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Grief, Its Impact on Those Left Behind and The Moments That Count Most

Grief, Its Impact on Those Left Behind and The Moments That Count Most

Grief, Its Impact on Those Left Behind and The Moments That Count Most 1707 1280 Jason Stadtlander

Grief is defined as:

Deep and poignant distress caused by or as if by bereavement

(ref. Webster’s Dictionary)

What is grief really?

I lost my grandfather this March. He was a man that was my moor in the turbulent sea of life, and most importantly, my best friend.

Virgil McConnaugheyVirgil McConnaughey lived to be 92 years young and went on to have three children, ten grandchildren, and many great-grandchildren. He served in the Army in Tokyo and traveled the world with his wife Doris. He worked for Ford as a Tool and Die maker, retiring and having a chance to spend more time retired than he worked.

These are the facts of his life, but are we just merely the facts of what we accomplished in the end? No, I  don’t believe so. There is a depth to our existence that cannot be defined in words. If someone asked me who Virgil was, those facts listed above would not be the first thing that came to mind.

To me, Virgil was a friend. A man who was not afraid to tell me his true feelings and perspectives on things, even when he knew I might not have the same view. He owned his strengths and his flaws (good or bad). He was not afraid to take on challenges that were far beyond most people in his position or point in life. He had a way of looking at anything mechanical or electrical and could tell how it went together, even if he did not see it disassembled in the first place – this I get from him. He could visualize things in 3D and look around them without doing so. Virgil had a love of all things nature, birds, and dogs especially. He would sit in his solarium (a room enclosed by glass) for hours, photographing, studying, and detailing the life in his small window of the world. He had his prejudices, most likely because of his age, but I loved him regardless. He taught me that one of the wisest things you can say is “I don’t know.” and that truth is more important than acting like you know what you’re talking about.

Virgil loved with all his heart those that he felt would reciprocate it, but kept those who might hurt him at arm’s length. Family was his gold and his fortune. Even those in the family that did not maintain communication with, he still loved them, he just felt at a loss on how to reach them and confused about why they wouldn’t talk to him. He could be the warmest man you have ever met, and the coldest person if you crossed him. He loved new technology and enjoyed meeting new people and the small moments in life that make life worth living. He was rigid in most of his views and unwavering in his perspectives but still managed to be flexible when it came to learning or understanding the world around him. My guess is, that this rigidness is what drove him away from some people.

But, I have learned in my own life that not judging others and accepting people despite their flaws, allows you to truly get to know them better. It also allows you to accept the good things in people – and there are always good things in people.

The thing that I learned most from my grandfather was “the moment”. The present – right now, this very second. You can’t go back and replay it. You can change some things in life but once you’ve passed this moment, it remains in the past. My grandfather is gone, forever. However, the thousands of singular moments that time paused for us and I learned something, heard something, or simply gave him a hug… made it all easier for the “past” that it is.

Grief is more than just the words that define it. It is a hole in our souls. The emptiness of what is missing. For me, it is those “present” moments that are missing. I cannot pick up the phone and call him anymore. I cannot text him and tell him I love him. But it really is okay. It was his desire that I (and everyone) treasure those individual moments that he had with all of us. One day, we all will reach a point where we do not have any more moments left in our lives. Hopefully, between now and then – We can provide everyone we care about with those moments. Because “grief” is not nearly as intolerable as leaving behind a life that is not grieved.


The Boy – Concluded

The Boy – Concluded 1484 770 Jason Stadtlander

WARNING: The following story deals with strong topics such as depression, suicide, and bullying. Reader discretion is advised.

NOTE: This is a conclusion of the story published last week: https://jasonstadtlander.com/the-boy/

George ran hard, tears streaming from his face. The cool fall day chilled his skin as he ran, over wet branches, through fallen leaves, over two logs that lay on the ground. He was eager to escape the pain and internal torture he was feeling. He wasn’t afraid of getting caught, he had already been caught. All four of the other children had seen him attack Tommy. Is he dead? Does it matter? Of course, it matters! “I want to be dead!” he screamed out loud.

He came to an embankment and stumbled down the bank to the dried-out stream at the bottom. Climbing back up the other side, he came to a large patch of moss on the ground below a tree, he fell to his knees and thrust his fists down into the moss, wetness splattering up, he screamed at the top of his lungs and he collapsed. He could feel the damp forest floor soaking through his clothes, but he didn’t care. George turned onto his back and looked up, the pale blue sky showed through the almost naked trees above him. Puffy white clouds floated past a few branches and George’s heart raced. He had brutally hurt Tommy. He knew what he did was wrong, he had never hurt anyone before. George was always the good kid, the kid that helped anyone that was in need. He tried to help the underdogs because they underdogs were… well because they were like him. “I’m sorry Tommy,” he whispered under his breath. “I’m so sorry.”

Tears rolled down the boy’s face. He sat up when he heard something. In the distance, he couldn’t see them, but he could hear his Mom calling out and Officer Swartz. “George! Where are you? Please come back!” his mother called.

“George, you’re not in trouble. Come here, son! We just want to talk to you!” the police officer said. George had known Officer Swartz his whole life, his kids went to school with him in Canal Fulton.

George got up and ran the other direction. He knew in his heart his life was over. There were more kids like Tommy. He would hurt more people. He wasn’t the same. Not like he was two hours ago. Now, he was different. Now things would never be the same. So George ran and kept on running.

Eventually, he came to the edge of the woods and saw the two-lane road of State Route 93 that stretched out over Route 21. He ran to the concrete bridge and looked out over the four-lane road below. A semi blasted his horn for the boy, believing that perhaps that’s what he wanted. No doubt a father behind the wheel, wanting to make a boy smile. George did not smile. There was nothing to smile about. He had killed that boy. Killed him with his own hands.

George looked down at his hands, as they rested on the concrete divider. There was no blood on them now, at least none that he could see. He climbed up onto the concrete divider in the now bright sunlit day and stood on the narrow edge. He trembled, feeling cold and scared. Too scared. Staring at the cars below, his heart pounded, he could hear his heartbeat in his ears. He wasn’t sure if he was nervous, afraid or just exhausted. He moved two inches toward the edge, his feet now hanging over the edge a few inches. A car horn honked below. The cars were speeding by, traveling at least sixty miles per hour. George wasn’t thinking about how fast the cars were going. He was thinking about Tommy. How he had made George so angry. How he had caused George to lose control. “I don’t ever want to hurt anyone again. I don’t want to hurt,” he said under his breath.

The twelve-year-old boy could hear sirens in the distance as he closed his eyes and took one last step.

If you or someone you know is feeling suicidal, you can get help by contacting the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.


Heaven, Hell and the Pursuit of Memory

Heaven, Hell and the Pursuit of Memory 2368 1374 Jason Stadtlander

Wars have been fought, countries have been conquered and dreams have been shattered over the beliefs in religion, dogma and the truth of our existence. Why are we here? What is our purpose on Earth or in this Universe?

The one thing all of our arguing and thousands-year long discussions and triumphs and failures has taught us is, we do not know what really lies beyond our own mortal lives.

Strange as it sounds, I’m not going to discuss religion, God, Buddha, Allah or anything of the sort. Not in this article. We all have our beliefs and the one truth to those beliefs is, it helps us to have something that guides us, even if that belief is to believe in nothing at all.

The very nature of humanity is that we need a purpose. Regardless of whether you’re the president of a country or a hermit living in the wilderness, without a purpose your life is meaningless. Even if that purpose is nothing more than coming up with food for tomorrow. I have talked with people who are deeply influential or wealthy people and I have talked to those who have lived in the slums of Mumbai, India. It’s amazing how alike the two classes are in terms of humanity. Both seek love, compassion and a better life for themselves and their families. Reality is… it is all relative. Our lives are so interconnected and related that we simply cannot perceive it.

Let’s look at two perspectives. One is how we look at life and the other is what remains after we have gone.

The Eye of the Beholder

I spoke with a woman in London once. She was on a once in a lifetime trip to visit her sister who had moved there from Mumbai, India. The woman, Nilima was worn and weathered, wearing sixty years of age upon her thirty-year body. She told me that she lived in a cinder block room with tin roofs. They had a rug to sleep on with two old pillows. She and her three children and her husband all slept in this single room no bigger ten feet wide. Living on dirt floors and in an area where the water alone can kill you, she says that she is happy.  She is happy because she has a purpose. To create the best life she knows how for her children and to hopefully lead them to move out of the area that she now lives.

I have a client that I have done some computer work for. They live in a home that overlooks the ocean on the North Shore of Boston. Their sprawling ten thousand square foot home is, by all means, a beautiful home to die for. However, speaking with the woman who lives there she finds that she often has a difficult time. Her children moved to California and her grandchildren are all there. It leaves her often ‘without purpose’. She wants to be a good grandmother and finds it difficult not being close to them to serve that purpose. All her life she was a stay at home mother, not needing to work because of her husband’s lucrative income. So, now she looks for things to keep her occupied, bridge games, golf games or other activities with other ladies of similar lifestyles but finds them unfulfilling when the family is all she wants.

To be Remembered

My son asked me the other day, “Daddy, why do they put stones on people’s graves with their names?” – My instant response to which was “So we know where to find their bodies if we want to visit their graves.”

He thought about this and finally said “Why would we want to do that? They aren’t doing anything anymore. They lived their life.” It was at this point that the simplicity of a child’s thought came through to me as well. The only point of a grave or of a memorial is for the living. It serves no purpose for the dead.

Finally I said to him, “The truth is, I think those of us left, do not want to be forgotten. Perhaps, remembering those that have died, gives meaning to the life we live. That it makes sure we are not forgotten. Whether it’s a stone with our name on it, painting with our name on it or children that we have left behind. Does that make sense?”

“Yes. I think so. Is that why you write? So that you leave something behind?” he asked

I said, “Partly. I want at least a little bit of who I am to hopefully teach others of my own mistakes and also entertain them long after I’m gone.”

This whole discussion led me to think about our mortality. It is important, at least for some of us, that all of this – our existence be worth something.

We are born, we live a life, we touch people and eventually we pass on. Sometimes all too soon. The question is, what do we leave behind? For Nilima, she leaves behind three children who know her well and have seen how everything she does is for their own good. For my client, she leaves behind children who care about her but grandchildren that may never know their grandmother.

“The tragedy of life is not death, but what we let die inside of us while we live.” ~ Norman Cousins

When we die, all that we have left is the memories of us in the living. Be it mental, photographic, video or something we have created that we left behind. Personally, I want to be remembered, not in name – but in that this life I have lived served a purpose.

So, my ultimate question is; Is it what we do in this life from start to finish that truly explains what our existence is about? Or is there a reality that is just out of phase with this one where we continue?

Farewell Robin Williams

Farewell Robin Williams 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

I wasn’t going to write a tribute, an article or an essay about Robin Williams. I never knew the man and I am no one of importance or notoriety. I am not an obsessed fan who showed up to see Robin shooting films and I did not hang on his every word.

Robin WilliamsI am simply one of millions of other people that were touched by Robin, which perhaps gives me as much a right to say something about him as much as anyone else.

Two weeks ago, I was walking casually through my father’s house on the tree farm where I grew up, passing through the living room on my way to the kitchen to grab a pretzel when Jody, a friend of my father and step-mother, casually called out “Robin Williams died today”. My two boys were siting on the leather couch in the living room petting my father’s golden retriever; Chester. I stopped dead in my tracks and looked at the television, transfixed by the news with the words “Robin Williams apparent suicide” emblazoned on the screen.

My youngest son looked at me and being the more empathic could tell instantly that I was affected by something. “Daddy? Who’s Robin Williams?”, having never seen Williams on film. I looked down at his innocent face gazing up at me and I said, “Just someone that I looked up to.” and I left the room.  I went out on the deck in the warm sunshine and sat down, saying nothing. The bright sunshine suddenly felt cold, devoid of it’s usual warmth.

Robin is one of those people in entertainment that is an anchor, someone that you always know is there and appears from time to time to warm your heart and make you laugh. His ability to instantly alter his personae and utterly change before your eyes (and I’m sure the eyes of everyone on set) gave him the ability to reach through the camera (or speaker in animated films) and touch you in ways that most people require physical hands and arms to. The ability to reach into your heart and massage it, whether it be through laughter or through a poignant performance such as that in Awakenings or What Dreams May Come is what set him apart beyond all others.

The fact that this beautiful man, father and husband died under the circumstances of depression or suicide is what hit me hardest, having struggled with it myself in the past. I instantly thought of What Dreams May Come and pictured Robin playing Chris Nielsen, a man that died in an accident and in turn found that his wife was in Hell because she had killed herself. Robin’s character Chris, literally fought through Hell and accepted her nightmare as his own, in turn, bringing back her memories just in time for him to be taken into her Hell. She, now remembering who he is, wanted to bring him back to heaven, thus saving herself and him from Hell.

I immediately thought of Robin there, now in her place. I’m not saying that people go to Hell when they commit suicide, I’m saying that under the interpretation of the movie, Chris did and I couldn’t help but instantly picture Robin there.

I first saw Robin Williams as many of us did, playing Mork and Mindy (Nanoo Nanoo). Gary Marshall who cast Robin once said that “Williams was the only alien who auditioned for the role”. Robin later went on to touch the lives of so many people in films like Mrs. Doubtfire, Awakenings, Dead Poets Society, Good Morning Vietnam and so many others. These roles he played, these parts he thrust himself into, they didn’t just touch those of us who had the pleasure of watch him as an entertainer, they touched people who worked with him. People like Gary Marshall, Maura WilsonLisa Jakup and David Letterman. He had three beautiful children, Zelda, Zachary and Cody and he was married not long ago to Susan Schneider.

I have no doubt that he will be missed by those closest to him as well as those of us that weren’t close to him. If Robin is in a dark place such as that portrayed in What Dreams May Come, I have no doubt that all of us will help him out of it, lift him and carry him to where he belongs.

But why, you ask… “Why did you decide to write an article about Mr. Robin Williams today?” For one reason, the emphasis on how short and precious the human life is. Robin made an impact like a meteor, striking down from the heavens and left a lasting impression that will forever remain with all of us. People will tell stories, remember him, perhaps even make up stories about him, but what will remain true is that this life, this soul, will be remembered for what it did for humanity. For making us cry, for making us love and most importantly… that which what he would want to be remembered for most, for making us laugh.

I do wish I had the honor of meeting you, but you have touched my heart regardless. Love you Robin. Rest in peace.

The Memories We Leave Behind

The Memories We Leave Behind 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

Fading MemoriesA 53 year old woman stands in her daughter’s bedroom doorway, her daughter having left for college. She looks around at her daughter’s bedroom. A room that was home to a small baby with a mobile hanging over the crib, later a little girl played with Barbies, said her evening prayers and made forts out of blankets. Not long after, a teen girl rushed in and quickly took off her soccer uniform, dropping it in a heap on the floor so that she could go shopping with friends.

A man stands alone, in his new apartment, the walls adorned with photos of his children that are at their mother’s home. Beanie babies lay lifelessly on the couch where two days ago the children played and laughed. The children will be back, but in these silent moments, the minutes tick by with the weight of a sledgehammer. The absence of laughter and moments missed are difficult to bear.

A brother and sister in their 60s stand in the opening of the garage to the home in which they grew up. Having buried their last parent that morning, they have the unenviable task of sorting through old belongings… of sifting through the memories.

In the end, all that exists of those we know, those we knew and of ourselves are the memories left behind in our minds and the minds of others. Generations pass, and stories are told but memories are lost and inevitably we cease to exist as a person that had dreams, held babies and made love to those that filled our heart. Eventually we are but merely a fact on a piece of paper or in a computer database. A name, a date of birth and perhaps a location of where we lived.

It sounds sad, and it is. But what can we do to change this? What can we do to make sure that we are more that just a name or a date?

For years I have been hired to sit down with those who want to have their story recorded and passed down for generations to come. I believe it’s critical to make sure we record each other’s stories. We all have a story to tell.

Please sit down with your family member, no matter what their age, and record their story. Ask them questions about their childhood, about their marriage, about whatever means the most to them and pass it on. Don’t let the lives of those you love be merely a memory to be lost in the wind.

POEM: The Dreams That Once Were

POEM: The Dreams That Once Were 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

by Jason P. Stadtlander


The dreams that are shattered and the dreams that will be
Are never the dreams that were meant for me.
They follow the the path of leastest resistance
Feeding the pain in endless consistence.

I care not for the end of what future holds
For preference of sleep eternal unfolds.
The breath of my lungs and beat of my heart
Pound out the rhythm for every start.

From every start to every end
The numbness and prison from which I must bend.
Following paths regardless of action
Forcing the bridle to make it’s attraction.

Fuck this life, and the dreams for which I have told
Each day is a headache and fruitless to hold.
For it ends at this moment as life drips out
Leaving behind the hopeless and doubt.

And behind what is left of the dreams I once held?
Nothing but darkness and flowers I once smelled.
Flowers I smelled and darkness…


Mortality – How will you be remembered?

Mortality – How will you be remembered? 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

There will come a time when all of us are no longer walking on this planet.

I know… positive topic, but I’m sure you all think about this from time to time.

Wooden Cross Alone

Most times people are remembered by the things they do or the people the touch. But often, people are remembered by the way they died or where they died.

You can be driving along the road and see a cross along the side of the road, remembering that someone was killed by a drunk driver. Or see a wing in a library dedicated in memory of someone that loved to read.

No one can be sure how they will be remembered. It all depends on what you do with your life, who you touch and what the circumstances around your death will be.

So my question to you is how will you be remembered?

  • Will you be remembered by a small cross along the highway?
  • Will you be remembered by the laughter that you brought to people?
  • Will you be remembered through your children and what they’ve learned from you?
  • Will you be remembered for your art?
  • Will you be remembered through the battle you fought?
  • Will you be remembered as a tyrant or a slime ball?
  • Will you be remembered as a scoundrel and liar – an example of who not to be?
  • Will you be remembered as someone that helped those in need?

And what evidence will there be that you were here in the end?

A hundred and fifty years from now, those that we touched will most likely no longer be around. So what evidence will there be that you existed and made a difference (no matter how small) on the world around you?

  • Will there be a monument in your name?
  • Will there be a wing on a hospital in your name?
  • Will there be a simple wooden cross?
  • Will there be a tombstone?
  • Will there be videos of you imparting your wisdom on the generations to come?
  • Will there be songs that still touch people centuries after you’ve gone?
  • Will there be a quote that people remember you saying?
  • Will there be website dedicated to you in honor of a cause you fought?
  • Will there be a company that you created that continues to flourish?

There is a poem that I’ve read that always strikes a cord with me. But – in the end I’m not sure that it applies to more than a hundred or so years beyond the average person’s existence.


Not – How did he die? But – How did he live?
Not – What did he gain? But – What did he give?

These are the things that measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

Not – What was his station? But – had he a heart?
And – How did he play his God-given part?

Was he ever ready with a word of good cheer?
To bring back a smile, to banish a tear?

Not – What was his church? Not – What was his creed?
But – Had he befriended those really in need?

Not – What did the sketch in the newspaper say?
But – How many were sorry when he passed away?

These are the things that measure the worth
Of a man as a man, regardless of birth.

 Author: Anonymous

Mortality, Family and Reality – The need to say “I love you”

Mortality, Family and Reality – The need to say “I love you” 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

The last ten days have been some of the hardest in my life. I don’t often share my personal life with the public and prefer to keep it at a distance. However, when all is said and done, what is the point of not talking about my thoughts, other than the fact that no one will hear?

Less than a week ago, I could have lost someone who means the world to me. A person that has been a critical part of my life since the day I was born. This person, who I will not mention at the moment… I have spoken with nearly every day for the last ten years, despite the fact we are nearly 1000 miles from each other.

[fusion_builder_container hundred_percent=”yes” overflow=”visible”][fusion_builder_row][fusion_builder_column type=”1_1″ background_position=”left top” background_color=”” border_size=”” border_color=”” border_style=”solid” spacing=”yes” background_image=”” background_repeat=”no-repeat” padding=”” margin_top=”0px” margin_bottom=”0px” class=”” id=”” animation_type=”” animation_speed=”0.3″ animation_direction=”left” hide_on_mobile=”no” center_content=”no” min_height=”none”][box style=”quote”]”The best thing about the future is that it comes one day at a time.”
~ Abraham Lincoln[/box]

One day… Everyday, to make a choice. A choice to talk to those we love, those that mean the most to us, those that if they were gone tomorrow, we just might have a few things we still want to tell them.

Tell the ones you love how you feel every dayI know that if I lost this person, that I will have known they loved me and that they know I loved them. Are there others that don’t fit statement in my life? Absolutely. Can you say the same? What would happen if you lost your spouse, partner, best friend, brother, sister, mother, father, grandparent or child? Can you say that you have let them know how you feel or told them everything you’d want them to know?

Our life is so incredibly short and can end with a whimper or a bang, but either way you never know when it’s your time. Not really anyway. So I am asking you… Please take the time to talk to those that matter most in your life. Take a few minutes everyday to tell them how much they mean to you. Because as morbid as it sounds, everyday is one less day you’ll have to tell them, and you never know if today is that last day. We all need to learn to appreciate this moment, right now, this day that you are still able to reach-out and tell them “I love you”.[/fusion_builder_column][/fusion_builder_row][/fusion_builder_container]

Inconsolable Loss – A Mother’s Story on the Death of a Child

Inconsolable Loss – A Mother’s Story on the Death of a Child 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

This post was co-authored with Lisa-Marie Black.

Being a parent, it is perhaps one of my greatest fears that I should ever out-live my children. Children are a gift and a blessing, and some of us fight extraordinary battles just to bring them into the world. When a child is lost, it leaves a hole that can never be filled.

I have invited a blogger who has experienced such a loss, Lisa-Marie Black, to share how she is struggling to cope with and attempting to understand what happened recently with the loss of her teenage son Michael.

Both Lisa-Marie and I hope that her story below will help readers understand what goes through a parent’s mind and heart in such an unimaginable situation:


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Michael Black

Michael Black

There are many theories as to what led to the violent self-inflicted death of our 19-year-old son on April 17, 2013.  And honestly, I don’t know what to believe. Right now, all I know is a deeply-rooted pain; it hurts to breathe. All I know is that the last tormenting hours of my son’s life now torment me every minute I am awake and most of the hours that fill my days until I finally fall sleep late into the night. I think of a million things I would go back to if I could and do differently, and then I think of the ways I loved that boy—so far beyond any expression of words on a page.

Michael Ryan Black was born with blond hair and sparkling light blue eyes. He looked like an angel, but he was wild like all little boys should be. A few years after his parents divorced, I became step-mom to Tyler (8), Michael (6) and Caleb, just two years old. I brought to this new marriage great enthusiasm, naiveté—and two little angels of my own, Alexis (8) and Emily (6), from my first marriage that had ended five years prior with the sudden tragic death of my first husband.

About the time Gary Black and I got pregnant with Noah, we were also awarded full custody of Gary’s boys.  In the drawn-out custody process, we all lost something. Our family members were also wounded, some more deeply than others, but we had so much love…and so much hope. I wonder—was the trauma of divorce and abandonment what started Michael’s decline as an innocent little boy and ripped his soul apart during his final hours? That is part of it. The mental illness that many say is inherited—like sparkling blue eyes or bad eyesight—is this what overtook him in the end? It’s difficult to say.

Admittedly, our his-hers-and-ours blended family was far from perfect—but we were devoted—to God and to each other. My husband Gary was up with the kids every morning early, praying with them before school and talking to them about life over his coffee and their Honey Nut Cheerios.  I was home cleaning, cooking, listening and driving my little ones everywhere. We were present, we were attentive, and we were available to our kids…weren’t we?

We camped, we water skied, we told stories around the campfire. We laughed. We loved. We also got overwhelmed, tired, sick—sick and tired—and we got angry. We stayed up late fighting and trying to figure it all out, but always woke up determined to never give up, to keep fighting—for our marriage and for our family. More wounding? Probably. Could we have done better? Perhaps. I don’t know.

We watched as our older children started turning into young adults, striving to take on the world in their own terms. Teenage years are a normal but often tumultuous part of life. No parent can’t stop the process, and no matter how you try, you can’t control it either. Quite suddenly, everything invested in them—time, wisdom, heart—is all tested. The parts of life you try to shield them from are spinning at them like an out-of-control battering ram from every direction. They are bombarded with images, voices and noises constantly from the minute they wake up until their weary heads drop in their pillows at night.

It begins with music on their headphones, the television blaring in the background. Then their fingers begin texting meaningless messages to people they may never have had a live conversation with. Add to this that they live their lives out loud on the internet—the proverbial open book to the world—constantly posting their unstable emotions and thoughts of the moment. And somehow they seem to struggle with the concept that ONE unfortunate picture taken at a party could affect them in residual ways the rest of their lives.

This generation holds some of the most brilliant and creative minds the world has ever seen. However, these baby geniuses are also more often than not self-involved and narcissistic. With misguided good intentions, we parents have taught them inadvertently that the world revolves around them, and now our children believe us.

We stop having dinner as a family and stop talking to each other. Instead, we keep a calendar booked with constant busyness…and we are proud of this. Many of us even talk about our busy lives to each other as if it were a competition that determines our parental value in the world. Our children don’t know how to be still, to be quiet, and to just be.  They are adrenalin junkies, addicted to constant stimulation. Our media is filled with violence flashing before the eyes of little brains that can’t always understand the difference between real and make-believe. Our children are so overstimulated that they are numb—numb to blood, to bizarre behavior, to music that encourages promiscuity and rebellion masked and packaged as “individuality.” Our children, like never before, are being told what to think and shown how to act by watching reality television instead of walking through the realities of life with an older, wiser generation—mentoring them, teaching them, being present with them.

How does a beautiful all-American boy go from getting great grades, becoming king of the school, having every girl want to be with him and every guy want to be like him to such a tragic end?  How does an all-round talented guy—an “All State” football player who went on to represent the USA in Rugby Sevens and get a full-ride scholarship—implode emotionally to the point where he chooses to leave this world? How?

My blue-eyed boy who kissed his mother on the forehead every night and thanked her for dinner, this boy who loved his country, his God and his family—how did he end up alone in his dorm room, contemplating his death for hours, before inflicting the worst type of physical pain on himself and then dying terrified, gasping for air?

Let me tell you. It’s a slow seduction. It comes piece by excruciating piece—the voices and images are a perpetual hum, not a fearful crash. Nothing is shocking any more. Marijuana is harmless, they say. Maybe it is at the outset, but does it eventually spur on the quest for craving something a little bit more potent and better feeling? More adrenaline, higher and higher they cllimb, more and more numb to the still, small voice that says, “Hey—slow down. Stop and think about this for a minute. This could be bad.” Those voices are instead drowned out by the louder ones constantly whispering in their ears, in their heads and flashing before their eyes. This is what has the power to seduce our children and ourselves by seemingly insignificant pieces at first, then by larger consuming chunks in the end.

Today we are connected to everyone all the time. We know what Kathy (whom we have not seen since second grade) had for lunch today, when she is going to the mall, and what her cat is doing. Yet I wonder­—do we know that much about the people who live under our own roof? We are always connected, and yet this generation feels isolated and alone.

And so I wonder—with all the wounding, the parenting mistakes, all the things we did wrong and all the things we did right—I wonder if my beautiful son heard a dark whisper before he took his own life. I wonder if the whisper said, “It’s not worth the fight. They are better off without you any way. There is no one who really needs you. Just end the pain.”

And what I really wonder is this. Was he shocked by that voice or simply seduced by it, just like all the other little seductions infiltrating and overriding his heart since he was a little boy?

I miss my son. I will never recover from this loss, this void. Our once family of eight, now family of seven, will never be the same—ever.

But we can’t afford to dwell on things we had no control over. We can’t change the choices Michael made that exchanged a beautiful life for a painful death. We can, however, look deep within ourselves, our marriage and our children. We can ask questions about our lives and try at least to determine if our lifestyle is really bringing us any life at all?

The potential cost for not asking these important questions is so high—too high. How many more brilliant, creative geniuses do we parents have to bury before we wake up?

There are so many theories still surrounding Michael’s death. All I know for sure really is that I have five beautiful lives left, and even if I have to shout, I will look into their eyes, tell them the truth, and never stop fighting for what is far too precious to ever lose again to such needless tragedy.



I believe Lisa’s ability to cope with the pain from the loss of Michael is giving hope to her and also to her remaining children. A parent experiencing the death of an “only” child might have a more difficult time handling the dynamics of such a loss. The importance of listening to and understanding your children, ensuring that you do everything in your power to teach them the good things in life and how to try to reach out for the good is critical. You may not be able to control what choices they make once they leave the house, but perhaps it can give you some strength and solace as a parent knowing you did everything you possibly could to help them be the best people they can be. Don’t ever think too highly of your parenting abilities—no one is invincible here, and it’s easy to pass the blame to others. But if you try your hardest and you know you tried your hardest, don’t discount that either. We are all merely human and all in this together—whether we want to admit it or not.

About Lisa-Marie Black:

Lisa-Marie Black became a single parent in her twenties following the sudden loss of her first husband. This tragedy was followed later with a second marriage leading to the joys and trials of a blended family of six children. For the last 20 years she has worked with young mothers teaching them parenting and life skills. The Black family has traveled the world teaching, mentoring and training the next generation, culminating in co-founding “The World Race.” They also lived In Africa for a year building a village for orphans with AIDS. Lisa currently lives with her family in Colorado Springs, Colorado.



Frankly Friday – Parents: Those Left Behind

Frankly Friday – Parents: Those Left Behind 150 150 Jason Stadtlander

Everyone counts

A close friend told me a few weeks ago about a friend of hers who lost her son Michael Black.

It got me thinking about the people I know who have lost children. I have heard many times the axiom “Parents should never have to outlive their children.”  Being a father of two, as many of you know – I happen to agree with that statement.


How they touch us

We parents have children for a number of reasons:

  • For company
  • For comfort
  • For a part of us to live on after we are gone
  • For an offspring in this world who is part of the person you love
  • For blessing in disguise (in that we may not have planned to have them at all)

And of course there are those who have children who never should have had them – but then that’s not the point of this blog article.

Those of us who do have children (and many who don’t) know that children are a very special gift. They are a link to our past and a hope for our future. They connect us in ways to the world around us that we never thought possible until we had them. We watch children grow from babbling little balls of drooling, diaper-filled-giggle-jiggle creatures, to young people developing thoughts of their own and finally, to young adults who find their place in this world independent of us. They go about creating and finding their own dreams, hopefully achieving them, and drag you along for the ride in ways you never imagined possible – often in ways you never wanted to imagine . . . but you trod along with them regardless, through the bad times as well as the good.

The news that none of us wants

Then, one fateful day, one of our  friends, family members or loved ones receives a call – a  call that in six words shatters your world forever: “I’m sorry. Your child is dead.”

What do you do at a time like that – what does anyone do?

You curl up in a ball – physically, mentally and emotionally – and you cry. Your world is falling in on  itself and you feel as if an entire skyscraper has caved in upon you. You yearn to be comforted, but you want to be left alone at the same time. Most importantly, you want the pain of loss to go away and you want your child to be remembered – to have a chance to live out all the experiences that you are now starting to realize will never come to pass; to never graduate from high school, to never fall in love, to never be married, to never know the beauty of having their own children. And if that child is very young, that “never going to happen” experience may even be a little thing, seemingly insignificant, like never losing that first tooth.

It’s a horrible thing to lose your mother, your father or even your spouse, but in each of these cases, you can go on. Moving on after the loss of a child is something that is never really possible. The depth of loss burrows itself like a tick in the skin of your soul and heart, festering, and creating a hole that will never be filled – ever.

Recovering from the pain

Whether you believe in God, believe in heaven, hell or simply believe that we go nowhere after we die – everyone has his beliefs in what lies beyond, even if it’s no belief at all. I personally believe in God. I just have a hard time believing that all of this bio engineering is simply here by “chance” of evolution.

My beliefs are not the point here, however.

Lisa, I don’t know you – though anyone who has best friends like you is in my opinion a wonderful person. I just want you to know that regardless of whether I (or other people) know you or not, there are people who have you in their hearts, myself included.

I don’t know the pain of losing a child, and I pray that I never do. I am, however, an author. It’s my job to imagine the unimaginable. I frequently find myself trying to put my head into the mind of killers, cops, men, women, children and teens. So it’s not a huge stretch to contemplate and imagine what it must be like to lose a child; but it hurts to even imagine it, and frankly, I’m not sure it’s something I could handle, even with the loving support of friends and family.

It’s up to each person drenched in grief as to whether or not he accepts that comfort or denies that support. Now, I’m not saying that accepting the comfort is always the right answer; sometimes it’s not. At times people need to heal just by being left alone. But eventually, we all need someone to hold a hand, offer a hug, or perhaps just fall asleep beside.

And we’ve all heard those well-intended words: “God never throws you anything you can’t handle.” But let’s be frank here – I think that’s bullshit at times. God throws you things all the time that you can’t handle. But that’s what friends are for, that’s what family is for and that’s what spouses are for.  I can’t think of a single person who has lost someone they love who had absolutely no one else in life to offer comfort.

If there is one commonality in this world, it’s that we don’t have to go through sadness and tragedy alone. Even if I don’t know you well . . . if you’re in pain and you need my comfort, I will be there for you if I can. We are all human, after all, and we are all in this together. So, if you see anyone who has lost a child, reach out to that person. If your comforting gesture or words are not accepted, that’s fine, but be there regardless. That’s the important part.


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