Tag Archives: grieving children

Remembering JFK 50 Years Later

John F. Kennedy / Source: White House Historical Association
President John F. Kennedy / Source: White House Historical Association

I had started Kindergarten a few months earlier and I was getting myself acclimated to my new school in New York City. Since both my parents worked and it was my grandmothers who took turns being at the house after I arrived to take care of me and my brothers, I walked to and from school with a babysitter.

On that day, it was after lunch when the principal came on the speaker system and declared that the President had been shot and school would be let out early. I remember my teacher started to cry and myself and my classmates really didn’t know what was going on. It was my first experience with death.

Before I knew it, my babysitter found me and I was walking home with her. What I do remember distinctly and can picture in my minds eye so well is all the people who were out on the streets in the middle of the day running around, gathering children, and the elevator ride when I arrived in our apartment complex.

Since I was so tiny, I was surrounded by very tall adults in that elevator car, both men and woman, all of whom were weeping. But no one said a word. Usually at that hour, the elevator was empty but that day it was filled with mourners who were all in shock just as I was.

My next memory is sitting on the sofa watching the television with my grandmothers and later on with my parents. I didn’t thoroughly understand it all, but I knew at the tender age of 6 that something major had happened.

I remember watching the funeral and thinking that President and Mrs. Kennedy had children the same ages as myself and my brothers. Caroline and I were born the same year and “John John” was my brother’s age. For some strange reason, I tried to feel what it would be to lose a father, as they did, at that young age.

And as I watched them I seemed to emotionally connect with Caroline from that point on and as the years went by, I would often think of her and how difficult it must have been growing up without her Dad, regardless of his position in the world.

That was the first death that truly impacted my life and I found myself glued to the television. I can’t believe it’s been 50 years since his death, but even now, I can still see myself in that elevator looking up at all those tear-stained faces.

What do you remember about the Kennedy assasination? Share your thoughts below.

Mary Mac’s new book Holiday Grief: How To Cope With Anxiety, Stress and Depression is available now. Click here for more information.

9/11…We Will Always Remember

Source: Jean-Pierre Ely 2013
Freedom Tower / Source: Jean-Pierre Ely 2013
When this day approaches each year, I always think to myself, “It can’t possibly be 12 years since 9/11.”

But it is…and I find myself shaking my head again. Same as I do each year…shaking my head in amazement.

Yet it’s a day anyone who was an adult then, will always remember.

They’ll remember where they were, what they were doing when they first heard about the attacks, and mostly, who they knew who was either killed or affected by this tragedy.

Sometimes people who weren’t deeply affected by this day will often wonder how the families can keep coming back for more pain, especially by the reading of the names at the World Trade Center.

And my answer is that when a loved one is taken so suddenly, it takes many years to let it sink in. And in this case, many more.

But regardless of how long ago a person has died, when the anniversary of their death comes around, it triggers memories and there isn’t anything one can do to act like those emotions don’t exist.

They do and they hurt. And while a person may feel very emotionally stable the other parts of the year, when that day comes, sometimes a flood of emotions come with it.

And there is nothing to feel guilty about; it is all natural.

So on this day, to the family members and friends of those who were killed…whatever you are feeling…feel it. Embrace it. And after the pain has softened…begin again.

We all love you regardless of how you express your pain on this 12th Anniversary. You are entitled to it all.

~~~~~~~~
If you need help after the death of a loved one, start by picking up your copy of my best-selling book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death, available on Kindle and in Paperback.

Grieving Children Helping Grieving Children

I received this note from 20 year-old Maeve last evening…

Mary Mac,

Hello, my name is Maeve. I am 20 and I just recently lost my aunt to cancer. She was the mother to four children, two sets of twins. The older two and girls, aged 13. The younger two are a girl and boy, aged 12. I worry about them knowing the struggles and pain they are enduring and will endure. I am traveling tomorrow (Friday) to see them and to attend my aunt’s funeral (Saturday). I am not sure what I should say to them, what will resonate or what will not sound genuine, so I look to you for guidance on this tough time. Thank you for all you do. All the best.

~~~~~~~~~

My Dearest Maeve,

I can’t imagine the pain you are enduring just now having experienced the death of your beloved Aunt, more than likely at a rather young age herself. And to have four small children who will grieve their mother’s death, is tragic as well.

When death strikes our life, whether it is anticipatory, as in the case of cancer and illness, or sudden, as in the case of murder or suicide, the finality of it all is still jarring and fills us with struggle to know what the right thing to do is when we help our fellow mourners.

First of all, may I say, that for a young woman of your age to reach out to me in her own grief, seeking answers as to how best to help her cousins in ‘their’ grief, tells me you are an amazingly compassionate woman. And because of this character trait that you possess, I am certain you will exude deep empathy and care for them.

But there are a few things you may wish to know.

Every child (and adult) grieves in a different manner.

So it will be unlikely that each of your cousins will deal with this in the same way. For example, one may wish to be pensive and sit alone to deal with it. Another may be the gracious host to greet those attending the services. Another may wish to give the eulogy as their act of remembrance, while another may wish to write notes and tuck them into the casket.

What you say and how you touch a person at this time can be anchored in their mind for a very long time.

When we are in a highly emotional state, sometimes subtle things stay with us. So it’s important to be careful with our words.

Well wishers who attend the services and funeral sometimes think it is their job to come up with some ‘pat’ phrase which will ultimately make them feel better but actually causes the grieving person more harm than good.

Phrases like “It was God’s will” or “Well at least she’s not suffering any more” or “At least she’s at peace” or “God never closes a door without opening a window” or “Just give it to the Lord” or “Everything happens for a reason” or “It’ll get easier with time” all leave me with the horrible inclination to smack someone. Sorry…

Maeve, the most appropriate thing to say are words that cannot sting. Words like, “I’m so sorry.” “I can’t imagine what’s you’re going through.” “I wish I could take away the pain.” “I’m going to miss her.”

Speak from your heart. Don’t try to make it perfect for the other person because you can’t. This is one thing you absolutely cannot fix. You don’t have any control over the death of your Aunt, nor over how your cousins and other relatives will feel, but you do have wisdom to not make it worse.

Be with them.

I know this sounds like such a simple thing, but the most powerful thing you can do when someone has died is to actually be present with those who are mourning. And that includes you.

Spend time together in silence. Not saying anything may feel strange at first because you feel the need to fill in the gaps of silence but don’t. Let the pain be present. Let the moment go where it’s going to go.

Let the sorrow be felt. Let the tears come. Don’t try to hold them back. Don’t try to be someone you’re not. Don’t try to make it all right in some manner, because you just can’t.

Allow whatever is going to happen, happen. Have the faith that each of your cousins will have the experience they personally need to have to deal with their Mother’s death.

But by you being genuine and kind and loving, they will always remember your compassion. They will always remember how you took the time to travel so far to be with them at one of the most devastating times in their life.

So ultimately, my dear Maeve, it’s not the words as much as it’s about the love. The care. The tenderness. Your presence.

Attend to their needs. Ask them if you can get them anything. Bring them water at the funeral home. Make life easier for them when you can.

Talk aloud about their Mother.

When you all get together for a meal, or back at the house, don’t be afraid to bring up her name out loud and speak about wonderful memories you may have experienced with your Aunt. Even though folks may cry, it’s ok. Nothing is more precious than sharing stories which will make others feel better.

“Do you remember when Aunt and I did this?” “Do you remember when you and your Mom did that?” “I will always remember when Aunt gave me that beautiful bracelet for Christmas.”

Lastly, share your grief, too.

It’s perfectly fine to say things like “I will miss her so much” or “I wished we had lived closer so I could have spent more time with all of you” or “I’m glad she was my Aunt, she was a magnificent person”.

Remember, Maeve, as much as you want to be there for your cousins, you are grieving also. Feel your feelings, too. Give yourself permission to grieve, also.

Mary Mac

Boston Marathon Tragedy

Four hours and nine minutes into the 2013 Boston Marathon brought two explosions at the finish line that pierced the flesh of dozens of runners and spectators.

But the damage to the emotional psyche will remain for quite some time for both those personally harmed or the citizens of Boston. My prayers and thoughts are with them as they begin this journey.

Below is a Radio Show that captured the immediate feel of the explosions.

Listen to internet radio with The Marathon Show on Blog Talk Radio


To learn more about the grieving process, pick up my Amazon Kindle Best Selling book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. You can see a preview on Amazon Kindle and download it immediately. (And if it has helped you, please leave a review on Amazon!)

9/11: Experiences, Reflections, Changes

I spent the summer of 2001 writing my book Understanding Your Grieving Heart After a Loved One’s Death. The evening before 9/11 I was developing the press plan and rejoicing because the printer had called that Monday to say the galleys had been shipped via UPS and I should expect them in a few days. Those books didn’t arrive for over four weeks.

Since I worked through the night, it was my former husband who woke me to the words, “Mar, I think you better get up…a plane has hit the World Trade Center.”

Stunned and still trying to wake up and comprehend what he said, something inside knew this was intensely serious and I jumped from bed and ran to the living room in our Central Florida home.

I remember standing there in the middle of the room with my mouth open and my hands covering it. I never sat down. We just stood there, almost at attention, in reverence of all that was happening to my beloved city where I lived most of my life.

I thought of all the people who worked in those towers and we estimated there would be nearly 25,000 people in each of them. Just the thought of losing 50,000 people was incomprehensible.

Being the video queen that I was back then, and to some degree still am, I immediately searched for VCR tapes (back then) and popped one in. I asked my husband to continue taping and we did just that, taping all the events for nearly a week.

There were times over the last ten years when I wanted to watch that footage again, but it was just too sad. Perhaps one day I will move it to DVD and have it available for a long lost weekend.

I started to think of all the people who might be there whom I knew. There were many.

First my cousin, Peter. He had been a FDNY firefighter for many years, like his father, my Uncle Pete before him, and had taken the Lieutenant’s test. It took a while to find out he was safe, but had lost so many of his friends that day.

He would spend weeks down at the Trade Center in the recovery effort and on the next Sunday was promoted to Lieutenant since so many had perished. It was a bittersweet moment and one our family will never forget. We still have the picture of him in his dress blues with his devoted and wonderfully supportive wife, Maureen by his side as he held his first daughter, Kaitlin, only a few years old then.

Later we would talk via instant messenger usually after midnight when he couldn’t sleep and I remember how difficult it was for him. And why wouldn’t it be. He had been to dozens of funerals and being such an amazing man, his heart was always so giving and loving toward everyone he knew and even those he didn’t.

To this day, I have such great respect for him and such deep appreciation for all he’s been through during the past ten years.

As the days passed, we heard about my cousin Sharon’s husband, Mike who lost his cousin. His aunt was devastated and although I never met her, I remember sending a bunch of my books for a fundraiser they did on Staten Island. I was glad to do that.

We also heard about my cousin’s husband, Brian, who works for Port Authority and lost many friends but also almost lost his life trying to get out of the towers, walking dozens of flights to safety.

Years later, I would hear his story in person when we had a chance to reflect, ironically when I was recovering from a life-threatening accident and he graciously would pick me up and bring me to church.

Both Brian and Peter were so steadfast in their willingness to help me when I was recovering from all those broken bones, and I will never forget their love and care for me.

Then there was my brother’s former girlfriend, Nina, who lost her brother Andrew in the towers. I stayed with her a few years after the tower fell when I moved back to NYC and I remember the two of us reminiscing about Andrew and his life and work and loves. She loved and missed him so much.

I also remember meeting and exchanging books with Julia Rathey, whose husband, David was killed in the towers that day. She had written a book entitled What Children Need When They Grieve which I thoroughly enjoyed and felt was so wonderfully written, not to mention all the help it brought to suffering families in the years following 9/11.

I was so happy when she shared, years later, that she would remarry a great guy named Gregg. She deserved to be happy again.

As I stood in the living room not moving, not speaking, in total shock, one of the things I started to remember was my pictures. I frantically started to search for them in my boxes.

I knew they were there…but where were they. You see I have celebrated three milestone in my life in the towers.

The night I finished my MBA from Fordham, my parents picked me up after the last exam and we enjoyed dinner together at Windows on the World, the restaurant at the top with the most magnificent view of the entire city.

I remember taking home the empty bottle of champagne and writing on it the date and place. That bottle was kept on the top shelf of my living room hutch for many years. I often wonder if I’ll find it one day among all my memorabilia in deep storage. That would be amazing.

Another memory was when I got engaged on the Observation Deck of the Twin Towers. While we had decided many months before to get married, it was on the 4th of July that he actually presented the ring and formally asked for my hand. We went to the restaurant afterwards and had champagne.

When my 40th Birthday rolled around, there was no other place I wanted to celebrate. Funny thing…I remember being in the elevator with Michael Bloomberg that night going up to Windows on the World. I knew immediately who he was, long before he entered politics.

It was those pictures especially I wanted to find. I dug and dug. I couldn’t find them fast enough. My husband kept asking me what I was looking for and I remember just flipping through hundreds of pictures until they finally appeared.

It was then I wept.

I handed them to him. The best two pictures we had inside the trade center. He took one of me and I one of him across the table celebrating my 40th Birthday. The lambchops arranged so perfectly on the plate…my favorite.

I looked at the booths we had been sitting in. I remembered the look of the restaurant, so open and elegant. I thought about how all those booths were now disintegrated. All that steel, and all those people who probably were serving breakfast that morning.

I have been back to the World Trade Center or as it was known “Ground Zero” a few times since 9/11/2001. The first time was on the 2005 anniversary when I was then living there again.

It was a most profound experience. One I will always remember.

It took nearly four weeks for the galleys to arrive for Understanding Your Grieving Heart which were originally shipped on 9/10, the day before our nation’s tragedy.

While waiting, I informed the printer to update the dedication. It now reads:

For those who love them so deeply
Miss them so desperately
Grieve for them so despondently
The tears of a nation join you.

Remembering those who perished on
Tuesday, September 11th, 2001

We pray blessings over the survivors of these attacks,
the rescue workers for their brave service to our people,
the canine rescuers for their devotion to help, protect and love us,
and the countless volunteers who heard the call and answered it

We will not back down
We will never forget

God Bless Our Great Land
and its people

Mary M. McCambridge (Ask Mary Mac) is the Founder and President of the Foundation for Grieving Children, Inc., a Grief Coach and author of several award winning books and CD programs on bereavement. She resides in Central Florida.