A year ago today my mother died. It was not a surprise; she had made the choice to discontinue painful treatment and to go into hospice. That gave me an opportunity to fly out to Montana and spend some time with her while she was still lucid. We had a good visit: much laughter, much reminiscing, a bit of old business that needed to be dealt with and gotten past, and then more laughter and reminiscing. I will always be grateful for those days.
I’m still devastated. It’s still hard to believe, a year on, that I can’t pick up the phone and hear her voice. Returning to the West, being in the places that she knew and loved–both last April for Ferrett’s book tour and on last month’s adventure–had me time and again thinking, “Oh, I should tell Mom about this,” before remembering that she wasn’t there to tell.
But as hard as losing Mom was, the death of a parent is in the natural order of things. We know that our parents will die. We expect that they will die before we do.
Not so, the death of a child. A child’s death disrupts the timeline. It feels like an insult to our very existence.
When children are dying, there is a wealth of resources for support for that child. Make-a-Wish is just the best known, but there are lots of other organizations and businesses who reach out to help. Our sense of the unfairness of a child dying, of how wrong it is that their life experiences will be stunted, cut short by death, motivates people to provide what fun they can for that short life.
But once the child is dead, all these organizations walk away, ignoring that a broken and grieving family must go on, must try to figure out how to function as a family with that hole in the middle. Surviving children, who spent the last months or years always feeling like they came second, like they were a continual afterthought in the face of medical treatment and last days, have resentment and guilt to work through. Parents often feel that everything they’d put on hold for the last few months needs to be handled *right now* — even if right now is when they most need a break from the demands of the world. In the stress of readjusting, a family can get lost and overwhelmed trying to cope with everything at once. The divorce rate for parents of a deceased child are more than twice that of other couples.
And all the help that preceded their child’s death? It’s gone. Yes, there is still grief counseling, but the kind of help that let a family walk away from their problems for just a little while? Nothing.
That lack of support is what inspired my friend Kat Meyer to start Rebecca’s Gift. After Rebecca died, Kat looked for resources to help families coping with grief and in need of time to get away, but there simply was nothing there.
The philosophy behind Make-a-Wish and other organizations is to provide experience to a dying child, but the family that’s left behind is a damaged and frail entity, and in need of healing. The Meyers took a family trip, a trip that took them out of the day-to-day demands and distractions of life. It helped them rediscover themselves as a family unit. Without friends and TV, all crammed into one hotel room, they weren’t distracted from each other. They bonded.
That is the mission of Rebecca’s Gift: giving the families of deceased children a chance to get away from the stresses and demands of daily life and rebuild their bonds. Like Make-a-Wish, Rebecca’s Gift will send families on trips so that those families can rediscover themselves.
Rebecca’s Gift is having their first major fundraiser on Sunday, November 15, 2015. Rebecca’s Boardwalk will celebrate Rebecca’s great love of the Jersey Shore and all the games and foods of summer. This is a family event, with lots of prizes and games for kids, and it’s for a need that truly is not being met by any other organization.
If you are local to Cleveland, please come and enjoy the fun. If you are not local, please consider donating. Help bring joy into the life of grieving families.