Missing Toddler

When my daughter was a toddler, my husband served in the US Navy, and we lived in a very large coastal California city.  One day my husband and I decided, for entertainment, we would like to go to a large swap meet.  We loaded up our toddler, invited my mother and away we went.  It was a wonderful activity, filled with exciting things to see and purchase.  The prices were low and the local delicacies abundant.  We were having a fabulous time. 

About two hours into our activity, I walked over to my husband, who was shopping a different booth than I, and noticed that our toddler was not in her stroller.  I asked my husband where she was, thinking that my mother must have her, and my husband said, “She’s in her stroller.”  Suddenly, my whole life changed.  My wonderful day of pleasure shopping abruptly changed into a horrid emergent situation.  I felt as though I could not breathe, it seemed as if the world began to spin a million miles per hour.  My toddler was missing at an open-air swap meet, in a large and dangerous city, and I had not the faintest clue where she was or what might be happening to her. 
My husband, being the organizer that he is, immediately sprang into action.  He instantly located my mother and sent her to the business office to alert security.  Her next task was to go to the entry gate and not allow anyone to exit with a child near the age of our daughter.  My husband headed toward the restrooms to inspect them for our daughter or signs of foul play, and I was to comb through the rows and rows of shopping booths, calling out my daughter’s name and scanning for anyone that might be trying to escape with her.  We all three sprang into our appointed duties.  I ran as fast as a cheetah, calling my daughter’s name and inspecting anyone and everyone within the isles and shops.  I was frantic, just recalling the event, is causing my heart to race slightly and my eyes to tear.  As I rounded a corner, I saw a woman, holding my daughter by the hand.  My child was hysterical and I am sure I looked a fright, because the woman quickly threw her hands up in the air and started yelling that she had found my daughter and was taking her to security.

Sobbing, I fell to my knees and held my child tightly to my chest.  My daughter was equally distraught; she was crying and holding onto me just as tightly.  Oh my, I just cannot tell you what a terrible experience that was.  I felt as if my life were over.  I was in a whirlwind of panic and fear.  I felt unbelievable anguish and inconceivably helplessness.  We left the swap meet and went directly to a large warehouse, where we purchased a personal alarm for my daughter.  She has never been lost again.

Many times over the years, as I have watched her grow into a wonderful woman, (currently expecting her own child), I have reflected back on that horrific experience.  The thought of what could have happened to her that day, still frightens me and almost brings me to my knees.  If my daughter had been kidnapped that day or killed, I do not know that I could have lived on without her.  The pain, anguish and self-blame would have been too much to bear.  I am so thankful that she was all right, that I found her and that the poor woman who had her was a Good Samaritan, rather than a demented crazy axe murderer.  My experience although terribly frightening ended with a positive resolution.

The feelings and panic I experienced that dreadful day were real and powerful.  They pale, however, in comparison to those a family feels, when they have suddenly lost a loved one.  Unexpected loss brings a multitude of issues beyond those of an anticipated loss.  When a loved one has been ill, or has been suffering severe pain for an extended time, although we mourn the loss, death is sometimes a relief for those witnessing day in and day out, the unrelenting pain and suffering of their family member or close friend.  When death is unexpected or sudden, family and close friends realize regrets, and are robbed of the time they need to prepare themselves, and resolve any unfinished business or issues existing between themselves and the deceased.  These issues will fester over time and can become severe health issues, both psychologically and physically.  Equally robbed is their opportunity to simply say good-bye.  This simple moment, shared between those we love, is immensely important.  Being robbed of this final rite of passage creates a helplessness that is difficult to overcome.  Mourners carry this pain with them for a very long time, and some are unable to overcome it.  Pair with this the regret of unfinished business, the anguish of brutal death, or the eternal yearning for an unfound loved one, and there is a recipe for extreme extension with a myriad of additional complications to overcome, for the accomplishment of grief recovery. 

An example of this sort of loss would be the disappearance of Natalie Holloway.  Her mother, Beth Holloway, was relentless in trying to find her daughter.  For years, she pursued the whereabouts of her daughter and those that may have had a hand in her disappearance.  In the end, the judicial system failed her.  Often people would ask, “Whatever happened to her (Beth Holloway)?  It seems she just gave up and disappeared.”  If she had been the giving up type, none of us would have ever heard of Natalie Holloway.  I am amazed that Beth was able to go on as long as she did.  The stress, sorrow and regret she suffered, eventually overpower her ability to continue her search against the unsupportive legal system of Aruba and the inabilities of our government to help resolve her fight against them.  She had to begin her road to recovery without resolution.

Currently in the news, one intently follows the disappearance of the commercial 777 jetliner.  The sorrow on the faces and behavior of the families suffering through this crisis show the same complications present in the Natalie Holloway case.  These families need extreme support and aggressive counseling, rather than being abruptly escorted away from those who should be offering insights and answers.  With leadership comes great responsibility.  With the absence of information and answers, responsible leaders should render greater latitude and understanding than is being offered to these families in despair.  We continue to hope for the safe return of the commercial 777 jetliner and it’s passengers.  We know that their families do too.  In the end, if this is not realized, we hope and pray for their recovery, as we did, and continue to do for Beth Holloway.  They too, may be forced to begin their road to recovery, as did Beth, without resolution.

The feelings and panic I experienced that dreadful day at that open-air swap meet, when I briefly lost my toddler, were real and powerful.  They faded, however, upon locating my unharmed daughter.  Although unlikely, my fervent prayer is that these unfortunate families with loved ones aboard the 777 jetliner would have the same resolution of having their loved ones returned to them whole and unharmed.  In that the scenario is less and less probable as the days painfully pass, I pray that the world and especially those in authoritative roles, will render them the tender love and extended grief care resources, of which they so desperately stand in need.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee.  I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer.  I write books, weekly articles and brief tips on understanding and coping with grief.  It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on. 

Please follow my blog at http://pushin-up-daisies.blogspot.com/, follow me on Twitter @PushnUpDaisies and visit my website for additional encouragement and information at www.QueenCityFuneralHome.com.

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Sudden, Unanticipated and Traumatic Deaths

Grief is a painful and drawn out process, which every human being will at one time, or another experience.  Each survivor must experience, suffer through and adjust to their unique grief experience.  Those that do not, will find their suffering increase day after day, week after week, month after month and year after year, until they are unable to return to a life without depression and extreme pain by themselves.  They will most likely require the intervention of professional counseling and possibly medication. One cannot avoid the grief experience, no matter how strongly they turn from it or deny it.    

Grief is painful, especially when it is sudden or unanticipated.  Sudden or unanticipated deaths include heart attacks, strokes, postoperative deaths, allergic reactions, sudden infant death as well as others.  When grief is associated with sudden or unanticipated death, complicated grief is a viable reality. When death is sudden or unexpected, survivors will be ill prepared for the experiences that will follow.  The lack of forewarning robs the mourner of appropriate time to anticipate and prepare for the grief that follows the passing of a significant loved one.  Sudden, accidental, unexpected and traumatic death, shatters life, as we know it.  These deaths do not make since, they are unfair and they leave us feeling shaken, insecure and vulnerable.  Not only must we overcome the grief of our loss, we must also deal with the fear and insecurities of the impending changes that will most assuredly follow.  Without forewarning, we will not have had ample time to process and prepare for these changes.  The opportunity for developing alternative plans for continued obligations, such as rearing of children, college tuition for those children etc. will not have happened.  Losses of income, loss of ones home and loss of social standing are viable concerns that will not have established recovery plans for the survivor. 

The issues from sudden or unanticipated death, set the survivor up for an extended or complicated grief experience.  In such circumstances, survivors will need extra support and understanding from family and friends.  Support groups can be of some value, as well as spiritual foundations and counseling. 

Traumatic deaths bring even more difficulties for the survivor.  Traumatic deaths are those involving violence, mutilation, destruction, multiple deaths, random deaths and those where the survivor suffered near death.  Traumatic deaths fit into the same category of sudden and unanticipated deaths however, recovery from this type of death is even more difficult and severe.  Traumatic deaths bring fears and phobias that can be extremely extended, difficult to understand and require intense recovery techniques.  Traumatic death fears and phobias can add recovery time and require more intense techniques, which the survivor may not be able to identify or understand without professional intervention.  Often, traumatic deaths involve the justice system and social services will intervene and offer counseling for  survivors that are under the age of accountability. 

If you or someone you know or love has suffered a sudden, unanticipated or traumatic death, please seek out support systems to assist with coping and recovery from this terrifying and egregious experience.  Due to the emotional and psychological trauma accompanying these categorically related deaths, the added stigma of victimization must be considered.  Recovery perils may loom about creating problems the survivor might be ill equipped to surmount alone.  In extreme cases, possible psychosis creates a strong argument for professional assistance before it presents itself.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee.  I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer.  I write books, weekly bereavement articles, and mid-week grief briefs related to understanding and coping with grief.  It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on. 

Please follow my blog at http://pushin-up-daisies.blogspot.com/ and Twitter account  @PushnUpDaisies,  visit my website  www.QueenCityFuneralHome.com or read my book “Pushin’ Up Daisies”  for additional encouragement and information.

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At times, a death certificate may be issued with the cause of death listed as pending. This generally happens when an investigation is taking place and the cause of death is in question. Death certificates are necessary for legal, financial and real estate purposes. Most applications do not require cause of death, the exception to this rule is of course insurance. If your insurance policy has an accidental death rider, you will want to file for an amended death certificate after cause of death has been determined.

Filing for an amended death certificate is easily accomplished. In most cases, you need only contact your local registrar, fill out the necessary forms, pay the required fees, and amended death certificates will be issued.

The difficulties associated with “cause of death pending” are the unresolved questions of the family. Parents, children, and spouses find it difficult to understand and recover when the cause of death is pending. Acceptance is the last stage of Dr. Kubler-Ross’ five stages of grief. For most people, the death of a loved one is the ultimate trauma experienced in life. If the cause of death is pending, the family may find it difficult to begin the work of acceptance. If acceptance is unobtainable, complicated grief may become a reality. Complicated grief is the prolonged suffering of a survivor. Complicated grief may affect the functionality of the survivor.

Generally, the cause of death will be revised once the investigation has been completed. There are however certain circumstances where cause of death may not be determinable. In such a case, family and close friends may find it very difficult to recover. If you are suffering this type of loss, you may find it helpful to join a support group or to seek out a counselor. Your funeral director should be able to help you find various organizations that focus on helping the bereaved through such extreme circumstances. Your road to recovery may be slow and arduous. You may think there is no hope. You may find yourself filled with despair. My dear friend, do not allow yourself to continue on without intervention. There are people and organizations willing and waiting to help you. Do not do this alone. It is too difficult. Allow those around you who love and care for you, to lend a helping hand. If you do so, you will realize that there is hope and love abounding. Family and friends love and care for you. Allow them the opportunity to help.

My name is Tracy Renee Lee. I am a funeral director, author and freelance writer. It is my life's work to comfort the bereaved and help them live on.

Please follow my blog at http://pushin-up-daisies.blogspot.com/ and Twitter account @PushnUpDaisies, visit my website www.QueenCityFuneralHome.com or read my book “Pushin’ Up Daisies” for additional encouragement and information.

When a Loved has been Murdered

When a loved one has been murdered, many difficulties arise for the survivors.  Murder crosses into numerous death categories, all of which carry serious emotional and psychological obstacles to overcome.  No matter whom you are, if a significant loved one has been murdered, you will experience unparalleled grief.  Murder falls into the traumatic death category, as well as unanticipated and sudden death categories.  Sudden and unanticipated deaths are difficult to recover from.  Under these circumstances, the survivor has been robbed of ample time to set into motion, plans to compensate for their loss.  Add to this, the experience of murder, and the survivor is destined to have a ruff go of the grief recovery process.  Preparations for loss of income, loss of social standing and loss of companionship are losses that survivors can plan for if they have sufficient notice that a death is imminent.  If the death is predictable, families can plan accordingly.  A family planning to purchase a new and larger home might decide to stay put, once they know the household provider has a terminal illness.  That same family, suffering the murder of the household provider and having recently purchased their dream home, may now be facing repossession of their home.  These are unfair and unpredictable situations.

In addition to the suddenness of a murder, the violence experienced by the loved one is overwhelming.  Details of the murder might be kept from the family in order to protect them and to protect the integrity of the investigation.  The family might hear details that may or may not be accurate through the media, they might possibly see and hear additional details day after day, as the news replays and reports on the murder investigation.  This experience can create a mountain of issues and setbacks for the survivors.  If the murder is high profile, the family might not even be able to go out to dinner without overhearing conversations of speculation regarding their loved one’s horrific experience.  Speculation can be especially difficult for the family, as it is often inaccurate and cruel. 

As years pass, the survivors of a brutal murder will be haunted by mental anguish.  Try as they might, questions are always lingering in the backs of their minds.  How long did their loved one suffer, were they frightened, did they call out for their family, how long did the brutality last, was death quick, were they humiliated before death, etc.  Their questions are never completely answered, and so they must accept that they must live with the uncertainty, of the suffering sustained by their loved one.  It is overwhelming and torturing to the survivors.  In some instances, death may have been so brutal that the body of a loved one is non-viewable.  If the family is unable to view the body, they are robbed of their final farewell.  Survivors may question their belief in a deity and lose their way.  They may become disillusioned with the justice system, especially if the murderer is not held accountable due to some legal technicality or mistake. 

The fact of the matter is that murder is cruel and unjust.  Survivors are going to suffer psychologically, the vicious actions of a demented human being upon their loved one.  Emotional and psychological pathologies are going to plague the survivors for quite some time.  Some survivors may never be able to accept that life continues and will be permanently held prisoner in the psychosis that follow. 

As a funeral director, I have witnessed this tragedy upon families I have served.  As a child, I witnessed my mother suffer this tragedy.   Murder is a horrific perpetration.  Unfortunately, it is one that is inflicted upon families throughout the world, daily.

If you have suffered the murder of a loved one, I extend my deepest condolences. 

The Un-Dead

Recently, I have noticed a long list of movies, books and television series’ that focus on the un-dead, the living dead or the zombie pseudo dead. As I have watched these topically based productions, I have been intrigued by the similarities of these half dead/half living persons compared to a survivor who is caught in a continual cycle of debilitating grief.

When a person is caught in a cycle of grief that continues for an extended period, we say that he or she is experiencing “complicated grief.” In other words, the grief cycle seems to have trapped him or her, significantly retarding their recovery time table and negatively affecting their ability to re-enter normal functionality.

One wonders why one individual over another, finds him or herself unable to recover from a loss and exit the grief experience. Quite possibly, one does not ever recover completely from the loss of someone they love. They simply adjust their life’s existence, enabling them to survive without the debilitating ache that finds its way into their hearts once loss has occurred.

Generally, when one finds him or herself in this extended state of grief, we recommend that they enter grief counseling or in extreme cases, psychotherapy. The advantages of counseling or therapy are that the professional grief advocate can intervene, and help the survivor identify habits that have trapped him or her into this undesirable state of non-recovery. This undesirable psychological state seems to hold these unfortunate survivors hostage as the un-dead, a state of mind where they exist, but they do not experience. Prolonged existence such as this will eventually land the grief stricken person into a state of serious depression and eventually psychosis. At this juncture, the depressed individual truly needs and should benefit from psychotherapy.

A qualified psychotherapist can help the grief-trapped individual identify habits and cycles of behavior that are inconducive to grief recovery. The counselor or psychotherapist can set into practice a positive growth experience; possibly yielding a sound recovery plan, that the survivor has been unable to identify, or obtain on his or her own. If the survivor has been trapped in this cycle for years on end, recovery may be a slow and complicated process. Their psychotherapist may utilize the benefits of prescription therapy to enable and enhance the recovery process.

If you find you have a friend or loved one trapped in the zombie pseudo experience of complicated grief, love and understanding may not have been enough to help them recover. It may be time to suggest something more substantial for their grief experience. Grief counseling or psychotherapy may be of great benefit to them.

DSM Designates Grief as Disorder

According to the Los Angeles Times, the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V) recently added prolonged (complicated) grief disorder as an official psychiatric diagnosis, giving people who suffer from debilitating grief a name for the disorder. What does this mean for the poor soul suffering this excruciating disorder? It means that they can now identify their disorder by name, and seek out medical and psychiatric assistance for recovery.

In the past, survivors suffering debilitating grief were basically on their own to find a remedy and recover from their disorder. The work place is not obligated to accommodate grief recovery, only bereavement leave. It has been my experience that the work place has generally accepted two to three days as an appropriate time for bereavement leave. This slight recognition ignores the emotional affects of loss, and does not allow additional time to recover from the deep emotional and psychological trauma that comes with such a catastrophic experience.

If you break your limb and your doctor casts it, there is physical evidence that something is wrong, that will possibly require recuperation away from work. Your doctor might also send a note to your employer requiring that you receive a prescribed time of light duty or time off completely. In these cases, there is no question; your work is going to accommodate your needs during this time.

If your spouse or child suffers an accident severe enough to take his or her life, your employer may give you 2 to 3 days off work for funeral services. Unfortunately, they expect you back; bright eyed and bushy tailed as soon as the gravedigger covers up your loved one with earth. Fulfilling the customary ritual within our society, your co-workers and company of employment may send words and flowers of condolences for the services. The problem comes into play, when they fail to realize that although your loved one lost his or her life, you have lost your loved one. The wound to your soul, although invisible, is greater and more significant than any physical wound you will ever suffer. It appears that if your wounds are without outward marks of trauma, they are unrecognized as noteworthy. Perhaps with this new designation from the DSM, recognition is on the cusp of change.

As a funeral practitioner, I have seen a significant number of my clients; lose their jobs because they could not bring themselves to return to work after only 3 days of bereavement leave. These clients suffered significant losses of either their spouse or their child. Losses one would naturally expect would take more than three days from which to recover. The Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA) established in 1993, provides for up to 12 weeks unpaid leave per year for employees to address serious health conditions, care for a newborn or adopted child, recovery from illness, or care for a sick family member. It fails to recognize even one day for recovery from familial loss.

Familial loss inflicts a severe wound to one's soul. The psychological effects of such trauma can be devastating, and if left untreated or unresolved, may progress into a debilitating illness. The ensuing illness may manifest itself in mental and/or physical ailments. At this juncture, the FMLA may become applicable, as the survivor potentially qualifies for leave under personal serious illness.  Isn’t it sad, however, that survivors suffer grief to such a serious level, when it could have been treated early on, possibly preventing other illnesses from manifesting themselves. Even with treatment to these new illnesses, the underlying cause remains unaddressed and may, therefore, continue to cause poor and degenerating health.

During the Victorian Era, families wore black for one full year after the loss of a significant loved one. In so doing, they were notifying others that they were in a state of grief, that they would be functioning at a lower than anticipated level of competency, that they might be inexplicably melancholy and that they might require kindness and consideration during their daily activities and responsibilities. The Victorians automatically allowed considerations for the bereaved, yet in modern society, we barely recognize it as significant. Perhaps the identification of “Prolonged Grief Disorder” by the DSM will bring new awareness, research, recognition and treatment for those who suffer the catastrophic effects of complicated grief.