HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
To Take Away the Hurt
Host: Dr. Gloria Horsley
With guest: Flavia Weedn
April 6, 2006
G: Hello. I?m Dr. Gloria Horsley with my co-host Dr. Heidi Horsley. Each week we welcome you to Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and renewal for those who have suffered the loss of a child. We know you hurt. We?ve been there. We know that some days you go like you can?t get out of bed. We know how that is. We know how much you long for and love that person who you?ve lost in your life. Well, Heidi and our guest today and I are going to talk about this and talk about the hope and renewal that you can have and how you can get through those days. I want to start out with an email from Karl Snepp. Karl and I are on the national board of The Compassionate Friends, and he sent me part of an email he received from Ellen Geller. Ellen was a hospice nurse who worked with his son Dave while he was in his final months of, I believe he had a brain tumor. Well Karl and Ellen ? she?s one of those remarkable nurses that are in this world ? she?s kept in touch with Karl for the last 18 years and she just recently sent him an email and this is a little piece of it that Karl sent me. Ellen says:
Honestly, as I think of The Compassionate Friends, I think it?s the best organization. It really helps me when I?m working with my hospice families. I really love Healing the Grieving Heart series. So many people that I work with have listened to the show and where they have not found comfort elsewhere, they love and listen to those archived shows from The Compassionate Friends website.
That?s so great, Ellen. Thank you for emailing that to Karl. It?s great and Karl, thank you for sending it to us. And that reminds me, Heidi, that I want to tell people to remember that they can go to our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, and that they can download our shows now on Ipod. I think we have about 43 shows that you can download with our wonderful guests that we?ve had on the show. And also you can listen to our shows 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, on the archives through The Compassionate Friends website. You can also email us through our www.healingthegrievingheart.org website. And I just wanted to remind you that today we are pre-recording the show so you won?t be able to call in, but keep the emails coming. We receive some wonderful emails. Well, Heidi, would you introduce our fantastic guest today.
H: Sure, I?d love to. Our topic today is To Take Away the Hurt. Our guest is Flavia Weedn. Flavia is one of America?s leading inspirational writers and illustrators. Encouraging the expression of real feelings, her concern to bring hope to the human spirit constitutes the core of her life?s work. Known for her gentle understanding of the human spirit, Flavia Weedn has touched the lives of millions for over four decades. With the grace of her words and the simplistic beauty of her artwork, she reaches into the hearts of people and reveals the power of care and the presence of hope. Flavia shares her own experience of loss and reminds us time will soften the pain but it is love that will heal the heart. Flavia suffered the loss of her two baby boys just one year apart and she?s written a beautiful quote that I?d like to read.
Living through the loss of a child can lead us to a deeper knowledge of life?s gifts and a kind of strength we never knew we had. The time came when I could no longer dwell on questions that had no answers and I searched for insight and a rite of passage to change my focus toward positive memories and feelings. My healing began when I realized I could not have felt this sadness about losing my babies unless I had first been blessed with the joy of loving and wanting them. The real emptiness in my heart would have been never having had them at all.
Wow, Flavia, welcome to the show.
F: Thank you. I thank you for reading that. I?d forgotten that I had said those words and I have notes about the same words but you read it so eloquently. Thank you. That?s truly how I feel.
G: They are wonderful words, wonderful, wonderful words from a bereaved person. Could you tell us about your two boys and what happened?
F: First of all, from the time I was a little girl, all I wanted to do was to have children and so my first baby, a little boy, was born two months early on a Halloween night. First I should say, most preemies especially during the 7th and 8th months have immature lungs, their lungs are getting ready to develop so that they can breathe outside oxygen. I knew that, but I didn?t realize that all hospitals, especially small ones, many of them are unequipped to handle preemies and that happened to be the hospital I was in then and when he started struggling to breathe, all I could think of was to, I started shouting do something, help him, help him. Finally, he was delivered by a nurse because my doctor never got there. I remember the nurse saying we have no special care for preemies, and I thought, special care? I mean, do something. Anyway, I remember the next instant I remember reaching over and holding his hand and I held it and he only lived about five minutes.
G: What was his name?
F: I never named him. I have to tell you, I look back on these. I?ve had people ask me what did you name him and did you have him buried and all of this. When he was born, I thought we have two more months, we can decide another day, and so all he was to me was my little boy. I held his hand until he died and he only lived about five minutes and after those minutes, I was in such a state of disbelief that it wasn?t real to me. I thought, what is this? I?m in someone else?s nightmare, and my world became so blank and empty and all I could think of was all these questions that I had and they were unanswered. I remember feeling like my heart wanted to scream out that giant word, why? I think that feeling of why that no one could answer stayed in my mind for such a long time, I couldn?t let it go but somehow. Everyone I guess has individual thoughts about this but my thinking of him and not letting go of me being with him was keeping him alive in my mind. I said if I stop thinking about this, I can?t go on with my life. You can?t just go on doing what you were doing. You can?t let him go. I remember that being in my mind.
G: Well, Flavia, I was wondering because I know some of our audience out there who have had these little preemies die, I was wondering then that was how many years ago?
F: That was in 1954.
G: Were they attentive enough to you? Did they realize? How did people treat you?
F: You mean in the hospital?
G: Yeah, and outside.
F: Oh, I think most of the little notes I had and most of the messages people would give me was I don?t know what to say. I?m so sorry. And there?s something else here. My husband and I had only been married a year and my father-in-law was a doctor, general practitioner, and he?s the one that said there?s a doctor I want you to go to, and he became my doctor, but he wasn?t an OB-GYN. It was very different then because I just guess I was unaware of a lot of things. I thought you got pregnant, and you had a baby, and you took that baby home, and your whole life was changed. So this was interrupting my sense of what my life was going to be. Somehow I got through that first year just by thinking of him and still wondering why no one could answer any of my questions. Then when I got pregnant again.
G: How long was that before you got pregnant?
F: It was a year later when the second baby died so shortly I guess.
H: So a few months after the first baby died, you were pregnant again.
F: Yes. On the following New Year?s Eve. This is an unbelievable thing. My life became a re-run. I have a second chance and a second midnight trek to the hospital and the second little boy born two months early. What I learned from the doctor then, once you go into labor and have a baby, if it?s six months or seven months or eight months, your uterus becomes used to doing that then. Somehow it?s a clocks kind of a thing. And he was explaining this to me. Why could this happen just the same two months early? He had an identical little face. I went to the same hospital and had the same doctor and looking back on that, why didn?t I change? I don?t know. You do things that you look back on and you can?t understand at all.
G: Especially when you?re very young like that.
F: You know, I was, and also another thing in there which I think is a life lesson that I will talk about later, but I didn?t want to hurt my father-in-law?s feelings by changing doctors. Isn?t that just dumb? I was young and I thought no, he?s a doctor. So you have all these things in your mind that you try to figure out and you need to just stop and look at yourself and say wait a minute, what am I thinking. What?s really important here? A baby or my father-in-law?s feelings? Anyway, he had the same problem, his lungs struggling to take in air. And again, I remember saying all that ? you must be able to do something. The same nurse delivered him and she
G: The doctor didn?t get there again?
F: No, he didn?t get there at all until after the baby was born, and it?s funny, I had these on holidays and I?m thinking, New Year?s Eve, he was probably at a party or something. I?m not blaming him at all but I sure as heck did this. Anyway, I held him, reached over and took him from this nurse?s arms because I knew what was going to happen. What happens when preemies try so desperately to live, you can see their chest go in like you?ve put your fist there because they?re just struggling so hard.
G: Flavia, we?re going to have to take a break at this intense moment. It?s wonderful the way you?re describing and I know it?s very heartfelt to our audience and when we come back from break, we want to hear some more from Flavia about her early years with her two little boys who passed away.
F: I was so filled with anger after he died. This little guy struggled so hard to live and I thought he?s trying so hard and there?s nothing I can do and so I reached over from the nurse and picked him up and held him until he died. One thing that I learned, I guess one of the first things I learned about these two experiences was that I started thinking about God and how I knew God had been with me both of those nights and I knew I?d already made every promise I could ever make to him but I still kept praying, if he please try somehow to erase this time or to take it back or to make it a nightmare and I will wake up, this was all after the fact, but I thought only God could erase all this.
G: Right as so many of us think and then you go to sleep and think you wake up and it?s not been real.
F: Exactly. But no answer came back to me because there was no answer. This is the first thing I learned about this. There is no answer when something like this happens. I tried to deal with it by going back to that lonely empty place in my mind and I never knew I could hurt that much until I finally faced the reality that life can be fragile, brief and unfair and I could never understand or change it. I thought that was important to know because I realized I found some kind of a truth here because you can?t change it and you have to just accept that this is happening and you have to know that you can go on and you can live with this because you?ve learned from it.
G: Now, Flavia, let me ask you a question. Obviously you?re recovering from having a baby and the insights that you received, how were you right at first? Just for some of our audience who have just lost children. Physically and mentally and where were you? Was your family around you? Was your husband there? How did everyone deal with it?
F: My husband was not there either time. He was on a golf tournament out of town and then he was somewhere else. So that?s why when I think of this, I think of it as me and my baby because he wasn?t there to share it with me.
H: So you were very much alone.
F: I was very much alone. In fact, my father-in-law, Dr. Weedn, came into the hospital to see me and afterwards, the day after, incidentally, they had put me into a maternity ward and they were all bringing their babies and I?m just sitting there and you know, what happened to you? Where?s your baby? Do you have a boy or a girl? And that was the worst time of it all.
H: I was going to say that?s traumatic.
F: What did they think? This was a small hospital but still they were medical people. I remember telling myself I have to get back the way I was. It?s okay. I can?t bring him back and I just talked to myself a lot. I remember I thought I have to try to put myself back together and I had all these conversations with myself but it was hard to find the me I used to be because I knew I would never be different.
G: I love that. It was hard to find the person you used to be.
F: It really is because you are changed after this. And God help me if they had lived longer and become an older child, I have such compassion for people that lose a child of any age. If I could hurt this much just having them a short while, I don?t know how other people go through it except that I have some secrets, not secrets, but some thoughts that I?ve had that I think would help people and I started thinking about them during this time.
G: Before we get to those, I want to ask you one question that comes up for me. Now you have two other children. Could you tell us about getting pregnant again and then I want to definitely move on a little further on the show of some ideas you have for people. How long did you wait and how did you have the courage to do that? Oh, my.
F: I couldn?t not do it because I probably would have kept on getting pregnant all the time trying to have a baby but what I learned in this interim is that first of all I have to have a different doctor and a different hospital and different care.
G: So you really had to pull yourself together to do that, right?
F: You do and you have to forget the grief and start beginning again because you?re still alive and you have your life. Your life?s going to go on and so in my mind I kind of folded up my questions and all of these things and put them away like I would fold up a blanket and put it in a drawer and I began to get one thing in my mind and that I think helped me decide to get pregnant.
G: How long was this?
F: Several months before I got pregnant.
H: How long after your baby died did you get pregnant?
F: That?s what I?m trying to think. Okay, after the second baby, it was two-and-a-half years. I realized then that I had this ? it?s like I got it and what I got was it?s not as important to understand life as it is to see the wonder in it, and I dwelled on that a lot because having a baby is a wonder and it gave me kind of an inner strength that I never knew I had and I stopped questioning why about anything in life.
G: How did you feel when you found out you were pregnant?
F: I was elated. I remember when I found out I was pregnant. They didn?t have cell phones then and I ran to a pay phone and called my husband and he wasn?t in his office. I called my mother and she wasn?t home. I call my sister and I call my brother and no one was home. And I thought, here I am. I want to tell the world and no one?s home. I remember that funny little incident. My boy was born first.
G: Let me say something about no one?s home because I think you were really home then for yourself.
F: I do, too, isn?t that funny? I wasn?t lost. I was home.
G: With the first two, maybe there was no one home and more lonely but, as you say, I think maybe you figured out that you were home.
F: I had such confidence in this doctor, just a great doctor.
H: I was going to say, you got very proactive.
F: Oh, I did. Well, you know, I have a lot of strength. I?ve always been skinny and not fragile looking but I can really ? especially when it?s about children, I get this from my mother. My mother would hear a baby crying in a market and she would walk over with me following her and say, oh, this dear little baby, and pick him up, and the mother would be standing there and my mother would be arrested now. You don?t do that. But she said now, look, look at this curler, and this kind of thing, and all of a sudden the baby was laughing and we would just walk on like nothing happened and I think I have a little bit of those genes in me because when it comes to kids, I?m very proactive.
G: It?s time for us to come up on break again.
Well, Flavia, when we went to break we were talking about the loss of your two lovely baby boys to prematurity and then now you?ve moved on two-and-a-half years later and you are pregnant again with your third child and we?re talking about how you tried to call everyone and nobody was home. We were saying Flavia was home for herself because you became very proactive.
F: One of the best things that ever happened to me was this doctor, the OB-GYN that delivered my son, Rick, he knew of my past history of course and so he had one of the most dedicated pediatricians specializing in preemies there in on the delivery so I was coming from no care to where I had just all of this wonderful care and even though it was hard going because he was still having trouble breathing, they now had the first step into the neonatal field.
H: Rick was a preemie?
F: Rick was born at eight months. But somehow I worried, not as much, because I knew that people that really knew what to do were helping me and helping him. It?s an interesting thing. He was born in St. Mary?s Hospital in Long Beach and they have two nurseries there. It?s a huge hospital and this was in December of 1956 so this was a long time ago but they just had isolates replacing incubators which they?re the same thing but more advanced. If they hadn?t had those, Rick probably wouldn?t have lived either because the neonatal units, the NIC units weren?t available. They were just starting to begin during that period and so Rick really was a miracle baby because I had great care. It?s so important and you don?t know about it until after you don?t have that kind of care.
G: Well, Flavia, let me ask you, if we have some folks out there who maybe have had a child by a preemie or whatever and they are trying to get the courage to get pregnant again or they?re pregnant and afraid, what recommendations would you have to people? What helped you?
F: I think what helped me the most was that I knew that you can?t give up and just stop living and if you still want children, you have to try again because especially now, the care that they can give preemies. One thing I should make clear, though, my babies had no really physical problems, I just had them early. But the thing is the advancement in that whole premature field and even in a full-term baby, they can do so much more now than they could before.
H: So now they probably would have lived.
F: Oh, absolutely, they would have.
G: One of the things I?m thinking you might say to those folks out there, one of the things I?ve really heard from you, Flavia, is I don?t hear that you are angry with the medical world.
F: Not at all. In fact, you see, look what they taught me. I think that?s the thing. I hang out with a doctor here. There are so many wonderful people in that field and the technology is so great. If you?re going to have a baby, this is the time to have it.
G: Right, but I also don?t hear you being angry at your father-in-law.
F: Oh, no, no.
G: There are a lot of people that carry these hurts around forever.
F: Oh, yeah, and I don?t. I was angry, I think, because I had to blame somebody. I really didn?t blame him. Looking all back at this, I blame myself.
G: But at first you may have been angry but how did you give that up because that?s one of the things I see with our folks. Early on, they have a lot of anger and then people who seem to have moved beyond that seems to make their life a lot brighter.
F: You have to have the courage. It?s courage and you have to reach inside yourself and say I can get through this. That?s another thing. There is no answer to why. I was so angry at first. I don?t understand. Why did this happen? Why? I took care of myself. I was so careful. All the this, this, this. None of that matters. The fact is the baby died, the child died, but you still have that love and that child inside your heart and you will never let it go.
H: Well, that?s what I love. I love in your quote when you say my healing began when I realized I could not have felt this sadness about losing my babies unless I had first been blessed with the joy of loving and wanting them. Kind of embrace that.
F: Very very important. I remember after I lost the second baby, someone said to me they were so sorry and they were just so sweet and nice but she just said now you can go on without children. And I thought wait a minute, wait a minute. And then I realized even if I don?t have another child, I still have those, because that?s really how I feel. You don?t really lose something. They?re still with you wherever you are and I think you have to accept that and know that it?s true.
G: So you do hold them in your heart and you realize that she was right. You could go on because we do have some of our audience who do not have other children and are going on.
F: And even with that you have to understand that somehow, somewhere, in a place we don?t know about, there are reasons for this. And maybe those reasons are to make us learn things from each experience because I think that we do.
H: So Flavia, do you have any special rituals that you do to remember your children?
F: Yes, I do. This is going to be the most different one you?ve ever heard, I know. One night shortly after my second baby died, I went outside and I was looking at the stars. It was a beautiful night and I looked up and I was looking at all the stars and I saw two stars that were so close they were almost one but I could see that they were two and all of a sudden I found myself thinking those could be my two little boys so I started talking to them and all alone, this dark night, and I was talking to them and telling them that I still loved them and that they were with me and that I could talk to them now even though I couldn?t see them and I could talk to them when I looked at those stars. That gave me a great deal of comfort and it?s interesting because now when I have my son and my daughter who were born two years after my son, I hear them sometimes talking. Of course, they?re adults now and I have two granddaughters, but they still, all the time they were growing up, I kept the idea that they had two little brothers and we talked about them. Even when I would paint, when I started painting again, I got a two-sided easel for these two little children and we would talk and paint and they would ask me and what about that little brother, can he see and things like this. So I kept them alive and I could realize that even when they grew up,
G: It?s time for us to go to break now. When we went to break, we were talking about your art and how you remember your children, the boys that died prematurely, and how your other two children painted with you and you had the two-sided easel. And that gets me into something I?d like to talk about which is your work. And I would love everyone to go to your website. It is so fabulous and I?m amazed at all the things that you do that you show on your website. First, there?s a great picture of you. Very lovely. But you have all these wonderful products and you have even blank checks. I love that. They?re absolutely adorable. And you have e-cards that people can send out, posters. Talk more about your art and what it means to you and tell our audience how they can access it.
F: Kind of start at the beginning here. After I lost my first two babies, my husband and I divorced. We?ve been divorced twice so I get kind of mixed up.
G: You?ve been divorced from the same man twice?
F: Yes, that?s another dumb thing I do.
G: I don?t know. There must be something karmic about that relationship. So anyway, you got divorced after the boys died and
F: It was after I had my son and daughter that we divorced but I still had this same feeling that I had now to support both my children and myself and I thought these are some things that I?m sure other people have felt. Sometimes you have to reach way inside and think, okay, now what could I do and still stay at home with my babies.
H: Yeah, you have to get creative, right?
F: You really do. I tried a few little jobs. None of it worked. I had a great career before I got married.
G: Were you in art before you got married?
F: I was in fashion design and merchandising and all those kinds of things so the world of color and line was very important to me and I have loved to paint and write so I sat out on the front lawn one day thinking please, God, I?ve got to do something that I can stay here with them, and all of a sudden, I guess this is out of context here, because the person that gave me the greatest inspiration in my life was my mother?s kid brother, Jack, who was only two years older than I was. I used to talk to the moon when I was a child and we lived in a poor area and I used to tell the moon how much I disliked my name because no one could pronounce it and the kids laughed at it and we lived across the street from a tire factory and next to railroad tracks and I wanted to live somewhere else and all these things that can worry a nine and ten year old I told to the moon because I kept everything inside. And Jack heard me. We lived in the same house. He heard me and told me the next day the things that really changed my life. He told me, you see up in the sky, you see those clouds? Behind those clouds are all your dreams and all your wishes and they?re just waiting for you. It doesn?t matter where we live. That?s not important. He said you have to change the way you think. If you change the way you think, that won?t matter any more because that?s unimportant anyway. He said when you go to school, I want you to look around and see if any of these kids that have been laughing at you were named after a princess in a book, because you were. Which was true.
G: Well, it?s certainly a wonderful name and it?s also a wonderful name for all your products.
H: It fits you.
F: I knew I was the only Flavia in the world but now I didn?t mind spelling it or pronouncing it. And when I went to Italy, Flavia is everywhere. And so I became proud. Now going back to this thing about me supporting myself, Jack is the one who told me it?s the way you look at life. You have to look at life in a different way and you?ll start seeing things change and those things won?t matter. He said you can do anything you ever want to do but you have to never give up. He told me all these things. He was only 16 years old. I did not know he had so much insight. It was remarkable. So back I am and there?s my house
G: And you?ve lost two children, and you?ve got two children, and you?re divorced, and you?re saying now, what?
F: I?m changing the way I?m looking at life and I?m going to do this, whatever it is. All of a sudden, I could hear Jack?s voice saying to me Flavia, you can do it. Actually I heard him. It?s so strange.
G: And by the way, audience, you can hear Flavia say that. Say it for them, Flavia.
F: You can do it. It sounds so easy and all of this and the thing is it is easy but you have to believe you can do it and once you know someone believes in you, it?s easy to believe in yourself. And if you believe in yourself, it?s a gift you?re giving yourself and you can do anything. I thought, oh, this is my answer. I didn?t have to ask why any more. Jack knew it all the time. And so this is what I did. I started painting again and my first art show was coming up. It was an open art show.
G: Flavia, give us your website.
F: It?s Flavia.
G: Remember you can google Flavia artist and tell us some of the things you?ve got on there. It?s really wonderful.
F: We have the stories. I?ve written a lot of stories. My daughter and I?ve co-authored a lot of books.
G: And then you illustrate them.
F: Yes. We have cards and as you said, posters.
G: And ecards that are fun to send. And wallpaper. I loved your wallpaper.
F: Oh, my God, I didn?t even know it was on there. I stay so busy I don?t know what the other fingers are doing. You know that this is my life.
H: We can tell by the website. It?s wonderful. And it?s very healing.
G: You?re a great inspiration Flavia and thank you so much for being on the show and I know you?re an inspiration to others who are going through their own journey and the idea that they just have to believe in themselves and you certainly have and thank you so much for being on the show.
F: You?re very welcome, both of you.