Mattie Miracle 8th Annual Walk & Family Festival was an $88,000 Success!!!

Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation Promotional Video

Thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive!

Dear Mattie Blog Readers,

It means a great deal to us that you take the time to write to us and to share your thoughts, feelings, and reflections on Mattie's battle and death. Your messages are very meaningful to us and help support us through very challenging times. To you we are forever grateful. As my readers know, I promised to write the blog for a year after Mattie's death, which would mean that I could technically stop writing on September 9, 2010. However, at the moment, I feel like our journey with grief still needs to be processed and fortunately I have a willing support network still committed to reading. Therefore, the blog continues on. If I should find the need to stop writing, I assure you I will give you advanced notice. In the mean time, thank you for reading, thank you for having the courage to share this journey with us, and most importantly thank you for keeping Mattie's memory alive.


As Mattie would say, Ooga Booga (meaning, I LOVE YOU)! Vicki and Peter



The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation celebrates its 7th anniversary!

The Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation was created in the honor of Mattie.

We are a 501(c)(3) Public Charity. We are dedicated to increasing childhood cancer awareness, education, advocacy, research and psychosocial support services to children, their families and medical personnel. Children and their families will be supported throughout the cancer treatment journey, to ensure access to quality psychosocial and mental health care, and to enable children to cope with cancer so they can lead happy and productive lives. Please visit the website at: www.mattiemiracle.com and take some time to explore the site.

We have only gotten this far because of people like yourself, who have supported us through thick and thin. So thank you for your continued support and caring, and remember:

.... Let's Make the Miracle Happen and Stomp Out Childhood Cancer!

A Remembrance Video of Mattie

Random Shots of Mattie, Family and Friends

September 28, 2013

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Saturday, September 28, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in November of 2005. In fact, this photo was featured on the cover of our Christmas 2005 card. I remember taking this photo as if it were yesterday! Today, Peter and I went to this restaurant in Maryland in which this photo was captured. Just seeing the outside of this restaurant brings me back to this time. Taking a Christmas photo of Mattie was always my mission in November. Peter and I have some funny stories over the years about how these photos were captured. When Mattie was a toddler we had to practically stand on our heads to get him to smile for a photo. However, by three years old (as you see in the photo), Mattie naturally smiled for the camera and understood my November antics in preparation for Christmas.


Quote of the day: Take a walk with a turtle. And behold the world in pause. ~ Bruce Feiler


One of the reasons Mattie loved the particular restaurant we visited today in Maryland was its beautiful pond by the entrance. Mattie loved the fish and turtles. As you can see on the rock, these two turtles were out basking in the (partial) sunshine. I particularly love the turtle on the left, with his back leg stretched out! There is something to be said about tonight's quote. All I know is these turtles gave us pause today, just like they always gave Mattie pause. Seeing them gives us the opportunity or the permission to stop moving, slow down, and absorb what is around us.

Before visiting one of Mattie's favorite restaurants, we had the opportunity to attend a childhood cancer festival organized by one of the cancer foundations we have come to know and support. The founders of today's event are just like us, parents of an only child who lost his battle to cancer.

While at the event, we were introduced to another couple who lost their child to cancer. We spoke to them for quite some time, shared stories, and I realized just how different their grieving process has been from ours. It has been very different probably for two very specific reasons. The first reason is their son was diagnosed with cancer at age 5. But then he went into remission, until the cancer came back in his 20s. The mom mentioned that after her son survived his first battle and as he grew and aged no one believed that he ever suffered from cancer when he was a child. Mostly because over time his friends changed and friends only see the vibrant and strong teen and young adult in front of them. The second issue that I think strongly impacts their grieving process was the fact that as a military family they moved around a lot. So the network of people who knew them while their son was battling cancer was no longer geographically close to them. When they moved locations, they had to start over again, with a whole new group of people. Naturally the new group did not walk the journey with them and therefore couldn't possibly provide the same support.

As this mom was talking, her story truly made me pause. I frankly am not sure I could manage and cope if I left the Washington, DC area. I tried to put myself in her position, and the notion of having to explain to people that I did have a son, he battled cancer and died would be challenging. If I moved none of the new people I would meet would have known Mattie. Or even truly understood that he was an important part of our lives. This is a dynamic I never even thought about until I interacted with this couple today. Who supports you through grief if you leave your network behind? I really do not have an answer and unfortunately neither did this couple!

Certainly comparing grief stories is not always helpful. Because comparing can lead to competition. I have learned that lesson early on in our grieving process. So instead, I have come to just understand that we all grieve differently and therefore need different things to cope through life. Yet when I did hear today's story, it is hard for me not to step back and place myself into their shoes. All I know is if I moved like they did, I would not only have a community of people who knew and loved Mattie around me, but this would also change the dynamic of the work I could do for the Foundation. It has taken us time to build community support for the Foundation, and of course at the core we have support from those who knew Mattie and us as a family. Starting from scratch somewhere else doesn't only sound daunting, it sounds impossible.

September 27, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Friday, September 27, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in October of 2008. What you maybe able to see, was our home was already getting filled up with art boxes that Mattie designed in the hospital as well as a whole lot of other things. The funny part about this photo was the content. Mattie was holding his stuffed animal Jack Russell Terrier in his hands. A friend gave Mattie that stuffed animal because back then everyone who read the blog knew about JJ, our resident Jack Russell Terrier who lives down the block from us. Any case, that day JJ came to visit Mattie. Mattie was showing JJ his stuffed animal. One Jack Russell meeting another! This past weekend, I was just about to toss out Jack the stuffed animal. But then I grabbed it and put it right back in Mattie's room. Mattie always wanted a dog and JJ was his closest experience being a dog owner. Mattie loved visits with JJ and playing outside with him when he was well.  


Quote of the day: For most women, the language of conversation is primarily a language of rapport: a way of establishing connections and negotiating relationships. ~ Deborah Tannen

We have all heard the saying that actions are louder than words, don't just talk the talk, but walk the walk, or put your money where your mouth is!!! These sayings highlight that words aren't always enough, especially when they are words that produce only sound without much substance, significance, or meaning. Certainly being authentic is important. Authentic is a word I heard today while conversing at lunch, and it brought me right back to my graduate school days. Because there is an art form to becoming an authentic mental health professional. But I digress.

As Tannen's quote implies the art of conversation does indeed build rapport. In fact, how do we get to know others, get to know their likes, dislikes, values, and priorities without talking and conversing? It is a necessity! In fact, listening to others and sharing thoughts and feelings maybe one of my favorite things to do. Even with the worst of headaches, I find when I listen to someone else, I get lost in connecting and can forget about my own aches and pains.

In January of this year, at my friend's birthday, I got reconnected with a mutual friend of ours. In fact, at one time Dawnee was the assistant director at Mattie's preschool, and this was how we first met each other. Since January, Dawnee and I have had the opportunity to meet each other on a regular basis. In a way it is like making a new friend, though we travel in the same social circles. It is hard to make new friends, or at least it is for me, since Mattie died. Most of my friends became my friends because of Mattie's connection with their children. So when I make a friend for friendship's sake rather than because of circumstances, it captures my attention.

In fact, I no longer care for parties, large crowds, and festive occasions anymore. It is very hard for me to be in a large room with happy people, with kids running around, and watching people celebrate what I call "the normal." The normal of which Peter and I no longer have. In the winter of this year, Peter and I were invited to a large party in which all my triggers were in one room together. Fortunately for us, Dawnee was also at this party. We spent the entire party together and frankly without her presence I am not sure I would of or could have stayed. Though I am four years into the loss of Mattie there are times where I feel unwelcome, that I don't fit in, and therefore when this feeling overcomes me, my natural tendency is to avoid the situation or leave. During that party, Dawnee talked to Peter and I about all sorts of things, and for that moment in time, I have to say I felt normal. I did not feel like the woman who lost a child, the woman who can't relate to school schedules, soccer games, and so forth. I just felt as if one friend was connecting with another.  

Perhaps as a mental health professional I naturally gravitate to talking, conversing, and connecting. But from my experience with Mattie's cancer and death, conversing doesn't only build rapport and negotiate relationships but it is the only way to find peace, to heal within, and to manage grief.
 

September 26, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in October of 2008. Mattie was sitting next to Linda, his Child Life Specialist. Linda understood Mattie after her first couple of encounters with him and she knew one of the things he liked to do was to have some responsibility. Which was why on the weekends, when in the Hospital Mattie got to feed the fish which used to be on the fifth floor. Weekends were horrible in the Hospital, because in many ways it was like a ghost town without much activity. Mattie would get very depressed on the weekends, but when he knew he had to feed the fish, he would agree to leave the room (and I assure you being cooped up in that two by four of room for hours was stressful). But only for that task! As you can see here, Mattie was helping Linda sort through a toy delivery. Another task Mattie loved! Seeing new toys and items were stimulating for Mattie, and though at the time people commented to me that Mattie was getting spoiled with toys, what they failed to understand was there was no school and not the same outside stimulation that a kid typically has access to in a given day. So toys were an excellent distraction!


Quote of the day: When a small child, I thought that success spelled happiness. I was wrong, happiness is like a butterfly which appears and delights us for one brief moment, but soon flits away. ~ Anna Pavlova

The highlight of my day today, was meeting my friend Debbie. Debbie is a dedicated Mattie Miracle volunteer and has been coordinating children activities at our Foundation Walks for four years straight. In fact, in 2009, when Mattie's care team held the "Mattie March," which was the impetus for the Foundation's first walk in 2010, Debbie was in charge of kid activities as well. So in essence Debbie has been overseeing this role for five years in total.

Debbie's son, Tim, was in Mattie's kindergarten class and both boys have birthdays a day apart from each other. I also distinctly recall that Mattie lost his first tooth within his kindergarten classroom and Tim was a good sport, because Mattie apparently spit the tooth right out at Tim. It wasn't necessarily directed at Tim, I think Mattie was just not happy having a tooth rolling around in his mouth and wanted it out. Nonetheless, I am sure that was a memorable moment for both boys!!!

In all reality all of Debbie's family is involved with the Foundation. Her children all volunteer at our annual Walk and her husband is the treasurer of our Foundation. In fact, as I say often, there may not have been a Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation today if we did not have Peter's help (Debbie's husband is named Peter too!!!) back in 2009. Debbie's husband helped my Peter and I establish the right contacts to help streamline the paperwork process to become a 501c3. Becoming a tax exempt non-profit is cumbersome and not as easy as some may believe. Grieving the loss of a child is so horrific, that if I had to fill out paperwork and draft documents right after Mattie's death, it may have never happened. Thankfully with support, we gave birth to Mattie Miracle, my second child.

Over lunch, Debbie told me about a place in San Juan, Puerto Rico called the Butterfly People (http://www.butterflypeople.com/art/butterfly_tour.htm). I have to admit I have been to Puerto Rico before but never heard of this wonderful art gallery, featuring all things butterfly!
When Debbie went into the gallery, she told them about me and my connections to butterflies. One of the ladies Debbie spoke to said..... believe your friend. Meaning that butterflies are special symbols and they do help us stay connected to our departed loved ones. The irony is I never knew that there is a culture that believes in the power of the butterfly. This was fascinating to me!

November 2nd, All Souls Day, is a little-known or observed holiday in most of the U.S. outside Catholic circles. But in Mexico, the date is heralded by a remarkable natural phenomenon that happens each year in the fir-clad mountains of central Mexico. Like clockwork, millions of monarch butterflies return to these remote forest sanctuaries during “El Dio de los Muertos,” Which translates into the Day of the Dead. On this day, the local people celebrate it with festivals of all sorts and they view this vast migration of monarchs as the souls of departed ancestors returning to earth for their annual visit. I attached a photo below of what such a migration looks like. There are so many orange butterflies in this tree that they practically look like leaves. Don't they?

I find it fascinating that in one culture the butterfly is legendary and has significance and yet in our Americanized world such symbols are not necessarily valued or even appreciated. To many, turning to nature, butterflies, dragonflies, and so forth sounds hokey. All I know is having lost Mattie to cancer has opened up all sorts of possibilities to me and though we may not talk about it openly in America, you should note that the hospice and end of life care symbol is none other than the BUTTERFLY!



















 

September 25, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in October of 2008. I typically do not post photos of Mattie that are not happy looking, yet when I came across this one tonight, I decided to use it. The basket you see here was given to me by my students at the George Washington University. They wanted Mattie to be able to celebrate Halloween and they wanted Mattie to know they were thinking of him. Mattie loved the basket and actually removed all the balloons and landed up sitting inside of the basket. Yet as you can see from this photo, Mattie had some very sad, isolating, lonely, painful, and debilitating times in the Hospital. His treatment was wearing and sometimes no matter what diversions we placed in front of Mattie, none of them could erase or wipe away the pain he was in. This is the reality of cancer, certainly we hear a ton about chemotherapy, radiation, and surgeries. But the treatment has real psychological consequences and these consequences do not go away as soon as the chemotherapy is infused and done. The drugs maybe short term, but the impact of the drugs are long-term. 


Quote of the day: There is nothing like returning to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered. ~ Nelson Mandela

Loss is a funny word and an even more perplexing feeling. Today I experienced or observed so many different losses. When you think about your day to day life, how many losses are you processing at one time? When I refer to loss, I don't necessarily mean the death of someone. It could be the loss of a friendship, the loss of a perceived connection you had with someone, the loss of a job or contract, the loss of someone's respect, or the loss of what once was. The listing of losses are endless. When you tally the number of losses in any given day, it really does add up. One loss of some kind is hard to manage, but what happens when you get hit with multiple losses at one time?
I had the opportunity to spend time with my friend Mary today. I have multiple friends with the name Mary. But the Mary I am referring to is the one who lives in an assisted living facility. I have known Mary for almost five years now. Though that is a relatively short period of time, it has been very concentrated time together. We have bonded over the loss of our sons to cancer and I tried to be of support to her during the time her husband died. Over the course of the five years, I have watched Mary rapidly decline due to a neurological disease. The decline involves her inability to walk, move, feed herself, and talk. Somehow losing the ability to talk and connect with others seems like the greatest curse possible. We take for granted our VOICE, until we do not have one. Needless to say, seeing my friend trapped within her own body is hard to understand, accept, and at times see. But there are many things about life that aren't pretty. There are countless older adults around this Country who aren't visited regularly. They are treated like forgotten people, and my hunch maybe because it is HARD to see and witness such decline! Mary is fortune that she has a family who looks after her daily, but most aren't so lucky. I am not Mary's family and one could say, is it worth visiting Mary? The answer in my mind is yes. Maybe because I am good at reflecting on the past, the moments we shared together, and how we helped each other in different ways in the Fall of 2009, when I lost Mattie and Mary lost her husband. Those memories and moments were real and though she can't talk about them, they are part of our connection and history.

After seeing Mary, I visited Georgetown University Hospital where I had a meeting about an event the Foundation is hosting next week. While at the Hospital, I had the opportunity to connect with Linda (Mattie's Child Life Specialist) and Tricia (one of Mattie's favorite nurses). It is funny the entire world can change, evolve, and perhaps forget, and yet when I am with Linda and Tricia, I can go right back to 2008. The time we shared caring for Mattie will remain with Peter and me always, they became like family to us.
As Mandela's quote points, when we revisit a place we once knew, the place may remain the same, but somehow we see the changes within ourselves. After the Hospital meeting, I landed up going to a place on campus to get tea. I sat there for a while. This is a place Peter and I visited often for food while Mattie was in treatment and it was a place we waited many times during Mattie's sedated scans or even surgeries. Needless to say it is a place that holds many emotions for me. While sitting in this café this afternoon, I realized just how profoundly my life has changed and how only a few years ago I was sitting in the same place thinking that there was hope that that we could battle Mattie's cancer. Amazing now four years later, the people in the café are there doing the same things..... studying medicine, talking about cases, and getting coffee between rounds, but I AM NOT THE SAME. I am not sitting there as a patient's mom, I am sitting there as a grieving mom, and for me SO MUCH HAS BEEN ALTERED.  

September 24, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Tuesday, September 24, 2013 -- Mattie died 210 weeks ago today.

Tonight's picture was taken in October of 2008. We took a walk with Mattie in our neighborhood. He was home between treatments and as you can see he was walking around and had full use of his right arm. This was the tell tale sign that this photo was taken pre-surgeries. Mattie was transformed through surgery into a child who not only was battling cancer but into a child with major physical challenges and disabilities. However, what I want you to notice is Mattie's right hand. Mattie never went anywhere empty handed. There was always a hot wheel car, train, or plane that came along with us. I guess he never knew when one would be needed! But to me that spoke to Mattie's level of curiosity and desire to want to explore new locations and incorporate his world of play into these new adventures.


Quote of the day: A man who carries a cat by the tail learns something he can learn in no other way. ~ Mark Twain


I am not sure the explanation for my foul mood, but I have had one for days. Of course a severe headache isn't helping matters and perhaps sorting through Mattie's room is also not therapeutic for the mind or body. It would have been a lot easier to stay in bed today, but I did get up, out, and to zumba class. The one consistent thing that I have found assists with grieving is being active. I mean physically active. We all have our outlets, some people can jog, run, or go to the gym. None of these appeal to me quite like hearing music and being around other people. I am not watching other people in zumba class, instead I am just trying to listen to the music and move around. Somehow that helps and resets me for a little while!

After class, I met with a woman who wants to start her own non-profit. Not in the cancer world, but to support another disease. This lady and I share a mutual friend, which is how we became connected electronically. It is funny when I came across Twain's quote tonight I was laughing hysterically! Leave it to Twain to give us such a vivid analogy!!! Any cat owner gets the problem IMMEDIATELY with regard to holding a cat by its tail! Grab a cat by the tail and you are going to get scratched up badly. Chances are you will learn never to do that again. But the analogy is true about life. I could have read about how to start up a non-profit or even observed someone else do it. But having to go through the painstaking details first hand, has given me knowledge that few have. The irony is I don't really realize this until I have a meeting like the one I had today. We chatted for two hours about the complexities of starting up and managing a non-profit. It was a very helpful meeting for both of us. But at the core, those of us who want to run a non-profit have a personal calling. Something has inspired us, impacted us deeply, and changed our lives. So much so, that this cause becomes us. I am not sure that is true about other lines of work. But I know for myself, Mattie Miracle and Vicki are sometimes synonymous. Which is a good thing and a bad thing wrapped up into one!!!

Later in the day, I had one of my many psychosocial conference calls. Mattie Miracle started an initiative in February of 2013. At a conference in Huntington Beach, CA, we hosted a psychosocial think tank. After the think tank meeting, in which psychologists, social workers, and psychiatrists from around the country (and two international professionals) were in attendance, we were assigned to participate in one of four different working groups. Each working group has a conference call per month, and I sit on three of these working groups. Needless to say that is a lot of conference calls and things to juggle besides the rest of the Foundation work. Nonetheless, it is remarkable to see just how much this working group has accomplished since February. I mean really noteworthy. We are sifting through the psychological research and crafting guidelines to help manage the psychological, social, and emotional care offered to children and their families battling cancer in hospitals across the Country. I remind myself that if the process was easy, the standards would already exist. But one thing is for certain, standards are needed and psychological care is just as vital as the biological care for cancer. You can't have one without the other. Or let's put it this way, you can, but there are huge ramifications to a child and family's mental health and overall outcome without such integrated care.
 

September 23, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Monday, September 23, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in September of 2008. At first when you look at this photo you may only see blankets. LOOK CLOSER!!! Through the tunnel of blankets notice that Mattie is at the other side. I think his face said 1000 words, and the words screamed out pain, unhappiness, and sadness. Though Mattie was resilient and managed to play and capture the hearts and attention of those around him daily, there were many moments like the one you see beneath the blankets. Moments like these a parent does not forget, because for many this is just a photo, for Peter and I this was real. We were at the scene of the crime each and every day for 15 months, and not unlike a crime scene life in a PICU wasn't pretty. When people question my anger or sadness at times, I think they should step back and reflect on this photo. Those of us who have battled childhood cancer have lived in this reality and therefore I find it is challenging at times to reintegrate back into the "real" world.


Quote of the day: Each friend represents a world in us, a world not born until they arrive, and it is only by this meeting that a new world is born. ~ Anais Nin
 

I met my friend Leslie today for lunch. Leslie and I have known each other since our freshman year in college. We were roommates! Nin's quote seems quite accurate to me. Friends do bring a whole new world into our lives. When Leslie and I met as teenagers we both had to adjust to living away from home, living with a roommate, the complexities of living on a college campus, and of course trying to grow both academically and socially. Fortunately for both of us we had the same value system which made the transition to college life a lot easier for us, unlike some of our friends who had one horrible roommate issue after another. Certainly years have gone by since we first met each other, but our bond remains. I was Leslie's maid of honor at her wedding, I was friends with her husband when we were in college together, and I credit Leslie for my love of cows. Why? Because a group of us went to visit Leslie in Vermont one summer and I fell in love with Ben and Jerry's ice cream and their wonderful Holstein cows.

We chatted about a host of things at lunch but before we parted Leslie wanted me to know how Mattie's cancer has impacted her life. Leslie is a daily blog reader as is her husband, and they both think of Mattie each day as they also think of Peter and me. The question that arose is how does one go on after losing an only child? An excellent question, and the verdict is still out. Leslie was trying to tell me that she admires me, the work we do, and my strength. She wanted me to know that seeing me go through such a loss is not easy to witness, especially since we have been friends for many, many years.

Leslie's daughter, Faye, volunteered with the Mattie Miracle Cancer Foundation all last year and helped us in many ways with item drives, at the Walk, and with magazine donations at the Hospital. Faye made these beautiful bracelets for me, and Leslie gave them to me today. Faye created them using a rainbow loom. I have heard of these rubber band looms, which are very popular now, but I have never received my own Mattie Miracle bracelets. The bracelet on the lower left of this photo is a butterfly bracelet, if you look closely you can see the looped wings on the right and the left of the bracelet. The bracelet on the lower right is a sunburst bracelet, reminiscent of our Mattie Sun!!!! I LOVE IT!!!

As Leslie and I parted today, literally a butterfly flew over our heads. We both paused and immediately felt like we had a Mattie moment. Though some may feel that signs from nature are just that, parts of nature, I feel the need to believe that they are symbols of divine intervention. Symbols of Mattie that surround me. 

When I got home this afternoon, I began to load up my car with the 15 bags of Mattie's items that I wanted to donate. Because of the nature of our unit, schlepping bags to my car is a feat. It involves going through multiple doors, down an elevator, and eventually getting to my car. It isn't always an easy carry. While going up and down today, I noticed a HUGE lady bug sitting on our deck door. Practically watching me carrying things down to the car! I should have grabbed my camera but by the time I did it was too late. The bug moved on! So that was the second bug sighting for the day.  

After my Goodwill run, which is a story really for another blog --- since donating your dead child's items and seeing them going into bins is not easy, I came back home and walked through our deck. As soon as I opened our deck door, I was literally face to face with the biggest dragon fly I have ever seen in my life. It literally buzzed around my head for minutes. Though too fast to take a photo of, but this was my third bug sighting for the day. I do not believe any of this was a coincidence! Certainly prior to Mattie getting cancer and dying, I did not believe in such signs! However, I have learned the hard way not to ignore any such signs, but instead to appreciate them when they come my way.

September 22, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Tonight's picture was taken in October of 2003. Mattie was six months old. The reason I most likely took this photo was to illustrate Mattie's interests and desire to multi-task. Rarely would Mattie watch TV or a video. He was the furthest thing from a couch potato. On the screen a Baby Einstein video was playing, and though Mattie would listen and pay attention from time to time, he liked to be doing a task. One of the things he liked to do was sort his video tape collections which were stored under our TV. Mattie would take the tapes out, examine their covers, and stack them like blocks. Which was why early on I nicknamed Mattie, "My Little Engineer!" 


Quote of the day: Anger is never without a reason, but seldom with a good one. ~ Benjamin Franklin


Though I have great respect for Benjamin Franklin, his quote perplexes me. I think there are many, many reasons for people to be angry. Angry with themselves, at others, and for their life circumstances. I also think that such anger is not unjustified, unfair, or without good reason. So I highly disagree with Franklin. I am sure I could outline many examples of anger that we see in our day to day lives that would make perfect sense to us. Let's take a recent example of a family who lost a loved one at the Navy Yard shooting spree. How could such a family not be angry? Angry at the perpetrator, angry at the military base for not doing better security checks, and angry at a system who knew the gunman had mental health problems and yet what was really being done about it?!!

There are countless examples where true anger comes to mind. However, given the nature of this blog, the anger I will be talking about is the anger that unfolds from the loss of a child to cancer. I have seen this anger first hand within myself, but I have also observed it within others who have lost their child. We as a society believe grief happens in STAGES (which is wrong!!!) and therefore there is a time and place for anger, and then it eventually dissipates. Again, WRONG!!!! I have seen anger in those who just lost a child to cancer as well as in those who are several years into the grieving process.

In fact, several years into the grieving process I think fuels MORE anger! Anger arises for different reasons. Such as the false hope politicians and cancer groups provide us that drugs are being developed and that cures are on their way. Anger because with time others within our support community move on, and yet frankly we are the ones living with the day to day loss and changed lives. Anger because our roles have changed and the future we thought we were going to have is no longer. I could make a long list of the anger that results from childhood cancer and honestly I think this anger is VERY healthy. Anger unlike depression (which is another great side effect of losing a child to cancer) causes us to act. It stirs up ENERY within us to do things. Naturally what we choose to do and how we choose to act needs to be evaluated. Many parents who lose a child to cancer channel this anger and energy into advocacy, into trying to help other children, and also to holding those in our society who claim to be meeting the needs of kids with cancer accountable!  

However, anger can hurt relationships. It is ironic, I think the natural reaction we have when we receive someone else's anger, is to argue back, to raise one's voice, to be equally hostile, or worse to ignore it. Chances are though, in 99.9% of the times when you have been in such a situation and have argued back or ignored what was being said, it most likely did not help. It only escalated the anger. I know when I have been angry over the loss of Mattie, there are a select group of people who I have lashed out at. Normally I am very even keeled, but under certain circumstances and with only a handful of people I will express my true feelings. Yet even my select few can get mad at me at times, and I try to remind them that my anger, though it may seem directed at them, comes out of hurt more than anger. In fact, I would be willing to bet on the fact that most of us who have lost a child to cancer appear angry, but at the core, the anger is fueled by feeling hurt. Hurt for what we are missing and hurt because we perceive others being insensitive to our loss.

Working through anger is a challenging thing to do, especially since it comes in waves not unlike grief. But just like grief, talking through it with others helps greatly. It is amazing how when someone who is grieving feels understood, you can practically see the anger dissipate from one's face. I recently observed this in a parent I know who lost a child to cancer. As he was talking and telling me he was angry, I literally said to him that I admired his passion, I understood his anger, and then hugged him. His tone immediately changed! Anger is a bold way for those of us who are grieving to make an attempt at being understood. I have a feeling when approaching anger with this insight, it will cause those of us who are recipients of it to have a different perspective and ultimately this will impact our reactions.