All Posts By

christy.kessler

Are Euphemisms About Death Helpful?

By Grief/Loss

None of us particularly like talking about death. It feels unpleasant, uncomfortable, and a bit too morose to think about on a regular basis. Because we find death an unpleasant topic, we’ve created a large number of euphemisms to help us allude to death. This is both good and bad, appropriate and unhelpful, depending on the situation. Let’s take some time to dive a little deeper into situations where using euphemisms isn’t as helpful as we’d like to think.

Common Euphemisms

As we go a little deeper into this topic, let’s first establish what a euphemism is and which ones we commonly use when speaking about death. According to the Merriam-Webster Dictionary, a euphemism is defined asthe substitution of an agreeable or inoffensive expression for one that may offend or suggest something unpleasant.”

Some of the euphemisms we frequently use for death are:

  • Resting in peace, at peace, eternal rest, asleep
  • Didn’t make it
  • Departed, gone, lost, slipped away
  • Not here anymore
  • Lost her battle, lost her life, succumbed
  • Breathed her last
  • Passed, passed on, or passed away
  • Went to be with the Lord, went to Heaven, met his Maker
  • Was called home, is in a better place

Euphemisms and the Grief Journey

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief expert, counselor, and educator, tells us that during times of mourning, we have six needs as we walk through the grief journey. They are: 1) to acknowledge the reality of the death, 2) to embrace the pain of loss, 3) to remember the person who has died, 4) to develop our new self-identity, 5) to search for meaning, and 6) to receive ongoing support from others. When these six needs are met, we are on our way to reconciling ourselves to the loss we have suffered in a healthy way.

Understanding that the first need is to acknowledge the reality of death, you can see how euphemisms might pose a problem. By definition, euphemisms allow us to avoid an unpleasant topic, but in order to grieve well, we must actually face death head on. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief.  Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.”

By using words like “dead,” “died,” and “dying,” we work toward acknowledging the reality of the death. You may not want to use these words at the beginning, while your emotions are still in turmoil and your mind rebelling against reality, but in order to move forward, you must one day acknowledge that “dead” and “died” are the reality and you are ready to face it.

Euphemisms and Children

Naturally, we want to protect our children from what we think could be harmful. However, having an understanding of death is not harmful; it’s necessary (as much as we might wish it wasn’t). In most cases, a child trusts their parent(s) more than any other adult, which is why this information should come from you.

For children, euphemisms can be particularly confusing. They are still learning the nuances of language and are often quite literal. For example, when you say someone “didn’t make it,” a child may think, “Didn’t make it where?” and not understand that someone has died. Or, when you say someone is “resting in peace,” a child may begin to fear going to sleep, thinking they will not wake up again. With children, it’s best to be straightforward, clear, and concise, but also gentle.

For more tips on how to talk with children about death and funerals, make sure to read 7 Keys Topics to Discuss with Children Before a Funeral. This article will guide you through preparing your child for attending a funeral and give you helpful information on how to talk about death and its complexities.

When is a Euphemism About Death Useful?

Euphemisms about death can be used in a wide variety of circumstances, and they are more appropriate to use when the death is far into the future. For example, if you want to talk to your parents (who are still in good health) about preplanning their funerals, you might say, “I wanted to talk about what happens when you’re not here anymore.” The death has not occurred yet, so it’s less abrasive and gentler to use euphemisms at that time. Or you can use a euphemism in conjunction with a dose of reality. For example, you could say, “After a medical battle, she died this week and is now at peace.”

In general, we use euphemisms about death to distance ourselves from the reality of death. While this habit might help us in the moment, it doesn’t address the underlying issue: most of us are afraid of death and don’t know how to grieve. While carefully considering when to use euphemisms is just one small step toward accepting the reality of death and our own mortality, it’s no small thing. After all, you take every journey just one step at a time.

Estate Planning for the Blended Family

By Estate Planning, Explore Options

In today’s world, it’s more and more common to be part of a blended family. For many families, being blended creates a sense of belonging and harmony. For others, it may be a source of contention or strife. No matter which category your family falls into, blended families introduce some potential challenges when it comes to estate planning.

The Challenge

According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans are in a “step” relationship of some kind. This means divorce, remarriage, and widowhood are a part of many lives. But what’s the estate planning challenge here?

With estate planning, the challenge revolves around whether the correct people are listed on your important documents or not. In general, we are a bit lax about updating our accounts, files, or beneficiaries as often as we should. For instance, you might have taken out an accidental death & dismemberment insurance policy with your employer five years ago, but since then, you’ve divorced and remarried. Do you know which spouse is listed as a beneficiary on your policy? Is it the correct spouse?

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself

For those who have a blended estate plan, it’s helpful to think through some important questions as you put your affairs in order.

  1. Does your will explicitly say how to handle your assets after your death?
  2. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who should serve as your proxy?
  3. If you have children, who should take over their care should something happen to you?
  4. Regarding your assets, do you need to strike a balance between a current spouse and a former spouse? Or children from one marriage versus a second?
  5. When you make your estate plans, do you need to include a former spouse in addition to a current spouse?
  6. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  7. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

It’s never too early to put together an estate plan. After all, our tomorrows aren’t guaranteed. So, no matter your age, review these 5 important estate planning documents and decide if any of them are right for you in your current season of life.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

For some families, you may be unable to take care of everything on your own, or you may just want to have someone else who can help out with the details. With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf. If you previously signed a financial power of attorney and would now like to change your agent, speak to your estate planning attorney to update your records.

If you become incapacitated without a financial power of attorney and no one else has access to your accounts, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

2. Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint the best person to make decisions regarding your medical needs. By making your medical wishes known, you take the burden of decision making off your family. Any family can experience stress or strain when medical wishes are unclear. For blended families (especially those who don’t always see eye-to-eye), the medical power of attorney can help prevent disagreements and strain among family members.

3. Living Will

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will, which is a document that clearly outlines what medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. This type of list provides peace of mind to family members, giving them confidence in any medical decisions they may need to make on your behalf.

Because the list is extensive, talk to your doctor and family members about your medical wishes. If you want to update your medical directives to include a new spouse, you can do so at any time. Just make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal gives clarity to family members by providing instruction for the distribution of your assets. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes.

If you are part of a blended family, a will may become especially necessary in case a former spouse, estranged children, or even step-relationship try to make a claim. If there are certain individuals whom you’d like to prevent from gaining access to your assets, a legal will is the best way to prevent it. Plus, you can revise a will at any time so you can make changes when needed.

5. Revocable Living Trust

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills. You transfer your property into the trust, naming yourself the trustee, and then adding a successor trustee to take over upon your death. The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes.

If you have a large number of assets, a living trust is very helpful. Plus, you avoid the necessity of probate court and can keep everything private. Like a legal will, a living trust can be revised at any time.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. You must have a will to appoint guardians for minor children, designate an executor, and assign a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now that you are aware of some of the estate planning challenges and are familiar with the five most important estate planning documents, start talking with the people closest to you about how to set things in place so that no matter what tomorrow brings, you’re prepared!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Why Do We Feel the Loss of Pets so Deeply?

By Grief/Loss, Pets

“Our capacity to give and receive love is what ultimately defines us. Yet love inevitably leads to grief. You see, love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. Grief is predicated on our capacity to give and receive love. Some people choose not to love, and so, never grieve. If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, however, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As human beings, we love. We love many different kinds of things. People. Places. Cherished memories. Keepsake items. Pets. As Dr. Wolfelt points out, because we love, we grieve when that which we love is lost to us. That is why we feel grief and pain when our pets die.

But why do we feel the pain so deeply? What is it that pets bring to our lives that is so essential to so many?

Pets are like family

In the United States, around 68% of families own a pet. According to a poll, 95% of pet owners consider pets part of the family. But why do we consider them part of the family? Because we love them and are concerned about their well-being. We want them to eat well and be healthy. But most of all, we look forward to their presence. Like a family member, we look forward to spending time with them, and they become part of our definition of “home.” Life isn’t quite complete without them.

Pets delight in our company

While it’s true that some pets delight in our company more than others, in the end, it’s all about companionship. Some people who live alone want a pet to bring life to the house. And for many, having a pet is about physical contact and comfort. As human beings, we want to be wanted, and pets do that so well. When we lose a pet that provided companionship and much-needed physical touch, it’s natural to feel a sense of loss and experience the emotions of grief.

Pets become part of our natural routine

Our lives center around routine to a certain extent. Wake up, eat, work, play, rest, repeat. Our pets become a part of that daily progression. Perhaps your pet is the first to greet you every morning as you eat breakfast. We spend time walking our pets, playing with our pets, and looking after their well-being. We become used to them and expect them to be a continual part of our lives. When our pets die, it can be a shock, disrupting the comfortable routine of life and creating a hole.

 Pets give us unconditional love

One last reason why we feel the loss of our pets so deeply is because they give us unconditional love. Relationships with people are sometimes messy and complicated. On the other hand, our pets don’t care how lazy we are, if we make the bed in the morning, or if we forget to take out the trash. In fact, they love us even when we forget to take them on a walk or feed them an evening meal. Our pets love us unconditionally, and we deeply value that steadfast love in our lives. When it’s gone, it hurts.

Should I Grieve for a Pet?

Absolutely. Grief isn’t present only when we lose a person we love. It shows up when we lose pets, possessions, homes, jobs, all sorts of things. While the loss of a parent is, without a doubt, a much more significant loss to many, it may not be for all. For some, those who never knew their parents or had negative relationships with them, the loss of a beloved pet may be more impactful.

The point is, we cannot rank or compare the losses we face. We feel what we feel, and at that time and in that moment, it is normal and natural. If you have lost a beloved pet, know that your grief is not misplaced. It is the natural result of your love. Take the time that you need to grieve so that you can find healing, and perhaps someday, the love of another pet.

The 5 Basic Steps of Funeral Planning

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Thinking about planning a funeral may make you feel anxious, especially if you are arranging a funeral for a loved one who has recently died. The whole thing just sets your anxiety alarm bells ringing! If that’s you, you’re not alone. Being tasked with planning a funeral can feel very intimidating.

In large part, the anxiety comes from not knowing what to do, how to start, or what to expect. Most people only plan one or maybe two funerals in their entire lifetime, so it makes sense if you aren’t entirely comfortable with the process. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. But think of it this way: everything new is a little scary in the beginning. That first day of class. Your first day at a new job. Moving to a new place. Eventually, you find your groove and become comfortable. But it only happens with exposure and actively working to familiarize yourself with your surroundings.

The same line of thinking applies to funeral planning. It’s intimidating because you don’t know much about it. On top of that, funeral planning is about death and dying, a topic that most of us usually try to avoid thinking about as much as possible. All this to say, it is completely natural to feel apprehensive when thinking about planning a funeral.

One of the keys to overcoming anxious feelings about the unknown is to educate yourself about the new task or experience ahead of you. In this case, funeral planning. Let’s talk about the major aspects of planning so you can feel empowered and informed. Also, feel free to print this Funeral Planning Checklist to help you make sure that you’ve hit all the key steps.

Let’s get started.

The 5 Basics Steps of Funeral Planning

1. Choose the type of disposition you’d like

The first order of business when making funeral arrangements is choosing a disposition type. The two most common types of final disposition are traditional burial and cremation. There are other, less common options, like green burial, burial at sea, or anatomical donation. None of these are necessarily better than the others. It all comes down to what aligns most closely with your loved one’s and your family’s personal values.

2. Choose the type of remembrance service you’d like

Next, you need to decide what type of remembrance service you’d prefer. For those who choose traditional burial, it’s common to have a visitation before the funeral service so that friends and family have an opportunity to say goodbye to the one who has died and offer condolences to the grieving family. For those who wish to be cremated, you can still have a funeral service and/or visitation with the body present before cremation takes place. Alternatively, a memorial service can follow cremation. The most important thing is that you do something to honor and remember the life that was lived.

3. Choose options to personalize the funeral experience

Personalization is key to a healing and meaningful funeral experience. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says “What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique.  Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”

To create a meaningful, healing, and personalized funeral, consider including the seven elements of a funeral, adding your own personal flair to each one. For example, if they were a huge fan of big band music, include that style of music. If they enjoyed making quilts, display those quilts. You can even allow specific mourners to take one of the quilts home as a remembrance. If they loved the beach, have a beachside service. The possibilities are endless. You may also want to prepare a personalized obituary, a touching eulogy, or other special remarks or readings that capture your loved one’s character and spirit.

4. Choose a place of final rest

It’s important to have a plan for a permanent final resting place. This may mean a burial plot, which is an option for those who are buried traditionally or for those who are cremated. The options available for cremation are many and varied, so it’s important to choose what works best for you. Some of the options for cremated remains include scattering and placement in a mausoleum or columbarium, among others.

Some families prefer to keep the cremated remains of a loved one at home for a time. This is perfectly fine – sometimes it’s necessary to help process grief. However, keeping an urn somewhere in the home is not a long-term solution. Instead, after a period of time has passed and the grief isn’t as sharp, select a final resting place for the cremated remains so that they are taken care of long after you are gone.

5. Choose a method of payment

If your loved one has preplanned and prefunded a funeral, then you will be in good shape. You may have to pay for a few items out of pocket that were not included in the original plan, such as catering, a reception hall, flowers, and possibly flowers or police escort. However, compared to many other families, you will not have much to cover in the way of funeral expenses.

If no prearrangements exist, your loved one may have had life insurance or a final expense plan set up to help pay for funeral costs. Talk to a funeral professional about how to use these types of funds to pay for a funeral. If the funeral was unexpected, there may be no funds available to pay for a funeral. If this is the case, you can ask family members to help pay for different parts of the funeral or to contribute in different ways, such as bringing food or sending flowers. Sites like youcaring.com or gofundme.com can assist with crowdfunding to help pay for a loved one’s services if money is tight. See 5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral or 7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Costs to review several payment options.

Now that you know these 5 major points of planning, you can talk to a funeral professional with more confidence. While the intimidation may not have entirely disappeared, you have tools in your belt now that will help you during the planning process. And for what you don’t know, funeral professionals are there to help. While you may only plan a handful of funerals in your lifetime, they have planned hundreds or even thousands. You aren’t on your own in this. Lean on them for their expertise and ask all the questions you want.

Consider the Benefits of Planning Ahead

Before we finish, did you know that you can take care of these areas of planning ahead of time? Planning ahead for funeral wishes can be extremely helpful to your loved ones when they themselves are faced with the unknown of how to plan a funeral. We all know that death is inevitable. It’s something we cannot escape, so why not make every effort to plan for it and maybe make things a little easier on our loved ones?  The more your family knows about your final wishes, the easier the funeral planning process will go for them after you’re gone. Many families are plagued by the question, “Did we do the right thing?” It would be so much easier if they knew exactly what you wanted. And that’s just one reason why planning ahead benefits your family. For a full list of 10 reasons why planning ahead benefits you and your family, read 10 Reasons to Plan Ahead. You can give your family a special gift of love by planning ahead today for peace of mind tomorrow.

Balancing Grief and Joy During the Holidays

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

No matter what time of the year it is, grief is hard. It involves so many emotions, like sadness, anger, guilt, or relief. The Christmas holiday adds its own complexity to an already full emotional plate. It may feel like you are so filled with grief that you have no room for joy. So, how do you find the balance between grieving a loss and finding joy in the here and now?

Grief is a continual ebb and flow, intense one moment and gentle the next. It’s becoming increasingly understood that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and it takes time to process loss. At Christmas, there will be many reminders of your loss, and you may feel them keenly. That’s okay. That’s normal. While society may tell us that we should always be happy, it’s an unrealistic way to view life and the human heart. Instead of focusing on how to “be happy” this holiday season, let’s instead look at a few tips that may help you find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy.

Find a special way to honor your loved one

This year, though you may be missing the physical presence of someone dearly loved, you can still bring their spirit to life by finding a special way to honor their memory. You might set a seat of honor for them at the table or create a remembrance item. You could make their favorite dish, bring out a collage of favorite photos, or reminisce about some of your most cherished memories. If Christmas was your loved one’s favorite season, continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor. While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.

Don’t ignore what you feel

Because we don’t want to cause others distress, especially at Christmas, many of us may be tempted to ignore our own feelings. While there may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, it’s always best to let yourself feel what you feel. Take time to journal, paint, talk, or somehow express what’s going on inside. According to nationally recognized grief author, educator, and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, it’s best to “Find a place to be quiet and alone with your thoughts and feelings. In these moments of solitude, learn to check in with yourself about the death. Look your grief in the face and say hello to it.” Only by allowing ourselves to face the pain can we begin to move forward.

Don’t be afraid to say no

At Christmas, it can be easy to fill up the calendar with events. There are family get-togethers, school events, church events, community events, and so much more that may pull at your time and attention. Pay attention to how you feel, and don’t be afraid to say no. Do the things that will bring you the most joy or satisfaction and let everything else slide this year. By carefully planning how you will spend your time, you can ensure that your days are a healthy mix of activities. There’s no need to do everything, but do make sure that you participate in a few things that will bring you delight.

Take care of yourself

Take time this Christmas season to look after yourself. That may mean going to a spa for the day, getting a pedicure, taking a hike, or simply sitting down to read or watch a TV show. Grief is exhausting, and with all the extra demands on our time during the holiday season, it’s important to take time to rest and relax. Prioritize what’s most important to you and your family, and make those specific things happen. If shopping is stressful, give gift cards this year. If you can’t bring yourself to send the annual Christmas cards, don’t be afraid to skip a year. As you take care of yourself, you will find the strength you need to find joy in the sweet moments.

Accept that things are going to be different

When grieving a loss, some may drop all traditions as pointless and painful. Others may try to make sure nothing changes at all. No matter what your inclination, look for middle ground. Things will be different this year, and while it’s not a difference you wanted, there is joy to be found in making new memories and establishing new traditions. Focusing on the flaws of the season will only make you unhappy. If we try to force everything to be the same, we will be inevitably be disappointed. Instead, accept that things are going to be different and make the best of it.

Connect with those you love

The holidays are about spending time with people you love. In the midst of sorrow, we need time to both laugh and cry. It’s not healthy to maintain a constant attitude of grief. While it may feel disloyal at first, experiencing moments of joy while walking through grief is natural and normal. There’s no need to feel guilty. By connecting with those we love, and who love us, we have the opportunity to laugh and cry. We can share our dearest memories, cry over the pain we feel, and then find joy in the fact that we are still surrounded by people who love us.

Look for joy

This holiday season, don’t be afraid to feel joy. Feeling moments of happiness or delight doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten your loved one. They simply mean that you are human. You are made to feel a multitude of emotions at the same time. Laughter and tears. Joy and sorrow. We are complex beings, and our grief is strong some moments and subtle the next. By allowing yourself to feel both emotions, you can find the balance and truly grasp what it means to live well even in the middle of your grief journey. Life is full of irretrievable moments – don’t miss out on one this holiday season. Embrace it, cherish it, and find the balance.

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

By Christmas, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief, Seasonal

Many seniors of the older generation spend the holidays alone, which often leads to holiday grief. Even the healthiest seniors must face the consequences of the passage of time, which brings the death of loved ones, decreased energy and mobility, and the loss of independence and opportunities. Some seniors have lost a spouse, their children live far away, or many of their loved ones have already passed on due to illness or old age.

Imagine waking up on Christmas morning, knowing that there is no one to share the holiday with. The focus on family, friends, and togetherness during the holidays can create feelings of loneliness and grief. In a survey conducted by AARP, 67% of adults feel happy when thinking about spending time with family during the holidays. On the flip side, 31% of respondents said that they have felt lonely during the holiday season.

Even though many seniors are facing loneliness and holiday grief this year, we can do something to help. Whether it’s with an older family member or at a local assisted living center or nursing home, you can have a positive influence on the seniors around you. Take a look at these 12 holiday activities and ask yourself which ones you can do to help others this season.

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

1. Have a Gift-wrapping Party

Invite a few seniors in your life over to help you wrap gifts for Christmas. You can prepare a few sweet treats and warm drinks to make the time cozier and festive. Also, ask them to bring along any presents of their own so that you can all take part in wrapping gifts together. Even this small gesture can make a big difference in the hearts of those who are lonely or grieving.

2. Sing Carols or Other Christmas Songs

Whether you go to a nearby housing facility or invite people to your home, singing traditional Christmas carols and other holiday songs lifts the spirit. Break out in Joy to the World, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, or Jingle Bell Rock. Choose whatever suits your tastes or ask your guests for song requests. Another option is to gather a group together – adults, kids, or a mix – and go visit those who are homebound or in a nursing facility.

3. Bake Christmas Treats

We all have Christmas favorites. Hand-decorated sugar cookies. Mom’s famous mashed potatoes. That big bucket of fried chicken your family always gets. Or, the smoked turkey Uncle Al makes every year. For most of us, certain foods are associated with Christmas, and for those who are lonely or grieving, it can be renewing to cook (or bake) your Christmas favorites with others. Who knows – you may find a new Christmas favorite.

4. Decorate Together

Part of what makes Christmas so Christmasy is all of the decorations we put up in our homes and workplaces. If you know a senior who is experiencing holiday grief, they may not have the energy to decorate their home, so offer to come over to help them put things up. (Don’t forget to help take them down later.) Or, invite them over to help you decorate your own home for the holidays. Both options will make them feel loved and wanted.

5. Create Christmas Crafts

A fun activity for the holiday is crafting. You can choose whatever kind of craft you want – making a wreath or ornaments, knitting hats and scarves, or creating your own garland with popcorn, paper, or even burlap. There are so many options to choose from that you and the seniors in your life will stay busy all throughout the holidays.

6. Watch Christmas Movies

It’s a Wonderful Life. White Christmas. Home Alone. A Christmas Carol. Around this time of year, families pull out all the old Christmas movies. They sit down together and enjoy the timeless tales again. This year, consider inviting a senior loved one to take part in the movie marathon. Pull out the popcorn, cozy blankets, and Christmas goodies to complete the evening of cinematic fun.

7. Attend a Local Christmas Play

Many schools and local theater groups throughout the country put on theatrical events at Christmas time. Check out what is offered in your area and see if a senior friend would like to attend. Not only would it be an opportunity to get out of the house, the play will likely take their attention away from any loneliness or grief they may feel and fill them up with joy.

8. Take a Drive to Look at Christmas Lights

For some families, taking a drive around town to look at Christmas lights is a yearly tradition. It’s fun, and sometimes entertaining, to see how everyone decorates their homes for Christmas. Load up your family and a few senior friends to go out for an evening drive. Fill the car with Christmas music and take a few holiday snacks. Everyone is sure to end the evening filled with cheer.

9. Host a Christmas Party

If you have the space, you might consider putting on a Christmas party for some seniors you know. Or, you can put together an event for a parent and his or her friends. You can offer delicious dishes to eat, organize a gift exchange, or put together some fun games or competitions. The goal is to have fun and give everyone a holiday event to look forward to attending.

10. Go Out for a Shopping Day

Some seniors are no longer able to drive themselves or go places alone. Offering to go out for a shopping day might be just the thing to lift their spirits. Whether they want to actually buy or just window shop, the opportunity to get out, to see the Christmas decorations for themselves, and to spend time with a new friend is priceless.

11. Ask about Christmases Past

For many older seniors, their mothers, fathers, siblings, and even spouses or children, have already passed on, so there’s no one to create new memories with or recount the old ones. That’s why it’s so sweet to ask a senior about the Christmases they remember. To hear about their family growing up, the antics of siblings and cousins and children, the best and worst years. Asking to hear memories shows love and appreciation for that person as an individual and a friend.

12. Give Back to the Community

Another opportunity to help seniors who are alone or experiencing holiday grief is to invite them to focus on others. Communities all over provide opportunities to give during the Christmas season. Talk to the seniors in your life and ask if they want to take part in Toys for Tots, a canned food drive, Operation Christmas Child, or some other service project in your community. By bringing joy to others, we bring joy to ourselves.

All of these activities will help you engage with seniors who may be struggling this holiday season. Consider which ones you like best and go spread some Christmas cheer!

7 Pet Memorial Options

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Losing a pet can be like losing a person. While that may sound strange to some, grief isn’t about a who or a what, it’s about a relationship. And if you have a loving relationship with a pet, the grief can be very similar to what you might experience when a person dies, especially when the emotional connection to your pet is deep. And that’s okay. In fact, you may experience a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger, depression, or anxiety. All of these reactions to the pain of loss are completely normal, no matter who or what you may be grieving. One way that you can begin to process your loss is with a pet memorial.

For those who have lost a pet recently, one of the best things you can do throughout the grief process is to cherish your memories. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief expert, has walked with families through all kinds of grief. He says, “Memories are one of the best legacies after the death of a pet. Talk about and embrace these memories. Your pet entertained, comforted, frustrated but always loved you. Remember those times. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry. Remember, though, memories made in love can never be taken away.”

Now, let’s discuss 7 pet memorial options you might consider as you look for ways to cherish the memory of your pet and find comfort as you grieve.

1. Share your memories with others

After losing a pet, your first instinct may be to turn to social media to post a picture and share your memories of your beloved pet. Alternatively, some pet owners choose to host a celebration of life for a very special pet. You could invite your closest friends over to help you honor your pet’s memory. You can share your memories and give family, especially children, the opportunity to say a few words. Make the event as lighthearted or as reflective as you want. You can hold an actual burial, placing your pet in a special spot, or you can simply celebrate the good times. You might even ask your guests to bring their own pets to the gathering. To bring in a little lightheartedness, you can make a special treat for any pets who attend or send the pets home with a little bag of treats.

2. Select an urn

For many people, choosing an urn for a pet’s cremated remains and placing it in a special place is enough. If you want to keep the urn in your home, you might choose one that is decorative and place a photo of your pet nearby. If you prefer to bury the cremated remains, you could use a biodegradable urn and bury it with your pet’s favorite toy or keepsakes made by the kids.

3. Create a custom work of art

If you like art pieces or are an artist yourself, creating (or commissioning) a custom piece of art is a great way to memorialize your pet. If you choose to create your own work of art, you will actually contribute to your own healing. Sometimes words just aren’t enough after a loss, and creative expression allows you to put whatever you’re feeling into a piece of art. The medium of art is entirely up to you – drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. The end goal is to create something that is special to you and helps you cherish the memory of your pet.

4. Place a memorial in a special location

If you have a garden, plant a memorial tree or add a memorial stone to the landscaping. You could even make a clay paw print to include. Alternatively, you can place a photo, painting, or collage of your pet in a place of honor in your home or in a different special place. If you had a favorite park to walk at together, you may be able to add a memorial bench. Determining what’s best is entirely up to you and the unique life you lived with your pet.

5. Make a keepsake

Depending on your own personal likes and dislikes, you can create a memorial keepsake in remembrance of your pet. You might buy or make a piece of jewelry and engrave your pet’s name on it, purchase an ornament and put your pet’s photo in it, create a shadow box, or put together a photo book or scrapbook of memories. The possibilities are endless. It just depends on what you like best and what will be most meaningful.

6. Order an engraved item

Another option for memorializing your beloved pet is to have an item engraved. The item entirely depends on you. You might want to have a piece of jewelry engraved or a shadow box or a memorial grave marker. You can even have your pet’s photograph engraved on an item if that will help you cope with your grief and remember the impact your pet had on your life.

7. Put together a memorial video

For some, a visual reminder is incredibly helpful. You can put together a tribute video of your pet, using photos, audio, or video elements. You can include footage of your pet and even interviews with family or friends. After it’s complete, you can watch the video any time you feel nostalgic or simply want to feel close to your pet again. Also, if you have children, the video will be a treasure trove of memories once they are older and want to reminisce about your beloved pet.

Grief is a very personal journey. Some people will take part in all of these pet memorial ideas while others may find other ways to honor and remember their pet. We all grieve differently, and those emotions can be expressed in many different ways. That’s why we must always be sure not to compare grief. We feel what we feel, and we process it the way we process it. We must all do what’s best of us individually and allow others to do the same. That goes for any kind of grief, whether you’ve lost a pet, a person, or anything in between.

3 Reasons to Have a Visitation

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a visitation when a loved one dies? Why don’t we just skip to the funeral? This article will share three key reasons why visitations are a crucial part of a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says that in order to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should intentionally incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. He says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Why Have a Visitation?

According to Dr. Wolfelt, one of the purposes of the funeral and visitation is to offer support for those who are grieving. We aren’t meant to walk through life alone, which is why the visitation is included in the seven elements of a funeral. The visitation is a time specifically set aside for friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to come pay their respects to the person who has died and to offer condolences and support to the grieving family.

While it is common for the body to be present at a visitation, it doesn’t have to be. If the body is not present, it’s best to have some kind of representation of the one who has died, such as a prominently placed portrait, urn, or some other personalized display.

1. A Visitation Activates Your Support Network

As mentioned earlier, a visitation is one way to activate a community of support. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “Funerals make a social statement that says, ‘Come support me.’ Whether they realize it or not, those who choose not to have a funeral are saying, ‘Don’t come support me.’” By including a visitation in your funeral plans, you give others the opportunity to show their love for you, support you, and offer words of kindness and sincerity. Who knows…someone may say exactly what you need to hear to find solace and comfort following the loss of a loved one.

2. A Visitation Provides Opportunities for More People to Participate

Often, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances want to offer their support but may not be able to make it to a funeral in the middle of the day because of work obligations, especially on short notice. Because a visitation typically takes place in the evening, it offers your extended network of friends an opportunity to show their support, even if they can’t make it to the funeral.

3. A Visitation Can be the Most Meaningful Part of the Service

The visitation is often the first time extended family, friends, and immediate family members will be able to gather in one place after a loss. For many mourners, this time is special because they are able to see many people they haven’t seen in years. It is often like a family reunion that becomes the most meaningful part of the service for some mourners. The visitation allows time and space to talk about the loss, express emotions, and generally feel the outpouring of love from friends and family alike.

What Are My Visitation Options?

If you do decide to include a visitation in a service you are planning, there are typically two main options to choose from. However, keep in mind that they are not either/or options. You could choose both!

Visitation the Day Before the Funeral Service

Your first option is to have the visitation the day or evening before the funeral service. By having the visitation the day before the service, you break up the length of the event, which may be helpful for the grieving family. Grief is exhausting, so splitting up the events of the funeral into more manageable chunks is often helpful. Also, people who may not be able to attend the funeral service still have the opportunity to show their support and pay their respects.

Visitation Just Prior to the Funeral Service

Your second option is to have the visitation just prior to the funeral service (usually the hour before). For some families, this option may work well because everything takes place on just one day. However, keep in mind, the day will be long for the grieving family. Because there is only one event to attend, everyone who would like to attend may not be able to come. Also, for those who can only stay for the visitation, it may feel awkward to leave before the funeral service.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your family. Both of these options will help activate the support system you will need for your journey toward healing and reconciliation. Weigh the pros and cons of each option. Talk to your family. Ask a funeral professional about what works well and what doesn’t. Then, with the knowledge you’ve gained, make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

Suicide Loss Survivors: Your Grief Matters

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

No matter the type of loss, grief is hard. But in many ways, losing a loved one to suicide has its own added difficulties. You aren’t sure if you should talk about it. In fact, a family member may have asked you not to talk about it. You don’t know what to say when others ask about it or it comes up in conversation. In many ways, you just want the situation to go away, as if it never happened. But then, you feel bad because wishing it never happened is like wishing your loved one away. Why does it have to be so complicated? Does your grief even matter?

Yes, it absolutely does. Your grief matters. No matter the manner of death, take the time you need to mourn and remember your loved one.

Noted grief educator and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt attests to the reality of the deep pain that accompanies suicide loss. He says, “The death of someone from suicide feels unlike any other loss you may have experienced. The traumatic nature of the death may leave you feeling turned inside out and upside down. When suicide impacts our lives, we all need to grieve and to mourn. But our grief journeys are never exactly the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own unique way.

Sadly, the society we live in is not always as compassionate and understanding, particularly in relation to suicide. There are certain types of losses that go largely unacknowledged by society or are not given public expression. These losses are mourned in secret and are often not spoken of. We even have a name for this type of grief – disenfranchised grief. Dr. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, describes it as, “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

To the many mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, and colleagues who have lost someone to suicide, society may not acknowledge the gravity of your loss, but your loss is significant and worth grieving. Your grief is not something that should be swept under the rug or spoken of in whispers. It is real, and it is important.

So, as you move forward in your grief journey, as you mourn the loss of someone you loved, remember these things:

You have the right to grieve your loss

Despite what society may say, you have the right to grieve. You have lost someone special to you in a traumatic way. Any hopes and dreams you may have had for them are gone. You are left with a hollowness in your heart and a burning question – “why?” Even though you may never have the answers you seek, remember this – your loved one was one-of-a-kind, and you have a right to mourn them.

You have the right to talk about what you’ve been through

Particularly when we lose someone in a traumatic way, our feelings are all over the place. Maybe that’s you today. Find people you trust or others who have experienced a similar loss and talk with them. Share the weight of your grief. You don’t have to walk through this journey alone – you can invite others in. By talking about your loss, you help us all move toward being a society that acknowledges the depth of pain associated with suicide.

You have the right to feel whatever it is you feel

Grief expresses itself in many different ways. You may feel shock, denial, confusion, anger, guilt, sadness, or shame, to name a few. None of these are wrong. They are all normal. In fact, there’s no “right” way to grieve. For every one of us, the experience is different. So, embrace whatever it is that you feel – don’t push it away. We must go through the pain to move toward healing and reconciliation.

You have the right to be physically and emotionally weary

Grief is hard work. All of the emotions swirling inside, often not finding expression, sap your energy. You may find it hard to sleep, and as a result, feel tired and overwhelmed. In some cases, people may even experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and weight loss or gain. Please know – this is a natural reaction. The body is in distress, the same as the mind and heart. Be kind to yourself as you grieve so that you have the energy needed to move toward healing.

You have the right to find freedom from negative emotions

Particularly with suicide loss, certain negative emotions rise to the surface. You may feel guilty that you didn’t see something sooner. Anger at your loved one may grip you. Shame and its terrible baggage may try to tell you that you shouldn’t talk about your loss. Or, blame may be turning your family against each other. All of these negative emotions swirl around, but you have the right to be free from them. If you do the work of grief, you can find peace.

You have the right to be unashamed of your loss

Despite what society or insensitive people around you may say, your loss is not shameful. You have every right to feel deep emotions. Your loved one fought a fierce internal battle and that struggle is real and should not be demeaned. Don’t feel like you need to hide. Openly express what your loved one’s loss has meant to you. If others don’t understand, that doesn’t mean you should try to conceal your grief. By no means do you need their permission to grieve.

You have the right to have your loss acknowledged

You do have the right to have your loss acknowledged, though you shouldn’t go around demanding that people do so. Forcing people into something is never truly successful. Instead, find comfort in the knowledge that your loss is worth acknowledgment, and because it is, awareness groups all over the country are working to bring it out of the shadows and into the light.

You have the right to experience grief bursts

In times of grief, you may experience grief bursts. When this happens, a surge of grief is triggered by something innocuous or unexpected. The trigger could be anything – a photo, an anniversary, a quote, a movie, an article of clothing. These bursts are a normal and natural part of the grieving process. Don’t be surprised or frightened when you experience them. Instead, find someone who knows your struggle to talk with when they occur.

You have the right to cherish your memories

Even though you lost your loved one prematurely and in a devastating way, you have the right to cherish their memory. You can do this in a variety of ways. Collect keepsakes – photos, your loved one’s favorite things, clothing, etc. – and create a memory box or scrapbook. Write your thoughts and feelings down in a grief journal or write letters to your loved one. Have a piece of jewelry made with your loved one’s initials or start a tradition that brings you comfort.

You have the right to move toward your grief and heal

Like any grief – recognized or not – you have the right to grieve and to heal. You may not feel like you have the right to move forward. You may feel a crushing sense of guilt or shame at the moment. That’s okay. That’s where you are right now, and it’s not bad. But learn to embrace the truth – you have the right to move toward your grief and heal. You can find new meaning.

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that we never get over a death; instead, we learn to reconcile ourselves to the loss. He states, “Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future…. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”

If you take nothing else away, know that your loss is significant, and it is heartbreaking. You have the right to mourn the loss of your loved one – gone much too soon. Grieve in whatever way you need so that you can find healing, peace, and reconciliation.

Healthy Practices for Your Later Years: 70s

By Living Well, Plan Ahead

Your 70s are here. Let’s make them great! While good habits benefit us throughout our lives, it’s never too late to make positive changes to your life. In addition to continuing good habits from your 60s, there are different challenges for those who have reached their 70s. Let’s go over 10 helpful and healthy practices to maintain your health and organize your affairs in your golden years.

10 Best Practices for Healthy 70-Somethings

1. Strengthen your Body

While exercise may look quite different now, it’s still incredibly important for your overall health and energy levels. Rather than engaging in high-intensity cardio sessions (unless your body is used to it already), look for low-impact cardio activities (i.e. walking, yoga, swimming, indoor cycling, etc.). Also include strength training (good for your bones) and stretching in your normal routine.

2. Manage Stress

All throughout our lives, we deal with stress. The same is true as you grow older – it’s just the specifics that change. If you’re on a fixed income, you may wonder if it will be enough. Or, you may worry about getting sick or losing friends to illness. These types of concerns can lead to stress, depression, or anxiety.

To combat stress, depression, and anxiety, try out a few easy tips:

  • Take time each day to focus on something you are thankful for.
  • Acknowledge and express your feelings, both positive and negative.
  • Embrace and find comfort in your spirituality.
  • Accept that some things are outside your control, and that’s okay.
  • Try to keep your sense of humor.
  • Continue to build relationships with people – you need them!

3. Engage Your Mind

While some degree of forgetfulness is normal with age, significant decline is not an inevitable part of aging. If you challenge your brain, it will function well throughout your lifetime. The key is to exercise your brain. A few ideas to get you started are:

  • Try new variations of familiar activities (new types of puzzles, new recipes, a different sport)
  • Learn something entirely new (a language, an unfamiliar topic)
  • Seek new experiences and make new friends
  • Continue eating a healthy diet and maintaining your physical activity levels

4. Eat Well and Drink Plenty of Water

Healthy nutrition has a few added challenges as you age. For instance, your sense of taste and smell can change a bit, which affects the appetite. Slower digestion and metabolism changes how your body processes food, and you begin to lose your sense of thirst, which can lead to dehydration. To combat these challenges, be intentional about your food and water intake.

Eat plenty of protein, calcium, and fiber, and drink lots of water. On average, people in their 70s drink less than four cups of water a day, and we actually need seven or eight! Try not to skip meals – you need all the healthy foods you can get to maintain your health and energy levels. If you’re having trouble maintaining a healthy diet, talk to a family member or your health care provider.

5. Rest Well and Deeply

You may think that you need less sleep now that you’re a little less active, but that’s not the case. Adults in their 70s still need 7-9 hours of sleep each night. Of course, as an older adult, there are added complications to sleep, like insomnia, daytime sleepiness, health conditions, or aches and pains that keep you awake at night.

To achieve ample rest, it’s good to set good sleep habits in place. Make sure that your room is dark, quiet, and not too warm. Turn off the TV at least one hour before bed so that your mind has time to unwind and isn’t exposed to too much stimulation so close to bedtime. And especially if you suffer from insomnia, try to exercise during the day and avoid naps. This will help you feel tired when bedtime comes around. If you are still having trouble sleeping, speak to your health care provider.

6. Be Aware of Elder Crime

Unfortunately, older adults are at risk for certain types of crime, particularly fraud (identity theft, fake checks, and various kinds of scams) and elder abuse. Most often, fraud is perpetrated by someone you don’t know, but elder abuse is a different story. Elder abuse can be physical or emotional/psychological and often involves neglect, abandonment, or financial exploitation.

To guard against elder abuse, keep the people you trust close. Also, be on the lookout for these signs of an abusive caregiver: lack of affection, don’t allow you to be alone with others, are angry or aggressive toward you, don’t clean the home or help you with personal hygiene, speak about you as if you were a burden, or give conflicting stories to explain an incident. If any of these describe someone close to you, talk to someone you trust who can help you.

7. Prevent Falls

Now is a time to be especially aware of your bone health. Osteoporosis is a significant concern for those who are aging because it can cause bones to break more easily. By adding low-impact cardio, strength training, and calcium and vitamin D to your routine, you can increase your bone mass and decrease the likelihood of broken bones.

In addition to exercise, assess the potential risks in your home and identify any potential tripping hazards (throw rugs, cords, clutter, etc.). Consider removing these hazards completely. Also, if you are having trouble now, use a cane/walker when needed and wear supportive shoes. Above all, take your time. There’s no rush.

8. Pursue Good Eye, Ear, and Heart Health

As much as we wish it wasn’t true, the older we are, the more possible it is to develop health problems. It’s especially important to take special care of your eyes, ears, and heart.

Eyes

While our eyes can change at any age, women in their 70s more commonly deal with dry eye. To help with dry eye, drink plenty of fluids and limit your time in front of a computer or tv. In general, go to regular eye exams and consider screenings for glaucoma, cataracts, and macular degeneration.

Ears

It’s commonly known that hearing loss can come with age. If you’re having a hard time hearing on the phone or in person, consider bringing it up to your health care professional. They can help you understand the best way to move forward.

Heart

For many older adults, heart disease is a concern. The good news is that heart disease isn’t inevitable – you can take steps now to protect your heart. Make sure to ask your health care professional about your heart’s current health, and then, eat nutritiously, sleep well, and get plenty of exercise (even brisk walking will help your heart). If you already have heart disease, take your medications, eat well, and exercise. These activities can still help your heart in the long run.

9. Plan Ahead

One of the best things you can do for your family is to get your affairs in order. The clearer and more organized everything is, the easier the process will be when you are gone. While we don’t like to think about our mortality, it’s best to take care of these important aspects of planning while you’re still in good health and able to make sound decisions.

The most important estate planning concerns to address are: a legal will, financial or medical power of attorney, a living will, advance care directives, and funeral planning. Feel free to bring your family members into any part of the process and get their valuable input. And once your plans are in place, designate at least two emergency contacts and make sure they have access to your information.

10. Find Joy in Each Day

As you grow older, it’s important to maintain your sense of purpose and to find joy in each day. Having a positive attitude will help you face each day with excitement and anticipation. Find things to be grateful for. Face any limitations you may have and keep a good sense of humor. Stay connected to others to increase healthy longevity. Pick up a new hobby, find ways to volunteer, spend time outdoors, join a club, or visit places you’ve always wanted to go. Continue to find ways to enjoy life and the people you love.