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Guilt, Anger, and Other Normal Reactions to Loss

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss

We experience a wide range of emotions when faced with the death of a loved one. And those emotions aren’t the same for everyone. Perhaps, if everyone grieved in the same way, we could craft a formula for grief – something that worked every time. But that’s not how it works. There’s no “correct” response to death. Every grief journey is different, as are the emotions swirling around within us.

As you deal with emotional stress, it’s important to name your feelings and acknowledge them. Nationally renowned and respected grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “I have worked with thousands of grieving people and they have taught me about many, many different thoughts and feelings after a death. Rest assured that whatever you are thinking and feeling, while in one sense your thoughts and feelings are completely unique to you, they are also usually a common human response to loss.” Whatever you’re feeling – whether it seems typical or unusual – is normal. There are, however, a few normal emotional reactions that are often viewed negatively – ones that we think we shouldn’t feel after a loss. Let’s take a few moments to discuss them.

Anger

If you are feeling angry, you are not alone. Your anger may stem from feeling helpless, powerless, or abandoned. It may also be directed at someone or something in particular, like the doctors, your loved one’s health choices, God, or even life in general.

It’s important to remember that being angry is a normal response. As long as you don’t hurt yourself or others, it’s good to find a way to vent your feelings. If you are able to articulate what you feel, then consider writing it down or talking with a safe person (either a counselor or a good friend). However, if your emotions are more explosive, you might try using a punching bag, running, or participating in some other physical activity to help you release your anger.

Also, pay close attention to your words and actions. You may be more irritable and easily triggered than normal, causing you to be short-tempered with those you love.

Anxiety, Fear

For some, death can stir up anxiety or fear. Questions may arise in your mind. Will I be okay? Does my life have any purpose after this? Will other people I love die soon, too? What if something happens to me?

Feelings of anxiety or fear are often triggered by feeling vulnerable or that your security is threatened. For example, a child who loses a parent may feel anxious or fearful about whether something will happen to their remaining parent as well. Other options are that fear and anxiety are learned responses (a previous experience has conditioned you to respond this way) or that you aren’t sure how you will be able to cope so your anxiety rises, or you are worried that other sad things might happen.

Guilt & Regret

Another common emotion after a loss is feeling guilty about what happened or what didn’t happen. However, in many cases, it is misplaced guilt, though that doesn’t make the feeling any less real. Someone might feel guilty for not being a donor match, for not calling or visiting more often, or for not doing more to prevent the death (such as in the cases of depression, suicide, or substance abuse).

If you are dealing with feelings of guilt, remember that, while it’s a normal reaction to feel this way, your feelings may not be accurate. Consider why you feel guilty and whether you might actually be feeling regretful. There is a difference. Guilt, by definition, means that you have intentionally done harm to the person who has died. However, regret means that you wish you had done something differently. The main difference between the two is intent.

If you determine that you are guilty of some wrongdoing, look for ways to make up for your mistake – write a letter to your lost loved one to apologize or ask forgiveness of other people affected by your actions. Also, try to forgive yourself. We all make mistakes. On the other hand, if you are feeling regret, work through your emotions. Determine what changes you can make to avoid regret in the future.

Relief

Relief may be one of the most common yet misunderstood emotions a person may experience after a death. We feel so strongly that we shouldn’t be relieved that we sometimes hide the fact that we are. But relief is to be expected, especially after a period of intense or prolonged suffering (as is the case with terminal illnesses). If a person dies after a long period of illness or was the cause (directly or indirectly) of increased stress in your life, it’s only natural to feel relieved when you are no longer suffering under high levels of stress. It doesn’t mean you wanted them to die or that you didn’t love the person. It simply means that you have been through a difficult time and are now emerging on the other side. Relief is normal and natural in such circumstances. As human beings, we are complex and can feel both relieved and sad at the same time. What you feel does not minimize your love for the person or the depth of your grief.

A Few Tips for Dealing with Your Emotions

  1. Don’t bottle them up. Let yourself feel what you feel.
  2. Realize and accept that your emotions are complex.
  3. Find a way to express yourself.
  4. Give yourself time to grieve and process. There’s no rush.
  5. If you need additional help, consider joining a grief support group or visiting a grief therapist.

Taking time to process and confront your emotions is a necessary part of every grief journey. Experiencing any or all of the emotions we’ve covered is normal, as are others we didn’t cover, like sadness, numbness, denial, and confusion. However, as time passes, and you do the work of mourning, the emotional intensity should lessen. As Dr. Wolfelt puts it, “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, realizing that the person you have given love to and received love from will never be forgotten. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”

Embrace your grief in all its complexities and allow yourself to feel all of your emotions (they are natural!). In time, if you do the work of mourning, you will find your “new normal.”

Nature & Your Grief Journey

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss

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 Harvard-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.

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Cremation is a rapidly growing trend in the United States, with just over 50% of those who died in 2016 selecting cremation for their final disposition. However, many families who choose cremation don’t realize that they can still have a healing and meaningful funeral experience, even if they choose this form of disposition. According to respected grief experts, the funeral is a necessary part of the grieving process. And while cremation is a popular option for final disposition, it shouldn’t prevent individuals and families from the benefits of having a healing and meaningful funeral ritual.

According to the National Funeral Directors Association, less than half of Americans associate cremation with a memorial service; only 11.8 percent associate it with a funeral that includes a viewing or visitation; and more than 50 percent of Americans are not aware that you can have a funeral/visitation/viewing with the body before cremation takes place. So, what do these statistics tell us? That when families choose cremation, they are likely missing out on the opportunity to memorialize and commemorate the life of a loved one.

That said, let’s review the basic service options for honoring a loved one who has chosen cremation.

1. Traditional Service/Viewing/Visitation Prior to Cremation

First of all, choosing cremation does not prevent a family from having a traditional service with the body present. The family may choose to have a private family viewing or public visitation. They may even hold a full funeral service with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. A rental casket looks like a regular casket on the outside. The difference is that a rental casket holds a cremation container insert on the inside. After the service, the funeral home staff removes the cremation container and transports it to the crematorium. For family members, the main benefit of holding a service or viewing with the body present is having an opportunity to emotionally process the reality of the death, which is very important to the grief journey. In fact, one of the best ways to acknowledge that someone is no longer with us is to physically see them and say our goodbyes. With that said, for some it may not be possible to view the body. In that case, you can still say your goodbyes and acknowledge the reality of the loss in your own way.

2. Memorial Service After Cremation

A second option is to plan a memorial service to take place after cremation has already occurred. Like a traditional service, you can create a personalized event complete with all the elements of a meaningful service, tailored to honor the life of your loved one. The main difference is that at a memorial service the body will not be present. However, you can place an urn in a place of honor during the service. By planning a memorial service, you still offer mourners an opportunity to come together. They can offer support to each other and remember the life of someone loved. It’s important to honor a loved one’s life and show them the proper respect. Without a ceremony or service, this need may go unaddressed. And even if your loved one didn’t want to “make a fuss,” gathering together, supporting one another, and honoring life is a necessary part of the grief journey. Before you skip the memorial service, consider the effect on those who mourn if they don’t have the opportunity to come together to grieve.

3. Direct Cremation

A third option is direct cremation. Often, families choose direct cremation for one of three reasons. First, the one who has died didn’t want a “fuss” made over them after their death. Second, they were financially unable to select a different option. Or, third, they didn’t know they had other options. If your loved one chooses direct cremation and you agree with their choice, honor their wishes when the time comes. However, if your loved one sets their mind on direct cremation and you don’t agree with their choice, sit down with them. Talk about why you would like a meaningful service to accompany their cremation wishes.

As you make your end-of-life plans, carefully consider what is best for your loved ones and friends, what they will need as they mourn your loss. Each of these three options may be appropriate in different circumstances and situations. We all have different expectations for what a funeral service will entail and what we want it to look like. No matter which option you choose – cremation with traditional service, viewing, or visitation; cremation with memorial service; direct cremation; or a combination of options – find a way to balance your family’s needs with your own personal wishes.

Grief & Self-Care

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss

The word ‘bereaved,’ which to our modern-day ears can sound like an old-fashioned term that only a funeral director might use, means ‘to be torn apart’ and ‘to have special needs.’ So, despite its obsolescence, the word is still accurate and useful. Perhaps your most important ‘special need’ right now is to be compassionate with yourself. In fact, the word ‘compassion’ means ‘with passion.’ Caring for and about yourself with passion is self-compassion.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

Grief is hard. It’s unpredictable and grueling. It’s mentally, physically, and emotionally taxing. It is almost like a fog descends around you, and everything looks somewhat gray and dim. Depending on the nature of your loss, these feelings may persist for quite some time. That’s why self-care is so important. Every person’s grief journey is different, encompassing a range of emotions and an unknown time span, but in the midst of it all, taking care of yourself is important. You may not feel like making the effort, but self-care may be one of the most beneficial things you do for yourself.

When you think about self-care, personal fitness may first come to mind, but really, it’s a much broader term. It does mean taking care of yourself physically, but it also encompasses your emotional, spiritual, cognitive, and even social health. So, what can you do to take care of yourself while you’re grieving?

1. Don’t be afraid of your feelings.

You feel what you feel. It is what it is, and there is absolutely nothing wrong with the emotions that may be coursing through you. We all feel loss differently, and every loss is different because every person and individual relationship is unique. Try not to stifle or ignore your feelings; don’t stuff everything down. Instead, accept that you feel what you feel and that it’s okay.

2. Give yourself time.

Grief is a journey, not an event. You will need time to come to grips with what life looks like without your loved one. You aren’t necessarily going to spring back into life the way it was. It’s okay to give yourself a little space and to take more breaks. Grief is hard work, and you need time to work through it.

3. Find ways to express your grief.

What you do is going to depend on your personality. For some, it’s helpful to go out into the backyard and chop wood or go to the batting cages and just whack the balls over and over again. For others, creative expression is helpful. Many times, journaling, creative writing, painting, drawing, arts & crafts, or other types of self-expression help us make sense of the seemingly senseless feelings going on inside. And if you are a person of faith, prayer, meditation, worship, or traditional rituals can help you express your grief.

4. Don’t neglect your health.

Most people feel more tired and less energetic when they are grieving. For this reason, it’s important to get plenty of sleep. If you are having trouble sleeping, try to stay hydrated, limit your caffeine intake, and make sure that your bedroom is dark and relaxing. Additionally, you should make sure that you are eating healthy foods and taking time to participate in some kind of physical activity on a regular basis. One thing to watch out for is numbing activities. It may start out as a coping mechanism but beware of allowing numbing activities to distract you from dealing with your grief. Common numbing activities are: food, alcohol or drugs, anger, excessive exercise, TV or movies, books, isolating yourself, shopping, or losing yourself in work. While these may help you cope, they don’t help you move toward reconciling your grief and moving into what life looks like after a loss.

5. Allow others to walk alongside you.

You don’t have to walk this road alone. In fact, it will be much less stressful if you do accept help from others. There’s an incredible scene in The Return of the King, the third installment of The Lord of the Rings. Throughout all three movies, Samwise Gamgee has faithfully walked alongside his dearest friend, Frodo Baggins. Together, as they seek to destroy a powerful ring and save all of Middle Earth, they face danger and hardships, feel lost and hopeless, and at one point, Sam even fears that Frodo has died. And then, the moment comes. Frodo is so near the end of this incredibly taxing quest – this journey that has sapped him physically, mentally, and emotionally – and he says, “I can’t do this, Sam.” After some fortifying words, Sam says, “I can’t carry it [the ring] for you, but I can carry you!” This is why we need friends along the hard journeys in life. They can’t carry our burdens for us, but they can help carry us along; they can provide the support we need to move forward and find new life and new meaning.

Self-Care vs. Keeping Busy

It’s important to remember that self-care is not about “keeping busy.” It’s about taking care of yourself as you grieve. Nationally respected grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way: “Remember—self-care fortifies your long and challenging grief journey, a journey which leaves you profoundly affected and deeply changed. To be self-nurturing is to have the courage to pay attention to your needs. Above all, self-nurturing is about self-acceptance. When we recognize that self-care begins with ourselves, we no longer think of those around us as being totally responsible for our well-being. Healthy self-care forces us to mourn in ways that help us heal, and that is nurturing indeed.

Taking care of yourself will contribute to giving you the strength to face each day of your grief journey. There are so many ways to care for yourself, and it will vary from person to person. Some will find bubble baths relaxing. Others will care for themselves by exercising, talking with friends, taking walks, sticking to a daily schedule, or enjoying a daily smoothie. No matter what you decide is best for you, be kind to yourself. It’s okay to have a bad day for no apparent reason, and you don’t need to feel guilty when you have a good day or enjoy an activity. The grief journey is not about the pain disappearing; it’s about you learning to reconcile with your loss and finding your “new normal.” You may always deeply feel the loss of your loved one, but you discover what life looks like after a loss and find new meaning in it.

Accepting the Caring Help of Others

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Gracious acceptance is an art – an art which most never bother to cultivate. We think that we have to learn how to give, but we forget about accepting things, which can be much harder than giving…. Accepting another person’s gift is allowing him to express his feelings for you.” – Alexander McCall Smith

For many of us, accepting help is difficult. Naturally, we want to help others when needs arise, but when it comes to accepting help ourselves, we resist. But during times of loss and grief, it’s important to accept the caring actions of others. It may be difficult, it may require vulnerability on our part, but we will substantially benefit from the love and care that those around us want to bestow.

But why is it so hard to accept the caring actions of others? Why do we so often say, “Oh, no, that’s okay; I’m fine”? It’s safe to say that there’s no one reason; in fact, reasons for refusing help may differ considerably from person to person. Usually they are subconscious assumptions that are actually false. The following list offers the most common reasons why people refuse the help of others. Are any of these false assumptions keeping you from accepting the help of others?

1. If I accept help, it means that I’m weak and don’t have it all together.

For many of us, it’s ingrained to be independent, self-sufficient, and capable members of society. We don’t want to appear weak for fear of judgment from others because we don’t “have it all together.” But what do we really gain from rejecting the help that others offer us? More work and more stress, most of the time. What’s worse is that it is all for the sake of keeping up appearances—which will never result in deep or meaningful connections with others. On the other hand, allowing yourself to be vulnerable with others can lighten the load and actually strengthen your relationships.

2. I won’t accept help because I don’t want to be an inconvenience or a burden to you. You shouldn’t waste your time helping me.

Some of us struggle with feeling like our needs might be an inconvenience to others. It’s not that our needs aren’t legitimate, it’s just that we don’t want others to take time away from their own lives to help us. When you lose someone you love, you may feel bad that a friend wants to babysit your kids, clean your kitchen, or cook some meals. But really, when you accept the help that’s offered, a door to deeper friendship is opened.

3. I have to return the favor if I accept help. I don’t like feeling that I owe anyone anything.

There are those who struggle with feeling that if they accept help, then it makes them beholden to the person who has offered assistance. Again, because many of us desire independence, we don’t like to owe anyone anything. But consider when you offer to help someone – are you thinking about when you will ask them to return the favor? Or do you genuinely want to help, regardless of whether you “benefit” in the end? For most of us, the answer is that we genuinely want to help and have no ulterior motives. So, if someone you know offers to help you when times are difficult and the grief is overwhelming, take them at their word and consider accepting the offer. What do you have to lose?

4. If I accept help, it means admitting that I can’t do it on my own.

It can be hard to admit that we need help. And it may be that we could do it all on our own, but it would be so much easier if someone was there to lend a hand. In reality, you don’t have to do it on your own, but it’s hard to break the mold. It really is okay to accept the kindness of others. It’s okay to say “yes” to the casseroles, the offers to go to the funeral home with you or just sit with you in silence as you grieve. Social connection and community are part of our internal make-up, so it’s okay to allow others to surround you and support you at a time of grief and loss. After all, it takes more internal strength to accept help than to shun it.

5. If I accept help, it makes my grief more real and highlights the fact that I don’t have this situation under control.

Many of us strive for control in our lives, but in reality, any amount of control we think we have is just an illusion. We may be able to dictate certain aspects of our lives, but there is so much that is outside of our control. And during times of grief, the emotions we feel need to be expressed, and to do that, we need to relinquish the tight hold we have on control. The reality is, you don’t have everything under control, so why not acknowledge it and accept the help others offer?

6. I don’t need anyone’s help. I’d rather just do it myself.

For someone who won’t accept help because they feel like they don’t need other people or they’d rather do it themselves, the cause is often rooted in past pain and disappointment. Perhaps they have been so hurt in the past, so let down by others, that they’d rather just do it themselves than risk being wounded again. The truth is, we need other people. And yes, people are messy, but even in the mess, there is great beauty, especially when you lower your walls to allow someone to serve you with caring actions.

What’s at the root of it all?

So, what’s really happening when we refuse to accept help that we actually need? Are we putting on a happy face when what we really need is a shoulder to cry on? Perhaps we are afraid of being vulnerable in front of other people and admitting our needs. When it comes down to it, all these responses are rooted in fear.

Margie Warrell, in an article for Forbes magazine, put it this way: “Fear gets in the way of asking for help. Fear of overstepping a friendship…of appearing too needy. Fear of imposing….[or] of revealing our struggle and having people realize we don’t have it all together. Too often though we ‘tough it out’ rather than reaching out to ask for help when we need it most. Fear gets the better of us while depriving others of a chance to show they care and share their gifts.”

It’s hard to admit that we might need help, but we do. It can be scary. It can push us to our limits, but we need relationships. We need others. It’s a proven fact that healthy relationships decrease our stress levels and improve our quality of life. So, what’s keeping you from accepting the caring actions of others? Are you afraid that your grief will make them turn away? That the fact that you aren’t okay will make them view you differently? There’s no need to fear. It is natural and human to grieve and to not have it all together. Accepting help will actually draw truly caring people to you. They will be grateful for the opportunity to express their care for you. It may be difficult at first, especially if you are hard-wired to refuse all help, but in time, it will become easier, and your life will be so much richer.

 

10 Caring and Creative Sympathy Gifts

By | Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

When we honestly ask ourselves which person in our lives mean the most to us, we often find that it is those who, instead of giving advice, solutions, or cures, have chosen rather to share our pain and touch our wounds with a warm and tender hand. The friend who can be silent with us in a moment of despair or confusion, who can stay with us in an hour of grief and bereavement, who can tolerate not knowing, not curing, not healing and face with us the reality of our powerlessness, that is a friend who cares.  – Henri Nouwen

When someone we know and care about loses someone they love, it’s hard to know what to do or say. Some will write a condolence letter, others will attend the funeral, and still others will send a sympathy gift. There are even those who will do all three. It is most common to send flowers as a sympathy gift to the family, and in recent years, to give a memorial donation to a specified charity. These are excellent ways to offer sympathy to a grieving friend. However, there are other options. Not all of them are items to purchase. If you are interested in a few non-traditional ways to support a grieving friend or family member, maybe these 10 out-of-the-box gifts will inspire you.

1. Photos the Family Doesn’t Have

If you possess any photos of the person who has died, you might consider making a copy and sharing it with the family. Not only will it be an image of someone dearly loved, but it will be a reminder that their family member is remembered and missed. If you have access to a lot of photos, you could even put together a thoughtful collage and send it to the family with a condolence card.

2. Self-care Items

It’s important to take care of ourselves in times of grief and loss. When we lose someone, we may experience a wide range of emotions: shock, numbness, fear, sadness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief expert and counselor, says, “Good self-care is important [when you’re grieving]. The ‘lethargy of grief’ you are probably experiencing is a natural mechanism intended to slow you down and encourage you to care for your body.” We must nurture and take care of ourselves in emotionally draining times, so self-care items are an appropriate sympathy gift: bubble bath, moisturizing lotion, perhaps gifting a manicure, pedicure, or massage.

3. House Cleaning/Lawn Care

If you’d like to help in a very practical sense, you can offer to clean house, mow the lawn, shop for groceries, or some other helpful task. In general, we all have a tendency to say, “Don’t worry; I’ll get to it,” but during times of grief, it takes an extra measure of energy to accomplish even the most routine tasks. They may say “no” because they don’t want to inconvenience you, but show them that you aren’t inconvenienced, that you sincerely want to help. Be firm and gracious in your reply. “Please, I want to do this for you. Is Wednesday at 2pm okay for you?”

4. Grief Journal or Sketchbook

For some of us, we process our grief best through writing it down, allowing ourselves to pour the emotions out on paper. Others need to sketch or paint their emotions, using various colors to depict different emotions. Creative expression is an effective tool for expressing externally what is sometimes stuck internally. If you know that your grieving friend is a writer or an artist (and even if they aren’t), this might be a good avenue for self-expression, and therefore, an invaluable gift.

5. A Book About Grief

Sometimes it’s helpful to hear about others’ grief journeys, receiving courage and inspiration from their stories. It’s also beneficial to remember that we are not alone in our grief – we are not the only one who feels a deep sense of loss and bereavement. There are many books available about grief since it is something that every single person on the planet deals with at some point in their lives, though an often noted classic to consider is A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis.

6. Message Jar

Everyone’s grief journey is different. No two journeys look the same, and we should not expect them to look the same. While the message jar may take a bit more time for you to create, it will provide encouragement to the grieving for a longer period of time. For this idea, you need a jar (you choose the size, color, decoration, etc.), and then, using small slips of paper, write 31 notes with words of encouragement to your grieving friend. After receiving the jar, your friend or family member will have an entire month’s worth of comfort and encouragement from you.

7. Something for the Kids

With this one, it will all depend on the child and their age. Perhaps a stuffed animal for a small child, a remembrance necklace for an older one, or if you know the family well, something even more personal and meaningful. Your options are unlimited. You could bring favorite foods, books, a specially made Christmas ornament to honor a lost loved one, and so on. As you seek to comfort your grieving friend’s children, they themselves will also be comforted.

8. Babysitting

Offering to take care of the kids for an evening is another practical gift you can give to a grieving family. The adult(s) may need time to think and process through overwhelming emotions, which can be very hard to do with little ones around. Time alone, or just the opportunity to go do some things solo, can be a rejuvenating and life-giving gift.

9. Vacation Time

Our jobs do not stop even though we are grieving. Some companies provide bereavement days, though it may be restricted to the loss of specific people, usually immediate family. If you are close to a grieving co-worker, and your company allows it, you might consider donating one of your vacation days to a friend who needs a little extra time to grieve. Of course, it will all depend on if this is possible and if you have days to spare, but it’s an option worth consideration.

10. Your Presence

While some people do want to be alone in their grief, your presence is important. Not your advice or your own grief experiences, but your presence. Silent. Waiting. Present. Available. We all need to know that someone cares, that someone acknowledges our grief and our right to grieve. Consider how you can simply be present and available to someone in grief, and when they are ready, a listening ear to someone who simply needs a friend.

Selecting a Cremation Urn

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), cremation has continued to grow as a choice for final disposition. In fact, in the 2017 Cremation and Burial Report, the NFDA found that approximately half of Americans chose cremation in 2016. However, in spite of the growth of cremation in the U.S., many people don’t know about all the options available to them.

For example, families sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of cremation urns they have to choose from. You can narrow down your options by considering what you want to do with the urn. Whether you are putting together a complete advance funeral plan or planning for the death of a loved one, consider how you want the cremated body to be memorialized. Want to plant a memorial tree or rose bush? Choose a biodegradable urn. Want to keep the urn at home? Choose a decorative memorial urn. Want to scatter the ashes at sea? Choose a scattering urn. Form follows function, so think about the function first, then choose the form.

Another aspect to consider is setting up a long-term plan for permanent placement of the urn. While keeping the cremated body of a loved one at home is comforting to many, it’s important to have a plan in mind for a final resting place. It’s unrealistic to expect that, in 50 years, future generations will keep multiple urns of family members in their homes. Instead, make a plan – a personal and meaningful one – and execute it. In 10 years, you might scatter the ashes or bury the urn in an urn garden or place it in a columbarium. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which option you choose, simply that you have a long-term plan for the cremated remains of your loved one so that they will be cared for long after you are gone.

Materials

An urn is simply a container for the deceased’s cremated body and can be made from almost any material. Urns can be made of:

• Plastic
• Cardboard (or other biodegradable material)
• Cast Resin
• Wood
• Ceramic
• Metal
• Marble
• Glass
• Clay
• And many other types of materials!

Types

Cremation urns come in all shapes and sizes, materials, and styles. You may want to talk with a funeral director, who has years of knowledge to impart, to help you make an informed decision. To get you started, here is a quick list of the different types of cremation urns available:

Keepsake Urn

Often small, a keepsake urn is used when either a small portion of the cremated body is kept and the rest scattered, or the ashes are split between more than one relative.

Decorative Urn

A family may choose a decorative urn to display at a memorial service, at home, or to use in a glass-front niche in a columbarium or to place in an urn garden.

Biodegradable Urn

An environmentally-friendly urn option, the biodegradable urn is becoming increasingly popular. This type of urn is commonly used for scattering, especially at sea. However, burial is also possible.

Religious Urn

This type of urn showcases the spiritual beliefs of the one who has died. In most cases, the scenes or verses on the urn are associated with the person’s religious background.

Companion Urn

The companion urn has two main types: a double or single compartment. Though not a requirement, it’s more common for couples to choose a companion urn. In the double compartment urn, each person’s ashes is separate but always together. With the single compartment urn, the ashes are intermingled.

Infant Urn

Usually smaller in size, an infant urn is most often used to hold the ashes of an infant or small child. In many cases, the family wants to keep the child close as they grieve, and the infant urn meets this need.

Sculpted Urn

Sometimes called an “art urn,” this type is a lovely mini-sculpture of your choice, modified to accommodate ashes. If you plan ahead, you can commission a special art urn that reflects your personal tastes.

Themed Urn

You can purchase a themed urn, and the possible variations are as limitless as your creativity. A few common types of themed urn are sport, hobby, art, and nature.

Picture Urn

Just like it sounds, this urn is shaped like a picture frame and allows you to display a favorite photograph of your loved one on the outside of the urn.

Military/Veteran Urn

If the military was a key part of a person’s life, you might consider selecting a veteran urn. The urn itself is designed to commemorate and honor the patriotism and sacrifice of veterans.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you plan to travel somewhere via airplane with cremated remains, make sure that you have an appropriate urn. If airline security is unable to see through the urn on the X-ray machine, they may need to manually search the urn. To prevent this, make sure to purchase a felt or non-metallic material for the urn.

As you can see, choices for cremation urns abound. Before making a decision, you may wish to talk to your family members and speak with a funeral professional. You may get even more ideas after discussing the topic with a knowledgeable person.

Give Yourself Permission to Grieve

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss

You give yourself permission to grieve by recognizing the need for grieving. Grieving is the natural way of working through the loss of a love. [It] is not weakness nor absence of faith. Grieving is as natural as crying when you are hurt, sleeping when you are tired or sneezing when your nose itches. It is nature’s way of healing a broken heart. – Doug Manning

Grief is the natural result of love. When we love deeply and wholly, we open ourselves up to the grief that will come when we lose the one we love so much. And while death is a part of life, it’s certainty doesn’t make it any easier to process the loss of a loved one. Did you know that the word “bereaved” literally means “to be torn apart”? So, by that definition, when we are grieving, we are being torn apart inside. It’s no wonder that we can become so tired, withdrawn, and quiet during times of loss.

Today, it can be difficult to grieve well. We live in a world that’s all about feeling good and embracing what makes us feel pleasure rather than pain. In fact, many of us shy away from pain, especially our own. Our feelings can be scary. So many of us don’t want to feel “out of control.” Our minds rebel against the idea of anyone seeing our pain, how deeply affected we are, how not okay we feel inside. But grief is not only in our minds, it’s most deeply rooted in our hearts and must find a way to be expressed.

Nationally respected author, counselor, and grief educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it this way: “Over many years of walking with people in grief, I have discovered that most of us are hard on ourselves when we are in mourning. We judge ourselves and we shame ourselves and we take care of ourselves last.” The simple truth that we must all come to realize is that it’s okay to hurt. It’s okay to NOT “be strong” in the face of loss. It’s okay to give yourself permission to grieve, to give outward expression to the internal anguish of your soul. We need to be free to express our emotions, not hide from them or feel ashamed of them. They are what they are, and they are a natural response to what we’ve lost.

Other people may not understand the depth of what you are feeling, and they don’t have to. You don’t need permission from other people to grieve. No matter how you express your grief – silence, weeping, screaming, quietness, thoughtfulness – it’s never going to fit into any particular mold. In fact, there is no “grief” mold. Every single person grieves the loss of a loved one differently, and that’s as it should be. We are all unique, individual people with unique, individual relationships.

By giving ourselves permission to grieve, we begin a journey. It’s a journey that requires much from us, but one that is worth taking. Through the journey, you may feel many things: pain, loneliness, restlessness, vulnerability, fright, peacefulness, comfort, and love. You are on a journey; a journey that will take you to reconciliation. As Dr. Wolfelt tells us, “Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever. It’s not that you won’t be happy again. It’s simply that you will never be exactly the same as you were before the death.” Life will not be the same as it was before, but you will find your “new normal” and begin to move forward.

As you begin your personal grief journey, remember these tips from Dr. Wolfelt:

  1. Realize that your grief is unique. No one else is exactly like you, and the relationship you enjoyed with your loved one was one-of-a-kind.
  2. Take time to talk about your grief. Sometimes it’s helpful to talk with a safe person about the emotions swirling around inside you. If you aren’t much of a talker or aren’t ready to be vulnerable with someone, write your thoughts down in a journal. Find a way to express what’s on the inside.
  3. Anticipate feeling a range of emotions. People experience a wide spectrum of feelings at the loss of a loved one: shock, numbness, denial, confusion, yearning, anxiety, fear, guilt, sadness, relief, and more. You will certainly feel some of these. It’s normal and natural to do so.
  4. Be mindful of your physical and emotional limits. You will be more tired, more emotionally sensitive. Learn what is too much for you right now and take things easy.
  5. Find people to support you. You don’t need to walk this journey alone. If you don’t know anyone that you feel would be an appropriate support for you, find an organized grief support group.
  6. Make use of ritual. There is a certain healing to be found in rituals. They encourage us to remember, they comfort us, and they offer us peace. For example, if you and your lost loved one watched a certain movie every Christmas, keep the ritual (tradition) alive as a way to remember them and feel close to them during the holiday season.
  7. Treasure your memories. Write them down. Tell the stories to others. Share the essence of the one you loved with those around you and keep their legacy alive. Your memories are your own to cherish forever and will be a continual reserve of peace and comfort.

Grief is not an issue to be solved or resolved. It’s a process we must tend to and live through in whatever form it may take for whatever length of time it may require. For many of us, the tendency is to ignore our pain. But trying to ignore it won’t make it go away. In fact, stuffing our grief away can have serious consequences on our mental and physical health. Rather than avoid what you’re feeling, give yourself permission to grieve. It just might be the best gift you can give yourself during a time of loss.

For more grief resources (books and websites), see the list below:

  • counselingforloss.com
  • webhealing.com
  • griefrecoverymethod.com
  • heartlight.org
  • whatsyourgrief.com
  • funeralbasics.org
  • Canfield, Jack and Mark Victor Hansen. Chicken Soup for the Grieving Soul. Deerfield Beach, FL: HCI, 2003.
  • Canfield, Jack, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark. Chicken Soup for the Soul: Grieving and Recovery. Cos Cob, CT: Chicken Soup for the Soul, 2011.
  • Cross, Darlene F. A New Normal: Learning to Live with Grief and Loss. Las Vegas: Darlene F. Cross, 2010.
  • Curry, Cathleen. When Your Spouse Dies. Notre Dame, IN: Ave Maria Press, 1990.
  • Deits, Bob. Life After Loss. Tucson, AZ: Fisher Books, 1988.
  • Emswiler, James P. and Mary Ann Emswiler. Guiding Your Child Through Grief. New York: Bantam, 2000.
  • Fumia, Molly. Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving. York Beach, ME: Conari Press, 2003.
  • Grollman, Earl A. Living When A Loved One Has Died: Revised Edition. Boston: Beacon Press, 1997.
  • Kubler-Ross, Elisabeth. On Grief and Grieving. New York: Scribner, 2005.
  • Noel, Brook and Pamela D. Blair. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye. Milwaukee, WI: Champion Press, 2000.
  • Peterson, Randy. When You Lose Someone You Love. Lincolnwood, IL: Publications International, 2007.
  • Rando, Therese A. How To Go On Living When Someone You Love Has Died. New York: Bantam Books, 1991.
  • Schiff, Harriet S. Living Through Mourning. New York: Viking, 1988.
  • Wolfelt, Alan D. Understanding Your Grief. Ft. Collins, CO: Companion Press, 2004.

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

A funeral, though a time of mourning, can still be filled with celebration and remembrance. It’s a time to honor the one who has died but also an opportunity to begin the healing process for those who are left to grieve. Options to personalize a funeral are becoming more common, which offers families a richer, more meaningful experience. Those present can connect with their grief and express their emotions through mourning.

Nationally respected grief expert, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, emphasizes that creating a healing and meaningful funeral is incredibly important and helps us live more meaningful lives. 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.”

Creating a meaningful experience is all about personalizing the funeral to reflect the life, values, relationships, and ideals of the person who has died. The beauty of personalization is that there’s no mold to follow. Much like a wedding, you can customize every area of a funeral ceremony. As part of that customization, consider including the 7 important elements to creating a meaningful funeral: music, readings, a visitation, a personalized eulogy, symbols, gathering together, and inviting people to participate in symbolic actions.

Below are a few more suggestions for how to personalize a service to the person being honored. Take time to think about favorite songs, readings, recipes, hobbies, pastimes, and funny quirks of habit, as well as treasured memories, mementos, collections, and relationships. Any of these things may trigger some ideas on how to best honor your loved one.

1. Establish a memorial together

Often, family members request memorial donations to be given in honor of a loved one. In most cases, the cause or organization is one that the loved one held close to his or her heart. You might consider choosing a memorial gift that includes a plaque, sign, brick, or other physical memorial that can be inscribed with a loved one’s name. Another option would be to donate or plant a tree as a living memorial at a park, school, church, or other organization. Having a physical place to go where your loved one’s name is inscribed can make a memorial gift more personal. It also offers opportunities to reflect, remember, and cherish memories for years to come.

2. Find a way to include their favorite things

Every person is unique, and we all have personal quirks, things we particularly love. Consider how you might incorporate these things into the funeral. Perhaps there is a favorite color, collection, artwork or personal belongings you can implement. By including them, you share what was most precious to your loved one’s heart with those who come to mourn.

3. Create a memorial work of art together

Bring a large canvas, quilt squares, art supplies, scrapbook supplies, or any other medium that you are comfortable with to create a community work of art. Encourage guests to write down their favorite memory of your loved one on a quilt square, create a scrapbook page, or paint a portion of the canvas with a memory, color, or picture that they would like to share. Perhaps, they could write down a favorite saying or what qualities they appreciated most about your loved one. After the funeral, you will have a treasure trove of memories. On days when you need to feel close to the one you have lost, you can admire the painting, pull out the scrapbook, or wrap up in the quilt and cherish your loved one’s influence on their world of family and friends. Don’t forget to bring the appropriate supplies for writing, painting, or crafting!

4. Make a collage or a timeline

If you have access to pictures, you could create a collage of your loved one to display. Start with childhood and share images from the important events of their life. Or, alternatively, share your most treasured memories of them. Likewise, you could create a timeline of their life’s major events and provide pictures for each one. Consider including events like their birth, high school graduation, first job, children, etc.

5. Invite guests to take an item home

For example, if your loved one was a voracious reader, consider taking some of their books to the ceremony with a note, saying, “[Your loved one’s name] loved to read. Please take and read one of [his or her] books in honor of [his or her] memory.” In doing this, guests leave with a tangible reminder, and it may contribute to creating a meaningful experience. You can do this with recipes, seed packets, postcards, collection items—anything your loved one may have cherished – and invite your guests to honor your loved one’s memory by taking home a small reminder of the person they loved.

6. Include favorite foods

Food is a love language in many families. If your loved one favored certain foods, you might try to incorporate those somehow into the person’s celebration of life. You might have an ice cream station at the visitation. Or arrange a fellowship meal after the service that includes all your loved one’s favorite dishes and desserts.

Now, these ideas are only the beginning. Take some time to think about what would be most meaningful to you and to your loved one’s memory. Every person is unique, and because of this, no two funerals should be the same.

On a final note, in case you didn’t know, it is possible to begin this process now. You can plan ahead for funeral wishes at any time. And of course, if you do decide to plan ahead, you will have ample time to create a personalized, healing, and meaningful funeral service for those left behind to mourn.

5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial

By | Explore Options, Planning Tools

When we lose someone we love, our feeling of connection to them continues, even though they are no longer with us physically. It is this connection that contributes to our feelings of loss, that makes it so difficult to process death and move toward healing and reconciliation. And today, as cremation continues to rise as a preferred method of final disposition, one very important element of the healing process is being forgotten: the need for a permanent memorial.

In some areas of the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of families that keep the cremated remains of a loved one in their homes. While this is not bad in and of itself, it may create unforeseen difficulties down the road. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for cremated remains to be misplaced, accidentally knocked over and spilled, or even found in the trash or unknowingly donated to thrift stores.

That said, here are 5 reasons why you should consider establishing a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one:

1. It provides a place for people to mourn.

By establishing a permanent memorial, you provide a place to mourn. If a loved one dies, and one person keeps the cremated remains, it may be difficult for other family members to find a place to go to remember and honor their lost loved one. After all, everything that remains of the person may be inaccessible without inconveniencing the one who possesses the ashes. A permanent memorial allows any person access to the one who has died. Because everyone grieves in different ways and at different rates, a specific place is beneficial for individual grief journeys.

2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with the one who has died.

Additionally, a permanent memorial provides an established location for non-family members to mourn. For example, if the best friend of the person who has died wants to connect with them, to talk with them, they may have no place to go where they feel as strong a connection as a permanent memorial would provide. In this same vein, it’s not uncommon to see permanent memorials for those who have died due to acts of violence or vehicular accidents. We do this because we have a need to remember, to remind, and to honor the life lived.

3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.

Cemeteries, mausoleums, or cremation gardens will exist for many years to come. The oldest maintained cemetery in the United States is in Massachusetts, where several voyagers from the Mayflower are buried. People show great interest in their origins, and because of this curiosity, cemeteries will receive visitors consistently. They provide a permanent place for families to reconnect with their ancestors, even those who died long before they themselves were born.

4. It is practical for the family.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-known author, speaker, and grief expert, tells us that establishing a permanent memorial is a practical choice for the family. “Families can rest easy knowing that the cremated remains [of their loved one] are being taken care of in perpetuity. …Having to pass along urns to the next generation or amassing more and more urns on a shelf…is not a viable long-term solution.”

5. It ensures respect for the dead.

Keeping the cremated remains of a loved one at home can be an important part of the healing process. It all depends on what the mourner needs. But, out of respect for the one who has died, to ensure that nothing unfortunate happens to them when you are gone, it’s best to consider how you can permanently memorialize them. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “It’s about respect for the dying and the dead. Permanent memorialization is one of the most important ways in which we as a culture can ensure that respect [is carried out] ….”

It’s perfectly fine to wait to set up a permanent memorial. For some, it’s necessary to have a loved one nearby during the healing process. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up a permanent memorial. It will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.