On Being Strong

Recently a group of bereaved parents were talking about how we all feel when some well meaning person tells us how “STRONG” we are.
There was alot of anger and sadness in hearing those words.

I felt that I had been strong BEFORE and that Robyn’s death had turned me into a pile of mush.
I didn’t want to move.
I couldn’t make the smallest of decisions.
Life was way too overwhelming
and I resented the fact that I was in it.
I no longer had any Passion for Life; any caring about living.
I existed because my body kept breathing and I presumed that somehow my shredded heart was still functioning.
I wasn’t living By Choice.  I was existing in a world that I HATED and FELT IMPRISONED in.
I woke up every morning Resentful And Angry, where, Once Upon A Time, I had woken up singing happy songs.

I gave up on the business that I had once loved and had with my daughter and husband.
I no longer cared about creating happy moments for anyone else, when inside my head was constantly screaming


I was enslaved to ugliness.
Even the simple word “future” sent me in to a tailspin of sobbing.

somehow I kept taking baby steps, approaching having to be alive One Breath At A Time.
I went through the Motions Of Existing, feeling as if I Had Become A Passenger In My Life
instead of driving the way I once had.
It became my truth, both metaphorically and literally.

Even the simplest decisions felt overwhelming and insurmountable.

I wasn’t STRONG, in my own mind.
I was merely existing in the cruel ugliness of what seemed like the worst punishment for atrocities that I know I could not have committed to equal such pain.

Eventually, I became very accustomed to those times of torture that would take my already shredded heart and stick it in a vise, hurting it beyond all hurting it had already known.

Anything could trigger a moment of collapse that I didn’t see coming at that second…

  • The sound of the summertime birds harmonizing with each other and paying tribute to the sunshine
  • Clear blue skies of beauty
  • A line on a television show
  • The sight of a mom walking with her young child, even though mine was 28 when she was killed
  • A line in a song on the radio
  • Beautiful landscapes
  • The dog that she had given me snuggling up against me
  • Family gatherings held without her, eviscerating me in a way that felt as if I could never be put back together
  • A sound, a scent, a smell
  • One of her favorite foods.

Anything And Everything could take me back to the
Decrepitly Stark Knowing that
I had to live the rest of my life
as a mom to a child who was no longer living
and whom I love more than I love my life itself!

I “knew” that no parent had ever loved their child
as much as I love mine.
I “knew” that no parent could ever suffer
as much as I was suffering.
I envied the bereaved mom friend of mine
who had been diagnosed with broken heart syndrome,
because she had tangible proof of how
ugly and horrible it is have a child die
and to grieve for that child every single second
of every single day whether waking or asleep!

It was a cruel joke that my heart kept beating
while my child’s did not.

For 10 months, living inside of me,
she had been kept alive by my own body
and we were so entirely connected.
Entwined, literally.
How could it be possible that
she had ended in the physical sense
and I was forced to continue without her?!



I would have defined “STRONG”  as waking up every morning ready to embrace life, when it was all I could do to pull myself out of bed and some days I just couldn’t.

“STRONG”   would have been actually feeling the emotion of fake smiles that I sometimes put on for the comfort of others,  and to survive in various situations.

“STRONG”   would have meant wanting to survive and wanting to go on and looking forward to life every day.  I did not.

None of that was my reality.
My reality was filled With Depression,
Pain That Felt  As If I Could Never Survive.

“STRONG”  had been carrying that baby inside of me for 10 months,
throwing up multiple times every single day,
having anemia and toxemia,
gaining over 60 pounds,
while feeling more miserable than I had in my first 23 years of life,
while still embracing the pregnancy….
because my baby was living inside of me
AND all of it was going to be worth it when I got to meet her on the outside!

“STRONG” would have been finding ways to intentionally embrace Life’
to turn around The Pain
and Want to go forward.




Now 10 years, 6 months and 5 days later, I realize how incredibly strong I was, I AM and we all are.


Against the craziest of odds, we somehow do manage to keep putting on socks even when they aren’t matching and keep going.


We keep breathing through the most eviscerating of pain.

We become able to genuinely smile and laugh.

We learn how to reach out to those behind us to Offer Love, Caring, Compassion And Support.

Through our broken, shattered and shredded hearts, we somehow keep loving others; Even When We Don’t Feel Capable Of Love, It Remains.

We go to TCF meetings when we would rather stay home on the couch with a blanket over our heads.

We Learn Tools For Dealing With Our Grief And We Implement Them even when we would rather just sit on the couch with a blanket over our heads.

Maybe not every time, yet many times,
We Get Up Off The Couch And We Move And Do Things And Go Places With People Because We Know They Want Us To,
even when we’d rather be sitting on the couch with a blanket over our heads.

We Become The Keeper Of And The Tellers Of Their Stories.

We Make Sure That They Are Kept Alive For This Generation And The Ones To Follow.

We Help Others Learn, And Not Suffer The Same Mistakes Of Their Death.



That I didn’t “have any other choice: does not negate my strength for survival
in much the same way that I use the word “AND” instead of “BUT” to not negate what came before it.

While I once found Gratitude in Grief to be a laughable concept,
it is now become AN INGRAINED HABIT.

While stumbling across “Driveway Hearts” might have once been accidental, I now search for them wherever I go.
I look for moments of
and laughter
and sunshine
and smiles
and now when I experience them, I no longer feel guilty for feeling them without Robyn Alive,
I share them with my daughter, who may not here physically,
yet I KNOW is sharing them with me.

I have begun to accept that even without Robyn’s physical presence on Earth that there are still beautiful sunrises and sunsets; that there are still natural wonders of beauty; there are plenty of remaining reasons for laughter smiles and happiness.

I am back to a place of remembering and realizing that before Robyn was born I was a person with Life, who Lived Life, who loved and was loved; who accomplished and enjoyed my accomplishments.
Even while being a mother first and foremost to my children,
I still was a woman
and a person
and I still embraced a life that was peripheral to my children and separate from them.
If I have existed in all those other ways while Robyn was living, than I should also be able and wanting to exist in all those ways while she is enjoying her time Being Spirit!


 Yes.  I am STRONG.

And like it or not, someday, it will be possible look back and realize that it took great strength to Get Through Each And Every Moment Of Each And Every Day and To Find A Way To Become Part Of The Future.

“STRONG”  doesn’t mean not hurting
“STRONG”  doesn’t mean forgetting
“STRONG”  doesn’t mean wishing, every single day, that Life were different

“STRONG” means living and surviving with All Of THAT.

“STRONG” means taking and applying the tools that you are learning when you can,
allowing yourself the grief
and the mourning
and the collapsing under the pain,
when you cannot.

STRONG” means being willing to admit, to understand, that you are in the most traumatic, tumultuous, horrible place and pain of your entire life
while it seems impossible to ever be happy once again,
you are willing to say that, maybe, possibly someday, you might again Be Happy…

I came to realize, even in the bouts of raw enveloping pain, that I had to develop a strong ability to recognize that

“Maybe Some Day, I Might Be Able To Allow for The Possibility to Feel Joy Again Some Day,
I would say,
“It won’t be TODAY.”

Now, I have matured in Grief, and in My Own Self, and  I know to connect those thoughts with the word AND.
Those things are Not Opposed.
They are Real Components of The Life We Lead.
NOW I know that Accepting; Allowing For THE POSSIBILITY,
while admitting that it isn’t happening Right Now,
is Very Necessary For Growth Within Grief.

It’s perfectly appropriate to say
“I am entirely miserable
maybe, someday,
I will be more than that

Recently, I posted about how someone had reminded me about everything that I had really accomplished since Robbie’s death.

Because I had felt consumed by the Great Nothingness,
(an Earth of which she was no longer physically part),
and because I hurt so badly that I didn’t care about living,
I think that I assumed that my life had been NOTHING for the last decade.

Thankfully, my eyes have been opened to the fact that while I felt that I was trudging through life and had given up on living,
that I was actually truly impacting the lives of those around me
I was Becoming A Survivor
rather than a Collateral Victim of my daughter’s death.


for so, so long it didn’t matter to me whether I was or not.

Now, I understand that My Strength In Grief,
My Ability to Go Forward in Life
is one of the Most Genuine
ways that I can Honor My Deceased Child
who remains
of it.





I had been sharing all this, voice to text, while walking down and up
OUR DRIVEWAY FROM HELL, 1000 feet one way, of eroded dirt, rocks, and steep elevation.

I am struggling to do at least 5 laps every day, even when I would rather sit on the couch under a blanket!  I owe it to my body to try to take care of it, even just a little.

It took me much longer to do my walk, as I recorded my thoughts, because I kept pausing every few seconds to take another photo of A Driveway Heart.

Driveway Hearts have become a constant reminder to me that GRATITUDE IN GRIEF Can Exist  and Does Exist and that I need to constantly make it a part of my every day life.

They are reminder of spirit and beauty and gifts….

They force me to keep my eyes open to possibility.

With every Driveway Heart, I discover I am forced to open up my own eyes to the life of which I am still part.

I become connected to my daughter, my mother, my father and my sister again and again and again.
I am reminded that No Matter How Cracked Broken And Misshapen These Hearts Are, That They Continue To Exist….
A Reminder Of My Own Heart.

Like other Bereaved Parents before me,

I once believed that I was
because I was
Only Putting In Time
I really didn’t have any choice in that matter.

Yet. the truth of the matter is, I had had several unsuccessful suicide attempts long before Robyn was born, and even following.
I do have the skills and the ability to die by suicide at any time.
It does take INCREDIBLE STRENGTH to keep enduring the life that we are given after the death of our child.

The definition of Strong is

“able to withstand great force or pressure”.

For over ten years,
I have Survived, enduring Being A Bereaved Mom.

There Could Be No Better Definition of STRONG. ♥




31 DAYS OF HOPE – 2017

Every day, through the month of December 2017, our
The Compassionate Friends National Director, Debbie Rambis,
is hosting conversations about Hope in Grief,
through TCF 31 Days of Hope videos, on youtube.

Each video offers the perspective of a TCF member who lives this life;
who started, as many of us start, with thinking that Hope may be impossible,
or even that Hope is a word of which we may never relate…
but, slowly, each person has come to a place of Different Living.

On these videos they share the HOWs, WHYs, WAYs of Surviving Their Grief.
They share how they are becoming or have become, Intentional Survivors, instead of Collateral Victims of their Loved One’s Death.

You are invited to post your own personal message of Hope, with a photo of your loved one, on
The Wall of Hope

Check Back for Updates as New Messages of Hope are Created
TCF 31 Days of Hope 2017 (pdf Table of Links)

1 Debbie Rambis
Director of
The Compassionate Friends
Tony’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-1
2 Mark Rambis Tony’s Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-2
3 Erica McKeel Murphy’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-3
4 Steve Parker Alyssa’s Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-4
5 Marcia Alig Daniel’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-5
6 Jordon Ferber Russel’s Brother https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-6
7 Bob and Mary Lane Amanda’s Mom and Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-7
8 Theresa Iervolino Jessica’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-8
9 Debbie Dullabaun Little Dale’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-9
10 Donna Flynn Rich’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-10
11 Barbara Allen Jessica’s Mom
Jim’s Mom
John Roger’s Sister
Bill’s Sister
Tom’s Sister
Amanda’s Aunt
12 Sue Williams Bernard’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-12
13 French Smith Steve’s Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-13
14 Roy and Barbara Davies Roy and Taylor’s Mom and Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-14
15 Allie Sims Big A’s Sister https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-15
16 Patrick Malone Lance’s Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-16
17 Linda Wallace


and Benjamin’s mom
Bereaved Gram
18 Debbie Floyd TJ’s mom
Bobby, Michaels and Carl’s sister
19 Art Estrella Brian’s Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-19
20 Spring Texas Chapter https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-20
21 Cathy Tull Sarah’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-21
22 Nivia Vazquez Madre de José Francisco https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-22


23 Julie Brown Korie and Kacie’s mom to angel babies https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-23
24 Heidi Horsley Scott’s sister and Matthew’s cousin. She talks about sibling grief. https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-24
25 Bart Sumner David ‘s Dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-25
26 Peggy Johnson Jordan’s Mom https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-Day26
27 Mark Tull Sarah’s Step-dad https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-27
28 Susan Chan https://tinyurl.com/TCF31DaysofHope2017-28


Great Apologies that it became necessary to cancel this anticipated event.
for additional listing of other local candle lightings, please check


In honor of our 21st Annual Worldwide Candle Lighting share a message to our memorial wall in memory of your child, grandchild, or sibling.
Sharing to the memorial wall will be available until Wednesday 6:00 pm (EST), December 13th.
The memorial wall will remain on our website until Summer of 2018 at


Please Register Using Form Below


Thank you
Lisa Cortese, Cristina’s mom 
for hosting host our gathering, through the generosity of her mom, Norah Gadomski,
in Memory of Cristina Marie Cortes and Bernie Gadomski
57 1/2 Elm Street Rockville, CT
located close to the corner near Rockville General Hospital
and the huge stone Congregational Church.
Mrs. Gadomski’s private home  is located behind
(A Residential Care Home and Assisted Living),
NORAH’S PLACE is a beautiful Victorian yellow house.
with a ‘statue’ of a horse and buggy in front.

All chapter members, their families and friends are invited to attend.
Unlike our meetings, we do not limit age.
If you have a young one who you feel could participate, they, too, are welcomed.
Also welcome are any bereaved parents, grandparents and siblings
who may have never attended or can not attend a TCF EOTR CT Chapter meeting,
but would like to become part of the gathering.

Those attending our chapter’s candle lighting are asked to bring an item or two to contribute to our Pot Luck Supper, Snacks and Desserts.
We will be running a slide show presentation of all of our  loved ones.
Photos can be submitted electronically by emailing them to Bettie-Jeanne at  TCFEastOfTheRiverCT@gmail.com before midnight December 7.
If you’d like, share a few words about your child’s  or sibling’ life; their likes or dislikes, what made them laugh, what made them special.
If you have a poem or reading that you would like to contribute, please email also (or bring it with you).

This is NOT a Holiday Party ~ But there will be  holiday decorations.
It is an informal, caring gathering,  of “like-hearted” families who understand the challenges faced not only at this time of year, but all the days of our lives.

 An RSVP is appreciated via the form below
Questions?  email   Bettie-Jeanne at
or  leave a voice message or  leave a voice message at 860-375-EØTR (3087)


please list the name of the person being remembered with the name of the person attending & relationship in ( parentheses) For example: Robyn (Janet & Ted Flanagin, Robbie's aunt and uncle)
We are planning a pot luck dinner before the candle lighting with desserts and snacks after the candle lighting. Entries, Appetizers, Desserts, Salads, Beverages are all appreciated, but are not necessary to be able to attend.


I don’t have words to describe the emotion that enveloped me at all of our at The Compassionate Friends National Conferences.
Each time, there I stood, shoulder to shoulder, heart to heart with 1,500+ other bereaved moms, dads, and siblings.
Each year, in a light originating from a single flame, until the glow enveloped the hall, we lit candles, one from the other, in memory of our loved ones.
As the flame was passed, we were recipients of the gift of the child’s name who brought light to our dark candle.
Then Jim and I proudly spoke our RobynApril’s name as we gave light to the candle next to us, and heard, in return, their own beloved one’s name. 

I have lit candles at home for our daughter and taken comfort from the connection that was felt.
But there was something deeper, more meaningful, when I stood among others who knew my heartache because of  living their own.
At that moment,  eyes locked, Jim and I reached for each other’s hands
below the glow of the lights, and without a word exchanged, we felt deeply connected in the moment.
We were Robyn’s parents, together; each living the experience of her death alone, and yet sharing the deep loss, together, as her family.
Sharing a Candle Lighting with other bereaved parents, siblings, grandparents, friends, family is Profound, Intimate, Important.
For the past 21 years, The Compassionate Friends has hosted a Worldwide Candle Lighting that reaches across the globe like a sea of brightness,
uniting family and friends who light candles for one hour to honor to remember children who have died from any cause,
at any age from pre-birth to full maturity.
As candles burn down in one time zone, they are then lit in the next, creating a virtual 24-hour wave of light
as the observance continues around the world.
To provide for intimacy and a “homey” atmosphere,
our TCF East Of the River CT Chapter chooses to join the world’s largest candle lighting at the private home of one of members.
This year we thank Cristina’s mom and grandmom for hosting this very special gathering.♥

More information about The Compassionate Friends Worldwide Candle Lighting Event can be found on our own website at
December 10, 2017 TCF East Of The River CT Candle Lighting
Honoring Our Loved Ones
A list of other Connecticut and other Candle Lighting events,
including the on-line virtual candle lighting
and signing of the  Remembrance Book,
can be found on the National Website under
News and Events /Worldwide Candle Lighting.