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.

Less is more, much more.

bright side

We found this fabulous post written by Tim Lawrence on BrightSide.

Instead, the most powerful thing you can do is acknowledge. To literally say the words:

I acknowledge your pain. I’m here with you.

Note that I said with you, not for you. For implies that you’re going to do something. That’s not for you to enact. But to stand with your loved one, to suffer with them, to do everything but something is incredibly powerful.

To read the full article

Written by Tim Lawrence

Image by: Nino Chakvetadze Art


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.

 

Tradition Tuesday – Jada

Video

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.

.org.

When a Wave Comes, Go Deep

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Originally posted by Humans of New York, October 1st, 2013

Humans of New York (HONY) originally posted 10/1/13

Humans of New York (HONY) originally posted 10/1/13

“If you could give one piece of advice to a large group of people, what would it be?”

“When a wave comes, go deep.”
“I think I’m going to need an explanation for that one.”
“There’s three things you can do when life sends a wave at you. You can run from it, but then it’s going to catch up and knock you down. You can also fall back on your ego and try to stand your ground, but then it’s still going to clobber you. Or you can use it as an opportunity to go deep, and transform yourself to match the circumstances. And that’s how you get through the wave.”

Why she can come up with such profound advice on the spot- she’s an educator! Dr. Heidi Hayes Jacobs is an author and internationally recognized education leader known for her work in curriculum mapping, curriculum integration, and developing 21st century approaches to teaching and learning.

This was originally posted on Humans of New York (HONY) Facebook page in October 2013, and the comments that accompanied it are an example of what happens organically among the followers:

HONY is all about stories. As a community, let’s try to ‘like’ comments from people sharing insights or similar experiences. There is nothing wrong with comments like ‘her hair is awesome,’ or ‘she looks much younger than 50.’ Those comments are kind, supportive, and appreciated. But I think it would make Humans of New York more interesting if we could work together to prioritize stories over opinions. If there’s anything I’ve learned from doing HONY these past five years, it’s that stories are always more interesting than opinions.

For that reason, below are the comments for the visual story “When a Wave Comes, Go Deep.”


Patrick Elliott Kelley “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is most adaptable to change.”


Brooke Truax Her words are poetically beautiful and deep. However, after I read them, I couldn’t help but think: “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming…” I blame Dori. 



Rebecca Quinn What she said reminds me of a quote from Kafka on the Shore by Haruki Murakami.

“Sometimes fate is like a small sandstorm that keeps changing directions. You change direction but the sandstorm chases you. You turn again, but the storm adjusts. Over and over you play this out, like some ominous dance with death just before dawn. Why? Because this storm isn’t something that blew in from far away, something that has nothing to do with you. This storm is you. Something inside of you. So all you can do is give in to it, step right inside the storm, closing your eyes and plugging up your ears so the sand doesn’t get in, and walk through it, step by step. There’s no sun there, no moon, no direction, no sense of time. Just fine white sand swirling up into the sky like pulverized bones. That’s the kind of sandstorm you need to imagine.

And you really will have to make it through that violent, metaphysical, symbolic storm. No matter how metaphysical or symbolic it might be, make no mistake about it: it will cut through flesh like a thousand razor blades. People will bleed there, and you will bleed too. Hot, red blood. You’ll catch that blood in your hands, your own blood and the blood of others.

And once the storm is over you won’t remember how you made it through, how you managed to survive. You won’t even be sure, in fact, whether the storm is really over. But one thing is certain. When you come out of the storm you won’t be the same person who walked in. That’s what this storm’s all about.”


Ravi Keswani “Empty your mind, be formless, shapeless – like water. Now you put water into a cup, it becomes the cup, you put water into a bottle, it becomes the bottle, you put it in a teapot, it becomes the teapot. Now water can flow or it can crash. Be water, my friend.” ― Bruce Lee


Reza Badei I live in San Diego & used to surf a lot. I can totally relate to this very wise advice and great analogy. What I would like to add is take a deep breath before going under the waves , stay loose & flexible (non rigid or you’ll break some serious bones) and let the wave or a set pass you by without you resisting them, otherwise you will , be clubbed and worse, suffocate … 

"Duck Diving" Photo credit: isurfnetwork.com

“Duck Diving” Photo credit: isurfnetwork.com


Kim O’Grady Simensen Anyone that has ever done much Pacific Coast body surfing knows that when you dive UNDER the wave (“go deep), you can minimize the turbulence and lessen the power of the wave that can easily throw you head first into the sand. I like the metaphor for troubled times and the advice of transformation. The challenge can be finding the strength to go to those uncomfortable and scary places. Although body surfing is a solo support, living is not. I wish the author had reminded us to surround yourself with friends and love – that also brings strength and lessens the power of negative forces in our life. Seek Joy!


Family Lives On supports the lifelong emotional wellbeing of children and teens whose mother or father has died. Available anywhere in the United States, Family Lives On serves all children & teens ages 3-18, regardless of race, gender, religion, socioeconomic status or cause of parent’s death. The Tradition Program isn’t therapy but it is therapeutic. Here’s how it works. 


DONATE The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations and services are provided at no cost to the families. Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. If you would like to help support the grieving children and families we serve, please donate here.

Half of All Kids Are Traumatized

leadRe-Posted from The Atlantic
Half of all kids are traumatized and nearly a quarter experience two or more stressful childhood events, setting them up for worse physical and mental health later in life.

by OLGA KHAZANDEC

When a child sees a parent die, experiences severe poverty, or witnesses neighborhood violence, it can leave a permanent mark on her brain. This type of unmitigated, long-term “toxic stress” can affect a person’s cardiovascular health, immune system, and mental health into adulthood.

“If you have a whole bunch of bad experiences growing up, you set up your brain in such a way that it’s your expectation that that’s what life is about,” James Perrin, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, told me recently.

A new study in the Journal of Health Affairs finds that nearly half of all children in the U.S. have experienced one such social or family-related trauma.

Here’s how the report authors found that number, according to the release:

For the study, [Johns Hopkins University family-health professor Christina] Bethell and her colleagues analyzed data from the 2011-12 National Survey of Children’s Health, a survey of parents of 95,677 children under 17 from throughout the United States. The survey included questions about nine adverse childhood experiences as reported by parents: extreme economic hardship, parental divorce/separation, lived with someone with a drug or alcohol problem, witness or victim of neighborhood violence, lived with someone who was mentally ill or suicidal, witnessed domestic violence, parent served time in jail, treated or judged unfairly due to race/ethnicity, and the death of a parent. The survey includes myriad data on family and neighborhood environments and parental well-being in addition to children’s schooling and medical care, and contains some data about child resilience.
The study found that 48 percent of children have experienced one of these childhood traumas, and 23 percent experienced two or more. But kids in some states fared worse than others. New Jersey had the lowest percentage of children with two or more traumas, at 16 percent, while Oklahoma had the highest, at 33 percent. Here’s a map showing the general ranking of the states:

Percentage of Children Who Have Experienced at Least Two Traumas, Compared to the National Average

Prevalence of kids who experienced at least two traumas, compared to the U.S. average (Health Affairs)
Children exposed to at least two traumas were 2.5 times more likely to repeat a grade or to be disengaged with their classwork, compared to those who had no such experiences. They were also much more likely than the others to suffer from chronic health problems, such as asthma, ADHD, autism, and obesity.

This was true even after adjusting for race, income, and health status. Put another way, this means that even if a child is born into the best of circumstances, just two hyper-stressful events can send him on a downward development spiral.

Doctors and teachers can mitigate the negative effects of these experiences by providing kids with emotional support, the study authors note, as well as with “neurological repair methods, such as mindfulness training.” The authors also recommend “trauma-informed” medical care for these children—a type of treatment that takes their turbulent home lives into account. For example, for a traumatized child between six and 17 years of age, it might be helpful to learn techniques such as “staying calm and in control when faced with a challenge.”

That’s good advice for any of us, but for nearly half of American children, it might be an essential, life-saving strategy.

___

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.

8 Important Things that Children Never Forget.

smiling cute kid_thumb[3]Re-Posted from Parent and Child Magazine

My twin daughters, Anna and Emma, are 16 years old, but they still love to relive and retell stories from their early childhood. Emma often asks to hear about how she greeted everyone with her first word, “cookie,” rather than with “hello.” Anna recounts the time she was struck with a shovel full of ice and had to go to the emergency room. “I remember being there!”; she says. “I remember lying on the bed and hearing you go, ‘Ohhh!’ The doctor was a woman, and everyone came to visit me.” She was only 2 at the time! What will your child remember from her earliest years? And what meaning do these specific memories have for your child?

For one thing, memories connect our pasts, our present, and our futures — and they connect us to one another. Our children’s memories can also lend insight into their rich inner lives, and can help them develop what Eric Neisser, founder of the Rutgers Special Education Clinic, calls “the extended knowledge of oneself across time.” Knowledge of oneself is power, and you acquire it by looking inside and at your external experiences. It is one of the ways we find meaning in our lives.

What Children Remember

Jerome Bruner, one of the most influential psychologists of the 20th century, suggests that retelling events is a means for children to use narrative to reconstruct their life experiences. Bruner considers storytelling the most powerful way that people organize experience. The youngest “reminiscers” rely on others to help them create a description of the past. The language that accompanies visual imagery and experiences makes them that much stronger in our minds.

Several years ago, I embarked on a study with a colleague at the Early Childhood Education Center at the University of Vermont to capture children’s salient memories. We wanted to find out what the 5 year olds remembered at their school. We hoped to gain insight from them in order to make school a better place for our students. We wanted their memories to be part of the history of our school and to convey what had challenged them and what had brought them joy. We hoped the memories would include some of what the childrenÂ’s parents and teachers held dear. What we discovered about childrenÂ’s memories was even more profound.

We explained to the children that we wanted to help them make stories (visual memoirs) of their years at school before they left for kindergarten. We asked them how they thought they could tell a story in pictures that related what they remembered about life at school. Initially, the children met outside under a shady tree, and their teacher read stories about adults recalling moments from their own childhoods. Then everyone shared memories from school with one another.

Over the course of the project, the children spent time talking about the past and drawing the things they would “never forget.” We went on walks and took cameras with no film in them so children could practice looking at objects, places, and people through a viewfinder. Soon, the children were ready to do some photography. Throughout the process, we were constantly reflecting on the stories they spoke about.

Two hundred and eighty-eight drawings and photographs later, we noticed certain themes running through the memories the children had represented in images. We searched for common threads and patterns, and what we found became the title of the project: Children Remember Important Things.

8 Important Things

In the end we culled eight areas of memories that make an impression on young children. Here’s what children will never forget:

Being dropped off at school. The most frequent memory that children reported was the experience of being dropped off at school each morning. Many children had rituals they shared with their mothers and fathers. For example, Collin remembered this: “Mommy and I would say goodbye with a hug and say, ‘I love you more than anything.’ Then, Mommy would kiss the birds on the door to the center.” In many cases the children wanted their portrait taken saying goodbye to Mom or Dad in their particular way.
Their natural environment. Children generated stories, memories, and rich conversations with one another about classroom pets, gardens, the nearby woods, and the fountain on the University green, where they enjoyed playing freely. They also mentioned places where they sought refuge from storms. The children dramatically retold stories about changes in the weather, the excitement of big winds and rainbows, and the nervous, surprised, even frenzied emotions those changes produced.

Jumping, swinging, climbing. Children often focused on the experiences of active play, such as running, jumping, swinging, climbing, and playing hockey (which is a major pastime in Vermont and a source of real-life superheroes). A typical morning greeting among these children was, “Hey! Want to be on my team today?” Some of these memories included working and playing together and the necessity of having order, rules, and leaders.

Being good at something. The children conveyed a desire to capture images of things they had created. These memories highlight a sense of competence with processes and representation. They wanted to be viewed and known by others as being “good at something”: sewing, papermaking, block-building, painting, sculpting with clay, writing, or playing favorite games.

People I like, and who like me. Friendships are important developmentally, but it was deeply moving to listen as children described having connected with others who shared their interests, who they looked forward to spending time with, who they trusted, and who they imagined would always be part of their lives. They wanted to photograph not only the people they loved, but also the people they knew liked them in return and the people who had been kind to them.

The babies and toddlers. The children wanted to leave a legacy for the younger children they had grown fond of, or, in some cases, for the younger siblings that they would be leaving behind. They remembered eating with them, watching them grow, and understanding what they like to do. Five-year-old Finley put it most eloquently: “I want to take of picture of Rowan so he’ll remember me when I’m gone.”

Being part of the community. There were a lot of feelings the kids wanted to express about the connections they formed with people in the community. This included teachers, people on the campus who had shared food with them, people who allowed them to visit special places, and the bus drivers they were friendly with.

Places and structures. Places were often unforgettable to the children. They documented buildings and destinations that represented areas of meaning for them: the first potty they used, the cribs they slept in, and the slides in the toddler room they ventured down.
Strengthen Your Child’s Memories

Talking with your child — especially thinking out loud about what is happening, what you are doing, and why — goes a long way toward building language skills, which play an important role in remembering. We can also help by narrating as we play with children, thereby offering them a context in which to remember the lessons that play can offer.

It’s also beneficial to revisit favorite books repeatedly and to tell stories from your own life. One of the important things we offer children when we talk reflectively with them is the process of making connections between the moment they are in and previous experiences.

Looking at photographs, home movies, and past schoolwork provides opportunities for talking about what these moments represent. You can ask your child, “What feelings did you have then? How do you feel about it now? Why was this moment important?” We save so many things that our children make at school — drawings, writings, collages, photographs, and more. This adds tremendous value to the children’s experiences. It’s also helpful to write a brief anecdote that your child shares with you on the back of drawings and photographs to aid in keeping the events in our minds and reminding us of the context.

We can learn so much from understanding what moments, events, places, and people are important to young children. We should be mindful of how we say goodbye to our children and give time to creating rituals and traditions. We should find ways to ensure that our children have opportunities to spend time in nature and connect with a variety of important places that they can revisit throughout their lives. Supporting our children’s early friendships — and the enjoyment they feel from being social with other people — is an important way we help them to know and remember that they are loved.

Share your feelings and your point of view as well. Telling stories about yourself is more than just interesting to your children — through your stories, they learn that you believe it is important to give voice to memories, impressions, feelings, and events that may otherwise be held inside and eventually forgotten. They learn how to recount their memories and, more importantly, that you care and expect them to talk about their lives and what matters to them the most.

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Family Lives On Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization. The Tradition Program is entirely funded through charitable donations.  To learn more about the Tradition Program, please use this link.

 

17 Things I Miss About My Mom on the Anniversary of Her Death

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Re-Posted from Huffington Post Blog.

By: Jodi Meltzer

My mom died one year ago today. I somehow survived one full lap around the sun without my guiding light. Grief is an emotional vampire that, at times, sucked me dry of my reserve. I felt trapped in an endless, starless night… unable to see the dawn.

So, I faked it.

I smiled through the crippling pain. I laughed through the unrelenting heartache. I rejoiced through the hot tears that burned my cheeks. I didn’t curl up in the fetal position to mourn my mommy because she never gave me that example during her 11-year duel with ovarian cancer. She wanted more for me, and I wanted more for my son. Don’t get me wrong — I host pity parties for one — but I don’t overstay my welcome. Even though my mom’s no longer here, she showed me the way. And I still ache for her guidance every day.

Here’s 17 things I miss most about my beloved mom.

1. I miss her flip phone. She was the only person I knew who had one… and had her ringtone set to Abba’s “Take a Chance on Me” to complement her whole retro non-techie vibe. She had no idea how to text and, most of the time, she had no idea where her phone was. It was part of her charm.

2. I miss her reassuring smiles, her warm, comforting embraces, her unparalleled compassion for anyone fortunate enough to look into her soulful, doe-shaped eyes. When the doctor told her he wasn’t sure she would make it through the night, my mom consoled him. After all, he was the one who had to tell her she would probably die… and how hard was that? After the doctor, she comforted me the way only she could. And then she applied lipstick, brushed her hair, and cracked a joke about how she could at least represent well in the intensive care unit.

3. I miss her voice. I talked to her at least four times a day. How is it possible I have survived 365 days without her telling me what the f*ck to do?

4. I miss asking her questions only she can answer. Did I ever do [insert kid behavior here] as a child, mom? What was I like when I was 4 years old? How was I like my son? How was I different?

5. I miss her inappropriate humor, her ability to deliver 1,000 dirty jokes flawlessly. She didn’t forget punch lines, stammer or even warn you that she was about to tell a joke. She could have had a boo-free career as a stand-up comedian.

6. I miss telling her about my life. Mommy, I finished my children’s book. And, remember Jeff from high school? He’s illustrating it. I am going to make your dream of publishing a children’s book come true. I am writing my blog and for other publications. Can you believe some people actually give a sh*t about what your mouthy daughter has to say? But, enough about my writing. I separated from my husband after you died. I got pneumonia… oh, and basal cell carcinoma. I took myself to surgery and drove myself home (and managed to fit in some shopping while I waited for clean margins… yes, that butterfly necklace from Tiffany’s I bought was in memory of your beautiful spirit). I can’t bear to tell you about Alex the Great; you should be here to enjoy your grandson. But I will say his love sustains me, just as you knew it would.

7. I miss seeing her sitting across from my son, telling him made-up stories that kept him entranced. There was a magic about my mom. She was a hybrid of Mary Poppins, a fairy godmother and Marie from The Aristocats… but she could cackle better than the evil witch in The Wizard of Oz if need be. She was so animated she didn’t need any props. She was the one I wholeheartedly trusted with my son, who went out of her way to make me dinner and reorganize my spice cabinet during naptime (even though hers was a mess). She surprised me with things that filled my heart with pride (Mom, Alex still remembers how you both picked out flowers and planted a garden for me).

8. I miss strategizing about our Thanksgiving menu, beginning in October every year. I was so thankful for her… even when she got in my way in the kitchen. I wish I could bump shoulders with her just one more time.

9. I miss driving aimlessly with her, listening to her sing songs over the radio. I remember all of those “aha” moments — the ones where we discovered we both loved the same song. It happened with Al Jerreau’s “Mornin'” on our last trip to Story Land with my son for her birthday. And with Michael Buble’s “Haven’t Met You Yet.” It reminded both of us of my son when I was pregnant. I hear so many songs, so many words… and they remind me of my mom. I do “the Mimi dance” with my little boy in her memory. I still blast the music, sing off-key with wild abandon and stick my hands out of the sunroof for a laugh. I do it all for her.

10. I miss her handwritten letters, her cards, even the annoying emails she forwarded. I miss that she took the time to “Elf Yourself”… and did it for me and pretty much everyone she knew.

11. I miss taking her to chemotherapy. I spent months of my life in the hospital. Literally… when you add up all of the hours I spent at her bedside, it adds up to months. No matter what we were dealing with, how dire the news or circumstances, how excruciating the treatment, how infuriating the commute home — we always managed to laugh. Sometimes, we’d even have belly laugh crying fits when she was attached to an IV. It was pretty funny when a nurse donned a hazmat suit to administer the poison that flowed through her veins.

12. I miss Christmas mornings at her house. The jingle bells on the front door, the cheesy Santa dancing on a motorcycle, the tree decked out with ornaments from my entire life. She stayed up wrapping all night long on Christmas Eve — every year — and would inevitably forget where she hid a gift. I would get it sometime in June of the following year. She was the most thoughtful gift-giver .. not only on Christmas or Hanukkah (yup, lucky me celebrated both), but also just because. I long for those little gifts. No one does anything like that for me anymore.

13. I miss the things that once drove me crazy. She would put me on hold to answer another call and talk to the person for 10 minutes. She ran late (“You wouldn’t believe it, but I got caught behind a family of turtles trying to cross the road, Jodi”). She called me out if I was being a b*tch. All of it was better than the horrifying silence I suffer through every day without my mom.

14. I miss her validation. She helped me believe in myself. She dared me to dream. She told me the truth. I hope she knew how much her opinion meant to me.

15. I miss her at grandparents’ day at my son’s school (just yesterday, my son said, “When Grammy Mimi died it broke my heart, Mommy”). I miss having a mom on Mother’s Day. I miss surprising her with things to make her smile, with impromptu day trips (she was always game), with movies on a rainy day. I feel so alone without my mom.

16. I miss her companionship. She was my very best friend. A part of me was buried right next to my mom.

17. I miss her love. No one loved me like my mom, and no one ever will again.

Follow Jodi Meltzer on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/mommydish

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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.

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.