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News Years: A Six Point Assessment For Decluttering Your Grief

By Dr. Gloria Horsley, an internationally known grief expert and author. Gloria is the founder of the Open to Hope foundation.

This New Year may be a good time to declutter your grief: clean out that junk drawer of behavior and rid yourself of obstacles that might be keeping you from moving forward.  It may be a time to ask yourself, “am I doing the things that make me happy or am I supporting others in dealing with their grief?”  How we grieve is a personal as well as a community activity.  We grieve the way we live.  If prior to our loss we were a saver or a hoarder that may be the way we deal with our loss.  Some people like to keep things tidy and have the philosophy that if you are not using it give it away.  Others cherish lots of reminders like mom’s knickknacks and dad’s coin collection.  There is no right or wrong way to grieve and there is not closure to grief; it is just that sometimes we make concessions that go contrary to our desires to move forward along our healing journey.  If you are doing things that once worked, but no longer do, it may be a time to consider de-cluttering your grief.  

Below is an assessment of your readiness and/or willingness to declutter:   

1. Am I being true to my feelings?

2. Am I letting others know what my needs are?

3. Am I able to tell love ones that old behaviors are no longer working for me”?

4. Am I willing to allow myself to break outdated promises?

5. Am I willing to accept that loved ones may be angry with me?

6. Am I willing to compromise?

If you are able to answer the majority of these questions with a strong “yes” then you are on your way to a more peaceful and joyful existence, one with less stress and clutter.  You were born to be joyful and happy.  Use the New Year as an opportunity to again find meaning and purpose in your life.  Please visit us often at www.Opentohope.com for more help and advice on finding hope after loss.

God Bless,
Dr. Gloria


Victims’ Rights Across the United States

All states and the federal government have passed laws that establish rights for victims.  These laws require that victims have certain information, protections and a limited role in the criminal justice process.  Laws and rights may vary by state and may have different levels of rights.  Victims’ rights may depend on the laws of the jurisdiction where the crime is investigated and prosecuted such as state, federal or tribal government or military installation.  

A victim is defined as anyone who has been directly harmed or impacted by a crime, such as drunk or drugged driving.    It’s important that victims and survivors of substance impaired driving crashes, as well as the advocates working with them be aware and knowledgeable of the rights afforded to them.  These rights are personally held by the victim that can be legally asserted during the criminal justice process.  Independent legal representation is critical to making these rights meaningful. 

Per the National Crime Victim Law Institute, victims have the right to be reasonably protected from the accused; the right to reasonable, accurate and time notice of court proceedings; not to be excluded; to be reasonably heard at any public proceeding; to confer with the attorney for the government; to full and timely restitution; to proceedings free from unrealistic delay and to be treated with fairness and with respect for their dignity and privacy.  

For more information of victims’ rights and how to advocate for them or for yourself if you have been impacted by crime such as substance impaired driving, please visit the National Crime Victim Law Institute website, www.ncvli.org. For additional information about victim’s rights, please visit The National Center for Victims of Crime website, www.victimsofcrime.org.


Grief Tips to Help Through the Holidays

By Dr. Gloria Horsley, an internationally known grief expert and author. Gloria is the founder of the Open to Hope foundation.

The holidays are upon us which may bring challenges to those who have experienced the loss of a loved one or our own injury.  I am often asked, "How long did it take for you to enjoy the holidays again?” In this blog I would like to share with you some personal and professional thoughts on this question. I have noticed from my experience and the experiences of the thousands of people I have met and interviewed that grief does have a pattern.  It seems that for many, they grieve their loved on the first holiday.  The second, you grieve yourself.  The third you start to become aware that this is your life and the fourth year and beyond, the holidays begin to normalize with the development of new interests, expectations and traditions. 

The first year after my son Scott was killed in an automobile crash I was in a total fog. Some call it frozen grief. I remember my fourteen-year-old daughter holding my arm as if I were blind and guiding me around the mall to buy presents. We had been given professional advice that in the first year it is best to keep as close as you can to past traditions and to avoid big changes. It was tough, but we went through the motions hanging Scott's stocking and putting his ornament on the tree.  Oh, the tree….Putting it up was Scott's job and we always laughed as he straightened the tree on a bad stand.  A stand put on by the tree lot helped but didn't ease the pain of missing our boy.

The second year, again we celebrated a traditional holiday.  I was surprised how lacking in energy I was and how hard it was to go through another holiday season without Scott. What I didn't realize was that although I felt worse I was really getting better. I was thawing out and again feeling real emotions, although there were times when I thought I was going crazy.

Reality set in the third year.  This was the year we decided it was time to make a change.  We had gotten through two years of traditional holidays and realized that with effort, we could celebrate a third, but we decided we needed a break.  My father had died in April after a long illness and we were again grieving a loss. With agreement of our three college-age daughters we made a family decision to skip a tree and presents and spend our money on a trip to Hawaii. We took my mom along and had a wonderful time. It was relaxing going to a place where we had never been with Scott and dad. No yearning and searching.

Gradually, the holidays got better; and I do say gradually. One thing that happened to me was that I dropped expectations. I had an experience that really brought home to me that Christmas, the holiday I celebrate, is only one day. Expectations are what make the day such a big event.  Several years after Scott's death my husband had back surgery. We had planned to again take our kids and now grandkids to Hawaii for Christmas. Two days before we were scheduled to leave he came down with a staph infection and had to be hospitalized.  I ended up spending the days before and after Christmas in the hospital while the family went to Hawaii. Now this may sound like a sad story, but I will never forget Christmas night leaving the hospital and looking up at a starry sky with gratitude in my heart that Phil was recovering and thinking I missed Christmas, but it is okay.

 Here are some grief tips to help through the holidays:

  1. You can cut back to get the help you need
  2. Be patient with yourself. Grief takes time and it’s different for everyone
  3. Kids have a right to fun on holidays. It’s ok for them to enjoy the holidays, smile and laugh
  4. If you skip the first holiday the second might be more difficult.  
  5. Look in the mirror daily, smile and say, Happy Holidays! 
  6. Try to express gratitude daily 
  7. Take time to yourself if you need to; take a walk alone

Have a happy and healthy holiday!


Honoring our loved ones during the Holidays

For most of us, the holidays are a time of happiness.  It’s a time to gather with family and friends we haven’t seen in a while and to enjoy the time spent together. This is what most of us look forward to when the holidays draw nearer.  For victims and survivors of substance impaired driving crashes, and for those who have lost a loved one due to impaired driving, the holidays may be a time of sadness.  Many instead find ways to honor their loved ones, or themselves, during the holidays, to not let memories be lost in the hustle and bustle of the season.  There are many ways victims and survivors are honored by their loved ones, not just during the holiday season but year round. 

For Juan De La Garza, he has found many ways to honor his sister, Alejandra Vega De la Garza, who was killed while riding in a vehicle with her husband who had been drinking on January 12, 2014.  This is the family’s second Christmas without Alejandra and they now have new traditions around the holidays to honor her.  They put up a memory tree and decorate it with ornaments that remind them of Alejandra.  They share memories of Alejandra and also release balloons in her honor.  They share her story at the local Christmas parade and enter a float in her honor.  Juan has been able to turn this tragedy into something good by using Alejandra’s story to motivate and educate others about the dangers of drinking and driving. Juan shared that being to tell Alejandra’s story to others is the best way he can continue to honor Alejandra, not just during the holidays, but year round. 

Janakae Toinette Sargent was 20 years old when she was hit by a drunk driver while she herself was serving as the designated driver for some college friends on November 12, 2006.  She later died and her mother, Kandi, buried her daughter the day before Thanksgiving.  Kandi said it was the first of many family traditions that would be forever changed.  Kandi shared that finding ways to cope with daily life has been hard but coping through the holidays is challenging at best.  At the beginning to honor Janakae, Kandi would put up a Christmas tree each year at Janakae’s gravesite and ask family and friends to place ornaments throughout the holiday season.  This continued for five years; they now honor Janakae with a balloon release that is held every year on Janakae’s “angelversary” and another one on her birthday, January 22nd.  






Cathy DeWitt’s son, Cody DeWitt, was killed December 24, 2011 while riding with an impaired driver.  The car Cody was riding in struck a tree and he and another passenger were killed.  Cathy honors her son in many ways, year round.  She admits that sometimes she tries to block out Christmas.  She has found peace in visiting some of Cody’s favorite places such as a nearby creek, dam where he enjoyed fishing as well as his grandparent’s home where he spent a majority of his time.  Cathy shared that leaving a sunflower at his favorite places brings her peace and is part of her healing.  She also honors Cody by lighting a candle at the crash site each year while leaving a sunflower and also placing one at the cemetery.  Cody was born November 10th at 5:04 a.m.  Cathy celebrates Cody’s birthday by making a brownie, lighting a candle and at exactly 5:04 a.m., wishes her son a Happy Birthday.  

  

Silina Kelshaw, 17, was killed in June 2002 when the van she was riding in with her family was hit by an impaired driver who ran a stop sign.  Silina was just a few weeks from graduating.  Pam, Silina’s mother, shared that the holidays, birthdays, crash dates, are all difficult for her, her husband Chris, and Silina’s brother, Avery.  They each honor Silina in a different way.  Pam shares Silina’s story every chance she gets by speaking at Victim Impact Panels for MADD. This is her biggest honor.  Mother’s Day is also a special time for Pam.  She spends part of the day visiting Silina’s gravesite and talking with her.  Chris, Silina’s father, visits her gravesite each Father’s Day and shares this special time with his daughter as well.  Their son Avery visits his sister’s gravesite on his own as often as time allows.  On Silina’s birthday, April 13th, the family gathers together at her gravesite to celebrate her day.  Every Thanksgiving and Christmas, there is a place set for Silina at the table. For Avery too, if he is not able to make it home for the holidays.  Silina’s favorite color was blue.  Avery purchased an ornament of an angel wearing a light blue dress the family hangs on the Christmas tree together every year. Pam shared they will always be a family of four and each special occasion, holiday or anniversary, there is a place set at the table for everyone. 

While the holiday season can be a difficult time for victims and survivors of substance impaired driving crashes, it is our hope that they can also be a time to honor loved ones taken away from us too soon as well as honored, as these families have shared.  


MADD's National Day of Remembrance

If you’re a victim of drunk or drugged driving or underage drinking consequences, you don’t need a reminder to remember the loved one you lost.  My husband and I remember our son Dustin on the day he was killed by a drunk and drugged driver, on his birthday, on holidays and at every family gathering.  But we also remember him every other day of the year.

Thus the National Day of Remembrance, for victims, is not only about gathering to share our sense of loss and sadness; it’s also about telling stories from before the crash that make us smile, even laugh.  As we gather, we serve as a reminder to everyone else around the country that people are still being killed by drunk drivers – more than 10,000 every year.  And another 290,000 are injured.  It’s an epidemic that is 100% preventable.

So, the National Day of Remembrance is about much more than the past. It’s about making a difference in the present, and working towards a future when there are NO MORE VICTIMS.  Please join us in the fight.  It’s one we can and WILL WIN!


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