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Posts Tagged ‘Grief’

Mary (on the left), Diane, and the bears

Mary (on the left), Diane, and the bears

My dear friend and writer bud Diane lost her husband this summer. They were soul mates finding each other after several starter marriages went bust. Two amazing people each in their own right who found sweetness and LIFE and spent  20 years side-by-side. They rode his Harley, got tattoos, water skied, and made a home for children and grandchildren. Then cancer came along and the last couple of years were tough. We (the Chats) joined Diane and Wally’s family and friends at his memorial service and witnessed a man who was and is so loved. Then Mary, another of our writer buds, offered to make Diane and her family teddy bears out of pieces of Wally’s clothing.

Diane lined up Harley, Corona, and Marine Corp tee shirts alongside a rugby shirt, a few Hawaiian prints, and even some plaid golf shorts and asked the kids and grandkids to chose whichever item of clothing they were drawn to, the one connected with a memory. Then, Mary got to work.

See, Mary makes bears.
Bears and puppy dogs and other critters.
She makes them so you’ll have something from your loved one to hold.
This isn’t all Mary does–she makes sanitary pads for young girls in Africa who will miss school because there aren’t disposable feminine products available, or they can’t afford them anyway. She makes quilts for sick babies. She’s that kind of gal.

Here’s Wally’s Hawaiian print  on a bear with a navy blue bow.

Here’s Wally’s rugby shirt turned puppy dog for a grandson–with a collar piece to boot.

Here’s another dog sporting plaid from Wally’s golf shorts.

She has seven more to make. Each adult child and each grandchild will have a bear or a dog to remember their dad/paps by. They get to hold a piece of him. They will no doubt be comforted in the days and years to come–all because Mary offered to make a bear.

Mary is like that–thoughtful, empathic, generous.

Perhaps you’ve lost someone you love.

Perhaps you’ve held onto articles of clothing, a favorite jacket or vest, something that links you to your loved one. Most likely your keepsakes, like so many of mine, are stored in chests, in the back of closets and boxes we keep under the bed.
Why not take these beloved items and do something with them?
Turn your missing into something tangible you get to touch.

Diane stood, amazed, when she saw her bears. The exhaustion lifted from her brow and  the sorrow in her eyes gave way to light. It was as if she were giving a piece of Wally to the family they both so love. The plaid, the  Hawaiian blue palm trees, the rugby blue and red are all parts of what made Wally who he is and how he will be cherished.

When we take our loss and so something with it–write a poem, tell a story, wear their dog tags as a necklace,  make a bear–we make something new in us. They live on in this transformation, “reincarnation,” if you will.

We take our sorrow and turn it into something that offers comfort and connection.

Wally is now a bear–and a dog–and  he’ll be tucked in at night, taken on vacation and get to play tea party with his granddaughters, and if you ask me, that’s exactly where he’d like to be.

If you’d like a bear, shoot me an email at writecarolodell@gmail.com and I’ll get you in touch with Mary

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There are lots of inevitable caregiving firsts you don’t want, and if you want a good first you’ve got to make it happen.

Some firsts are hard.  The first time your mother falls–and you know that it’s only a first of many. The first time your dad forgets your daughter’s name. The first time you wind up in ER and pull an all nighter only to realize there’s nothing anyone can do so you return home more exhausted and stressed than ever. The first time you finally realize your sibling isn’t going to be all that much help when it comes to caring for your parent. The first time you say the word “Alzheimer’s,” or “Cancer,” or “Hospice.”

Caregiving is filled with firsts you don’t want, and there’s only two ways to get a first you do want:

How do you make a good first? Be aware or make it happen. 

Let’s back up. Honor a tough first. 

You have to acknowledge the toll they take on your soul. It will extract a price. Some you knew were coming and you avoided, denied and delayed. Others hit you in the back of the knees like a cruel two-by-four slamming you to the ground. Don’t fight it. It does no good to rush past it or ignore it. Go to your car, your closet, hide in the laundry room–and sob. Wipe the tears as you drive.Scream into a pillow. Slam a cabinet door. Use your rage. Get it out. Call a friend and let the silence between comfort you more than words ever could.

After you honor a tough first, get on with  life. 

Don’t mull in your loss, your sorrow, your aching soul. I know I sound hard, but think of it like this: Think of Cher in Moonstruck. Remember when Nicholas Cage is moaning and griping and feeling sorry for himself that he lost his hand and can’t get a girl and being a good Italian that she is (feisty as hell and tell it like it is)  she slaps him across the face (twice!) and yells, “Snap out of it” ? It’s the wake-up slap he needs. I love that scene. It’s a shock, but it’s a good shock.

Enjoy this clip of Cher’s double slap: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0x-fkSYDtUY

So give yourself a wake up slap.

Caregiving sucks (at times).

It’s packed with exhaustion and heartache, and if  you let it, it will keep whacking you in the back your knees and blinding you with sorrow and grief. Unless you figure out when to reel with hurt and loss and when to look yourself in the mirror and get tough. Only you know when.

Then, make your own firsts

Did you know that our brains LOVE firsts? We remember our first kiss, first car, first divorce (smile),. Our neurons fire faster when they don’t know what’s coming next. We pay attention. We gobble up the details. We regale the stories for years to come. Firsts aren’t reserved for the young, but as routine and monotony fill our lives we have to fight for those firsts.

 

Create your own caregiving firsts: 

  • The first time you sing in the car together practically screaming the words to your favorite Broadway tune.
  • The first time you sing your mother to sleep.
  • The first time you call for respite and take yourself on a date–and you come home to find that your mom/dad/spouse actually survived and even enjoyed their time spent with someone other than you.
  • The first time you stood up to a doctor or nurse.
  • The first time you ditched a doctor’s appointment and went to Dairy Queen together instead.
  • The first time you stood up for yourself–to your mom/dad/spouse–and you felt respect.
  • The first time the two of your danced in the kitchen.

When is the last time you did something for the first time? 

 

 

 

 

 

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What to say at a Memorial Service.

If you typed these words into your search then you are seeking help to find your words–words that capture all you feel for a loved one, a loved one who is no longer with you. I hope this helps.

Forget dates and facts–where he/she born, died, went to school, what job he or she had doesn’t need to be said–include it in a program if you feel it needs to be said.

Tell a story or a mosaic or small tales. One person can combine several stories in their talk or you can invite several speakers to capture various times of that person’s life. Some like to tell a story from childhood, another from young adulthood, another from their parenting years, etc., slowly building a whole life. Others just tell one really good story that sums up the person in such a way that you leave knowing this soul in such a hilarious/brave/tender way that you’ll always carry them with you.

Gather stories from their childhood, a story about one of their struggles, a time they messed up (keeping it vulnerable and real touches hearts much more than acts of valor) tell about a funny or scary time. Before you talk make a list of their personality traits–good and oh so human: generous, stubborn, easy going or tends to jump to conclusions–then find a story that illustrates these traits.

Paint the whole picture. It’s okay that they weren’t perfect. No one is. It’s okay that we remember them as they were–flawed, sometimes heroic other times less so. It’s okay to say what you’ll miss–their crazy-loud sneezes, the way they always squeezed your shoulder when they knew you were having a bad day. Go for examples–not just abstract words (they were kind, sweet, silly-show it instead).

Let people remember.
Use photographs or songs.
Hold up an object they loved–something that reflects them in a unique way.

Laugh.
And cry.
It’s okay, even good to run the gambit of emotions.

Let people walk away feeling they learned something about this person–something they might not have known before. Refer to the things they loved–their favorite songs or poem or movie line you can quite, that they loved gas station coffee, always wore the same old ratty house shoes to go grocery shopping, loved sunflowers and grape popsicles and sang Queen in the car. Make them real.

And end reminding those who have gathered that this person who is now no longer physically with us will forever be remembered–and the more we tell their stories, the more we laugh at their antics, allow them to continue to be a part of our lives because they lived, really lived, warts and all, makes our lives better.

Let your last words be words that leave the audience grateful for having known this person–and grateful that life is indeed fragile, unpredictable, surprising and complex–and that every day is a rare and fleeting gift.

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“Where was I? A caregiver friend of mine asks, standing in the middle of her life as if she has walked back into a room and forgot what she was doing in the first place. Life after (or between) caregiving can make you feel odd in your own skin. You’re not who you were, you don’t know what’s to come, what you’re good at now, or what interests you anymore.

Long term caregiving can feel as if you’ve held your breath so long you don’t know how to inhale and exhale like all the other folks on the planet.

My friend is coming up on the first anniversary of her dad’s passing. Fifteen years spent as a caregiver (primarily) and her hair is now strikingly white, she has a new husband, and for better or worse she’ll tell you she’s just not the same gal she was when she agreed to move in and care for her mom, then dad all those years ago.

Perhaps a better question is, “Where am I?”

Where was I doesn’t particularly matter. You’re however many years older. Your experiences, beliefs, and even issues have changed. And that’s okay. It has to be. It’s the nature of living–things change and so do we.

It’s not that things changed, most of us get that, it’s that aspects of our selves, our lives, were in stasis. We feel like we’ve been in cryogenic sleep and have no idea who won that last 20 World Series. Life has gone on without you. You have no idea what movies are in theatres, and whatever happened to DVD’s?

You may be thinking about going back to work, but what are you qualified to do–other than bring juice, fluff pillows, and argue with insurance companies?

Getting traction, momentum may take some time–and while you’re figuring this all out–grief sweeps in like giant waves crashing on top of you, buckling your knees, you come up sputtering with a mouthful of grit and a belly full of hurt.

Letting go of what was will eventually come. Let it. No, you’re not 35 any more, but 55 isn’t so bad. There are a few perks that come with aging, with living, with loving for so long. Letting go takes time. We don’t open our grip without some resistance.

In Finding Your Own North Star by life coach Martha Beck, she talks about being in quadrant one–when all we know dies, when our lives are reduced to rubble and we stand in the ruins, ashy, beat up, stunned, and the mantra is:

I don’t know what’s happening, and that’s okay.

It’s okay to not know what comes next.

It’s okay to have a decent hour when you’re not consumed with grief or anxiety followed by four crappy, baseball in the back of the knees–ones.

It’s okay not to have a plan.

It’s okay to bump into walls.

It’s okay to cry–not cry, scream–not scream.

That’s where you are.

And that’s okay.

My only suggestion is this:

Do what soothes you, follow any inkling of a curiosity, buy, borrow, visit anything or anyone that stirs something in you. These are the seeds of desire.

And our desires, however small or trivial doesn’t matter, are the thread thin roots of our new selves.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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Forget Kubler-Ross’s five stages of grief. They’re merely a jumping off point. Grief isn’t linear. Grief is multi-layered and doubles back on itself. Grief is raw. For many, it’s the closest a person comes to unhinging–to a break with reality. Getting through grief isn’t easy and isn’t predictable. Getting through grief is different for each one of us, but the more we share, the more we reach out, the more we help each other.

Suicide. Murder. Car accidents. Cancer. A sudden heart attack…or the long and winding road of Alzheimer’s. Grief doesn’t start at the point our loved one breathes his or her last breath. Grief is about loss, and loss can start months or even years before death takes the ones we love.

Grief is biological. Animals grieve. Watch this YouTube video where an elephant herd has found the bones of their matriarch. They form a circle around the bones, pick up her bones and hold them in their trunk, feeling each crevice with their trunk. This collective sorrow is healing–and even elephants know they need to grieve.

And yet some of us don’t show grief.

We don’t cry at funerals.

We don’t sentimentalize those who have gone before us.

We show no emotions–does that mean we’re heartless?

Showing and feeling grief are two different things. Some of us don’t share our emotions with many others, but that doesn’t mean we don’t feel them.

Emotions don’t go away simply because we squash them down and cover them up–they ooze out the sides of our life. We overreact to a traffic jam. We drink too much. Sleep too little.

Others get lost in grief. The sorrow, regret, and sometimes guilt swarm around us and threaten to steal all joy and purpose. Years go by–and we’re stuck. We can’t move on. We have no desire to. It’s as if time has stopped and we got off and the train sped away leaving us back then–back there.

So how do you get through grief–how do you feel it when you need to and then allow it to pass–before it destroys your life?

No simple answer to that one. I won’t pretend to know.

Sometimes we have to force ourselves to get back into life. Join a group and make ourselves show up.

For some of us anti-depressants seem to help. For others, a therapist. We need to talk it out.

For others, we have to allow ourselves to wallow for a while–until we get sick of our own juices.

No one way.

How to be there for someone else who is grieving?

No “you should be better by now,” or ‘I’m worried about you.” That doesn’t help.

Be willing to sit quietly beside them. Show up at the same time each day, or each week.

Listen. Offer distractions. If you have to, get in their face and fight for them. If they reject you, keep coming back.

One of the most tender betrayals of grief and how very long it can take and how different it is for everyone–and that we have no right to judge someone else’s loss–is the movie, “Reign Over Me.” It’s about a man who lost his wife and children in the 9/11 tragedies. It’s one of the more honest conversations about grief–one that I think might help.

What those who are experiencing grief need is to believe in hope again–some small sliver of hope.

And you might just be the hope they’re looking for.

~Carol O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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There came a time when I knew my mother was dying. It wasn’t necessarily a physical symptom, it was a gut feeling. I was scared–even frantic. How do I do this? If you’re a caregiver it’s likely that you will eventually face the last turn in road. Your loved one will entering the dying process and as death draws near you may call or be recommended for hospice.

I felt sad, cornered, overwhelmed, grieving, angry, panicked, even numb, and if I’m really honest–almost relieved. I was not only losing my mother, I was losing a part of me.

How do you know when the end is near?

Do you wait for a doctor or nurse to tell you?

Do you check into the hospital?

Who do you call–what do you next?

All I know is that I had been caring for my mother for a number of years. I was the one who fixed her meals, bathed, her, listened to each breath, monitored everything from her moods to her medicine.

When no one else knew–I knew.

I asked the doctor if we were ready for hospice. He hedged. A few weeks later, I insisted.

Hospice came in and although my mother qualified they didn’t think that death was imminent. Still, something in me knew it wouldn’t be too much longer.

Mother rallied–I felt duped–then she plunged again. In less than six weeks from the time I made that call my mother took that last turn. For three weeks or so, she lingered. She forgot how to eat–and I let her. By that I mean that I chose not to insert a feeding tube. That’s a highly personal family decision, but it was the right one for us. It wasn’t an easy decision by no means–and I knew I’d be the one to witness every breath, every moment. And I took on that role willingly.

I received one of the greatest gifts of my life in those quiet, grueling weeks. My mother taught me how to die. She gave me front row seat–something not many of us in our modern society gets the privilege of witnessing. But I ask, how else will we learn?

How do you know when the end is near?

It’s instinctual, guttural, spiritual, biological–but you’re also subconsciously weighing every piece of information you’ve gathered–as spouse, daughter, son, or friend. You’ve been there all along and even if you’re not medical, you know when a shift has occurred. You’re picking up on cues you’re not even aware of.

Trust that you may know before anyone else knows–and you might not be able to explain why.

In the end I was fully present. Scary–yes. But the frantic fear was gone. It was tough beyond words, but it was also good–necessary–and for me, holy.

Few of us have another way out of caregiving, especially for our elders. We all must die.

Knowing the end is near is a rare gift–one I’m profoundly grateful for.

Carol D. O’Dell

Author of Mothering Mother, available on Kindle

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I have a dear friend who has lost 2 sisters to breast cancer and another sister is recovering from the same disease. Cancer has not only ravaged the bodies of the women she loves, it’s left her entire family in fear. She says that most days she ping-pongs between greif and worry. She was their sister, their caregiver. She watched them struggle, and yet she couldn’t save them. 

For well over a decade she has lived in a medical vortex–spending her precious time in oncologist’s offices, hospitals, and participating in studies to try to help scientists gain insight into how to prevent these types of cancers from sprouting in additional family members.

Caregiving a sister is so hard–letting go of someone who has known you your whole life and then having to go on livie as best you can–without them.

She has been consumed by cancer–in every way. She and her daughters are in a cancer study and she knows more medical jargon than JAMA (Journal of American Medical Academy). In the midst of trying to be a mom and enjoy watching her own daughters blossom and go through the rites of passage–learning to drive, prom, boyfriends, college–her joy is tinged with the unsaid words: who’s next?

She fights to live a full life and capture every celebration that comes her way, but there are times when grief rolls in. It can’t be stopped, denied, or ignored. It is relentless and all consuming. But she can’t crawl into a ball like she’d want to, she says. Her daughters and her sister’s daughters need her. My friend has learned a sobering lesson–she values her family. She values today. It’s all she has.

I have no answers. I think we have no choice but to face what comes our way–even when we don’t want to. We can only avoid it for so long. I don’t know why some  people have to face things so overwhelming that it just doesn’t seem right. But I do know what all we can do is to ride the swells of life’s joys and we then plung with the sorrows. To be human is to experience both–and yet not let either extreme consume us. Life is both and all that is in between.

To be loved gives you strength.

To love gives you courage.

Lao Tzu, Chinese Philosopher

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I opened my front door Thanksgiving morning and called “Here kitty, kitty, kitty.”

My 14-year-old cat, FatBoy had been missing 18 hours. I was up late in the night looking for him. He never went far, hanging around our shady front porch, but most eating (thus his name) and sleeping in various windows, beds, and closet corners throughout the house. No answer. No meow. I was in full worry mode. I’m no stranger to death. I know that losing  a pet isn’t like losing a parent or spouse, or child but nothing in me wanted to go through this again. Not today. Not Thanksgiving.

My husband and I took our bikes and began to ride around the neighborhood calling him.

And then I saw him.

My husband threw down his bike and got to FatBoy before I did. His hands went to his heart. He ran half way to me, turned and back to FatBoy, then back to me–not knowing what to do.

And then he held his arms open and I folded into his chest and cried.

We’ve been through so much together. He held me when my adoptive Daddy died, the big teddy-bear hero who gave me a home and made the world right again. I held him when his brother-in-law died in a head-on car crash. Bill swerved the car and spared the life of his wife and daughter. My husband identified the body. I held him at four in the morning when he returned from the morgue and collapsed in my arms. He held me when my mother died after years of Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s, when exhaustion gave way to release gave way to void. He sat beside me on a sailboat as we helped to scatter a dear friend’s ashes into the sea, feeling our own mortality. We’ve stood side-by-side as we witnessed the death of friends, family, and yes, our beloved pets and remembered their lives in that bitter-sweet time of letting go. I can barely grasp what it would be like to lose him. I can’t even let myself glimpse into that sorrow.

Who would hold me?  Who would I hold?

I’ve learned a thing or two about death. I’ve learned to not stop the pain, the tears. I’ve learned to accept the love, the support.

I stayed with FatBoy while Phillip went back and got a blanket. He was in a garden behind a small white picket fence. I call this particular neighbor’s house the Thomas Kincaid house. His paintings are warm cottages with trees and shade, and dappled sunlight. It was quiet, a little cool. I could sit with him. Be with him. I wasn’t afraid or nervous. It was just him and me.

My husband dug a hole in the backyard and we decided to bury FatBoy under my Buddha statue. I bought the laughing buddha for my birthday last May–did I somehow know? I laid my sweet, chubby, always there for me kitty into the earth and sprinkled the first handful of cool, moist dirt on top. I wanted to do this.I was fully alert and present. It wasn’t like Daddy’s funeral. I was 23, so young, so scared. I turned away when they lowered him into the ground. Today, I don’t need to turn away.

It felt right–for him to die in a garden and be buried in a garden. In the spring he’ll be surrounded by cannas and irises and calla lillies. There’s a windchime in a Live Oak nearby.

Our youngest daughter joined us. She hugged me–full body. We held  on to each other, neither of us in a hurry to let go. Our middle daughter arrived for the day’s festivities. She’s the director of a massage therapy school and could charge for her hugs, they’re so good.  I felt my muscles give way, and then her husband–a former wrestler with a wide chest and strong biceps curl around the two of us. My friend, Laura arrived and ran to me. She has four cats, and we cried and cried.

I’m tired of holding it all in. Tired of trying to be strong. Tired of keeping it all together. Each person, their arms, shoulders, necks and kisses comforted me. I allowed each of them to minister to me, feed me, be my strength.

We all pulled the meal together, sat down at the table and took hands. And I realized that it was good day for a death–I was surrounded by people I loved and who loved me.

The love that surrounds a death is healing. It’s comes in time. You’re ready when you’re ready, when life has brought you here. It will come.

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Do more people die around the holidays? Yes, sadly they do–at least hospice numbers reflect a rise in deaths during the holiday season.

Some factors are obvious–flu, depression, car accidents to name a few. It’s hard on families–to have a loved one on the brink of death during what’s supposed to be a joyous time of year. Caregivers are torn between exhaustion and sometimes feel a tinge of relief after a long bout with cancer or heart disease. It’s hard to face the holidays while you’re grieving–and grieving starts long before your loved one dies.

A dear friend of mine worries if her dad will make it through this Christmas. Everything seems bitter-sweet. Her mom died near the holidays as well, and she misses her each year when she’s decorating the tree–something they used to do together. “I try to enjoy the season, but it’s hard. Hospice is coming three times a week–and we all know it won’t be long now.”

Perhaps the hardest thing to face is a new death. Recently, I met a woman at a care conference who just lost her son to AIDS. It’s only been two weeks, and she looked completely depleted–physically and emotionally. She says she doesn’t want a tree–she couldn’t stand to look at one. I told her I understood. It’s okay to “skip Christmas.”

Grief may get notched up a bit during the holidays. It may be that someone you love died during this time of year (even long ago) and your body has a “muscle memory” of that time in your life. You may not have verbalized it, but then it hits you-and it all makes sense.

Maybe it’s that you’re supposed to be happy that makes it so impossible to muster any joy or sentiment. Nobody wants to be told they have to decorate cookies or deck the halls. That’s not a should. Trust that if it’s a really rough time in your life that it won’t always be. It’s just for now. Be where you are. The only way I know through grief is to take one moment at a time. Even breathing or thinking can be so difficult at times.

Do what feels good. If you like driving around looking at lights, or going to see a performance of the Nutcracker, or sitting in front of a fire cracking nuts–do only what brings you a sense of peace. That’s the essence of this season. Don’t get caught up in the busy-ness, just do what’s easy.

“Treat yourself like you would your best friend,” I said to a friend who’s having a tough time. She’s one of the kindest, most giving, patient people I know. Too bad we don’t always extend that generosity to ourselves. I asked her what her best friend would tell her to do–she said, “She’d make me hot tea and tell me I can go put on my jammies.” Good advice–we should listen to ourselves once in a while.

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Our lives change and we can’t get what we had back. As we age, we have so many challenges to face.

We have to redefine ourselves, figure out who we are. It seems at times that life speeds up in all the wrong ways. We retire. We have to figure out who we are outside our career. We find a lump. We give up driving. We lose a foot to diabetes. Our son dies and we’re left here to live on, and we don’t know why. Our spouse gets Alzheimer’s.

Some shifts are permanent and long after the initial grief leaves, we struggle to figure out who we are now in light of all that’s happened.

 Who have we become? What does life hold for us? How do we reconcile our lives to what’s happened?

There are no easy answers. It’s easy to give into depression, but there’s another choice. Somehow we have to allow these changes, sorrows, and losses to become a part of us. Not all of us, but we have to fold these changes into who we are.

How?

I know a mother who woke up the morning of 9/11 and turned on the television just in time to see the second airplane fly into the World Trade Center. She turned off the television. She knew her son was dead. She couldn’t explain how, but she knew. She spent the next week in quiet. She journaled, prayed, drew pictures, sang their songs and held him in her thoughts.

She refused to get sucked into the news, into the images of mayhem and carnage. Instead, she turned their story into a children’s book—it was a story they made up together when he was a child. She used her sorrow into something sweet and good for others. Yes, she faced many dark nights, times when she thought her soul would rip apart. It doesn’t make the pain go away, but it gave her something to do with what happened to her, to them.

I don’t know what you’re facing, but I hope you can something with your experience, something that will comfort you and help others.

Carol O’Dell

Author, Mothering Mother

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