I was lying in bed with both of my daughters and our dog as we all watched an episode of The Goldbergs. I stopped looking at the TV for a moment and appreciated the scene. I looked at each of my girls’ faces. They were both smiling and laughing. They looked happy, and I believe they were. I love these girls with all my heart and that is all that a mother could want for her children – to be happy.
As it always does, my heart ached for a moment when I thought about the person missing from this scene – their dad. It has been six years since he passed away and, no matter how much time has gone by, it always will strike me as sad that he is not here with us.
Looking at them in my bed with our adorable little dog that night, I thought about how well they have been doing despite their tragic loss. There have been bumps in the road, some more difficult than others, but they have both been able to weather each storm and have made it through. I am beyond proud of them for this.
Observing my daughters that night, I began to think of the future – their future. Today, they are doing well, but what about tomorrow? Next year? Ten years?
I am their mother so I worry. The future is unknown for all, but I often wonder how the loss of their father, at only 10 and 12 years old, will affect them throughout their lives.
I began to do a little research.
When googling this question, I found all kinds of research with many different results.
I learned that the effects on children may depend largely on how the surviving parent communicates with them. Not too much pressure on us surviving parents!
I read that parental loss could lead to adult depression in women.
One study says these children could exhibit antisocial behavior.
Then, another study says that all of these findings are inconsistent.
I decided to ask an expert in my own house. My brilliant daughter Lily is taking a science research class in high school. She would like to become a neuroscientist. For this class, she needed to pick one subject to study for three years. She chose Effects of Parental Loss on Cortisol Levels in the Brain. I guess she is researching something that she wants to know.
These are Lily’s results:
Cortisol is a steroidal hormone that is responsible for regulating blood sugar, the functioning of the immune system, and the anti-stress response. Studies have found that adults experiencing childhood parental death had elevated cortisol levels in comparison to other adults. The elevated cortisol levels in adults experiencing childhood parental death makes them more vulnerable to psychiatric disorders such as depression, anxiety, PTSD and substance abuse, and more likely to feel anxious, nervous, and irritable when in stressful situations.
Lily will be researching this much further over the next two years of high school. She is hoping to bring more attention to this subject. I am beyond proud of my daughter for using her own loss to research something that eventually may be used to help others in a similar situation to her own.
I must admit though, that this research worries me; PTSD, psychiatric disorders, substance abuse? Those are some frightening results. What can I, or anyone like me, do?
I wish there was a definitive answer to that question. All I can do is to be proactive when it is possible. I try to be sure that they get lots of love; from myself, as well as friends and family. I also truly believe that our dog is a huge help in the love area.
I have found amazing therapists who I take them to whenever they or I feel it is needed. Thankfully, the need has lessened over the years.
I try my best to keep a close eye on them without being too intrusive, which can be a difficult balance. I know that my mood sometimes depends on theirs, which is not a good thing.
I know that one day soon they will no longer be under my roof and I do not have control over their futures. Their loss has affected them greatly, I only hope that their lives are nothing but bright.
Who knows? Maybe Lily will discover a cure for elevated cortisol levels in the brain after parental loss. Then maybe she can explain to her mother what all of it means!
My middle name is Joy. I hated the name growing up. My father used to call me “Stacy Joy” when I was a kid and I wanted to kill him. It was just so embarrassing. Then again, what isn’t embarrassing when you are an adolescent girl?
Now, as an adult, I love the name.
A few weeks ago, I was on a website looking at silver engraved bracelets. I was buying one for each of my daughters that read, “I love you to the moon and back”, because I do love them to the moon and back, and even more. As I continued to look at the site, I saw one bracelet that was engraved “today I choose joy”. I immediately put one into my cart for myself and paid for it along with the two I was buying for my daughters. It just struck me as meaningful.
I put the bracelet on my wrist the other day. When I looked at it, I thought about my recent days, weeks, and months; could it be possible to look at four words to change my mood? Could I just “choose joy”?
My answer is sometimes.
There are moments, even days, that are just dark. I might be feeling exceptionally sad or angry, and if someone told me to “choose joy”, I would probably punch them in the face.
Other times, I think this may be possible.
There will always be triggers to feeling down. It may be a worry about one of my girls, an argument with someone, a memory of Howie, or even just daily stress. I can very easily wallow in my misery, which I have done, or I can choose to recognize these bad feelings but then make the effort to move past them and into a positive direction.
My best thinking tends to be when I am either in the shower or driving alone in my car. This is probably because these are the only times when I am ever by myself – truly. In the past, this was when I would ruminate. Years ago, my therapist taught me what ruminating meant and that I was doing it. I was slowly going over and over in my mind all the reasons that I was justified to be unhappy or in a bad mood. This was the absolute worst thing for me – I would replay all of the bad things that happened to me and convince myself that I had a right to be angry or sad.
I am not saying that I wasn’t justified – sometimes I was – but having the right to feel a certain way did not mean that I must feel this way. There are now moments where I have learned to move past these feelings and actually choose joy.
Songs are triggers for me, as they are for most people. They can make me feel happy or make me feel sad. We sometimes play the saddest, deepest songs to allow ourselves to wallow in our sadness. It’s ok – we all do it. I do.
There is a particular song that, when I heard in my car for the first time after Howie died, caused me to cry so hard that I needed to pull over on the side of the road until I could calm myself. It wasn’t even a song that brought up a particular memory of him, the words just spoke to me and were so powerful that they brought me to hysterics.
What did I do over the next few weeks? I played the song numerous times. It made me feel justified to be sad.
After a traumatic loss, or other situations in our lives, I believe it is okay to feel this way. For me, it was when I couldn’t get out of this pattern that I realized it was unhealthy. Ruminating during sad songs or time alone was beginning to destroy me.
Once my therapist brought this to my attention, as well as working on other things with me, I was thankfully able to break this pattern. My ruminating has pretty much vanished and instead, during time alone, I have found something else to fill my thoughts. My alone time is now when I come up with my best ideas for writing.
I now try to stay away from the sad songs on the radio. This morning, that evil song, which had caused my hysterics a few years back, was playing in my car. I listened to about 10 words, but this time, instead of throwing myself into a crying fit, I switched to XM Studio 54 where an old dance favorite was playing. I soon found myself smiling and singing at the top of my lungs as I drove to work.
I was wearing my bracelet. I chose joy.