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.


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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