Category

Grief/Loss

Are Euphemisms About Death Helpful?

By Grief/Loss

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

Common Euphemisms

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

Some of the euphemisms we frequently use for death are:

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

Euphemisms and the Grief Journey

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

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

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

Euphemisms and Children

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

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

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

When is a Euphemism About Death Useful?

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

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

Why Do We Feel the Loss of Pets so Deeply?

By Grief/Loss, Pets

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

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

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

Pets are like family

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

Pets delight in our company

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

Pets become part of our natural routine

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

 Pets give us unconditional love

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

Should I Grieve for a Pet?

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

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

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

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

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

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

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

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

1. Have a Gift-wrapping Party

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

2. Sing Carols or Other Christmas Songs

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

3. Bake Christmas Treats

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

4. Decorate Together

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

5. Create Christmas Crafts

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

6. Watch Christmas Movies

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

7. Attend a Local Christmas Play

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

8. Take a Drive to Look at Christmas Lights

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

9. Host a Christmas Party

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

10. Go Out for a Shopping Day

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

11. Ask about Christmases Past

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

12. Give Back to the Community

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

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

7 Pet Memorial Options

By Grief/Loss, Pets

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

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

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

1. Share your memories with others

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

2. Select an urn

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

3. Create a custom work of art

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

4. Place a memorial in a special location

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

5. Make a keepsake

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

6. Order an engraved item

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

7. Put together a memorial video

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

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

Suicide Loss Survivors: Your Grief Matters

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

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

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

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

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

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

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

You have the right to grieve your loss

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

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

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

You have the right to feel whatever it is you feel

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

You have the right to be physically and emotionally weary

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

You have the right to find freedom from negative emotions

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

You have the right to be unashamed of your loss

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

You have the right to have your loss acknowledged

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

You have the right to experience grief bursts

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

You have the right to cherish your memories

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

You have the right to move toward your grief and heal

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

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

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

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As people, we are unique individuals. We may sometimes resemble each other or like similar things, but no other person on earth is exactly like anyone else. Because we are so different, because we have our own nuances and intricacies, it makes sense to personalize a funeral. Just as we personalize our weddings, our birthdays, or our anniversaries, the final celebration of our life should reflect who we are, what we value, and what we leave behind as a legacy to others.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-respected grief counselor and educator, tells us that “people who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a final tribute for a recently lost loved one, personalization is the key to creating a healing and meaningful experience that will meet the emotional needs of family and offer comfort throughout the grief journey.

What Parts of the Funeral Can I Personalize?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should include seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. You can personalize any one of these elements to fit your personality, beliefs, and core values. For example, the music can include favorite songs, no matter the genre. You could incorporate a release ceremony or share readings from a favorite book, song, or poet. If it’s something that will honor the life lived, and it will be meaningful, then that’s a way to personalize.

How Do I Go About Personalizing a Funeral?

The first step is taking time to brainstorm the person’s likes and dislikes, their values and beliefs, their passions, hobbies, and pastimes. You can do that through asking yourself a series of questions and then deciding which ones capture the essence of the person who has died and reflect who they were.

  • What was my loved one passionate about?
  • What attributes were they known for?
  • Do you have any cherished memories of your loved one?
  • Did your loved one have any special achievements you’d like to recognize?
  • Was your loved one exceptionally talented at something?
  • When you think of your loved one, what do you think of?
  • What were your loved one’s hobbies or special interests?
  • What was your loved one’s faith or spiritual belief?

Once you’ve pinpointed the answer to these questions, decide how to use them to personalize each of the seven elements of the funeral. You can weave a theme throughout the event or you can simply focus on a few aspects of your or a loved one’s life. As long as you are taking the time to truly honor a life, then choose whatever seems best for you and your family.

A Few Ideas to Get You Started

Even after a brainstorming session, it can be tough to get started. Here are a few personalization ideas to get your creative mind up and running. Feel free to use these or come up with your own ideas!

  • Include a memorial DVD
  • Add in a candlelight ceremony
  • Choose a special location for the service
  • Pick a color or clothing theme
  • Bring in special music
  • Share a meal that includes favorite foods
  • Incorporate cherished items
  • Establish a memorial together
  • Make a collage or timeline of life events
  • Give guests a token/item to take home as a remembrance
  • Consider a release ceremony (butterflies, balloons, lanterns, doves, etc.)

All of these are potential ideas, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The options are as unique as you are. Whether your loved one was a quilter, a collector, an artist, an animal lover, a teacher, a cowboy, a fisherman, a golfer, you can do something special to honor that person’s memory in a very unique and personal way.

No two funerals should be the same. Each one should be unique and personal. And with a funeral that is personalized, family and friends leave feeling that the service was healing, comforting, and meaningful. And above all, that the life lived was truly celebrated.

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.