Friday, December 18, 2009

Hans Christian Andersen "Historien om en Moder"

"Did you see Death go by with my little child?"

"Yes," said the blackthorn bush. "But I shall not tell you which way he went unless you warm me against your heart. I am freezing to death. I am stiff with ice."

She pressed the blackthorn bush against her heart to warm it, and the thorns stabbed so deep into her flesh that great drops of red blood flowed. So warm was the mother's heart that the blackthorn bush blossomed and put forth green leaves on that dark winter's night.

And it told her the way to go.

The Story of a Mother, Hans Christian Andersen

I read The Story of a Mother in 1995, only a year following Chey's death. The horrors of the story were matched only by the very reality I faced every morning when I awoke, in the evening before I closed my eyes, and in the space between them. I related so much to his careful construction of the story because I'd often personified Death. He, this abstract being- the enemy- came into my life, through my front door, into my home, and into my very own body and took her against my will. By so doing, I could begin to process my own unthinkable experience. Yet, the story evoked only indescribably painful emotions at that time, and I could not yet begin to see (note the relationship to the mother's loss of her eyes in the story) the entire picture of His "taking of her".

Angie, Dallas' mother, shared with me an artistic rendition of the story. The symbols had entirely new meaning to me, more than 5600 days, nearly 135,000 hours, and countless tears later... and this morning, I wept. And wept.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Words and Broken Bones...

"Passed away, gone to be with the Lord, expired, departed, went home".

These are all very nice euphemisms for the ‘D-word.’

"It was God’s will. Time will heal. Everything happens for a reason. You’re young so just try again. God needed an angel to tend his garden. At least she's not in pain anymore. At least you have others at home".

Yet, more euphemisms intended to comfort the bereaved. I don’t like death euphemisms. I prefer to tell the truth. My daughter died and I don’t like Death for taking her from me. Often, my frankness affronts others.

Death was an abstract entity before Chey's death in 1994. I knew that Death was a part of life, yet somehow, its potential soiree in my life seemed too comfortably distant for reality. Frankly, I rather feared Death, avoiding discussions about Him. Once in awhile, I would hear a story about a friend’s parent who died and I would think to myself, “One day, Joanne, mom and dad are going to die. You'll have to face it one day.” But my insulated idealism quickly hurried the reality of Death out the back door.

Naïve? Perhaps so, but it is oh so comfortable.

Then, Death found me. He knocked on my door, not concerned with justice. Or timing. Without thought to the crime He was about to commit. Death came, and He left me in the carnage. And, instead of minding proper order, He violated every righteous law of nature and took my little girl one hot summer day. I tried to fight. I kicked and screamed. I hated Death and begged Him to leave her and take me instead. I negotiated everything I had. To no avail. I lost myself in the war.

I did not even recognize myself in the muddy waters of grief. I was hollowed. Every cell in my body ached for her presence. Like Gretel, I collected crumbs, trying to find my way through the darkest forest I’d ever faced. And before I knew it, the minutes turned to days and days to weeks and weeks to years. I’m often not certain how I survived. I’m not certain that I did survive.

Seven years passed, and my mother suddenly died. I felt like Death was taunting me again. I watched my mother die as we disconnected the tubes that forced air into her lungs. I thought about many things as she was dying. I thought about how much I'd miss her- and I missed her for my children. I thought of how thankful I felt to have had 65 years with her. I thought about how much my father was going to miss her. I thought about Chey and wondered if she’d be there to greet her grandmother. I thought about how unfair it was that Death and I had to dance once again. Then, yes, again, five years to the day after my mother's death, it was my father's turn. I felt orphaned.

What wreckage Death had brought.

It has now been nearly 5,600 days since I buried my little girl. But love does not decompose as flesh. Edges from her photographs are worn from too much handling and the colors are fading but my love for her transcends time. At times, I juxtapose scenes from our two worlds, and I imagine the moment when I will see her again. I am not sure what follows this life but I believe that something does.

So while this was not a path of my choice, it is a path I must walk with careful consideration. And as time passes, I have discovered new meanings and insights about her death, and more importantly, her life. She has taught me that love is unconditional, that you cannot sit back and watch injustice; that Death is not to be feared because love is much, much bigger and stronger; that it is okay to dance in the rain; that time is merely perception; that one person can truly change the world; that kindnesses last forever; and that words really can ‘break bones.’

Euphemisms don’t ease the suffering of the bereaved. Telling someone that “God has a plan” or that “They’re in a better place” is often not helpful to many grieving people. Until society starts really talking about Death, using the dreaded d-word, and facing the realization that one day we’ll all deal with it, we won’t get any better at offering compassion, comfort, and camaraderie to those in grief.

So, in the hope that I can help another, I simply say, “My daughter died and I don’t like it. Nor will I ever accept it. Tell me your grief story and I’ll share your pain.”

Friday, November 13, 2009

Center for Loss & Trauma


November 16, 2009

CONTACT: Dr. Joanne Cacciatore: 602.574.1000 or Katherine Sandler: 480.861.7511

MISS Foundation Helps Traumatized Families in the Center for Loss and Trauma

Phoenix, Arizona (November 16, 2009) --- The MISS Foundation, through the Center for Loss and Trauma, is opening their doors to help families suffering traumatic loss. Traumatic experiences traverse culture, ethnicity, socioeconomic class, religion, and region. No one is exempt. In the midst of such psychological despair, there is a sense of grief that cannot be explained or described or captured or contained.

The Center for Loss and Trauma is one place where compassionate psychotherapy, counseling, and research can occur, as well as the bridging of vitally important supportive resources to help families in need. Located in North Phoenix, this unique center specializes in providing services to those affected by traumatic experiences, death, grief, and various types of loss. The Center for Loss and Trauma also serves military families, those coping with the death of a child, bereaved families, those affected by natural and mass disasters, victims of crime, families going through divorce or separation, and those suffering reproductive losses.

The mission of center is to C.A.R.E. for the most vulnerable members of society by providing highly specialized, expert counseling to those affected by traumatic loss; advocating with others so they may find hope, healing, and happiness in the aftermath of trauma; providing a place where compassionate research can occur; and educating individuals and society at large about the experiences of the bereaved. Dr. Joanne Cacciatore, LMSW and CEO, is a researcher and an expert family and individual therapist in the field of traumatic death and bereavement. James Jones, LMSW, is a Vietnam veteran and specialist in PTSD. Kathy Crowley, LCSW, has extensive experience working with individuals with chronic illness, abuse, and family stress.

The Center for Loss and Trauma also houses the MISS Foundation, a non-profit family bereavement organization, which offers free services to bereaved parents and siblings. Psychotherapy is provided on a sliding scale basis to those in need.

Dr. Cacciatore passionately explains, “Society’s only appropriate response is offer unconditional support and compassionate care so that one day, having been upheld and cared for, those who have suffered from such trauma can reach out their hand to help another. It is the only way to truly heal."

For more information or to schedule an appointment at The Center for Loss and Trauma, please call 623.979.1000 or visit us online at For information on the MISS Foundation’s services, please visit and the MISS Foundation’s PSA can be found at


Tuesday, November 10, 2009

I, Rigoberta Menchu

To be a light to others you will need a good dose of the spiritual life. Because as my mother used to say, if you are in a good place, then you can help others; but if you're not well, then go look for somebody who is in a good place who can help you.

- Rigoberta Menchu

Grief is a universal experience that transcends ethnicity, region, and language, weaving all human beings together in a common experience. Yet, I cannot begin to imagine the magnitude of grief experienced by an oppressive, immoral, or criminal government. Nor can I imagine life under the rule of an government that legitimizes the torture of children. Rape and murder. The theft of land, homes, subsistence, and dignity.

Rigoberta Menchu lived this grief daily at the hands of her oppressors. Yet, courageously, Menchu says of her experience, “This is how I came to consciousness.

Her book, “I, Rigoberta Menchu” confronts the brute ugliness of colonization without aestheticizing reality. Ordinary people would have been defeated by the relentless anguish. Ordinary people would have remained the passive audience of the Imperialist’s stage. But Menchu is anything but ordinary. She possesses the indomitable spirit of resistance, seemingly fueled by the very assaults intended to silence her people, the indigenous Mayans. Menchu is a moral guerilla in a grievously, immoral fight.

Menchu considers herself a deeply spiritual woman, called to action by her ancestors and motivated to fight in memory of those she loved and lost while trying to preserve the Mayan culture. She fights, not only for the lives of her people, but for the survival of a culture she loves. Witnessing Menchu’s transformation from paralyzing grief to fortitude awed me. Yet, Menchu’s resolve is congruent with the horror she experienced. The slaughter of her family is Menchu’s ammunition, and she remains determined to speak for her brothers and sisters, mothers and fathers, children and elders who were unjustly silenced. She is a true warrior.

While her story is reminiscent of a historic figure worthy of glory, each and every day I witness bereaved parents as heroes for their causes, using their voices to fight policy, to advocate, and to ensure social justice. These, too, are warrior heroes, though, perhaps unsung, who are in that "good place" to help others.

And this, I believe with all my heart, is how we come to consciousness.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

So simple, so chimp?

This amazing photo shows a group of Chimpanzees at the Sanaga-Yong Chimpanzee Rescue Centre in eastern Cameroon lined up solemnly near a fence after one of their fellow chimps died and is taken away. Chimpanzees are normally very noisy creatures, but after the passing of one of their fellow chimps, an elderly female named Dorothy, the entire group rushed over to the fence and watched in silence as her body was buried. They sat there by the fence with their hands on each others shoulders as if mourning and consoling each other.

The photo was taken by Monica Szczupider, and the article from Inquisitr, a worker at the rescue center. She said Dorothy the chimp was well into her thirties when she died of heart failure after being ill.

Given the way some families are treated after the death of a loved one, I wonder if we have evolved or devolved... see my other blog/rant for the day below: So simple, so human. Perhaps, it should have been titled: So simple, so chimp?

*Thank you Kim

So simple, so human...

The power of compassion heals.
-Joanne Cacciatore

I've always known, intuitively- viscerally, that the compassionate presence of another human being could heal, not just psychologically, but also the somata (the body). But who knew that a smile or a hug just might curtail the common cold?

A new study conducted by the University of Wisconsin's School of Medicine and Public Health suggests that compassionate interaction with a physician can actually decrease the duration of rhinovirus. Yes, indeed. It's true. David Rakel, M.D., the principal investigator, notes that, "... if you perceive your doctor as empathetic (sic), that might influence your immune system and help you recover faster from the common cold...Out of everything that's been studied - zinc, vitamin C, anti-viral medications - nothing has worked better at fighting a cold than being kind to people."

He added, "...The individual needs to find the clinician with whom they believe they can form an ongoing therapeutic relationship. This also stresses the importance of relationship primary care, where each individual develops a collaboration and relationship with a clinician they trust over time."

Apparently, patients who felt that connection had higher levels of IL-8, a chemical that "summons" cells in the immune system to fight microbial infectors.

Wow. Compassion heals.

Now, if a person can experience expedited recovery from a cold through simple acts of kindness, imagine- just imagine- the powerful effects of truly connecting with another human being during a trauma. No, kindness won't assuage grief, or guilt, or shame, or any other residually painful emotion of human trauma. But imagine the dramatic potential of kindness- empathy- compassion on the long-term psychological well-being of a traumatized person. And taken a step further, imagine the long-term, potential effects to their physical health as well. If a compassionate other can increase a person's immune response, then what happens to a person in the absence of compassion, particularly during a serious or terminal illness- or during a traumatic experience?

I have never understood why compulsory courses on compassionate psychosocial care weren't part of the curriculum in medical schools. It seems so basic- so human- that is, being kind to another. Perhaps, someday soon, at the behest of insurance companies seeking to reduce healthcare costs, this type of training will be an integral part of medical training for both physicians and nurses- and pastoral care and social workers- and psychologists and psychiatrists. Perhaps, one day, the central pedagogy of body-mind-soul will be accepted into the orthodoxy of medicine. And perhaps, one day, as Albert Einstein said, "our humanity will surpass our technology."

Now that's nothing to sneeze at.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Parasitism: Inflammatory rhetoric of the ignorant

But if thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.

Political language. . . is designed to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable,
and to give an appearance of solidity to pure wind.

George Orwell

Recently, I've engaged in lively debate with a person who asserted that unborn babies - fetuses (Latin- foetus- meaning offspring) - were nothing more than parasitic organisms. I found this to be curiously inaccurate for an intellectual to wantonly assert as well as inflammatory and offensive.

Now,this person is a fellow academic. Not an ignorant person. Or so I thought.

I'm not a professor of parasitology or biology, so I decided to challenge her assertion.

So I went to an expert- Dr. H.D. Crofton- Parasitologist and author of the academic text Parasitology to define the criterion for a "parasite". According to Crofton, each of the following criteria must be met in order for an organism to be classified a parasite:

1. A parasitic relationship is an ecological relationship between two different organisms/species, one designated the parasite, the other the host.

2. The parasite is physiologically or metabolically dependent upon its host.

3. Heavily infected hosts will be killed by their parasites or harm will be done to the host.

4. The
reproductive potential of the parasite exceeds that of their hosts.

5. There is an
overdispersed frequency distribution of parasites within the host population. That is, the parasite population is not evenly distributed amongst the host population nor is it randomly distributed but clumped, so some hosts have a lot of parasites, most have very few.
(Crofton, H. D. Parasitology 63, 179–193 )

So, frankly, this person with whom I was debating was vagariously using imprecise terminology.

This type of ideological recklessness occurs in academics when scientists do not sufficiently explore terminology...their vernacular is often influenced by suppositions. And suppositions without sufficient evidence are often incited by the sociopolitical context wherein rhetoric is not challenged; rather, it is passively accepted by the majority as absolute in order to satiate an agenda.

In other words, unborn babies are referred to in certain arenas as "parasites" for political reasons. But it's an demagogic- and plain instigative- assertion.

But wait- there is so much more in defense of unborn babies.

And it's beautiful.

Seminal research on fetal microchimerism suggest that when a woman has a baby, she receives, in exchange for her sacrifice, a gift of cells that remain behind and protect her for the rest of her life.

That's because a baby's cells linger in the mom's body and -- like stem cells -- may help to repair damage when she gets sick. It's such an enticing idea that even the scientists who came up with the idea worry that it may be too beautiful to be true. Diana Bianchi, Chief of Genetics at the New England Medical Center in Boston did some of the pioneering research that discovered that moms carry fetal cells in their blood for years and years.

In fact, "fetal cells that persist in a mother's body long after the pregnancy- even decades later- may reduce her risk of breast cancer," according to researchers at the University of Washington and Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center. Their findings are published in the journal Cancer Research.

Robert Krulwich, an NPR journalist spoke to many scientists who agree: He says, "It's not a far-fetched idea. These cells may behave like those famous embryonic cells: They can turn themselves into any cell mom needs. If she's got a bad heart, they can be healthy heart cells. Bad lungs? No problem, they can be lung cells. Fetal cells may be the ultimate repairmen (or repairwomen)."


Wait, wait. This is big people. The cells of every baby I've had- my four living children- and my beloved dead child- are living now, inside me. And they may help to save my life one day. I carry my children in my heart, perhaps, both mythically and literally. Chey's cells live. Inside me. Now that is enough to bring a tear or three to my eyes. As I told Sam on FB, it's gleefully ironic when mother's intuition synchronizes with science, and when the wisdom of the ancients eclipses the jaundice of modern thinking.

Every mother who has lost a child has within her cells that belonged to that son or daughter.


So, the relationship between a mother and her unborn baby is most accurately portrayed by the concept of mutualism or symbiosis. Each benefits the other in some very profound and perduring ways.

Thus, there are many scientific facts that should compel intelligent people to cease referring to unborn babies as parasites. Let's begin with the fact that it's indiscriminate and manipulative and ignorant, and reflects poorly on the cognitive capacity of the individual making such erroneous claims.

But, there are even better reasons to stop referring to unborn babies as parasites. It is hate language intended to devalue a woman's baby. And the devaluing of her baby is a devaluing of her self.

It's offensive to women- to mothers- to the babies- and to all those who really love them.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

October 15th is Infant and Child Death Awareness Day

Reminded by beautiful Kara and KotaPress, I want to share a video produced by the MISS Foundation to recognize the children who died before their time, and the countless families left to mourn in their wake. In addition, two years ago, I accepted the Hon Kachina Award just two days before Oct 15th in honor of these children and the organization that has done so much to change the way our culture mourns the death of a child because, for all eternity, they are ours- we are theirs.

I know that many of you already know about the Hon Kachina Award last night. Thank you Kylie's mom, Dana Southworth, for the nomination. It was such a wonderful surprise to be offered this award.

As I accepted this prestigious award, I held all your children in my heart, and I ached. There was not a single moment last night when I was not filled with gratitude for this beautiful organization that has helped so many. They filled a really beautiful vignette which I will share with you when I can figure out how to attach it.
Thank you all for having a heart of grace and a soul of love.
Your child lives through your service to others.
Thank you, thank you, thank you!
This award belongs to all our children, the inspiration for our devotion to this cause.

I would like to share my acceptance speech.
By Joanne Cacciatore (c)
October 13, 2007
Scottsdale, Arizona
Hon Kachina acceptance speech

Everyone can be great, because anyone can live a life of service to others. You don't have to have a college degree to serve. You don't have to make your subject and verb agree to serve. You need only a heart full of grace. You need only a soul filled with love.

Martin Luther King Jr.
Good evening and thank you. This award is only mine in trust. On July 27, 1994, I was called to serve. On this tragic day, my precious child died, and I had no choice but to answer the call to duty. During a time of inconsolable grief more than13 years ago, I made a vow that if I survived I would help others. While the cost was too high, the beauty from that pain has proven incalculable. And now, I could not begin to imagine my life without the many lessons that I’ve learned, my greatest teacher a child who lived so briefly. She taught me mindfulness and compassion, and that helping even one person can change the world; she taught me that love is stronger than Death; and most importantly, she inspired me to lead by serving.

The most noble and effectual form of leadership is exemplified in service to others—by responding to the needs of others- bridging the chasm between helplessness and hope. Leaders act as stewards in the building of communities. It is truly the greatest, most principled life you can lead- a life devoted to humanity. In service to others, you will realize far more than that which you sacrifice - you will discover the power of a purposeful life.

I hope I have inspired service as I have been inspired by others to serve, including comrades and colleagues, the most extraordinary people I have ever known. I hope that I have modeled the maxim of kindness for my children, and someday my grandchildren. I hope the legacy of my sojourn will be one in which, my name forgotten, the philosophy of this social movement will endure across generations.

I am so honored and humbled to receive the Hon Kachina in memory of all the children who died too soon, and I am incredibly grateful, especially to my five children, my source of sustenance, my four who walk – Arman, Cameron, Stevie Jo, Joshua and my one who soars, Cheyenne.

Remember: A life in service to others is the cornerstone of quintessential greatness. We can, indeed, change the world in which we live. It takes only a heart full of grace and a soul full of love. Thank you so very much.

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Solitary and a Song

Loneliness and the feeling of being unheard is the most terrible poverty.
Mother Teresa

In the criminal justice world, solitary confinement is used as a punishment to avert future unwanted behaviors. It's effects are powerful. This type of draconian measure often drives prisoners to near madness. While some believe solitary confinement is more humane than harsh punitive interventions, I imagine the psychological flagellation and sociosensory deprivation to be nearly intolerable for most human beings.

I am reminded, however, that many bereaved- particularly those marginalized by stigmatic losses- are, in a sense, sentenced to a period of unsolicited solitary confinement. It's a period of incredible loneliness, even when surrounded by many others, particularly when one's loss goes unrecognized or unsanctioned by societal norms and values. Here, I am reminded of feminist Adrienne Rich's words:
Whatever is unnamed, undepicted in images, whatever is omitted from biography, censored in collections of letters, whatever is misnamed as something else, made difficult-to-come-by, whatever is buried in the memory by the collapse of meaning under an inadequate or lying language -- this will become, not merely unspoken, but unspeakable. And for the human being who is having the "unspeakable" experience, the sense of aloneness contributes to their invisibility, to their ushering into the shadows, to their solitude and pain.

This is a problem in the death studies field particularly in Western culture where the sense of the collective unification has been hijacked in order to stave off fears over feuding political ideologies (wherein the term "collective" is viewed as a pejorative by anti-socialists). But emotional collectivism and the rituals that are a natural accoutrement to those processes- truly help the individual in society. Unity in mourning or during crisis can unburden, sharing the bereavement experience and connecting humans to one another. Unity during times of joy and celebration can enrich, strengthen, and prolong the euphoria. I think of it as shared joy multiplying the joy and shared sorrow dividing the sorrow.

Thomas Verny, M.D. talks about one such collective lifespan ritual in his book Birth & Violence:
There is a tribe in East Africa in which the art of true intimacy (I would call it bonding) is fostered even before birth. In this tribe, the birth date of a child is not counted from the day of its physical birth nor even the day of conception, as in other village cultures. For this tribe the birth date comes the first time the child is a thought in its mother's mind. Aware of her intention to conceive a child with a particular father, the mother then goes off to sit alone under a tree. There she sits and listens until she can hear the song of the child that she hopes to conceive. Once she has heard it, she returns to her village and teaches it to the father so that they can sing it together as they make love, inviting the child to join them. After the child is conceived, she sings it to the baby in her womb. Then she teaches it to the old women and midwives of the village, so that throughout the labor and at the miraculous moment of birth itself, the child is greeted with its song. After the birth, all the villagers learn the song of their new member and sing it to the child when it falls or hurts itself. It is sung in times of triumph, or in rituals and initiations. The song becomes a part of the marriage ceremony when the child is grown, and at the end of life, his or her loved ones will gather around the deathbed and sing this song for the last time.

There is no solitary confinement there. No psychological violence or emotional torture. From the cradle to the grave, they are upheld, united by love, song, and death. No, there is no solitary confinement there.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Church's Last Passage

I was listening to NPR and heard a rerun of a story I'd heard previously. A familiar voice. I didn't know much about him, but I remembered he was a theologian facing his own early death to cancer.

Only the recycling of this story was to recognize the final curtain of Forrest Church. Knowing he had recently died, the retrospective nature of the interview felt different to me. And I was moved even more by his sagacious words and peaceful spirit:

GROSS: You know, you write in your book, you know, again, about how you don't believe in an interventionist God, and you say, once you start praying to God to cure your cancer or asking God why he didn't answer you prayers, the questions never stop. And then you refer to, like, a bishop who said his faith was shaken by the tsunami.

Rev. CHURCH: Yes.

GROSS: And then you say, you don't like it when people say about a tragedy or about, you know, an illness or death, well, God has his reasons. It's just part of God's plan.

Rev. CHURCH: This is God's plan.

GROSS: What do you object to about that? Why isn't that the...

Rev. CHURCH: Well, I can see how it can give comfort. But God doesn't throw a three-year-old child out of a third story window or allow a drunken driver to kill a family crossing the street. This is not part of God's plan. These are the accidents of life and death. And if God, for instance, is responsible for a tsunami, that obliterates the lives of a hundred thousand people and leaves their families in tatters, then God's a bastard.

I cannot believe in such a God. For me, God is the life force, that which is greater than all and yet present in each. But God is not micromanaging this world. That is a presumption that we are naturally drawn to because of our sense of centrality and self importance, but there are 1,500 stars for every living human being. And the God that I believe in is an absolute magnificent mystery....


GROSS: I want to get back to mortality. How much time would you say, in your typical day, you spend thinking about death?

Rev. CHURCH: At this point, Terry, I probably spend almost no time thinking about death. For the first time in my life, I am living completely in the present. I have, as I said about a terminal illness where you have time, in a sense, it allows you to sort of co-script your final act. To be able to write "Love and Death" was to be able to put a code on my life. I have been able to conclude my active life, as opposed to it just ending.

I am not yet at the point of being on my deathbed, so I am into sort of an in-between place. Each day is - I read. I chat with my friends who are ever more attentive. We take our friends for granted, as well. And when there is a short amount of time, they come out of the woodwork, old, old, old friends. And we spend lots of time together. And I am just in the present.

When the time comes, when I am closer to my deathbed or on it, I am certain that I'll begin probably even fearing, to some degree, the passage, but there is not fear in my mind now, and there is no preoccupation by death. It doesn't - I don't push my nose up against that dark pane in my window. I stand back and let the light shine on me.

I was inspired to tears as I listened. Religiosity and doctrine aside, his words resonated. His attitude challenged others to rethink life, love, and death - perhaps even the nature of God.

"Without even trying," he says "you've already won the only race that really matters. Unconsciously, yet omnipresent, you ran the gauntlet of stars and genomes to assume your full, nothing less than miraculous, place in the creation."

Being alive to love and hurt, to fail and recover, to prove your grit and show compassion, that is life's true secret. Life's abiding opportunity, bequeathed against all odds to each and every one of us, is much the same: it is to live, and also to die, for the multitude of brothers and sisters who beat the odds with us, who labored with our ancestors' hands and wept tears (of grief and joy) from our ancestors' eyes, connecting us as kin to God and each other, blessed together, always together, with the privilege of running from gate to flag in life's glorious race."

Reverend Forrest Church died on September 24, 2009.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Memorial in Lafayette, Louisiana

Our congratulations to Ms Joan Conway, RN and FIMR Director on the beautiful memorial that took place on Sept 16th, 2009 in honor of Infant Mortality Awareness Month.

This is a photo of the statue dedicated in honor of the precious children who died before their time.

Inscribed are the words:

"There are some forces more powerful than the physical world. The love of a parent does not end with Death. Suns rise and moons fall, but their love is forever over all." -- Joanne Cacciatore

I am honored and humbled.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Redefined, Refined, and ReFound

Anna Quindlen, a former journalist for the NY Times, lost her mother to cancer when she was a teen. A master of expression, she wrote of her experience with grief in a column entitled "Life after Death". This was published in May of 1994, two months prior to the big death that would forever change my own world.

She writes, "Grief remains of the few things that has the power to silence us."

Amongst other things, indeed, it silences us and others around us. The bereaved often anguish over a sense of abandonment by others. Not that silence is an inappropriate response; silence in the absence of presence results in loneliness. One can be silent and yet still say much.

She continues, "Maybe we do not speak of it because death will mark all of us, sooner or later."

Perhaps, in other words, the fear of death- death anxiety- causes others to withdraw, consciously or unconsciously, from the bereaved. Like an infantile game of hide-and-seek, if we cannot see Death, than Death cannot see us.

And my favorite passage, "Perhaps this is why this (grief) is the least explored passage: because it has no end. The world loves closure... loss is forever (and) two decades after the event there are those occasions when something in you cries out at their continued absence... we are defined by who we have lost."

For me and many other bereaved individuals, this redefining of the self is painful. For some, the pain gradually recedes- perhaps becomes more tolerable- and the newly established identity of the self becomes familiar, comfortable, and even, at times, a wonder. For me, Joanne Cacciatore redefined is sometimes that. And now, nearly 16 years into bereavement, I'd like to say that I've been redefined, refined, and refound by my Dead. Every tear I shed for her is worth it. It is an offering to our love, one that will never die.

Ouch, but beautiful.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009

From the MISS Foundation


Calling all bereaved parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends! Two new MISS Foundation Fundraisers are about to be launched, and we invite you to participate and please send this email to others and post it so that others may also participate!

First up:

MISSing Ingredients: A Re-member-ing Cookbook

MISS is creating a hard cover re-member-ing cookbook, and we need your
recipes and memories to be a part of this publication. The first 200
recipes and memories entered will be published.

Deadline for all submissions Monday, October 5, 2009,
unless the 200 maximum is reached prior to that date.

There is NO FEE to submit your recipe and memory!!

Recipe Submission Instructions:

1. Visit
2. Enter WEB ID: 13500-09VA
(a password is not required)
3. Click on "Short/cut Online"
4. Select (2) in drop down for # of parts in multi-part recipe
5. Select menu category from drop down
6. Enter Recipe Title
7. Enter Ingredients
8. Enter Recipe directions in Method section
9. Title your Memory in the Part 2 Subheading
10. Skip Ingredients section of Part 2
11. Enter your dedication in the second Method section

Frustrated, confused, it just doesn't make sense???? Email your recipe and
memory to:

The cookbook will be available for purchase and delivery in December, 2009, just in
time for holiday gift giving.

You can PRE-ORDER your copies now! Cookbooks will be mailed directly to you!
Visit the MISS Store at:
Cost of cookbook: $15/copy + $5 s/h
(100% proceeds to benefit MISS Foundation)

For additional information and downloadable PDF flyer here:

Second up:

heARTwork for the Holidays- Home Art Fundraiser

MISS, in partnership with, is hosting a
heARTwork Home Art Fundraising campaign. Your heART creations are
transferred onto items like notebooks, coffee mugs, aprons, ornaments,
pillows, tote bags, laptop stickers and more. MISS receives 35% of

You create art on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper, send heART and product order
form and check made out ot the MISS Foundation to either your support group
facilitator or to Kids Kreations by Friday, October 26, 2009. Your art will
beautifully transformed into a forever keepsake.

- Just is time for the holidays-

We invite both children and adults to explore one of the following themes:
What does your life look like now?
(new normal since the death of your child)
When I think of you...

Or... make a keepsake from your beloved child's footprint or handprint
(must be scanned and saved on disc as a graphic file like a jpg)

You can make artwork on your own or host a heArtwork night for your entire
MISS chapter.

All art and order forms must be submitted by Friday, October 23, 2009.

AND we are offering a challenge to each of our MISS chapters: The chapter
that sells the most heARTwork items will win credit towards scholarships to
the 2010 MISS Foundation Conference.

Have questions?? Call or email Kathy at 480-861-7511 or

For additional information please download full information flyer here:

Friday, August 21, 2009

Mea Culpa

The bitterest tears shed over graves
are for words left unsaid and for deeds left undone.
~Harriet Beecher Stowe

Someone apologized to me for a hurtful act committed long ago. Though it was a delayed apology, the effect was profound in the present.

I found myself faced with a decision. I had to accept or reject their apology. To do the former would be a step toward grace and healing for this person and for me. To reject it, I sensed, would result in lingering angst and anger, not just affecting the nature of the relationship with that person but also, independently, affecting me and my experience in the world. So, with an equal mix of courage and trepidation, I accepted the apology and offered my forgiveness.

I was nonplussed by my reaction: I felt good. Relieved. Lighter. Almost- free.

And I knew- I felt it- I'd done the right thing.

I started thinking about apologies- accepting responsibility for hurting another- and recognized that we don't apologize enough to one another as humans who are in constant, varying degrees of relations with each other.

What is needed from those seeking forgiveness for a transgression?

Recognition of and remorse for the wrongdoing: It is crucial for the person who hurt the other to grasp the consequences for the person who was harmed.

Acknowledgement to the wounded and asking forgiveness: It sounds like this: "I've hurt you. I said something I should not have said. I was wrong. I am sorry."

Sincerity: This process must be sincere, not perfunctory. If it isn't coming from the heart, forgiveness will most certainly not follow.

Empathy: The experience of true empathy will help you understand the other person's possible reluctance to forgive wantonly, and thus, make the apology more meaningful. Take on that person's feelings; see the world through their eyes. Imagine if it was you...

Reassurance: Trusting relationships are a social commodity. The breaking of trust- either in a person's actions, feelings, or safety- is not easily rebuilt. Reassure the other person that you will work toward rebuilding trust, and offer a sincere promise that you will not repeat the offense.

The wondrous thing about the psychology of relationships is their complexity. They are complex because the human experience is multifaceted. Some transgressions will be easier to forgive than others. Some people will be easier to forgive than others. Still, forgiving is the process of giving to another; and there is much reward in giving. Far more than in taking.

I learned this lesson today and I gave what I've long-since needed to give. And it felt good.

Apologize to someone today. Leave no business unfinished.

(For) Give freely and be set free.

I am very sorry, Mom.
I am very sorry, Dad.
I am very sorry, Nanny.
I am very sorry, Pammy.
I am very sorry, AJ.
I am very sorry, Susan.
I am very sorry, David.
I am very sorry, Elisabeth.
I am very sorry, Jimmy.
I am very sorry to me.

And mostly, I am very, very, very sorry Chey. I am so very sorry.

I hope you find it in your hearts to forgive me.


The soul still sings in the darkness telling of the beauty she found there; and daring us not to think that because she passed through such tortures of anguish, doubt, dread, and horror, as has been said, she ran any the more danger of being lost in the night. Nay, in the darkness did she, rather, find herself.

--St. John, Dark Night of the Soul

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