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Losing a Parent ’ Category
Wednesday, December 18th, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. Author of the dark comedy fiction novel “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt,” Joe is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey and can be emailed at email@example.com or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
This needs to be written about. Not because it’s a topic I enjoy bringing up, but because this is a time of year when, despite the inherent joy of the holiday season, people are hurting more than we think. The reason I know this is because I am hurting more than you think. And I know I’m not alone. For reference, here’s my back story.
If you’re going through your first holiday season after the loss of a parent (or anyone you were especially close with), I don’t need to tell you that it’s practically unbearable. And for me, it was after seeing the Christmas lights strung up on banisters around town that it hit me—whether I liked it or not, life was going on without my mother. And I had absolutely no choice but to deal with it. In the grand scheme of things, the conveyor belt of life continued to operate, and I felt like I had two choices: Stay on and force a smile, or jump off and pout. You’ll probably find yourself doing a little bit of both. Especially during the month of December.
I’ve also learned that, despite the support we get from our close friends and families, how we cope with these losses is something we must decide completely on our own. In other words, it’s our cross to bear. So I’ve assembled a list, a defense strategy against the inevitable sadness that can and will overtake you over the holidays. I’m certainly no doctor, but I hope it helps. It has for me.
This is absolutely crucial. Don’t over-work yourself. As parents, we have a tendency to forget about our own well-being completely, but in grief you’ll realize that this tactic will backfire. So, take days off. Surround yourself with only people who bring you up, not down. Get a massage. Go to the movies. Don’t be afraid to pamper yourself. After what you’ve gone through, you wholeheartedly deserve it. And if anyone dares question your new-found affinity for taking care of yourself, feel free to be blunt with them.
- Remind people you need them
It’s not easy. I’m well aware of that. We all want to be perceived as being strong, a rock. But that strategy works against you in grief. For me, picking up the phone and calling my 87-year-old grandmother or a friend to let them know I still need their support certainly didn’t feel natural. But the people in your life who truly care for you will respond in kind. As I’ve discovered, as soon as the funeral ends, most people will go on with their lives assuming you’re fine unless you speak up. And if talking to friends and family doesn’t help, don’t be afraid to seek counseling. There’s no shame in this game.
- Remember the parent in your own way
I’ve gone through phases of holding onto my mother’s possessions for dear life (keeping her cell phone in my sock drawer, storing her social security card in my wallet) to shutting her image completely out of my mind. I’ve gotten to the point where I feel comfortable having pictures of her up around the house, and on occasion bring her up to my older son so that she seems “present” in his life. And during Christmastime, while every other window is illuminated with a single white candle, I leave the candle in my bedroom off, in memory of her. That might seem odd to some, but it gives me a small bit of peace when I need it most. It doesn’t have to make sense.
- Focus on your greatest blessings
If you have children, hug them tighter. If you have cats, hug them tighter. If you really love chocolate, don’t hug it tighter. That would be weird. But you see where I’m going with this. I’ve found that accentuating the strongest positives in life helps enormously. It reminds us that there’s still plenty of good left in this world to enjoy, despite what we’ve lost.
- Don’t feel guilty “moving on”
I think there’s a tendency to stay “stuck in the moment” of losing someone, especially a parent. Your life grinds to a halt, and it almost doesn’t feel “right” to move on without them. I mean, how can we simply keep living like everything’s fine when it clearly isn’t? I’m incredibly guilty of clinging to this perspective. But what I (and anyone dealing with grief) need to know is that moving on does not mean forgetting. It does not mean we don’t care and it does not mean we’re not in pain. It simply means that we’re choosing to embrace the light rather than the dark. There will be days when the dark wins, but if we put ourselves in situations that enable happiness (for both us and our children), I think we’ll find ourselves smiling more often than not.
Sorry if you were expecting my “lighter side” today, but frankly, the weight we feel on our shoulders (specifically as parents) can feel unrelenting at times. People need to know they’re not alone in their most personal stresses. I hope this provided even the slightest bit of relief for them. So this is Joe DeProspero, guest blogger for Parents.com reminding you that we’re all in this together. Happy holidays, everyone.
On this topic especially, I’d love to hear from you. Simply writing about your personal experience could provide more relief than you’d think. Feel free to add a comment below.
* Photo courtesy of Shutterstock.com
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Joe DeProspero, Losing a Parent
Thursday, August 22nd, 2013
Joe DeProspero has two sons, a wife, and is complimentary birth control for anyone who sits near him in a restaurant. His writing has been described as “outrageous,” “painfully real,” and “downright humiliating.” He talks about the highs and unsettling lows of parenthood while always being entertaining and engaging in the process. He has written the fiction book “The Boy in the Wrinkled Shirt” and is working on releasing a parenting humor book. He currently lives in New Jersey with his wife and two sons and can be emailed at firstname.lastname@example.org or followed on Twitter @JoeDeProspero.
It’s something I never imagined I’d have to do while my children were so young. In most cases, it’s a role we’re thrust into without so much as a day or two to Google some helpful tips to prepare for it. But on April 14, 2012, my whole world changed, and I was faced with an insurmountable task: dealing with an unthinkable loss while simultaneously teaching my oldest son what death means on a level he might understand.
My 83-year-old Grandma Helen called me that Saturday afternoon at about 1:00, concerned that my mother (who lived alone) wasn’t answering her phone. This was not like my mother, who called my grandmother every single morning religiously. She wasn’t answering my calls either. About an hour later, I stopped by her place which was only 15 minutes away. And I found her on the floor. She was dead at age 59. And just like that, life as I knew it was dramatically changed forever. I was then tasked with breaking the news to my grandmother, who in turn suffered a severe stroke and also died two days later (yes, really). I was crushed. But feeling sorry for myself could only last so long; my son Antonio’s 3rd birthday party was the following weekend, and I now had two gaping holes in the family to explain to him. We would end up holding a double funeral for them the day before the party. But how was I going to explain all of this to a child whose beloved grandmother AND great grandmother suddenly vanished without saying goodbye?
My immediate reaction was to avoid any mention of “Grandma Linda” or “Nana Helen.” I had no idea how to approach their deaths with my one son who was old enough to ask about them (my younger son was 10 months old at the time). But neither my wife nor I wanted him to wonder why they hadn’t bothered to show up to his birthday party. My wife, Sonia, did her best to convey the losses in a way his young mind could comprehend. So she pulled him aside one night that week.
“Honey, Grandma went to heaven. She’s high up in the sky now and is always watching, but you just won’t be able to see her anymore.”
I’m paraphrasing because I wasn’t present for the conversation, but that’s basically how it went. A bit of a high concept for a toddler, but we were trying. And it was obvious that he didn’t understand a word of it. He simply smiled and continued mashing the buttons on his Buzz Lightyear. But while he didn’t understand, as days went by, he could clearly tell that something had gone awry. If we brought up Grandma, he ignored us. It got to the point where he wouldn’t even say her name, purposely avoiding having to bring her up, much like I did at first. Then, one day, in my car on the way to drop him off at day camp, he asked the question I’d been dreading for weeks.
“Daddy, is Grandma ever coming back?”
I froze for about eight seconds. It was like being on a job interview where you’re asked the one question you weren’t prepared for. And as the seconds ticked by, it became clearer that the truth was my only option.
“No. Honey, I’m sorry. She’s not. But she loves you and she’ll always be watching. And hey, remember that pillow fight we had with her? Wasn’t that fun?”
I was nervous, so I reached for a distraction. He nodded solemnly. But over the following weeks and months, I realized I had two jobs when it came to the death of my mother: Don’t fall apart and don’t let mentions of her yield anything but a smile.
So far, I think my wife and I have been fairly successful. We started by showing my son video footage of the aforementioned pillow fight I’d captured on my iPhone, then with watching our wedding video and asking him to point Grandma out. Then, after attending a birthday party, my wife accidentally let Antonio’s helium balloon slip out of the car and into the sky. Naturally, Antonio was not pleased. But he was certainly intrigued when we determined that the balloon wasn’t lost at all, but it was merely “sent up to Grandma.” To this day, he associates balloons (one of his favorite things) with my mother. And he smiles.
In recent months, instead of asking if Grandma is coming back, he instead asks questions about heaven.
How did she get all the way up there?
Where does she sleep?
Does she still have my balloon?
Frankly, the questions break my heart. But if he never asked at all, I think it’d be worse. So I answer him as cheerfully and imaginatively as possible.
She has special flying abilities that take her up, up, up into the sky, and she uses a cloud as a pillow. And of course she still has your balloons. She always will.
In a way, I feel like I’m writing a fairytale on the fly. This magical lady who flies with the birds and sleeps above the raindrops. Sometimes I even get caught up in the fantasy of it all, detaching myself from reality for a moment. I suppose I do it for me as much as I do it for him. I don’t want her to fade into a memory for either of us.
So if you’ve recently found yourself in this unenviable position, know that you’re not alone. And also, don’t be afraid to tell your children the truth. Or as much of the truth that you determine they can handle. Ignoring my mother’s memory around my son was not the solution to my grief or to his understanding of this dreadful situation. Honoring her memory and reminding my son of how wonderful his grandmother was (and magically continues to be) is a step in the right direction. Because while I will always be saddened by any mention of her, my children deserve to know how much she loved them. And she deserves it, too.
Antonio and my mother, two weeks before her death. Strangely, she already looked like an angel.
I truly hope that you either found solace in reading this or will think back on it if you ever need to explain the unimaginable to your children. In closing, here’s a picture of the inside cover of Green Eggs and Ham, as inscribed by my mother to my son. I always point it out when I read it to him.
Feel free to share your stories by adding a comment below.
* If you prefer my humor-based posts, forgive me for the seriousness of this one, as I felt it was a story that needed to be told.
Read more about how to talk to your kids about death and tragedy:
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Fearless Feisty Mama, Joe DeProspero, Losing a Parent, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips, Must Read
Tuesday, August 6th, 2013
I decided to take Fia to church on Sunday. This, after a recent vacation to Mammoth, California where we visited an old ghost town.
Me: “Fia, let’s go look at the old church.”
Her: “Mama, what’s church?”
Cue brakes screeching to a halt. Uh-Oh.
Phil’s father is an Episcopalian Priest. He baptized both our kids. His mom is the epitome of a loving, Christian woman. “Rev and Bev” we call them. Part of the deal in baptizing, besides tradition, is to raise them “in the faith.” However, neither Phil nor I are particularly religious. I would call us more spiritual, even though we both grew up going to Sunday School (and when my family was falling apart in the 9th grade, I briefly became a born-again Pentecostal. Yep. Not kidding). Phil’s experience–which included family time, church picnics and “preacher kid” mischief–was far different than mine.
My parents would pull up in a big cargo van that my mom used for her plant business. They’d open the side door and we four kids would come tumbling out. My adopted brother Carter would bounce in with his huge black Afro and my sister Tanya would follow with her neatly woven cornrows. Kelly, my biological brother, and I would lead the way.
“Come on you guys, we are going to be late!” I’d say, glad to be the older sibling/ring leader. We were a motley crew, no doubt.
My parents would slam the door and shout, “See you in an hour!” and go tearing off. My mother probably went and got high. My father probably went and made charts (we had a sign-in and sign-out chart growing up. Um, yes.).
I didn’t care about the drive-through drop off and I still don’t. In fact, in many ways, I get it. Woo hoo, an hour of free time! No babysitter, no kids. Where I differ from my parents (in addition to the 99% of things they did in child-rearing) is that I’m way too paranoid to ever leave my kids like that. Even when Fia is 8 or 9. No way, no how.
Not only would I not leave her at church alone, I wouldn’t leave her in Sunday School, even if I was at the church attending the main service. I’m much too paranoid; especially after my “Stranger Danger” post and the warning many of you gave me about “tricky people.”
But here’s where I’m grateful for my religious education: I know the stories. I know a whale swallowed Jonah and Daniel got thrown into a lions’ den. I know the implications and the message behind those stories. Many of the tales/allegories are cultural references too, and I think it’s important to know them. And no matter whom you worship–Allah, Buddha, Jesus–the common thread, at its core–is at least supposed to be about compassion, kindness and being a good person. Those are not bad things to teach your kid. One of my issues though, is I feel like I do that regardless. Must I take them to church every Sunday to learn this? Especially because I feel organized religion–also at its core–is deeply flawed?
I won’t go into my issues or grievances. This isn’t about what you believe. It’s about how to teach what you know to your kids without it feeling hypocritical or obligatory.
Back to my church excursion with Fia. On the way there I explained to her we were going to a church to learn about Jesus. Bev sent her the book, “Jesus Loves Me.” Fia knows all the words, partially because I’ve sang her (and Emmett) that song since birth, substituting “Jesus” for “Mama” and “for the bible tells us so” to “for she always tells you so,” etc.
I told her Jesus was a kind person who helped the blind see, the crippled walk and the poor eat. She asked where he was. Instead of saying, “in all of us” or some proper church response, I didn’t think it through. I got distracted because I was driving.
“Well, he died.”
“How did he die?”
“Some bad men killed him.”
“Oh, oh, I know!” she piped up in earnest. “He was smushed and turned into soup!”
(Pause.) (Pause again.) (Pause more.)
“Well, not exactly…”
And so it goes. My search for answers. To be continued…
Pic of church via Shutterstock
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Fearless Feisty Mama, Losing a Parent, Milestone Monday, Mom Situations, Mom Tricks and Tips, Moving to Los Angeles, Must Read
Monday, April 15th, 2013
The feel of your soles hitting the pavement. The roar of the crowds. The pride in pushing your body to do something so extraordinary. You do it for a charity, for a lost one, a loved one–or just for yourself. This is what runners do. This is what marathoners do.
I ran the Boston Marathon in 2008. I did it with two of my best running friends, Katie and Rachel. We were part of a team that trained together for multiple marathons. We ran through ice and snow in the Bronx, through wind and rain in Brooklyn, logging the miles, counting the minutes and checking off the weeks.
I sit here today in shock and heartbreak over the news of two explosions at this iconic event. Reports are still sketchy–many injured, possible packages found… your mind goes to the immediate: terrorism. It’s tax day. It’s Boston. It could easily be domestic. It’s also the world’s most famous running event. So it could be international. Or maybe a gas line exploded. We don’t know. The facts will come.
What is on my mind now are the runners, the spectators, the emergency workers, the reporters, my fellow running friends and anyone else who was, until a few hours ago, enjoying being part of this storied event. On so many levels the Boston Marathon signifies what is good in the world: Persistence, Drive, Kindness, Endurance, Humility, Charity. But right now, it also signifies the bad. Or the potential of badness that exists. I am trying not to jump to conclusions.
Soon I will put on my running shoes and hit the trail. I will think back to that day when I crossed the finish line: elated, exhausted, proud. For all of those who crossed today and for all of those who watched, it will be a different memory. One mired in death and destruction. Even one of the toughest events in the world remains, at this moment, so incredibly fragile.
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Fearless Feisty Mama, Losing a Parent, Milestone Monday, Mom Situations, Must Read
Tuesday, January 15th, 2013
It has been a month since the horrific Newtown shooting. A month in which normal lives were shattered beyond belief.
I was at Fia’s gymnastics lesson yesterday thinking about this. As she walked across the balance beam and did seat drops on the trampoline, I was struck by how normal my life has remained.
I can hold my daughter’s hand. I can kiss my son’s head. And right now, in this moment in time, that is all I care about. Truly.
When it happened, my grief for the families was so overwhelming, I had to seek help to get through the holidays. I also read another mom’s blog which helped tremendously in trying to not project this awful event onto my own family. I urge all of you who struggled or are struggling with this issue to read it.
So what have we learned in a month? We’ve learned there are so many whack jobs who make up this country, that we, the sane ones, need to work extra hard to get reasonable laws passed. I am calling out people like “Editor JP” who posted a handful of delusional and profoundly ignorant comments on my blog. I was tempted to take them off. But then I thought, no, everyone should see the kind of people we are dealing with in this national debate. The people who even refuse to debate. To listen. The reasonable need to stand up and overpower the unreasonable. Yes, I’m talking about people like you “JP” (are you doing your nails or cleaning your arsenal in anger?).
We have learned that the Newtown parents, in the midst of their grief, have formed a nonprofit to promote peace along with gun responsibility. It’s called the Sandy Hook Promise.
We have learned that many of the Newtown families are gun owners.
They are also reasonable gun owners who believe some sort of change must happen.
I’ll say it again: No one is calling for a ban on guns. No one is taking away the Second Amendment. All of you “JPs” out here, calm the f–k down. Yes, we all have a right to bear arms. What we don’t have is the right to bear weapons of mass destruction. As in assault weapons. Conservative Judge Larry Alan Burns recently sentenced Jared Lee Loughner–the man responsible for killing 6 in Tucson–to seven consecutive life terms plus 140 years in federal prison. Judge Burns wrote an article on “The Conservative Case for An Assault Weapons Ban.” In it, he clearly comes from a place of R-E-A-S-O-N. Some excerpts:
“I get it. Someone bent on mass murder who has only a 10-round magazine or revolvers at his disposal probably is not going to abandon his plan and instead try to talk his problems out. But we might be able to take the “mass” out of “mass shooting,” or at least make the perpetrator’s job a bit harder.”
….”So what’s the alternative? Bring back the assault weapons ban, and bring it back with some teeth this time. Ban the manufacture, importation, sale, transfer and possession of both assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Don’t let people who already have them keep them. Don’t let ones that have already been manufactured stay on the market. I don’t care whether it’s called gun control or a gun ban. I’m for it.”
…”I say all of this as a gun owner. I say it as a conservative who was appointed to the federal bench by a Republican president. I say it as someone who prefers Fox News to MSNBC, and National Review Online to the Daily Kos. I say it as someone who thinks the Supreme Court got it right in District of Columbia vs. Heller, when it held that the 2nd Amendment gives us the right to possess guns for self-defense. (That’s why I have mine.) I say it as someone who, generally speaking, is not a big fan of the regulatory state.”
Quoting from the article in the New York Times
, on the Sandy Hook nonprofit, one of the founding parents said,
“We hunt, we target shoot. We protect our homes. We’re collectors. We teach our sons and daughters how to use guns safely. We’re not afraid of a national conversation in our community and in Congress about responsibility and accountability. We know there are millions of people in this nation who agree with us.”
Another parent who lost his 6 year-old boy said that he’s not done being a parent to Benjamin. Because there is so much more to be done on Ben’s behalf.
Those 20 children cannot have died in vain. Nor can the other 6. Or the countless others who are shot to death every day in this country. Do something to show your support for change. Perhaps it’s signing the Sandy Hook Promise. Perhaps it’s something else. Tell me what you have done. I can sign more than one pledge as long as it harkens towards peace and reason, not violence and hatred.
Do what is reasonable, what is right, what is logical. And what keeps us and our children alive.
“If we can’t draw a sensible line on guns, we may as well call the American experiment in democracy a failure.”–Judge Larry Alan Burns
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