Pathways Issue 10

Nature & Your Grief Journey

Grieving is not easy. In fact, it can be one of the most difficult but potentially strengthening journeys in life. But to become a stronger person on the other side…

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By Coral Popowitz, Executive Director of Children’s Grief Connection At Hearts of Hope grief camp for kids we know we have a profound impact on grieving children. Our mission at…

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older couple planning ahead for funeral wishes
How to Get Started With Funeral Preplanning

Planning a funeral after someone you love dies can be stressful. Emotions are already running high, and when you’re overwhelmed by grief, making decisions can be difficult. There are so…

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Nature & Your Grief Journey

Grieving is not easy. In fact, it can be one of the most difficult but potentially strengthening journeys in life. But to become a stronger person on the other side of the grief journey, we have to walk through the pain. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected author and grief expert, puts it, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it [if] you are to reconcile yourself to it.” One habit that has helped many people process and deal with their grief is spending time in nature. You may be thinking, “Nah, I’m not an outdoorsy person. That won’t work for me.” Before you throw the idea out, take a moment to read through some of the benefits of incorporating time outdoors into your schedule.

Nature reminds us that death is part of the cycle of life.

As much as we could like to escape death, it is a part of life. The natural cycle is very evident in the cyclical nature of the seasons. In the spring, life begins anew, continues into summer, begins to fall in autumn, and dies in winter. But there is hope – life begins again. In many ways, our individual lives experience these seasons. Perhaps you are in the winter of your grief – feeling lifeless on the inside – but if you allow it, spring will come.

Nature provides physical evidence that life does go on.

In a similar vein, just as the seasons show us that death is a part of life, they also remind us that life goes on. This cycle of birth, life, death, and rebirth helps put life and death in perspective. Even though it may feel like life has stopped with the death of a loved one, it hasn’t. In some ways, this truth may make you angry (how can life just keep going on when the one I love is dead?), but there is also comfort and assurance in the certainty of the continuation of life. 'In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible summer.' Albert Camus

Nature nurtures our mental and emotional health.

A Stanford-led study found that people who walked in natural areas (versus urban) showed a marked decrease of activity in the part of the brain associated with depression. When there is high activity in this area, a person is more likely to become depressed, so a decrease in activity is a positive thing. In fact, research shows that there is a link between connecting people with nature and faster recovery rates, reduced stress, and eased symptoms of mental and physical disorders. Just looking at nature can be beneficial to your health.

Nature demands nothing from us.

During times of grief, you may feel pulled in many different directions. Work. Family. Friends. Grocery shopping. All the big and small responsibilities of life. In contrast to all of these things (even though they are good), nature asks nothing of us. In many ways, it gives to us. It accepts us as we are and doesn’t demand answers from us. “Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer’s day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.” John Lubbock

Nature affords us quietness and solitude.

For many of us grieving, time away to think and process is necessary but hard to achieve. Taking a walk, going for a bike ride, hiking a mountain trail – all of these things give us the time and solitude needed to process our thoughts. We have an opportunity to enjoy the quietness without feeling cut off from the world. And when needed, we can talk out loud – to ourselves or to our loved one – without an audience.

Nature allows us to disconnect from the world around us.

In a world that is becoming increasingly chaotic and negative, sometimes we just need time to unplug, especially when we are dealing with feelings of grief. For some of us, it’s hard to completely unplug but doing so is valuable and healthy. Taking time to enjoy nature gives us the opportunity to embrace the world without its distractions and miscommunications. Even if something is good and positive, couldn’t we all use some time away? “Look deep into nature, and then you will understand everything better.” Albert Einstein

Nature brings wonder back into our lives.

When we’ve lost someone we love, life seems a bit dimmer. Its joys aren’t as joyful; its mysteries aren’t as fascinating. But nature can help bring wonder back into our lives. The majesty of the Rocky Mountains; the beauty of a sun-kissed beach, flanked by turquoise waters; the rolling green hills of spring. Nature is limitless in its artistry and can remind us that there is still beauty in the world.

Nature draws our attention outward.

Grief is often mentally exhausting. In some cases, the events of the death play in our minds over and over again, especially in the case of an unexpected or traumatic death. We live most of our lives in our own minds, where we can get caught up in circular thoughts that may not be healthy for us. Nature can be an outlet for your thoughts and draw your attention outward to give your brain a much-needed break. “In every walk with nature one receives far more than he seeks.” John Muir

Nature activates social support if you enjoy it with others.

As human beings, we are wired for interaction and community. During times of grief, some of us have a tendency to isolate ourselves, perhaps as a defense mechanism against further pain. But, despite the pain, it’s important to receive support from others. We aren’t meant to go through life alone. If you enjoy walking or hiking, invite a friend to join you and allow them to support you through your grief. These are only a few of the reasons why nature can be quite beneficial to any grief journey. If you decide to incorporate outdoor activities into your life, make sure to start out slow. The act of grieving is tiring. If you can only walk for five minutes before you need a break, start out with five minutes. Over time, you will be able to go for longer periods. This is about you and your grief journey – don’t worry about what other people are doing to deal with their own grief. Find what works best for you and stick with it until you come to a place where the pang of loss doesn’t sting quite as deeply.
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By Coral Popowitz, Executive Director of Children's Grief Connection

At Hearts of Hope grief camp for kids we know we have a profound impact on grieving children. Our mission at the Children’s Grief Connection is to bring hope and healing to those children and that was more than evident throughout this past weekend as we gathered to greet a small but very traumatized group of children and teens who had their loved one die recently. At the Hearts of Hope camp there were several families struggling with suicide, one with a murder-suicide. There were six children grieving the loss of a brother and friend in a car accident. There were three teen boys coping with the suicide of their classmate and best friend. There were deaths from heart attacks and cancer, mothers, fathers, grandmothers – and there were grieving volunteers, adults who took their time, energy and courage to meet these children at the soft spot in our hearts that hurts most when our loved one dies, the spot where hope and healing starts.

We know it from the messages of hope and healing that were collected in our mascot Hope the Bear’s big white basket: “my hope is that nobody else dies in my family” “my hope is to have a good future” “my hope is that Thanksgiving and mom’s birthday will be wonderful” “my hope is to move on in life and stop using my mother’s death as an excuse to not try to be who I truly want to be.”

We know it from the Love and Anger wall with messages of love: “I miss your ‘magic’ kisses” and “you were the best – in the whole world” and messages of pain on the Anger Wall: “WHY? I loved you” “I hate what you did but I love you.” We know it in the candle lighting – in the darkened room, heart shaped candles ablaze – we share memories and say our goodbyes.

As the room lights up with the warm candle glow, we give permission for young and old alike to shed tears, to express pain, laughter, hope and love. Maybe it was the candlelighting, or the sharing circle just before, maybe it was in the questions the doctor and funeral director answered, or in the caring and concern her volunteer counselors provided. Whatever it was, a beautiful ten year old girl who had delighted everyone with her smile and her kindnesses shared with her counselors how much pain she was in. At her young age she had a plan to end her pain; she laid out in detail how she intended to end her young life because the emotional pain of her loss was too much for her tender heart to bear. With the help of Hearts of Hope she was able to write a letter to her mother about how she felt and what she’d planned. As frightening as this experience was for all of us involved, the hope lies in her being able to reach out and tell someone of her pain, her plan, knowing help was available to her. Because of her being at Hearts of Hope camp she and her mother will now be able to get the help they need in the days and months and years ahead; a life was saved.

At Hearts of Hope camp our anger is left behind, our love remains and our hopes are carried forward. It’s stories like hers that bring us hope…hope that our mission reaches more children and teens who hurt the way she did...

From Reprinted by permission of Coral Popowitz.

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How to Get Started With Funeral Preplanning

Planning a funeral after someone you love dies can be stressful. Emotions are already running high, and when you’re overwhelmed by grief, making decisions can be difficult. There are so many decisions to consider: burial or cremation, type of service, and how to pay for everything.

If you want to save your family from all the stress that comes with planning a funeral, you can preplan your funeral. When you make choices about your funeral ahead of time, you'll remove the burden of planning a funeral for your loved ones on one of the hardest days of their lives. Plus, you’ll save your family from emotional overspending - buying more than they need when they're grieving.

older couple planning ahead for funeral wishes When you preplan, you can learn about your options ahead of time and make choices that are good for you and your family. Ideally, a thoughtfully prepared funeral plan will help your family cope with your death and begin their grieving journey well. Preplanning your funeral is simple and typically takes only an hour to complete! If you're interested in preplanning, here are a few basic steps you can follow to create a healing and meaningful funeral plan.

1. Work with a local funeral service provider.

To start, locate a well-respected, locally-owned funeral home in your area. Your local funeral home is an excellent resource for you. They can help you include all of the necessary details in your plan. It's what they do every day! Most funeral homes offer free funeral preplanning services and even offer ways to prepay for your funeral, which can help you save more money.

2. Consider the needs of your family.

family with grandparents enjoying time together Next, think about what type of services your family will need. When a loved one dies, mourners have specific needs that must be met to help them grieve in a healthy way. They need a way to outwardly express their grief, remember and honor the one who has died, and search for meaning in the loss. A thoughtfully prepared personalized funeral service can be an important first step in a healthy grieving process.

3. Create a written plan and get a free cost estimate.

After you've thought about creating a service that will help your family heal, it's time to document your wishes. You probably have a lot of ideas about what you'd like to include in your funeral services. But if you don't write anything down, no one will know what you wanted! A funeral preplanning specialist can educate you on all the options available. Once your ideas are written out, you will receive a free cost estimate so that you can plan accordingly.

4. Make a financial plan.

person stacking up quarters Next, it's time to plan for finances. Let's face it: death never comes at a convenient time. Some day in the future, your family will be responsible for coming up with a large amount of money in a very short time to cover funeral costs. Now is the time to start thinking about your plans to cover funeral expenses and relieve your family of that burden. While many people think their life insurance will cover their funeral costs, complications can delay or prevent payment. Instead, you can consider paying for your funeral in advance. Most funeral homes provide options for funding a funeral in advance, whether you want to pay for it in one lump sum or with a payment plan that fits your budget. Paying for services ahead of time can often save your family thousands of dollars in the long run.

5. Tell your emergency contacts about your plan.

Finally, once you've made your funeral plans, you should notify at least two emergency contacts. After all, having a plan doesn't help if no one knows about it! Be sure to let your contacts know where they can find your important funeral planning documents. Preplanning your funeral may be intimidating at first, but it pays off in the long run! The more you can plan in advance, the more peace of mind you and your family will have. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to contact your local funeral home to set up a free preplanning consultation.
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