Tag Archives: grieving a child

Remembering with Forget-Me-Nots

At present I absolutely want to paint a starry sky. It often seems to me that night is still more richly coloured than the day; having hues of the most intense violets, blues and greens. If only you pay attention to it you will see that certain stars are lemon-yellow, others pink or a green, blue and forget-me-not brilliance. And without my expatiating on this theme it is obvious that putting little white dots on the blue-black is not enough to paint a starry sky.
Vincent Van Gogh

forget me nots
forget me nots

This 19th century Dutch post-Impressionist painter was able to perceive the hues in the stars, even the brilliance of forget-me-not blue. I can’t see those colors in the night sky, yet I like greeting them hovering overhead when I come home at night and walk from my garage to my house.

I missed the stars Tuesday night when I arrived home in the rain after my first Compassionate Friends meeting. I finally had the energy and interest to try out this group of people who meet to work through the grief of losing a child. Display posters held beloved photographs of lost children, from infants to middle-aged adults.

How fortunate we are today to have the ability to look at color images of our children. Only a century ago I would not have had photos showing my son Brennan’s eye color–camouflage green–even if I would have been lucky enough to have a single picture of him.

There is a legend encapsulating the value of remembering someone’s gaze through eye color. In this story, the Christ Child is sitting on Mother Mary’s lap. He wants others to experience her heavenly gaze, so he touches her eyes, then waves his hand over the ground. Blue forget-me-nots appear.

Blue forget-me-nots have sprung up in my garden this spring, right next to Brennan’s developing garden. Through these flowers Mary gazes upon me and upon Brennan’s garden. And Brennan himself has witnessed her loving gaze on the other side. Now he is in her care. She is the best of mothers.

Thriver Soup Ingredient

A child is never forgotten. The grief might shift and there might eventually be acceptance, but we all will always remember our children. Perhaps some forget-me-nots would be a nice addition to a garden in memory of how cherished they are to us.



Asking for a Dream of a Loved One

“Nothing is so heavenly as the embrace of the angels’ love.”

Gramma, in Emily’s Dreamtime, by Heidi M. Bright


Have you ever wanted just one more hug from your loved one who has crossed over?

rainbow on ceiling
rainbow on ceiling

Nothing is so heavenly as the embrace of your own angel’s love, the angel of a loved one who has passed away and visits during dreamtime.

It’s been about ten months since my teenaged son passed away. I’d been complaining to him a bit lately. Why hadn’t he come to me during my dreamtime? He knew I tracked as many dreams as I could.

Yesterday he finally showed up. I felt so comfortable with him in the dreamtime that I didn’t realize for a while that he’d finally actually showed up. So I asked him for a hug. He felt so substantial, so real, as I held him for a few moments.

Then he evaporated and I woke up.

What a wonderful gift, to receive a hug from my son from the Other Side.

That afternoon, after I finished meditating, I looked up to see a gorgeous rainbow on my ceiling. A rainbow just as I’d pictured in my children’s book, Emily’s Dreamtime. Yes, Brennan had paid a visit, had hugged me. The circle is complete.


Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you have lost a loved one, ask the person to come to you during your dreamtime, and to help you remember it when you wake up.

One way to help another through grief

If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.

John 13:14, Revised Standard Version, Christian Bible

Jesus washes disciples' feet
Jesus washes disciples’ feet

What practical things have you done to help another through grief?

When Jesus gathered his followers for their last supper together, he started the evening by washing dirt off their stinky feet—taking on the role of a slave. Jesus was calling his disciples to be servants of one another. Little did they know they would soon be grieving Jesus’ crucifixion, yet Jesus had demonstrated for them how to deal with their anguish: serve one another.

Following Jesus’ example doesn’t have to involve washing feet. It can be washing your own hands after digging them in the dirt of a friend’s garden.

My friend Rebecca, a minister and chaplain, not only preaches well—she performed the ministerial role at my son Brennan’s funeral—she surprised me last fall by offering to come over to plant crocus bulbs in his garden and help me with other chores I couldn’t do alone. Rebecca works long hours in an emotionally demanding job and uses weekends to rest up so she can go back out and continue assisting people with major life events. Yet she cleared a full day so she could come over and help me out.

We planted dozens of crocus bulbs and did a variety of other jobs that would have been much more difficult to do alone.
I am honored by her generosity of spirit and gracious assistance. It was healing balm for my heart, as if she was picking up some of the slack that Brennan left behind. She symbolically did what Christ encouraged all of us to do—to wash up after others. She is living what she preaches.

Thriver Soup Ingredient
Sometimes the best help for a grieving person is coming over and doing the chores the loved one usually did. This demonstrates that even though there is a terrible loss, others can pick up a little bit of the slack and make life a tiny bit more bearable.

“Jesus Washing the Feet of the Disciples” oil on canvas. Louis Comfort Tiffany. http://www.wikigallery.org/ Accessed April 6, 2016

Gilded Apples for Easter: Rebirth and Redemption

“Bright Iduna, Maid immortal! / Standing at Valhalla’s portal, / In her casket has rich store / Of rare apples, gilded o’er; / Those rare apples, not of Earth, / Ageing Æsir give fresh birth.”

Valhalla, by Julia Clinton Jones, 1878

The golden apples of the goddess Iduna gave youth and beauty to the other Norse gods and goddesses. Their magical properties entranced the storm giant Thiassi, who found a way to kidnap Iduna and her fruit. After Iduna was rescued, Thiassi, in the form of an eagle, was burned. His eyes were thrown into the heavens to become constellations, continuing his life like a phoenix rising from flames.

Madonna and Christ Child holding apple
Madonna and Christ Child holding an apple

Many ancient cultures valued fruit, some enough to bury apples with the deceased. The petrified remains of sliced apples have been found in tombs as much as 7,000 years old.

Apples became a symbol of youth and rebirth, perhaps in part because they keep so well through the winter.

In Christian lore, the apple represents redemption and sometimes is depicted in paintings of the Madonna and Christ Child, such as in “Madonna of the Apple” by 17th century artist Francisco de Zurbarán.

What could be more fitting than planting apple trees on Resurrection Sunday in memory of my son Tristan? One of the two trees is a type called “Gold Rush,” reminding me of Iduna’s gilded fruit that imparts new life. The trees are perfect gifts from my brother Jim and his wife Janet.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

A basket of golden apples and a note about their significance would make a lovely gift to someone who has lost a loved one.


Valhalla: The Myths of Norseland; A Saga, in Twelve Parts, by Julia Clinton Jones, 1878, retrieved March 29, 2016 from http://www.odins-gift.com/pclass/valhalla_jones/valhalla_jones_4.htm




Image: This file has been identified as being free of known restrictions under copyright law, including all related and neighboring rights.

Dancing with Daffodils: Rebirth on Two Levels

daffodil in tris garden webAnd then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.

From “I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud” by William Wordsworth


What do daffodils represent to you?

Dancing daffodils herald spring, arriving during the month of the spring equinox, Lent, and sometimes Easter. These bright yellow flowers are called Lent Lilies in England and Easter Bells, or Oesterglocken, in Germany. They are an obvious symbol for rebirth and new beginnings.

The symbolism relates to resurrection on two levels for me.

First, the American Cancer Society views the daffodil as a symbol of hope for a cancer cure. How fitting, when I just received a clear x-ray 4.5 years out from treatment.

Second, the daffodil is sometimes called the Narcissus. Narcissus is rooted in the Greek word narke, which means numbness or torpor, because the bulbs contain a paralyzing and toxic alkaloid. The bulbs were allegedly carried by Roman soldiers so if they became mortally wounded, they could eat the bulbs to ease the pain as they perished.

Narke also is the foundation for the word “narcotic.” My son passed from a narcotic overdose.

Because of these associations, my friend Karen wanted me to have daffodils in Tristan’s memorial garden. This week they danced into bloom, their sunny dispositions cheering up the yard and filling my heart with pleasure.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Here is a little ritual you can do with a daffodil to assist with healing from grief (modified from the book The Magic of Flowers by Tess Whitehurst). On a sunny day, fill a pretty glass with fresh water and carry it to a Narcissus. Hold the container while sitting with the flower, gazing into its golden depths. Take some slow, deep breaths. Imagine light from the sun filling the water with healing energy. Then drink a little of the water to absorb the energy of the sun. Pour the rest of the water around the base of the flower. As you offer life-giving moisture to the daffodil, ask the blossom to share its gift of presence with you by strengthening your ability to be more fully present during each day, letting go of some of your grief.





Tess Whitehurst, The Magic of Flowers Llewellyn Publications, 2013, p. 259.

Lyrical Healing: Using Music for Processing Grief

Tris and Mom… These wounds won’t seem to heal. This pain is just too real. There’s just too much that time cannot erase. When you cried I’d wipe away all of your tears. When you’d scream I’d fight away all of your fears. And I held your hand through all of these years. But you still have all of me.

You used to captivate me by your resonating light. Now I’m bound by the life you left behind. Your face, it haunts my once pleasant dreams. Your voice it chased away all the sanity in me. These wounds won’t seem to heal. This pain is just too real. There’s just too much that time cannot erase. I’ve tried so hard to tell myself that you’re gone. …

“My Immortal” by Evanescence


Songs can touch the deepest recesses of our hearts. I listened to “My Immortal” for the first time during this past weekend, after seeing it suggested in an email from my friend Kathy Nace. I wept for hours, the music bringing up yet another facet of grief.

The lyrics speak so eloquently of what it feels like to lose a beloved child: A child who captivated your heart, who held your hand with love and trust, a child you soothed countless times, a child you held close when wild with fears.

And then to lose that child. The face, the voice, the hugs, all hauntingly familiar yet forever gone.

The pain is too real. Grief had swallowed me up time and again, repeatedly dragging me down into the dark underbelly of life.

Because of their powerful nature, the right songs can help with grieving and healing. It doesn’t need to be an entire song. It can simply involve a turn of phrase that cuts right through your heart.

I had started in June 2015 with months of sometimes breathless agony, sobbing to “How to Save a Life” by The Fray. On repeat. Over. And over. Deeply I held all the shards from that facet of my grief.

Gradually I added “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol. On repeat. Over. And over.

I peered closely into new shards that surfaced.

Other songs began entering the mix, some I had known about, some new. Always played on repeat, always accompanied by fresh, copious tears.

I found I could not move forward with new songs representing progress until I had spent enough time with the ones that spoke to where I was at the time.

Yet the music did help move my grief process forward. It felt like someone understood the ineffable nuances of my pain at each stage.

Now that there is some significant distance from the initial shock, I have the flexibility to move back and forth among the songs I have collected, depending on how I am feeling at the time. I am largely done with some of the songs.

Sometimes I will go weeks before feeling the desire to revisit a certain song. Sometimes a new piece will strike a chord within. The sound vibrates into my soul and the tears flow once more. Having seen people cry ten or more years after losing a loved one, I know this flooding can occur at any time. As the song says, “There’s just too much that time cannot erase.” Yet there can be healing.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

Courtney Armstrong, in “Music: A powerful ally in your counseling sessions,” explains how she uses songs to assist her clients with healing. She includes a couple examples with playlists that were used in her Counseling Today article this month.


Armstrong, Courtney. Music: A powerful ally in your counseling sessions. Counseling Today, March 2016, Vol 58/Number 9, p 60-65. Retrieved March 8, 2015, from http://ct.counseling.org/2016/02/music-a-powerful-ally-in-your-counseling-sessions/

Kindly Christmas

Those who act kindly in this world will have kindness.

Qur’an 39.10

I was in need of much kindness.

I was a single mother whose firstborn had recently passed away and whose only other child was spending Christmas with his father.

Dread filled my heart when I thought about the upcoming holiday. Christmas 2014 had seemed horrible enough. My 19-year-old had purchased a one-way ticket to hell years earlier–turning to substance abuse, most likely in part because of my end-stage cancer diagnosis in 2009–and he was dragging us along. We spent three long hours in a drug rehab facility. A thick blanket of pain hung heavily around each person as we ate, played bingo, and strained to make small talk. Anger, hurt, sorrow, fear, and powerlessness pervaded my being.

My son ended up doing what most heroin addicts do—he overdosed in June. Then a friend of his overdosed before Thanksgiving, bringing another cascade of grief.

What to do for Christmas this year? I wanted to avoid sobbing into a cup of tea all day. Lovely friends invited me to join them, and I am grateful, but it still would have been a horrible holiday. I knew I needed to get completely away from the memories for awhile.

Heidi by tree 1 webThen I had a conversation with one of my sisters-in-law, followed by an invitation to Seattle for the holidays.

It was perfect. I left a week before Christmas and stayed well into the new year to avoid emotional triggers. They piled my lap with more gifts than I have received in decades. My sister-in-law cooked amazing meals and showed me the treasures she had been collecting for a museum she plans to open in Astoria, Oregon, in June. I also disappeared into my deceased parents’ past, scanning hundreds of old family slides and transcribing German letters.

My brother and his family acted with great kindness, and I am so grateful. I actually had a really nice Christmas.


Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you know someone who has suffered a great loss, your kindness is deeply appreciated.

Special Delivery

Give thanks in all circumstances…

1 Thessalonians 5:18, Christian Bible, New International Version


A large package appeared on my front porch a week before Christmas. I hadn’t ordered anything, and didn’t expect any gifts from anyone.

lville stoneware web.jpgThe label included an unknown name above my address. Hmmm.

I called the delivery company, the former homeowners, the return address phone number. After two hours on and off the phone, the originating company representative told me the package was mine.

Excited, I cut through the tape and pulled out a large red stoneware container holding potpourri. It featured an embossed fleur-de-lis.

My son Tristan’s favorite color was red. Fleur-de-lis is French for the lily flower, which is used to symbolize resurrection. The Boy Scouts, an organization to which Tristan belonged for years, uses the symbol.

Was it somehow, through a series of small errors, sent to me by Tristan’s energy? No one can say for sure. My friend Kay, who lost her son, taught me to see these unusual events as signs from our loved ones. She would say, “Thank you, thank you, send me more.” Because she is open to the possibility and watching for it, she notices what others might readily dismiss, and she feels a precious sense of connection with and gratitude toward her son.

So I am going to accept this gift as if my son sent it to me and give thanks for this unusual and wonderful circumstance.

Thriver Soup Ingredient:

If you have lost a loved one to cancer, watch for interesting and unusual signs that this person is communicating with you. If something happens, give your loved one thanks and ask for more.

Thriver Soup Article: Special Delivery, by Heidi Bright