Category

Grief/Loss

Leaving a Legacy: Kobe Bryant

By Grief/Loss

“The most important thing is to try and inspire people so that they can be great at whatever they want to do.” – Kobe Bryant

As we mourn Kobe Bryant’s unexpected passing, we cannot help but reflect on his life and the legacy he leaves behind. His life was characterized by drive, passion, perseverance, and tenacity. Considered one of the greatest players in the history of basketball, Kobe Bryant inspired millions with his commitment and heart for the game.

Biography

Born on August 23, 1978, Bryant was born in Philadelphia, the youngest of former NBA player Joe Bryant’s children. With the support of his parents, Bryant began playing basketball at age three and earned national recognition in high school.

In 1996, the NBA drafted Bryant, only the sixth player in history to draft just out of high school. After signing with the Lakers, Bryant began an illustrious, 20-year career with the team. Though he had his ups and downs, he played from 1996 until his retirement in 2016.

In his personal life, Bryant married Vanessa Laine in April 2001. Together, they had four daughters, Natalia, Gianna, Bianka, and Capri. Sadly, Gianna died in the same helicopter crash as her father. In addition to being active in his daughters’ lives, Bryant worked with After-School All-Stars and other charities while also founding the Kobe and Vanessa Bryant Family Foundation and the Kobe Bryant China Fund.

Major Career Accomplishments

  • 5-time NBA Champion
  • 17-time NBA All-Star
  • Spent 20 seasons with the Lakers (most seasons with one NBA team)
  • Selected for the all-defensive team 12 times
  • Holds record for most three-pointers in a game
  • Named NBA Final MVP twice
  • Earned two Olympic gold medals
  • Won an Academy Award in 2018 for an animated short, “Dear Basketball”

The Importance of a Legacy

As we look back at Bryant’s life, none of us can deny that he leaves a legacy. But a legacy is not only for prominent people. Every single one of us leaves a legacy of some kind. It’s up to us whether that legacy is good, bad, or somewhere in between.

“Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.” — Shannon L. Alder

Look at your own life and determine what kind of legacy you want to leave. And then, ask yourself, “Does my life reflect the legacy I want it to?” If it doesn’t, start thinking about big and small things you can change in your life to build the legacy you want.

Reflect on those who left a legacy for you

Every person is affected by the generations that came before, whether they want to be or not. For Bryant, his parents and coaches left a lasting legacy. So, think about your parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, schoolteachers, coaches, neighbors, friends, and even people throughout history or in public service who have had an impact on the way you view yourself and the world. Each of these people left a legacy with you – some good, some bad. Now, think about the legacy you’ve built so far with those around you. Are you happy with it? Or are there some things you’d like to change?

Realize that leaving a legacy is not a choice

Whether you want to or not, you will leave a legacy because the people around you will remember you a certain way, depending on how you handled yourself and treated others. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. While Bryant may or may not have initially set out to create a legacy, he did nonetheless. There’s nothing you can do to prevent people from forming an opinion of you, but you can contribute to whether that opinion – your legacy with that person – teaches them how to live well and love others or not.

 Remember that quality time spent with others is the most important

When you involve yourself in the lives of others, you have an impact on their lives. Just as Kobe Bryant had a profound impact on the sport of basketball, his children, and countless others, you can have an impact on your own sphere of influence. As the saying goes, when we near the end of our lives, we don’t wish we had worked more, we wish we had lived more. That includes spending time with the most important people. As you seek to leave a legacy:

  • Look for opportunities to know others and be known by them
  • Model and teach what’s most important
  • Compliment, encourage, and build up your family, children, and grandchildren
  • Share the wisdom that you have gained in your life and pass along the knowledge

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. What we do and say affects the lives of others and has the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What Kobe Bryant did matters. Most of us are not prominent people whose names are known by thousands, but that doesn’t ultimately matter. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s be intentional about the impact we have on others and create legacies worth remembering.

To learn more about how to build a legacy, make sure to read Building a Legacy.

How to Talk to Children About the Death of a Pet

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a lovable, huggable, irreplaceable part of the family. This can be especially true for children, some of whom may not even remember a time when your pet wasn’t part of the family. Because your pet has always been around and has a special place in the family, your children may take its death hard. It may even be their first exposure to grief.

While we often want to shelter our children from the tough things in life, it’s better to help them face it than to prevent them from experiencing it. After all, life is filled with difficult situations our children will have to learn to navigate. That being said, there are helpful ways to talk about the death of a pet. Let’s go over 10 tips for talking with your children about the death of a pet so you can feel prepared to answer their questions and meet their emotional needs.

1. Be honest

Rather than sugarcoating the situation, stick to the truth. Taking your child’s age and maturity level into account, gauge just how much information they need to hear. It’s preferable to use words like “death” and “dying” – it will help the child realize the permanence of the pet’s absence. Also, stay away from saying things like, “Red ran away” or “Clover went on a trip.” These won’t help your child process their sadness and may make them feel abandoned. On top of that, if they find out you glossed over the truth, they may become angry at you for not telling them the truth.

If you must euthanize your pet, talk to your child about why it’s necessary, especially if they are older. If the death is more sudden, calmly explain what happened and answer their questions.

2. Keep it simple

Keep the information as simple as possible. Small children aren’t going to ask too many questions, but if they do, calmly answer them in simple terms. They need to know that the pet isn’t coming back, but you can share that information in a gentle way. For example, “Clover was in an accident today, sweetheart. She was hurt very badly, and she died. That means she won’t be coming back to us. Are you okay? Do you have any questions?”

If your child is older, take time to address their concerns. They will be more vocal with their questions. If you are considering euthanizing your pet for health or quality-of-life reasons, discuss the decision with your children and come to a decision together.

3. Break the news in a familiar place

When you break the news, make sure your child is in a safe and comfortable place. They are about to hear news that may deeply upset their world, so it’s best to make sure they are in a place they consider safe. Use a soothing voice, hold their hand, and minimize the distractions.

If you have multiple children, consider breaking the news to them individually. Each child will respond differently to the news of the pet’s death, and you will want to be able to respond to their separate needs.

4. Tell them it’s okay to be sad

Every child will respond differently when confronted with loss. Some are more likely to cry while others may seem unfazed. No matter your child’s reaction, it’s important that they know that whatever they feel is normal. If they need to cry, tell them that’s 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.

5. Share your own feelings

As parents, the tendency may be to play down your own emotions so that you can “be strong” for your children. While it may feel counterintuitive, don’t try to hide your emotions from your child. Your openness and vulnerability will help your child understand that it’s okay to express their own emotions. When you model healthy grief, it helps your child learn how to process grief and understand that it’s normal to feel sad when a death occurs. Of course, make sure not to frighten your child with your own emotions. Crying is fine, but for expressive forms of grief, find a time to be alone or with an adult you trust. You want to share in your child’s sadness – not overwhelm them with your own.

6. Avoid euphemisms

Children are very literal, so you have to be careful how you explain the death of a pet. If you euthanize your pet, don’t use the terms “to sleep” or “got put to sleep.” These terms may make your child afraid to go to sleep because they fear they won’t wake up. Or, they may develop possible fears about surgery or anesthesia because we use similar terms.

Also, don’t say that “God has taken” the dog or that it “went away.” In the first case, the child may begin to resent God for taking their pet away and wonder who God might take next. In the second case, a child may wait and wait and wait for the pet to return from wherever they “went away” to. It’s best to be completely truthful and tell your child that their pet has died, and that you are there to comfort them.

7. Reassure them

For some children, loss can trigger fear. They may fear that another pet will die or that people they love will die. In particular, they may fear that something will happen to you – their parent. Calmly and patiently calm their fears. Hold them close to you. Let them cry. Reassure them with words like, “I love you. I don’t plan to leave for a very long time.” Over the coming days, weeks, and months, they may suddenly fear that you will go away. Each time the fear crops up, reassure them of your love and that you plan to stay with them until you are very old.

8. Give them a chance to say goodbye

Just like adults, children need an opportunity to say goodbye to the family pet. For younger children, this may be as simple as placing a kiss on the pet’s head or attending a small family ceremony to bury the pet. Older children may want to be present if the pet is euthanized, but that decision should be left entirely up to them. No matter the age of your child, make a point of saying goodbye to your beloved family pet so that everyone feels a sense of closure and completion. This doesn’t mean that the grief is done, just that you have had a chance to say goodbye.

9. Answer their questions

Children are inquisitive by nature. According to the Association for Pet Loss and Bereavement, children between the ages of 7 and 9 will have the most questions about death. If your child does start asking questions, don’t panic. Continue to give simple yet truthful answers. There’s no need to go into great detail. Answer their specific question. And if you don’t know the answer, it’s okay to admit that you aren’t sure. Some things about death are still a mystery.

A few questions you may hear:

  • Why did my pet die?
  • Is it my fault?
  • Where does my pet’s body go?
  • Will I ever see my pet again?
  • Is my pet in heaven?
  • Can I make my pet come back?

10. Help them grieve

The final step is to help them through the grieving process. For many children, a pet can almost feel like a sibling – the bond is so close and deep. That’s why it’s important to help them grieve the loss of their dear, furry friend. You might plan a small memorial for your pet and let your child take part. Or, you could put together a scrapbook of photos and memories or create a DVD. You could place a photo of the pet in your child’s room or purchase a stuffed animal that looks similar to help bring them comfort.

Above all, encourage them to talk about what they’re feeling and look for ways to help them express those emotions. What they learn now – as children – will help them process grief as adults. Teach them now how to process grief in a healthy way, and they will carry it into their adulthood and use what they learned to cope with future grief.

Supporting Grieving Friends on “Special” Days

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

Grief takes its toll on us, physically, mentally, and emotionally. Then, “special” days like Valentine’s Day, anniversaries, holidays, and birthdays come around, emphasizing love and togetherness. If you have a grieving friend who has lost a spouse or significant other, those special days can be particularly difficult. The one who filled their hearts is gone and these days only emphasize that loss. So, what can we do as friends, family members, and neighbors to help our bereaved loved ones on these special days of the year?

Listen

Listening is one of the most powerful things we can do for grieving friends. Grief is unique from person to person. No two people grieve the same way and having a safe person to talk to is a special gift. Make time for your grieving friends, allow them to talk about any feelings or emotions, and provide a listening and attentive ear. This isn’t time to give advice – this is time to listen, to sympathize, and to comfort. Expect to hear a multitude of emotions. As complex beings, we experience sadness, anger, confusion, shock, relief, guilt, and other similar emotions after a loss. All of these are normal responses to loss, so be prepared to hear any or all of them.

Measure Your Words

More often than not, it’s the words we use that get us into uncomfortable situations. So, when talking with your grieving friends, make sure to carefully measure your words. Your intentions may be good, but the execution may fall short. Avoid things like, “Don’t be sad. Think of all the good years you had,” or “They wouldn’t want you to feel this way.” Instead, focus on comforting them. Say, “I can’t imagine what you’re feeling, but I’m here for you,” or “My heart aches for you,” or simply hug them and let your presence speak more than your words. For more helpful hints on what NOT to say to a grieving friend, click here.

Let Them Express Their Feelings

If we’re honest, sometimes emotions make us feel uncomfortable, but emotions are a part of being human. We all have them, and when we are feeling strongly, the emotions need to find expression so we can get them out rather than keeping them in. That said, it’s important to allow your grieving friends to express what’s going on inside. Let them rant, rage, or cry. Afterward, simply hold their hands or offer a comforting embrace. Then, if possible, talk with them about more ways to express their emotions, whether through writing, creative expression, or even exercise.

Help Them Honor Their Loved One’s Memory

Though death means our loved one is no longer physically with us, it does not end the relationship we have with them. The bonds of love are never gone – we will always love that person. On special days, encourage your grieving friend to find a way to honor the memory of a loved one and join them in the activity, if they allow it. That may be cooking a lost spouse’s favorite meals at home, watching a favorite movie, planting a memorial tree, donating to a cherished non-profit, giving blood, or even volunteering at a favorite charity or organization. Whatever will be meaningful to your grieving friend is the right thing to do.

Encourage Them to Pamper Themselves

When we’re grieving, we don’t always take time to care for ourselves. But grief is hard work and caring for ourselves is an important part of keeping our spirits and our energy up. As a special day begins to approach, encourage your grieving friend to do something for themselves. For women, that may mean a day of shopping, going to the spa, or simply getting dinner at a favorite lunch spot and talking. A gift card for such an activity can go a long way toward saying “I’m thinking of you.” For men, it may be a nice massage, a night out with the guys, or a day on the golf course. Whatever the case may be, encourage them to take time to re-charge and do something that will rejuvenate them.

Send a Thoughtful Gift

No matter what the special day may be – Valentine’s, an anniversary, Christmas – find a way to thoughtfully show your care and consideration. Send a card that lets them know you are thinking of them. Or give a thoughtful gift. Depending on the special day, you might send flowers, chocolates, a book, or a mug with a few favorite teas to the ladies. For men, a card, chocolates, a book, or even a gift card to a favorite store would be thoughtful. Better yet, get some of your mutual friends to join in with you to shower the person with love! The point is, find a way to let them know you care about them on this special day and are thinking about them.

Ask Your Grieving Friend to Dinner

The special days are particularly hard because they are often days your friend would have spent with their spouse or close loved one. Instead, treat them to dinner at a fun place, complete with dessert and all the trimmings. Or if you’re able, plan a full day of activities to make the day special. Schedule some of your friend’s favorite activities, go to a favorite restaurant, go to a movie, and re-invent the day. Allow your friend moments to grieve but also fill the day with happy memories to cherish.

Invite Them to Volunteer

Often, it’s helpful to think of others when we are going through tough times ourselves. If your friend is more civic- and community-minded, invite them to volunteer with you. Instead of allowing sad emotions to reign on the special days, turn the day into an opportunity to give back and bring a little joy into the lives of others. This could mean volunteering at a local soup kitchen, packing donation boxes to send to children in need, or visiting nursing homes and chatting with lonely seniors. Research shows that volunteering gives us a greater sense of purpose and boosts mood, which is something a grieving friend sometimes needs.

Offer to Watch the Kids or Help Around the House

Depending on their stage in life, your grieving friends may need different things. If they still have children in the house, offer to watch the kids while they have some much-needed time to themselves or get a few errands out of the way. If your friend is older or doesn’t have children, find out if there’s anything you can do around the house to help. That may mean fixing a leaky faucet or cooking up some casseroles for the freezer. Often, it’s the simple kindnesses that mean the most.

Follow-up and Be Consistent

Even after the special day has passed, make sure to follow-up with your grieving friend. Call them to ask how they are, what they’ve been up to, and what they have coming up. Leave a cheerful voicemail and let them know you look forward to talking to them soon. In other words, simply be their friend all through the year. That way, when the special days come and the grief comes to the surface, you are ready and available to step in and offer your friendship, love, and support as they once again face the loss of their spouse or significant other. But thankfully, they aren’t doing it alone – they have friends and family beside them through it all.

7 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

By Grief/Loss, Helping a Friend in Grief

When a friend is hurting, it’s hard to know what to do. We want to offer words of comfort and support, but we worry that we’ll say the wrong thing. Or do the wrong thing. Above all, we wish we had the magic words to erase our friend’s grief and make them whole again.

But it’s important to remember, even as we work to support our friends who are mourning, that we mustn’t rob them of the process of grief. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a respected grief counselor and author, says that we never “get over” our grief. Instead, we become reconciled to it; we learn how to weave the loss into the story of our lives. He goes on to say:

You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it. …As you achieve reconciliation, the sharp, ever-present pain of grief will give rise to a renewed sense of meaning and purpose.”

As you seek to help a friend in grief, above all, allow them the necessity of the grief journey. We must face our grief in order to accept our loss.

7 Tips for Helping a Grieving Friend

1. Actively Listen

As you listen to a grieving friend, you may hear them saying similar things again and again. Don’t worry – this is normal. Dr. Wolfelt says that “repetition is part of the healing process.” As human beings, we need a safe place to relive our memories and talk about our loved one so that we can face our loss and begin to move forward. So, give your friend time and room to express themselves without fear of criticism or judgment. Listen as carefully and compassionately the first time as the fiftieth time.

2. Express Compassion and Empathy

While you may not know exactly what words to say, expressing compassion and empathy is important. Acknowledge the very real reality of your friend’s pain and loss. Your friend doesn’t need you to offer advice or fall back on clichés. Instead, agree that their pain is real and legitimate and that your heart hurts because their heart hurts.

3. Prepare for an Emotional Roller Coaster

Grief elicits a wide range of emotions. Maybe you’re familiar with a few of them from your own grief journey: sadness, anger, relief, regret, guilt, or blame, to name a few. Because every grief journey is different, there’s no way to know for sure how your friend is going to react emotionally. So, be prepared for anything.

When the emotions break through, accept them for what they are. Say nothing to make your friend feel like their emotions are wrong or incorrect. Instead, to show them that you love and support them, listen to them and let them work through the emotions of their grief. If asked, and only if asked, offer loving guidance.

4. Offer Practical and Specific Help

When a friend loses someone, you might wonder what you can do. As human beings, our first reaction is often to try to fix something or find a way to make it better. With grief, you can’t just fix it – people have to work through their grief on their own. But you can offer practical and specific help to a grieving friend to make the grief journey a little easier.

Here are some practical ideas:

  • Offer to babysit or pick the kids up from school
  • Help out around the house (e.g. repairs, laundry, cleaning, etc.)
  • Meal prep (e.g. grocery shopping, dropping off dinner, starting a care calendar)
  • Get them out of the house (e.g. walks, lunch, movie night)
  • Run errands
  • Help with funeral arrangements
  • Look after the pets
  • If they recently lost a spouse, offer to stay the night so they don’t feel alone

When offering practical help, take the initiative on yourself. A grieving person is unlikely to call you for help. Instead, offer a specific time and let them contradict you. For example, “Can I come by on Tuesday to mow the lawn for you?” They may turn your offer down at first, but then you can ask, “What day is better? I’d really like to do this for you.”

5. Give the Gift of Your Presence

You may be worried that you’re going to say the wrong thing at the wrong time, but don’t let that stop you from giving the gift of your presence. Your friend needs your unswerving support, minus opinions and advice (unless they ask for it). Be willing to witness their pain and realize that there may be times when they don’t appreciate your efforts. Don’t take their reaction personally – grief brings out a multitude of emotions, some kind and some not. If you stick with your friend through the ups and downs, offering your steadfast presence in their life, you will eventually receive an indescribable gift. You will see them come through the pain and find a new normal.

6. Provide Ongoing Support

After the funeral, many of us forget to check on our grieving friends. We mistakenly think that the funeral brings complete closure, and everything is over and done. But that’s not the case. The funeral is only the first step in the grief journey, so it’s important to continue offering support and encouragement after the funeral concludes.

You might send notes and texts or call and leave an encouraging voicemail, especially on special days like anniversaries or birthdays. You don’t have to say much. Even a simple, “I’m thinking about you” can brighten someone’s day and let them know you care.

7. If Needed, Lovingly Suggest Grief Counseling

While there is no time frame for grief, it is important to monitor how your friend is doing. If months have passed, and they have not seemed to move toward healing, consider whether you should lovingly suggest professional help or a grief support group. Again, there’s no need to push too hard. Just let them know you are concerned about them and want what’s best for them.

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, Memorial, 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.