All posts by MaryMac

MaryMac is a grief and bereavement specialist, speaker, coach, consultant and author of "Understanding Your Grieving Heart After A Loved One's Death" and several other works. She is Founder and President of the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc. (www.f4gc.com), the first national public charity of its kind which raises funds and provides grants to community-based non-profits which assist, counsel, comfort and educate children, teens, young adults and their families after a loved one's death. Her site and blog www.askmarymac.com helps the bereaved worldwide to learn more about the grieving process and not feel so alone.
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The Ultimate Sacrifice

It’s a very hot and sunny day today and while I expected to be at the pool by this time, I found myself working on the computer much longer than anticipated.

In the background I had C-Span on listening to the ungratefulness of the Iraqi Ministers testify in front of the Congressional Foreign Affairs, Int’l Organizations, Human Rights, and Oversight Committee.

When it was over, it replayed the Monday service at the White House where President Bush presented the Medal of Honor to the parents of Private First Class Ross McGinnis of Knox, Pennsylvania, whose brave service in Iraq saved the lives of four fellow servicemen when he put his body in the way of a grenade on December 2, 2006.

I found myself moving away from the computer and standing at attention in front of the television. I found myself moved to tears. As President Bush recounted how this young man wanted nothing more in life than to be a soldier, from the time he drew his picture at age 6, to the comedian he became, even being able to make his drill sergeant laugh, to always being there for his friends and family.

Although I may never meet any of the McGinnis family or other servicemen and women who were killed, I feel blessed to know there are people who call themselves United States military who protect me all over this world.

It’s easy to measure deaths and destruction, but our inability to measure what has not happened is what we should also concentrate on. We have not had a major attack on our soil since September 11th, 2001. Our President and his administration needs to get credit for that.

We cannot measure how many people may have died in our country had we had other attacks. We cannot measure how many cities might have been destroyed, how many avenues of transportation may have been suddenly halted (remember how there were no planes for nearly a week after 9/11), how many neighbors would have been displaced or homeless, or how much destruction we would have needed to clean up, repair and rebuild.

If we leave Iraq tomorrow, as many citizens and elected officials prefer, would we still be able to gain the intelligence needed to stop attacks? Unsure.

Sometimes we feel we need to just worry about our own people…bring all the troops home from everywhere on this planet, isolate ourselves, close our borders, move the United Nations to some island where they can foot the bill to house them, exclude everyone who doesn’t belong here and let them all handle their own lives. Let all the folks who hate our country leave and leave now. Let all these ungrateful ministers and heads of other states fend for themselves. After all, they hate us but, of course, they’ll take our money and curse us as they ask for more.

I don’t know the perfect answer and maybe there isn’t one. But today, I want us to remember a valiant man who gave his life for the lives of others – Private First Class Ross McGinnis.

The scriptures tell us, “no greater love than this, than a man who lays down his life for another.” The ultimate sacrifice.

And I don’t know too many people who can ever say they’d do that.

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To Always Remember Their Sacrifice

Memorial Day, 2008

In America, today we honor the men and women who have given the ultimate sacrifice by fighting in battles all around this globe, to keep our citizens free. Sometimes we forget that ours is an all volunteer military. We have no draft. We train these brave ones to kill the enemy so you and I can know that our existence in the United States is a safe one.

Yet, it is important to not only remember those killed, but the first-hand and second-hand survivors who are grieving as a result of those deaths.

If you consider any one person’s passing will have upward of 300 people who loved and cherished them, it is a staggering number of people who remember them today.Just think of their family members, friends, neighbors, the military, classmates, teammates, business colleagues, people they knew from church, synagogue, social circles, clubs, etc. And what about their parents’ and siblings’ friends who knew them. They are also affected.

So there is much I want to say here…

First, I’d like to address the grief of the spouse, parents, siblings, grandparents, children, other family members, friends and loved ones of a man or woman killed in the line of duty. Your loved one gave the ultimate sacrifice and every American citizen owes you a sincere thank you for enduring the pain you feel now, for the good of our citizens’ safety.

Secondly, are the needs of military families. Their spouses have been raising children on their own, with little support both financially or personally, and doing a great job at it as well. They struggle to make ends meet and it is beyond me how our Congress cannot make it easier on these active duty families.

They are going into credit card debt, as many citizens, just to survive. But they shouldn’t have to. Banks are foreclosing on homes, ruining credit ratings because credit cards haven’t been paid in a timely fashion. When you expect to be deployed for one tour, which turns into two and three tours, it sort of turns your life upside down.

It’s hard to worry about paying a credit card bill when your main mission today is staying alive and keeping those around you alive, all while in a foreign land. Do the people at these banks get it? Obviously not.

My solution…their debts should become frozen once they are deployed, not to gain a cent of interest or penalty nor become due again until six months after they’re home.

Exactly when will some Congressman or woman step up to the plate and make this right… Senator McCain – how about you?

And if this family experiences the death of their spouse in the line of duty, now they lose their homes, support systems, and more. They must leave the military bases and return to wherever they originally came. In the process they and their children lose their home, friends, classmates, neighbors, other military family’s support. They lose more than just their loved ones. Additionally, they lose income so it is now doubly hard for the surviving spouse to readjust to raising a family alone.

Next…the first hand survivors are also military; those who knew the soldier directly.

Prolonged deployments overseas only delay the grieving process. Wisdom says we must help these brave men and women achieve mental stability all along the way.

Yes, it is only natural that we repair their physical bodies, but we must treat their mental symptoms as well. Seeing multiple deaths during repeated tours overseas is something that stays with you. It is not easily released.

And when someone returns to the home they once knew, they are changed. And they need time to acclimate themselves to their old lives. One thing is certain – they are different now. They have seen too much and are not the same. How could they be?

This weekend I wish us to remember how difficult it must be to trade in a machine gun, grenade, and HumVee, back to a laptop, blackberry and IPOD. I can’t even imagine how that’s done.

And, lastly, second-hand survivors are the family members of these surviving military buddies who will come home, grieving their fellow soldiers’ deaths in combat, and their immediate family members here in the US are scrambling how best to help them through this grief, not to mention their need to acclimate themselves into society back here once again.

So I find it unconscionable that our elected officials do not make it a higher priority to have premier bereavement services available to the surviving families of the military personnel who have been killed and to every active duty soldier overseas and later, upon their return home, to serve them and their families as well.

Military death touches so many lives and we rarely acknowledge all the people affected. Let’s begin to better understand the domino effect of grief caused by war…and let’s effectively deal with it from the onset.

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Melancholy Mother’s Day

Today’s a day to pack up the car with favorite foods and baked goods we lovingly prepared and head over to our Mom’s house to enjoy the family’s company. Maybe she’s a little older and now it’s our time to welcome everyone to our home.

But there are many who will not have the pleasure of their mother’s company this year. Children, teens, young adults, mid-life and even older adults all long for the days when they were held by, kissed by, loved by, consoled by, fed by, taught by, and even sometimes scolded by their Moms.

There are also mothers who will not have the pleasure of their children’s company this year because they have pre-deceased them. No mother ever believes she will live longer than her children.

There are still other wonderful women who have almost become Mommies but have lost children through miscarriage and stillbirth.

There are women who strive to become pregnant and haven’t yet achieved this goal.

There are also women who chose to release children from their lives through adoption, all in the name of a better life for them, yet they still long for them.

And lastly, there are incredible women, who all their lives believed at some point they’d become mothers and now in their latter years still wonder what it would have been like had their lives’ circumstances been different, had life taken a different turn, and they would have been called “Mommy.”

All these folks feel a melancholy Mother’s Day.

I’d like to celebrate all these families and women today. Each live with a sadness in their soul today, but if we look around, there are many opportunities to fill that sorrow for someone.

If our Mom has died, we can always find another older lady who has no one and adopt her as your own. Bring her to the movies, bake with her, take her for walks. Get her out of the house. Laugh with her, cry with her. She might be as close as our neighbor up the block or down the hall.

If you experienced the death of your own children, you can reach out to a new Mom and help her in special ways with wisdom only you can give her. Especially if her mother has died, she will feel so fortunate for the motherly counsel.

If you’ve experienced miscarriage or stillbirth, I am here to validate your loss. They will always be your child, always. And for those who are working on becoming pregnant…Reach out to friends who have young ones and get involved in their lives. Being around little ones will help raise you up from the feelings of despair that it will never again happen for you. Envision how it will look when you’re bringing your little one to the playground and changing their diapers and watching them laugh as you talk baby talk to them.

Watching “The Secret” will give you hope and help you see possibilities all around you and you need that now.

For my adoptive Mothers…you are truly special. Do you realize how selfless it is to make sure your little one was cared for properly. I can’t think of anything more touching. You should feel such peace that you did the right thing, when perhaps the right thing wasn’t happening in your own life back then. You put your feelings and concerns aside to insure your little one would have a better life. Feel peace in your soul for that, on this day.

And lastly, for all us ladies who were not blessed with little ones. We are a rather large bunch it seems. We are the ones who dote on the nieces and nephews and others children. We have fun text messaging, emailing, calling, sending photos, and laughing over funny jokes. Sure, it took us years to settle within ourselves that this dream would probably not come true.

We struggled with it for a long time and eventually we figured out another way to celebrate all the maternal passions we had. We volunteer for children’s causes, we raise money for them, we become mentors for younger women (as a few precious ladies have for me), and we make sure we’re busy making others’ lives better.

So on this Mother’s Day, I wish you peace above all else. That no matter what stage of life or motherhood, or potential motherhood you may be, that you will find peace within your soul right now. That you may know gratitude for the place you find yourself right now.

Because you deserve this…

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How I will miss you, Jen…

It was a few months back while sitting in my office late one evening opening the mail, that I came across a letter with a familiar last name. It was from the mother of a wonderful woman I had become fast friends with on a flight up to NY a few years ago.

Little did I know that her letter would catch me completely by surprise with news I had never expected to hear.

Jennifer Guberman and I met on a Delta Flight from Orlando back in June 2005 as she pounces two seats from me with the line “it’s really crowded back there, do you mind if I sit next to you?” To which I replied, “No, be my guest.”

That simple greeting was the beginning of a wonderful friendship which came to a hault much too soon. You see, it was that letter I received that evening, all alone in the office, when I found out that Jennifer had died of a freak accident in her home in Worcester, Massachusetts a few months before.

Now you know many of us have friends all around the world and rarely do we have contact info to their immediately families. When we send emails or trade phone calls on cell phones, all of us being so busy, we realize when the person’s life is less crazed, they’ll eventually get back to us. Never do we wonder if anything dramatic has happened.

And usually, if it has, they will drop you a short note and tell you what’s going on and you take it from there.

But this letter was so totally unexpected because I had been wondering why Jen hadn’t called me around the holidays, or responded to my half dozen emails. It wasn’t like her.

So here comes this letter from her Mom, which I must say, I am so grateful for otherwise I would have gone on wondering what had happened.

It turned out Jen died suddenly in her home several months before and I never knew it. And, really, how could I possible have known. Her parents had finally gotten her mail forwarded to them and there they found my Christmas card and gift to her. And thus, her Mom responded.

You know, you really are never ready to hear someone has died. You just aren’t. I don’t care if you knew them less than 3 years or your entire life. You don’t wake up in the morning expecting to hear that kind of news.

So here I was in the office, all alone, and just burst out in tears. Yes, I’m a sensitive soul, otherwise I couldn’t do what I do. But this one was a shocker. I sat back, trying to wipe away the tears which were not subsiding and I just couldn’t comprehend this could be true.

I don’t think I believe it yet anyway. It’s just beyond me, first how all those months could have gone by and Jen and I to have not spoken either by phone or in print. And also, that I didn’t know when it happened, couldn’t have known, and her family couldn’t have done anything more than they did to alert a whole host of personal acquaintances which moved somewhere between best of friends to business colleagues.

Jen and I worked together toward building the Foundation for Grieving Children. She listen to me tell my story on that plane that night and she encouraged me all the way. She offered her assistance in many ways and delivered on everything she promised.

When we were updating our database of services for grieving children, she took the ball and ran with it. She even got others involved (her friends Anna and Josh) and months and months later, the project was all typed in excel, ready for the next step.

When I didn’t know how to research a project in the most expeditious way, I could always call on Jen, my resident librarian and PR person and she’d always give me great advice.

But mostly, you need to know that she was one of the most generous people I’ve ever know. She was there for me in the beginning when I was rebuilding my life after my divorce. She believed in my dreams and visions. She used her money many times to get supplies and her time to make it all come together.

I’ll always remember how she asked how I was getting into Manhattan from JFK Airport the night we landed at nearly midnight. She decided I was coming along with her as the carservice was waiting, and after having dropped her off first near Lexington and 88th where she lived, she said to the driver “take her wherever she needs to go.” She made me feel like a queen.

About a month later we spent Fourth of July together on the East River Promenade watching the Macy’s Fireworks. It was so much fun. Or the time I met her at the doctor’s office to get her home safely after a procedure. Or, when she was moving to Florida and I helped her clean out the apartment as her beloved dog, Rooster, would run around and jump on the bags. He was so funny and how she loved him.

Or when she came back to visit for business and stayed with me at my home. We had such fun. Or when I just needed an ‘ear’ and Jen was always there to tell me it would all come together.

There are people who are planted in our lives for only a short season. Jen was that angel for me. She and I had a very short time together here, but we spoke of God and His works on this earth many, many times. We loved our discussions about faith and how it was working in our lives.

Many times since I learned of her death, I sit quietly and reflect on how much I valued her friendship. I wish you had known my friend, Jennifer Guberman, because you would have surely loved her…