Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Driving Lessons: SO much more than a rite of passage

The past few months have been quite a ride.  Literally and figuratively.

My eldest son has his learner's permit and is learning to drive.  I *may* have used more of my Lamaze breathing the past few months than I did when he was born!  

Teaching your children to drive is one of those parental rites of passage as much as it is a rite of passage for your child.  It's a milestone in your child's development and in your parenting.  A stepping stone to adulthood for your child.  A stepping stone to letting go and fostering independence in your child for you.  Once they get their driver's licence they are one step closer to fleeing the nest and with that document, they can legally operate a motor vehicle to do so!  It can strike fear into the heart of many parents on many levels!  

It is also an opportunity for the parent to practice safe driving habits.  Your kids will model you, so don't expect them to refrain from talking on their cell phone or texting while driving or at a stop sign if they see you do it. They pay attention to you more than you think. 

Teaching your children to drive is a task that seems to often fall to the dads.  I'd be curious how many moms are the primary educator and supervisor when it comes to teaching their kids how to drive, by choice.  Let me tell you moms, DO IT!  It could transform your relationship with your child in ways you never imagined.

Given his father and I are divorced, and I have more time, responsibility for transportation to soccer and other activities, and an active interest in participating than his father or step-father, the bulk of the parental hours (40 required by the state) of supervised driving have fallen to me.  

I'll admit, at first, it was a bit nerve-wracking.  My husband (his step-father) took him out the first time because he wanted to have that role.  The first time I drove with him, I was a nervous Nellie.  He has improved tremendously (ah, the benefit of practice) and now he actually asks to drive (everywhere) instead of us having to convince him he should.  I'm sure he will be a good driver.  I pray he will always make good choices in his driving.  

Aside from the parental rite of passage that is teaching your child to drive, if you are fortunate, you might just discover an amazing, unexpected gift in the process.  A unique opportunity to capitalize on that one on one situation an enclosed vehicle provides to connect and bond with your child.  You have a captive audience, use it to your advantage!

We spend a lot of time in the car.  A LOT of time.  With soccer practices an hour away, each way, several times a week, there are many hours of having my son as a captive audience and having... a real conversation with him.  About real things.  School.  His girlfriend.  His friends.  What he wants to do when he grows up.  What makes him tick.  What pisses him off. What kind of music he listens to. Where he wants to go to college and why.  It gives me a wonderful opportunity to share with him, educate him about the realities of life now, and in the future, in such a way that he does not feel threatened, and as a result, he's opened up and shared so much more about the inner workings of his mind, his thoughts, and his feelings, than I ever thought he would or even could!  

There is something about being in a confined space without requiring eye contact, in dim light (at night), where somehow, one's guard is dropped, he feels emotionally safe enough to share with me. Something, given his personality and history of avoidance of any meaningful conversation up until this year, I never thought would happen.  Certainly not to the extent that it has.  

As a result, we've connected on a new level.  There is more trust on his part that I'm not the most evil mommy in all the land, but I might actually know something or two about life.  That I really am looking out for his best interest while also trying to teach him the skills he needs to succeed on his own.  There is a vulnerability about him that I've always known was there, but he lets me see now, and accepts my advice.  Okay, at least most of the time he at least listens to what I have to say.  I'm a fan of natural consequences.  I will give him tools and reminders, but I won't do the hard stuff for him.  Not that it stops him from trying to convince me to do so...

I've also seen him really start to blossom.  His humor is definitely an asset (thanks, Dad).  He is compassionate and sweet.  He struggles with confidence and shyness, although it's not nearly as profound as it used to be.  He's starting to not only grow those feathers, but starting to stretch them out a bit.  He's figured out (FINALLY), how I work and why.  He actually tries to accommodate my needs because he's learned he's much more likely to get what he wants if he does his part. He's becoming a fine young man. He's starting to become eager to get his license and fly.  Such a change from a year ago when he wasn't sure he even wanted to apply for his permit when he was able and was afraid of operating a vehicle!

Knock me over with a feather. 

I'm kind of sad our days of driving lessons and supervised driving are coming to a close.  He is eligible to take his license test in mid-May.  Then, he will no longer require my presence.  I fear he will reject it.  The right of passage will have passed.  He will be one step closer to independence.  I will be one step closer to my baby bird leaving the nest.  I'm not ready! 

You can bet that our last few sessions in the car together will involve discussions around the importance of connection to your family, safety, and imparting whatever other knowledge and insight I can about life's lessons I can. 

I am so grateful that we've had this opportunity together.  The one on one time has been such a gift. After all the challenges we had in his early childhood and the struggles he had with anger management and ADHD, he is turning into a really amazing, bright, mature, compassionate, and articulate young man.  

In those tears I'm sure I'll shed, will be ones of pride.  I guess I've done an okay job after all.  I hope he remembers this experience as fondly as I will.  

So when it comes time to teach your child to drive, embrace the opportunity. It's truly a gift in many ways, especially if you long to connect with your child on a new level.  

Those driving lessons are about so much more than learning to drive.  They are about learning to live, love, laugh, cry, and be a good human.  They are about parent and child and establishing, in a way, your future relationship, at least, it presents that opportunity to you.  It can be so much more than just learning how to operate a motor vehicle and the rules of the road.

Seize the opportunity!  It really does go by fast.  When he asks for the keys, I might panic.  Not because I'm worried about his driving, but because my baby is growing up!  I promise you, I'll be less worried than I was 6 months ago, and not just because of his improvement in skill.  Because I feel like we have a much better relationship now.  

*smushy heart*

Monday, March 9, 2015

Of sun and solace

I am sitting in the sun as I type this. We're in the midst of a heat wave!  It's in the 40's!  The snow is melting!  It's a gloriously sunny day with a deep blue sky and puffy white clouds drifting by.

No, I'm not outside, but it's the next best thing.  I'm sitting in our newly built sunroom.  I have always wanted a sunroom.  I am solar powered, I swear.  Living in New England, especially this winter, where we have received over 110 inches of snow, most of it in just over a month's time and had the coldest February ever, I am desperate for vitamin D from the big ball of fire we orbit.

This sunroom has literally saved my sanity. I've been feeling out of sorts, lost, and at a crossroads of sorts.  This room is providing insight in ways I'd not anticipated but am grateful for.

It's only been complete and usable for about a week.  I've been in it every day.  The cats are also enjoying it for the warmth, the newness, and the fact the bird TV is outstanding with all the windows and my feeders strategically located for our viewing pleasure.

The benefits of the sunlight alone have shifted my mood, let alone the quiet sanctuary this room provides for me.  It is quiet.  Blissfully quiet.  No TV.  No music.  Just the sounds of nature from the outside in the form of birds chirping, ice and snow melting, and the wind along with the occasional purr or even snoring of a cat.  I am surrounded by windows, and currently, the glare of the sunlight off the way too high snow pack (currently about halfway up the slider, but it was nearly to the top of the slider a mere 3 weeks ago) but no worries, I have sunglasses!  

I am marveling at how this room makes me feel.  I knew I would love it, but it didn't occur to me just how much and why.  Of course I love the light and warmth the sun provides without the cold!  I am fascinated by watching the birds.  I watch them eat, play, fly and glide, and see where they are choosing to nest.  I could watch the clouds drift by for hours, captivated by how they change and evolve as they move across the sky.  Of course I most enjoy glancing up and seeing heart clouds!  At night, I watch the moon rise and traverse the sky.  I gaze at the stars.  I need to bring my telescope in here!

One of the drawbacks of the room is that it seems to have hijacked my motivation. It has killed my productivity (self-imposed by a never ending to do list).  I just want to sit here and be.  I don't want to do anything but sit in the sun, listen, observe, perhaps meditate or ponder the meaning of my existence.  Clearly, because that's exactly what I need to do.

Which is most interesting, because as the Universe would have it, I've been feeling rather indecisive and overwhelmed as of late.  The "I don't know what I want to be when I grow up" syndrome totally clashing with the long standing issue of there are too many things I want to do, not enough time to do them, the fact that I've been trying to do them all, and as a result, I do none of them well and never finish anything.  *sigh*

I've been rather "lost" the past few months, trying to figure it out.  Trying to find focus, direction, to carve out of all the things I love.  To choose a passion or two (of the many near and dear to my heart) to follow, to grow, to serve others with, and that pays the bills.  No easy task I tell you!  I've been busy as all get out and productive in many ways, just in all different areas of interest to me.  I've been checking things off my to do list that have been there for YEARS.  Surprisingly, or, perhaps not so surprisingly, I just as quickly add more things to the list, with some of the longstanding ones still there.  No wonder it never gets shorter!

Today, it occurred to me that my desire to be in this room, soaking up the sunshine and connecting with nature is born of a deeper need.  I feel a strong calling to sit quietly and listen.  Listen to spirit, the Universe, my higher self.  To ask the question and listen patiently for the answer.  It's something I've not done as much as I should or need to. I realize I've lost that connection and I need it.  Partially because of the challenges of the weather, partially because I got so caught up in writing last fall and all that followed with Meg's 10th Angelversary, I forgot to rest.  I forgot to take care of me.  Now that I have the chance to do so, I keep filling the time like the Type A overachiever I am.  It's an easy cycle to repeat.

Except my heart and my spirit are screaming at me to stop.  Apparently they've been doing that for a while, but, well, I was too busy to listen.  Okay, I heard it, but I didn't honor it.

I need to just be.  Here.  Now.  Until I figure it out.  I'm sure the answer is within me, I just need to turn off the commentary in my head long enough to listen to what my soul knows I'm supposed to do.

This room brings me peace.  It quiets my mind.  It begs me to slow down. It's connected me to nature again.  It reminds me life is short and I should enjoy it.

I was hesitant to build the room for it was a pretty penny to build, but I'm not getting any younger so it was now or never.  Best.  Decision. Ever.

I long for the warmer days, once the snow is gone and the deck is completed outside.  I can open the windows and feel the warm breeze.  I will be able to hear the birds without the buffering of the window glass.  Maybe instead of writing, I will read!

In the meantime, I will invoke the wisdom of my cats.  Surely they know the benefits of lying in the sun, they do it all the time!  They seem pretty calm and peaceful...

I have two signs in this room.  They both speak to me.  One says "May every sunrise hold more promise and every sunset hold more peace"  The other is about the rules.  To it, I say, Amen.
Life is short.  Make it matter.  Make it fun.  Live it from a place of love.


Sunday, February 22, 2015

We need to talk...

I've spent the better part of the last several weeks writing.  Blog posts, Facebook posts, and Twitter posts on multiple sites and pages I manage.  I've also spent a good deal of time reading and commenting on the posts of others.  This post and it's subject matter have been swimming in my head for several weeks.

The crux of it is, we need to talk.  There needs to be a conversation that not only starts, but continues. It's already started, but the focus is not where it needs to be.  Perhaps I can help shift to focus to where it should be.  Where it needs to be.

The Conversation
Most of the conversation the past few weeks has revolved around two things.  Child Safety and kids dying.  Two things I am clearly passionate about, and for me, have been part of my conversations for the past ten years.  It wasn't my choice to have these passions.  It was born of circumstance. Circumstances that are now part of the fabric of who I am, what I do, and why I write.

Oddly, it seems many people don't understand how these two things go together.  Or, perhaps more accurately, they do understand, but they don't want to think about it.  They don't want it thrown in their face. Especially at a time when they are having a good time, gathered with friends and family, and expecting to be entertained by both by the people around them and what they are watching on TV.

Yes, I'm referring to the Superbowl and the highly controversial Nationwide ad for Make Safe Happen.  I've written about it before and you can refer to that post for my feelings on the ad itself.

Having read many comments on many social media, news, and blog sites, I am saddened.  Not just because so many people did not *get* the message, but the actual reason they did not get the message or outright refused to get the message, even when it was explained to them.  DEATH SCARES THE S*IT OUT OF PEOPLE.  Especially when it's about kids.

Death:  Don't Wanna Even...
Am I wrong?  Does the thought of a loved one dying, especially suddenly and unexpectedly, scare the pants off you?  You don't want to think about it do you?  You certainly don't want to think about what it would be like to get that phone call, that visit to your door from an officer, or the doctor and the social worker at the door of your loved one's hospital room.  So many people refuse to create wills, health care proxies or power of attorney documents because they just don't want to think about death. Or think they can put it off until "later" and then, when death comes, later turns out to be tomorrow...

You fear your spouse having a heart attack or being in a fatal car accident.  You know your loved one with cancer is fighting for their life but you don't want to consider they might not win, even if they have. You absolutely don't want to ever have to go to a child's wake or funeral because it's just too hard to even think about, let alone have it be for YOUR CHILD.

So what do you do instead?  You get pissed off when someone else confronts you with it.  Especially if they confront you with it out of nowhere, when you were not expecting it.  Even worse, if it's a time when you are gathered with friends and family in celebration.

Guess what.  That's the point.  That's what it's like for thousands of people every single day.  Their perfectly happy lives are shattered when a loved one suddenly and unexpectedly dies.  Death, like that ad, doesn't come when you are "ready" for it. It does not always come with a warning.  It comes when it damn well pleases.  Sometimes you can prepare for it, sometimes you cannot. Sometimes there are things you can do to prevent it, sometimes there are not. There is no good time for a loved one to die. None.

There was no better time to air that Nationwide ad.  Why?  A huge audience, full of parents.  Who is their target audience?  Parents.  What was their goal?  Education and yes, maybe even shock value. They wanted to get your attention, and they did.  The message, preventable accidents are the # 1 cause of death to children and a kid can die just this fast, and when they do, this is how it feels.  Don't like it?  MAKE SAFE HAPPEN.  It was that simple.

Misplaced Emotions or No Idea What to do with Them?
Of course people got pissed off.  How dare Nationwide make me confront a subject I'm not comfortable with?  How dare they do it when *I* am having a good time?  How dare they not warn me they were going to "kill" my Superbowl buzz by killing a kid?  They (you?) didn't want their happy family and friends feel good party "ruined."  I get it.

Neither did I.  On December 18th, 2004 I was supposed to be wrapping Christmas gifts and making cookies and crafts with my kids.  Instead, I woke up to find my daughter crushed beneath her dresser. I spent half the day at hospitals.  I came home with a box of her hand and foot prints and a lock of her hair. And overwhelming guilt. She went to the morgue. I didn't want Christmas ruined in 2004 (and for the rest of my life) when instead, I had to bury my daughter who died from a preventable tip-over accident 3 days before Christmas.  I COULD HAVE PREVENTED HER DEATH!

Your Superbowl party might have been brought down by a commercial.  My entire life came crashing down around me when my daughter died from a preventable accident.  One I could have prevented, had I known of the danger.  Had I believed the danger.  Had I known the statistics.  If only... Their goal was to educate you so you don't ever have to know what it's like to be me. Get it?  That ad, might have saved my daughter's life if I'd seen it ten years ago.

Despite my pain, despite the trigger, I loved the ad.  Why?  IT CAN SAVE LIVES!  It can prevent you from ever having to feel the pain I do.  The pain millions of parents feel every year.  The pain of losing a child to something you could have prevented. I already live with the pain of losing a child. An ad is not going to change that. If only it were that easy...

So I'm sorry your SuperBowl viewing experience was ruined for a few minutes.  Really.  But guess what?  You then went back to your eating, drinking, laughing, and regularly scheduled life.  My "regular" life is nothing like it was supposed to be.  I'm sorry, but get over it.

Must Know Info: Grief is a Journey and it Lasts a Lifetime
You know, it's also interesting to me how many bereaved parents were outraged.  They slammed Nationwide for being insensitive to bereaved parents.  That bereaved parents were triggered by the commercial and it should not have been shown during the Superbowl.  That showing an ad that depicted a child dying was in poor taste. They were angry they were watching with the bereaved siblings of the child that died, and they siblings may have also been upset by the trigger.  Or fellow bereaved family members who took offense to their escapist Superbowl viewing being hijacked by a commercial that reminded them of their loss.

Look, I get it. I am a bereaved parent.  I know the spot was a trigger.  I know it blindsided people whether they had ever lost a child or not.  Grief is forever.  Triggers happen.  They suck.  I hate them as much as the next person.  I knew what was coming and I still cried when it aired. It was powerful and compelling. Nationwide did not deliberately try to upset bereaved parents.  Parents who did not lose a child to a preventable accident may have also missed the point of the ad, because of their own grief.  That's understandable. Would there have been a "good" or "better" time to air that ad?  If it triggered you then, it would have triggered you whenever you happened to see it.  Perhaps you'd have been less likely to see it if it were not aired during the Superbowl.

Many of us prefer to be alone in our grief, or when triggered unexpectedly, but what about the benefit of having the support of others in our grief?  What about taking advantage of having friends and family around to support each other, have a conversation, and help us work through our grief? Especially when something like this happens?  That was the gift inside of this commercial for families who are bereaved for any reason, but especially the loss of a child.  The opportunity to start or continue the conversation about death and grief. Of course if your loss was recent, this is often harder to do and I am sensitive to that.  Really, I am.

Even if you had not ever lost a child, if you didn't like the ad during the Superbowl, you would not have liked it any better during your favorite reality, sitcom, or drama show, either.

The Truth
Let's be real and honest here. Your objection to the ad was not *really* that it aired during the Superbowl. It was that it involved the death of a child and it made you uncomfortable.  That discomfort was likely amplified by the fact you were probably in a social environment, and with other people who were equally uncomfortable with a serious subject like the death of a child.  You probably did not have much experience discussing death and/or are uncomfortable with it, or even if you did, you might have felt peer pressure to go along with the crowd and their reaction.  Chances are you stuffed whatever emotion the ad dredged up in you, or, impulsively blamed Nationwide for YOUR discomfort with the death of a child (and likely completely missing the point of the ad), and went back to the party and the game.

I was watching with my two sons, who are obviously bereaved siblings.  We talked about it right after it aired.  They were not upset by it.  They *got* it.  Once they understood the reason the ad was made that way, and what it was really about, they were able to see the benefit.  They were proud their sister is helping to save lives through Meghan's Hope and my involvement with the Nationwide Make Safe Happen campaign.

Why were my kids not upset?  Probably largely because we *do* talk about death in this house.  We talk about how Meggie died, why she died, and what we can do to prevent it from happening to others. I don't shelter them from death, I never have and I never will.  Even when they were 3 and 6 the day she died, they were involved in all of it in an age-appropriate way. We are an open, honest, real family. We talk about triggers and that it can be upsetting when things remind us of her and the way she died. We talked about how others might not feel the same way we do and why.  I want my kids to understand and be comfortable talking about death.

While talking about triggers, what about the 911 ad?  How do you think victims of domestic violence felt about that ad?  Don't you think it was a trigger for them?  What about people who lost children to cancers or other illness and their reaction to the St. Jude commercial?  What about alcoholics and people who lost loved ones to drunk driving and all the beer commercials?  Triggers can happen to anyone, anywhere, anytime and for any reason. Yes, for those who have lost a loved one and especially a child they may be more intense, but there are other kinds of losses that cause just as strong of a grief reaction.

To a point, we can only relate to what we know and what we believe to be true.  When it comes to grief, everyone does it differently.  Everyone brings to any discussion their personal, cultural, religious and spiritual beliefs along with their personal life experience.

The Power of Choice 
Yet we always have a choice.  We can choose to be pissed off and self-absorbed about our personal feelings about anything, in this case the Nationwide ad, and the fact they used a child that died from a preventable accident to educate parents that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of death to children. That their kids could be at risk.  Really. Not someone else's kids. THEIR kids.

Nationwide made it real. Reality, when it involves death, makes most of us uncomfortable.

Instead of getting the message.  Instead of going to the makesafehappen website or checking out the app to see what it was all about, people lashed out against Nationwide for "killing a kid during the Superbowl."  They chose to place blame on Nationwide for how it made them feel.  Nationwide did not "make" you feel or do anything.  That's all you.  They created an emotional, compelling, PSA. How you chose to react to it was all you. Really, we need to start owning our feelings, understanding them, and stop blaming others, no matter what it is we feel. The only person responsible for how you feel is you.

Let me say that again.  The only person responsible for how you feel is you.

I propose it was much less about how people felt about the commercial itself and a whole lot more about how death-averse we are as a society.  People missed both messages embedded in that commercial.  In doing so, they missed both an opportunity to learn more about preventable accidents and making kids safer and they missed the opportunity to have a real, honest, and important conversation about death, dying, and grief.

The Conversation Begging to be Had
Here is the thing.  Death is part of life.  We are all going to die.  We all know that, but no one seems to want to actually acknowledge it until they have no choice.  Yes, we would love to believe that we will all live long, happy, healthy and full lives and die of old age when we are damn good and ready to.

Except life doesn't always work that way.

People die.  Some after living long, fulfilling, wonderful lives. Some before they are born.  Some die of horrible diseases they did not ask for or deserve. Some die in car accidents or plane crashes that were no fault of their own.  Some will have a heart attack or stroke with no risk factors or warning signs.  Some die trying to save the lives of others like the members of our armed forces or first responders.  Some are horribly murdered.  Some commit suicide.  Some die in an accident that may have been preventable.  Sometimes the victims of these accidents are kids.

There is never a good time to lose someone we love.  When kids die, it hits us especially hard.  Even if we don't know them. Why?  Kids are not supposed to die. Certainly not before their parents.  Of course not everything that takes the life of a child can be prevented.  But many accidents can be prevented. Why would you not want to do everything you can to protect children so they have every opportunity to live long, happy, and healthy lives?

Nationwide started a conversation.  They want to educate people that accidents are the #1 cause of death to children.  They want to teach parents and those who care for children what the dangers are and how to make their homes and their children safer.  It's that simple.  It's that important.  They provided a wonderful resource and information in the Make Safe Happen website and app.  They want to save the lives of children.

I want to take it one step further.  Let's also let it be a catalyst for talking about death, dying, and grief.  Let's learn how to support others who have lost someone they love.  Let's learn how to support someone who is dying and those who love them.  Let's talk to our families about what would be important to us when we are facing the end of life or after we die.  I've tried to start this conversation, at least with regard to understanding and supporting bereaved parents, with my book Out of the Darkness.  

What you can do
I ask of you two things.

First, If you've not yet done so, please visit the Make Safe Happen Website and download the app or, if you don't have young children in your life, share it with someone who does.

Second, make a date on your calendar to talk to your spouse, significant other, children, family members and/or friends about what would be important to you if you were dying.  What you'd want after you die for services.  Create a health care proxy, power of attorney, and will if you've not done so already.  Don't wait for a health crisis, or for when you get older, or allow it to be put off over and over again.  Do it now.  It will make everything so much easier when death does come knocking for everyone involved.

Be the change.

Thank you.

Meghan’s Hope and Nationwide are partners in the Make Safe Happen campaign. While all opinions expressed here are my own, I have received compensation from Nationwide for promotion of their Make Safe Happen campaign materially or financially.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Lost and confuzzled

My get up and go has definitely gone.  Where, I do not know.  I'd kinda like it back...

I feel... lost.  I can't seem to find my motivation.  I have a gazillion things to do and actually, in theory, have time to do many of them, yet I can't seem to execute.  At least not in a manner that shows any true progress on the to do list.

It's rare that I have this problem.  Usually, I am crazy busy.  A multi-tasking queen.  I hardly have time to think, let alone sleep, before I move on to the next things. Yes. Plural.  Things.  I truly wonder what it's like to focus on just one thing start to finish.  I bet it's nice.

Speaking of sleep, that is one thing I've actually been doing a lot of.  Normally, if I'm lucky, I average about 5-6 hours of sleep a night.  The past few weeks it's been more like 7-9 with an occasional double digit in there!  Even when I wake, I laze around in bed, either trying to go back to sleep or pondering what I should be doing instead of lying in bed.  Sometimes I doze off.  Most of the time, I end up frustrated that I wasted all that time lying there instead of getting up and being productive.  I'm honestly not sure sleeping longer has been a good thing for me.

As I tend to be introspective about such things, here is my analysis:  The working diagnosis? Seasonal/situational frustration, I don't know what I want to be when I grow up-itis, and winter. :-)

The questions?  What to do about it and how?

The problems and challenges are:

1) I don't have a consistent income at the moment.  I am working per diem, and although I'd like to have more hours and more clients, my current job is not able to provide them for a myriad of reasons beyond my control.  I have been fortunate to be able to generate income from other sources, but the time has come that I need to find another job that provides both the flexibility in scheduling I need and a more consistent income.  This is not as easy as it sounds.

2) When I look back over the past few months, I have been fortunate, that because of #1 above, I have been able to devote much needed time and energy to other projects.  The jobs that are more of my passion, but that are done because they are important to me, not because they generate income because, for the most part, they don't, especially when you subtract what I spend to maintain them. This includes being able to devote more attention to Meghan's Hope through partnerships with Nationwide and the CPSC, re-designing the website, and the ability to be more active with social media and blog posts.

I wonder if, given the whirlwind of opportunities that came together right around Meg's 10th Angelversary, and the fact my book was published that same week, that I'm finally feeling the depression I typically feel in December.  Hmmmmm.

3)  So many ideas, too many ideas.  Oh, squirrel!  I have also been able to work on and re-design the websites for my other business ventures, neither of which I've nurtured much the past few years because of the book, work, and family commitments.  I must say, they look much better!  There is still work to be done, but I'm happy with the new look.  I've also finally cleaned and mostly organized my "teaching closet", quite a project that was on the list for years. As for the rest, I start one thing and then think of something else.  My lists have lists!  Precious little ever gets crossed off as complete.  Partially because I keep finding new things to do.

4) Since I have the time, I've been taking online classes for a certificate in Thanatology (the study of death, dying, and grief).  This is a subject that has always interested me, and one I feel called to learn more about in the hopes I can help others as they cope with their own death or that of a loved one.  It's been a long time since I went to school!  Unfortunately, the challenge is not only in finding the time to do the reading and the homework, but of course, there is a cost to take the classes.  Until I am able to resume a more steady income, this will end up on the back burner after this current class is finished in a month.  That said, I'm really enjoying the information and the challenges of "school."

5) While soccer is a year round thing, spring soccer is around the corner and the schedules for my boys ramps up this week.  There are conflicts abound and soccer 4/5 weeknights for one or both of them and practices and/or games every weekend, to the point our weekends are completely filled with soccer in some way, shape, or form until July.  There are, of course, tournaments thrown in there, too.  Usually on holiday weekends, because, who needs a long weekend anyway?  This is a stress I am used to and try to do without too much complaining, but it is a stress.  Managing dinner, homework, laundry, and all that goes with managing a household is a challenge and a half every spring and fall. It's near to impossible to see family and friends.  We miss many social events.  Just looking at the calendar gives me chest pain and zaps my energy.

6)  Because soccer is all-consuming, it means my husband and I will not be able to continue our ballroom dancing to the level we would like to.  In fact, I'm not sure we are going to be able to get lessons in at all for the next several months.  This is the one thing we do for us and together and it makes me sad that we are not going to be able to continue.  There is also the financial piece, because it's also expensive (in money and in time) to take the lessons, practice to actually get better and progress, and even more so to enter showcases and competitions, neither of which we are likely to do for the rest of the year.  Mostly, it makes me sad that the one thing we do for us, together, is what has to give.  We have precious little time together, since even with soccer, we each have to take one somewhere.  The lack of couple and family time adds stress.  Parenting is demanding and I want to support my boys to be their best selves, but they damn well better appreciate what I've given up to drive them and their smelly cleats all over creation!  I must admit, I wonder what it would be like to have normal family dinners together every night, hell, what it's even like to BE home every night, and to have weekends free to do family stuff, house stuff, RELAX, because what the hell is that like?!

7)  THE WEATHER!  This has been the longest, damn near snowiest, and coldest winter ever. Seriously, it really has been.  I don't like winter.  I don't mind the snow if I don't have to drive when it's a mess, but I hate being cold.  Absolutely hate it.  Even worse?  Because of this snowstorm every few days pattern, and when it's not snowing it's barely 10 degrees with a wind chill below zero, it has not been safe for me to run outside.  I'm training for a half marathon and instead of running 3x/week I'm lucky if I run 2, in less than ideal conditions, in yak tracks. Long runs are near to impossible of more than 5-6 miles because the roads are just not safe to run on, too much snow and ice and poor visibility due to the height of the snowbanks on corners.  I don't have access to a treadmill nor do I have time to drive to where I could use one.  I like to run outside.  I need to run outside.  My feet need to hit the ground, I need to breathe fresh air, I need the sun on my face, I need the quiet, the time to clear my mind, the endorphins!  I'm not getting it and I'm feeling it.  :-(  Given the weather pattern, it's unlikely to improve for many more weeks.  Damn groundhog...

8) Indecisiveness.  This is perhaps the biggest problem of all.  I've long said I don't know what I want to be when I grow up.  While all of my dreams are important to me, it's obvious I cannot do them all. I've given up the two I began with, oddly enough.  I'm not longer teaching childbirth classes or being a birth doula.  Oddly, I don't miss that.  I guess that part of my life is over.  That life mission, accomplished.

The problem now is I have 4 websites and associated social media accounts I maintain, each of which, could, in theory, stand alone as ONE full time job and business.  Meghan's Hope is one of them, the one I devote the most time to, and the one that costs me money to maintain.  Another one is geared toward my Reiki practice and teaching of metaphysically oriented subjects.  One is devoted to my book and grief support, and I'd love to grow that.  The last is devoted to home and life safety and is sort of a sister site to Meghan's Hope.  I teach a myriad of subjects in a variety of settings that incorporate all of these business ideas.  I'd love to do more of that.  I'd love to be presenting and doing more public speaking.  I wish I could get it all on one business card!

Of course what have I not done?  A press release for the book.  Why?  I'd say no time, but really, I've not been compelled to yet.  Honestly, the weather would have mucked it up anyway if I planned a book launch or party.  The time is coming, but it's not yet.  I'm not sure why.  I'm working on it, though.

9) Frustration and overwhelm.  Given the 8 things above, you can probably see why I'm stuck, lost, and confuzzled.  One one hand, I know what I want to do.  The problem is that is too much!  I know I need to focus on one or two things and devote the time and energy to grow them that I need to.  I've been trying, but the financial rewards are not yet recognized and I'm not sure how much more time I can take before I need to table them and get a "real" job again.  The Universe has been kind in bringing abundance into my life in other, somewhat unexpected ways and for that I am grateful.

10)  Time needed to devote to college planning for my oldest, who is a junior in high school.  Trying to plan and schedule college visits between soccer commitments and ID camps/clinics and a summer job for him is no easy feat.  He also needs and will need a lot of guidance and gentle nagging to do what he needs to do to be prepared to apply come the fall.

11) The realization that I can't do it all, certainly not well.  I also cannot save the world, or even a portion of it.  I'm not even sure I can get my own ducks in a row.

The solutions?

1) SPRING!  Seriously, warmer weather and the ability to get back into my running routine will likely help tremendously.

2) Eat better.  I eat horribly.  I always have.  When I am stressed and or in a funk like I am now, I don't even have an appetite or I turn to quick, easy, foods that are nutrient poor and sweet.

3) Figure out what I want to be when I grow up and stay focused on it.

4) Enjoy the time I have with my boys.  They are growing so fast...  I guess I can dance in a few years instead.  ;-)

5)  A good cry.  Tears cleanse the soul. My soul is frustrated and tired.  It needs some cleansing, some clarity.

6)  Did I mention spring?

Monday, February 2, 2015

The Nationwide SuperBowl Ad was a Wake-up Call. Are you Going to Answer it?

I’m sitting on the couch right now, snuggled up with my cat and my son.  I’m watching the snow fall outside.  Blanketing the ground in peaceful, pure, white snow.  You know what I’m thinking?  I’m wishing his twin sister was sitting here with us.  But she’s not.  You know why?  Because she died from a preventable accident ten years ago, when she was three.  I buried her three days before Christmas because I didn't know or even believe a small dresser like hers could fall and kill her.  But it did.  Had I known the dangers and how to prevent it, she might be sitting her with us today. 

Yes, I've lost a child to a preventable accident.  Yes, the Nationwide ad made me cry.  Yes, it was a “buzzkill”.  It was probably a huge trigger to bereaved parents, especially those who have lost young children, especially those who lost children to an accident.  Anything that reminds a bereaved parent of their pain is.  It blindsided people, on purpose.  That’s exactly what happens when a child dies from a preventable accident, too.  One minute your child is fine and then, without warning, they are dead.  Trust me, I know.  It happened to at least one parent while they were watching the SuperBowl yesterday. 

The Nationwide SuperBowl ad was also brilliant.  Why? It was raw, real, honest, and absolute truth. It was creative and emotional. It started a conversation.  One no one wants to have.  Yet it’s one everyone should have.  One everyone needs to have. It hit at the fear of every parent; that their child could die.  It made millions of people aware not only that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of death to children, but gave them a place to find information so they can prevent those accidents and protect their children.

In the time that commercial aired, at least one child died from a preventable accident.  That's 60 children that die every single hour!  In the time it took you to watch the entire SuperBowl, At least 12 children (3 every hour) were victims of a furniture or TV tip-over alone!  At least 240 children died around the world from accidents that could have been prevented!  All while millions "escaped" their problems and watched a game on TV.  Many were upset their good time was interrupted by such a dark and depressing ad.  Really.  They were upset Nationwide was trying to save the lives of children by using the largest audience of the year on National television.  

Were you among the people who took offense to the ad?  Why? 

Because it was “inappropriate”?  Do you not find the blatant promotion of alcohol, sex, and violence on TV and advertised during the SuperBowl  also inappropriate? 

Because it was a “downer?”  Because it made you sad or cry? Because it was about an adorable child that died and that made you uncomfortable?  A child just like mine, or perhaps, just like yours?

Because you had to explain to your children why that child died?  Have they ever watched a Disney movie?  Did you not see the teachable moment there to explain that going into water alone, playing in front of a TV, or eating things that are not food could be dangerous or even deadly?  Death is everywhere, it happens to everyone - eventually, and that conversation needs to happen.  No one is invincible. Were you upset because it made you afraid something could happen to your child?  Don't get mad, get smart.  Be pro-active.

Did the ad stir up some sort of emotion in you? Good. That was the point.  To get your attention.  To make you stop and think.  To educate you. 

People need to get their heads out of the sand!  Ignorance is not bliss. Nor does it protect anyone! Preventable accidents happen for two reasons, either because parents don’t know of the dangers, or worse, they do know and don’t believe that “it” can happen to their child, so they do nothing to prevent those accidents.  It can happen to your child.  It doesn't matter what "it" is, who you are, where you live, or how good of a parent you think you are. No one is immune.  No one.

Accidents happen, but they are ALL preventable.  Why wouldn't you want to do everything you can to prevent them and to protect your child?  If you already have, thank you. This ad was aimed at those who don’t know or don’t believe their child could be at risk.   Unfortunately, a recent study revealed that most parents think they are doing everything they can to make their homes safe, yet they are still unaware of many of the very things that are killing children in the home like tip-overs, strangulation, drowning, and poisoning, all of which can be easily prevented.

Are you angry that the ad hit you in the gut?  Perhaps you had that pissed off feeling that the ad “ruined” the warm, fuzzy, and funny SuperBowl commercial experience for you?  It killed your feel-good buzz? Think about this: that’s how it feels to bury a child who died from a preventable accident, only a thousand times worse, and then you have to carry that pain with you for the rest of your life. 240 parents had that feeling too while you watched the Superbowl, only it was because their kids actually did die from a preventable accident.  

Lucky for you, your warm fuzzies returned with the next ads. You complained about it, perhaps tweeted your disgust and went back to your regular life. For parents who have lost their children to a preventable accident, nothing is ever the same again.  Nothing.  

Think about that.  Imagine for a moment what it might be like if your child unexpectedly died today.  Now think about how you’d feel if you could have prevented it. Do you get it now?  

It’s not surprising the ad had so many negative reviews and comments.  It brought up a subject no one ever wants to talk about – death to children.  I can assure you that no parent that lost their child for ANY reason ever thought it would happen to them.  I sure as hell didn't.  Yet if any of us could have had information that might have saved our child’s life, we’d have given anything to know how we could have prevented our child’s death BEFORE they died!

Nationwide’s ad didn't stop with the message that preventable accidents are the #1 cause of death to children.  It began there. They have also created a free website at www.makesafehappen.com and a free interactive app for both IOS and Android so parents can learn about these accidents and how to prevent them. 

Unfortunately, far too many people missed this valuable information.  Why?  Because thousands of people used the emotion the ad stirred up in them and jumped to a conclusion without having all the facts, without actually visiting the www.makesafehappen.com  website.  They may have been so shocked by the message of the ad that they did not see the link to the website at the end of the ad. They assumed because Nationwide is an insurance company that they were trying to use the preventable death of children to sell insurance!  Nothing could be further from the truth.  It does however speak to a different social problem we have, the one where misunderstandings are taken as truth and facts are not checked.  Shame on those who were reactive and formed an opinion before having the facts.

Think about this.  Had that ad been sponsored by Safe Kids or Meghan’s Hope, anyone other than Nationwide, would you have come to a different conclusion?  Would you have been more likely to go to the website and pay attention to the message of the ad?  I’m curious. 

Nationwide has a long history of advocating for child safety.  In fact they published a brochure on child safety in 1954 titled “Your Child’s Safety.” They have a 60-year partnership with Nationwide Children’s Hospital.  They have partnered with Safe Kids Worldwide on the Make Safe Happen Campaign as well as with other child safety advocates like myself and Meghan’s Hope.   There is a longer PSA about Make Safe Happen.  It was too long for the SuperBowl, but it explains the program in greater depth.   I encourage you to watch it https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JoELI1h7nM

Do you want to learn what hazards may lurk in your home and how to prevent them from injuring or killing your child? Then go to www.makesafehappen.com and educate yourself.  Download the app. Let's Make Safe Happen.

Maybe if everyone does, every child will be able to get cooties, learn to fly, and get married.  I sure as hell wish my Meggie could have…

Disclaimer: Meghan’s Hope and Nationwide are partners in the Make Safe Happen campaign.  While all opinions expressed here are my own, I have received compensation from Nationwide for promotion of their Make Safe Happen campaign materially or financially.

Sunday, December 28, 2014

Self-publishing: Was it worth it?

So, now that I've come down off the high of holding my very own book in my hands, I've had a chance to reflect on what it took to get to that point.  For those of you who may be aspiring writers, friends and family wondering what the hell I've been doing for the past 18 months, or for those who just want to know what it took to make this dream a reality, read on!

I had been toying with the idea of writing a book for years.  Fifteen years ago I had gone as far as writing a proposal for a book about twin pregnancy and birth.  Then, the same week that I was actively seeking an agent, my 3-year old daughter died, suddenly and unexpectedly.  If you follow this blog, you know all about Meghan and what has happened in the ten years since that day.  Needless to say, my focus shifted.  That venture.  That dream.  That part of my life, dropped off the radar. 

After I started writing to Meggie a few weeks after she died, I pondered turning some of my "letters" into a book.  But how?

No matter.  Grieving got in the way. Life got in the way.  Collateral losses got in the way.  There was no energy.  No time.  But the desire was still there, waaaaay in the back of my mind but ever present in my heart. 

For the past several years, I have had the idea to write a book for bereaved parents.  Then, I began to wonder if I could write a book that served two purposes.  Both a book for the bereaved and those who support them, but also part memoir, as supporting "evidence" for the self-help portion of the book.  

It was a daunting task.  Not so much the writing part, but the logistics of it.  I worked nearly full time between all my jobs.  I had two boys to raise who played soccer almost every night and weekend.  I managed Meghan's Hope in my "free" time, a time consuming but voluntary labor of love.  With what little was left, I fostered relationships with family and friends.  I don't sleep much as it is... when the hell would I find time to write?

Two years ago I wrote the blog post that was a call to action and cry heard around the world.  It was called Be With Me.  Just for Today.  Perhaps, if you've been here before, you've read it.  It went viral. The thousands of comments and messages I received was astounding and overwhelming.  I wanted to raise awareness about the dangers of furniture and TV tip-overs.  Which I did, and I was thrilled. That has evolved in ways I only dreamed of and will write more about that soon.  

What I didn't expect from that blog post, were the hundreds of messages from other bereaved parents, who in reading it, reached out to me to thank me for sharing what it's like to be a bereaved parent publicly.  To tell me they felt the same way and thought they were the only ones.  That they were frustrated their family and friends kept telling them to get over it and move on.  That other people did not understand what it was like to lose a child.  How it hurts so much and for so long... forever.  My grief keeping and sharing encouraged them to do the same. We all helped each other to heal.

In talking to other bereaved parents, they encouraged me to write more about it.  I found myself having similar conversations with many different people about child loss and coping.  What to say to bereaved parents.  What not to say.  How to tell your family how you feel.  What to do if they don't get it.  Where to find help when they feel so alone.  

Then, I found, through my work as a home care physical therapist, there are a tremendous number of bereaved elderly, who lost their own children.  Some as babies, some as teenagers, some just last year and yet their pain is no different, no less than had it happened yesterday to their only child born still. Then I started to get referrals to talk to other bereaved parents.  As a lay mentor.  When I mentioned my plans for a book they all said, "Yes, oh please... that would be so helpful... I can't wait to read it"

Thoughts of a non-fiction book, part self-help, part memoir, began to swim around in my head again. It was daunting to consider actually undertaking writing a book!  

I received one unsolicited publishing offer as a result of my blog post. I researched the company, which was a hybrid "self-publishing" and part traditional publishing company.  They were offering me a discount of $1500 (that I would pay them) to publish it. They sent me a contract.  I didn't like the terms.  They could not be changed.  I said thank you but no thank you.  

I sought out information with another popular self-publishing company, who gave my ego all kinds of stroking and would be more than thrilled to publish my book for anywhere from $1500-6000 depending on what services I wanted.  They were more pushy, doing the car salesman thing of "let me talk to my manager to see if I can get you a better price".  I don't play that game.  After doing further research, I also rejected that offer.  Interestingly, the sales person sent me the vibe that I did the right thing.  Not with her words at all, it's just the energetic feeling I got from her tone of voice and my intuition.  Validation, I guess. 

It seemed to me self-publishing should not cost thousands of dollars and then the publisher still has control of pretty much everything and royalties amount to about $1.20 per book sold if you are lucky. It's pretty hard to recoup the initial expense, let alone make money, especially when you add in your own marketing costs since they don't do that for you!  This book was too important and too personal to give up control of content, the cover, the price... anything to someone who knew nothing of the content or the intended audience.  Such emotional and delicate subject matter with such a niche audience.  No, this was my baby... about my baby. 

I also talked to one traditional small publisher.  No cost to me up front but they still got most of the money from the sales, which is more appropriate than the other offers, but again, I was not willing to give up creative control for this particular book.  They dealt in books close to my target audience, but still with small reach.  I was close to taking this offer though, just because the pressure for editing and cover and all of that would be off. 

Finally, after literally months of research and soul-searching, I decided to truly self-publish.  I chose CreateSpace, which is an Amazon affiliate.  I did this after days and weeks  and months of reading and researching different options out there.  My head was spinning! You know what it costs to truly self-publish?  Nothing!  Well, except time, which you probably have to devote more to when pursuing this route.  

There are other costs that are worth factoring in, like finding an editor and perhaps a cover designer. Still, it's a hell of a lot less expensive and you retain full rights, creative control, and will see a much higher royalty payment per book sold as a result. You choose the size of your book, the font, the title, the content, the price, everything.  Great! So now I had a plan! 

The challenge was in finding the time to do it.  Writing can be time consuming.  Writing about something so emotional and personal requires uninterrupted time. Research also had to be done.  

There are actually courses out there that teach you how to write.  How to write a book proposal.  How to market.  How to find an agent.  There are also a plethora of books out there.  There are courses on how to meet media and sell your story.  How to write a bio.  It goes on and on. They all cost money. They may or may not help you.  It depends what you need and where you can access that information. I purchased a few.  To be honest, I have read nor watched many of them.  A colossal waste of money.  
I took the NaNoWriMo challenge in November of 2013 (National Novel Writing Month) and wrote the bulk of the book then.  November-December and the summer months are the only relative "down" time I have with the soccer schedule of my boys.

Then I took a break.  I got back to it in the spring and over the summer.  I began to look for an editor. I asked friends and family and other bereaved parents to read it for me to give feedback on content and flow.  Of those that even agreed to do it, only one actually read the entire book and provided the feedback. The others either couldn't get through it or didn't have the time.  Most didn't even take me up on the offer.  I get it.  People are busy.  The subject matter is very emotional.  I was sad more people didn't follow through.  It made me wonder if anyone would really buy it.  

I plowed on.  I found an editor.  I finished the first draft.  I began incorporating the line edits. It is very tedious and time consuming work.  It took months of on again, off again editing and re-editing. Then I read it again.  And edited it, again.  Rinse. Lather. Repeat.  Over and over and over.  I understand now why a good book editor can cost a few thousand dollars.

It got to the point where I couldn't get the distance I needed to do the developmental editing anymore, let alone find the few and random punctuation and grammatical or spelling/word choice errors.  I again asked if people would be willing to give it a quick read for feedback.  Crickets.  

I was on my own. 

I formatted it for CreateSpace.  Formatting errors then needed to be corrected and it also made for previously missed errors in punctuation and grammar easier to spot.  Great!  More tedious line editing.  I did have the support and assistance of my tech savvy husband, which was a Godsend!

Next began a process of uploading the file to CreateSpace for approval.  Their return of the proof was usually less than 24 hours, which was great.  You could order a digital proof, which was free and immediately available, or you could order a printed proof of the book, which took about 5 business days expedited delivery.  It's a print on demand system, so overnight or 2 day delivery really isn't an option. Cost of author copies depends on the size of the book and number of pages.  You had to pay for a printed proof.  

I ordered one printed proof for the first print ready upload, just to see the cover for real.  It looked blurry in the PDF proof.  It actually wasn't in the printed version. You can do both the printed and the digital PDF proof, which I did. So, in the meantime, other errors were found once I received the PDF print ready proof, so then I had to go back and change the original formatted word doc and re-upload it (you can't edit in their PDF proof reader). I did this 3 or 4 times before I finally hit the wall and let it go. 

Then there is the cover design.  I am blessed and fortunate to have generous friends.  Two edited it for me, one line edits only, the other both line and developmental editing.  My friend Steve, who is an amazing photographer and Photoshop guru, helped me with the cover design.  No, scratch that.  He did the entire cover design.  I just gave him my vision, he found some pictures, I chose one.  I gave him the words, he did the rest.  It's amazing.  He kicks all kinds of cover design ass.  For payment, he has requested a nice dinner with our respective significant others.  Done and done.  If you want to see his photos, check him out at this Flickr site https://www.flickr.com/photos/sdowen/

Once you approve the print ready proof in CreateSpace it's locked and cannot be changed.  It is immediately available for purchase in the CreateSpace store.  It took 3 days before my book was available on Amazon.

The author gets a higher royalty, almost double, from the CreateSpace store than they do from Amazon sales because Amazon takes 40%.  Still, it's far less than what most traditional or so called "Self" publishing houses take. Amazon is probably where the vast majority of books are sold today. It's where I buy all mine.  So having my book in a brick and mortar bookstore was not necessary for me. I also didn't want the hassle of trying to sell the books on my own Website, as that adds cost, the need for a sales tax permit, shipping cost determination and challenges, and a lot of trips to the post office. I'd also have to keep an inventory, which has it's own logistical challenges.

Is the book perfect?  No.  I'm sure there are a few grammatical errors I missed. 

Is the content perfect?  No.  I did the best I could.  If I had written about everything I wanted to and with the level of detail I would have liked, the book would be too heavy and too expensive to manage! There is some repetition, but it's intentional because of the way the book was written.  It's designed to read like a conversation between the reader and I in a down to earth, person to person manner.  it's also written so any chapter could stand alone.  Not everyone will read it in order.  Not everyone will read the entire book.  Not everyone will like it.  Not everyone will understand it's purpose, although I tried to make it clear from the cover copy and introduction and in my marketing efforts.

I'm sure with some distance and a re-read in a few months, along with feedback from readers, I will be able to see it with fresh eyes and update it if need be.  Therein lies another beautiful thing about self-publishing.

I can always revise it!  It just means while I am going through the process of revising the content, the book is unavailable for sale since it's also unavailable for printing.  It means potential lost sales for a few days.  

Once you have published your book with CreateSpace, you have the option of converting the files to the Kindle Publishing Platform or KDP (Kindle Direct Publishing).  Turns out the conversion of the Word file did not prove easy.  The formatting got all messed up.  It had to be reformatted for Kindle, which proved to be no easy task.  Thankfully, my husband is savvy because I could not have figured it out easily, if at all.  He converted it to a mobi file, wrote some HTML code to make the table of contents work the way it ideally should in a mobile device or e-reader, and an entire day of reformatting later...  it's 90% compatible with the most popular Kindle reading apps.  It looks different in every device.  What a royal PIA!  There is really no way to get it perfect for all of them so far as I can tell.  

So, after almost 2 years since I began this process, and a very concentrated last 2 months with all kinds of glitches at the end, I am a published author.  Had I known about all the formatting inconsistencies, challenges of cover design, and the likely need for multiple revisions and 24 hr lags between proof returns digitally, I'd have factored that in.  I was on a self-imposed publishing deadline, which was a good thing, because otherwise it might never have gotten done!  

The beauty of self-publishing is the only deadline is your own!  You do need to plan ahead though as editing can take a few months for your editor and then you have to incorporate all those edits which can take weeks if not longer, depending on how much time you have to devote to it.  You also have to plan for cover design, which can also be quite time consuming unless you have mad Photoshop skilz.

You could hire someone to design a cover, but that will also take a month or two and add cost that must be factored in.  How long it takes you to write is all up to you.  Obviously, if I were not also working, being a mom, and managing an educational awareness campaign, I could have done the writing a lot faster and the same is true for editing.  Then, of course, a good few weeks should be budged for unexpected glitches at the end like Kindle formatting.  If you don't have the skills to understand and do the formatting, you may need to hire someone to do the conversion for you, and that adds more time and expense.

Do I regret any of it?  Absolutely not.  While I was honored and thrilled to be offered 3 different publishing contracts, I knew in my heart of hearts, this was meant to be a truly self-published book. My goal is not to sell a million copies, although that would be nice, to know all those people are getting the information and support they need after suffering the worst loss ever.    The reality is this is a book no wants to ever have to buy.  It's a niche audience.  It's a book hundreds of people need every single day as newly bereaved parents, and one hundreds of thousands could use because they know someone who is a bereaved parent or are one themselves who has never been offered the support and guidance or even permission to grieve.

If this book helps but one person in their journey out of the darkness of grief, then it was worth every single second.  

If you'd like to learn more, visit http://www.outofthedarknessgriefsupport.com/

Monday, December 22, 2014

Visitor from Heaven...

When a loved one dies, certain days are harder than others, even years or decades later.  Anniversaries seem to be the hardest for many.  The anniversary of the day your loved one died being the most significant.  

What many people don't realize is that there are many other days that may be just as significant or perhaps, even more so, especially to a parent who has lost a child.

Many people cope with these difficult days through a ritual of remembrance.  It may only take a few minutes, or it may be something they devote hours or even an entire day to.  It's a way to mark the day as significant.  A day to honor your feelings, then and now.  A way to honor your loved one and the love you shared.

Today is the 10th anniversary of the day I buried my daughter.  Yesterday was the anniversary of her wake.  It was on the winter solstice.  The solstice will forever be the day we held her calling hours. Three days before Christmas will always be the day I buried my little girl.  

Not unlike a birth story, death stories need to be told.  The ritualistic remembrance is not morbid or bad or a sign of not coping well.  Quite the contrary.  Grief keeping is healthy.  It's a way of saying, "Hey, remember this person?  They were significant in my life.  Remember this day?  This day was also very significant in my life. I want you to remember them and the significance of this day, too."  

You'll see a lot of grief keeping at the holidays.  People posting messages to or about loved ones who have passed on, saying they miss them and love them.  People posting photos of their loved one who has died.  Remembrances of wonderful times they had together.  Even remembrances of the times that were not so wonderful.  I think this is a beautiful and healthy way to cope with your grief. 

Below is a keepsake I've had for ten years.  Every year, one this day, I watch it.  The photos were taken by a friend at my request during Meghan's services.  I never even noticed her presence.  Others thought I was nuts to ask her or that she was nuts for doing it.  

So many people want to help the newly bereaved.  So many offer "If there is anything I can do..." This was one of the very few things I ever asked directly for.  I'm so, so glad I had the courage and presence of mind to ask her to do it.  It was a last minute decision.  I don't regret anything about it.  

She put together the slide show/video of her photos to the song Visitor from Heaven by Twila Paris. The same song was played at Meggie's funeral.  It was written about the death of a child as I understand.  Little did I realize at the time how grateful I would be for these photos and this keepsake. Especially all these years later.  It is beautiful and powerful.  I've included it below. I encourage you to watch it and listen to the words of the song.  It is absolutely beautiful and so perfect for a child's memorial.

For what I notice now is not only the pain and sadness on our faces, but more remarkably, the love.  I can almost feel it.  Still.  After a decade.  Through the photos.  The energy was powerful then.  It is powerful today.  Love...


I have an accompanying scrapbook I made of these photos, plus ones I took at the funeral home, which I go through every year on this day as well.  I initially took the photos for Meghan's twin, who was only 3 at the time she died, and her brother, who was 6.  I wasn't sure if they'd remember and I wanted them to have the photos to look at someday if they asked or wanted to.  I wanted them to see the people who came.  To see their own expressions.  To see the love that was shown to us.  I had no idea at the time how much it would help me then and all these years later.

The act of scrapbooking the photos was also incredibly healing for me.  It was not easy, but I was surrounded by good friends while I worked on it.  It helped me process.  It helped me heal.

I realize photos or videos like this one may not be for everyone.  Making a scrapbook or video slide show of your loved one in any way could be a beautiful, loving, and moving tribute to their life and your love for them.  It also makes a wonderful gift for anyone who is bereaved.

May you feel the light and love of your loved ones who have passed on to the next place at the holidays and always.  Share your memories, a photo, their name.  Share it on social media.  Share it with friends and family.  Open your heart.  Let the love shine!