Monday, February 2, 2015

The Market and Death

In short: The Super Bowl is known for cool ads--ads that make us laugh; ads that are irreverent; ads that stick; and ads that we'll talk about and share.

This super bowl ad season did not disappoint. Well not the advertisers anyway--they got the attention they wanted. But it did disappoint this bereaved mom. In particular the ad that used child death to sell it's product to get people to link to it's pages and to remember it's name. I'm not linking the ad and I'm not naming it. You can figure it out if you desire. But I am sharing my thoughts about it, because many in my community are conflicted about it.

The ad shows a boy who is unable to do what all the other children are doing. Then after a few examples he explains that he's dead. And then the company shows images of preventable, but all to common household accidents that result in a child's death.

And, I've been thinking about this one. Some liked it because finally someone was talking about child death. But, I didn't like it. Not because it reminded me my child is dead--like I ever forget she's gone.
Not because it was an inappropriate venue to discuss child death--for me everything's on the table for discussion. I'm not afraid to talk death.

It's because they didn't start with "we care about your kids." Instead they drew folks in with light music, heartwarming images, and manipulated the expectations of the market. The market--you know--us. And the market research told them that this approach would ge a strong emotional reaction and the stronger the emotional reaction, the more likely consumers (again us) will remember the brand. They used the element of surprise like a M. Night Shyamalan movie, and this I believe, was purposeful. I suspect the company knew there would be outrage and controversy because that very outrage translates to free social media marketing. I don't believe for an instant that they aimed to diminish the viewer's shock and horror at realizing that they were staring at a dead child. Rather, that emotion was their aim. And they succeeded.

Nope, I didn't like it. I didn't like what I perceived as a "sucker punch" to parents of living children, hopeful parents to be, and bereaved parents with or without living children.

I am sorry children die. I'm sorry my child died. I'm not afraid to include my child in casual or formal conversations. I'm no longer so fragile to avoid or be destroyed for days after viewing a storyline about children dying.

The "mad men" succeeded in starting a conversation as they claimed was their goal, but I can't award any kudos for their efforts. They'll get those in website hits and $$$.

Sunday, November 16, 2014

Every Year

Remembering my daughter, Caitlin Anne, today on her death date--the first day of the meaning of forever.

Every year in July, I write my daughter's name in the sand at the beach. I pick up a stick or shell, and trace the letters of her first and middle name in quick cursive. Stepping back with my bare feet firmly on shore, I study it--the lines, curves, and dot above the i in her name. In this ritual of devotion and observance of her life, I once again enter the realm of magical thinking--my hope that the ocean won't wash her away. And every year, the wave does what it does--and once again shares with me what forever means.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

I am not Blessed

When people describe their blessings as bestowed by God, I cringe. Because, I know that I am not blessed. I was not blessed with meeting the perfect husband in my child-bearing years. I was not blessed with a healthy baby who now is everything I live for. I was not blessed with a birth family who picked us to parent their child. If these are the blessings that some attribute to God, then I am not blessed.

Blessings, you see are relative.  One knows to call something a blessing when one knows the antithesis. I live the antithesis so that others know what to call their blessings.

People generally, don't like it when one self-describes herself as "not blessed." When I articulate my reasoning, people say to me, "ah, but you should count your blessings." That makes me cringe too. Because what they are really doing is "should-ing" on me. They assume, and wrongly so, that I am not grateful for what is good in my life. I love the husband I married. I love my work. I love my family. I love that Caitlin made me a mom. I'm aware that I am loved when I least deserve it.

But, I won't "count my blessings." Why? Because when I'm told that I "should count my blessings, that means that I should be grateful that I have some things that others do not have---and therein lies the problem. I reject the notion that by finding "blessings" that someone else was not "worthy" to receive, that that should make me feel better. I can be grateful for what I have without feeling happy that others are less fortunate.

I will not be uplifted by the misfortunes of others, and I will not be diminished by the fortunes of others. I am grateful, thought not blessed.

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Fuck You, Cancer

Ah, $h!it . . . I reached a new hope that life would settle a bit. My new/old job and return to my music family and friends and then cancer strikes again . . .  I know, I know, it's not about me and I'm grateful I'm home this time to support my friend through the end of remission, and through her second round of Chemo, and on to the second remission.

But let's be honest, I struggle with knowing the if she dies, I am going to take it personally. HOW DARE God/Universe/ALLAH/and the like take another beautiful person with no regard for what the world needs. How dare it. There is no prayer that can soothe this anger. But it's my anger not her's, so once again I'll do my best to choose joy when she's around, but when she's not, I will seethe. I will curse. And I will weep.

Fuck you cancer. And fuck you industry, commercialism, and corporations that have successfully created an environment that enables, and yes, even causes this disease.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Though, it's been several months, for Caitlin's death date, her dad and I released balloons at her grave site. As I looked up and watched the balloons fade into the the brilliantly blue winter sky, DH snapped a family portrait. Parents at their only child's grave site. It is what it is. We must acknowledge the family we have.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

What's Your "Anything"?

“I would have done anything to save her.” When parents of dead children make this declamation; they mean it. Unfortunately, the “anything” was not available. For me, my daughter’s heart didn’t develop correctly, ‘nor did her GI system, which we didn’t know until her bowel perforated and she died. With prayers flowing and medical science using up all its options and me making one-sided deals with the great beyond, I held Caitlin as she took her last breath. And when her breath escaped, I wanted to go with her.

“I would have done anything to save her.” I meant it, and I still do.

Like many bereaved parents, I’ve come to see that now my child parents my heart. I am still her mother, and I continue to strive to be the mother she deserved. Which brings me to Sandy Hook, and why I will continue to invite others to consider supporting the “anything” that may save a child’s life. The “anything” that is only an option in prevention and not an option after the last breath escapes a child’s body. Knowing that prevention is too often dismissed and unappreciated—usually because observation of the results of preventive actions is difficult—I persist.

Why? Because Caitlin deserves the kind of mother who will risk the judgment and ridicule of others for what should have been her daughter’s freedom to be in a school without fear for her life. She deserves a mother who will aim to use respectful and factual pleas, rather than hurtful name-calling. She deserves a mother that will push-back against the natural proclivity of those not directly affected to end their empathetic mourning within about 5 weeks and return to hoping it won’t happen to them.

It will happen to someone, and rather than silently hoping, I’m asking that others consider acting as if they knew it would be their children. Is that cruel to name a parent’s worst fear? Or unfair and manipulative of parents’ love for their children? I’ll risk that condemnation, because I would have done anything to save my child.

What is the “anything” you can support? One of the proposed gun violence laws? Changes to mental health guidelines? Training for teachers and health workers to identify depression and prevent bullying? Suicide prevention programs? Gun safety education? And how will you support this “anything”? Letters to lawmakers? Reach out to individuals? Report that “off comment” to a child protection agency? Practice the lock-down procedure at your school, place of work, home? Take a gun safety class? Join a community watch group? 

With so many ways to engage in something, it's tempting to throw up one's hands overwhelmed and defeated that "nothing will fix it completely." Consider the bereaved parents and community members of Sandy Hook and their response to creating safe communities. They launched the Sandy Hook Promise that highlights the bereaveds’ impassioned plea:

I promise to honor the 26 lives lost at Sandy Hook Elementary School.

I promise to do everything I can to encourage and support common sense solutions that make my community and our country safer from similar acts of violence.

Prayer, hugging our children tighter, lighting a candle, and sending condolences address the first part of the promise. I’m inviting those for whom this promise resonates to consider how they might address the second part of the promise.

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Tuesday, January 8, 2013


Its arrogance will break your heart. Two weeks ago
we had to coax it
into taking her body.
after a light rain,
I see it hasn’t bothered
to conceal its seams. 

~Jo McDougall


I remember the anger I had at the seams in the ground where Caitlin's coffin was buried. A small rectangle of sunken earth with scars where they cut the sod to lay her in. It took a couple of seasons for the growth of grass and work of bugs to mask those scars. But sometimes, when the weather is severe, they can still be discerned.


Sunday, January 6, 2013

Going Public . . . not yet Activist

Caitlin's death cracked me open. Her tragic death and my response to the event destroyed the compartmentalization of my public and private lives. The professor, family member, friend, and citizen became indiscernible to me, and I shared my early writings publicly and invited people from public and private spheres to read on a different site. Eventually, as the grief work progressed, I managed to build new distinctions of the roles I embody. I reclaimed some barriers, and I began this blog to continue the writing.

But I no longer wished to invite all to read. Since I began writing here, I experienced some anxiety and considered going private and limiting the readership to only my fellow bereaved parents. Later, I thought about shutting the blog down completely only to slink back because I needed to write. I needed a place for the continued life as a bereaved parent. And, the blog remains public . . . though I don't invite friends and family or students or acquaintances to read. I know some have found me, but that's OK.

Two events have pushed me to consider going more public in a way that may seem activist. The first is the DSM-V and it's success in making grief a mental illness. The second the NRA's insistence that arming more people--specifically teachers--would make our children safer.

The DSM-V provides guidelines for medical professionals to label and thus provide care via health care plans. This on the surface sounds good, essential, and necessary. However, APA threw out the grief provision for determining severe depression, and they made it possible for those experiencing symptoms beyond 2-weeks to be labeled mentally ill as severely depressed. TWO WEEKS! And a common approach to treating this mental illness is prescribing anti-depressants. Wow, what a market for big-pharma. How wonderful for them. They found a way to make these drugs needed by nearly every person, because everyone loses someone they love dearly at some time in their lives. And everyone experiences the "symptoms" of grief (which are normal loving responses, and to my mind should be honored and valued--yes, valued--as such) for long past two weeks. The bereaved and health care professionals know that there is no timeline for grief, each person grieves in their own way and at their own pace. However, professionals also know that virtually no-one who loves is "done" with feelings of sadness and sleeplessness at two weeks. Therefore, the DSM-V opened a door for misdiagnosis and drugs prescribed inappropriately.

Then the Newtown deaths--and my mind raced through so many emotions and topics of why, how, and what can we do. One of the nagging thoughts was who will tell these parents of 20 dead children that after two weeks they don't have to feel this way anymore? Who will tell them that their extreme sadness is pathological and they are mentally ill? How many of these bereaved parents who have just laid their children in the ground or spread their ashes in places of meaning will pick up a prescription during week three? I have no answers only fear for the health of the newly bereaved.

The attention regarding mental health centered on the poor care for the perpetrators of these gun-violence massacres. Here, I agree. We should be better at providing care for our mentally ill; we should better attend to the early warning signs. There was silence about the mental health of the bereaved. I suppose it seems unrelated, but I struggle to trust a mental health industry to offer help and guidance when they made love a pathology by dumping the bereavement exclusion.

Since Columbine, our public response has been shock, sadness, and some action. Now with Newtown and just days ago another shooting in a NY movie theater, it seems our response continues with shock, sadness, and some action. Some of the actions are words, sending cards, toys, and money, increased security measures, improved lock-down procedures, and . . . prayer, hugging our children tighter, and throwing up our hands with "there's nothing else to do but hope it doesn't happen again."

In addition to the returned discussion regarding improving the mental health system, the public eye took another critical look at gun laws. And the NRA took it's usual methodical approach 1) tell us our response was inappropriate and only prayers should be said, 2) remain silent until the public outrage subsides, and 3) make a statement to protect profits by keeping the gun market healthy through a restatement of the ideology of preventing tyranny. When the NRA broke it's silence, some gun-lovers broke theirs as well with Facebook memes to save guns and protect gun-owner rights. Their anger made me sad. Their name-calling disturbed me. And I struggled with my conclusion that many were dismissing yet another massacre to fight for guns. GUNS, NOT CHILDREN. Jesus Christ.

I believe, that the assumption that more guns makes children safer is untenable. I believe that the prevention of tyranny through more gun ownership is fictitious. I'm of the mind that there are reasonable restrictions and sensible approaches to consider and enact. I'm convinced that a pragmatic discussion, rather than an ideological one may save a few more lives.

Not yet an activist, but going public on these issues in this space have become part of the fabric of my journey mourning my daughter's death.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

I don't understand . . . rather I don't agree

The senseless death of 20 children and 6 adults in Connecticut this month has me reeling. Reflecting on my personal experience of a parent's worst fear realized. The physical sensation and memory of that wail that comes from a primal place---before evolution brought our reasoning to manage our emotions. I sat in silence for a long time. It hurt trying to send love to parents and family and strangers in some telepathic crazed intention. Knowing there was nothing I could really do.

Then, I waited for anger. And that didn't come, either, only this intense sadness that others still value un-regulated gun ownership over the lives of children. That somehow a child's death must be tolerated for the sake of the second amendment.

Then questions came in droves, and all answered with "I don't understand."

Why is it easier to buy a gun than it is to get mental health coverage?
Why are we not supposed to talk about gun control in the wake of dead children?
Why should teachers be demonized as greedy pension seekers, rather than those who give their lives protecting them?
How can arming more people, actually de-escalate gun violence?
Why do teachers submit to rigorous criminal background checks, and gun owners do not?
Why do we require training for operating machinery, including a variety of vehicles, and don't insist on training for gun ownership?
How does lax regulation make everyone more free?

Truth is, I do understand the "other side's" answers to these questions. I've read and considered their answers, and the bottom line for me is that I don't agree with their rationalizations.

In particular, I find it troubling that some suggest we should arm school personnel. I don't want a society that expects me to educate teachers in proper gun handling techniques. Teachers and administrators should not add a police cap and holster to the materials they need in educating children. I'm coming to see the NRA as similar to big pharma. They exploit these events to suggest a need for a product. They are developing the market for more members, more gun owners, more more more death . . .

When I entered this profession, it didn't occur to me that I was entering law enforcement or that I was entering combat training. It feels hopeless, what profession is safe? What profession can we focus on serving others? I don't know.

Post Script

Just donated to the Brady Campaign, a group that works for sensible gun laws.