Category

Grief/Loss

How to Personalize a Funeral When an Infant Dies

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” – A.A. Milne

Losing an infant or a small child is one of the most difficult situations to face as a parent. It feels wrong. Out of order. Unnatural. And yet, it has happened, and now it is time to grieve the loss of a life that could have been. But how do you go about creating a healing, meaningful, and personalized service for an infant?

If you are feeling at a loss for how you can celebrate a little life that has barely begun, your funeral director can help you find unique and personalized ways to create a service you will never forget that you can look back on for comfort in the years to come.

For example, let’s read about SuperGirl and her loving parents, as told by a caring funeral director.

Remembering SuperGirl

This week, I found myself sitting across the table from a young couple, who – until the day before – had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new baby. Sadly, the little girl had arrived far too early… bypassing a life in our broken world for a direct return to the arms of God.

The young couple was clearly in love but devastated and enduring tremendous heartache. The pair held hands and wept as we discussed how to create a meaningful funeral service to soothe their own pain, but also celebrate a little girl they would never have the chance to raise.

By asking a series of questions, I found out that they were planning to decorate their daughter’s room in pink and silver, and they often called her SuperGirl because “she kicked so hard when I was carrying her.”

In that moment, it became my desire to lay SuperGirl to rest in such a way that everyone would realize just how much this little girl meant to her family. I asked the family’s permission to borrow their SuperGirl idea for the service, telling them that I had a few ideas on how to make things extra special.

After they left, I quickly called up an artist friend of mine, who created custom vinyl graphics to adorn the tiny casket and a handful of small stickers to hand out to friends and family who attended SuperGirl’s service the following day. Our secretary also made memorial folders to match the theme, and once the family saw what had been done, they were overwhelmed with emotion.

In the end, we were able to transcend the “typical” funeral and create an experience worthy of a SuperGirl.

So, What’s Next?

As you can see, the personalized and meaningful touches included at their precious girl’s remembrance deeply touched SuperGirl’s family. For the rest of their lives, they can hold onto the knowledge that they took the time to grieve, to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate what she meant to them, even though she was gone too soon. But how do you get started?

Familiarize Yourself with the Seven Elements of a Funeral

First, familiarize yourself with the seven elements of a funeral: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, when used together, these seven elements create a personalized, meaningful, and touching ceremony that will help bring healing to hurting hearts. When an infant dies, because their personality was still developing, these elements may be a bit more personalized to the parents and their desires, prayers, and dreams for their baby.

In SuperGirl’s case, because she was lost before birth, it was the parents’ wishes and plans that were used to personalize the service. This made the service meaningful to them and to their cherished memories of their little girl.

Brainstorm Together How to Make the Service Special and Unique

After you’re familiar with the elements of a funeral, you can begin looking for ways to personalize these seven aspects of the service to create a meaningful and healing experience. To help you as you get your thoughts together, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What special memories do you have of your child?
  • What were your hopes and dreams for your child?
  • When you think of your baby, what do you think of?
  • Were there any special mementos that you might want to include?
  • Did you give your baby a special nickname?
  • Depending on the age of your child, did they have favorite toys or activities?
  • Do your loved ones have special memories of your child that you might want to include?

Identify Ways to Personalize the Service

Here are a few ideas for ways that you can make the service personal to you and to the memory of your infant. These are just to jumpstart your own thoughts. Try to make the service truly unique to you, your child, and your needs.

  • Consider incorporating a release ceremony. For example, you can do a balloon release ceremony with appropriate-colored balloons and invite mourners to write messages on them. When released, the balloons disappear into the sky, almost like sending a message to heaven.
  • Consider using a theme. You might include special items, like a blanket made specifically for the baby, shoes, or other items. If you had a color theme for a nursery, you could incorporate those colors into the service.
  • Consider inviting others to give of their time or resources to a charity in honor of your child’s legacy. If you have miscarried, invite mourners to give to a foundation that supports mothers going through miscarriage. If your child died because of a certain illness, provide details of how to give toward a cure. Choose whatever organization you feel is appropriate to honor your child’s memory.

  • Use music that was special to you as a parent and reminds you of your infant in the ceremony. Whether that’s music you listened to throughout the pregnancy or something your child went to sleep to, you can select what is most meaningful to you and your family.
  • Write a letter to your baby, expressing all your hopes and dreams and wishes for what should have been. This will help you as you grieve but may also be a beautiful tribute to share at the funeral service.
  • Consider establishing a memorial in honor of your little one, whether it is a physical memorial, charitable donation fund to a special cause, or memorial website or blog chronicling your journey.

Take Time to Grieve

After the ceremony, it may be a little more difficult to feel supported for as long as you need. Because support for infant loss is usually not as present as it is for other types of loss, seek out caring counselors, mentors, support groups, and friends when you need help processing through your emotions. You can also start a grief journal that expresses all your feelings about the loss–good, bad, and everything in between. So often, grieving the loss of an infant can feel like a very lonely road. When you are able, you can also bring significance to the life of your little one by helping others who have gone through a similar loss.

Whatever you choose to do, your child was beautiful and is worth remembering in a sweet, meaningful, and personalized way. Don’t worry about “making too much of a fuss.” That is the last thing you should worry. Every life deserves honor, remembrance, and celebration, no matter how briefly they graced our world.

Understanding the Opioid Crisis and What You Can Do to Help

By Current Events, Grief/Loss

So many families across the United States are affected by the grief, anger, and confusion over the death of a loved one by overdose. Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdose. According to the National Safety Council, Americans are now more likely to die of drug overdose than to die in a car crash.  That’s more than 47,000 people in one year. Additionally, the number of overdoses among women (ages 30-64) has increased by 260 percent in 20 years.  Because of these alarming trends, the life expectancy in America has steadily decreased in recent years. All of these statistics make it clear just how vast the need is to help those who are struggling with addiction to opioids and other drugs.

With such a crisis growing in our nation, what can we do? How do we help the people we love? How do we work to prevent future deaths? Let’s review a few simple tips that will help you understand what opioids are, recognize an addict, and discover how you can make a difference.

Understand what opioids are

Let’s take a moment to understand what qualifies as an opioid. An opioid is a class of drugs that include illegal heroin, synthetic opioids (fentanyl) and prescription pain relievers (OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, and morphine, to name a few). Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and its use is on the rise. Opioids depress the body’s central nervous system, slowing down a person’s breathing. If you would like to learn what happens to the body during an overdose, click here. Warning: it may be too difficult for some to read the website’s content, especially those who have lost a loved one to opioid addiction.

Recognize the signs of an addict

As with any illness, there are specific signs and symptoms. The more familiar you are with what to look for, the more likely you are to recognize an addiction before it’s too late.

Common Symptoms:

  1. Neglected responsibilities – a person will stop caring about what used to be important. They will miss events, assignments, work, and will neglect aspects of life.
  2. Associating with unhealthy people – they will begin to spend time with people who are a negative influence and may take drugs themselves.
  3. Isolation – they will hide from the people who love them, often ashamed of their problem. They become depressed, anxious, and paranoid.
  4. Behavioral changes – the person begins to do things that are out of character. They may begin to steal, go to see doctors in hopes of getting a prescription, or have unexplained absences. Also, they may begin to ask for money frequently and be more concerned about getting it.
  5. Poor judgment – the person may have difficulty concentrating and their problem-solving skills may be affected. Additionally, they may seem detached from their surroundings.
  6. Physical symptoms – the person will show changes in appearance (weight loss or changes in hygiene), scabs or puncture marks, poor coordination, nausea, and digestive issues, like vomiting.
  7. Mood changes – the person may exhibit mood swings, depression, paranoia, or have sudden, unprovoked outbursts.

Learn how to help an addict

When considering how to help an addict, it’s first important to realize that you can help, but you cannot fight someone else’s battle. Addiction is a disease of the brain, something that is difficult to overcome but absolutely possible. However, the person struggling with an opioid addiction must want to change and must do the work of transformation themselves.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for helping an addict:

  1. Set boundaries and stand by them.
  2. Encourage the person to seek out help. They may not be able to search for treatment options on their own, so be ready to help. Also, if the process has caused you stress and pain, consider talking to a therapist yourself. You need support through this time, too.
  3. Set a healthy example. This may mean giving up some of your own habits.
  4. Be supportive, but don’t make excuses for them. The addict needs to deal with the consequences of their addiction. Again, this is not a battle you can fight on their behalf.

Practice compassion with those who have lost a loved one to addiction

Any grief is hard. Grieving a person who lost their life to addiction is even more difficult. When we grieve, our emotions are all over the place: anger, anxiety, sadness. But with deaths related to addiction or suicide, there is an added stigma to an already heartbreaking loss.

When you interact with someone who has lost a loved one to overdose, remember that they are struggling with more than the usual grief. They may feel guilty about not doing more to help. They may have a lot of unanswered questions. On top of everything else, they must deal with societal stigma surrounding the death. People are often far too quick to judge and too slow to offer compassion and acceptance. Make sure you aren’t one of those people – offer kindness and compassion instead.

Tell others what you’ve learned

So far, opioid deaths continue to rise. We must do what we can to speak with people, young and old, about the dangers of opioids, in all their forms. Most especially, talk to your children about the dangers of opioid abuse so that they can avoid falling into the trap of addiction.

And if you have lost a loved one to overdose, don’t be afraid to talk about what you’ve experienced. Your story, your loved one’s struggle, can make a difference in the lives of others. We all need to understand the very real impact of opioid addiction and actively work together to find a solution.

Lastly, for everyone who is mourning the death of a loved one to overdose, know that you are not alone. We all mourn. We mourn because we love. Take the time you need to mourn and grieve for the special, unique person you have lost.

12 Tips for Coping with Survivor’s Guilt

By Grief/Loss

People who survive traumatic events are sometimes plagued with questions. Why did I survive, but my friend didn’t? Could I have done something to prevent this? The events repeat in their minds, and for some, survivor’s guilt settles in. In short, survivor’s guilt is feeling guilty that you survived an event while others didn’t. This could relate to many possible events, including a car accident, war, or surviving an act of violence.

Not everyone will experience survivor’s guilt, but many people will, to varying degrees. Today, let’s talk about ways you can cope with survivor’s guilt and come to a place of healing. If you’d like to learn more about survivor’s guilt, its causes and symptoms, please read Understanding Survivor’s Guilt.

Before we begin, if you have been struggling with survivor’s guilt for more than six months, go ahead and schedule time to talk with a counselor. If you can find a counselor who has experience in trauma, they may be an especially good fit to help you work through your grief and guilt.

12 Tips for Coping with Survivor’s Guilt

1. Give yourself time to grieve and accept what you’re feeling

Grief is hard at any time, but when grief is compounded by traumatic circumstances, it’s important to give yourself time to process. Not only are you processing what you feel, you’re also processing the events you witnessed. It’s going to take time and honesty. Acknowledging what you feel is a great first step, and no matter what you feel, it’s perfectly normal. Guilt, anger, relief, sadness, confusion – all of these are natural responses to what you’ve experienced. It’s okay to feel this way.

2. Talk about your feelings with those you trust

We are not meant to walk through life alone. We need each other, especially after something traumatic. While the person you talk to may not completely understand what you’ve gone through, they can offer a listening ear and encouraging words. Sometimes, just knowing that you’ve been heard and putting your thoughts and emotions out in the open can be therapeutic.

3. Take care of yourself

Grief takes a toll on us, mind and body. That’s why it’s so important to take care of ourselves during times of loss and emotional distress. So, find ways to exercise regularly (low impact is perfectly fine). Take part in relaxing activities. Eat nutritiously. Make sure to get plenty of rest. You need a healthy body to help you process what’s in your mind and heart.

4. Remind yourself that you can handle sadness and loss

While we often don’t feel like it, human beings are incredibly resilient creatures. We have the ability to “bounce back” from difficult circumstances. But first, we have to remind ourselves that we can overcome the sadness we feel. While we are not necessarily born resilient, we can cultivate it and come out of our struggles better and stronger. You can find meaning and happiness again.

5. Remember that you’re not alone

At times, we feel like we are the only one struggling. Everyone else seems to have it together. But that’s not the case. Every single one of us struggles with something, and for many of us, we struggle with the same thing. In March 2019, two survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and the father of a victim in the Sandy Hook school shooting all committed suicide. Each one of them dealt with a form of survivor’s guilt – they may have felt alone, but they were not alone. Neither are you.

6. Grieve those who died

You may know the person or people who died well, or you may not know them at all. But no matter the case, you can mourn their loss in a way that is personal and meaningful to you. We don’t have to know people personally to value their life and to pay your respects after their death. By grieving for those who are gone, you honor the life they lived while also working to heal your own heart.

 7. Accept that there may be no answers

We all want to know why something happened. We run ourselves ragged trying to understand something. But, unfortunately, sometimes there are no answers. We may never know why the gunman chose that day and place. We may never understand why that illness took our family member. And we may never understand why some live and some die. Don’t get lost in the “whys” – instead, focus on living your life to the fullest, as a way of honoring those whose lives were cut short.

8. Do something with your guilt

It may seem like your survivor’s guilt has no purpose, but you can make it purposeful. Educate others about what you’ve gone through. Raise awareness about causes of death. You may feel passionate about stopping drunk driving, eradicating school shootings, or finding a cure for cancer. Alternatively, you can find more quietly personal ways to do something with your grief. Create a memorial for the person who has died or remember your loved one through acts of kindness.

9. Try to stick to a daily routine

When life feels like it’s out of control, a daily routine can ground you and give you a sense of stability. Figure out what works best for you and stick with it. Add in relaxing activities and exercise. Go to bed at the same time each night, making sure to get plenty of rest. And make time to process through your emotions – don’t ignore them. If you want to find healing, you must face what you feel.

10. Find ways to express your feelings

Sometimes talking about our grief isn’t enough. Maybe our words don’t fully say what we want them to say. Or they don’t capture the depth of what we feel. This is why creative expression is an excellent way to process the painful feelings we encounter, especially during times of grief. For example, you could: draw, paint, scrapbook, keep a grief journal, take photographs, garden, write, cook, compose music, or restore a car. Give it a try – see if it works for you.

11. Embrace life

As hard as it may be, celebrate your survival. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having survived a traumatic event. In fact, your family is likely very grateful that you did. You’ve been given a gift that others were denied. Don’t push it away – embrace it. Most of all, remember that you can be grateful for your own life while also feeling grief for those who died. These two feelings can co-exist. You aren’t negating the importance of other lives because you are thankful for your own.

12. Consider joining a support group or speaking with a counselor

If you have been struggling with survivor’s guilt for more than six months, it may be time to speak with a counselor. They will help you wade through the complex web of thoughts and emotions inside you. Also, if you’re comfortable with it, join a support group. Speaking with others who have a shared experience is an incredibly helpful exercise and may be just what you need.

Survivor’s guilt is a form of grief. There is nothing wrong with it; in fact, it’s a normal response to what you’ve witnessed. But you can’t stay where you are. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected counselor and grief expert says, “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 you are to reconcile yourself to it.” So, pluck up your courage and begin the journey of facing your grief. In the end, if you do the work of grieving, you will find renewed purpose and meaning in life.

*If you have had suicidal thoughts, please seek out help. You may not feel like it, but you are irreplaceable and have something one-of-a-kind to offer the world.

Understanding Survivor’s Guilt

By Grief/Loss

In a world filled with events beyond our control, we try so hard to make sense out of the senseless. Cancer, car wrecks, wars, mass shootings, and natural disasters are just a few of the events we grapple with on a day-to-day basis. And with each new event, a new set of people are at risk to suffer from survivor’s guilt. But what is survivor’s guilt? And how can we better understand it so that we might help ourselves and those around us?

What Is It?

In a nutshell, survivor’s guilt occurs when a person has survived a life-threatening situation while others did not. It is a type of grief, a way of working through complex emotions after a traumatic event. This form of guilt was first documented after the Holocaust when those who survived concentration camps felt guilty that they lived through the horror while others perished. Since then, we have found that survivor’s guilt is more common than was previously thought.

According to Nancy Sherman, PhD, survivor’s guilt begins with an endless loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong.” In other words, survivors think they could have done something to prevent the tragedy from happening, when in most cases, they could not. Often, it is accompanied by thoughts like, “Why not me?” “Why did I survive, and they didn’t?” “I shouldn’t have lived; they deserved to live more than I do.”

Survivor’s guilt is made even more complex by the fact that its effects aren’t universal. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will deal with survivor’s guilt. Additionally, of those who do experience it, the severity will vary from person to person. Some people will work through the guilt quickly while others will find themselves bogged down by it.

It has been suggested that certain factors may increase a person’s likelihood to experience survivor’s guilt. A few examples are a history of depression, low self-esteem, childhood trauma, or unresolved past losses. But the most important thing to remember in the midst of it all is that feeling survivor’s guilt is a normal response to traumatic events. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling it, but it’s important not to stay there.

Themes

With survivor’s guilt, people may feel guilty about different things. So, in a sense, there are different buckets or themes that people fall into, depending on why they feel guilty.

Guilt about surviving – This one is most typically associated with survivor’s guilt. It revolves around the idea that a person stayed safe while others suffered. They feel that they don’t deserve to be safe and should have been hurt or even killed with everyone else. The person questions the fairness of the world.

Guilt over what you “should” have done – This aspect of guilt plagues people who feel like they didn’t do enough to help or to stop events from unfolding. There’s a sense that they should have known it was going to happen and tried hard to prevent it. Or, in some cases, a person may have tried to save someone’s life and failed. There’s a sense of responsibility and failure.

Guilt over what you did – Some may feel guilty about their actions. From pushing others out of the way while fleeing an active shooter to killing someone in a drunk driving incident, a person may feel guilty because of their own actions.

Guilt that someone died for you – For those who were sheltered from harm by another person, there is guilt that the person died saving them.

Those suffering from survivor’s guilt may experience any one of these themes or even a combination of them. As we seek to understand survivor’s guilt, it’s important to know that people feel guilty about different things, and no two people will manifest survivor’s guilt in exactly the same way.

Rational vs. Irrational Guilt

In most circumstances, we cannot take responsibility for another person’s fate. But, in some cases, the guilt may be rational while, in others, it’s irrational. For instance, there may be a time when our actions did impact the death of another person. For example, if a drunk driver survives a car wreck but kills a pedestrian. This is a type of rational guilt.

However, irrational guilt is tied to something that we did or didn’t do, or perhaps something that we feel that we should or shouldn’t have done. Even if you believe that someone’s survivor guilt is irrational, don’t try to minimize their feelings. They feel what they feel, and remember, it’s completely normal and natural to experience some form of survivor’s guilt after a traumatic event. In no way should you make someone feel that survivor’s guilt is an unhealthy form of grief – it’s not. It is only unhealthy if it isn’t dealt with or becomes overwhelming or obsessive.

Who’s Susceptible?

Everyone. We all grieve in different ways, and for some, grieving will include processing through survivor’s guilt. While those who have a history of depression, childhood trauma, or unresolved past losses may be more susceptible to survivor’s guilt, absolutely anyone could go through it. Survivor’s guilt is also more common in children, teenagers, and others with less developed coping skills.

In general, survivor’s guilt is more common in the following situations (some events may be more familiar than others):

  • After surviving war
  • When a child dies before a parent
  • After surviving an accident (e.g. plane crash, car wreck, freak accident, etc.)
  • After surviving cancer or another life-threatening illness
  • When a parent dies from complications of childbirth
  • After surviving an act of violence (e.g. shooting, assault, etc.)
  • After a fellow drug-user dies of an overdose
  • When a sibling dies, especially in the case of an illness
  • After receiving an organ transplant
  • After causing an accident in which others died
  • Guilt for not being present to save someone’s life

What Are the Symptoms?

Now that you have a better understanding of what survivor’s guilt is, it’s helpful to know what to look for in yourself and others. From person to person, the symptoms will vary, but the most common are:

  • Flashbacks
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping (including nightmares)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Intense fear
  • Physical pain (headaches, stomachaches, palpitations)
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

In addition to these symptoms, a person experiencing survivor’s guilt will wonder why they lived and others died. They will also wonder if they could have done something to prevent the deaths of others. If unaddressed, survivor’s guilt can have a significant impact on mental and emotional health, but it may also serve as a catalyst. Some people transform their feelings of guilt into an increased sense of meaning and purpose. They look for ways to assist others who are dealing with the aftermath of traumatic events.

Having a better understanding of survivor’s guilt, its causes, its challenges, and its symptoms will help you identify it in yourself and those around you. If you take nothing else away, remember that survivor’s guilt is a form of grief. It is natural and normal to feel this way. The most important thing is to begin processing your grief and move toward learning to reconcile yourself to the loss you have suffered so you can heal.

To learn about coping methods, please read 12 Tips for Coping with Survivor’s Guilt.

Sleeping Tips for the Grieving

By Grief/Loss, Living Well

The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”  – E. Joseph Cossman

Sleep is essential for human beings. Without it, our minds and bodies quickly begin to show the negative effects of sleeplessness. Times of grief are especially difficult. The word “bereaved” means “to be torn apart,” which is an appropriate description for how we feel internally when we lose someone we love. Because grief is a struggle, we must take care of our bodies to ensure that we have the energy for the coming grief journey.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief expert, counselor, and author, puts it this way: “Good self-care is important at this time. Your body is the house you live in. Just as your house requires care and maintenance to protect you from the outside elements, your body requires that you honor it and treat it with respect. The quality of your life ahead depends on how you take care of your body today. 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.”

Grief is Hard on the Body

Grief doesn’t just affect our minds or our emotions; it takes a toll on our bodies. Physical symptoms differ from person to person, but one of the most common physical experience is a disruption to sleep habits. This may mean that you have trouble falling asleep or that you fall asleep easily enough but wake up in the middle of the night and then can’t get back to sleep.

Just like we need sleep when recovering from illness, we need sleep when recovering from the physical and emotional strain associated with losing someone we love. A few reasons why you might experience difficulty sleeping while you are grieving:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Stress, worries, anxiety
  • Bad dreams or anxiety about having bad dreams
  • Trouble sleeping in the bed (for those who have lost a partner)
  • Other disorders like depression, insomnia, or PTSD

Oftentimes, questions plague us. Could I have done more? What if we’d sought treatment sooner? Should I have seen that this was going to happen? What comes next? How am I going to work and take care of my family? And so on.

The Importance of Sleep

If you are grieving, and you don’t get enough rest, then it’s even harder to deal with the complicated feelings associated with grief. You may be more easily overwhelmed, feel more irritated, get angry more quickly, become hostile or depressed, feel hungrier than is usual, and generally feel less friendly. On top of that, your immune response is weaker, which leaves you more susceptible to illness.

So, what happens when you don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each day?

The science is a bit staggering and alarming. According to research, long-term sleeplessness can lead to accelerated aging, decreased bone density, and an increased risk of stroke, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Sleep is incredibly important to our overall health and well-being in addition to being essential to healthy grieving.

Now that you know, what’s next?

6 Tried & True Tips

Create the ideal sleeping environment

Our bodies and minds need time to unwind before we can fall into a deep, restful sleep. The ideal environment is going to vary from person to person, but a few tips from the experts are:

  • Block out as much light as possible (use an eye mask, if necessary)
  • Leave your phone in another room and refrain from using it for at least 60 minutes before sleep
  • Keep the room cool (60-68 degrees) – we sleep better at cooler temperatures
  • Consider adding a white noise device (to block out sudden changes in sound or city noises)
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable – good mattress, pillows, blankets, etc.
  • Avoid doing anything stimulating, frustrating, or anxiety-inducing just before bed (or in your bedroom in general; you want the bedroom to be associated with peace and rest)
  • If you have lost your partner, you might rearrange your room, get a new bed, sleep in a different room, or get a body pillow to help with sleeping

Set a nighttime routine

Grief throws our lives and routines off balance, which is why we need to re-establish them to help with our rest. Routines give us a sense of peace and calm. We know what’s coming, and we enjoy the comfort of regularity. So, determine what the best routine is for you. Perhaps you dim the lights an hour before bed, read, snuggle with a furry friend, journal, or listen to soothing music. Find what best fits you but make sure that it is a relaxing, non-stimulating activity.

Stick to a regular sleeping and waking time. And if you haven’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes or so, get up. Read, meditate, work a puzzle – choose a relaxing activity. You could even practice breathing exercises to calm your mind and lull you to sleep. However, make sure you don’t turn on the tv or look at your phone. Research shows that the artificial light from screens actually reduces your melatonin production, which then affects your sleep.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening

We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and if you’re trying to sleep, it’s best not to have it in your system. It takes 3-5 hours for your body to eliminate just half of the caffeine you consumed. One study even found that consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime reduces your total rest time by one full hour.

And alcohol, while it does help you relax, actually suppresses melatonin, a key component to restful sleep. Research shows that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol an hour before sleeping will reduce melatonin production by almost 20 percent. To read more about the negative effects of alcohol on sleep, click here.

Avoid naps as much as possible

If you are already having trouble sleeping, a nap can really throw things off and mess up your established routine. Instead, stay awake until a decent hour and then fall into bed. Think of it like jet lag. When you are jet-lagged, you stay awake as long as you can so that the next morning, you can rise with the correct time zone. In some cases, especially early on in the grief journey, it’s important to take naps, but when the naps begin to interfere with your nightly rest, change is needed.

Engage in some form of exercise

Did you know that regular exercise improves sleep? The research shows that it does. Exercise reduces stress and improves mood, which is important while you are grieving. Studies have even found that daytime physical activity may trigger a longer period of slow-wave sleep, which is considered the deepest and most restorative stage.

If you already participated in a regular exercise routine before the death of your loved one, try to continue. If you did not practice a lifestyle of exercise, start out small. Take a walk, ride a bike, or pick up some small hand weights. Even moderate daily exercise can help you sleep better and improve your outlook on life.

Don’t be afraid to get help

Perhaps you’ve already tried all of these tips, and nothing has worked. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor. They may have other resources available to you that will help. Deep, restful sleep is critical to rejuvenating your body throughout the grief process. But in addition to that, sleep is necessary for you to live a healthy life, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets have a special place in our hearts. When we lose one of our furry family members, every person in the family is affected, some more than others. As a parent, following the loss of a pet, it’s valuable to help your child learn how to mourn and grieve the loss. For many children, losing a pet will be the first experience they have with the pain of loss. Helping children remember, memorialize, and properly grieve a beloved pet teaches them how to process grief in a healthy way so they can do it again the next time the pain of loss visits them.

According to Dr. Wolfelt, a noted grief educator and counselor, “Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve. And many children love their pets with all their hearts. As an adult, if you are open, honest and loving, experiencing the death of a pet can be a chance for children to learn about both the joy and the pain that comes from caring deeply for pets or for people.” This is a lesson they will take long into their adulthood and will pave the way for healthy grieving habits.

Let’s discuss 10 family- and kid-focused ways to remember and memorialize a pet that will help focus your and your child’s grief in productive and healthy ways, allowing everyone to say goodbye, process the pain of loss, and move toward healing.

10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas

Before we begin, it’s important to take your child’s age into account when selecting any of these activities for your family. You may do some with a younger child and others with an older child. Or, if you’re comfortable with it and feel that it’s right for the entire family, do them together. The most important thing is to allow your family the opportunity to mourn and express the feelings of sadness that may be growing inside.

Share Stories

Let’s start off with something simple, easy, and good for everyone – sharing stories and allowing each family member to tell stories about the family pet. Tell the funny stories that you all know. Remember the moments when the dog knocked over the card table, dumping the contents, or laugh about the times you bathed the cat, making him look like a drowned rat. This activity will make you laugh and cry, but most of all, it will bond you together in your grief and allow each of you to talk about your feelings for your pet.

Plan a Memorial/Burial Ceremony

While funerals do not bring an end to grief, they are an important rite of passage and give us a certain measure of comfort. If this is the case for you, chat with your child about planning a small burial or memorial ceremony for your household pet. This could be as simple as having a small family gathering with a few words spoken, or you could invite friends and neighbors to take part, turning the event into a full celebration of your pet’s life. You could choose to bury your pet with his favorite toy or bedding or even invite your child to make an item to bury with your pet. The ceremony would allow you as a family to reinforce the importance of your pet’s life while also intentionally marking its death.

Create a Memory Album

Memory is a funny thing. After a period of time, we begin to forget – what our old house looked like, what our first grade teacher looked like, what our childhood pet looked like. That’s one reason why visual reminders are so powerful. They help us recall what we might otherwise forget.

To create a visual reminder for your kids, consider gathering up photos of your pet and allowing them to each create a scrapbook. Or you can create a scrapbook for the entire family, allowing each person to participate in its creation. Alternatively, you could place photos of your pet in a special place in your home. You could even create a shadow box and fill it with your pet’s collar, tags, photos, or other special keepsakes. In some ways, creating this type of memorial gives your kids something tangible to hold onto or look at, which is incredibly valuable during the grieving process.

Keep a Memento

Children often find safety in objects, like security blankets or a favorite toy they take everywhere. The same might be true as they grieve the loss of a pet. For instance, a child might find it helpful to keep the pet’s collar or sleep with its favorite toy for a while. Alternatively, you could place a photo of your pet next to the bed or help the child make a bracelet or necklace that spells your pet’s name. All of these will help younger members of the family feel that their feelings matter. If your child doesn’t want to do any of these things, that’s just fine. We all grieve in different ways.

Put Together a Memory Jar

Sometimes we just need a little reminder of the good times when we’re in the midst of the hard times. Consider having everyone in the family write down some happy memories of your pet and place them in a jar or bowl. Then, when someone is really missing your pet, you can pull out a memory and smile at happier times. This activity will allow everyone the opportunity to recall the good times and process what they’re feeling in the safety. You can either write down a memory for a child too young to write or have them draw a picture instead.

Create a Tribute Video

For some, a visual reminder is incredibly helpful. If it’s best for you and your family, put together a tribute video of your pet, using photos, audio, or video elements. Invite your kids into the process, and you might even add in a few family stories, like remembering the day you brought your pet home or some its more infamous escapades. Then, take time to watch it together as a family, allowing each person the opportunity to remember, smile, or cry if needed. Also, a video can be watched when the kids are older if they want to reminisce about your beloved pet.

Get Creative with Writing and Drawing

For some children, drawing a picture or a pet or writing a letter to a pet are helpful exercises. It helps them feel that they are communicating their feelings to the pet who is gone, and as with adults, sometimes you just need to get something off our chest. Another option is to write poems or short stories about your pet, perhaps giving them fun and amusing adventures or just writing down your feelings. Either way, creative expression is a helpful activity for anyone who is grieving and will help you process the loss.

Make Remembrance Jewelry

This is a simple activity that may help your child feel close to your pet at times when grief hits. You could order a special necklace or bracelet online that has a paw print or a photo of your pet. Or, you could involve your child in the jewelry’s creation by gathering beads, pendants, and other materials. Then, you can spell out your pet’s name or use charms to customize it.

Read Helpful Books

Books are a great way to teach children. That’s why we use them in our homes and in our schools. Story is powerful and can teach important lessons in a simple way. Consider finding a few books that will help your child deal with the loss of your family pet. A few books to look into are “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst, “I’ll Always Love You” by Hans Wilhelm, and “Cat Heaven” or “Dog Heaven,” both by Cynthia Rylant. These are just a few to get you started. Check out your local bookstore or shop online to find an option that’s good for your family.

Mark the Anniversary

By taking time to mark an occasion, we acknowledge that date’s importance to our lives. We do this with birthdays, anniversaries, and other life events. Consider whether it’s appropriate and helpful for your family to mark the anniversary of your pet’s loss. That could be at the one-year mark or it could be the one-month mark. Either way, sharing a story, reading a book, or looking at photos can help your child realize the value of remembrance and that your pet was a valuable and irreplaceable part of your family.

No matter what you decide to do, that most important thing is to talk about your pet with your child, often and with love. Let your kids know that while the pain will eventually lessen and perhaps go away, the happy memories will always remain. When the time is right (best not to rush this), you might consider adopting a new pet — not as a replacement, but as a way to welcome another animal friend into your family.

Remembering Our Loved Ones Through Photos

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss

When you photograph a face… you photograph the soul behind it.” – Jean-Luc Godard

Today, we can’t imagine a world without photographs. They capture the moments of our lives – both the special and the mundane – and create a record for years to come. They help us remember what has come before, and they elicit powerful emotions.

In actuality, photography is a relatively new invention. The first photographic process was introduced in 1824 by Nicéphore Niépce. Building on his initial work, many other scientists and inventors improved photography over the years. However, it was George Eastman who first brought the camera to the individual. In the 1910s, the first 35mm camera became available to the public, and people began to go “Kodaking” (spending the day taking pictures with friends).

We have come a long way from glass plates, daguerreotypes, and negatives. Now, most of us carry a camera with us everywhere we go because they are built into our cell phones. That’s quite the innovative leap, especially since it’s been just over 100 years since the first camera became available to the public.

But despite its relative newness, we are fascinated with photography. Photographs have found a place of prominence in our lives. They give us something that the generations before us didn’t experience in the same way. They give us a unique way to remember our loved ones after they’re gone and recall the memories we shared.

So, How Do Photographs Benefit Us?

1. They connect us with our past.

What I like about photographs is that they capture a moment that’s gone forever, impossible to reproduce.” – Karl Lagerfeld

Looking at photos of loved ones often elicits a sense of connection. With people we know, we remember the person in the photo and how they made us feel. With people we never met – like ancestors – there’s something special about looking at family even though you never met. After all, without them, you wouldn’t exist.

2. They remind us of people, places, feelings, and stories.

The best images are the ones that retain their strength and impact over the years, regardless of the number of times they are viewed.” – Anne Geddes

While a picture may be worth a thousand words, it captures a very specific memory. Whether the photo is of friends, that crazy family vacation, or your high school graduation, it will remind you of people you’ve met, places you’ve gone, and feelings you’ve felt. Every picture tells a story. And in some cases, you’ve forgotten the story until the picture gives it life again.

3. They help keep a certain memory sharp.

With my father’s passing, I realized just how important images of him are to me. The photo[s] also made me think, what do my children have to remember me by?” – John Wineberg

Oftentimes, when we lose someone we love, we fear that we will forget them. That’s one reason why photos are so precious – they give our loved one’s face and any cherished memories a sharper focus in our minds. With a photo, we are less likely to forget what a loved one looked like. We are less likely to forget some of our favorite memories. In a way, a loved one lives on through the pictures we have of them.

4. They remind us that there were good times in the midst of the bad.

The best thing about a picture is that it never changes, even when the people in it do.” – Andy Warhol

In life, unexpected things happen. A spouse leaves. A best friend moves away. A loved one dies. Photos capture a single moment in time. Perhaps, when that best friend moved away, things became difficult, and it took a while to find a new friend. But just the same, any pictures you have with that friend are precious. Despite the changes in life and people, photos remind us that good is interwoven with the bad.

5. They express emotions that words cannot.

The whole point of taking pictures is so that you don’t have to explain things with words.” – Elliott Erwitt

Sometimes words are just not enough. They don’t adequately capture the essence of what you feel. But for many, a photo can do just that. It expresses what your lips can’t articulate and helps you say what’s in your heart. And on the other side of that, photos elicit deep emotion from us. They remind us of something or someone we love and just how precious memories are.

How Can Photos Help Us Honor Our Loved Ones?

A healing and meaningful funeral is about honoring and remembering a life lived. Pictures are an excellent way to tell a loved one’s unique story. There are a variety of ways that you can utilize your favorite photos in a final tribute:

  • Put together a memorial DVD (or ask the funeral home to do it).
  • Create a collage or timeline.
  • Print off some of your favorites and give them as a remembrance token at the funeral.
  • Make your own memory wreath.
  • If there is a gathering or reception, place photos in prominent places or use as centerpieces.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Think on it. Whatever will honor your loved one’s memory most, do it. Every picture you have captures a moment of your loved one’s life. And that life is worth celebrating.

Do Animals Mourn?

By Grief/Loss, Pets

As human beings, mourning is hard-wired into our makeup. When we lose someone or something that we love or depended on, our natural reaction is to mourn that loss. But is it the same for animals?

In the case of the elephant, the answer, in some ways, appears to be yes. Sensitive, tender, and caring beasts, elephants have a highly developed ritual for mourning loss. While we won’t have the discussion of whether or not animals can feel love, we can all agree that they experience deep social bonds, either with others of their own kind or with humans.

In many ways, we can learn a lot from the mourning rituals of the elephant. Let’s take a deeper look.

First, let’s define mourning.

According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, grief and mourning are two different things. Grief is internal and refers to our thoughts and feelings after a loss. On the other hand, mourning is a shared, social response to loss. It’s how we acknowledge death and honor and remember those who have died.

Second, let’s talk about the six needs of mourning.

Now that we have a clear definition of mourning, let’s talk about what Dr. Wolfelt calls the 6 needs of mourning. Wolfelt says: “Everyone grieves and mourns differently, but there are some steps along the way that we all must encounter. I call these the ‘six needs of mourning.’ You might think of them as your ‘to-do list’ as, slowly and over time, you work on actively expressing—or mourning—your grief. Meeting the six needs of mourning one day at a time will help you move toward a life of meaning and purpose again.”

The six needs are:

  • Acknowledge the reality of the death
  • Embrace the pain of loss
  • Remember the one who has died
  • Develop a new identity
  • Search for meaning
  • Receive support from others

Now, let’s discuss how elephants appear to instinctively work through these six needs.

Before we begin, it’s important to know that elephants are smart, sensitive creatures. They live in groups, self-medicate with plants, protect animals or people in trouble, and some even paint! They are complex and beautiful. Of all animals, they have the most well-documented mourning rituals. So, how do they instinctively work through the six needs of mourning?

1. Acknowledge the reality of the death

When a family group comes across the bones or body of a dead elephant, they stop and investigate. Typically, they take time to touch the bones and tusks with their trunks. Often, they are quiet and cover the body with leaves and grass (almost like a form of burial). If the dead elephant belonged to their family group, they will stay with the body for days or weeks at a time. All of this behavior is quite similar to what we do as human beings. We touch the body of our loved one, care for them, and often spend time and sit with them until it’s time for the funeral.

2. Embrace the pain of loss

Based on the findings of many animal researchers, it’s safe to say that elephants become very upset when one of their own dies. Martin Meredith, an elephant researcher, says: “The entire family of a dead matriarch…were all rumbling loudly. The calf was…weeping and made sounds that sounded like a scream…. They then began to throw leaves and dirt over the body and broke off tree branches to cover her. They spent the next two days quietly standing over her body.” Elephants shed tears and sometimes won’t eat after losing an elephant in their community. That certainly sounds like embracing some kind of pain.

3. Remember the one who has died

As human beings, we celebrate and remember the life of someone loved in many ways. Funerals. Memorial events. Traditions. Elephants have an amazing memory, and long after any member of the group has died, the remaining members do not forget them. For instance, one researcher played a recording of the trumpet call of an elephant that had died. The elephant’s family went wild with calls, looking for the dead elephant. Its daughter continued to call, looking for its mother for days. The researchers never did this again – the reaction and remembrance were so strong.

4. Develop a new identity

When we lose someone we love, we must go through the process of finding and accepting our new identity. Perhaps, you were a wife and are now a widow. Or, you had 6 cousins but now have 5. We must process the change that has occurred in our lives and find our new normal. For elephants, that means finding a new identity in the family group. If the matriarch has died, who will take her place? If a calf has lost its mother, who will care for it now? The group’s entire dynamic changes. They must find a new identity, which they do, and life moves forward.

5. Search for meaning

After a death, we often begin to ask ourselves questions like “Why did this happen?” “What does this mean for me now?” And while elephants certainly don’t search for meaning in the same way that we do, they do seem to understand that life is meaningful. Following the death of an elephant, its family may stay nearby for weeks. The surviving elephants often stand vigil or will revisit the gravesite over the coming weeks. They appear to place high value on their dead, seeming to recognize that life is precious.

6. Receive support from others

Just as we need support from others when we lose someone we love, elephants also mourn together. They often approach a dead elephant together, in a huddle, sniffing and examining the body. And while some may return on their own, they are often together. Depending on which of their family group has died, they then rearrange their group dynamics, which allows all the elephants to find the new dynamic for the group.

Isn’t it interesting how Dr. Wolfelt’s tenets for mourning can be seen in the animal kingdom? Perhaps the six needs of mourning are more instinctual than we might have previously thought. While it’s certainly not the same as human mourning, it is intriguing to think about what may be going through an elephant’s mind as it pays homage to the dead.

You might ask, are there other animals who exhibit mourning rituals?

Absolutely. None are nearly as complex and well-documented as the elephant, but particularly in creatures who are quite social, mourning rituals are often present.

For example, dogs will whine, lick, and stay beside the body of a dead canine friend for hours. They even mourn human beings, as was the case with Hachiko, an incredibly loyal dog whose story captured the hearts of millions (see photo above). Dolphins and whales will keep their dead safe from predators and will carry their dead young for days. Gorillas and chimpanzees also exhibit certain mourning behavior, particularly mothers who continue to carry their dead young, caring for and protecting them for weeks or months. Young chimps who lose their mother may become very depressed and refuse to leave their mother’s side.

While we can’t definitively say that elephants grieve, we can say that they do take part in mourning rituals, just like we do. There is something necessary about acknowledging death and honoring life. Unlike most species, as human beings, we have the privilege to truly know those around us at a close, personal level and honor the losses in our lives. Elephants never forget the ones they once knew – they remember. As should we.

Creating Memorial Keepsakes with Funeral Flowers

By Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

One way that extended family, friends, and co-workers show their love and support in times of loss is by sending flowers and condolences to the grieving family. By offering a gift, others are able to physically show their loving care and send a message of support. While the flowers bring comfort to the family during the ceremony, what should be done with the flowers afterward?

One special way that funeral flowers can be repurposed is by creating unique and personal memorial keepsakes. These keepsakes are one way that you can honor your grief and your loved one’s memory. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, says: “It is not instinctive to see grief and the need to openly mourn as something to honor, yet the capacity to love requires the necessity to mourn. To honor your grief is not self-destructive or harmful, it is courageous and life-giving.”

A memorial keepsake may be part of a healthy grief journey for you. A way to honor your grief through creative expression. The keepsake may be long lasting, or it may have a shorter term of use. It may be something you keep for yourself or share with others who are grieving or had a relationship with the person who is gone. The choice is entirely up to you and your wishes.

Creating a Memorial Keepsake

Depending on which option you choose, you will need to dry and/or press the flowers in order to use them. After the flowers are ready, you can start on the task of creating a keepsake.

Candle

A memorial candle with dried flowers is a beautiful keepsake option. As you create the candle, you can reminisce about your loved one, and when the candle is complete, you can light it in their memory. In the days and months to come, you can find comfort in your memories every time you enjoy the candle.

Potpourri

Our sense of smell is closely linked to memory, more so than our other senses. With that in mind, as you create potpourri out of leftover funeral flowers, choose spices and oils that remind you of your loved one. That way, every time you pass by, you can find comfort in the familiar scent.

Bookmarks

If you are a reader or your loved one was, creating a memorial bookmark with dried flowers might be especially meaningful. Every time you take refuge in the pages of a book, it will be like your loved one is enjoying the pages along with you.

Ornaments

If you particularly enjoy Christmas time, making a memorial ornament may be just right for you. You can make ornaments from a variety of materials, one of which is funeral flowers. When you place your specially made ornament on the tree each year, it will be a small reminder of the person you love. Also, these would make excellent gifts to other friends and family who value your loved one.

Bracelets

If you would prefer to make something that you can take with you anywhere you go, a bracelet may be the option for you. There are many ways to make bracelets out of funeral flowers, but two of them are with resin or with polymer clay. With your specially made memorial bracelet, you can remember your loved one no matter where you go.

Pressed Flower Initials

Pressing funeral flowers into the initials of your loved one is a beautiful reminder of the person who died and their impact on your life. With its simple beauty, you can display this work of art in your home and fondly remember the person you love.

Pressed and Dried Flower Phone Case

These days, almost everyone carries a cell phone with them. That’s why this idea is so practical. You can make a protective case for your phone that showcases the beautiful flowers given in love and support. Each time you look at them, remember that you’re not alone. People care about you and your family.

Pendant

Wearing memorial jewelry is a growing trend. For those whose loved one was cremated, cremation jewelry is available. However, in addition to or instead of cremation jewelry, you can create your own pendants with dried flowers. Any time you want to remember your loved one, you can wear the pendant you made in their honor.

Coasters

You can design some beautiful coasters with dried funeral flowers. With these, you can create something that not only pleases your eye but helps you fondly remember your loved one. And each time a guest comments on them, you can share a story about your loved one’s life.

Shadow Box

By creating a shadow box with dried flowers from the funeral, you can create a large piece of art to admire. You might even consider placing a favorite photo of your loved one in the box as well. These items together will create a lovely tribute.

If you should decide to repurpose funeral flowers, these ideas are only the beginning. There are so many options available to you. It’s just a matter of choosing the one you like most. Another benefit to these craft ideas is that you can share them with others, inviting them to join you in remembering someone loved.

For the Less Craft-Inclined Person

For some of us, the idea of creating a memorial keepsake is a bit too much to think about. That’s perfectly fine. We are all different and will grieve in different ways. For those who are less craft-inclined, you can:

  • Give any remaining funeral flowers to friends, relatives, and co-workers
  • Donate the flowers to a church, workplace, retirement home, or hospice care facility
  • Place them at the gravesite of another loved one
  • Keep them to enjoy in your own home

6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Sometimes – perhaps most of the time – we just don’t know what to say to our friends, family, children, or coworkers who are grieving. We want to offer words of comfort, encouragement, and love. But there are some things we just shouldn’t say. Our hearts may be in the right place, but people cannot see our hearts. They cannot decipher our good intentions. They can only interpret what they hear and what they see: our words and our body language.

In 6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person, we talked about the power of words. Our words have the ability to hurt or to heal. They are a powerful tool. We can use our words for building up or tearing down. We all know this is true. So, let’s use our words wisely, kindly, and for the encouragement and building up of those around us. Below is a list of a few more phrases that should be banished from our conversations with people who are grieving.

6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person

“How’s your family holding up?”

While this question is not innately bad, take the time to ask about your friend or loved one first. Ask “How are you?” and then ask about family members. By asking about family first, you indicate that the family’s feelings are more important than the individual’s feelings. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a respected grief author, educator, and counselor, offers this advice: “Keep in mind that your friend’s grief is unique. The death of someone loved is a shattering experience.  As a result of this death, your friend’s life is under reconstruction.” Take time to ask your friend about their family, but first, be intentional about asking how they are doing in their own individual grief journey.

“Your loved one wouldn’t want you to be sad.”

You may be trying to lighten the mood and add a little levity, but in actuality, this comment trivializes the grief felt by the bereaved. You are telling them that their grief is a bit silly, and their loved one would say the same thing. Instead, allow people to grieve. Dr. Wolfelt encourages us to “Allow your friend to experience all the hurt, sorrow and pain that he or she is feeling at the time. Enter into your friend’s feelings, but never try to take them away.

Give them the freedom to express whatever emotions are present. A grieving person needs a safe space to release and process through their emotions. Rather than tell them how they should feel, allow them space to express their true feelings and support them as they begin the healing process. Instead, you might say “There’s no need to apologize. It’s OK to be sad. I know you miss him/her very much.”

“It was his/her time to go.”

This is similar to saying, “He’s/She’s in a better place.” When a person is grieving, it doesn’t matter that it was their loved one’s “time.” While the death of a grandparent or even a parent feels more in the natural order of things, some people are grieving a loss that feels unnatural, like that of a sibling, a child, or a friend. The fact that it was “their time” doesn’t offer the comfort and compassion that your grieving friend needs.

Always remember, grief is made up of many complex and often conflicting emotions. Offering clichés to a grieving person is like trying to put a bandaid on a gaping wound. They just don’t work. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “Words, particularly clichés, can be extremely painful for a grieving friend. Clichés are trite comments often intended to diminish the loss by providing simple solutions to difficult realities.” Your intentions may be good, but coping with a loss, even when the loss is expected, is still a complicated process. The best thing to say is “I’m so sorry about your loss. He/she was such a special person.”

“How did he/she die?”

The only reason to ask this question is to satisfy your own curiosity. And in the end, the question will only make you seem nosy. Instead, focus on your grieving friend’s feelings. They need to hear you say, “I’m so sorry for your loss” or “My heart hurts for you.” For some, talking about the details of a death won’t be difficult, but for others, it will be excruciating. It’s best to wait until they decide on their own to share.

Dr. Wolfelt offers this advice from his years of experience: “Helping begins with your ability to be an active listener. Don’t worry so much about what you will say. Just concentrate on listening to the words that are being shared with you. Your friend may relate the same story about the death over and over again. Listen attentively each time. Realize this repetition is part of your friend’s healing process. Simply listen and understand.”

“You have to be strong for (insert person’s name).”

It is a common misconception that it’s best to move away from our grief rather than to move toward it, but strong-arming your way through grief isn’t very effective. In fact, “being strong” often causes people to push their feelings away and compartmentalize what they feel. Suppressing our emotions is never healthy and can lead to anxiety, tension, and emotional distance from the very person you want to connect with at a difficult time. Perhaps you are a parent, and you feel that you need to “be strong” during a time of loss for your child. So, you put on a happy face and mostly pretend that nothing’s wrong, even though you are broken on the inside.

The problem is, when children see that your words contradict your actions, behavior, and facial expressions, they instinctively learn that “being strong” is more important than “being real.” Instead, demonstrate to your children what healthy grieving looks like. Talk about what you are experiencing. Develop traditions that honor your loved one. Tell stories. Visit the graveside. Allow yourself to cry. All of these are great ways to model healthy grief over the loss of a loved one for a child.

Having walked with many families through the grief journey, Dr. Wolfelt shares this advice for talking with children about death: “Sometimes, adults don’t want to talk about the death, assuming that by doing so children will be spared some of the pain and sadness. However, the reality is very simple: children will grieve, anyway. Adults who are willing to talk openly about the death help children understand that grief is a natural feeling when someone loved had died. Children need adults to confirm that it’s all right to be sad and to cry, and that the hurt they feel now won’t last forever.”

We should not encourage people to “be strong” when that means ignoring what they feel. Certainly, we don’t want them to fall apart for weeks on end and forget all their responsibilities, but we should give them permission to grieve. Ultimately, the person you feel the need to “be strong” for doesn’t need you to shelter or protect them from your pain. They are going to have to learn to deal with pain; it’s part of life. Instead, they need someone to walk beside them as you both grieve.

“I’m sure it will be better soon.”

When someone is grieving deeply, this comment may be frustrating. The grieving person may be thinking that they can’t imagine ever feeling better again. Your presumption that they will be better “soon” can seem insensitive. They may even feel like you are judging their current emotional state. In his teachings, Dr. Wolfelt shares that grief is individual and can take a long time to process. He encourages: “Don’t force your own timetable for healing. Don’t criticize what you believe is inappropriate behavior. And while you should create opportunities for personal interaction, don’t force the situation if your grieving friend resists.”

The reality is that grief can be one of the darkest times in a person’s life. To a griever, telling them things will get better (and soon!) translates to, I don’t understand the pain you are going through right now.” Instead, if your intention is to offer comfort, you can say, “I’m here for you for as long as you need me.” Or you can even offer to help alleviate some stress: “I know this is hard, and I’m here for you. Can I bring dinner to your house tomorrow night?”

All in all, the most important thing you can do is offer support to your grieving friend in the best way you know how. You may stumble a bit with the words, and that’s okay. But take the time to carefully consider your words and say what is most beneficial, even if you feel awkward. Your friend will appreciate your efforts to be sensitive, kind, and supportive in their time of grief and need.