Wendy's Blog

You Have to CHOOSE to Feel Better Or It Won’t Happen

In 1991, I was sitting in my wheelchair in a large conference room with about 60 other bereaved parents.  It was my third time to attend this support group.  The format was always the same – the director would begin by telling the story of how her child died, then we’d go around the room clockwise, each parent telling their sad story.  Two rules: no interruptions and no questions.  I was wondering when we were going to get to the part where we start to figure out how to feel better. I was already tired of telling the story of how my children died in a car accident.

I was getting to know some of the other parents.  The director told me she had three estranged grown daughters and an ex-husband.  She’d never been allowed to meet her grandchildren!  Yet this woman I thought of as a paragon gave her every waking moment to our support group.  It was time to begin the meeting…

She sat down and as usual, she began telling the story of her disturbed adopted son “Little Billy” who, at age nine, put a bag of natural gas over his head and willfully committed suicide!  It was heart-rending, to be sure.  But this time as she told it, she was sobbing and nearly incoherent. I thought perhaps he’d just died and I’d misunderstood.  Or maybe it was his birthday or the anniversary of his death.  I could understand that.

But something inside me clicked and I broke the rules.

In the middle of her weeping, head in hands, I interrupted!  I had to know.  I said, “How long ago did Little Billy die?”

She looked up at me in shock. No one ever broke the rules.

She took a deep breath and wailed, “Twenty-six years agoooooo!”

In that instant, I saw my future if I continued to “wear” the deaths of my children like some sort of sad badge of honor!  Twenty-six years?!  No way was I going to let myself be in such pain 26 years from now! Right then and there, I wheeled myself out of that meeting and never returned.

Waiting for my husband to come pick me up, I vowed that I would do whatever it took to find a way to survive all that had happened to me.  There was NO WAY I was going to let anything ruin the rest of my life, all my important relationships, and my sense of peace forever.  Suffering is NOT a favor we do for the dead.

In her own unexpected way, that forlorn support group director gave me the greatest gift, the greatest inspiration, the greatest wisdom: You have to CHOOSE to feel better, move on, let it go…or it just won’t happen.


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  1. There is a therapy called Choice Therapy by Dr. William Glasser. This is exactly what he proposes: That we are responsible for our thinking and actions and we have to conciously CHOOSE those thoughts and actions which improve our lives. Therein lies personal freedom.

  2. Like being hit over the head with this story. Mom – did you have something to do with me reading this? It’s been so hard the last 3 months even though you told me to enjoy life to the fullest every day. Indeed, suffering is not something we do for the dead. Nor, something they want for us to do. Now, I just have to keep remembering this.

    • Ruth dear – give yourself time to grieve, but please don’t sacrifice the rest of your life for your dear Mom. We both know that’s not what she would have wanted for you.

      Sending you wishes for love, joy and peace from today forward,

  3. My son Ryan was an energetic,excited,happy boy until Nov 11th 2001, he was 18 and was driving home from a game of football on the beach with 5 of his friends, On the way home he had decided to engage in racing with another vehicle, his car flipped and his best friend died in the back seat and a young girl was seriously cut on her face and neck. For 6 years I watched my son grieve with deep responsibility in his heart, for his lost childhood friend. He suffered with severe ptsd, for a very long time. During his community service the red cross reached out to him and he became and emt, he spent hours writing poetry to his friend Beau, and always spent time with his mom, helping her when ever he could, it took a long 6 years for him to move this time, and in 2006 he was ready for college, he embraced school, a small christian campus at the base of the blue ridge mts. He loved college and college loved him. The thing that makes me the proudest of Ryan, is when someone was hurting he reached out with his huge beautiful heart, in 2007 he was driving home from work at the olive garden, and died on a highway, on his way back to his dorm. Through my journey Im offen reminded how my son taught me to grieve, I schedule my time for sadness as you have spoken of, and then look for the joys that have come my way. My Ryan would want me to embrace life with zeal, and happiness, and love and joy, Thank you for your article , Pat Pjura

    • Pat, I’m so sorry you lost Ryan, but what an eloquent legacy for such a young man to leave behind. Thank you for sharing it with us all.

      Wishing you, his mother and Ryan – wherever he may be in whatever form – much love, joy and peace,

  4. I had a stillborn daughter at full term, 16 years ago, it will be Bethany’s anniversary this coming year. Every year since her stillbirth, my sons and I have visted her plot at the crem, on her birthday. Together and without fail. This year that might not be possible, due to my sons other commitments, and so ive got to thinking, is it time to not go and visit her plot anymore, is it long gone now, that the tradegy happened. And then i think i couldnt bear not going, not remembering her on her birthday. Do i go on my own, or do i go on another day near her birthday. Am i so rigid, that it has be exactly as it always has been when we visit her plot. Does that mean i havent moved on, and i cant let go. I think I have moved on, but i could never forget her.

    • Sue,

      When my best friends Jeff and Lora had their 3 month old son die of SIDS, I felt like I’d lost my own baby. I watched them bury him and grieve his loss. Three months later, both my children died, too. And Lora and Jeff were with us at the funeral as we “planted” my children right next to their baby. Another friend’s deformed, sickly 4 yr old died about six months later, so the four children are all buried in the same small area. I used to wonder why Jeff and Lora didn’t come more often, and then I wondered how she could possibly move to another state. It was amazing to me, as I wanted to go to the cemetery often. Then it became less often. Then it became annually. Then I skipped a year. And you know what I eventually realized? There’s no one I know in those boxes. My babies are long since gone, and their mortal remains are long since decomposed. I may still go on occasion, although I don’t need any help in remembering, but it is not my “duty” and it surely doesn’t help me or anyone living (or dead!) for me to go anymore. I WILL say it was comforting to have a location in which to grieve for many years, but now it’s been so long, it doesn’t matter anymore.

      We each have to make our own choices. You know Bethany isn’t in there. Whether you go or not will not change the facts, and it will certainly guarantee you some very sad hours. If the catharsis is healing for you, then maybe you should go alone. If you don’t feel like ruining your day, then don’t. It is only for your own sake that we go to these locations. You as a mother remember her every hour of every day in your heart.

      Sending you love, joy and peace,

      • Isn’t it about wanting to maintain a connection to the person we have lost? I have NEVER visited my father’s gravesite, because I know he’s not there, but I keep a few photos of him in my home and they make me smile to see him smiling. I have held onto his old armchair…again, it doesn’t make me sad, it just feels nice to have something that was connected to him. One day it will have to go, and that will be ok.

        • Hi Jenny,

          That’s so lovely! I have some remaining things that remind me of my kids, too, although most were lost when my house burned down. I DO think it is about having “nice” memories – that’s a great stage to be in and I believe it means you’re healing/healed nicely.

          All the best to you,

        • Hi Wendy, yes you are right, it is about keeping a connection, and thats something, for the time being, that I dont want to lose, and the way im feeling today, I dont think ill ever lose. But if I do, thats ok too

      • Thankyou so much for your reply Wendy. I can really feel for you, reading the trauma you went through losing your children. Only mothers that have lost children can really know what it is like. And to me, that is an honour, something that makes me stronger and tough. I do wish my loss had never happened, but it did, and nothing can change that.

        I went to the crematorium, to the baby garden, with my eldest son, and it was just fine. We had quality time together, and it gave him a chance to speak to me, about his feelings for Bethany, his little baby sister. He said how he would be have been very protective of her, if she was here today, making sure all the boys that wanted to date her, were good enough for her. He is her elder brother.

        Tomorrow, on her sixteenth birthday, I go with my youngest son, born a year and 3 days, after Bethany’s stillbirth. Again it will be just fine.

        Both my boys wanted to remember her, and Im happy to accompany them. I asked them if they were doing it just for me, and they both said THEY wanted to do it. I live for my children. Together we solved the problem.

        I am thinking of you and am in awe of the marvellous work you do. You take care of yourself, you hear x

  5. I understand what you are saying but I don’t get how to do that. I lost my Dad last November and although my life is carrying on as normal, I feel anything but normal. I don’t want to feel like I do anymore but I don’t know how to change it.

    • Trina,

      The lady in the story was going on 26 years – that’s excessive! A few months since you lost your dad, even a few years of grief, is perfectly normal. Take it easy on yourself! May I suggest you read the blog “Schedule Your Grief” – just go to the top, click “Wendy’s Blogs” and scroll down. You’re about at the point where you’re ready for that.

      Wishing you a life overflowing with peace, love and joy,


  6. I went with my sister to a support group after her daughter was born too early and lived only several hours. I had a miscarriage many years prior to this. One couple in this group had lost a baby 5 years before this time. Their feelings were as raw as if they had just lost him. It made me feel hopeless to watch them suffer week after week. It reminded me of an abuse group I once attended where everyone relived the abuse week after week. I wondered why we couldn’t move on from there. I had to leave the group because of this and I was glad that I was able to put it all in my past and move on. It is not good to hold on to grief for so long. Now I see the good in my life and I am happy. Thank you for this post. I can see it has already helped those who commented and probably many more.

    • Hi Jacki,

      I’m sure that for some people, the repeating of their story causes healing. It just didn’t work that way for me. I wanted something to focus on, think about, grow toward. Thanks for your comment.

      Wishing you a life overflowing with peace, love and joy,


  7. Hi there, as I read this, I remember my own sadness some 4 weeks ago when I found out my daughter had leukemia. Little Megan is only 3. I took some hours to cry but I decided to move on a find a cure, to find a hope, and we did. She is in a 2 year program to recover and she is responding well to her treatments. I still cry now as I think about what her little body has to go through to get herself healed. But I pray for strength to move on, to choose to be glad and happy everyday.

    Thank you for your story, it is true – we all have choices to make, we should make a choice to be happy.

    • Hello May,

      When my first daughter Amelia was born, we soon discovered she had a severe infection. Because newborns can’t localize infection, she was admitted to Children’s here in LA. I spent three immediately post-partum days with my 5 day old watching her and other people’s children suffer terribly. It was a heart-wrenching experience. I can’t even begin to tell you how sad I am to hear of what Megan is going through, but I send my love to you and her and your entire family. I hope she recovers 100% and gets to live a robust life.

      Wishing you a life overflowing with peace, love and joy,


  8. Frankly, I was pretty messed up for about the first five years after my daughter’s death. And I mean messed up as if there was a whole internal system knocked off true, or balance. I worked at living the best way I could to provide support and a solid home for my granddaughter who was 12 when her mother died. I read everything I could find about death and I know that sounds maybe even morbid but it is what I give credit for a huge amount of my stability now. I learned something during that time that I will share here because it is remarkable. When someone would ask me how I was doing or how my granddaughter was doing, the only true answer would have been that we were devastated. I would have said to that someone that asking me (even though it was with good intention) that question required of me an answer and I couldn’t form one. Asking that question made me the one who needed to give something and there was nothing there to give. I angered a woman when she asked. I don’t remember what I said but she was offended. I didn’t have enough emotional energy to even feel badly about it. I did not attend a group about grieving. I didn’t accept the funeral home’s grieving service and the woman there was offended too. I was gently and tastefully and subtlely cared for by people in my church and by professional people I chose to have involved with us then. Grief is a disruption that has to be attended to, acknowledged. It takes as long as it takes and that varies from person to person. The lives of people who have lost loved ones are just twisted and changed and when the loved one is a child, the devastation is beyond description. I just hope that no one here reading these wonderful stories will feel guilt or think they have failed. There isn’t an instruction sheet that will guide us through. And here I am at ten years after my daughter died and I still cry (nothing like I did before) and I think of things from the past and sometimes smile or even chuckle. My granddaughter is a blessing and I am able to see and tell her things that she does just like her mother did them. That’s a gift for my granddaughter. I know its all going to work out perfectly in the end.

    • Julianna,

      How true your post is! There is NOTHING that can help us through those deeply dark hours. I tracked word-for-word your experience. I was the one in my husband’s family who remembered the widowed aunt who lived just a few miles from us. I often took my kids over to her house to cheer her up. Her own kids lived far away. But not only the fact I was handicapped, but also the fact of all my memories of them in her house prevented me from even visiting her ever again. I don’t even know when she died! I was socially, mentally, and emotionally underground for MANY years after they died, and then I had another baby and then I divorced and moved away. But I also recall using curse words – something I’d never done before – when innocent, kind people would ask me how I was feeling on the wrong day. I told them the stark truth, more than once.

      I remember my husband and I were recognized once while on vacation by some people from our church. This family pleaded with us to let them take us to dinner. We agreed, but shortly after we sat down, they started asking questions about the gory details of the accident. I was so upset I insisted my husband take me back to the hotel – before the meal was even delivered.

      People just don’t know what to do or say, so they ask the wrong questions. But it sure does make you want to slap them, doesn’t it?!?!

      Julianna, thanks for sharing so candidly. Love to you and your granddaughter.


  9. Hi Wendy,

    My marriage ended after 28 years,over the telephone told me I’m pretty i’l find someone else!!, he married his girlfriend. We used our house as collaterol for an investment, he stopped paying mortgage on investment, house had tenants in i sold house and if i hadn’t bought the investment i would have enough to buy something outright.As it is now I will have to get a mortgage to even buy a flat. I’m so angry with myself. He also took a precious Olympic torch that my dad took. i constantly am reminded of my mistakes financially and I still have an on going legal issue. I’m trying to think about life positively but it it so so hard, I’m 53 and life is a shambles.I dont know how to make it better.

    • Hi Suzie,

      Well, as it so happens in my “real” life I’m a literary agent. That means I sell books to publishers on behalf of a very narrow selection of highly established, high visibility authors. I am greatly honored to represent the Napoleon Hill Foundation, the literary estate that controls rights to the book I am about to suggest you read. It’s called “Think and Grow Rich”. I wasn’t even alive when it was written, but it considered the #1 book on thinking right about money. Another book, by Barbara Stanny, you can see if you click “Resources” on my page. She has several empowering books for women facing financial issues.

      All that is a “head” response to what is really a heart issue. You were betrayed financially by a man you once loved. Most women who are divorced have lived through the same – me included. If you can eventually just get over the fact that he acted wrongly, you’ll be able to start to see solutions to take care of yourself. Really! I know it’s so hard, but please do tell yourself repeatedly that Now is Now and Then is Then. It can get better!

      Wishing you a life overflowing with peace, love and joy,


  10. I can really relate to your comments, Wendy. After the trauma and gut-renching pain of losing a child I attended a few Compassionate friends’ meetings (a support group for bereaved parents). It suddenly dawned on me that some of these people had been “stuck” for a long time and that if I were to chose to do the same I would be doing no honour to the vibrant, happy memory of my son, nor to myself or those around me. The pain does not go away and we learn to “ride the wave” when it comes, but for me the key was forgiveness (of the person who caused his death) and the realisation that happiness is a choice…and I choose to be happy! Love, strength and light.

  11. Today my daughter Jennifer would have turned 25; she passed away at the age of 15 years old. She was born with a heart defect & wasn’t expected to live through the night. I am forever grateful for the 15 years I was Blessed with her in my life. Now I celebrate her Birthday every year by planting purple flowers, because purple was her favorite color. I love & miss her dearly, but life must go on even when we don’t want it to. I have 2 other children that continue to give my life purpose. I once read a book that stated “no matter what we are going through in life, we are always in the middle, because if you look around, you will always find someone who is going through something much worse or someone who may not be going through something quite as tragic. God Bless!!

    • Hi Alicia,

      I’m so sorry you lost your dear Jennifer! Purple is my favorite color, too! I love the quote you shared – isn’t that so true? And I admire your great attitude. My daughter Sophia, conceived about a year after the others died (same dad), also gives my life purpose. I get that part of what you said! Alicia, sending you much love. You sound like you’re handling the situation the best way you possibly can.


  12. Wow – what a great site and so many beautiful comments from some wonderful people.

    In May of 2006, my 31 year old brother commited suicide. Two months later my cousin’s 17 year old son had a car accident and passed away. One month after that my fabulous 59 year old mother was diagnosed with stage 4 cervical cancer. She fought a great fight, but went to be with my brother in May of 2007. Two months after that we lost my stepfather and just a short time later my beautiful daughter lost her life in a car accident.

    Just two weeks into her freshman year of college I lost my Madison, and on the heels of all our other losses it was almost more than I could take.

    But I was luck to have them all in my life. I had her for 18 wonderful years and I am grateful for every moment. I am sure we all have our tough days…and you know what… I relish those and I wont beat myself up for feeling down. But most days, I honor them and I push forward. I choose to not let the saddness define me. What would they want? They would all want me to be happy and successful and to live life to the fullest. And that’s what I do!

    On June 23rd I will be rappeling down a skyscraper in NYC to raise money for the American Cancer Society…and my personal team of angels will be cheering me on the whole way down!

    • Cindy,

      WOW! All I can say is “Wow!” That’s an incredible string of tragedies, all so close together. I respect your strong decision to keep moving forward with life. I wonder if, like me, one day you thought to yourself, “Well, I’m still here. I guess I better do something about it.” My heart goes out to you over the many losses, and soars with you over your decisive victory – your will to survive, contribute and give. Please, pass along to me and my dear fans the hyperlink of where we can donate to your ACS cause.

      Wishing you love, joy and peace,

  13. Hi Wendy,

    Great story and confirmation of what my husband and I experienced at a meeting for victims of suicide shortly after our son went to heaven last November. We just knew we could not go back to another meeting and we knew we could not stay stuck there, in our pain. We needed to grieve and feel and process and keep moving at whatever pace we were able.

    Thank you for your encouragement.

    • Thanks for commenting, Betty. I think those kinds of repetitive groups must serve some really great purpose for some people, but I know they don’t for others. I guess it’s all a matter of finding out what works for us personally.

      Sending you and your husband my best wishes for love, joy and peace from here on,

  14. Thanks Wendy – and yes, I did have an epiphany that was pretty much ‘get over yourself’. Bad things happen…someone out there…lots of people out there..have it much worse. We all need time to grieve, but wallowing is over rated!!

    Anyone interested in supporting me in my crazy venture of rappeling down a skyscraper for the Cancer Society can check out my personal donation page.

    I greatly appreciate any support you can offer!!

    Hang in there everyone!!

  15. Tomorrow would have been my son Ed’ 49th birthday, he was a Chicago FF and his life along with another FFs lives were lost on 12/22/10. There isn’t a day that goes by that I don’t think of Ed, and the first yr. was hard, real hard. I joined a support group and it helped, still go to the meetings as it still helps. But, I am able to “move” now, something I could barely do that first year. Grief is hard and everyone grieves at their own pace. I thank the Good Lord for letting me have Ed for 47 years. I know he wouldn’t want me sitting around indefinitely, so, I’m “moving” and will continue to do so, at my own pace.

    • Hi Joyce,

      I am so sorry to hear of Ed’s death! I just can’t get my mind around how firefighters can risk so much. It’s astonishing that anyone could be so brave.

      For me, after losing my son at only 4 yrs, 3 months and 10 days old, (but who is counting except the mothers, right?), I recall the first five or so years it felt like I’d get an inch out of the quagmire of grief, and then slip back in, over and over. I have come to think it is the constant effort to escape the abyss that is the real key. It was years before I could go a whole day without crying, even when I was pregnant with the baby girl who would have been their sister.

      Please, be gentle with yourself. Know you are loved,

  16. wishestoremain annonymous says:

    I found this on facebook last night and just had to share my story briefly.

    A year and a half ago I found myself in the most traumatic situation of my life. My husband of less than 6 months had been accused of molesting his daughter. At the time I thought it was a joke, just another ridiculous way for his ex to split us up. So, I was determined to stick by his side and support him. I spent the next several months is a zombie like state wasting away, with no real knowledge of what was going on around me. I did finally wake up, listen to the evidence against him and realize I was being dooped. The humiliation I experienced, the shame,the betrayal, the guilt, all of it was so unbearable. I lost so much weight. Had it not been for the line of work I was in, I would have been unemployed too. I got out of that situation, but it took my daughter asking me “where did my mom go?” For me to wake up and smell the coffee. I will forever be in her debt! The point I guess I am trying to make is, everyone goes thru traumatic events, not all are deaths, although those are very horrible. We feel like we have to be strong for everyone else, when its next to impossible to be strong just for ourselves. The frightening thing is we see no end in sight for the pain and heartache. If we move on too soon, people think we have no heart. If we dont move on, people think we are closed off. Everyone heals in their own time. An understanding friend helps. My situation was so difficult as no one had a clue what I was feeling or going thru. My own church didnt even know how to minister to me. I felt abandoned by almost everyone. I was made to feel like I was the one that committed the horrible crime. I was in a prison of my own. It took months before I could go out in public without a support person. It gets easier each day.
    I’ve gotten a promotion at work, I’ve returned to school-so that one day I can hopefully help other women who find themselves in the same situation I did. Each day is a stepping stone, one day closer to healing.

  17. zahid durrani says:

    hi wendy, i shared to u the incidental death of my only son haider durrani ,he was coming bk 2 home 4rm school on 2nd march 2012 and his van got an accident, there were 12 more students with him who luckily survived,the next day when i examined the van, collected some head bone pieces from it,it was indeed the worst moment of my life,he was 11 yrs,life after this is not easy but crying ll not help me ,as life is more challenging than one thinks,i know i must look forward and hopefully ll overcome someday with the help of people like u , thx.

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