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12 Tips for Loving the Grieving During the Christmas Season

By | Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

It’s Christmas time. Twinkling lights are going up, parties are being planned, and cookies and treats galore are baking in ovens across the nation. But even as happy tidings are shared between neighbors, we can’t forget that many of our neighbors, friends, and family members are hurting deeply. Grief is not relegated to certain parts of the year. But how can we be sensitive to the emotional needs of those around us who are hurting during this festive time?

As nationally renowned grief expert, author, and counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it, “…it is important to recognize that helping a grieving friend will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love than you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it. By ‘walking with’ your friend in grief, you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts – yourself.”

Consider these 12 tips for how to interact with your grieving friends or loved ones this Christmas.

1. Recognize and accept that your loved one is hurting, and they are going to experience grief during the holiday season.

We may want our grieving loved one to “enjoy” the holiday season, but we need to make sure that we aren’t pushing too hard. What you consider enjoyment and what your grieving friend considers enjoyment will look completely different. They are going to experience a myriad of emotions throughout the holidays. Let them experience these emotions, and be a safe person to talk to about them. Above all, don’t try to avoid people who are grieving. They are already hurting; let’s not add our own discomfort to the load they are carrying.

2. Encourage your grieving loved one to set healthy boundaries, and be prepared to support and abide by those boundaries.

The person who is grieving will have limited energy, so it’s important that they figure out what will work for them during this busy season. No, they shouldn’t entirely shut out all things Christmas, but they should limit what they do, depending on their needs. If you are close to someone who is grieving, encourage them to set boundaries, and then, be prepared to support those boundaries, abide by them, and if necessary, help your grieving loved one fight to keep them.

3. Give your grieving loved one plenty of notice about an event or gathering.

More often than not, someone who is grieving needs time to work up the energy to go out to an event or gathering. Make sure you them give plenty of notice so they can mentally and emotionally prepare. Also remember! You are encouraging them to put down healthy boundaries for the holidays. Don’t be offended or hurt if they decide not to come to your party.

4. Look for ways to honor the memory of a lost loved one.

You can do any number of truly special and unique things to honor a lost loved one. Buy or make a special gift. Sit down with your grieving friend and share memories or stories of the lost loved one. Join your grieving friend for a special trip to the gravesite. Donate to the lost loved one’s favorite charity. Find out if a local funeral home or church is facilitating a remembrance service and invite your grieving loved one.

5. Don’t force your grieving loved one into all the old traditions. Come up with a new tradition together.

Depending on who has died, the old traditions may be too painful. If it’s appropriate, sit down with your grieving loved one and talk about which traditions to keep this year and which ones to put aside. You might consider coming up with a brand-new tradition that will breathe some fresh air into the season.

6. Invite your grieving loved one to take part in a Christmas service project.

When we grieve, we can sometimes become so focused on the strong emotions we are feeling that we forget to come up for air. It’s a good practice to focus on others so that we can let our minds rest from the grief for a while. Invite your grieving friend to volunteer at a soup kitchen, to make blankets for the homeless, or to participate in another opportunity available through the church or community.

7. Be ready to help when your loved one needs it. Make room for them and ensure that they don’t feel like an inconvenience.

When someone is grieving, they often want to be alone and not be an inconvenience to those around them. Make sure that your grieving loved one knows that you have time for them and want them to be a part of your Christmas season. Practically speaking, be available, be inclusive, and be ready to offer help and support.

8. Encourage your loved one to take care of themselves.

In times of grief, people often feel overwhelmed, tired, and emotionally spent, and because of this, it’s important to take care of ourselves even while we grieve. Invite your grieving friend for a walk. Ask your grieving mother if she’d like a cup of hot cocoa or tea. If you have a grieving friend or family member visiting you for the holidays, turn down the covers of the guest bed, and let them know it’s ready if they’d like to take a nap. If you know their favorite foods, prepare something just for them and take it to their home, staying for a short visit. Show them that it’s okay to enjoy the simple pleasures even if their loved one is gone.

9. Don’t offer advice. Listen. Always give your loved one choices, force nothing.

It’s important that we allow people to grieve at their own pace and to be mindful of the words we say. Make sure that you don’t make assumptions about their grief. Try not to make comparisons to how you have mourned a loss in the past. Make sure to give them choices – if you force them into something, it likely won’t end well. More than anything, they need you to listen, to be present, and in many cases, to be silent.

10. Look for practical ways to offer help.

The holidays often mean lots of planning and preparation. For someone who is grieving, the things that once brought great joy may now feel pointless or like they are too much work. So, look for ways that you can help. Offer to help put up the Christmas tree or wrap presents. Ask them if they’d like to come to your home for a baking extravaganza (or perhaps they’d rather you come to theirs). If they need to shop for gifts, offer to go with them, or if they have a list, to pick up what they need. You may have some other great ideas for personal and meaningful ways to practically help your grieving loved one.

11. Send a thoughtful holiday card.

For many, Christmas time means sending cards with holiday cheer to friends and family. Though the practice has dwindled somewhat in recent years, it’s a valuable way to tangibly show that you care about someone and are thinking of them. Consider putting some extra time and thought into what you might say in a meaningful card, words that will comfort and bring hope.

12. Follow up after the holidays to see how they are doing.

We aren’t always the best about following through on things, but in this case, let’s try to put extra effort in. It’s important for a grieving person to know that your love and concern aren’t just temporary but are true and sincere. Make sure to reach out and offer your support all through the year.

A Christmas Playlist for the Grieving Heart

By | Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

The Christmas season can be especially difficult for those who are grieving. Many Christmas songs are lighthearted, happy, and discuss themes of romantic love, family, or joyfulness. But maybe you don’t feel very happy this Christmas…maybe this is the hardest Christmas you’ve ever faced. For that reason, this list of songs has been compiled. This Christmas Playlist is meant to help you to grieve during this Christmas season. Just because the culture says you should be light and joyful does not mean you have to put on a cheerful face and pretend you aren’t hurting. Be where you are, but also try to look for ways to enjoy Christmas on your own terms and in your own way.

Most of us enjoy music. It helps us get in touch with our emotions. Music can bring us great joy, motivate us, challenge us, and bring tears to our eyes. This Christmas season, don’t be afraid to listen to music that helps you embrace your sadness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-renowned grief expert, reminds us, “As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don’t let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.”

The songs included in this Christmas Playlist are diverse. Some are meant to help you embrace your sadness, some are meant to remind you of the good things still in your life, and some are meant to help you embrace the meaning of Christmas and the joys of your former Christmases. The list is not comprehensive – feel free to add songs that speak to your heart personally and remove songs that aren’t meaningful for you.

This Christmas is yours. Consider honestly what you truly need. Then, do what is best for you, unapologetically.

  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Sam Smith)

Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

First published in 1943, this song brought great comfort to many American soldiers who spent Christmas overseas on the battlefield. The song’s slow tempo and heartfelt words convey a sense of nostalgia. The listener is encouraged to remember past Christmases and look forward to future ones, but it does not negate the difficulty of the present Christmas.

  • Silent Night (Bing Crosby)

Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King.

Silent Night is one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time and has been translated into over 300 languages. The song is familiar, comforting, and most importantly, calls us to look beyond our circumstances and remember why we have the season of Christmas.

  • Do You Hear What I Hear? (Carrie Underwood)

The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

Originally released just after Thanksgiving in 1962, this song was written as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tension spread across the United States, and many had mixed emotions during the Christmas season. Of all the lines, the ones that bring the most comfort are, “Pray for peace, people everywhere! Listen to what I say, the Child, the Child sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light.” May you receive peace, goodness, and light this Christmas season.

  • Thankful (Josh Groban)

And on this day we hope for
What we still can’t see

First released on Josh Groban’s Christmas album, Noel, the lyrics do not carry a heavy Christmas theme. Instead, they focus on the fact that, even though we may be grieving, there is so much to be thankful for. Sit and let the soothing music flow over you and ponder what you can be thankful for during this time of sadness.

  • Where Are You, Christmas? (Faith Hill)

My world is changing
I’m rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too

This song tackles the ever-changing aspect of our lives, and as our world changes, so does the way we celebrate the holidays. As we deal with loss (no matter what kind of loss it may be), we have to find our “new normal,” and what life is going to look like for us now.

  • My Grown-up Christmas List (Kelly Clarkson)

But heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

At its heart, this song is about the wish deep within us that the difficult things in life would disappear. As children, we asked our parents and Santa Claus for bikes, dolls, games, and candy, but as grown-ups, we see the pain in the world and ask for very different things. This song perfectly expresses the desire that every person would receive peace, hope, and love.

  • I Pray on Christmas (Harry Connick, Jr.)

I pray on Christmas
That God will lead the way
And I pray on Christmas
He’ll get me through another day

This jazz-inspired Christmas song from Harry Connick, Jr., incorporates elements of gospel music. In his crooning style, Harry conveys the message that God will hear us, be with us, and get us through Christmas day. While still expressing the need we have to lean on others during hard times, the song is uplifting and soulful.

  • Merry Christmas, Darling (The Carpenters)

But I can dream and in my dreams
I’m Christmas-ing with you

Released in 1970 by a brother-sister duo, known as The Carpenters, the lyrics were originally written in 1946, and then, put to music by Richard Carpenter. While the lyrics were written with deployed soldiers in mind, the words apply to anyone who is missing a loved one during the Christmas season. As you grieve this season, it’s okay to miss your loved one and to wish that they were still near.

  • River (Sarah McLachlan)

I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long I would teach my feet to fly

This song is real. In the opening lyrics, it reveals that Christmas time is coming, but all she really wants to do is skate away from her troubles and her grief. If you are grieving this Christmas, you may feel this way too.

You can check out our playlist on YouTube and make this your Christmas playlist. Allow the music to flow over you and bring your grief to the surface. Christmas won’t be the same this year. And it’s okay to be sad about it. Accept your emotions as they come and allow the music to give them a voice. This exercise will be one more step toward healing and figuring out what life looks like now.

How Family Interviews Can Make Your Thanksgiving Memorable

By | Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is about reflection, remembrance, gratitude, and time spent with loved ones. Too often, we take our time on earth for granted, and before we are ready, a loved one is gone. While we are always aware that death will come one day to those we love, we aren’t prepared for that difficult day. But what if you could preserve the memory of your lost loved one, the stories of their life, the tone of their voice, and their beloved quirks of habit?

If the idea appeals to you, sit down with your living loved ones for an oral history interview. But what is an oral history interview, you may ask? Essentially, it entails intentionally spending time with someone, asking questions and recording answers. You may also see this practice called a family history interview or a life interview.

Why Should I Do This?

First and foremost, it’s a tangible way to show someone you love them. By sitting down with someone, spending one-on-one time with them, asking questions and sharing conversation, you add value to your and your loved one’s lives. You make them feel loved, appreciated, and that they are important to you. Also, think about what you could learn from your loved one’s successes, or even more importantly, from their mistakes? Did you know that your loved one used to go swing dancing every Saturday night as a young person? Did you know how they felt when their first child or grandchild was born?

People are simple and yet complex. So much of our lives take place internally. By asking questions, you can begin to know your loved one even more intimately and learn things about them that you may never have known.

Secondly, it’s a practical way to preserve family history for future generations, to discover the stories that bind our families together. In today’s world, so many people are interested in where they came from, what their ancestors were like, and what kind of life they lived. New websites pop up every day related to genealogy and family history. Do you want future generations to know something about your loved one? Take the time necessary to preserve your family’s story.

Thirdly, when the day comes that your loved one is gone, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life, you can take the information you’ve gathered and create a meaningful funeral service. Additionally, if you video your interviews, you will have priceless footage to use in the creation of a special tribute video that will be meaningful for the funeral service but also for future generations of family.

senior mom with her middle-aged daugther, smiling and hugging, wearing light pink blouses.

Who Should I Interview?

Whoever you want (but make sure to ask for permission first). You can interview your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a next door neighbor, or anyone else. You could even go down to an assisted living establishment and ask permission to interview some of the residents. Your interest in their lives might just make their day.

How Do I Do This?

  1. Determine what questions you will ask.

The first step is to decide what questions you want to ask. Thankfully, resources exist online that share in-depth, open-ended questions that you can ask your loved one. There are tips on interview etiquette, how to set goals for your interviews, and how to help everyone be at ease and enjoy the time together.

  1. Select a documentation medium.

The second step is to decide what medium you want to use to record your interviews. Some options are:

  • Handwrite everything in a special journal
  • Type everything on a computer
  • Use an audio recording app or other equipment
  • Film the interviews using a phone or other equipment
  • A mixture of these options or something else that’s easy for you
  1. Spend quality time with your loved one.

Lastly, go spend time with your loved one. Start this Thanksgiving Day! If you need more time (and you probably will), talk to them and decide what day and time is best for a chat, whether in person or over the phone. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t get hung up on trying to get all your questions answered at once. Just be there and absorb. Remember, you won’t get everything recorded in one sitting. Take time, and have fun!

Yes, Thanksgiving is a time when families come together, enjoy each other’s company, and share laughter and memories. This year, what better way to show your thankfulness for your loved ones than by intentionally getting to know more about their lives?

two firefighters holding a water hose, orange flames and smoke in the background

Facing Traumatic Events: 5 Keys to Resilience After Loss

By | Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Wildfires ravage forests and towns in California. Floods continue to devastate cities. Hurricanes batter our shores. As traumatic events seem to strike at every turn, people have no choice but to leave behind life the way they knew it – homes, cars, treasured mementos, family heirlooms. If you’ve been faced with loss — whether you have lost a loved one, a home, job, or a relationship — you know how important it is to slow down and give yourself time to process your feelings of grief. It is okay to feel sorrow over what has been lost. It’s normal, in fact! But through these catastrophic events, we never fail to see the human spirit rise above and keep living. So, what are some of the keys to this kind of resilience?

two firefighters holding a water hose, orange flames and smoke in the background

Simply defined, resilience is the ability “bounce back” from difficult circumstances. When faced with hardship, you adapt, find a way to rebuild your life, and come back better than ever.

Practically speaking, how can you live a resilient life while dealing with the devastation of loss and financial instability? In a very real sense, when we lose the possessions most precious to us, it’s almost as if we are losing a part of ourselves and our connection to the past. Thankfully, there are many ways to build your resilience, and it is not a quality a person is born with, but a quality that is cultivated. You can be resilient and come out better, no matter what your struggle.

As you walk down the road of grief, think of these five keys as stepping stones. This is not an exhaustive list of how you can cultivate a resilient life, but it is a beginning. It takes great strength to mourn fully and well while also taking those first steps forward to a new life.

  1. Allow Yourself to Grieve

It’s important to allow yourself to feel the emotions of your loss. It is a significant event to lose everything you’ve worked for, every possession that may have meaning to you. Don’t bottle up your emotions, thinking, “I should be grateful. I’m alive. What are a few things?” It does little good to belittle the loss that you feel. Acknowledge it, own the pain, and move toward healing. In the recent California fires, the home of “Peanuts” creator, Charles Schulz, burned to the ground. Jean Schulz, widow of Charles, shared that while the majority of “Peanuts” memorabilia is safely housed in a museum, she is devastated at the loss of the home she shared with Charles for 25 years as well as some irreplaceable keepsakes. The key is to give yourself permission to grieve.

  1. Take Care of Yourself

No matter what event or circumstance you may be grieving, it’s important to take care of yourself. Your mind and body are connected, so as you take care of your body, you care for your mind. Make sure to get enough sleep and exercise, and do not seek to dull your grief but experience it and express it. Making connections is also a big part of building resilience and maintaining personal well-being. Stay connected with family members, friends, support groups, faith-based groups, and non-profit organizations that can help you through a difficult time.

  1. Be Prepared for Grief Triggers

While most often associated with the loss of a loved one, grief triggers can be associated with any type of loss. There will be times when external circumstances – a word, smell, place – may trigger a memory in you, perhaps a painful one. For example, if you have lost everything in a fire, including your mother’s wedding dress that you hoped to wear on your own wedding day, it will bring back painful memories when your cousin says how excited she is to wear her own mother’s wedding dress. There will be moments when the pain resurfaces – count on it! – so do your best to prepare yourself so that when the strong emotions come, you aren’t blindsided by them.

  1. Give Yourself Time

There’s no rush, no time frame. Every person grieves differently, and there’s no set formula. It’s okay to take as long as you need to grieve but make sure you don’t get stuck in your grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, renowned grief counselor and author, says, “We don’t ‘recover from’ or ‘get over’ grief. Instead, we become reconciled to it. We learn to live with it and integrate it into our continued living. We come to reconciliation in our grief journeys when the full reality of the loss becomes a part of us. Healing is not returning to an old normal but rather creating a new normal.”

  1. Accept Change

The treasures of your old memories may be gone, and there may be nothing you can do but grieve their loss. Take the time you need to grieve, but also, remember that change is a part of life. There will come a time to build new memories. Don’t be afraid to live fully and build new, precious moments and cherish the keepsakes that go along with them. You are alive, so go live!

How You Can Help Now

If you would like to help families currently affected by wildfires in California, consider giving of your time or resources to one of these organizations:

  1. California Community Foundation’s Wildfire Relief Fund – provide grants for rebuilding homes, financial and mental health assistance, and help those affected get medical treatment.
  2. Caring Choices – currently organizing volunteers to help those affected by Camp Fire, whose actions include caring for displaced animals and offering medical care to victims.
  3. United Way – raising funds to assist those who have lost their homes and possessions.
  4. Entertainment Industry Foundation – a nonprofit fund that helps firefighters and other emergency workers battling the wildfires (including the provision of Hydration Packs).
  5. American Red Cross – raising funds to assist families affected by the California wildfires.

5 Ways to Spread Awareness and Hope in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

By | Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

If you are currently battling breast cancer, if you know someone who is battling breast cancer, if you know and love a breast cancer survivor, or if you’ve lost a loved one to the disease, we stand with you in the fight to see an end to breast cancer.

According to current statistics, it is expected that, in 2018, more than 40,000 deaths will be linked to breast cancer. Moreover, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime as will one in every 1,000 men. In our collective struggle, as men and women, we can join forces in a number of ways.

1. Participate in Wellness Programs & Lifestyle Changes

When possible, men and women should participate in a wellness program and take part in all the tests required to monitor current health status. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that some lifestyle changes contribute to a marked decrease in breast cancer risk.

For example, here are a few suggested changes:

  • Limit alcoholic beverages
  • Quit smoking
  • Control weight
  • Stay physically active

2. Get Involved & Spread Awareness

Firstly, it’s important to remember that the possibilities to get involved in the fight against breast cancer are as limitless as your imagination. There are some established ways of participating in spreading awareness for breast cancer: donate, participate in a Race for the Cure, become an advisor/volunteer for a breast cancer program, host a fundraiser, or wear pink to spread awareness.

However, your original ideas are welcome too, so don’t be afraid to bring them to the table. For example, one woman started a nonprofit that provides unique hospital gowns for women battling illness. Another woman began writing encouraging letters to fellow breast cancer patients, and also started her own nonprofit that has sent over 60,000 handwritten cards and letters to 152 patient centers. The point is, don’t limit your own impact. Think outside the box and find the most meaningful way for you to become involved.

3. Share Inspirational Stories of Hope

The women and men who have battled and are battling this disease are a great source of hope. Read their stories and allow them to change you. Ultimately, no matter the story of your own life, we can find inspiration, hope, and encouragement in the stories of others.  Let’s be loving, compassionate, and above all, changed. And be sure to share the stories that impact you the most with others through social media. That way, you can inspire and raise awareness for breast cancer at the same time.

4. Find a Support Group

If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are not alone. Consider joining a support group consisting of others who are currently battling the disease. In them, you may find much-needed encouragement and inspiration.

5. Get Connected to Grief Resources

Finally, if you have recently lost a loved one to breast cancer, your road to healing is just beginning. Emotions may be raw, and that’s okay. It’s normal to feel grief, anger, pain, frustration. Author, educator, and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it this way: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of people I have counseled over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” Facing the pain of grief is hard. But in the end, it is the only way through the journey of grief.

We all need support and encouragement on the journey through grief. Consider talking with a friend, making an appointment with a grief counselor, or finding others who are going through a similar situation. You may even be able to find local support groups for those who have lost a loved one to cancer. You can also visit Dr. Wolfelt’s website, the Center for Loss & Life Transition, to learn from his experience helping people walk through the journey of grief toward healing.

Mourning as a Community in the Face of Tragedy

By | Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Senseless. Horrifying. Heartbreaking. No words can capture the depth of emotion sweeping the nation after November 8th’s shooting in Thousand Oaks, California. This tragedy comes less than two weeks after October 27th’s shooting in the Squirrel Hill neighborhood of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Yet another act of terrible violence, far too soon after the events in Parkland, Florida, Sutherland Springs, Texas, and Las Vegas, Nevada. According to reports, a lone gunman burst into a packed bar and opened fire, killing twelve and wounding many others. The shooter was found dead at the scene.

Passersby, families, friends, and the community are reeling. This tragedy encompasses not only the grief and mourning of individual families, but of an entire community. As we seek to mourn the victims and process the events, we should consider how to mourn together, as people, as communities.

Communally, how do we mourn such traumatic events?

Respected grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, has worked with families dealing with grief over the unexpected, traumatic death of a loved one. He says, “After someone you care about dies a sudden, violent death, you are forced to struggle with both the traumatic nature of the death and your grief over the loss. Naturally, traumatized mourners often find themselves replaying and reconsidering over and over the circumstances of the death. This is both normal and necessary. Such replay helps you begin to acknowledge the reality of the death and integrate it into your life. It’s as if your mind needs to devote time and energy to comprehending the circumstances of the death before it can move on to grieving the fact that this person will no longer be part of your life.”

As individuals, as communities, we struggle to comprehend these events. How and why would anyone do this? The survivors and the victims’ families will likely replay the day in their minds over and over. They may even wonder if they could have done something different. They couldn’t have. No one could have known what had been planned. So, now we ask, how do we move forward? We band together, support each other, and mourn as one.

What does it mean to mourn?

Grief is an internal feeling. It is the part of us that feels anguish over these events. Mourning is an outward expression of our internal grief, and it pushes us to externalize our grief, to take action to express that grief. Without externally expressing our grief, emotions can become internalized and remain inside us, unaddressed.

When an event touches an entire community, an entire nation, it is important to externalize our grief and mourn TOGETHER.

Community mourning – how do we do that?

Prayer Vigils

First, our churches and houses of worship can open their doors for prayer vigils. After the events at the Boston Marathon, places of worship all over the city opened their doors to the community. It was an act of communal mourning and a way to come together, grieve together, and heal together.

Candlelight Vigils

Similarly, individuals, businesses, churches, or schools can coordinate candlelight vigils and invite their communities to participate. In 2007, the Virginia Tech shooting horrified the nation. Then, and even now, ten years later, the community, the students, and the families came together to mourn and to remember those who lost their lives. The candle indicates the unity of those participating, their prayers and thoughts for the victims, and their desire to remember those who have been lost.

Memorials

Finally, communities mourn together through creating memorials. To mourn the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, people near and far came together, wrote prayer notes, paid their respects at memorials throughout town, mourning the tragic events together. These memorials help us feel connected to the victims. As a result, they give us a way to show that we care about them, that we mourn their loss.

Communal mourning events are important. We are all affected by this event in some measure, and we need to support each other, giving special support to the survivors and the families of the victims. A significant way that we, as friends, neighbors, and fellow Americans, can show our support is to come together to acknowledge and mourn this significant loss.

How can we take action?

  1. Donate blood to your local blood bank.
  2. Give funds toward the victims’ funerals and assist the families financially.
  3. Participate in moments of silence, prayer or candlelight vigils, or visit memorials to offer a token of our mourning.
  4. Create an emergency plan for our families, in preparation for unexpected events.

It is imperative that we mourn as communities; that we support and pray for those most closely affected by this senseless act; and that we come together and deepen the ties of our communities. May God be with the families and friends of the victims of this tragedy.

Natural Disasters and Hurricane Florence: How Grief Can Help Us to Help Others

By | Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

What does it mean to grieve during a natural disaster? What opportunities does grief provide for helping others in need? In the wake of recent natural disasters that have caused so much damage to the lives of so many people, it’s useful to examine the relationship between healthy grief and compassionate action. While our first impulse may be to distance ourselves from the pain of tragedy, it’s necessary that we face this pain, because grief cultivates sympathy and compassion.

Hurricane Florence caused catastrophic flooding and property damage, and it is reported that 43 people have died from storm-related incidents. Hurricane Florence comes just one year after the devastating events of Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria. Together, the three hurricanes contributed to the deaths of thousands and caused billions of dollars in property damage last year.

Awareness Spurs Action

It is difficult to wrap our minds around the information that we get from news statistics and apply them to the lives of everyday people. To picture the hundreds of lives lost, and to realize that each of these lives was as precious as that of our dearest loved one, is difficult to fathom. To envision the tens of thousands of homes destroyed or uninhabitable, and to know that each home belonged to an individual or a family who needs a home just as much as our families do, is beyond distressing.

But in response to the hurricanes, we’ve seen a number of heroic acts. A retired Marine using his military transport vehicle to rescue people from their flooded homes. As residents evacuated ahead of the storm, strangers welcoming evacuees into their homes. A business owner turning her trampoline park into a shelter for families and pets. When hurricanes hit, we see people stepping up to make a difference. We see people showing that they care. This kind of commitment to goodness doesn’t come from a place of comfort. It comes from an awareness of the suffering of others. It comes from the internalization of their pain, and the channeling of this pain into sympathy, and ultimately, action.

We can only transcend the pain of loss by allowing ourselves to feel this hurt. As Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, we must go backward before we can go forward. In other words, we must allow ourselves to feel sad and painful emotions in order to move towards healing. The people who take action understand this essential truth of grief. They have opened themselves up to the suffering of others, and have chosen to expose themselves to pain and discomfort. By moving outside of themselves, they set an example of hope and goodness that is inspiring to all of us.

How You Can Help

In light of the recent natural disasters, you may want to consider ways in which you can help.  If you feel moved to take action, you have the opportunity to partner with organizations that are making a difference in the lives of those affected by these natural disasters, for example:

  • To give toward Hurricane Florence disaster relief, this article shares several ways you can help, including Charity Navigator, United Way, and Carolina-based efforts.
  • Americares has set up an Emergency Relief Fund for Hurricane Florence so that you can help Americares offer medicine and medical assistance. A $10 donation can provide up to $100 in aid to those in need.
  • The Red Cross has a disaster relief program set up to bring aid to those affected by natural disaster.
  • The UNICEF Disaster Relief program works to meet the basic needs of children and their families who have been affected by Hurricane Florence.

Grief is an avenue for change. It allows us to confront the reality of other people’s pain in order to better care for them. Because grief is unpleasant, our culture tends to downplay its importance. But shying away from painful emotions keeps us complacent. By crossing the threshold of sadness, we find the sympathy that connects us and reminds us of our common humanity.

By letting ourselves grieve, we allow ourselves to acknowledge the needs of those who are hurting. To bury the pain of this loss and to reject the healthy desire to grieve is to miss an opportunity to show compassion to others. It’s okay to temporarily welcome the sadness. Sadness reminds us that people are in a time of need. It provides a lens through which we can see more clearly to help others. It moves us from mourning to sympathy, from sympathy to action, and from action to inspiration. Tragedies of this kind are always distressing, but often we find that in the midst of such hardship, humanity shines brightly.

Grief and Loss in the Wake of Hurricane Michael

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Hurricane Michael is lashing against Florida’s shores, sure to cause life-threatening conditions, catastrophic flooding, and property damage. Hurricane Michael comes right on the heels of Hurricane Florence, causing residents of North and South Carolina to prepare for another strong hit. Both Hurricane Michael and Florence come just one year after Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma, and Hurricane Maria. Together, the three hurricanes contributed to the deaths of thousands and caused billions of dollars in property damage last year.

Losing everything so suddenly can be especially difficult to grapple with because all that is familiar–your home, your belongings, your pictures, even loved ones–are gone, washed away by an unrelenting storm.

The trauma of such a devastating and sudden loss can manifest as complicated grief. Be aware that total loss as a result of a sudden natural disaster can possibly trigger severe trauma responses, including anger, depression or anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder. Usually, the severity of the response depends on previous life trauma and the support that survivors are able to find after the event.

If you are looking for ways to help others during this time, it is important not to put your own life in danger by going out into affected areas on your own. Consider volunteering with an existing organization or donating to worthy organizations that are making a difference in impacted communities.  This article shares ways to contribute to hurricane and disaster relief efforts.

If you know or are helping someone who has been affected by a recent disaster, the best thing you can do right now is listen to their story and offer tangible help in any way you can. Nothing will take away the pain of total loss. The rebuilding effort for both cities and individual lives will take time. There is not much that we can do to “fix it” or take their pain away. We can’t bring back homes, precious pictures, heirlooms, and loved ones. What survivors need right now is help with day to day necessities, as well as someone who is comfortable being a listening ear and a witness to their pain and loss.

9/11: Grief and Remembrance

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It’s been 17 years since the devastating terrorist attacks of 9/11. On September 11, 2001, two planes hit the World Trade Center in New York City and one plane crashed into the Pentagon in Arlington County, Virginia. A fourth plane, headed to Washington D.C. was brought down in a Pennsylvania field in a struggle between civilian passengers and the hijackers. 2,996 lives were lost and thousands were injured.

American Tragedy

The effects of the tragedy on American life were monumental, and the image of the planes hitting the buildings was burned into our collective consciousness. Across the nation, citizens sat in front of television screens, hardly able to believe their eyes. Over and over again, news stations showed the planes tearing through steel and glass, the plumes of smoke rising to the sky, and the citizens, firefighters, and police officers of New York City caked in dust and rubble.

As a nation, we mourned collectively. We mourned the disruption of national security, the desecration of a national symbol, and most discouraging of all, the loss of nearly 3,000 American lives. In 2009, Congress designated September 11 as a National Day of Service and Remembrance, officially marking the day as a time to reflect on the tragedy and honor the lives that were lost.

Personal Tragedy

But September 11 is hardest of all for families and friends who lost loved ones on that day. While the entire nation mourns the loss of its citizens, nobody grieves like a wife who lost her husband, a father who lost his daughter, or a child who lost a parent. For those who were personally connected to the victims of the terrorist attack, the weeks of early September are often extremely difficult to get through.

In the aftermath of 9/11, many of those who were personally tied to the attacks experienced significant psychological trauma. Many of the injured civilians, first responders, family members of the victims, and people who witnessed the terrorist attack firsthand struggled with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and sought out counseling and therapy. The events of 9/11 have changed their lives forever, and their pain needs to be acknowledged by a loving and supportive community.

Support and Remembrance

For this reason, it’s important that we continue to show them that we care. We don’t need to crowd or overwhelm them. But we do need to honor the memory of their loved ones and respect the lives that were lost by taking the time to remember. When September 11 rolls around again, it’s tempting to dive into our jobs and our personal lives to avoid thinking about the tragedy. But instead of losing ourselves in work, we should take this time to fully address the events that occurred 17 years ago. Remembrance is the gateway to healing.

Moment of Silence

We are creatures of ceremony, and in difficult times, we often turn to rituals to acknowledge our true feelings. Funeral services do a particularly good job of allowing us to embrace our emotions, and funeral elements such as the visitation, the gathering, the time of eulogy and remembrance, and the use of symbols, music, and readings enhance the ceremony.

In the same way, when a cultural event changes our lives, we can turn to rituals to process our thoughts. The moment of silence is a useful ritual that we can participate in every year on September 11. At 8:46 AM (Eastern Time), many people choose to enter a period of silent reflection at the time of day when the first plane hit the World Trade Center. This September 11, consider planning your schedule around this moment of silence, so that you can join with others across the country in honoring the lives that were lost and showing your respect.

Meaningful Actions

Actions bring meaning to experience and help us heal. If you have an American flag, fly it at half-mast on this day to honor the memory of the 9/11 victims. This national ritual functions as a powerful symbol of mourning and unifies us in our grief. You can also use your social media account as a tool to express your support. On Facebook, you can like the National September 11 Memorial & Museum, or you can follow the Memorial Museum Account on Twitter. Ask your family and friends to support this wonderful museum on their accounts as well. By doing so, you draw attention to a resource that does great work in honoring the lives that were lost on 9/11.

A Time of Healing

Times of reflection are times of healing. We need constant reminders, year after year. It will be a healing event when we remember in 2027. It will be a healing event when we remember in 2057. We will never be “over” 9/11, and if we ever were to adopt such a mindset, it would be indicative of our inability to acknowledge the personal loss of thousands of individuals as well as our loss as a nation. By acknowledging the pain of the loss and allowing ourselves to mourn as a nation, we strengthen our ties to each other and experience something valuable.

As anyone who has ever lost a loved one knows, the grief journey is not linear. Grief bursts occur throughout the lifetime of anyone who has experienced a loss. National grief bursts can occur as well, so it’s important that we acknowledge the continuation of grief after the tragedy. September 11 will never stop hurting. But through acts of remembrance, we can take healing steps, grow closer to each other, cultivate compassion, and become stronger people.

Honoring our Veterans on Independence Day

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This Fourth of July, many will gather for swim parties, burger grilling, and firework displays. We do these things because we want to reflect the American spirit on the day that commemorates the formation of our country. But the holiday also offers us a chance to honor the veterans who have made extraordinary sacrifices in service to this country. To better understand how Independence Day relates to our veterans, we must first examine the history of the holiday.

The Backdrop

The historical event that the holiday is based on, the creation of the Declaration of Independence, occurred during the Revolutionary War. While the Declaration of Independence formally announced the separation from Britain, the seeds of revolution grew over a period of 10 years. Years earlier, in 1765, Britain passed the Stamp Act, which was a direct tax on any material printed by the American colonists. The actual cost of the tax was less disturbing to Americans than the precedent that it established; Britain felt free to impose a level of control upon the colonies that the founding fathers were uncomfortable with.

No Taxation without Representation

The colonists resisted the tax, and Britain responded by imposing more taxes. Over the next few years, a pattern began to form: the colonists rebelled against legislation that they found unfair, Britain responded by tightening the screws, the colonists protested more vehemently, and the laws continued to get stricter and stricter.

In 1973, Boston passed the Tea Act. The colonists responded by hurling East India Company tea into the Boston harbor in the event that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. This act put an even greater strain on the relationship between Britain and the colonies, and full-scale war was soon to follow.

On April 19, 1775, Paul Revere completed his famous ride, warning the American soldiers of the arrival of the British. Hoping to gain military supplies, British soldiers headed for Concord, only to be stopped at Lexington by American gunfire. After a brief skirmish, the colonists retreated, and British troops pressed on to Concord. But at Concord, the colonists gained the upper hand, and the British retreated to Boston. This victory for the colonists marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

The Declaration of Independence

On June 11, 1776, a little more than a year after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, a committee at the Second Continental Congress selected Thomas Jefferson to write the first draft of the document that would come to be known as The Declaration of Independence. The committee chose young Jefferson over several already legendary American figures: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

After several changes to the first draft, America released the final document on July 4, 1776. The declaration officially marked America’s break from Britain and claimed independence for the 13 colonies. Independence Day commemorates the creation of this document, which outlines American values.

Contemporary Relevance

The Declaration of Independence is inseparable from the context of the Revolutionary War. For this reason, we link the holiday not only to America, but more specifically to American soldiers. The main principles of the document–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–are what the American soldiers of the 18th century gave their lives for. Many veterans have since served our country with the same commitment.

Independence Day provides us with an opportunity to remember those who have given so much for their country. The veterans who have served in the spirit of preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have made great sacrifices, and we need to take the time to express our gratitude.

Acknowledging Your Service

If you or a loved one are a veteran, we’d like to say a special thank you. We are thankful for your service and sacrifice. Also, we’d like to highlight an important issue that you need to be aware of: veterans’ burial benefits. It’s important that you are well-informed on the benefits that you are eligible for, as well as the restrictions and limitations that may apply.

Get answers to frequently asked questions, such as:

  • What are my burial benefits as a veteran?
  • Will the VA pay for my funeral?
  • What type of reimbursement or allowance does the VA provide for funeral expenses?
  • What benefits will my family members receive?
  • How do I ensure that my family receives my veterans’ benefits?
  • What happens if my non-veteran spouse or child dies first?
  • Does the VA cover the cost of transportation to a national or state cemetery?

For more information, visit this page.

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ