She found herself in the depths of unimaginable despair. Then, someone gave her a journal, and writing opened her journey of self-discovery in learning how to live life without her beautiful child. Words illuminated her path of discovery and she began to document the things that helped her, and others like her, to find resilience.
This is a practical, inspirational guide to coping with the many facets of bereavement; learning how to talk about your loss, the aftermath of sorrow, handling fear and anger, helping your living children adjust, strengthening your marriage, experiencing miracles, and the promise that you will regain a quality of life where you’ll feel joy once again.
If you’ve lost a child or know someone who has, this story is one you’ll relate to and find comfort in knowing you’re not alone. Sandy is a mother who has experienced it, and she’s a Certified Grief Recovery Specialist® from the Grief Recovery Institute® in Los Angeles.
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How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen
A Parent's Step by Step Guide to Healing After the Loss of a Child
By Sandy Peckinpah
Balboa PressCopyright © 2014 Sandy Peckinpah
All rights reserved.
Once Upon a Time I Had a Fairy Tale Life
"Change can happen at any time, but transition comes along when one chapter of your life is over and another is waiting in the wings to make its entrance."
-William Bridges, author of The Way of Transition
One thing is certain; nothing can ever be counted on to remain the same. When you try too hard to hold onto a time or a person or a feeling, it seems to be the very moment you are forced into transition, and it changes you, forever.
I remember the bliss of walking the Red Carpet at the Emmys when my husband was nominated as writer/producer for a show called Beauty and the Beast. The CBS television series was a modern-day fairy tale starring Linda Hamilton as the Beauty, and Ron Perelman as the Beast.
I thought of the years David and I envisioned the possibility of this very day. The night was so alive, radiating excitement, expectation, glamour, and beauty. It represented an achievement indeed, but enchanting nights like these often veil the common thread of human experience. It's hard to imagine sometimes, but these are real people with real lives, sometimes filled with joy, and sometimes, great tragedy.
We had a lot to be grateful for, but working in the entertainment industry wasn't always what it appeared to be. Sometimes we struggled to pay our bills, but we continued to stay focused on our goals and developed new storylines for new shows, hoping the next one would sell.
Our greatest achievement, however, was our growing family. Our two sons were at home on this special night, anxiously watching television for a glimpse of "Mom and Dad" on the Red Carpet.
The roundness of yet another child, a daughter, was hidden underneath the soft fabric layers of my gown.
I was caught up in the magic of fairy tales, believing that love conquers all, and everything I ever dreamed of could come true.
No one could have told me on that magical night, our family would soon be ripped apart by the worst that could happen.
Just five years later, our 16-year old son, Garrett, woke up with a fever and was dead the next morning. My beautiful, healthy, vibrant boy went from life to death in less than 24 hours by a lethal killer, bacterial meningitis.
It was on that tragic day, our castle walls tumbled to the ground.
Nothing evokes a more profound life change than loss, and nothing changes life like the death of a child.
It's often referred to as "the worst that can happen." When it's your child, you've unwillingly joined a group of people who know how it feels to have chapters of your life stripped away. Your future is changed forever, and your past will never, ever be the same.
Whether a child dies in the womb, in the early years, as a teenager, or as an adult, the pain that parents feel is the same. It's the deepest loss imaginable and no one is prepared.
How could we? We can't even bear the thought of it.
The death of a child is like an assault on everything you hoped for, dreamed of, believed in, and lived for. Everything is challenged, even your will to live.
At this point you have to make a choice: will you choose to go on living life, or will you remain trapped forever in a sad stifling world of bereavement?
How can you make a choice when you can't even breathe? Your focus is obsessively on the child you've lost. Your fairy tale is now set in a deep dark forest where grief is ominous and shrouds every bit of light in your life.
You know beyond a shadow of doubt, when you wake up in the morning, the sorrow will still be there, and it's another day, struggling to accept life with this cavernous hole in your heart.
Suddenly, those beautiful, joyful memories of your child's early years are painfully colored by the aura of loss. The death has changed every chapter of your book of life. The chapters are chaotic and out of sequence, because your child defied the natural order of life and left this earth before you.
You're now faced with having to create a whole new way of existing. You can't begin to believe that is even possible now ...
But you will.
How? You ask, when grief is everywhere? It's like the air that you breathe, or the sky that is always there. You can't hide from it or escape it. As bereaved parents we feel life moving forward without us, and we begin to question how we can possibly go on.
You search for the lost feeling of wholeness, a time when you were happy. There's no renegotiating, and there is no replacing what's been taken away. You are in the depths of despair. It strips away every part of your being, and all that you thought "was," is now gone forever.
Do you recognize yourself in these words and feelings? Will you ever be happy again, you ask?
Yes ... you will.
I wrote this book as your guide, surrounding you like a comforting blanket woven with hope, love, and inspiration. Let me hold you and guide you. I've been through it, and I've survived.
You are not alone, I promise. There are many, like me, who have walked this path before you. It won't be easy to resurrect your life, but there are steps you can take to introduce peace, purpose, and joy back into your life. You will regain a quality of life that you can live with ...
Yes ... you will.
I promise that the lessons learned along the way will give you a better life than you are capable of imagining right now, because at this moment, you are in your deepest sorrow. You are in the middle of a grief storm.
Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, groundbreaking psychiatrist and pioneer in near death studies, introduced her theory of the five stages of grief in her book, On Death and Dying. You may recognize the stages:
Each person's grief is unique, but you'll see yourself in these stages and the framework it provides in beginning to accept life with loss.
Through the process of recognizing my own Five Stages of Grief, I stumbled onto the path of a sixth stage. I call it Resilience.
At some point I realized resilience was my only option. I could not let the quality of life die around me. I had to be very much alive for my husband and living children. And I owed it to my beautiful boy, Garrett. He wouldn't want our family destroyed by his death.
He did not die in vain. Rather, he died and I was forced to find resilience and use it as a platform to resurrect myself. I had to form a new relationship with my son. I could no longer hold him in my arms, but in his death, it did not mean the end of my relationship with him.
In Worden's Tasks of Grief, the first task is to accept the reality of the loss intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.
I know this is hard to imagine in the depths of your sorrow, and I can't tell you convincingly that you'll be just fine as you navigate the course of acceptance. There's no doubt this loss has changed your life forever, but how you choose to live the rest of your life is going to be your personal challenge. You'll have to learn to find balance in allowing time for your tears, and time to fully function in life.
The second task of grief is to identify, experience, and work through the pain. Easier said than done.
Just when you think you are healing, grief rears up and tries to shut you down.
Grieving is never linear. The tears and sorrow may return with a vengeance. This is all part of the process. However, as you begin to heal, the stages may not last as long or feel as dark.
Every day will be a myriad of emotions. You wake up in the morning, and for a brief moment, you believe your loss was a terrible dream, and then it hits you. It's the harsh, cold, frightening reality that you are waking up to your new life, one that no longer holds your child in it.
And the healing begins again and again, until one day you won't wake up with that thought. This is Worden's third task of grief: adjusting to a new life and environment without your beautiful child.
Once you're able to accept this new life, you'll move to the fourth task, re-directing the emotional focus away from your child, and compartmentalizing the emotion and devastating loss, in order to make room for the future and relationships it holds in promise.
You're not alone. I've walked this path before you ... so have many others ... and we're still standing. If you're just beginning your healing path, it may seem as though the road is so very long. It did to me too. I never saw the shred of possibility of seeing "happy" around the next bend.
What I did see, was one person that came to me on the day my son died, and he said, "This happened to me and my wife, and I promise, you will be okay. It's a long process. But you will heal. I promise."
And I have.
Healing doesn't mean you'll never feel the pain. Healing doesn't mean you'll forget and no longer feel the depths of despair. Healing doesn't mean that you won't ever long for your child.
Healing means you'll find acceptance as a choice, and your light will shine again. You'll feel the presence of loss always, but you'll find a way to fit it into your life instead of it taking control of your life.
In fact, you'll miss the tears erupting from the deepest part of bereavement, from the very core where love lives in your heart. One day those tears will no longer be needed, but available when you want them.
It was often hard to let go of mourning. It's emotion borne out of love that's so intense you can feel it in every cell of your body. Your tears are like holding him in your arms again. It's the sweet spot of connection between parent and child. Even in death, the bond can't be broken.
Grief still comes in waves for me ... more a sense of weariness than an intense stabbing pain. It was surprising to discover, no matter how great my loss, or how deep my grief, the world doesn't stop. In fact, it intensifies. I wanted each day with my living children and husband to count. I wanted my life to count.
I will be navigating the stepping-stones of bereavement with you. I learned from my own tragic loss that you have two choices. To live or just exist. I chose to live, and I offer that choice to you.
Within the pages of this book, I'll take you through the process of regaining a quality of life you can live with. It will give you permission to cry ... and to laugh. It will take you by the hand and teach you to be resilient. It will teach you the circle of life, and will hold you up, until you find your own strength again.
Bishop T.D. Jakes said, "It is the breaking of life that produces the blessings of life."
How difficult that may seem to comprehend at this dark hour. How do you find blessings after losing your child? Well ... you don't. Blessings find you.
Grief is not a life sentence. Grief is a life passage. The word "passage" is "the act or process of moving through." It may seem impossible to move through this passage in the midst of despair.
Well-meaning family and friends will offer you their love and support in the best way they know how. They try to tell you that you'll be fine some day, but they can't possibly know what it's like to lose a child.
But I do ... because I, too, lost my beautiful child.
I'm offering you all that I know, to give you hope. This is not a book on how to stop grieving; rather, it's a guide to accepting the reality, releasing the pain, and learning a new way of life, one day at a time.
There are others who need you to live again. As you open your heart to healing and allow others to love you through the process, you'll discover your heart will begin to heal.
Yes, your child died and the only choice you have is to walk the path of bereavement.
But you are not alone.
Together, we will acknowledge your loss, work the steps, and find renewal. Together we will restore hope and possibility. Together, we will reclaim your life.
I promise.CHAPTER 2
Beginning Your Journey
Each section offers insight and stories borne from my own journey of recovery, along with extensive research, my volunteer work helping other parents and siblings through bereavement, and insightful therapists who enlightened me on this quest to discover the stepping stones to learning how to live life with such a tragic loss.
You may find shades of yourself within these chapters, uncovering feelings, fears, sorrows, and truths you're discovering. At the end of each section is a series of exercises. I call them "Stepping Stones" to your recovery. I urge you to begin them ... at least promise yourself that you will begin the journal.
By participating fully in the exercises is the quickest road to finding balance and recovery in your life.
In this workbook style format the odyssey of grief shifts from one of passive submission into active recovery. While reading the story and working the steps you will actively pursue reclaiming your joy, and ultimately, you will triumph.
If you find you're not ready to take on an exercise in the order that it's listed, just skip it and move to an exercise that you'd like to complete. Just reading about it will offer awareness and benefit healing. You'll positively benefit either way.
This work is for you. Know that I am just like you. I, too, lost a child and I have survived. What's important now, is that you begin your crusade, taking the first step now, on the path of recovery.
That's all that matters.CHAPTER 3
The Long and Winding Road
Say to yourself, "I promise I will honor my child by healing."
Since the loss of your child, no doubt you've been in a haze of emotions. You've surrendered to the hold it has on you, yet you look for a way to release the shackles of sorrow. You're frightened that you will always feel this way.
To quote the amazing Beatles, "It's a long and winding road ..." Indeed, and there's a way to set forth on the path of grief recovery, no matter how reluctant or disbelieving you are. It just takes one step to start your journey.
That one step begins with the process of writing. The very nature of writing opens the brain and allows for a combination of thoughts and emotions to form the words you put on paper. And then, it releases them.
It's a way of emptying your sorrow from the well of your mind, and pouring your tears as ink onto paper. And ... for a little while, you can let your thoughts and emotions rest.
Then, an amazing thing begins to happen. You see hope rise up within your words.
"But, how can I?" you ask. "I'm not a writer."
It doesn't matter. The words aren't important, but your feelings are. Even if you begin by writing one line, your mind will send the words to your pen and they will flow onto paper.
It was an effort for me, too. When I began my grief journey, I could only write: "My son died and my life will never be the same."
The next day, I wrote a paragraph, and each day after that I found the words came more easily. There's no magic secret. Just pick up a pen and begin with one word or one sentence.
Writing helps with clarity, and monitors the grieving process. Right now, you are in the beginning stages where your grief is raw and unfiltered.
The word "grieving" comes from an ancient word meaning "heavy" and defines the feeling that accompanies loss.
There's another reason for this journal. It's going to be your resource guide, much like a compilation of a memory book, an address book, a scrapbook, a quote book ... a book of hope.
In the next chapter, you'll discover how you will use it as your Lifeline (the supporting group of people we will be creating). It's also your daily planner (very important!), a place to list soothing foods and recipes, poetry, quotes, photos, pressed flowers, and possibly even drawings of a garden or sacred space you'll be creating.
My journal documented my deep sadness, my weakened spirit, and my empty heart, but it also held the secrets to my healing path, dreams I'd had, and evidence that my son was still with me.
Then, something shifted. I began to write about more than just my sorrow. I began creating a written vision board for reclaiming my life.
I treasure the journals I kept during the mourning of my son because I had thoughts that, to this day, astound me. It illuminated the development of my beliefs, my renewal, and my incredible "will" to survive. It will provide a framework to monitor your resilience. Someday, you too, will look back on your journal and be astonished at how far you've come.
Excerpted from How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen by Sandy Peckinpah. Copyright © 2014 Sandy Peckinpah. Excerpted by permission of Balboa Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsA Foreword from Melissa Gilbert, ix,
Once Upon a Time I Had a Fairy Tale Life, 1,
Beginning Your Journey, 10,
The Long and Winding Road, 12,
Your Lifeline: Friends and Family, 18,
Honoring the Life Not Fully Lived, 23,
Learning to Talk About the Death of Your Child, 35,
Things People Say, 42,
Taking Care of Yourself First, 46,
Playlist of Memories, 52,
The Voice of Fear and Resentment, 58,
Marriage, Relationships, and Grieving, 65,
Grief and Your Workplace, 73,
Your Living Children Are Crying Too, 77,
The Mystical Magical Child in Heaven, 87,
The Pearly Gates ... Believing In Miracles, 92,
Your Library of Healing, 103,
The Resilient Rose, 107,
The Creative Spirit is a Healing Spirit, 111,
Find a New Way, 117,
Connecting ... Reaching Out on the Internet, 123,
Pattern Interrupters and Recovering Intimacy, 129,
And Life Goes On ..., 139,
In Gratitude, 147,
About the Author, 153,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
With tremendous honesty and profound strength Sandy Peckinpah’s book, How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen moves with humble elegance along a path toward restorative buoyancy. From living with ordinary and sweeping social involvement to sharing intimate self-conversation, Sandy brings gentle understanding to the world of - life after the death of a child. This book is also a must read and a beautiful literary instrument for those in the profession of treating the grief stricken. I applaud Sandy Peckinpah’s grace-filled writing talent and her ability to open her heart and life to all people facing the unexpected complex realities that follow a tragic loss. Sandy’s book is a genuine gift of wisdom and heartfelt empathy for those approaching an unforeseen scroll of emotions and events. – Rhonda Ricardo, Author, Columnist.
Reviewed by Faridah Nassozi for Readers' Favorite How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen: A Parent’s Step by Step Guide to Healing After the Loss of a Child by Sandy Peckinpah is a self-help book aimed at helping parents through their worst nightmare - the loss of a child. Everybody's grief is different but in the end we all go through the same grief stages. Sandy gives you practical step-by-step techniques on how to live through these stages, what to expect, and how to heal. Through different techniques like expressing your feeling through writing, leaning on the love and support of your friends and family, sharing your story and many more, the book shows you how to live through this nightmare and finally move on with life. How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen is a book that teaches you how to heal after losing a child. Sandy Peckinpah starts the book off with her personal story, her own journey through the loss of her 16-year-old boy and this sets the mood right away for the book and creates that special connection with the reader. It is not about forgetting the past, but about the healing process through accepting the loss and moving on, keeping the memories of your departed child. Sandy's words feel genuine all through the book, probably because she has been there and she is not just writing theories but tackling a topic that is very dear to her heart. It is simply amazing how she handles this very delicate subject in a way that is both sad and comforting; giving you hope that losing your child, as painful as it might be, is not the end of your life. It will hurt like hell and will change your life forever, but you will learn to live again.
Reviewed by Mamta Madhavan for Readers' Favorite How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen: A Parent's Step by Step Guide to Healing After the Loss of a Child by Sandy Peckinpah is a story of grief, healing, and self recovery. Sandy Peckinpah loses her sixteen-year-old son to bacterial meningitis. She finds herself drowned in grief and despair and her life changes forever. She finds herself on the road to recovery when someone introduces her to writing. She discovers the magic of words and their power and it helps her to cope with the loss and live life without her son. The book tells readers how to handle loss, the stages of handling loneliness, and how to talk about your loss. By sharing her story with readers, the author also shares an important part of her life with them. The book is sensitive and every reader who has undergone loss of a family member has something to gain by reading the author's story. It teaches you to live despite the loss and the author puts it effectively: 'The first step in your grief recovery is to take care of you.' There is a lot of pain, and at the same time wisdom in these pages, and the book speaks about understanding and healing very effectively. The book can be looked at as a guide, too, because it gives tips on self discovery, handling grief, and suggestions of activities that can take one on a road to self recovery.
Reviewed by Dr. Oliva Dsouza for Readers' Favorite Sandy Peckinpah has been through any parent's worst nightmare. Losing her son at the tender age of sixteen to an unexpected illness, within a day's time was not what she had ever thought about. The sadness and overwhelming grief that she had to deal with makes her what she is today. Life's true lessons are an outcome of tragedy. By sharing her life and helping a grieving parent to cope with life after the passing away of their child is what Sandy sets out to do with this book. How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen: A Parent's Step by Step Guide to Healing After the Loss of a Child by Sandy Peckinpah is a "must read" book for those of us who are struggling to cope with the most heartrendingly painful tragedy. Through her step by step approach, she guides you on maintaining a journal that will act as your best tool to survive and go on. Her compassionate approach helps one feel that things will someday get better. Her words of wisdom encourage you to believe that love and healing wait around the toughest corner. Just pick yourself up and rally all the help that you can to mend your way back to life. The loss of a child is unfathomable and one always wonders if it will ever make any sense. Sandy gives you the much needed hope and reassurance to fight your fears. She gently tells you to accept the loss and celebrate the life of your child. Remember the joy that your child brought into your life. Preserve the essence of your child's presence in your life forever.
Admittedly, Sandy was “caught up in the magic of fairy tales” and walked not only the literal Red Carpet with her husband, David, but also that of motherhood. As a mother she was a star among four beautiful, shining ones in her life, Garrett, Trevor, Julianne, and one-year-old, Jackson. Although there were whimsical and fleeting hopes that David would one day write a script that would launch the family into a real fairy tale existence, the day-to-day reminders like bills brought Sandy Peckinpah down to earth. A growing family couldn’t be fed on dreams and things like philosophical musings were best left to others. Any dreams that Sandy may have had for a star-studded existence would soon be shattered. "Lots of fluids and ibuprofen to keep his fever down," the doctor ordered. "He should be better in a few days." Yes, as mothers we’ve all heard that before. Add a cool compress and a dollop of loving care and call the doctor in the morning. Instead, Garrett’s heart stopped suddenly during the night. A virulent case of undiagnosed bacterial meningitis shattered the family into a million pieces and a young soul had flown into the universe, never to return again. Sandy’s fairy tale existence had turned into a nightmare, one in which her child would be “16 years, three months, and ten days ... forever.” Life would never, ever, be the same and the entire family was thrown into a deep abyss from which there seemed to be no return." “You wake up in the morning,” Sandy later claimed, “and for a brief moment, you believe your loss was a terrible dream, and then it hits you.” There was no going back and the shift into the reality of Garrett’s death was staring her in the face. There were her other children to love and cherish, and the needs of young Jackson couldn’t be put on the back burner while she grieved. Yes, Sandy would go through Elizabeth Kübler Ross’s five stages of grieving, but would need to add one to the list ... resilience. The “haze of emotions” was overwhelming, yet there was a wealth of support around her, although she may not have recognized it at the time. There was her best friend, Melissa Gilbert, Paula, her “angel in the night,” and others who stepped forward to surround the Peckinpah family with a cocoon of love. Sandy’s greatest gift to Garrett would begin one word at a time. She began to write, to move forward, and would eventually teach others how to do so as well. “No, you never forget,” she later explained. “You never get over it. You just learn how to live with it.” In this subtly soothing book, she explains how she taught herself to do just that and helps others via “Stepping Stones.” Sandy explains everything from planning the service to those first steps of recovery to the ultimate end ... healing. For those who are suddenly faced with a journey toward recovery they don’t wish to contemplate after the loss of a child, this book will be an immense comfort. How to Survive the Worst That Can Happen is not only a tribute to her own child, but one for every parent who has lost theirs. This book is a powerful, thought provoking, and singularly stunning guide to recovery. Quill says: If you, or someone you know has lost a child, there’s no better gift you can give than a way to survive and flourish. In Sandy Peckinpah’s book, you will learn how you can heal and eventually bring joy back into your life.