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Grief/Loss

Do Animals Mourn?

By | Grief/Loss

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.

12 of the Best Books on Grief

By | Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

The most beautiful people are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have still found their way out of the depths. These people have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”  – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross

The grief journey is long and difficult. We all need a few road signs along the way. That’s why learning from the stories of others is so powerful. You can pinpoint where you are and learn what next step to take. While every grief journey is different, we can all learn from each other’s pain. If you have recently lost someone you love, or you know someone who is grieving, spend a few moments considering these 12 books on grief. Any one of them could have an impact on a grieving heart.

12 of the Best Books on Grief

1. Resilient Grieving: Finding Strength and Embracing Life After a Loss That Changes Everything (Lucy Hone, Ph.D.)

Written by psychologist and resilience/well-being expert Lucy Hone, this book explores humanity’s resilience and ability to grow even in the face of traumatic loss. Hone began her own resilient grieving journey after the loss of her 12-year-old daughter, and in her own words, “This book aims to help you relearn your world…to help you navigate the grieving process as best you can – without hiding from your feelings or denying the reality, or significance, of your loss.”

2. I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing After the Sudden Death of a Loved One (Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair, Ph.D.)

Considered a classic guide, this book was featured on ABC News, Fox and Friends, and many other shows because its message resonates with people. Focused specifically on sudden death, the authors understand that a sudden death could mean any type of relationship or circumstance. Because all of our lives are different, they touch on tough topics like suicide, the death of a child, homicide, and depression. This book provides survivors with an anchor through the storm of grief.

3. A Grief Observed (C.S. Lewis)

C.S. Lewis is considered an intellectual giant of the twentieth century and one of its most influential writers. Widely known for his classic children’s series The Chronicles of Narnia, he is also the author of many theological works. Written following the death of his wife to cancer, A Grief Observed is an honest record of a man who has lost his beloved and must wrestle with life, death, and faith. You will find his words relatable and real – reflecting the honest struggle we each face in grief.

4. Please Be Patient, I’m Grieving: How to Care for and Support the Grieving Heart (Gary Roe)

From the heart of award-winning author Gary Roe, this short but powerful read focuses on how family and friends can support and love someone who is grieving. Drawing on his experience as a hospice chaplain, Roe shares how we can learn to support those who are grieving, know what to say and not say, discover how to be a help and not a hindrance, and many other helpful suggestions.

5. More Beautiful Than Before: How Suffering Transforms Us (Steve Leder)

Pain cracks us open. It breaks us. But in the breaking, there is a new kind of wholeness.” With these words, Rabbi Steve Leder, leader of Wilshire Boulevard Temple in Los Angeles, lays out the essence of his book. It is the suffering, the breaking, that occurs during times of grief that leads us to live more meaningful lives. He outlines three stages of pain – surviving, healing, and growing – which lead us to find meaning in our suffering and new hope for a life that is more beautiful than before.

6. Healing After Loss: Daily Meditations for Working Through Grief (Martha Whitmore Hickman)

Offering daily meditations for those who are grieving, this book has offered comfort since 1994 and continues to be a sought-after classic. Each daily meditation is brief but powerful, intended to bring comfort and encouragement to any reader. Drawing on her own experiences of grief, Hickman creates a book that is relevant to all, no matter the loss or the year. With more than 1,300 5-star ratings on Amazon, this one is worth a look.

7. It’s OK That You’re NOT OK: Meeting Grief and Loss in a Culture That Doesn’t Understand (Megan Devine)

The basic premise of the book is this: there is nothing wrong with grief. As Devine puts it, “Grief is simply love in its most wild and painful form. It is a natural and sane response to loss.” Using her own loss as an example, she talks about how difficult it is to grieve in our current culture and the importance of building our lives alongside our grief – learning how to reconcile our lives to it – rather than seeking to “get over” or overcome it.

8. Understanding Your Grief: Ten Essential Touchstones for Finding Hope and Healing Your Heart (Dr. Alan Wolfelt)

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor and director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition, packs a lot of helpful information into this relatively short read. He discusses the difference between grief and mourning, the factors that make each person’s grief unique, and the need for mourners to treat themselves with compassion. In addition to a wide range of information, the book also includes journaling sections to allow you to engage and write down your own thoughts and feelings.

9. Chicken Soup for Soul: Grieving and Recovery (Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Amy Newmark)

Filled with the stories of other grievers, this book is both inspirational and comforting. As you read through the stories, it’s easy to see that every grief journey is different and every loss unique. Through the poignant and relatable stories shared, you will find yourself appreciating life and receiving strength and support from the lives of others.

10. Life After Loss: A Practical Guide to Renewing Your Life After Experiencing Major Loss (Bob Deits)

Drawing on more than thirty years of experience in helping people cope with major loss, Bob Diets provides practical help with navigating the unknowns of grief and helps you find a different, but no less meaningful, life following a loss. Filled with compassionate insight, Life After Loss is considered “one of the classics” (Dr. Earl Grollman) and a “roadmap for those in grief” (Lawrence J. Lincoln, MD).

11. Safe Passage: Words to Help the Grieving (Molly Fumia)

Written by a grief expert and grieving mother, Safe Passage gently and lovingly guides you through the stages of grief and toward hope and healing. In her own words, Molly Fumia says, “On the path toward healing, I learned two surprising lessons. The first is that grief is the most patient and persistent of all of life’s companions. The second is that grief is an ancient, universal power that links all human beings together.” In Fumia, you will find a compassionate and steady friend.

12. Living When a Loved One Has Died (Earl A. Grollman)

In the pages of this book, Earl A. Grollman, an internationally recognized bereavement counselor, explores the various emotions associated with mourning, the pitfalls to avoid, and how to process and work through the complex emotions of grief. Grollman gently guides the reader through learning how to heal in their own way because we each grieve differently. No two people grieve in the same way, so now two grief journeys will look the same. Find comfort and learn how to move forward.

No matter where you are in life – grieving or not – these books are a fount of compassion, guidance, and information. Whether you need the information now or later, remember that there are those out there who have experienced something similar to you, and you can find courage in their stories.

7 Key Topics to Discuss with Children Before a Funeral

By | Grief/Loss, Living Well

The funeral, a ritual that has been with us since the beginning of time, is here to help us embrace the life that was lived and support each other as we go forward.  As caring adults, we will serve our children well to introduce them to the value of coming together when someone we love dies.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

If your child is attending a funeral for the first time, you may feel a little bit like you’re on pins and needles. While you don’t quite know how they are going to respond, it’s best to prepare them ahead of time. As human beings, we naturally find a measure of comfort in knowing what to expect. This is true for children as well as adults. Just as we prepare our children for the first day of school, for a big move, or for the coming of a new sibling, we must also take the time to prepare them for a funeral.

Your child learns their patterns of behavior from you. The way your child initially views funerals will depend on you and your explanations. By discussing important topics in advance, you can prepare your child and help calm any anxieties.

7 Key Topics to Discuss

1. Discuss what they will see

Your child may feel a bit anxious at first, so try to give them as accurate a picture as possible. Look up the funeral location on the internet and show them what the venue looks like. Will there be a casket or urn? Flower sprays? Show your child pictures and explain the purpose of these items.

Also, depending on the beliefs and values of the person who has died, funeral ceremonies may differ. The funeral of a Catholic person will look different than that of a practicing Jew or an agnostic. You may not always be familiar with some aspects of the ceremony, but if you do know what prayers or rituals to expect, discuss their meaning and purpose with your child.

2. Talk about the emotions they may see in others 

Your child is no stranger to emotion – they feel things every day – but they are probably not used to seeing adults expressing sadness or crying. So, explain to your children that funerals typically elicit emotion. In fact, it’s part of their purpose – to give people an opportunity to publicly mourn (outwardly express) the loss they feel. In the eyes of society, the funeral is an acceptable place to express yourself emotionally. As a result, people display different emotions. Tell your child that they may see some people crying because it’s sad when someone you love dies. They may see other people who don’t look sad, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t. We all show our emotions in different ways.

3. Assure them that their own emotions are normal

Every child will respond differently when confronted with loss. Some are more likely to cry while others seem unfazed. However, it’s important that a child knows that whatever they feel at the funeral is normal. If a child had a close and intimate relationship (as is the case with a parent or sibling) with the person who has died, they may need to cry themselves. Let your child know that this is okay, and it’s good for them to cry if they feel sad. Don’t try to prevent them from expressing their grief. Instead, allow them to feel what they feel. In the long run, it’s better to allow a grieving child time and space to grieve than to make them think their feelings aren’t acceptable or normal.

4. Explain what death is

Naturally, we want to protect our children from what we think could be harmful. However, having an understanding of death is not harmful; it’s necessary (as much as we might wish it wasn’t). In most cases, a child trusts their parent(s) more than any other adult, which is why this information should come from you. Before having a discussion about death, it’s important to take your child’s maturity level into account. Consider how they’ve responded to the death of a pet or an insect or how they respond to stressful situations.

In general, help your child understand the physical aspect of death – the person’s body doesn’t work anymore, and they no longer need it. Depending on your spiritual beliefs, discuss what happens to the person’s soul after death. Be simple, concise, and clear. Don’t be afraid to use the words dead and died. In fact, it’s better not to use euphemisms. For children, euphemisms can be confusing, so tell it like it is in gentle terms.

5. Explain burial & cremation

While your child may have many questions, the most important thing to emphasize is that because the person is dead, they don’t feel pain. When explaining what a casket is, you can also talk about burial. Again, use simple but clear language. Talk about how a hole is dug in the ground, and then the casket (with the body inside) is placed in the hole. Then, everything is covered again by dirt. Your child may ask why this must be done. In whatever words you think best, explain that after a person dies, we must take care of the body with respect and care.

As for cremation, again, make sure they understand that the person feels no pain. As you discuss urns, you can also discuss cremation, how it works, and that the body becomes cremated remains (ashes) after the process is finished. The words you use should depend on the age and personality of your child.

6. Prepare them for seeing a dead person

Seeing a dead person for the first time is often difficult. If you and your child are planning to attend an event where the body will be present, let your child know in advance. Talk with your child about how the dead person will look. You could say they will look like they are sleeping but their chest won’t move because they aren’t breathing. If your child expresses a desire to touch the body, let them know that the person may be cold or hard. Above all, don’t force your child to view or touch the body. You must give them a choice. Some children will want to say goodbye or express love through touch in this way. Just remember, forcing a child to do something they aren’t ready for can do more harm than good.

7. Teach them about funeral etiquette

Every aspect of the funeral will be new to your child, which is why it’s important to discuss funeral etiquette. By doing this, you will also alleviate any fears they may have and help them feel more comfortable. Discuss why we typically wear dark clothing – to symbolize our grief and sadness. Make it clear that they must be respectful in their behavior during any services they attend. You know your child’s behavior tendencies – specifically call attention to what they should not do.

Keep in mind, children are children, and there will likely be a few mishaps, especially if they are under preschool age. If their behavior is distracting to others or begins to disrupt the people around them, you may have to remove them from the service for a quick break. Explain that we need to be considerate of others and that this is a very important time for many people who loved the person who died. You may also offer your child a quiet activity to keep them occupied during the service, such as a coloring book.

Answer Their Questions

Now that you’ve worked hard to prepare your child, it’s time to answer their questions. Answer as best you can. Be honest and straightforward. Let your child’s questions and natural curiosity guide the discussion. They aren’t looking for euphemisms – they are looking for information. As they ask questions, they are processing the death and what it means.

Some questions you may hear:

  • Why do people die?
  • When do people die?
  • Is death forever?
  • Where do you go when you die?
  • Can I still call them?
  • What happened to him/her (the person who died)?
  • Did it hurt?
  • Am I going to die?
  • Are you going to die?
  • Why do we put them in the ground (if it’s a burial)?
  • Are you sure it doesn’t hurt (referring to cremation)?
  • What if I want to talk to them?

Ask If They Want to Participate

According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected author, educator, and grief counselor, participating in actions after the death of a loved one helps us give expression to our grief. He says, “Mourners often don’t know what to do with their grief…. Funerals are made up of a number of ritualistic physical actions, all of which give mourners a way to literally move through the funeral process (and thus through this difficult time of their grief).”

For children, especially those who have lost someone significant in their lives, you might consider inviting them to light a candle in remembrance at the funeral ceremony. You could purchase two identical stuffed animals, placing one with the person who had died and giving one to the child. Thereafter, if the child wants to feel close to the person who is gone, they can hug the stuffed animal close. You could ask if the child wants to draw a picture to place in the casket. If not a picture, some other item. By inviting children to participate, you validate their grief and show them that they, too, are important.

For more helpful information about children and funerals, take a moment to read Life Lessons Children Can Learn at Funerals.

Simple Tips for Writing Funeral Thank You Notes

By | Grief/Loss, Living Well

At a time of loss, it may be very difficult to find the energy and willpower to write thank you notes. However, doing so is an important way of acknowledging the caring support and kindness of family and friends. In addition to expressing your gratitude, by writing thank you notes you will also have the opportunity to revisit their acts of kindness and find a measure of comfort in knowing that people care about you and your loved one.

Writing thank you notes is not just about rules and etiquette. It’s about sincerity and making genuine connections with people. Keep in mind – an imperfect letter that comes with heartfelt sentiment is better than the most perfectly written note.

Let’s go over a few simple tips to keep the process simple.

Select thank you cards

The thank you cards you select should reflect your own personality. Pick something that appeals to you. That may mean that you select cards with printed verses or quotes on them. You may prefer blank cards where you can fill the space as you please. Or, you may want to order custom cards through an internet service like Snapfish or Tiny Prints. Select something that will make the process simple for you while not sacrificing sentiment.

Decide who should receive one

After a loss, many different people support us in a variety of ways. One way to keep track of who you want to thank later is to keep a running list of names. You can do this with pen and paper or simply create an electronic list on your phone. While many people should receive a thank you card, more than anything, make sure to thank those who offered much-needed practical and emotional support.

Thank people who:

  • Sent or brought flowers
  • Made a memorial donation or helped your family financially (do not mention the amount)
  • Put special effort into doing something special, such as sending you a photo of your loved one or sharing a poignant memory
  • Took part in the funeral service (pallbearers, musicians, readers, clergy, officiants, etc.)
  • Helped in tangible ways like providing food or transportation, babysitting, running errands
  • Wrote a condolence letter

Keep it simple and heartfelt

With funeral thank you cards, no one is expecting a lengthy epistle. So, feel free to keep it short and simple but also personal and heartfelt. One to three sentences is more than enough (unless you want to write more), and it’s perfectly acceptable to write similar phrases on each one. Sometimes, that’s all you have the energy to do.

Best practice is to keep your message sincere and personal. Express your gratitude. Be specific about what you are thanking them for. Don’t worry about the “perfect wording.” Instead, focus on sincerity.

Feel free to include your other family members in the signature. Also, make sure to mention your last name or the full name of your lost loved one. In case you are writing to a person you do not know well, including names will help refresh their memory.

For helpful hints on wording, click here for sample text.

Break up the list

While there’s no need to thank each individual person who attended the funeral or visitation, your list of people to thank may have grown larger than you expected. If that’s the case, you may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of thank you cards you have to write. Instead of stressing, break your list up into bite-size chunks. Write what you can, then set them aside until you have more time or energy. Give yourself permission to take it slow.  Alternatively, you can ask a family member or close friend to help you.

When to mail them out

In general, you should try to send out funeral thank you notes within two or three weeks of the funeral.

Sometimes, though, it’s hard to meet this deadline, especially if the loss was someone especially loved. If you just aren’t up to writing notes, then wait until you feel better. It’s never too late to send your gratitude to others.

If now is not the time

If you find that you just don’t have the physical or emotional energy to write thank you notes, remember that guests and those who were there to support you do not expect any kind of gratitude. They simply wanted to offer love and support when you needed it most.

At a later time, when you have the energy available, send a little note or gift to those who were particularly supportive. You can start out with, “I’m sorry it took me so long, but I do want to thank you for….” Or, “I apologize for the delay in sending this, but your gift of flowers at Mark’s funeral service was lovely, and I wanted to thank you….” In the end, it won’t matter how much time has passed – they will still be touched by your words of appreciation and gratitude.

Navigating the Emotions of Suicide or Overdose Loss

By | Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

It seems like it’s all over the news. The opioid crisis is ravaging communities. Another celebrity dies of an overdose. Another teenager takes his own life. Grief is always hard no matter how a loved one has died, but for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one to overdose or suicide, there is an added dimension to grief. For one, it seems like the death could have been somehow avoided. For another, the death leaves those left behind with many questions; none of them easy to answer.

As a society, we tend to avoid things that make us uncomfortable or that don’t fit into neat categories. Typically, the death of a loved one fits into a category that is easily understood: chronic illness, accident, injury, heart disease, cancer, old age, etc. But death brought on by addiction or suicide can leave us at a loss as to how to react. Because of this, those grieving the loss of a loved one to overdose or suicide have added hurdles in the grief journey. However, just because the grief looks different doesn’t mean that what you are feeling isn’t completely normal.

Let’s discuss some of the common feelings associated with losing a loved one to overdose or suicide.

The Death Feels Avoidable

In the cases of overdose and suicide, the death feels like it was preventable. You may be plagued by considering all the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” If only I had known. If only I had gone to see them that day. What if I had shown them how much I cared? What if I had done more? There is a sense that somehow, in some way, what happened is your fault. You feel that you could have done something to prevent the death of your loved one. While the death may have been preventable to a degree, it is not your fault. In most cases, it is a culmination of many things, not the actions or inactions of one person.

Guilt Sets In

For many families and friends dealing with suicide or overdose loss, guilt is an unwanted companion to grief. While the feeling is the same, the expression looks different for every person.

  • Guilt sets in because you feel that you could have done more to help.
  • You feel that it is somehow your fault that the person who has died developed an addiction or decided that suicide was the only option.
  • You feel guilty because you feel relieved. It’s hard to deal with an addiction that impacts family and friends for years on end, so when the person is gone, there is a sense of relief, which is then accompanied by a sense of guilt.

All of these are natural reactions, depending on you and your circumstances. These emotions do not mean you did not love the person who died. They are simply what you feel, and it’s okay.

Anger Shows Up

Oftentimes, when a loved one dies due to suicide or overdose, we become angry because it feels like the one who died had a choice in the matter. They didn’t have to die. You might feel angry that the person didn’t try harder. Or, you might be angry at the drug dealer who enabled the addiction or the bullies who made your loved one feel that there was no other way. You may even feel anger toward any medical staff or first responders involved because they couldn’t do more to save your loved one. If you are feeling angry, you’re not alone. For many people, anger is a normal and natural response to loss.

Shame Sneaks In

Shame sneaks into our grief and tries to make us feel like our loss is less than or not worth mentioning. This adds a new level of emotional distress. Both suicide and overdose deaths fall into a type of grief called disenfranchised grief. Losses of this kind are largely unacknowledged by society and are often mourned in secret. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, says that disenfranchised grief is “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

Because we may not want to publicly talk about a loved one who committed suicide or was an addict, negative emotions may take hold inside, and a sense of shame may develop. We feel that our loved one’s death is something we should not talk about – something that we should hide.

A person may feel shame because:

  • A family member suffered from an addiction or committed suicide.
  • They feel that they enabled the person who died.
  • They feel that they didn’t do enough to help.
  • Other people think that the person who has died is less worthy of mourning due to the circumstances of their death.
  • They feel judged by others because of their lost loved one’s struggles.

Blame Separates Us From Each Other

A recent survey found a greater incidence of blame between the parents of a child whose death was related to drugs or suicide. The study found that of the blame comments they researched, 64% blamed the child who died while 36% blamed a parent. And nearly 50% of parents who lost a child to overdose or suicide report that their significant other blames them for the death.

Built on similar emotions as guilt or shame, blame works to separate us from each other. When something happens that we can’t control, we automatically look for someone to blame. You may blame the person who first introduced your loved one to drugs. It may be that you blame yourself for not seeing the struggle sooner or doing more. You may even blame the person themselves for not fighting harder or for letting others bring them down.

That is a lot of hurt and blame going around. As you process through your grief, know that blaming others feels like a natural reaction, but isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, work through your emotions, seek support from your family, and move toward reconciling yourself to the loss. Remember, it’s not about “moving on” or “getting over it.” Instead, reconciliation allows us to find a “new normal” that works for us.

Stigma Isolates

As if blame, shame, and guilt weren’t enough, there is a certain stigma that grievers often feel after losing a loved one to overdose or suicide. Because society at large often views overdose and suicide with negativity rather than compassion, those who are grieving feel the need to suffer in silence, leading to isolation.

This stigma from the outside world may lead mourners to:

  • Not talk about the loss of their loved one.
  • Be reluctant about showing their emotions about the loss.
  • Shy away from counseling or joining support groups.
  • Hesitate to ask friends or family members for support.

As a society, we are becoming more aware of our own biases, but for so many, the stigma remains. But if you are in the midst of grieving, remember that you have the right to mourn. The manner of death does not negate the value of the person who lived or the love you felt for them.

Fear or Anxiety Rises

After a traumatic loss by suicide or overdose, you may feel an increased amount of fear or anxiety. You may fear that a family member will also die in a similar way. Or, you may feel anxious about your relationships and wonder if surviving family members are keeping their internal struggle or habit a secret. This type of fear and anxiety causes some people to try to control others, as a means of protecting them. While it is good to want to protect your loved ones, be careful not to overdo it. If you find that anxiety is interfering with your work life, family life, or the health of your relationships, consider speaking with a counselor who can help you process through these complex emotions.

Depression Takes Hold

Lastly, depression can be triggered by grief, especially by a difficult loss compounded by guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, blame, and isolation. If you feel that you may be in danger of slipping into depression, seek help immediately. A good counselor or psychologist may be able to help you see the situation from a different perspective, provide helpful therapies, and work with you to maintain healthy habits and positive thought patterns.

Consider Compassion

As you work through the complicated emotions of loss due to suicide or overdose, try to replace negative emotions with empathy and compassion. Think of the person who died with compassion for the pain they were experiencing that led them to such extreme measures. Think of yourself and your family members with compassion, trusting that you did the best you could in difficult circumstances. Consider with compassion those who do not understand the pain you are going through. Allow yourself to release blame and embrace forgiveness.

You’re Not Alone

Every single one of these emotions is normal and well documented behavior for those who have lost a loved one to overdose or suicide. If you are experiencing any or all of these, you aren’t alone. Others who have lost a loved one in similar circumstances are feeling something akin to what you are feeling. They do not feel exactly what you feel – no two grief journeys are the same – but they are intimately familiar with the struggle to cope with a difficult loss. Remember – you feel this way right now, but it will not last forever.

Reach out to others who understand, talk to counselors, friends, and family members, surround yourself with people who are willing to listen. If you continue to walk through the journey through grief, sometimes fighting for every step you take, you will eventually find your way through to renewed hope and healing. And who knows? You may one day find yourself on the other side, ready to help another who is going through the pain of grief and loss.

Grief & Difficult Relationships

By | Grief/Loss, Living Well

If you’ve had to deal with a difficult relationship with a close friend or family member, you’re not alone. Many of us know the pain associated with tense relationships such as arguments, hurtful comments, and even estrangement in some cases. Did a face just pop into your mind? It could be anyone – a parent, a spouse (or former spouse), a sibling, a child, or even a friend. The person and the circumstances differ, but we can all relate to the stress associated with difficult relationships. Oftentimes, the relationships that hurt us most are the ones that are close to us (e.g. family). Those are the relationships that are supposed to support us during hard times and enrich our lives, but in many cases, they don’t.

So, what happens when that person who brought pain to your life dies? In many cases, grief can be compounded by sadness over what might have been. This article will share a few ideas for coping with grief after the loss of a difficult relationship.

So, what happens when someone who has hurt you dies?

When the relationship was strained, you may have contradictory, negative, or unexpected emotions after the death of someone close to you. In addition, you may not know how to deal with these contradictory emotions. Perhaps you feel relieved but deeply sad or disappointed at the same time. You may feel like this person let you down because they didn’t try harder to mend the relationship. Or maybe you feel guilty for avoiding the person because of a negative experience. Alternatively, you may feel so angry that you convince yourself that you are glad the person is no longer around. This may sound quite harsh, but for some, the relationship was so hurtful or abusive that the person left behind cannot access feelings of compassion or sadness at the loss.

While all grief is hard work, in many ways, dealing with the loss of a difficult relationship can be harder for the survivors to process. This happens for many reasons, but one of the most common is because of the deep pain associated with the relationship. Additionally, the survivor may have held onto hope that the relationship would change for the better, but with death, that hope is lost. Even though the relationship brought deep pain (and possibly anger), most of us still wish things could have been different, but death ends the possibility for change.

Difficult relationships bring up complicated emotions

Some of these examples may resonate with you:

  • Numbness; not knowing if what you’re feeling is actually grief
  • Feelings of relief, which may seem inappropriate and abnormal (though they aren’t)
  • An absence of sadness, though you can see that others are sad
  • Finding it difficult to accept that the person is gone and any hope for reconciliation is gone, too
  • Feelings of grief even though others may think you shouldn’t grieve the loss
  • A lack of closure even though you thought the person’s death would not affect you
  • Feeling guilty that you didn’t try harder to have a better relationship while the person was alive
  • Anger that the person took something precious from you (i.e. a happy childhood, good self-esteem, a healthy, loving relationship)
  • Feeling justified in your anger against the person who has died

This is not a complete list. You may be feeling something entirely different, but please know that whatever you’re feeling, it’s normal. People experience a wide range of emotions when someone dies, whether the relationship was difficult or not: explosive emotions, numbness, anger, shock, disappointment, relief, sadness, to name a few. No matter how you feel, the most important thing is to process through your emotions and move forward. You must work hard to prevent destructive emotions and thoughts from festering inside you, which is far more likely to occur when the person who has died represents a source of pain.

Why you should allow yourself to grieve for people who have hurt you?

Simply put, you need to work through all the feelings of grief for your own well-being. Oftentimes, those who never deal with the pain and wrongdoing done to them end up as hurting, broken, and sometimes angry, people. In some cases, they themselves become the “difficult person” in someone else’s life, and the cycle continues. Those of us who have dealt with a long-term difficult relationship need to realize that there is deep emotional baggage to unpack, which doesn’t end simply because the person who inflicted it is dead. We must still learn how to reconcile with our past and move forward toward the future in a healthy way.

A few tips on moving forward with grief

To unpack all of the conflicting emotions that you are experiencing, take some time to try to name your feelings and then begin to process through them. First of all, give yourself permission to grieve, no matter what that looks like. As you process the loss of this person, here are some thoughts on how to unpack the complex emotions you may be feeling:

1. Process what happened

“Mourners must go backward before they can go forward.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief counselor, author

It’s important to understand that trauma can come directly from negative experiences (i.e. hurtful words, actions, and abuse) and indirectly from a lack of positive experiences (i.e. affirming words, expressed love and affection, and quality time). So, for example, if most people saw that you had a good father who provided for his family, but he never hugged you or told you he loved you, then you might feel the conflict resulting from indirect trauma. Here are a few ideas to help you process what happened:

  • Acknowledge the pain that you experienced and allow yourself to validate the pain without minimizing what happened.
  • List out all the emotions that you feel, without judgment.
  • Journal about the experience you are going through. Share what you do miss about the person, what you don’t, what you wish the relationship had been like, and what it actually was like.  A journal is a safe place to externalize your emotions, which is necessary to grieve well.
  • Talk about the difficult relationship – the good, the bad, and the ugly – with a safe person such as a spouse, friend, or counselor. Use this time to process what you feel, both relating to the recent death but also relating to previous tensions or trauma. It’s the unsaid stories that can do the most damage, so even if you are angry, put it into words. Don’t hold those painful thoughts and emotions inside.

2. Mourn for what was lost

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” -John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet

Mourning is the external expression of internal grief. Expressing grief externally through mourning helps us to move forward in our grief journey. When we lose someone with whom we had a painful, difficult relationship, the process of mourning may be a little different. Here are a few examples of what mourning a difficult relationship may involve:

  • Allow yourself to mourn for what might have been. Grieve for the child that felt lonely, hurt, and alone. Grieve for the hugs and kisses and comforting words that didn’t come. Allow yourself to cry, not necessarily for the person who hurt you, but for the pain you endured.
  • Turn anger at the other person into compassion for yourself. As a wounded person, you are likely angry at the person who hurt you. However, anger will not help you heal. Instead, turn your anger at the other person into compassion for yourself. Tell that hurting child or young person inside you what you wish you had heard from other adults in your life. For example, “You didn’t deserve to be treated that way,” or “You are worthy of love and affection.” When you treat yourself with compassion, you give yourself a gift the other person couldn’t.
  • You can also try writing a letter to the person who has died to tell them everything that was left unsaid. Just because one party is gone doesn’t mean that you can’t still reconcile yourself to the loss. Tell the person exactly how their actions made you feel to get it all out. This is about you and your life, your healing, and your future. There are no longer any feelings to hurt or consequences to fear. Say what needs to be said so you can heal.

3. Choose to forgive

“Hatred is the rabid dog that turns on its owner. Revenge is the raging fire that consumes the arsonist. Bitterness is the trap that snares the hunter.” – Max Lucado

Finally, forgive, even when it feels impossible. Think of forgiveness as something you are doing for you, not for the other person. Release yourself from having to carry the burden of anger and bitterness. Only then can you release the hold they have on your life and emotions. By forgiving, you can find the peace you’ve been searching for. Remember:

  • Forgiveness is for your own well-being
  • The process of forgiveness can take time
  • Forgiveness does not excuse the behavior of the other person
  • Forgiving someone begins as a choice, not a feeling
  • Prayer, guided meditations, or deep breathing can help you focus on releasing feelings of anger and bitterness and receiving feelings of compassion and empathy for yourself and others

Do it for you

There are no perfect relationships. In fact, at some point, even the best of relationships will experience misunderstandings, moments of pain, or a few harsh words. For some, deep down, you really did love the difficult person in your life, and you are sad for the relationship that never was. For others, years of harsh words and painful interactions have encouraged you to build a protective wall around yourself. Even now, you’re not sure how to take it down (or if you even want to). No matter where you fall, at some point, you felt love toward the difficult person in your life or desired love from them. While it is a greater challenge to forgive and grieve a person who brought you pain, once you’ve done it, you will experience a freedom you’ve not known before.

 

Survival Guide to Grieving Special Days

By | Grief/Loss

We all have “special” days in our lives, and after the loss of someone we love, they are often particularly difficult. Birthdays. Holidays. Anniversaries. The first day you met. The first time you knew you loved them. Their favorite day of the year. No matter who you’ve lost – parent, grandparent, spouse, sibling, child, or friend – any day of the year could be special to you and the one you love.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a noted grief counselor, author, and educator, affirms that our grief journeys are as unique as we are. “In life, everyone grieves. But their grief journeys are never the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own special way. Be careful about comparing your experience with that of other people. Also, do not adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Just consider taking a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ approach. Doing so allows you to mourn at your own pace.”

When those special and significant days come, here are a few ideas for navigating through them:

1. Plan ahead

As a special day or milestone approaches, consider what you will need to get through the day. Think ahead and decide if you need to take the day off to rest and reflect. You may also wish to do something special or meaningful to honor your loved one’s memory. Or, you may want to go to a special place or gather with certain people on that day. A little planning ahead of time can make for a more peaceful and contemplative day.

2. Take time to remember

The hardest part about a day that is special to you is if no one else seems to remember. No matter what the particular day may be, if it’s significant to you and your lost loved one, do something to remember, to celebrate, to commemorate, and to honor it. Take flowers to the gravesite, look through old photos and videos, light a candle, or write a letter. All of these are simple ways to express your grief outwardly. The outward expression of grief will help bring peace and healing on a difficult day.

3. Give to meaningful causes

Giving back is one way you can pay it forward to others and carry on your loved one’s legacy.  Though your loved one is gone, their legacy lives on through you. For example, if they greatly valued children, find a way to give back to local or international programs that help children. You may even sign up for a race or a walk that raises funds for a special cause. Focusing on the needs of others will also help you look outside your own pain and take a break from grief.

4. Reinvent the day

Another option is to reinvent the days that bring you pain. For example, on the anniversary of your loved one’s death, do something that would have delighted them. If they loved to fish, go spend a day at the lake and take time to remember and cherish. This same principle can be applied to any special day. Changing routines and focusing on what brings you joy and peace, even temporarily, can help you get through a hard day.

5. Enjoy quiet time

For many of us, we need time alone to process through our emotions, so quietness may be what you need on the “special” days. Take deep breaths and allow yourself to feel whatever it is that you need to feel. If painful emotions come to the surface, find a healthy way to express those emotions. Remember, it’s okay if you need to cry. Grief journaling, creative expression, and spending time outdoors are all very effective ways to express your feelings.

6. Talk about your feelings

Your friends and family care. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to “bring them down” if you talk honestly about the sadness that you’re experiencing. If you need to get something off your chest, do it. Too often, our culture encourages us to stifle sad emotions and put on a happy face. But it’s healthy to express what we feel and confide in others. Let those who love you support you. If your friends and family are unable to give what you need at this time, join a support group or find a counselor.

7. Spend time with friends and family

While it is good to spend some time in solitude and reflection, it is also important to socialize with people who support you and care about you. Go out to dinner or prepare a meal together. Turn on a favorite film or tv show. Numerous studies have shown that laughter plays an important role in lowering stress, improving mood, strengthening our relationships, and contributing to our overall health. By taking time to laugh with people you love, you take a healing step forward.

Don’t Forget – It’s a Journey

Some of these suggestions may appeal to you while others don’t. That’s okay. Remember what Dr. Wolfelt said earlier? Our grief journeys are never the same. They look different for each of us, so some of these options will be right for you and others won’t. Simply choose what’s best for you and follow through.

The “special” days will always be special to you, but eventually, the pain they awaken won’t be so overwhelming. The grief will lessen in intensity, but we never truly get over our grief. We become reconciled to it. In other words, we find a new way to live because the old way is gone forever. It’s hard work, and it will take time, but eventually, you will find your “new normal.”

But for now, grieve. Cry. Remember. And look for ways to celebrate your lost loved one on those days that are special to you. Or find a way to turn painful days into positive, uplifting moments that help you honor and remember the one who died. May you find the peace and reconciliation you need.

How Creativity Can Help You Deal With Loss

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss

Your way back will happen very slowly. Almost like a whisper. You will be OK. Not the same. But OK. Not you. But still you. – Christina Rasmussen

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 such an integral part of the human experience and an excellent way to process the painful feelings we encounter, especially during times of grief. For many, participating in creative self-expression can help bring deep-rooted, complex emotions to light.

As part of your grief journey, you might consider taking up an activity that allows you to express yourself creatively. For many of us, painting comes to mind first, but you don’t have to take up painting if you don’t want to. There are many ways to express yourself creatively and tap into what is hiding below the surface. For example, you could: draw (pencil, pastels, ink), paint, sculpt, scrapbook, keep a grief journal, take photographs, garden, write poetry or prose, cook, bake, take up calligraphy, compose music, restore a car, woodwork, or create a memory quilt or box.

In the end, the final product doesn’t matter. The healing value is in the doing. You don’t have to be good at something to take it up as a vehicle for healing. In other words, you don’t have to be a writer to keep a grief journal. You don’t have to be a painter to use watercolors or oils. You don’t have to be a photographer to take beautiful pictures. All you need is the motivation and the desire to see if creative expression will help you.

Here are a few reasons why delving into your creativity may help you deal with loss.

1. It helps you express things you might not be able to put into words.

We all know how it feels to be at a loss for words. Creative expression allows us to become more aware of how we actually feel. In the creative process, we slow down a little and think about our emotions, actions, moods, and behaviors. There may be something going on inside that we don’t realize is there until we take the time to explore it.

2. The creative options available to you are wide and varied.

As mentioned above, you aren’t limited in what medium you choose as your creative outlet. An Australian woman did choose to paint and is now exhibiting her work, while another woman created works of art made from the clothing left behind by the son she lost. Eric Clapton, a musician who lost his young son in a freak accident, used music to help him deal with his grief. No matter what form of expression you choose, the results can contribute to the healing and reconciliation you come to regarding the death of the person you loved.

3. It’s a safe way to express your emotions.

Grief can bring out a myriad of emotions. Some of your emotions may even make you nervous or afraid. Using your creativity to deal with loss is a way to safely express yourself. No other person needs to be around when you create, unless you want them to be. It’s a time when you can choose to be alone to constructively explore what’s in your heart and mind. Your work is as private as you want it to be, and even if the emotions that reveal themselves are ugly, it’s better to get them out than to have them bottled up inside, waiting for a moment to burst.

4. It’s something you can control in a world that may seem out of control.

When we lose someone we love, our world is rocked. Things that felt safe and secure before may now feel shaky and uncertain. Depending on the depth of the loss, it may feel like everything is spiraling out of control. By taking up a creative habit, you create an opportunity where you can exert a certain level of control over at least one aspect of your life. It’s your work, and you make the rules. Throughout the process, creativity may become a reliable friend – a means of self-support during a time of confusion and pain.

5. It provides you with an opportunity to engage with others who are grieving.

Some will choose to engage in solitary creative expression. Others will take the opportunity to participate in collective creative expression. If you decide to paint, you might join a group of other painters who are going through loss. If you decide to write poetry, you could join a writing group focused on grief. You are not alone in your journey – so many others are also dealing with grief in their own way. You may find a kindred spirit in a class who will come alongside you as you grieve.

6. It is beneficial to your health.

It has been discovered that self-expression, particularly the arts, can actually help relieve feelings of stress, fear, and depression. The body calms during the activity, which, in turn, contributes to reduced blood pressure and even releases chemicals in the brain to decrease some types of depression. By allowing the emotions building up on the inside to find outward expression, you are actually allowing your body to relax, resulting in less strain and better health.

7. It helps you remember that there is still beauty in the world.

No matter which medium you choose to interact with – photography, journaling, woodworking, painting, etc. – at some point you will make a realization: there is still beauty in the world. The flowers are still delicate, the mountains are still impressive, and people are still worth knowing and loving. Even in grief, you will have good moments – days when you remember that life can be good. When those days come, don’t reject them. Embrace them. Remember that life can be good again…not the same but still good.

A brief note regarding creative expression and children in grief: Creative expression activities (most often arts & crafts) are very helpful for children experiencing grief. Children have a difficult time identifying what they are feeling, much less putting it into words. Arts & crafts allow them to communicate without words and provide an opportunity to release their emotions and express their thoughts.

If you’d like to give creative expression a try, you first need to pick an activity that appeals to you – even if you don’t think you’re good at it! Then, for three or four consecutive days, spend at least 20 minutes a day doing your chosen activity. After a few days, evaluate how you feel and if you’d like to continue. Fully embrace the activity during the trial phase and express yourself fearlessly. Your emotions are important, and they need to be expressed so that you can move forward.