” she says.

How do you help little children, too young to know what death really means, cope with the feelings of grief and pain that the loss of a loved one brings?

If you’re music therapist Arvis Jones, you let them bang on a drum, do the hokey-pokey or join a choir and sing.

Jones is part of a growing professional field that taps the restorative power of music to help traumatized children heal.

For 20 years, she’s been going to crime scenes, hospitals, funerals and schools, reaching out to grieving families with a bin of unorthodox tools — keyboards, claves, jingle sticks, tambourines, djembe and tubano drums.

Music is a right-brained activity, she said. Listening, playing, dancing and singing all engage the mind’s emotional sphere.

But it’s not just neurobiology that makes the medium a valuable tool. “With grief, the pain is sometimes so deep it hurts too much for kids to talk about what they feel,” Jones said. “Music breaks down their defenses. They think they’re having fun.”

That helps counselors like Jones create a safe space to address the anger, confusion and fear that loss generates in young lives.

For the children who survived a car accident that killed a sibling and left their mother in a coma, that meant dancing around her hospital room with wooden rainsticks and percussion rings. “They’d been too traumatized to even look at their mother,” Jones said. “Getting comfortable helped them reconnect.”

For the little boy who hadn’t smiled since his father died, that meant singing with Jones’ children’s choir. “Suddenly you’re up there on the stage and everyone’s clapping for you,” Jones recalled. “He was beaming, bowing to the crowd.” He’d realized that his father’s death didn’t mean the end of joy in his life.

For the 8-year-old who’d been fighting his classmates since he found his brother’s body after a suicide, that meant pounding a giant drum. He might not have been able to describe his rage, but he could hit Jones’ drum as hard as he wanted.

And he could hug it to his chest and cry when Jones asked if he loved and missed his brother.


I’d always considered it airy-fairy; the notion that music can heal something as profound as grief.

Jones said that’s not an uncommon view. “A lot of agencies don’t want to be bothered with music therapy. They consider it frivolous — until they see it,” she said.

She said it’s becoming more widely used to help children deal with not just their own grief, but with the trauma of public tragedies. Jones was asked after the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School to share music therapy techniques that might help families recover.

“Death is not something we can hide from,” she said. “But we have a hard time helping children talk about it.”

Without encouragement, children tend to stay silent; some act out their pain in destructive ways.

She remembers a visit to a South Los Angeles middle school to talk with classmates of a boy whose sister had been stabbed to death. “I talked to the kids about what to expect … and asked if anyone had a similar experience,” she said.

Hands all across the classroom went up. One boy said his mother had been beaten to death the year before. “The teachers didn’t know. They don’t ask,” she said. “No one knows what to say in a situation like that. Then you wonder why the kid causes trouble in class.”

On Thursday, at a conference on children’s grief, I watched Jones share her music therapy techniques with teachers, social workers and counselors.

She had volunteers from the audience role-play children, displaying the routes that music can take:

A tough teenager can use rap lyrics to reveal emotions that are hard to claim. A silent preschooler can signal distress with the vigorous shake of a tambourine. A withdrawn child can learn to trust by becoming part of a handbell troupe. A hurting child can learn to self-soothe by humming Grandma’s favorite tune.

Music isn’t magic, Jones made clear. “Recovery is a process, not an event…. But music is a way for us to begin to listen to what children feel.”


Jones is the assistant director of the Center for Grief and Loss for Children at the mental health agency Hathaway-Sycamores, which began hosting the grief conference 10 years ago.

Joan Cochran, the center’s executive director, financed the first conference with her credit card. “They said no one would come,” she recalled. Twenty people showed up. That was enough to keep her going. She had worked with hospice patients, and seen children overlooked in the mourning process.

This year, more than 500 people attended the Pasadena conference, where workshop topics ran the gamut from bereavement rituals to therapist burnout.

“People are desperate for answers,” said Deanne Tilton Durfee, director of the county’s Inter-Agency Council on Child Abuse and Neglect, which helped organize the conference. “They want to know how to do the right thing for children. And they want to know how to manage that without damaging their own lives.”

Jones offered an answer in her workshop. “You have to feel the joy inside yourself to be able to reach kids,” she told the crowd, waving her arms as music filled the conference room.

By the end of the session they were on their feet, gyrating to a James Brown tune.


Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website or Facebook Page.

United By Grief, This Couple Felt Whole Again After Blending Their Families

Re-Posted from The Huffington Post 

By Brittany Wong

Deb and Chris Gottschalk are a bit different than your average blended family. The couple, who has seven kids between them, met at a support group after they lost their former spouses. United by their shared grief, the shared experience of single parenthood and lots of shared tears and tissues, the pair eventually fell in love.

Below, Deb shares more of the family’s inspiring story of love and resilience.

Hi Deb. Please introduce us to your family.

We have nine family members in all. There’s me, my husband Chris and our seven kids: Lily (23), Nick (21), Alex (21), Grace (19), Jacob (15), Sam (13) and Josh (11). The youngest three live at home with me and Chris.

I had Nick, Alex, Jacob and Sam with my late husband. Chris had Lily and Grace with his first wife. They divorced. He remarried and had Josh with his late wife.

How long have you and Chris been a couple?

We started dating in January of 2012 and eloped June 20, 2012 — then had a big wedding celebration on June 22, 2013 with the kids, family and friends.

We tell people we met at The Cove.”The what?” they alway respond. “By the water? What’s that?!” “The Cove” is actually the Cove Center for Grieving Children. It’s an amazing local organization that helps children who’ve lost a loved one, usually a parent. It’s a safe place for kids to meet other kids who are grieving and also for parents to meet other people going through similar circumstances.

One night in December 2011, a fellow Cove friend threw a holiday party and we both showed up. We quickly realized how much we had in common: a love of the arts, music, travel, hiking, Maine, cooking, family, wine and really good aged gouda! More importantly, in our new unrequested role as single parents, we shared stories, strategies, challenges — and lots of tears and tissues. We eventually decided to meet for dinner and we haven’t missed a beat since.

How would you say the experience of blending a family after widowhood differs from blending a family after divorce?

One of us had prior experience with divorce, remarriage and step-parenting. That is its own delicate, sometimes tense and even unpleasant, journey. The difference between that and being a double-widowed family, is — in a word — loss. The loss of a spouse and parent are huge, there’s simply no way around it. Each person in our family has experienced incredible pain and no two the same. We each go through our own healing process at a different pace and intensity.

The loss is permanent and you never get a break from the blending and the butting of heads that sometimes comes with that. It’s not an every other weekend shift. There’s no chance for reprieve from the new family dynamic. One of the biggest factors we had to take into consideration is that, for us, once you’re in, you’re in. There was no way Chris and I were going to possibly put our children (or ourselves) through additional loss — so we had to be sure of this relationship. (Or as sure as one can be.) We met with a family therapist (actually two) to help us feel as confident as we could that we were doing the right thing.

Being a full time mom or dad to children who never asked to have their family change forever is both an amazing blessing and seemingly unachievable. As a step-parent, you never want to make a child feel as though you’re here to replace anyone — especially someone who is no longer physically here. Time has stopped for the kids and their relationship with their lost mom or dad — and now there is a new surrogate who needs to create a living relationship with a future in place of those. And how do you live up to a beautiful soul who is no longer here on this earth? You don’t. You can only try to be the most loving person you can. Chris and I have both tried to learn about each others’ late spouses so we can maybe — just maybe — incorporate shadows of what we believe was important to them into their children’s lives. Virtually impossible, but we try.


What are some of the biggest challenges of blended family life?

Like many blended families, one of the biggest challenges has been that our kids were raised differently. The meshing of different household rules, interests and expectations has been a hurdle for all of us, especially the youngest kids. I tend to want to understand the kids’ feelings about everything — which is good some of the time, but not always. Chris is more clear and concise, which can pose a challenge when someone wants to discuss everything. We’re getting there.

What’s the best thing about being part of a blended family?

Lots of extra love to go around. When we got married we gained each other’s extended families as well as our late spouses families — so we are overflowing in such a good way. Embracing a wide range of personalities and interests among the kids is actually fun.

We feel whole again — at least some of the time; compared to the constant sense of loss or something missing or elephant in the room when living as a family after loss, the moments of balance that occur are a real blessing.

What makes you proudest of your family?

We’ve been together long enough now that there are people who are new in our lives who don’t know we are not an “original” family. I think that’s pretty cool! It’s kind of like a dance and it just takes time to build enough trust to let someone twirl you without wondering if they’re going to drop you! Chris and I talk a lot — we continuously adjust and tweak the way we interact with the kids.

What advice do you have for other blended families who are struggling to click?

Whether your family has changed due to loss or divorce, this is such a fluid situation that needs as much stability as possible. Really take care of each other. The couple is the core that needs to be strong and committed so the relationship and children can go through what they need to and you’ll both be there, united.


Family Lives On Foundation supports the lifelong emotional well-being of children whose mother or father has died. Our Tradition Program provides opportunities for intentional remembering, creating a safe haven for grief, communication, and celebration. To donate, volunteer or for more information visit the Family Lives On Foundation website. “Moving Towards the Pain of Loss” is one of our organization’s process goals.

Chudney’s Story About her Mom

Chudney and her Mother

Chudney and her Mother

Alumni Wisdom by Chudney

My name is Chudney and I am 23 years old. My mom died when I was 14 years old. When she died I felt abandoned. I chose a shopping tradition to honor my mom because we loved shopping together and having “girl talk”. Family Lives On supported me and my tradition for 4 years. My tradition made me feel acknowledged and helped me to connect with the grieving emotions I was dealing with by doing something meaningful. I enjoyed the tradition because what girl doesn’t love to shop? This continues to be a healing activity for me to this day. THANK YOU Family Lives On.