Elaine E. Stillwell, M.A., M.S., is a wife, mother, educator, author and lecturer.? In 1986 following the deaths of her two oldest children, 21 year old Denis and 19 year old Peggy, Elaine and her husband, Joe, founded The Compassionate Friends of Rockville Centre (NY) where they continue as Chapter Leaders today.? Elaine has shared her gifts of caring and humor at workshops, seminars, and on radio and television.? She also writes magazine articles, pamphlets, books and has a column in Grief Digest.? Since 1998 she has been Bereavement Coordinator for 134 parishes in the Diocese of Rockville Centre. The Death of a Child is her latest book.? http://www.childrenofdome.com/Elaine.html and http://www.holyroodcemetery.org/bereavement.htm
Elaine Stillwell:? Well, you know what was interesting when the publisher asked me to write it, he wanted the story of everybody.? He wanted me to write ?we,? not just my life story, and I think that was the golden part of the book that it shared so many stories.? And the way people survived and the things that they did because we?re always looking for things that will help us and we never think of all the many ways that there are and we all grieve differently and we learn from each other.
Elaine Stillwell:? Well, I?ll tell you when I started out, I had no idea how long grief is.? Grieving is not a short-term process.? You learn this.? I think grief is an education.? It?s not even a long-term process, but it?s a life-long process, and that?s a hard thing to grasp.? But you go day by day and I think I have to thank my lucky stars that my children died in August because I made a point to get back to school teaching third grade.? If you?re not there when the school opens in September, you lose your class.? You can?t set down the rules.? Somebody else is taking your class.? So if my kids had died in December or something, I don?t know when I would have gone back to teaching, but it was very helpful for me to have that structure and to have the children.? They needed you.? I was busy.? I came home.? I was exhausted at the end of the day, and I would just sit down in my chair and I would cry for a whole hour from 4:00 to 5:00 o?clock.
Elaine Stillwell:? They tell you that in all the books to cut out a little time for yourself, but I didn?t even know that at the time.? I just had to sit down and let those tears come down and that was such a relief and it was wonderful because I wasn?t told, stop crying.? My husband was just wonderful.? He was my blotter.
Elaine Stillwell:? Make positive thoughts.? If I got up every day and said, ?I?m never going to see my children again,? I would be sick to my stomach.? But if I say, ?I?m one day closer to seeing them,? you have kind of a joy in your heart.? So I look for positive things that would help me along.?
Elaine Stillwell:? Oh, it was in the first week or so when I went into the room just to look through their wallets and stuff, you know.? And as I was going to throw out the ID cards, and the library card, and the driver?s license, I stopped, and I said, ?I don?t want to erase them.?? And it was just that feeling like I?ve got to find a way to keep their memories alive.? I didn?t have a clue what that was going to be.? Never dreaming what was ahead of me.? But that was one of the motivating factors to get out of bed in the morning to know that you did not want your child erased.? And you also, I found out, I didn?t want all that love I had for them to be lost.? I wanted to put it into something and I wanted them to be proud of me.? I didn?t want them to look down from heaven and say, ?Won?t you get out from under the covers?? you know?? So those were the three motivating factors that moved me.? It?s just amazing the path that opens up to you sharing what you?ve learned.?
Elaine Stillwell:? Well, no one ever told me that talking was the best medicine.? I had to learn that, I guess, by reading.? But thank God I was a talker because no matter who sat next to me in the airplane, on the grocery line, the bank line, I told them my story about Peggy and Denis never realizing that that was something that really made it become more real to you, and I loved Victor Frankl, the holocaust survivor, who people asked, ?How did you ever live through all that??? And he said, ?You have to have a goal.?? And they asked him what his goal was, and he said ?To tell the world.?? And I tell everybody, oh, there, he backed me up.? You?ve got to have a goal.
Elaine Stillwell:? What would we do without loving listeners?? And you know, the hard part about that is, and I think something we learn.? That they?re not the people that you expect them to be.? They become saviors to us and I?d say, it can be a person in our life for a reason or a season and just be grateful for that.
Elaine Stillwell:? You don?t want your loved one to not be remembered so I say, tell the world, and whether it?s writing about them or writing to them or talking about them, but that?s the phrase I use, telling the world.
Elaine Stillwell:? The number one complaint of bereaved people that they are hurt terribly by insensitive remarks, so when I was at church at Easter time and the priest was saying father forgive them for they know not what they do, a light bulb went off in my head?that?s the perfect prayer.? So I came back to the group and I said when someone says something to you that really hurts, just say to yourself, father, forgive them for they know not what they do, assholes, amen.? And all of a sudden, the whole group was laughing like they could handle it.? They weren?t the victims any more.? They were really laughing at the people that said it because it was like, how could you be so stupid to say that?? It turned that awful vulnerability around and made them realize that the other person was ignorant.
Elaine Stillwell:? Just walking around the block seeing the changes in nature helped.? Another one said she had a big piece of paper, like what am I going to do with the rest of my life? and she couldn?t write anything down because it was too big a goal and she said she got it down to seasons, like what am I doing for the fall?? She said I?m not up to winter yet.? So you have to give yourself realistic goals