What Bereaved Families Can Expect – Interview with Harriet Sarnoff Schiff

HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
What Bereaved Families Can Expect As Time Goes On
Host: Dr. Gloria Horsley
With guest: Harriet Sarnoff Schiff
June 16, 2005

Today I am much honored to have as my special guest international grief expert and author Harriet Sarnoff Schiff. Harriet Sarnoff Schiff is the author of two classic works on grieving, The Bereaved Parent and Living with Mourning. Her third book, How Did I Become my Parent’s Parent addresses the challenges of caring for elderly parents. Harriet is a licensed clinical social worker and former reporter for the Detroit News. She’s lectured throughout the United States, Canada, and Australia and has appeared on many television shows including Oprah, The Today Show, Good Morning America, and Donahue. Harriet tells us that even though we will never leave our children behind, we can go on to live productively unless we choose not to. Her life after the loss of her son, Robbie, is truly an example of how to go on to create and realize new dreams. Good morning, Harriet, and welcome to Healing the Grieving Heart.
H: Good morning, Gloria, it is just a delightful day here and I’m delighted to be speaking with you. First of all, I have to clear something up. I am not a clinical social worker.
G: Oh, you?re not. I had that down on something.
H: Well, I don?t know who would say. More importantly, I am a bereaved parent and those are my credentials. I am a former reporter, former journalist, and I did this the hard way, living it, interviewing, talking to people, and that is where my expertise comes. It?s a whole other discipline.
G: Right. Well, you?re truly a hero of mine because your first book, The Bereaved Parent, was given to me right after my son?s death in an automobile accident in 1983, and a person that I knew, not well, whose son was killed in a boating accident the year before, she just came over and dropped the book off and it was interesting after 22 years to pick it up again and to see why it was so moving and so important for me. There are such wonderful proverbs and quotes in it and what I really loved, and I think I must have read it over and over again, were the statements that you made at the end of the book. I just jotted down a couple. One of them was: ?Never did I envision us laughing and happy and dealing with life again, but we did, and so can you.? What a wonderful affirmation. And, again, you put the fear of the unknown behind us because we?ve already taken a long look at hell. And just your whole thing about we can go on and do great things was just a fantastic thing for me at that time.
H: And, you know, I do believe that once you?ve experienced this, there are very few things in life that can hold up the terror. You can do anything once you have lived through this. Nothing can stop you.
G: I think that is absolutely true, but you don?t know it when it happens for sure.
H: And also, it?s almost insensitive to address it when it first happens because those are not the moments for that. I?ve often wondered when the right time for someone to read my book is. It?s in its 46th printing. It just keeps on like the Energizer bunny. It breaks my heart that it?s needed, but it just keeps going.
G: Isn?t it amazing? It?s 46th printing and let me say it?s only, how many pages? 146 pages? Is that right?
H: Yes. I have one here. I deliberately did that because my sense of it is when you are so distraught and you?ve been there, I?ve been there. I?m sure many of our listeners have been there. You?re not about to pick up a tome and start analyzing and doing deep psychology and deep anything. I even made certain that the language was very simple one and two syllable words because I didn?t want people having to put down the book and go look in the dictionary. That was not the intent of what this was about.
G: Would you share your story with us?
H: Yes, I will, Gloria, and I?d also like to share why this book happened because it tells you where we are today. Robbie died in 1968 and there was nothing. I have been a life-long reader. I can?t remember not reading, and as soon as we buried him and as soon as I was able to do anything, I thought, I?d better go to the library and I?d better find some information. And, Gloria, there was nothing. The only books that were in the library were books by Ann Morrow Lindberg and somebody else. They were memorials to their children. That?s not what I needed. I needed something to tell me how I was going to live today.
G: Some practical, how you were actually going to make it, yeah.
H: It stunned me and it further deepened the nightmare for me because I started feeling, my God, this has never really happened to anybody before. And here, our son Robbie was born with congenital heart disease. He lived to be 9 years and 9 months and we had a lot of medical issues and a lot of difficulty and yet he was a young man who went to school. He had rules at home. He had chores, and he had a sense of right and wrong in his home. He was not allowed to run wild and just be a crazy person because he was ill. I wanted to give him a life that had substance and meaning and our hope always was that the corrective surgery would correct and at the age of 9 something, he had the surgery. He lived for 24 hours, and then he died. And I had hoped that he would make it. I?ll tell you something very interesting. I don?t know how many of our listeners have had this when they?re dealing with ill children. He came out of surgery, and I remember being in the surgical lounge and I said, oh, Robbie. I started reading him telegrams and all kinds of things from people from all over the country who were our friends. I said this is going to be so wonderful. You?ll be so well. And he just looked at me and he shook his head. And I believe children know.
G: Yes, children are quite amazing. Young children.
H: Now, I did not know or think this way in 1968. This is a different world today. But I do believe now that people die when they?ve completed what they have to do here. I believe that now so passionately, and it?s not something I ever. I would have been outraged if anyone had said that to me. I have to tell you. I would have said, what? My baby was only 10 years old and you?re telling me that was it. But now looking down the road a piece, I do see there are different journeys that all of us have to take.
G: Right. Well, tell me, what got you through those dark days when the doctor came in and told you that he had died. I remember reading in the book that you said that they told your husband first because, of course, men can take it and then he was supposed to tell you and he was supposed to buck it up or whatever.
H: And, then the other thing I have to tell you that is so vivid in my mind is, we were told in a hospital corridor. They didn?t have little rooms back then. This is one of the battles that I have fought and I think have been successful. In many places in the United States where there is a quiet room now where a doctor can take a family with a telephone without having to worry about coins and change and calling cards. Those things were not there. It was almost barbaric as I look back. It was what they knew and what they did then.
G: And part of it was, because I?m a nurse, also, is that I think that they were afraid they were going to get trapped in a room with the family.
H: Well, I want to share a story with you about that. We live in the greater Detroit area. Our son?s final surgery was in Birmingham, Alabama. The surgeon that performed the operation was a man who perfected it. My son had tetralogy of Fallot which means he had four major heart defects. The doctor who did it is the one who perfected the operation. So we were down there. This man only saw critical children. This is all he did. So of course he had to create some sort of a distance between himself and his patients in order for him to survive, but we became very friendly with his chief resident because we were from out of town and they are so hospitable in the south. They took us to dinner and we spent a lot of time. We were told after Robbie died. First of all, our friend changed his specialty and went into obstetrics. The surgeon kind of disappeared for a couple of days. He literally. He did not come in because he could not deal with it. So, yes, there is validity to the fact that being trapped in the room is a real issue. On the other hand, being told in the hospital corridor where there is a room full of other people with critically ill children waiting to hear how their children did.
G: So, tell me, what were your early physical aspects of grief, just to let people know that we?re with them and we do recognize what they?re having early on. Oh, it?s time for us to go to break now. Let?s bring that up when we get back from break. Please stay tuned to hear more from Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, bereaved parent, author, wife, international lecturer, and woman extraordinaire. Be back in a minute.
G: Harriet, sounds like we have a call from Toni from Colorado. Shall we take that and see what she has to ask us?
H: Absolutely, Toni. Welcome.
T: I have to tell you I?m having a hard time hearing your show on my computer so I apologize if I?m asking something you?ve already talked about. I have a very good friend whose name is Margaret and she just lost a baby to SIDS. The baby was two years old and all of us who are friends with her really want to do something to help her through this. She?s just absolutely devastated and none of us really know what to do or what to say. We?re feeling the loss ourselves. She was such a beautiful little girl. But we thought we?d call and see what you guys could tell us.
G: Great. Thank you, Toni. Did you want to take that, Harriet? Would you like to comment on that?
H: Yes, I would. Toni, first of all, I?d like to ask, do her friends all have children within that same young age group?
T: I actually don?t have any children and three of her other close friends do have kids. I think most of them are a little older. One of them has an infant.
H: Okay. This is where it gets to be difficult because there is the sense that there but for the grace of God. It adds a lot of fear to people around her when they have young families as well. And what we need to get her to understand is she needs to reach out to her friends. She has to do a little bit of initiating because nobody is a mind reader and people might be feeling, ?Well, I don?t want to call and bother her. She?s grieving. She?s upset. We don?t know what she?s going to say.? We need to teach her to reach out a little bit to her friends, her community, her clergy, and get some help that way and, of course, she?s devastated. It?s a horrendous way for a child to die and there?s no good way and that is particularly awful.
G: And one of the things that you find is that there are some people who will be able to come forward and will be able to deal with it. Maybe people that she doesn?t even know will be able to come forward and some people are not able to handle it and they probably will disappear for awhile and maybe come back later on. But not everybody can handle this. I think there are also some good organizations now that deal with SIDS death that friends might be able to look into.
H: Also, SIDS has a good outreach program and they do, they will call her. But she has to be ready to say now I?m part of them and it might be too raw for her to do that. I would say the number one precaution for anyone that talks with her is not to say, I know how you feel. Also, please remember if there is a father involved that he, too, is part of the grieving.
G: Absolutely, and if there are any men available. If you?re married, Toni, or there are other men that can reach out to him, it?s a wonderful thing. And also, you don?t need to say a lot. You can offer to run errands. Go grocery shopping. If there are other kids, pick them up. Say what can I do for you rather than how are you feeling? And maybe even mention some things that you can do. Can I come over and mow the lawn?
H: I?d like to come over and do is much easier than what can I do for you because when you?re so lost, you don?t even know what you need. And one of the other things that does happen, I think to every bereaved mother, is going to the grocery store that first time after your child has died and you look at the food and, as a mother, a nurturer, food is synonymous with what you do for your child.
G: And you have to think about what everybody eats and what they like. And then the other people at the super market run the other way with their grocery carts when they see you across the lettuce heads.
H: Yeah. I think this is a time when a friend can offer and say, ?I?d like to go to the grocery with you.? And not say what do you need because I would be more specific. I don?t know if she has other children.
T: Yes, she does. She has a 4-year-old.
H: Okay.
G: Let me take her to the park. Something like that.
H: Let me take her to the park. I?d like to come with you and take her to the park. Let?s take a half our and go get her an ice cream cone. And specifics, but always small. Remember, this is not a time where anything can be big. It?s tiny baby steps.
G: Right. Like floss one tooth.
H: I would go that way. I think the best help you can give her is just not to say I know how you feel. You can say, I?m sorry, I can?t understand how you feel.
T: I?ve said to her, I can?t even imagine how you feel.
H: Right. That?s true.
G: Well, thank you, Toni. That?s a great call and good luck with your friend and I hope things go very well for her. It is a tough time, indeed. Harriet, I loved your story in the book about after three months, do you remember what you said, how you knew that you were getting better or how you made a decision or something, what you did.
H: What did I do after three months?
G: You baked a cake.
H: Well, you know what, all of these things I remember early on that physically it made me feel pain when I tried to put makeup on. I mean, anything I did that was in any way ?self-improvement,? ?going forward.? Every time I tried to do anything that was going forward, I felt I was leaving Robbie behind. And the last thing I wanted was to do that. I wanted Robbie with me. We stayed in our home for 18 years, oh, about 10 years longer than we probably should have because we couldn?t leave Robbie at the house that he lived in before he died.
G: And what about changing the room? When do you? What are your thoughts about putting the children’s things away? Deciding what you?re going to do with them? What did you do with Robbie?s?
H: Well, helpful friends came and took away his clothes about a month or two after he died. But for whatever reason, and I?ve heard this from other parents as well, I kept his winter jacket. I wanted to know what he was warm in.
G: It?s funny because we still have my son?s letter jacket that he got in high school.
H: And everything else can be gone but that was, usually an article of clothing. But the other thing that I think does have to happen. I have passionate feelings about enshrining a room. I think it is very unhealthy. It?s unhealthy for parents. It is profoundly unhealthy for other children. It is no showing them the dead child will never be forgotten. It?s showing them that a shrine is a holy place and that is more important than these living, breathing children.
G: Well, I usually tell people the first year nothing?s crazy. If they want to leave the keys on the desk or whatever, but then after that, particularly with other kids, they may want to start thinking about making changes.
H: If it?s the first year or completing all of the life cycle events, things that are going to come up, it varies. I have a little problem of being that firm, something about the length of time of something. I don?t think that necessarily works as well as it could.
G: Yeah. I think you?re right. There?s the individual thing. One of the other things I wanted to hit on that you talked about in your book that I think is important for our listeners is sleeping. Do you want to talk about that a little bit?
H: Oh, yes, I want to talk about sleeping as a lifelong insomniac prior to Robbie and a continuing insomniac. There is a circle of depression that happens when a child dies. The more tired you are, the more vulnerable you feel, and the more vulnerable you feel, the less you are able to cope with each hour of the day. And I, without any medical background, do feel that sometimes sleep medication can be a blessing.
G: I agree. How can you keep going without any sleep? It?s just amazing.
H: You can?t only not keep going, it doesn?t allow you to start rebuilding some defenses that you need in order to make it through this horrendous process. Exhaustion is an enemy.
G: Yes. That?s one of the things I always say. Don?t feel bad about taking some sleeping pills or asking for them because you?ve just got to get some sleep.
H: Absolutely. Absolutely. It?s just so important, Gloria.
G: Now, another thing you talked a little bit about, you had some opinions on viewing the body.
H: Yes. I viewed Robbie and kind of ran from the room yet there?s a sense of. People have this feeling that I don?t want to view the body, I want to remember him as he was. I don?t think viewing the body takes away from remembering Scott or Robbie as they were. It just adds finality at a time when we need to know at some level that something is final.
G: Right. You know, one thing I want to say about this before we go to break is that also our listeners are bereaved parents, most of them, and they have regrets about what happened with viewing the body. I hear that a lot, and I think there must be some self-forgiveness about that.
H: At either end. Because the way I?ve heard it, Gloria, is people who did not view the body regret it bitterly. People who did view the body, regret it bitterly. And what ends up happening is, it?s all hard. It?s all painful. Any decision we make will be up for judgment six months later and that?s just the nature of the horrendous.
G: And the idea that you did the best you could with what you had at the time.
H: But people need to know that. They need to really know that.
G: Right. And really believe it.
H: Yes. And that becomes so hard because we always feel, well, gee, there might have been something more I could have done. You know, there?s more. And that?s not necessarily accurate.
G: Right, absolutely. Sounds like we?re getting ready to go to break. When we come back, I wanted to talk a little about your being on the Donahue show which really promoted the Compassionate Friends in the United States, and we?re coming to break and we?ll be back with more with Dr. Gloria Horsley and Harriet Sarnoff Schiff.
Harriet, when we went to break, I was saying that I?d like to have you talk about being on the Donahue show for your book and what it did for the Compassionate Friends, but first let?s take our phone call from Ceil in Wilmington, Delaware.
C: I just wanted to tell Dr. Schiff that we send out her book to every newly bereaved person in the Wilmington, Delaware, area.
G: Oh, wow, how great.
C: And we have a wonderful gentleman who is not a bereaved parent but he funds us so that we can do this and we put a dedication on it and we say the book is given to you in the memory of Margaret. We will hope you will pass it along to another bereaved parent when you feel you no longer need it.
H: Ceil, I have to tell you something. This makes me feel a little bit teary. I gave a speech somewhere, I think it was in Pittsburg, and some people stood up and they said we have a book that we receive and it was given to us by someone who read our child?s obituary and they asked that we read it, use it, and then pass it along. It moved me as what you?re saying does, beyond words. It?s the ultimate message of love to be able to do that.
C: We?ve sent 300 books so far and I?ve just ordered another hundred.
G: Fantastic.
C: We do have too many people that need it.
G: What amazes me about it, frankly, Ceil and Harriet, is that I got it in 1983 and it still just goes on and on. And you know why, it?s from the heart and you?re telling your story and really sharing where it was and where people are.
C: And also, I think more important than even telling my story is I really wanted people to know what they needed to do to survive. And I found some things that helped me and my hope is that it would also help the other people.
G: Ceil, what helped you in the book. Do you have any thoughts about that?
C: Well, I remember the beginning of the lore, this parallel about not knowing really what it feels like to be a bereaved parent, and I thought that was very, very strong. I also wanted to mention to you that I suggest to people who call that they can go to our website and they can print one of our brochures like that lady who called in before. She could print how can I help.
G: Right, from the Compassionate Friends website. Great idea.
C: There?s a lot of other good brochures.
G: And, Ceil, you?re a bereaved parent. And just tell us briefly about your bereavement.
C: Well, my son was killed in a terrorist attack in the Rome airport 20 years ago, or will be in December.
G: And Ceil will actually be on my show in a few weeks.
C: Right. And something that?s really amazing, the young man that was killed next to John, I got in touch with his father years ago and his father has since passed on. But his sister called me out of the blue three months ago and we?ve become fast phone friends and she?s coming to the conference.
G: Oh, how great. And the conference is the Compassionate Friends conference in Boston on the 1st and 2nd of July, in Boston, Massachusetts. And there will be a lot of parents giving workshops. It?s going to be a wonderful event, and we?ll be doing the show from there.
H: I was just going to add that this must be profoundly difficult for you to hear the word terrorist so frequently on our news right now.
C: It?s difficult for me for other people. It will soon be 20 years and there is something to do with time healing and I just feel so bad. I?ve talked to families of 9/11. I?ve talked to the families of Pan Am 103, and I just feel so badly because knowing the journey they?re going to be on and how sad they will be.
G: But what a wonderful thing to see you and that you?re up and running.
C: Right. I do things I never believed I could do and all in memory of my son, John.
G: Wonderful.
H: I hope you also do other than in memory of your son, John, that are especially for Ceil.
C: I do that, too.
H: I believe it?s very important to not devote the rest of our lives to functioning in the grieving community. We have to be in the living community as well.
C: Absolutely, I?ll tell my husband that. He thinks it?s time I handed over the chapter to someone else. And I think I?m going to do that. I think you?re right.
H: But, you know what, Ceil, hand it over but have something else in the works before you do.
C: I always do, trust me.
H: Yes. So you don?t have a big void. I feel very strongly that those of us who have done this work have a time to do it and a time to pass it one.
C: Sure. I agree.
G: Maybe, Harriet, could you tell us about being on the Donahue show and what happened with the Compassionate Friends that Ceil is talking about which is a national self-help program for parents who have lost children and siblings who have lost their sibling.
H: Ceil and Gloria, both of you know this truth, and that is once you?ve had a child die, there are certain levels where you can start comparing, how can I be afraid of this after I have survived my Robbie?s death? And what happened was, I started getting on the phone and making phone calls and Donahue was the Oprah of his day. And they kept telling me, no, no, no, no. This is too much of a downer. We don?t want to discuss this topic. And I kept saying, you must discuss this topic. The book was written. People must know it?s there because there was nothing there before this book. So they kept telling me no, no, no. And I was probably a pest, very persistent, and it was about people needed to know that it was available and that as the method of getting that message out. So finally, finally, his producer said okay. Phil has said he will do it if you get us a whole audience of Chicago people. I live in the Detroit area. And I said, of course, that?s not a problem. And I hung up and said, oh, my, what have I done? How do I do this? So what I started doing is I called hospitals. I called support groups. I called Compassionate Friends as a small chapter at that time. Not too many people. Through word of mouth, ended up with a full audience of bereaved parents.
G: Wow. That must have raised the roof.
H: It raised the roof to the point where I had a one-hour show to do with him and then I had a commitment to do another program in Chicago and he wouldn?t let me leave. He said, we can?t stop. This is only half way through. I said I have another commitment. He said, believe me, you stay with me. I will take care of the other commitment. I know Compassionate Friends has the two-hour tape and that?s why it?s a two hour show because he was restless. And then what happened was that that was so interesting after being so resistant was every time he tried to go into another city to open up another market, the bereaved parent was the show that he used as his demo tape. And he was a wonderful friend to those of us who needed him. But he?s normal. He was afraid. There but for the grace of God.
G: It is very scary for people. And some people are able to move towards it if they?ve had other things and some people are just not able to do that. So then the Compassionate Friends from that is 400 chapters. I think they have an email newsletter of 250,000 people. And at the national conference in Boston, there?ll probably be 1500 people and probably most of them will be fairly newly bereaved parents. I don?t really see too many people holding on that long. I see people coming in and out. And like Ceil said, she?s probably ready to move on now and other people will come in and take those places. I love that?s what you said to me. I think you said something about that. When you?re ready to move on, other people will appear.
H: And they do. I remember the conference in Utah. I was the speaker.
G: Yes. I heard you speak there.
H: I just saw the newly bereaved parents and I just had such a feeling. Their age was not important because they were young couples with little babies that died and they were older people with children who died. And I just somehow wanted to encompass all of them and tell them you can do this but you can?t do it big. You have to do it in little increments.
G: Yeah. Little tiny steps. Start out with those 45-minute showers. I was working. Trying to get to work. Trying to get out of bed. It was tough.
H: There?s one other thing I would like very much to mention about how to help yourself in the process. In the Jewish faith we have something called kaddish. It is a set time of the day where we go generally to a temple but can be done at home and we say certain prayers and right when that is over, we get up and go back about our lives. This can be translated for anybody who is grieving. Take 15 minutes. Set it aside. No TV. Turn off your phone. Take it off the hook and just sit down with the book that gives you consolation. A picture of your dead child if you need to cry. Take that time, but right before an activity that?s going to keep you busy. When you know, I?m going to be leaving here in 25 minutes. You take that 15 minutes. Use that time. The same time every day. And then go about your life. That is probably one of the biggest helps I can offer. It works.
G: That?s great. Kind of giving yourself a gift of time and space.
H: Giving yourself a grieving time. And what that gives you is a time to grieve and also the permission to have some decent time through the day when you?re not grieving and you don?t have to feel guilty if something happened to work out nicely by accident.
G: Yes. That sounds like a very good idea. When we come back from this break, you and I were talking a little bit about some financial problems. I want to thank Ceil for being on this show. I feel like we kind of cut her off. I forgot to tell her good bye, we got so involved. I really appreciate her being on the show. So when we come back from the break, we?ll be speaking with Dr. Gloria Horsley and Harriet Sarnoff Schiff. Harriet, before we come to the closing, we have a few more minutes. I want to ask you, are there any important points that you feel we?ve missed or comments you want to make?
H: There is something that I think is urgent that we discussed. I wrote an article for the Encyclopedia Britannica on the issue of the well child when you?re dealing with an ill child in the home. And very currently, the Schiavo case is what comes to mind very strongly and I feel intensely about this.
G: Could you tell our audience a quick thing about her, because they may not know.
H: Okay. The Terry Schiavo case is the tragedy that went on in Florida where there was a battle between the husband and the parents of this young woman who now they say was brain dead about whether or not to discontinue any life support measures and she has subsequently died. And what I find troubling, I am not political about this. I don?t want to get into any part of this except for the one thing and that is what portion of the bereaved parent did they leave for their surviving children? They were so wrapped up in Terry with the mother there every single day. Did she leave time for her other children to grow and develop and lead full lives or are they totally sucked into the morass of this horrendous nightmare that became their daughter?s life?
G: It?s quite a balancing act having a family and having something like this. You?d know more than I because you had the longer-term illness. My son died immediately so I was a wreck. I don?t think I was a great parent. It sounded to me, reading your book, that you were a better parent than I was.
H: No, no. If you read in my book, you read I was not. And that?s why I feel so strongly about this. It?s sort of like I?ve wanted to call these people and say, hey, wake up. You have a son. You have a daughter. They?re beautiful. They?re healthy. You?re getting them so wrapped up that, what else are they doing in their lives? The adjunct to this Terry Schiavo situation and it?s time to move on. And I feel that that would be the message. I also, of course, have to acknowledge the tragedy to the parents to these young men who are dying in Iraq. It?s a terrible thing to send a healthy, strong, able-bodied person off to war.
G: Yes. We?ve lost children. We really feel that. Every time we see those names, it?s crushing. Crushing.
H: And I just didn?t feel we could let the program go by without acknowledging in some way that they need our support and they need our help. I don?t know enough about what the army does by way of support but I?m wondering if there are people in the community that can reach out to some of these parents and be supportive because they need it as well.
G: We?re actually going to have a show with a person who does some of that reaching out to the community. Before we end, I want to talk to you a little bit about financial problems because I know in your book you said you were hugely in debt and I was saying that I was working as a nurse but my husband almost lost his business, kind of woke up after a year and said, I?m going to lose my business if I don?t start paying attention. So I like the fact in the book that you said you got a financial person to help you out. I thought that was great.
H: We were just drowning. We didn?t have any direction. We were floating. Everything was not being done. Everything was not being taken care of. Somehow or other there were so many nights my kids ? we?d order in a pizza. There was no meal. Nothing was planned. It was just total devastation. And for new bereaved parents, I want you to know, I still remember that time and I want you to know it?s not going to stay forever. You can build on that.
G: And that you can also get financial help. Like you said in the book, people to help them figure out how they?re going to set their bills and that kind of thing.
H: You know, your husband took a look and said, holy, cow, if I don?t address this, this is going into the tank. And not everyone has the strength to turn around and address t.
G: Fortunately, he didn?t lose it after a year because it took him a year to wake up and say that.
H: Absolutely. And there isn?t a time limit. If people ask me how long it took me until I felt that I was really functional again, I would have to say it took me close to five years, not one. And for people who have gone a year and are still disappointed because they’re not all better, I don’t think it?s reasonable to say, well, a year is up, time to go forward. Our emotions don?t work that way. We love our children and they?re going to be with us forever and it doesn?t just all go away in a matter of 12 months when you?ve had so much love. And another group of people I?d like to mention are people who miscarry. Because people who miscarry also had dreams and expectations. I?m pregnant and my baby?s going to grow up to be a whatever. And all of that is taken from them as well. And these are people who also are hurting.
G: One other thing I wanted to say is you have a little more faith in the mental health community than I do. Maybe it?s because I?m in it but I think you really have to be careful who you select as a therapist if you?re going to get help and make sure that they know what they?re talking about.
H: It has to be a bereavement specialist. A mental health person is too broad. No, no, no. It?s got to be a bereavement specialist. If they?re talking to your child, if they?re talking to you or your husband. If they are just social workers, counselors, not good enough because they don?t understand the dynamics of what we have lived through and what our experience is. They?ve seen it on paper. It?s very different.
G: And you really need to interview them. You really need to ask. You really need to check it out or have a friend do if you?re not up to doing it or whatever because there are many, many counselors out there and this may not be their specialty.
H: It might be an idea for Compassionate Friends to set up some interview guidelines for therapists.
G: Yes. That?s a good idea, maybe something we could do.
H: For the bereaved parents to look at these guidelines and say, does this fit? People who are dogmatic, people who have rules about what you have to be able to do after so many days, weeks, and months. These are not people that really can be in our best interest.
G: We went to family therapy. My daughter was acting out, of course, she was 14, and the therapist suggested that maybe she should go to boarding school.
H: Oh that was wonderful. That?s what she needed.
G: Isn?t that incredible? To send a child away who has just lost their 17-year-old brother to boarding school?
H: I find it very frightening and when I talk about this, I always say bereavement specialist because I just don?t believe in counseling.
G: Right. I absolutely agree. And it needs to be pragmatic and problem oriented and not just talking.
H: And not going back to your childhood, necessarily, and how your mother treated you. It?s about where you are here and now with the situation, how do we get better?
G: Well, we have to close for now and I want to thank my guest, Harriet Sarnoff Schiff, and please tune in again next week to hear Patrick Malone, President of the Compassionate Friends and bereaved father of Scott, Erin, and Lance. Patrick will share his story and practical advice for going back to the office. This show is archived on www.Health.VoiceAmerica.com as well as www.thecompassionatefriends.org website. This is Dr. Gloria. Please tune in again next week Thursday at 9:00 a.m. Pacific Time, 12:00 Eastern, for more of Healing the Grieving Heart, a show of hope and renewal and support. Remember, others have been there before you and made it. You can, too. You need not walk alone. See you next week.

Gloria Horsley

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Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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  • Dear Gloria-

    Hi! I just finished reading this article of your interview with Harriet Sarnoff Schiff. I found it most informative! I had just finished reading TheBereaved Parent that I got from Mattel UCLA children’s hospital.

    They provide this book to grieving parents after the loss of a child. I was recently at UCLA delivering my weighted therapeutic teddy bear called The Comfort Cub. It is a comfort to people who have lost a child and has clinically been proven to reduce the manifestations of grief.

    I thought it might be nice to know each other. So, I thought I would say hello! I am interested in connecting more with the grief community and was hoping to make a start with you!

    Please let me know if you would like to learn more. I would love to send a Comfort Cub to you for your review.

    Thanks so much! I look forward to your reply!
    Warm regards,
    Marcella Johnson