“We get it” Supportive Blog (email:blog@studentsofamf.org to share your story or to email with one of the writers below)

New Resource – AMF on Hello Grief Forum

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National Students of AMF is now on Hello Grief! Hello Grief is an online community for grieving individuals to share stories, make connections, and be supported.

Sign up at the link below to join our National Students of AMF group, get access to the community forums, and read inspiring articles.

http://say.hellogrief.org/signup

Lessons from ADEC: Alex Low

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This is the second in a series of three posts from AMF chapter leaders who attended the Association for Death and Education Counseling (ADEC)’s annual conference in April 2013. Alex Low, chapter leader of Lewis University’s AMF chapter, shares her experiences below.
 
Being a part of ADEC this semester is something that I never thought I would get the chance to do. When filling out the application for the conference, I knew I was moving out of my comfort zone, but I didn’t know what to expect. I definitely underestimated what my week had in store, and went away with new friendships and new perspectives on death and bereavement. Even though I was the youngest person at the conference, age didn’t define my experience. During one workshop, the speaker asked, “how many of you have lost a loved one”, and without surprise, everyone in the room raised their hand. This response was a testament to the fact that despite the age gap, I was able to connect with other individuals at the conference. Death doesn’t discriminate against whom it affects.
 
After many workshops and speakers, there were a few sessions that really left its impact on how I viewed my own experience. In an impermanence experiment, we were given twenty-five cards and asked to write down our most prized possessions, people, roles, places, and relationships, and to rank the top ten. After picking the most important aspects of my life, we put the cards back in the entire mix, where they would ‘experience’ different aspects of life. After different unexpected events, I had to personally remove some cards, while some were taken from my possession, out of my control. Although these were just cards, they resembled our most prized possessions. While some people handled their cards being taken from them calmly, others couldn’t bear the idea of symbolically losing their family. From this experiment, lingering grief became apparent for many of us. One woman said, “I don’t cope, I adapt.” This powerful statement was so true for all the participants because loss will always be a part of a person’s life and a hard thing to accept. The biggest accomplishment is being able to adjust to the unexpected events of our lives and be able to respond in a positive way.
 
Furthermore, the conference consisted of hundreds of thanatology professionals; however, there was still a friendly place for students like myself to take away means to deal with my own grief and to bring to our Lewis chapter. Healing is a process, and I was able to expand my own knowledge by taking another big step in my journey. “Grief does not have a good language”, but being able to hear what the experts have to say, and the opinions of my other AMF chapter leaders, I was able to talk with others and find comfort in how I grieve.

 

Lessons from ADEC: Meghan Kubrick

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This is the first in a series of three posts from AMF chapter leaders who attended the Association for Death and Education Counseling (ADEC)’s annual conference in April 2013. Meghan Kubric, chapter leader of Northwestern’s AMF chapter, shares her experiences below.

 
First of all, thank you to Students of AMF and ADEC for giving me the opportunity to attend this conference. I had a great time, and I met so many interesting people. I also learned much about death, grief, and dying, and I’m able to incorporate my new knowledge both within my own personal experience and within my future career as a doctor. It was liberating to be in an environment in which talking about death and dying was not inhibited—it was encouraged. Normally, I discuss grief within a support group setting, and those conversations have been central to my own healing process. However, this was the first time I had discussed grief in an academic setting, and I discovered that that too, has opened up new avenues of healing. It allowed me to look at the experience of my mother’s death from a more objective standpoint, and in doing that, I was able to understand my experience from a different perspective. This has been and will continue to be, invaluable to the development of my character and my identity.
 
I attended many lectures while at the conference, some more interesting than others, but I can honestly say I learned something new at each and every one. However, one of the most important lectures was a talk entitled “Remember Conversations with the Dying and the Bereaved” by Lorraine Hedtke, PhD. In this talk, Dr. Hedtke posited that death ends a life, not a relationship. Until this lecture, I had not even considered the possibility that I still have a relationship with my mother—the relationship did not die along with the person. Dr. Hedtke also introduced the concept of “re-membering” to describe the ways in which people tell stories and construct narratives about the deceased in order to maintain that relationship. This is important because these stories enable loved ones to grieve in a healthy way, and they enable loved ones to feel emotions other than sadness and loss while grieving. These narratives introduce a positive aspect to what is typically (and erroneously) considered a sad, depressing, and debilitating phenomenon.   As one attendee stated, using the techniques of “re-membering” allowed him the “opportunity to say how much he [the deceased] means to me.”
 
I will never forget this: that death ends a life, not a relationship. It is a great way to summarize grief. After all, what is it that we are really grieving? What is it that we have lost? It is the relationship. It is that connection to another human being that was so central to our lives and in some cases, even to our identities. While grief is often difficult to put into words, I believe this is it. This is what I have been feeling. This is what I have been missing. And this is what I have been longing for. The relationship. I feel I now have a much better understanding, and I am much better able to help others through their own personal process, both through AMF and during my future career as a doctor.

Sadness on a Day of Celebration

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By Bethany Armstrong
 
The last Tuesday of February marked the date of my parent’s wedding anniversary. If my Mom were alive, this year would have been their 30th wedding anniversary.  30 years of marriage, struggle, love, children, marriages, grandchildren- so many family memories missed and remembered.
 
I never know how to remember or celebrate, so I write a Facebook status; which seems like an empty way to mark something of such significance, but this is what I wrote:
 
“30 years ago, the best man and best woman I’ve ever known got married. She wore a dress covered in lace, with puff sleeves, made by her grandmother. He wore a simple suit and tried to tame his unruly hair. They had no idea how much this date in history would change their lives and the lives of their 8 kids. Dad, thank you for exemplifying honor, living out your vows, and showing us what your love meant in a tangible way. Today, we remember and we celebrate.”
 
My dad later told me it encouraged him, and for me it was heartfelt and just. However, I felt sad, nothing could take away my pain or loss.  I missed my mom. Usually, that feeling is a passing moment- it comes, I embrace it, and it passes. But, this time, I was upset because I was missing out on celebrating a huge milestone in their marriage.  I am sure my mom would have celebrated with family, friends, food, and probably a trip with my dad (his treat, of course) for just the two of them. It would have been an over the top celebration.
 
Instead, there was only a Facebook status.
 
It is moments like this, I realize that despite how far I may have come through my grief, I will still miss my mom, so much so, that I will at times ache and be sad. This is a welcoming realization, but it doesn’t change the fact that there are things that should have been, that aren’t….like an elaborate anniversary celebration for 30 years of faithfulness.
 
Grief is a journey and the people that we love and miss, we will always love and miss. It’s a beautiful, if bittersweet reality, but we move forward with courage one day at a time.

Tess’s Story

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The Best Antidote

 
I receive some pretty confused reactions from people when I tell them that I am currently grieving my father’s death from 13 years ago. They’re quick to offer suggestions though, as if everything I’ve been doing thus far has been a total failure, and I should count myself lucky to have finally met someone who holds the cure to my grief. Some of the antidotes I hear are:
 
“You don’t have a lot of friends, do you? See, that’s it. You wouldn’t be so sad if you got out more.”
 
“Why don’t you take antidepressants? After all this time, you should probably consider them. Then you’ll be fine.”
 
“Just focus on school and achieving your dreams; once you’re accomplishing your goals, you won’t have time to be sad.”
 
And as I’m sure you know, the list goes on and on.
 
Throughout all the advice I’ve been given, there was one that was never offered, except by my therapists, and that was to talk about it. It’s really no wonder that I’m dealing with unresolved grief when I’ve never been encouraged to freely express myself to someone other than a licensed professional.
 
In the summer of 1999, my dad was killed in a shooting spree while my mom and I were in Iran. It wasn’t until we returned when my mom found out what happened. But the family collectively decided to wait a couple of weeks to tell me. Therefore, I wasn’t at his funeral nor was I able to grieve with everyone else.
 
Even after I found out, I didn’t mourn his death because everyone was trying to make life as normal as possible for me, as if nothing had happened. It felt like a huge cover-up, like they were trying to hide the fact that this person used to exist in my life. In order to erase that part of my life, a new life was created for me. I started 3rd grade at a new school about a week later, and my mom and I moved into my aunt’s house because it was too painful for her to stay in our old house. Then, she signed me up for therapy, which became the only acceptable place to express my sadness.
 
My family was still determined to keep things looking stable and normal, so they didn’t encourage me to openly grieve with them. My mom told me recently that family members discouraged her from saying my dad’s name around me, so I wouldn’t get sad. In retrospect, I now comprehend that my family was trying their best to create as normal of a childhood as possible; however, it taught me to suppress my emotions and made it exceedingly difficult for me to articulate my grief as I got older. I only ever released my sorrow late at night behind closed doors, where I would light candles and scrutinize every article written about the shooting.
 
My mom kept me in counseling for a few years, and although once a week I was physically present in Ms. Julie’s office from 3:30-4:30 every Tuesday, I had checked out emotionally after my first year there. Because I got the impression it wasn’t okay to express my emotions with the people closest to me, I withdrew from my counselor and sank into a deep state of denial.
 
By the time I was in high school, I attempted to fill my father’s void with countless boys who further encouraged me to bottle up my emotions. One of my boyfriends used to tell me all the time that there was no point in crying because there was nothing I could do to bring him back. He also let me know that his parents felt it unsafe for him to date me because I was fatherless, and they didn’t want him to have to deal with my daddy issues.
 
I became severely ashamed of being fatherless. I would immediately leave the room anytime someone would bring up my dad’s name. I never talked to my friends about his death because I thought they would distance themselves from me.
 
My depression worsened once I entered college. I was so disconnected from myself and my emotions that it caused me to detach from my outside world. I became a zombie. I wanted so desperately to be like everyone else, to lead that normal life my family worked so hard to build for me. But the more I chased normalcy, the more numb I felt on the inside. The days got darker, I became more withdrawn, and I stopped seeing a tomorrow. My plans for the future were replaced by suicidal thoughts, and it wasn’t until I screamed those thoughts to my friends in a rage that I realized something had to be done.
 
The next day I went to a treatment facility for a week. Being there was an experience I’ll cherish forever because it really saved my life. I never acknowledged that suppressing my grief had been affecting my mental state so greatly. I didn’t even think that bottling my emotions was unhealthy; I thought it was how everyone grieved.
 
So I let it out. It certainly was no easy task, and I was taking baby steps, but at least I was moving. Each day I did something new to embrace my grief, and each day I was waking up with more clarity and serenity. I started going to a therapist twice a week, I read books on grief and fatherless daughters, and most importantly, I talked about him. I focused significantly on being open with my mom and sharing my pain with her, and the more I talked, the more connected I felt to not just her or myself, but to my dad as well. My mom and I both had an incredible relationship with him, so whenever we expressed our sorrow to one another, I felt my dad’s presence, and it made me feel alive. He was the light I had been frantically searching for.
 
So then I branched out and began talking to my relatives. I made a picture album of my dad and shared
it with them. They still believed they knew what was best for me and offered suggestions, but all I was thinking was been there, done that. Their way didn’t work for 12 years, so I think it’s time to try something new. I communicated that the way his death was handled really affected me, and they agreed that they should have dealt with it differently, but they were so lost themselves.
 
It was also a huge comfort to know that I wasn’t alone; they all still missed him and thought about him all the time. I felt really isolated during my childhood and teenage years. I was so uncomfortable with my emotions, and I thought I was the only experiencing it. But I would have never known had I not expressed my pain. I wouldn’t have known that my aunt still struggles with his passing, but because I befriended my grief, I was able to open up with her, and as a result, we help each other out in our grieving processes.
 
The relationship I had with my dad didn’t end just because his time here did, and I’ve found in the past two years that the best way to keep the relationship alive is by communicating my grief. Yes, the other cures are great outlets, as well, and I incorporate a combination of them into my life, but I would probably still be chasing normalcy if I never talked about the loss I experienced.

Life after AMF: How to Continue to Give Back After Graduation

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By Bethany Armstrong
 
During college, AMF helped me not to feel alone. Grief is hard. It is consuming, it is lonely, and it is overwhelming. But, AMF gave me purpose and courage. It gave me purpose to see life beyond grief. It also gave me courage to realize there were others, just like me in college, who had lost someone so dear to them. These people understood the ache my heart felt. Their ache was different, but they understood.
 
Giving back can sometimes feel easy in college. You go to classes, you study and you may have a job, but you have time to give back. Also, you want to give back; especially when something as significant as death redefines your view of the world. That was my life in college: school, work, and AMF.
 
Then, I graduated. In the midst of finding a job, I wasn’t sure how to give back. I’d given back mainly through my grief – learning to grieve, learning how to help my peers with grief. My grief redefined who I was in college and then made me feel lost once I walked across the graduation stage with my diploma in hand.
 
Now in the real world, it has been difficult to figure out where I fit when it comes to grief. There aren’t as many grief support groups for young adults in the “real world”. So, in the midst of my inability to find a good place to “fit”, I have worked hard to keep a heart of compassion as I have watched friends and family members lose someone dear to them. By remembering my pain, when I hear of others who are grieving, I am able to reach out to them – to let them know I am thinking about them and that I am available to listen, if they need to talk. Being sensitive to their grief and acknowledging the myriad of emotions they are experiencing can go a long way. Sometimes all that is needed is someone who will sit in silence.
 
I also give those who are grieving permission to feel. I always wanted that after I lost my Mom. I wanted someone to tell me in the middle of my darkest moments, “what you are feeling is okay.” Since I didn’t have that, I am always quick to tell someone that their feelings are valid. And it makes a difference. Validity is another gift we can give to someone who is grieving.
 
Over the years I’ve realized that being there in these ways for those I know who are grieving is a way of giving back. And I’m looking forward to staying involved in AMF’s Alumni Network, which is just getting off the ground. If you are interested in connecting with other alumni who are still connected to AMF, join our Alumni Network! Email Executive Director Lauren Kase for more information: lauren@studentsofamf.org.
 
I would love to hear from other AMF alumni – how have you continued to give back after college? Let’s share our experiences so we can grow as a community!

Coping With (Known) Trigger Days

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By Bethany Armstrong
 
It became apparent to me not long after my Mom died that I had two known days when I would especially struggle in my grief journey: Mother’s Day and the anniversary of my Mom’s death. I call them trigger days. They were guaranteed days I would end up immensely sad, grieving, crying and generally, missing such a significant person in my life.
 
In the beginning, I ran away from society on these days. Literally, I would take off work, leave town and go somewhere where I knew no one and where I had no memories associated with my Mom. A couple of years after my Mom passed away, I tried to stay and face one of those days. It was Mother’s Day and because I’m religious, I decided to attend church. The second they began to honor the moms, I got up and walked out as tears streamed down my face. It hurt too much to feel left out, to know I was not able to celebrate my Mom with her.
 
I am not sure at what point I went from dreading these days to learning how to deal with them, but I have learned pointers to make my trigger days more successful.
 
Here is a list of different ways that have helped me cope.
 

-          Buy a card: (This could be applicable for birthdays, special days, etc.). A friend of mine did this for me first. He bought me a Mother’s Day card and encouraged me to write out how I felt about my Mom not being there or simply how I felt about missing her. It took me weeks to actually get up the courage to write in the card, but I felt so much peace and comfort when I actually did it.
 

-          Wander the card aisle: I may never buy another card for my Mom, but when those trigger days are approaching, I like to wander the card aisle and read the fun ones she would have liked or the “Hallmark” ones that would have made her cry.
 

-          Do something special:  On the anniversary of my Mom’s death, I like to go out to dinner.
 

-          Help someone who reminds you of your loved one: If I hear of a struggling mom, I jump at the opportunity to help. I can’t always help, but I always try. If your significant person was a sibling, grandparent, aunt/uncle or friend, who can you help and in doing so feel that you are remembering and honoring your loved one?
 

-          Remember the good memories: When trigger days come, it is so easy to remember and replay the day we lost our loved one. For a change, I like to remember the good memories. The memories that make me smile…even if I am smiling through my tears.
 
These coping mechanisms help me feel encouraged and less like these days will consume me. The truth is that I know, despite my loss, I am stronger than these trigger days. Doing something productive is a good reminder of my inner strength. What helps you with trigger days?
 
 

Embracing Grief Six Years Later

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By Bethany Armstrong
 
I lost my mom in college as a sophomore. It was, without question, the hardest thing I have ever experienced. I worked diligently to sort and process through my grief in a way that was healing and healthy – I helped start an AMF chapter at my college, I went to counseling, I read books, etc. Each semester that I survived without Mom’s friendship and support was one that I would mentally pat myself on the back. I had survived. AMF was a huge help to me. It gave me the ability to meet with other students who understood how I felt, as well to process and work through my grief in a safe environment.
 
It has been six years since I lost my mom and I have spent that time facing new challenges of “life without mom”. It has included: graduating from college, my first job out of college, getting engaged, getting married, losing my job, getting a new job, finding out I was pregnant and having my first child. I am at the point where I have learned to live without her longer than she battled with cancer.
 
In a lot of ways, my grief has come full circle. I have learned how to live and thrive without the presence of my Mom in my life. There are days I get sad and I miss her more than other days, but the ache doesn’t rip my heart apart now. Instead, it only whispers what I am missing instead of screaming like it did right after she passed away.
 
The ways I miss her now make me smile; where once there were tears, there are now fond memories. I gravitate towards Mexican food when I feel nostalgic for her input. (That woman loved Mexican food!) And as I learn how to balance life as a new mom, I remember how much my mom loved her children and how much she enjoyed spending time with them. That definitely influences how I parent on a daily basis.
 
I still have rough moments and days. They still sneak up on me, but I don’t dread them anymore. For instance, just this week, I realized how much I miss buying my Mom Christmas presents. How much I wish I could still do that! But, 6 years later, missing my Mom looks more like smiling at the good memories instead of crying at what I am missing. For once, that is a welcomed and refreshing change in feeling. As I read in another’s blog post about grief, “we move forward, taking memories, precious faces and stories, and the things we’re learning with us.”

Grief Tips for the Holidays

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When you are grieving, the holidays can be an emotionally overwhelming time. How do you get through? How do you find ways to enjoy the holiday season again? There is really no single answer on what one should or shouldn’t do. The Hospice Foundation of America stresses one guiding principle and we agree: do what is comfortable.

 
Some people find it helpful to be with family and friends, in a familiar setting. Others might wish to avoid those familiar sights and sounds. Here are a few tips as you discern what works best for you:
 
1.) Take care of yourself. Caring for yourself will help you care for others.
 
2.) Recognize that the holidays will not be the same.
 
3.) Plan ahead. Think about situations that might be emotionally tough for you.
 
4.) Be careful not to isolate yourself. It’s alright to take time for yourself; but try not to distance yourself from those who want to support you.
 
5.) If it’s comfortable, spend some time thinking about the one you have lost and think about ways you might honor that person during the holidays along with others who also loved that person.
 
6.) Be patient with yourself. You may not always understand your emotions – that’s OK.
 
7.) Ask for help. Don’t be afraid to reach out to get the help you need. Remember AMF is here for you if you need us.
 
Click here for tips on how to support a friend who is grieving.

Students Call Us Daily… An Update from the Executive Director

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When I started at National Students of AMF three months ago, I looked forward to connecting with our students. What were they experiencing? How was AMF impacting their lives? How could we do more to support them? I knew the students would inspire me. And I was right. Our students are dedicated, courageous, and thoughtful, amidst some of life’s most challenging circumstances.
 
They are also increasing in number. After our coverage in CNN and the Chronicle of Higher Education, we’ve received more than thirty inquiries from students, faculty, and staff, about starting new AMF chapters. I’ve had the privilege of connecting with these individuals, hearing their stories, and finding ways for us to work together.
 
Thanks to our dedicated team of volunteers, including chapter director of development Kiri Thompson, we currently have 62 chapters active on colleges nationwide! And we’ve been working hard to support them through these main efforts:
 
1.) Chapter Tool Kit: We’re upgrading our online chapter resources for students, including new marketing materials, an AMF awareness project (with AMF awareness wristbands, email Lauren if you’d like some!), and more content-rich grief support resources.
 
2.) Chapter Evaluation: We’re in the midst of developing an evaluation of our program to identify best practices and student outcomes, in partnership with our Board of Mental Health Professionals and Wharton Community Consultants.
 
3.) National Webinars: We’re planning a webinar series to begin in 2013 to support students across the country who may not have access or be ready to start an AMF chapter on their campus, but still need support.
 
4.) The Alumni Network: We’ll launch our alumni network in 2013 to continue connecting and supporting our students and alumni.
 
5.) AMF Resources: We’re in the process of expanding our funding base, so that we can build the programmatic infrastructure to support our rapid growth.
 
6.) AMF Partnerships: We’re forming key partnerships with other bereavement groups, such as the National Alliance for Grieving Children, to expand our reach.
 
7.) VOICES Campaign: In 2013, we’ll launch a national awareness and fundraising campaign to:
1.) Educate our country on the needs of grieving college students (an average of 1 in 3 loses a loved one each year);
2.) Raise awareness for AMF so that students who need support can find it;
3.) Raise funds to support AMF’s national expansion.
 
As part of VOICES, we’ll be collecting testimonials from our supporters. Please email Lauren if you are interested in sharing your story.
 
National Students of AMF is a strong network of students and supporters. I’ve been touched by those who are involved in our cause, many of whom volunteer tirelessly on a regular basis, and I’m looking forward to the years ahead. Please reach out to me at any time with questions and ideas (919-803-6728 or lauren@studentsofamf.org). None of our operations or future plans would be possible without you.