HEALING THE GRIEVING HEART
Letters From My Son
Host: Dr. Gloria Horsley
With guest: Mitch Carmody
April 27, 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. Good morning, Heidi.
H: Good morning, Gloria.
G: I want to start the show today by talking to our audience about us and about what we?re doing in the field of grief and loss. First of all, I want to say that Heidi is located in New York City in Manhattan and I live in San Francisco in the city, so we are as they call it, bi-coastal, I guess, right, Heid?
G: Can you tell our audience what you?re doing back there in New York?
H: Sure. I was originally brought back here because I work with siblings. They had a firefighter brother die in the World Trade Center attacks. I don?t know if any of you know this, but the only firefighters who died that day were males so out of the 343 firefighters who died, they were all men. So I run ongoing sibling loss workshops with the bereaved siblings and basically a lot of the themes that we talk about. We talk about a lot of things that are unique to sibling loss, but we also talk about how do we maintain emotional connections with our brothers
G: Or sisters or other family members. Brothers for you with the firefighters.
H: How do we maintain emotional connections with our family members while at the same time reinvesting in other relationships and moving forward in a productive manner?
G: Yeah, I don?t know, audience, I?m sure you know those stages, the Kubler-Ross anger, denial, depression, acceptance. Well, one of the things that is big in the grief field now is that we really never come to what we call acceptance. It?s really continuing bonds and how do we stay connected because that?s important to all of us.
H: And my mom was asking me earlier, how are the 9/11 families doing? And I think they are doing similar to how we all do after a death. It goes in waves. There?ll be days and moments and hours where you?ll be okay and then a wave of emotion will come over you and you?ll be grieving. Something will trigger a memory. So it?s in waves.
G: But as with all of us, they?re struggling along and moving in a fairly positive direction from what you?ve told me. For myself, I?m in San Francisco, very involved with The Compassionate Friends. I?m on the national board of Compassionate Friends. I just want to talk about I just returned from, actually they had a chapter leader training program in San Francisco for the chapter leaders around the nation. Very strong program. An excellent program. We?ve done a lot of teaching and they really do a good job so one of the things I?d like to say to all of you out there, if you?ve had a loss. It?s been two years, you?re two years out. You can get involved and even start your own chapter so you might want to think about that. It?s a wonderful, supportive organization. I was very surprised at how many chapter leaders had a fairly new bereavement, maybe five years, maybe some of them that were supporting even two. So it?s a really wonderful environment to get involved in. It?s great to listen to the shows and to stay at home and grieve, but also it really is helpful for you to get out there with other people so you?re able to tell your story and also move into a little service. I wanted to say to you that we?re hoping that you are hitting on our website because we have some wonderful comments from the guests that we?ve had on the show. We have a quote of the week and I?m saving all the special quotes from all of our guests and they?re really going to be wonderful. Someday hopefully we can come up with some kind of a book on that so you can have that. Also, remember these shows are archived seven days a week, twenty-four hours a day. You can pick them up through our website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, and also through www.thecompassionatefriends.org website, and also on the website is the Library of Life. You can go to there. They?re one of our sponsors, and you can do a memorial web page for your loved one. You can do a celebration web page of one of the family members that?s celebrating something, and when you go to the Library of Life, those things, those websites will be on the web for only $50 for a lifetime. I?ve got one for Scott, so when you go to our website, hit on Library of Life and take a look at that. And remember all of our shows you can download to Ipod which is really a great thing to be able to do.
H: With that, I?d like to add, I?m also teaching a graduate class at Columbia University for graduate social work students that are planning on being in the field of grief and loss and these shows have been very helpful and people calling in and hearing people?s stories. One of the assignments I give my students is that every semester, they have to download or listen to one of the shows because they are archived, like Gloria said, and then they have to write a reaction paper. It?s been very useful and very educational for these students because often they have not had a personal experience with death.
G: So we hope that you?ll spread the word around with people that you work with even though they haven?t lost a child or whatever, that these can be useful to listen to or those that have. Well, Heidi, I wanted to go into our emails now. We love getting emails from you all. It is great. Heidi, do you want to start with our first email?
H: Sure. The first is from Mary from Las Vegas. Mary says:
Regarding last week?s show with Chet Szuber, I thought it was an amazing show. What really struck me was how he could so quickly forgive the boy who was driving the car. Our daughter was in a car that was hit by a train and my husband has yet to forgive the boy who was driving the car even though he is in a wheelchair. Do you have any thoughts about dealing with anger?
G: Wow, Mary. I was amazed last week, Heidi, because Chet Szuber who received the heart from his daughter after she was killed in an automobile accident, the fellow who was driving the car was in the hospital room when Chet got to the hospital. His daughter was on life support for organ donation, and he actually in the room said he forgave that boy which is just absolutely amazing that he could do that.
H: It is amazing and I think it?s very unusual to be able to forgive within hours is very unusual. I think it?s more of the norm to hold on to our anger and sometimes we hold on to it a little longer than we need to.
G: At first, it may support us and give us energy and also bond us with other people who are also angry, but later on it becomes a heavy rock, a heavy burden.
H: And often it?s easier to be angry than sad. I know you interviewed Bob Baugher and had him on a show and he said that?s the case especially for men and sometimes we?re not ready to give up all of our anger and that?s okay. We might need to give it up in stages.
G: That?s one of the things at the National Conference on July 14, 15, and 16 in Dearborn, Michigan. I?ll be doing a workshop on anger and some of the people will be there ready to give up their anger and wanting to and wanting help in how to do that. Others will be wanting to sit with it and have it so we?re at different stages.
H: Right, and you and Bob, the show you did on coping with anger on January 19, I think was very powerful because you both discussed some great tips for coping with and managing anger, and some great ways to recognize when anger has crossed an unhealthy threshold. So I thought that was helpful for anyone that?s dealing with a lot of anger right now.
G: And I don?t know if I said this but Chet Szuber?s show we had with him last week, he did receive his daughter?s heart as an organ donation so for Chet and his situation of knowing that without that he would die, may have been part of the reason he just could not handle any other things in his life including anger. There was just no place for it.
H: I was thinking the same thing, Mom, that maybe he knew that if he was going to live, physically, he couldn?t afford to be angry. It would take too much of a toll on his health and on his heart.
G: Well, and I wanted to read one last email here. This is from Shelly and she?s a psychologist from Pennsylvania. She?s in a college counseling center and Shelly says:
I thought Chet Szuber?s story was so amazing. I think I saw him on the early morning news. I listened to part of your show. I couldn?t catch it live but saw that you had it archived. This is really good. I especially like the self-disclosure you and your mom contributed. It wasn?t just that you were interviewing or reading letters from listeners but you were sharing your stories, too. That is such an important part of healing. I gave the website to my co-worker, one of whom lost her sister to suicide 20 years ago. They were really interested and thought it would be a good resource. Great job, Heidi, you are doing such great work.
Wow, what a nice email to you, Heid.
H: It is. Thanks, Shelly, I really appreciate it, and I?m glad that it?s helping not only professionals but people who are dealing and struggling with their own personal issues around loss.
G: Absolutely. So Heid do you want to introduce our guest today?
H: Sure, I?d love to. Our topic today is Letters to My Son, and our guest today is Mitch Carmody, author, artist, and photographer. His book, Letters to My Son, is about the loss of his 9-year-old son, Kelly, who died in 1987 after a long battle with cancer. During the months that followed Kelly?s death, Mitch wrote letters and poems to him as a catharsis for his grief. It is a book about love, faith, and being a better person, and it is straight from the heart. Mitch conducts workshops for the bereaved all over the country and is a keynote speaker and workshop presenter on grief and the process of recovery. Helping others is paramount in Mitch?s life. Welcome to the show, Mitch.
M: Oh, thank you very much. It?s great to be on.
G: I?ve just really enjoyed your book. It?s really wonderful and we?ll be talking to our audience about how to get it. The picture of your son on the front is, wow, very compelling. What a lovely boy.
M: His eyes were pretty blue. People would stop and look at them.
G: Oh, really wonderful. Could you talk about the book in context of your son?s life and why you wrote it and also tell us about him?
M: Oh, sure. He had developed cancer when he was about seven years old. When you?re taken to the emergency room and you don?t know what?s going on, you think your child is just sick from throwing up and find out he has a brain tumor, everything changes, and that?s truly when the journey began is knowing that your child could die.
G: Well, Mitch, before you get in, for you, that isn?t where the journey began exactly, is it, as far as this field goes of grief and loss or as far as the experience of loss.
H: We were struck by that. We were struck by all the loss that you?ve had and we had to really go through it a couple of times to get it in chronological order. I?m going to talk about the loss and tell me if I?m right. At 15, your father died of a heart attack.
M: Correct, yes.
H: Your twin sister died 11 days after your 29th birthday in an automobile accident in which your two nephews were also killed.
H: Two years prior to that, your disabled brother died of poor health, and then I guess that?s it, right? That?s so much.
M: Yeah. It was just right after the other. But by 15, I lost my future friend. My sisters had a friend in my dad and I was just the kid and I was looking forward to having a relationship and at 15 my mother told me, well, you?re the man of the family now, you?ve got to take care of everybody and the farm and the horses and your sisters, and I was the youngest but I was the man so I didn?t cry. I put it away and did not grieve for my father, which really reared its head many, many, many years later. Because I did not grieve over him, I just put it away and didn?t cry. Big boys don?t cry, but then when other losses started to mount,
H: That?s what I was going to ask you. Did you then grieve for your father?
G: We?re going to have to take a break right now and get back talking about this after our break. When we went to break, Mitch, we pulled you off the book and Kelly?s death because we had read in the book that you had all these other losses and we just wanted to weave those in for our audience in that you had a father die when you were 15 and you were telling us you were on a farm and being the only boy and even though you were the youngest, you were expected to take over for everybody and be the man, and then you had a disabled brother, a retarded brother, is that right?
G: Who died, and then your twin sister two years later 11 days after your 29th birthday, was killed in an automobile accident.
M: She said I?m staying 28 forever on my birthday. That haunted me afterwards that she had said that.
H: Oh, she really did say that?
M: She did, yeah, we had our last birthday and she goes well you can be turning 29 but I?m staying 28 forever.
G: Oh, my goodness.
M: So when that happened, I thought, well, I really tried to embrace the grief but it was a very born-again Christian type of service.
G: And then you did hospice work.
M: Yeah, that?s why I went to hospice and they wouldn?t let me because you had to wait a year, so then I did hospice because I figured I had a handle on death and dying.
G: You also had your support from the hospice people but you could stay competent. I?m a therapist and I was at that time and I remember trying to stay competent, you know, really fighting to stay there.
M: And it?s tough. When my son, then, was diagnosed.
G: Now tell our audience how long after that, after your sister died and then you did hospice work, and then what?
M: It was about two years after my sister died.
G: I remember you said you were coming home from graduation from hospice.
M: And then I meet my wife going the other way and our son was on his way to the hospital because he was seeing double and throwing up and we found out he had a brain tumor and I had no idea I was going into hospice for my own son which it taught me a lot to be able to prepare for that, but I had no idea that I would be having to prepare for that. In reference to my father, in order to process the grief for my son when it happened, the enormity of my sister and her two boys was just, I could not handle it. We just kind of didn?t believe it happened because it was an accident. They were gone. There was no reviewal. There was no caskets. There was no burial. It was just like they disappeared off the planet.
G: So her husband chose not to do anything?
M: Yes, it was just their religious belief, and so it was just like they disappeared. I don?t like the word ?closure,? but there was nothing.
H: Well, a lot of my 9/11 families have this issue because they didn?t have a body.
M: Yeah, there was nothing there, and that does make a difference. When my son died then, in order to process that grief, I was just so beside myself. I had a lump in my throat I couldn?t get rid of. I had to go to a rebirther. To make a long story short, I went to grieve for my father during that process and I screamed so loud and it hurt so bad but I started feeling better after I finally let that horrible anguish out for my father, then I could deal adequately, as best I could with the loss of my son.
H: That?s interesting so you had to go back and deal with the death of your father first.
M: Yes, I could not speak. I had a lump in my throat that would not go away. And so medical nothing could help so I finally went to a rebirther and thought maybe that would do it and it did. The lump went away. It was holding that grief in and my throat chakra or whatever. I finally let it out. It was very cathartic and so that?s when my son died, I believed that there is life after death on both sides of the equation for them and for us, and I truly believed that I could communicate with him and I could write to him and so I thought, I?m not going to grieve like my mother said. Honey, why are you still into this grief stuff? Just put it away, put it behind you. She had had a lot of losses and that was the way she handled it. Put it away, put it behind you.
G: How long after your father died did she say that to you?
M: After my father died?
M: It wasn?t even talked about when my father died but when my son died, she goes why are you still hanging on to these grief issues? Why are you still involved in this, honey, just put it behind you? I said, mom, I can?t walk by his picture any more and not see him there. I have to have him by my side again. I need to bring him back. So after months and months and months of grieving the way my mom did which was just putting it away and not mentioning his name, I immersed myself into his life and his pictures and I made a video and I shared it with everybody to let them know that this is not over. I am still in deep grief.
H: And you were maintaining a bond with him and keeping his memory alive.
M: Yes, and talking to him and in doing that, it felt so good to write him a letter and just talk to him about how I?m feeling and that?s in the one letter I?ll probably read for you,
G: Why don?t you read it for us right now?
M: Okay, I can do that because that letter leads up to
G: Let me say, this is a wonderful book, Letters to My Son. This is Mitch Carmody and it?s from his book, Letters to My Son: A Journey Through Grief, and he?s going to read us a letter from that and then we?re going to ask him to tell us how to get a hold of this great book.
M: Okay. Well, this is the first letter I wrote to him.
It has been almost three months since you have left us and I miss you terribly at times. I replay your last few days over and over and over. I feel that I should have or could have done more. I knew your time was very close but then again I didn?t really know how close. It is hard to see you degenerate so quickly feeling impotent to change the devastating progression moving throughout your body. You were barely speaking and I sometimes wondered if you knew what was going on. I know you did not want to talk about death and I understand why. You wanted to live each moment without the realization of the shadow of death that was so obviously imminent. When you did make your transition, you looked so happy and at peace. It took a lot of guts and strength with pure love to wait for your sister Megan to come home before you left. You really did love her a lot, didn?t you? I know she misses you a lot although she is enjoying the attention she now gets that you are not the center of your universe. Your funeral, I?m sure you saw, was breathtaking. It touched all that were present and will for years to come. You gathered quite a faithful following, my son, and have changed many lives in your short term here. You must be resting for quite awhile after such a long battle. I am looking forward to a visit from you so much. I don?t want to try too hard but I?m always ready when you are up to it old buddy. I remember our short little walks around the snow and ice of that awful townhouse. Those walks were precious to me, son, and it does hurt to think about it. I remember with joy our trip to North Carolina when you went to see grandma for one last time. I know it was something you had to do before you left. I?m so glad you did it and you did so well out there. We had a non-existent Christmas without you, pal. It seems like I slept through it with a vague dream. I am sure your Christmas was much better, more of a birthday party, which reminds me of how glad I was to have had your birthday party months before you left. I loved your message of the signature you left in the pew at the church with that I am alive song on the radio after the funeral that you arranged for us to hear. Very subtle. Now get back to the code word with somebody, turkey. I hope you were happy with the shadow box I made for mom from you. I felt guided by you to do it. It was symbolizing the moment of separation from your body as your spirit flew up to the rainbow to unite with God. I wanted to keep your healing stone in a safe place so I kept it inside. Your mom is hurting quite a bit now, son. Visit her soon and wrap your arms around her and let her gaze into your beautiful blue eyes, then get to Meg and finally to me, Bubba. How do you like our new house? It?s beautiful with the pond and everything. You would have loved it here. We are trying to do the best we can to rebuild our lives without you and try to find happiness and joy again. I love your mother and sister very, very much, and will do anything to make them happy, but I still long to be with you. I think this new house is a good idea and we shall heal faster with it. I?m glad that you can now play with your dog, Maple, again. He has joined you recently. You?ve seen grandma and grandpa Carmody as well as grandma and grandpa Woolers. I bet you?ve even seen Aunty Sandy with your cousins Travis and Jason. I am feeling pretty good, now, Kelly.
Oh, God, after three months I can say it.
And now it is no reflection on my love for you. I just know you are where really is at and we have to come home to you but until that day, please visit me as I miss you so much. If you can arrange for a sign in the spring like something growing from our yard, that would be really neat, and I will notice. I will write again later sometime. Know that I love you and still need your love. Dad.
G: Ah, that?s wonderful. Very touching.
H: That?s beautiful.
G: You know, there?s so many things in that letter, Mitch, that come up for me. One of them is the desire to rejoin the child, which many of our listeners worry about. Where we would like to be united and that?s a normal thing. Some people get concerned about that.
H: I was thinking that, too. It?s normal for a sibling, too. I wanted to rejoin my brother.
G: And the continuing bonds thing, building a shadow box, looking for a sign. All those wonderful things.
H: And also the comfort in knowing that there?s other people that have died as well in your family that are with him.
M: Yes, and to know that they are together and that we can communicate. That?s what was so important about this letter. He did get back to me with something in the yard growing.
G: The opening where you?re saying I?m available, I?m open, I?ll listen for signs and I?ll watch. Those kinds of things are really wonderful. It?s going to be time for our break right now, but before we go to break, I want you to tell the listeners how they can get a hold of your book.
M: Through my studio at www.heartlightstudios.net.
G: And you can also email me and we?ll put you in touch with Mitch but you can get a hold of his book through there.
M: And it?s also at amazon.com and you can order it from any major bookstore.
G: That?s great. It?s time for us to come up on break. When we went to break, you had just read one of the letters you wrote to Kelly, your 9-year-old son who died of cancer, and the letter was written three months after he died and you kind of got a little laugh because as you were reading it you said, and I?m feeling a lot better. I know you say after three months.
H: That?s called being in denial.
M: In fact, that was the impetus for me to write the book when I re-read the letters. I never intended to write a book. I just wrote his letters and put them away, and then when I re-read the seven letters over about a period of a year, and I saw at the first letter it was three months I?m doing okay, then in the sixth letter, I couldn?t get out of bed for three and realized that depression is real. I used to laugh at people. I thought it was in their head.
H: Reality had set in.
M: I was totally depressed and realized it is real and it was just horrifying then six months down the road that I?m going to continue to feel this way, and so that?s when I realized that the stages of grief are not as we?ve been taught. They?re just all over the map and that I had to re-evaluate how I was grieving and do it all over again the way I wanted to which was keeping a relationship.
H: And that?s so important because if you?re wed to the stages of grief and you believe in them, then you think something?s wrong with you if you?re not in the right stage at the right time.
M: Right, you think what are they doing right or what am I doing wrong. When you realize it, every day is denial when you open your eyes.
H: The minute you open your eyes, I think it?s sometimes the hardest because you?re like oh my gosh, this is real.
M: Every morning you go through it. After now 20 years, I don?t have denial in the morning. In fact, my daughter just had a baby and everybody said, are you going to name it Kelly? She said, no. Kelly?s still with us. She was so used to having Kelly around, his name being talked and everything, she said, that would be weird, Dad.
G: I was just saying during break that you?re kind of the king of continuing bonds. Tell them about your twin sister who had got killed in the automobile accident about the purse.
M: Oh, yes, when my sister was killed in the accident.
G: His twin sister was killed two years before his son died in an automobile accident, for those who are just tuning in, with her two sons.
M: With her two sons and she left the twins at home and since the twins were at home, it was I felt my responsibility. I?m going to take care of these kids the rest of their life for my twin sister. So as he got remarried and they had a blended family, I maintained contact and on the 16th birthday, I gave my niece my sister?s purse that had her little bible tracks in it and her perfume and the big hippie pregnant maternity outfit that she had, a big dress she had on. It was so my sister and to see the look in my niece?s eyes when she received that, it was just ah.
H: I was going to say, what a wonderful gift.
M: It was a wonderful thing, and I remember all those years thinking, I couldn?t wait to give it to her, you know, and then finally on her 16th, it happened and I couldn?t believe how fast the time went. I quickly want to talk about that forgiveness when I did a google search of the truck driver that was in the accident.
G: Oh, yeah, we were talking earlier on about how hard it is to forgive and a truck driver hit your sister.
M: Right, the big truck driver full of tractor trailers and tractors. We didn?t know what happened. Why did she her two sons die and then the passenger woman and her son both live. The adults were in the front, the kids were in the back. Why did God pick? We had all these questions. Why? Why? Why? So I called the truck driver and basically, too, I wanted to let him know that my sister was a terrible driver. She smoked, she talked, and she didn?t get her license until she was 23. No one wanted her to get her license. So after all these years, I felt comfortable to google him. I got his number and I said, I just want to let you know that I?ve never ever blamed you and I didn?t know if you held that in. He said he was in therapy for several years because he killed three people and he was so so happy that I called him and let him know that I never blamed him but yet in case you thought I blamed you, I forgive you.
H: What a great gift to give him. The fact that you waited 20 years I think is more common. People take a long time before they get to that place where they can do things like this.
M: Yeah, I can talk about it easily and also it helped me to find out what happened. He told me exactly what happened in the whole accident. It was out of his control. He tried to stop, the brakes, he pulled everything. Her car just crossed the center line and went right underneath his wheels. Nothing he could do.
H: Well, now, get into this anger a little bit because in the book you mention that you tried all these alternative treatments for your son which you went to Mexico. You did all this. He had a remission but when he did come out of remission again, I don?t know, it was after he died but you said that you were all really angry. You were angry with God, you were angry with the doctors, you were angry with the people who said. Talk about that anger for our audience.
M: Well, because we had been promised so much, you know, when Kelly had surgery and he had an out-of-body experience and he met Jesus floating in the ceiling and he said you will be well, and I said why did he say that? And then when we were in church and down in Mexico and his tumor disappeared by a service down there and we lived another three or four months without
G: You actually came up to western medical care and they said it was gone.
M: It was just gone. We came back to Minnesota. Oh, my God, the tumor disappeared and the ladies in Mexico said your son, his message of its healing will be all across the land. So now with my book and my speaking, it is, and I realize there?s a big difference between a healing and a cure. He was healed but it was not a cure.
H: And talk about a roller coaster ride.
G: Now what about your anger. What happened with that, Mitch? For our audience. What can they do? We?ve got people out there who are angry.
M: Channel into something. That?s the positive part of keeping them alive in your life is that when you give, you receive. I finally said, what can I do to channel this energy, this anger that I have?
G: How long are we talking about, because as you said, you wrote those letters and then you realized you couldn?t even get out of bed after how many months? Because we?re talking to people who are into this. Our audience.
M: The first two years for me were just horrible. I?m not sure where the anger finally, but in the end of that second year
G: And you were dealing with your dad?s death when you were 15, your brother?s death, your sister?s death, and your son?s death.
M: Yeah, all those little pieces and then when I started doing massage for AIDS people, then I realized. Because I learned massage to help my son. I said what can I do with this? I saw an ad looking for somebody to do free massage for people with AIDS and so I did that and that?s when I started feeling human again. I started feeling good helping someone else.
H: Because you?re giving back to somebody else.
M: Yes, and that felt so good so I started doing, oh, maybe I?ll do this more to help everybody. Open doors. Give people parking spots and pretty soon it became a lifestyle and I?m trying on my goodie two shoes but it really makes me. It?s a ripple effect and everybody starts benefiting. If you just try. Because you can?t escape those facts that their loved one is gone and who else is going to keep them alive besides us who love them the most.
H: And it sounds like the more you did, the more you wanted to do for others.
M: Oh, totally, yes, and that?s why I like to speak and travel and talk and yes, this is not the end of the road. If you just sit in a pit of despair forever,
G: Which you might do for a little while, by the way, and we understand and it?s not crazy, and you are crazy.
M: Yeah, you can sit there as long as you want. It?s up to you. There?s no timetable in grief. You just work it. You look for help and the more you start helping others, that?s the simplest thing that I can say is just helping others, but it?s hard at the beginning. When you can?t help others, you?ve got to help yourself first. But you can?t fill someone else?s cup unless your cup is full.
G: At least partially.
M: You have to let your cup start to fill up until you can overflow to others.
G: That?s one of the things I say about The Compassionate Friends or another organization you can find one where you can give some service. It doesn?t have to be a lot at first. You may just bring a cookie or make a phone call or write a note. Move a chair.
H: It can be small.
G: Straighten chairs for them or something, but it?s the beginning.
H: And I like what Mitch said again, you can?t fill somebody else?s cup unless yours is full.
M: You just can?t because then you?ll get sick yourself.
G: The other thing is, Mitch, don?t you think you need to let other people have the opportunity to serve you?
H: That?s good. I like that, Gloria.
M: That?s the hardest thing that I had to learn. It was accepting. And here I?m touting that when you give, you receive, but I had to learn after awhile to let other people give to me so that they can receive as well. That is the hardest thing for me was to learn to accept because so many people wanted to do things for us initially but after the first year, that dwindled down. So that?s another thing I really try to tell people in their grief. There are people that are supporting people in their grief is to remember anniversary, I don?t even like the word anniversary date, but the calendar day that they died and with cards and keep it up through the years. It?s a lifetime process. And that?s I think the difference between my sister and my dad and my child is that with my son, it?s never ending. It?s learning to be the new normal. You hear the new normal but if you read anything about Eric Erickson and the seven, eight stages of man and the development of man from child to adult, if you re-read those and look at five years when the child learns autonomy again, in five years, there?s a benchmark that I started living autonomy again. I was being myself and it took five years to do that and I realize that it is a lifelong journey of a new normal. You are a new person. Nothing looks the same.
H: That?s what I was wondering being a bereaved sibling myself. What differences you saw between the death of a sibling and a child.
M: I could learn with my sister. She loved Jesus. She wanted to be with Jesus so bad and so for her dying was something that she wanted to join with Jesus and so knowing that she was happy in the place she needed to be and wanted to be, I didn?t have a lot of pain of missing her but I did not have the pain of her being totally wrong because that is what she wanted totally in life.
H: She had lived 29 years. That?s still young, but.
M: But still she lived a full life. She had children. She had grandchildren. The children that I?m enjoying now, he calls me his father. He sends me father?s day cards. So that was the difference that I could accept her loss where my son, I cannot accept that he?s gone. I?ve learned to accept it, but there?s no total acceptance. There is no total closure. I have closure on that he will not graduate. I have closure that he can?t get a girlfriend. But I?ll never have closure on his life.
G: And you won?t have a daughter-in-law.
G: I was thinking that I won?t have a daughter-in-law.
H: And grandchildren from him.
M: Yes. In fact, now when my daughter had a grandchild, part of my heart warmed up where I didn?t think it could feel that way again. I thought I had reached a certain level in my 20 years of grief that I had just. You know, you?re not going to experience the joys you ever did again quite to the extent as I did before. I was wrong. When my grandchild was born, my little. My heart is glowing again. I didn?t think it could.
G: It?s time for us to go to break right now. We were talking about sibling loss when we went to break with Mitch but before we talk about that, I would like to just say something about Mitch?s book. Did you take the photograph of your son, Mitch?
M: Yes, I did. It was on top of Mount Shasta in California on the day of the harmonic convergence. He was watching Native Americans dancing.
G: Beautiful picture of him on the front. Big blue eyes. Darling. There are some drawings in here, did you do those?
M: Yes, I did all the drawings in the book.
G: Oh, fabulous. Well, I would highly recommend that you get Mitch?s book and you can get it through his website. Give us your website again, Mitch.
G: And also you can pick this book up on amazon.com.
M: And any book store can order it. They just don?t stock it on the shelves.
G: Okay. I?d highly recommend you get it. It?s a lovely book with some lovely poetry and letters and it would be a nice addition to your library. So Heidi, we were talking about siblings, right, you were leading the charge here.
H: I was just wondering being a bereaved sibling about the differences and Mitch touched on some of them. I guess one of my thoughts also is, Mitch, I was someone that had the death of my brother and it has been the most horrific death I?d ever been through and so my experience was that it was huge and it overtook my life and it was overwhelming initially. For you, you?d had so many losses and then lost your son in a relatively short time period after your sister and I just wondered if you think that impacted how you grieved also?
M: Yes, it did, because not only did he die, but he was diagnosed so quickly after my sister died so we had to put all our focus on saving his life and I did not have time to grieve for my sister. I did not have time. I had to focus on my son only and so every situation is so different for siblings. My brother was retarded was his whole life and we actually had an old-fashioned Irish wake where we went to the bar and we celebrated that he finally was free of being incarcerated in this mental hospital his whole life. Back in those days, it was not a pleasant experience.
H: I like that. I like the idea of celebrating his life.
M: And we did. It was great that David was finally free of pain and free of being trapped in this body that he couldn?t control. So that was different, too. Then my sister it was just like she disappeared and it just took so long but I really didn?t have time to investigate it until after my son so I think I truly grieved for my sister and the boys at the same time as my son.
H: Mitch you?re making a good point because I think you do compartmentalize. When my brother died, my cousin died also, and I didn?t grieve his death because I felt like I was so overwhelmed with Scott?s death and I remember my mother saying. Now, mom, I don?t know if you remember this. After a few weeks, she said I feel really guilty because I?m not grieving Matthew?s death and if Scott hadn?t died, we?d be grieving Matthew?s death more.
H: But it was so overwhelming to have two family members die at the same time. I had to protect myself. I can only grieve one loss at a time.
M: It?s overwhelming. Then when my mother just died of lung cancer four or five years ago now, I had a chance to prepare her death with her. I wrote her a poem about dying and gave it to her, and she said, what?s this? I said, well, what do you want to do for a funeral? And mom said I don?t like churches. I go there to play bridge. And she said, I hate those little mortuary things, too, they?re just dumb. I said, what do you want to do, mom? How about the conservatory? The poinsettias will be in bloom by the time you die. And she said, now that would be perfect. So that?s what we did. We had the service. And she wanted a five-piece oom-pah-pah brass band playing ?Just A Closer Walk With Thee? like they do at the black New Orleans funerals. That?s exactly what she wanted.
G: Did you guys carry umbrellas?
M: It was just. It was the most unique thing. And she wanted silver chafing dishes filled with White Castle hamburgers and that?s what we did. But we got to talk about it and then when she died and she was talking to grandma and grandpa. She was seeing people. It was great. My daughter was there and she?s talking to grandma. I said no, because they?re waiting for her, and then when my mom died, her husband and my sisters, we opened a bottle of champagne and we said good bye, mom, and it was a lot easier than I ever ever imagined.
G: Well, Mitch, it?s almost time for our show to close and before we do close, I wanted you to read one of your poems for our audience. Part of it. They?ll have to get the book to get the rest. Can you tell us the background of it and the name of the poem and then just read this excerpt.
M: It?s ?Where Do We Go From Here? and it?s in the last part of the book and it?s for where we are in our grief whether our first year, second year, third year, fifth year, twentieth.
For everybody it?s different
but we have to eventually realize,
where do we go from here?
and how do we substantiate our lost loved one?s life
by the way we live ours?
So we boldly must share our love.
Reach out to others without hesitation or dismay.
Find the pain that lies to the mirror
and around us every day.
Whether it?s an old friend or an enemy
or a relative or just a cashier at the store,
there?ll be someone that will need you
and it?s you who shall open the door.
Be of service to yourself
and with all the people that you meet.
There are many paths to cross
and many avenues and streets.
There are people who desperately need your involvement in their sorrow
just as you need them to face the next tomorrow.
So you think that God has overlooked you
and has no idea that you are here.
You must realize it?s not that he?s forgotten.
It?s you?ve forgotten that he?s so near.
Miracles and magic are never ever gone.
They?re always within our reach
just as the memories of our loved one
and what they had to teach.
They taught us love is unconditional.
It?s as strong as fiber in our being.
So let loose, let go, let God, let love, let yourself,
and start a new beginning.
When one door closes, another opens, somewhere.
G: Oh, that?s fabulous. I love it. Wonderful.
M: So it?s climbing out of the pit and trying to find what your bliss is. What is my purpose in life now? It gave me more freedom to be myself by realizing that dead is not gone and that I can grieve openly the rest of my life. There?s nothing wrong with what you shouldn?t be grieving any more. Baloney. I can grieve whenever I?m missing him. And you won?t always be in grief but I?ll always be bereaved.
G: Well they always say in the therapy world if you don?t feel really sad, you can?t feel really happy, so maybe we have the ultimate connection when we have these losses of siblings and children.
M: Especially in the early years like the Kenny Chesney song, ?Sunny Days Seem to Hurt the Most,? and they do because you feel guilty for enjoying the day.
G: Well, Mitch, thank you so much for being on the show. We could do another show.
H: Thank you, Mitch.
M: Oh my pleasure. Looking forward to seeing you both in Dearborn.
G: Yeah. You?ll be doing a workshop in Dearborn and so will Heidi and I so come and join us, July 14 and 15.
M: Wonderful. Let?s do lunch.
G: Okay. Sounds good. We definitely want to get a picture of you with us. It?s time to close our show and I want to thank our guest, Mitch Carmody. Please stay tuned again next week when our topic will be Packing for the Big Trip, and our guest will be Charlie Walton, freelance writer and author. His two books, When There are No Words and Packing for the Big Trip resulted from the sudden accidental death in 1986 of two of Walton?s three sons and have been widely used to help persons who are struggling through the grief of a life trauma. This show is archived on my website, www.healingthegrievingheart.org, as well as www.thecompassionatefriends.org website. This is Dr. Gloria Horsley and Dr. Heidi Horsley.