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Two women and one man standing at a graveside service, one woman holding a white handkerchief

Why Your Presence at the Funeral Matters

By Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

In our culture today, there’s a tendency to do whatever is necessary to avoid pain and unpleasant feelings. This is one reason why people want to avoid the funeral – it brings out emotions that don’t always feel good. But pain and difficult emotions are a natural part of the human experience. In order to have good mental health and positive well-being, we need to learn how to process difficult experiences.

Man and woman standing together next to a closed casket, woman's hand placed on casket as they pay their respects

Nationally recognized grief counselor and death educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt puts it this way:

The pain of grief will keep trying to get your attention until you unleash your courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative—denying or suppressing your pain—is in fact more painful. If you do not honor your grief by acknowledging it, it will accumulate and fester. So, you must ask yourself, “How will I host this loss? What do I intend to do with this pain? Will I befriend it, or will I make it my enemy?” (To see Dr. Wolfelt’s full article, click here.)

Woman in black dress holding white lilies with left hand as she places right hand on casket

But why does your presence at the funeral matter? How will attending a funeral help you address any pain or complex emotions you may feel at a time of grief and loss? How will your presence provide support and encouragement to others? Good questions. Let’s discuss 7 ways attending the funeral or memorial service will help you (or your loved ones) on the grief journey.

Attending the funeral service gives you the opportunity to:

1. Honor and remember a person’s life

By attending the funeral or memorial service, you have a chance to acknowledge that a special person existed and their life was important. As human beings, we need to know that our lives matter, and the funeral provides an opportunity to affirm that. Even if you didn’t know the person well, you honor them and their surviving family members by paying your respects and participating in remembrance activities.

Woman in black dress placing purple flowers on a grave at the committal service

2. Say goodbye in your own way

While the funeral doesn’t make grief go away, it does help you grieve. Without a service, things don’t feel finished. Almost like something is missing. However, with a service, you have the chance to say goodbye in your own way and accept the reality of the death. Some may want to sit near the deceased for a while; for others, the act of attending the funeral is enough. We’re all different, but it’s important to say goodbye, especially for those who didn’t get to see the deceased before their passing.

3. Express your emotions

People expect to see emotions at a funeral service, which makes it a safe place to express yourself. You may be tempted to bottle up your emotions, but if possible, try to engage with your feelings. Let yourself experience what you feel and take note of your emotions. Someone you love has died, and that’s significant. Your emotions are normal, and it’s okay to express them.

Young woman who is sad

4. Offer condolences

Another reason why your presence matters is that it gives you a chance to offer your condolences. Whether you want to give the grieving family a hug or share an encouraging word, your presence can bring great comfort. Plus, by offering your condolences at the funeral, you make things simpler for the family. It’s easier to talk to 100 people at the funeral than to experience 100 different condolence encounters after the funeral.

5. Support the grieving family

Similar to giving your condolences, you can also offer practical support to the grieving family. This could mean that you drop off food for the family in the days following the service. You could sign up to be on “clean-up duty” at the gathering, give family members a ride, or help them pack up memorial items used to personalize the service. While the funeral home staff will take care of the major details, there are other ways you can step in to offer practical support to a grieving family.

Two women and one man standing at a graveside service, one woman holding a white handkerchief

 6. Reconnect with others

After a loss, you need good people surrounding you. Funerals bring family and friends together, so they provide an opportunity for people to reconnect. Though the funeral will bring tears, it will also bring laughter, joy, and connection. Families and friends who haven’t seen each other in a while can swap stories, share memories, and support each other. We’re not meant to live life alone, and we can lean on each other during times of grief and loss.

7. Realize you aren’t alone in your grief

Grief can feel lonely, but by attending the funeral, you see other people who are also grieving. You aren’t alone in what you’re feeling. The people around you at the funeral may not experience exactly what you are feeling, but they are processing emotions of their own. You can sit down together, talk with each other, unpack what you’re feeling, and provide much-needed love and support. You don’t have to grieve on your own – there are people who can stand with you.

Two white roses sitting on casket with clergy person in background holding an open book

Are there times when you shouldn’t attend the funeral?

In most cases, your presence will be welcome at the funeral or memorial service. But life isn’t always black and white; sometimes, it’s gray. Here are a few times when you should consider skipping the service or participating online:

  • Your attendance at the service would be disruptive, distracting, or upsetting to any member of the immediate family
  • The services are private and not open to the public
  • The services are out of town and you cannot get there
  • You cannot arrange for time off work
  • You are ill or physically unable to travel

White chrysanthemum resting in an open book

Additional grief resources

While attending the funeral is an important and necessary part of the grief journey, it’s not the end. For some, the deep emotions of grief last for a few weeks, and for others, they last for years. To help you (or a grieving loved one) in the days ahead, here are some additional grief resources.

Person standing in front of a heart drawn into the snow during the holiday season

Healing Your Holiday Grief

By Christmas, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

By Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt

If you could go back in time and relive a special holiday, which one would you choose? Close your eyes for a moment and think about this holiday. Now, slowly, walk through this memory in your mind.

What made it so special? What were the surroundings like? Who inhabits this memory with you?

Family of three - dad, mom, and pre-teen daughter - putting up Christmas tree together at holiday

Holidays have such rich associations for us because humankind created them as a way to honor and celebrate that which is truly important. We step out of the hustle and bustle of our day-to-day routines and into a world where our spiritual beliefs and connection to others matter above all else. We pause to give thanks, and we share of ourselves.

As the Grinch learned that memorable Christmas, the holidays don’t really come from a store – they come from the heart and soul.

Which is why when someone loved dies, the holidays can be so painful. The heart of the holidays has been torn apart. Without love, what is life? Without the people we love, what are the holidays?

I want you to know that you can find continued meaning in the holidays and in life. You can continue to live and love fully. You must grieve, but you can also celebrate.

Person standing in front of a heart drawn into the snow during the holiday season

Setting Your Intention to Heal

It takes a true commitment to heal in your grief. Yes, you are changed, but with commitment and intention, you can and will become whole again. Commitment goes hand in hand with the concept of “setting your intention.” Intention is defined as being conscious of what you want to experience. A close cousin to “affirmation,” it is using the power of positive thought to produce a desired result.

How can you use this in your journey through holiday grief? By setting your intention to heal.

Turning to Ritual

Setting your intention to mourn and heal during the holidays – and beyond – is one important way to move forward in your grief journey. Harnessing the power of ritual is another. We create holiday rituals because everyday activities and normal conversations cannot capture our most profound thoughts and feelings. Rituals give them voice and shape. So, we decorate our Christmas trees, light our menorahs, give gifts, hold hands, and say prayers.

During your times of grief, the very rituals of the holidays can help you survive them. Try participating in some of your normal holiday traditions but with a focus on grief. When you light candles in your home, do it in honor or the person who died. You might also create a special holiday ceremony or private ritual in memory of the person who died. The holidays are ritualistic, and ritual can help you survive (and heal) right now. Remember this when you are considering whether or not to participate in your next holiday tradition.

Grandmother in her kitchen, baking Christmas cookies with grandchildren during the holiday

Living in the Now

Return once more to the holiday memory I asked you to conjure up at the beginning. This memory is so special to you because you were so very present in the moment. When your grief overwhelms you this holiday season, try focusing on the now. Your grief wants you to live in the past through memories of the precious person who died. Remembering is indeed important, and your memories will always be a special part of your life.

Your grief will also project you into the future at times. You will worry about what the coming months and year hold for you. Looking ahead is also a normal and natural part of grief.

But when remembering and projecting exhaust you – and they will – return yourself to the present moment. Concentrate on what is going on around you right now. Hear the sounds and see the sights. Try drawing on the power of now to find continued meaning in your holidays and in your life.

Mother and young daughter sitting in front of Christmas tree as they watch something funny on a smartphone

You’ll notice I have used the generic term “holiday season.” By that, I mean the winter holidays bookended in the United States by Thanksgiving and New Year’s Day. In between are the spiritual/religious holidays of Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa. But whatever holidays you celebrate, and no matter where you live, the principles apply to the holidays that are most meaningful for you – including other holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries sprinkled throughout the calendar year.

A List of Ideas to Heal Your Holiday Grief

Be Compassionate with Yourself

Let your holiday grief be what it is. And let yourself – your new, grieving self – be who you are.


If the death was very recent, you may be in survival mode this holiday season. If that’s true for you, it’s OK – the world will keep turning whether you participate in the holidays or not.

Keep What Matters

You might consider simplifying your holiday rituals instead of abandoning them altogether. Keep the traditions that matter most to you and set the others aside, at least for now.

Group of three sitting quietly at home, sitting next to a warm fire and wearing cozy socks

Communicate Your Wishes

Muster the strength and courage to tell the people in your life what your wishes are for the holidays. If you’d like their company but prefer to gather somewhere different than you usually do, say so. If you’d rather skip some of the celebrations this year, tell them. If you’re feeling unsure about how to spend the holidays, tell them.

Attend a Remembrance Ceremony

Many hospitals, hospices, and funeral homes host remembrance ceremonies during the holidays. The act of joining together in our grief and ritualizing our mourning can be healing. Especially early in their grief, many families say that it was the most important thing they did during the holidays.

Hang a Special Stocking

If your holiday traditions include hanging stockings, consider hanging a special stocking in memory of the person who died.

Young girl with brown hair hanging up a Christmas stocking on the mantle

Be a Secret Santa

You could probably use some “feeling good” this holiday season. Give yourself a dose of pleasure by giving to someone else.

Prepare Favorite Holiday Foods of the Person Who Died

Special foods are an important part of the holiday traditions. Chances are, your family prepares many of the same dishes each holiday, and everyone looks forward to those unique smells and flavors.

If You’re Alone, Find Ways to Connect

If you’re alone this holiday season, you would be well-served to make an effort to connect with other human beings. Invite your neighbor to dinner. Volunteer at a homeless shelter or nursing home. Join a group at a place of worship.

Mature couple sitting near Christmas tree as they talk with family through video chat

Make an Appointment with a Grief Counselor

Seeing a counselor or spiritual advisor for just a session or two over the holidays may help you cope better and focus more on what is important to you this year and what is not.

Count Your Blessings

Think of all you have to be thankful for. This is not to deny the hurt, for the hurt needs to take precedence right now. But it may help to consider the things that make your life worth living, too.

Believe in a Better Next Year

Believe in your capacity to heal and grow through grief. Believe in the enduring holiday spirit of giving and love.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is the founder and director of Center for Loss and Life Transition and a member of the TAPS Advisory Board. This article is excerpted from his book, Healing your Holiday Grief: 100 Practical Ideas for Blending Mourning and Celebration During the Holiday Season, published by Companion Press and available at

Printed with permission from Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Center for Loss and Life Transition.

Pet portrait of a husky dog

11 Pet Memorial Keepsakes to Consider

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets are a welcome addition to our lives. They bring comfort, hope, laughter, joy, and companionship. Unfortunately, you will outlive many pets during your lifetime, but that doesn’t mean you can’t honor each pet’s life and cherish their memory for the rest of yours. If you’d like to create a memorial keepsake that both brings you comfort and helps you remember your pet in a meaningful way, consider these 11 pet keepsake options. Perhaps one will feel like the perfect way to remember your pet for years to come.

1. Painted Pet Portrait

Pet portrait of a husky dog

Whether you choose to paint the portrait yourself or commission it with a friend or artist, a painted pet portrait can be a beautiful and whimsical way to remember your pet’s life. You can request certain colors and provide a sample photograph. With so many styles available, you can choose an artist that meets your tastes, who will paint a portrait that will be a lovely addition to your home.

2. Photographs

Woman relaxing on window seat as she looks at framed photograph of her pet

Photographs are a simple yet versatile way to remember a pet’s life. You may choose to place a favorite photo in a frame and find a home for it in a special location. Or you can order a single canvas print or a collection of canvas prints. You could do a tiled collage of photos for the wall or find a frame that will allow you to create a collage on your own. There are so many options to consider with photographs, and you can make it as simple or as detailed as you’d like.

3. Memorial Photo Book or Scrapbook

Scrapbook materials for a pet scrapbook

While related to photographs, the photo book or scrapbook is much more involved. The act of selecting photos and designing each page can be cathartic and help you both honor your pet’s memory and process your feelings of grief. And while it will take time, the finished product is something you can go back to again and again. Or show friends and family when you share stories about your beloved pet’s antics.

4. Memory Box or Shadow Box

Crate of a pet's belongings like toys

With a memory or shadow box, you can collect items your pet cherished and keep them close to you. Perhaps include a photo, a favorite toy, leash, collar, tags, or whatever else is special to you. With a memory box, you might keep it on a bookcase where you can easily pull it out. And with a shadow box, you can hang it on a wall or set it in a place of honor.

5. Headstone or Garden Stone

Pet headstone with light purple flowers nearby

If you want a more natural option, a small headstone or garden stone might be a good way to honor your pet’s life. If your pet is buried in your backyard or in a local pet cemetery, you could include a small headstone with the pet’s name and an engraving, like a paw print. On the other hand, a garden stone may be better, with a sweet sentiment like, “Best friends live furever in the memories we hold dear.” If you wish, you could combine the two ideas by including your pet’s name and a short sentiment.

6. Personalized Calendar or Stationery

Calendar with white cat in the monthly photograph

For the letter writer, ordering special stationery with your pet’s image may be sweet and meaningful. Every time you choose to communicate with a friend or loved one, you have the chance to see your pet’s face and reflect on how amazing they were. Alternatively, you could create a personalized calendar (or any other paper products you regularly use) with favorite photos of your pet.

7. Customized Fabric Items

Embroidered pillow with orange bird on it

As with photographs, the possibilities with this category are pretty broad. After choosing a favorite photo, you can order a t-shirt, socks, hat, towels, or any number of fabric items with your pet’s image on them. Or, instead, you could choose to order a custom pillowcase, throw blanket, comforter, or even curtains. With so many businesses out there specializing in these kinds of custom requests, you are sure to find something that will meet your wishes.

8. Stuffed Animal Replicas

Gray crochet cat

Another option to consider is a stuffed animal that resembles your pet. The replica could be displayed or given to a child as a reminder of your beloved pet. There are many companies out there that specialize in this kind of work, including Cuddle Clones and Petsies. If you’d prefer a crochet or knit option, websites like Etsy will likely have options from artists around the world to choose from.

9. Paw Print Memorials

Focus on the front paws of two dogs

For pets with paws, a paw print memorial is worth considering. Either before or after death, you can take an imprint of your pet’s paw. Often, the vet or the funeral home can take this imprint for you (if your local funeral home offers pet loss services). Once you have the paw print, you can do many things with it. There are artisans out there who can use ink, clay, glass, and even stone to create a special memorial that implements your beloved pet’s paw print.

10. Christmas Ornaments

Hedgehog ornament on a Christmas tree

For those who love Christmas and decorating the tree, you could purchase an ornament that represents your pet. For example, if you’d like to remember your pet hedgehog, you can find ornaments in that shape. If you’d prefer, you can purchase a photo frame ornament and place your pet’s photo in it. There are also options to engrave your pet’s name on the ornament. Regardless of which type you choose, you can honor and remember your pet’s unique place in your family each holiday season.

11. Glass Memorial Items

Glass blowing; man creating glass creation

If you have chosen to cremate your pet, there are many ways to create memorial items with the ashes. With glass memorial items, the ashes are mixed with the glass during the creation process. The ashes can be infused into glass earrings, rings, necklace pendants, figurines, or a host of other items. You won’t be able to tell looking at the items that they include cremated remains, but they can serve as a beautiful reminder of your pet and the life you shared.

While this list certainly gives you many good ideas, it’s not exhaustive. If none of these feels quite right, please brainstorm your own ideas. Think about your pet’s personality, their favorite things, or memories you particularly cherish. This information can help you come up with meaningful ideas that will help you honor your pet for their unique contribution to your life.

Two grieving people comforting each other

9 Ways to Cope with a Loved One’s Deathiversary

By Grief/Loss

If you’ve lost a loved one, you probably know that some days are harder than others. Grief can surge on holidays, birthdays, and other special days. The anniversary of a loved one’s death, also called their deathiversary, can be an especially strong grief trigger.

Two grieving people comforting each other

While some people want to treat their loved one’s deathiversary as just another day, it can be a difficult day to ignore – especially the first year after the death. If you’re struggling with an upcoming deathiversary, here are a few things you can do to care for yourself and honor your loved one’s memory.

1. Take the day off

For some people, working or going to school on the anniversary of a loved one’s death can help distract them and provide a sense of normalcy for the day. But don’t be afraid to take the day off from work or school if you need to! Giving yourself space to grieve without the pressure of acting normal can make your day a little easier.

2. Visit their resting place

Purple flowers at a loved one's grave

Visiting a loved one’s resting place, whether their body or ashes were buried in a cemetery, placed in a niche, or scattered, can help you honor your loved one and allow you to speak to them. If someone else has your loved one’s urn and you can’t visit them, you could instead visit a place that was special to you and your loved one. By visiting a meaningful place, you’ll set aside a specific time to grieve and remember the positive impact your loved one had.

3. Plan a memorial gathering with friends and family

On hard days, having friends and family around can be helpful. You can all support each other while sharing memories of your loved one. A memorial gathering doesn’t have to be big, either. You could all meet up at a restaurant or spend time together at someone’s house. Just be aware that some people may not want to think about the day or may prefer to be alone, and that’s okay.

4. Participate in a ritual

Small lit candle with other candles in the background

Rituals aren’t outdated traditions; they are healing experiences that keep us grounded, encourage us, and unite us. On the anniversary of your loved one’s death, you can participate in a traditional ritual, like lighting a candle, attending a remembrance service, or visiting their grave. But you could also establish your own ritual, like planting a tree, reading old letters, emails, or texts, or participating in an activity they loved. Rituals like these can help you heal and fill the day with good memories of your loved one.

5. Reflect and remember

While your loved one is no longer with you physically, they still live on in your memory. Reminiscing about your loved one and remembering the positive impact they had on your life can be a great way to honor their memory. You could do this by looking at old photo albums or scrapbooks, sharing stories with friends and family, or just reflecting on your favorite memories with them.

6. Write a letter to them

Hands picking up a letter written to a loved one

Why write a letter to someone who won’t read it? Writing things down can help us clear our minds and process our emotions in a different way than speaking or typing. You can put anything in a letter to your loved one. Write all the things left unsaid, tell them how you’re feeling, or even write down funny things that have happened to you recently. After you’ve finished your letter, you could put it aside to read in the future or leave it at your loved one’s resting place.

7. Donate or volunteer in their name

Did your loved one have a cause they believed in? Consider donating or volunteering in their name with that cause! Even a small donation or an hour or two of volunteering can have an impact. Not only will you be honoring your loved one’s memory, but you’ll also be sharing their passion with others and doing good in the process.

8. Enjoy their favorite things

African american person painting

Another way to honor your loved one’s memory is by enjoying what they loved. You could wear their favorite color, cook their favorite meal, or watch their favorite movie or TV show. You could participate in a hobby they enjoyed, like painting or playing golf. When you incorporate your loved one’s favorite things into your day, you’ll be surrounding yourself with positive memories of them.

9. Take care of yourself

The most important thing to do on a special day or deathiversary is to take care of yourself! Your mental health is important, and self-care can help you get through a difficult day. Go for a walk and listen to your favorite songs. Meet up with friends for coffee or lunch. Do something creative, like painting a picture. Take a trip to the spa. Don’t be afraid to do something that brings you joy and helps boost your mental health.

No matter what you do on your loved one’s deathiversary, remember that grief is normal and natural. You may not want to do anything on the day, and that’s okay. As you move along your grief journey, you may do something different on your loved one’s deathiversary from year to year, and that’s okay, too. Do what you feel comfortable with and focus on grieving at your own pace.

Person typing on a laptop

Writing an Obituary with AI: Dos and Don’ts

By Educational, Planning Tools, Technology and Grief

After losing a loved one, there’s a long list of things that must be taken care of. At a time when you’re grieving and coming to terms with your loved one’s death, trying to find the right words for an obituary may seem like a daunting task. How can you find the right words when you’re still trying to accept the reality that your loved one is gone?

With the recent development of AI writing tools (like Bing’s free chatbot), families can now write an obituary with AI. While AI isn’t perfect, it can provide you with a great starting place. Once AI has generated an obituary, you can edit it to make it more personal and empathetic. Many funeral homes even have AI writers specifically for obituaries.

So, you might be wondering… if you use AI to write an obituary, how can you ensure the result truly honors your loved one and the life they lived? Here are some dos and don’ts for writing an obituary with AI.

DO look at other obituaries first

Obituaries in newspaper with magnifying glass

When you put a prompt in an AI generator, you never know what you’ll end up with. That’s why it’s a good idea to do a little research about obituaries before using AI. While each obituary is unique to the person it’s about, most obituaries include similar information. Before you write an obituary with AI, look at examples of other obituaries. You can find some examples on your funeral home’s website or check out some here.

DO add details to your prompt

Red rose on a sandy beach with a pink sunrise in the background

The more details you can provide for the AI generator, the better. If not enough information is given in the prompt, AI generators may add details that aren’t true for your loved one. By including details about your loved one’s family, history, passions, accomplishments, and hobbies, you’ll give the AI generator more to work with and have a better chance of getting a good starting obituary. For example, instead of saying, “he was involved in the community,” you can give specifics about the organizations your loved one was involved in. If you’re not sure what details to include, ask other family members about their favorite memories of your loved one.

DO proofread and edit the result

While AI generators have improved over the past few years, they’re certainly not perfect! AI writers sometimes repeat phrases or have overly wordy sentences. In one of our sample obituaries, the AI generator repeated the same phrase about the deceased’s husband and children at the beginning and end of the obituary. Take time to read through what the AI generator has put together and make sure there are no errors. You can add your own personal touch to the obituary by rewriting parts in your own words. In short, use the obituary generated by the AI as a starting point and make it your own.

DON’T assume everything is correct

Man holding out his hand with the word AI hovering above it and electronic details

As you read through the obituary provided by the AI generator, make sure all of the facts included are correct. AI pulls information from sources across the internet, and sometimes it adds in things that aren’t true or exaggerate something you added. For example, you may have put in your prompt that your loved one loved to play chess, but AI may try to add detail by saying that they won many chess championships. You should always double-check:

  • Dates
  • Locations
  • Spelling of names
  • Pronouns for anyone mentioned
  • Facts about the person’s accomplishments
  • Anything you didn’t explicitly include in your prompt

For example, in this sample AI-generated obituary, the obituary says, “Janet is survived by her husband Richard, her children Oliver and Iris, her siblings, and many friends.” However, the prompt doesn’t mention siblings, so if Janet doesn’t have siblings, we would need to remove that from the obituary. Watch for inconsistencies like these as you review the obituary.

DON’T feel stuck with the first result

Person typing on a laptop

If you don’t really like what the AI generator writes, that’s okay! Some AI generators have the option to generate something else based on the same prompt. You can try reentering the same prompt, or you can change up your prompt by adding more details or removing details that the AI focused on too much. You could also try using the same prompt in another AI generator. Just remember that you can always edit the results or mix and match what the AI generates to get an obituary that works for you and your family.

As you put together an obituary for your loved one, think about what made them special to you. An AI generator can give you a great starting structure and outline, and by adding your own details and personal touch, you can create a truly unique, heartfelt obituary for your loved one.

Other obituary resources

5 Practical Obituary Writing Tips

How to Write a Great Obituary

5 Great Obituary Examples

family sharing Thanksgiving dinner together

6 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend at Thanksgiving

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

With food to prepare, family trips to manage, and upcoming holidays to plan for, Thanksgiving can be a busy and stressful time. For those grieving at Thanksgiving, this season can also bring heartache. Because Thanksgiving is a family-centered holiday, people who have lost a loved one may see reminders of their loss all around them. A holiday that once brought joy may be a painful reminder of their loved one’s absence.

Whether you have a friend or a family member who has lost a loved one, you can help make Thanksgiving a little bit easier for them. Here are six ways you can help a grieving friend at Thanksgiving!

1. Check in with them

friends catching up outside during the fall

One of the most important things you can do for a grieving friend is to check on them. This is true at any time of the year, especially on holidays and special days. Take time to ask your friend how they’re doing and truly listen to their response. They may not want to talk about their grief and pretend everything’s normal, or they may pour out all their emotions to you. Or they may not want to talk at all! That’s okay. Just let them know that you’re thinking of them and ready to listen when they’re ready to share.

As you talk with your friend, try not to talk too much about your own past grief experiences or offer advice unless it is asked for. Everyone grieves differently, and your friend may just need you to listen to them. Above all, focus on listening and supporting your friend as they navigate their grief.

2. Encourage them to set boundaries

pumpkin mug next to cozy blankets

For many of us, it can be hard to admit when we need to step back or ask for help. This can especially be true for those who are usually in charge of planning for holidays like Thanksgiving. A grandmother may feel like it’s her responsibility to manage everything in the kitchen, or a father may feel like he has to organize the family football game, even if he doesn’t feel like it. Encourage your friend to set boundaries and say no to things if they don’t feel up to participating.

3. Invite them to join your celebration

friends holding hands at Thanksgiving

No one should have to spend Thanksgiving on their own. Maybe your friend is older and has just lost their spouse, or maybe a single friend lives far from their family. Inviting your grieving friend to join your family’s Thanksgiving celebration can be a beautiful way to support them and show that you care.

However, if they refuse to join you, don’t take offense. Your friend may not feel up to being with a large group of people, especially if they don’t know the other members of your family. You can always offer alternatives, like just visiting for part of the time or meeting up for lunch the day before. Just make sure they know your offer is genuine and they are truly welcome.

4. Share food with their family

family sharing Thanksgiving dinner together

Planning, cooking, and serving a full Thanksgiving meal can be daunting for a family that has lost a loved one. If you don’t mind making extra and sharing, offer to help your friend’s family by bringing them food on or before Thanksgiving. Providing even one dish can be a huge relief for a family that is grieving at Thanksgiving. You could even gather several other friends and each make a dish to share with your friend. Just make sure you check with your friend first, in case they’ve made other plans for their Thanksgiving meal.

5. Create a new tradition

friends sharing pumpkin pie together

While some people who are grieving want to stick with their usual traditions so things feel normal, others may want to try something completely new. You and your friend can create a new tradition together! Maybe you can try a new pie recipe before Thanksgiving, set up family interviews to learn more about your family history, or participate in a Turkey Trot together. You can even help them find ways to honor their loved one at Thanksgiving. For example, you and your friend could create a memorial for their loved one or volunteer in their loved one’s name.

6. Offer to help in practical ways

friend raking leaves

Many people have trouble asking for help because they feel like a burden – especially when everyone else is busy during the holidays. If you know your friend might be struggling, offer to help in practical ways. You could offer to put up fall decorations or do yard work. Maybe you could pick up groceries for them when you do your own grocery shopping. You can help watch their kids or pets on Thanksgiving or the day before while your friend gets things ready. If your friend has family coming in from out of town, you could pick up their family members from the airport. Take initiative and offer to help with something specific so your friend knows you truly want to help.

Above all, make sure your grieving friend knows they’re not alone, and give them time to process their grief. While it may take them time to accept your help or feel comfortable sharing their feelings, being available and supportive is a wonderful way to show you care. As you celebrate Thanksgiving, let your friend know that one of the things you’re thankful for is them and their friendship!

Sad woman sitting on chair at home

Coping with Grief: What are Grief Triggers?

By Grief/Loss

After the loss of a loved one, we all experience grief, but every grief journey is different because every person is different. What you feel really depends on your personality and your relationship with the person who has died. Some people will experience sadness, guilt, and regret, while others will feel shock, anger, and fear mixed with the sadness. Both of these reactions are completely normal and natural responses to loss.

Sad woman sitting on chair at home

As you process your feelings of grief, they will lessen in intensity over time. However, every so often, you will experience a sudden burst of grief. These moments are called “grief bursts” and are often brought on by a grief trigger. Today, we will discuss what grief triggers are and what you should know about them.  

What are Grief Triggers?

Simply put, a grief trigger is anything that brings up memories related to a loss. That’s very broad, but it’s true. Grief triggers will vary from person to person, so it’s good to pay attention to what triggers grief in you particularly. For example, you may be walking through a department store when the smell of mom’s favorite perfume hits your nose. The scent evokes memories of your mom, and before you know it, there are tears in your eyes. The scent was a grief trigger.  

Focus on man's profile, placing his hand on his forehead

What Types of Things Act as Grief Triggers?

All kinds of things can become grief triggers, even years after a loss. The thing to remember, though, is that these sudden bursts of grief are natural. Even after you’ve learned how to live without that special person, there will be moments throughout your life when you deeply miss them. However, some of those moments of grief may be the result of grief triggers.

Grief triggers may be something you can anticipate, like:         

  • Loved one’s birthday
  • Upcoming holiday
  • Family occasions
  • Death anniversary
  • Days with special meaning to you

Other grief triggers may come from unexpected sources, which can make them more challenging to identify, like:

  • Smells, sounds, sights, actions
  • Songs, words, places
  • Movies, people, colors
  • And anything else that stirs a memory

As you work through your grief, pay attention to when these sudden bursts hit you. What were you doing? What did you see? Smell? Hear? Did a memory come to mind? As you identify your personal grief triggers, you can better prepare for them in the future.

Mother and daughter sitting on couch, daughter sad and mom comforting

What Should I Do When a Grief Trigger Hits?

While it may not be what you want to hear, try to embrace the moment. Too often, we bottle up our emotions and don’t properly process them. While a grief trigger may come at an inopportune moment, the people around you will understand. Friends, family, and even strangers are capable of great compassion, especially if you give a brief explanation, like “These flowers remind me of my wife.”

Nationally respected author and grief counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “The pain of grief will keep trying to get your attention until you unleash your courage to gently, and in small doses, open to its presence. The alternative—denying or suppressing your pain—is, in fact, more painful. If you do not honor your grief by acknowledging it, it will accumulate and fester. So, you must ask yourself, ‘How will I host this loss? What do I intend to do with this pain? Will I befriend it, or will I make it my enemy?'”

Choose to befriend your pain, to make it familiar and eventually part of who you are. You never “get over” the loss of someone loved. Instead, you learn how to reconcile yourself to the loss, knowing that so many beautiful chapters of your life are dedicated to that person. And you can cherish and re-visit those chapters whenever you want.

Husband and wife sitting at couch at home; husband sad and wife comforting him

Should I Try to Stop Grief Triggers?

Grief is complicated, and as a general rule, we human beings don’t like difficult things. So, you may be tempted to avoid grief triggers as much as possible. If the grief triggers are debilitating, then it may be best to avoid them when you can. For example, if passing your dad’s fishing hat on the hat rack by the front door always triggers your grief, consider moving it to another location for a while. In the early days of loss, your emotions may be especially intense. Over time, they will lessen, and you may begin to find comfort in your dad’s hat.

However, don’t avoid all grief triggers all the time. It’s essential to learn how to deal with your emotions when they arise, no matter the situation. When a grief trigger comes, accept what you’re feeling, engage with it, and when possible, express your feelings. You can express yourself through tears, talking to a friend, journaling, or whatever works best for you. In other words, don’t avoid your grief; that leads to unhealthy habits of avoidance. To heal, you must face the pain head-on, even though it’s hard. 

Quiet woman in green sweater sitting at home, thinking and grieving

What if My Grief Triggers Become Debilitating?

If you are experiencing many grief triggers or your grief triggers are causing you anxiety, it’s best to seek out a grief counselor or therapist. They can give you professional advice on the best way to handle what you’re experiencing. And even if your grief triggers aren’t debilitating, it can be beneficial to speak with someone who’s there to listen and help you process what you’re feeling.

And if going to see a counselor feels intimidating, that’s okay. Many people feel nervous when trying new things. Give it a try and see whether it will work for you. Some people only need to attend a few sessions to see improvement, while others find that speaking to a counselor on a regular basis is just what they need to live a more balanced life. And if you’d rather not meet one-on-one, you can join a grief support group instead.

Woman and female therapist talking together

With this information, you should better understand what grief triggers are and the role they play in your grief journey. As you continue to heal, be aware of your own needs, taking note of what triggers you and how you respond to the triggers. The more you know about yourself, the better you will handle grief bursts and triggers when they show up. Best wishes to you on the journey toward hope and healing!

woman comforting another woman at a grief support group

What to Expect at a Grief Support Group

By Grief/Loss

Losing someone you love is hard, and you may feel overwhelmed as you navigate life without your loved one. You’re not alone! While everyone grieves differently, many people find themselves struggling after the death of a loved one. That’s why many people find joining a grief support group helpful.

woman placing her hand on another person's shoulder

A grief support group can be a great way to surround yourself with a support system after a loved one’s death and hear from others who have also lost someone they love. Plus, you can learn how to express your emotions and grief in a safe space.

But going to a grief group for the first time can be intimidating! While every grief support group will be different, here are a few things you can expect at most groups.

Facilitator-Led Discussions

woman comforting another woman at a grief support group

Most grief support groups have a facilitator who helps lead discussions, organize the group, and keep everyone on topic. Depending on the group, the facilitator might be a licensed counselor, a religious leader, or a peer from the group. Some groups may also have more than one facilitator or rotating leaders, depending on the size of the group and how often they meet.

When choosing a grief support group, consider what type of facilitator you would prefer. Do you want professional expertise and advice from the leader? Or would you rather be part of a group led by a peer who has experienced something similar to you? Everyone has different needs, so look for the type of facilitator who fits your wishes.

Time to Share and Listen

man talking at a grief support group

A big benefit of a grief support group is having a safe space to talk about what you’re feeling. For many people, this idea can be intimidating. However, expressing and acknowledging your emotions is an important step in your grief journey. The emotions you feel after a loss, even anger and guilt, are normal, and refusing to talk about them will only make things harder for you.

However, you won’t be forced to share if you don’t feel comfortable! You can also learn a lot simply by listening to others as they speak about their own experiences with grief. Hearing from others can be a great way to learn that you’re not alone. While everyone grieves differently, hearing about others’ grief could help you find new ways to process your own emotions. Plus, as you share your struggles and grow together, you can support each other along your grief journeys.

Grief Education

Person sharing at a grief support group

Grief support groups aren’t just for talking about what you and your peers feel. They also provide a space for you to learn more about what grief is, how different people experience it, and what you can do to progress along your grief journey. Grief doesn’t end the day of the funeral, and your facilitator and peers in the group can help you learn more about how to cope with your grief in a healthy way.

Plus, many grief support groups can provide you with grief resources, like brochures, flyers, or online articles. Some grief support groups may recommend reading certain books about grief, and your facilitator may be able to point you to more resources, like professional grief counseling.

As you look for a grief support group that works with your needs and schedule, remember that every group will have its own guidelines and methods. You may not like the first grief support group you try, and that’s okay! Keep looking for one that works for you, and don’t be afraid to ask for extra support from close friends and family.


Your local funeral home should be able to point you to grief support groups in your specific area. Additionally, you can check out these online resources for grief support:

Woman under an umbrella, standing near a lake

5 Strategies to Cope with Anticipatory Grief

By Grief/Loss

You are likely familiar with feelings of grief, but did you know that there are different variations of grief? Of course, the experience of grief is different from person to person, but sometimes grief can take a turn and become something a little different. The four most common variations of grief are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded grief, and anticipatory grief. Of the four, anticipatory grief is the most common and least concerning.

With that in mind, let’s unpack anticipatory grief so that you have a better understanding of what it is and how to cope with it.

Mother comforting sad daughter

What is Anticipatory Grief?

Anticipatory grief, also known as preparatory grief, is a type of grief that occurs before the actual loss or death of a loved one. This form of grief is a common experience among family members and friends of a terminally ill person. Anticipatory grief can be complex and challenging, as individuals may experience various emotions, including stress, sadness, anger, guilt, and anxiety.

Anticipatory grief can be a positive or a negative experience. On the one hand, having time to process the emotions of grief before the loss can spur you to make meaningful choices. For example, you could spend more time with your loved one, or take the opportunity to have meaningful conversations and say things you’ve always wanted to.

On the other hand, the stress of watching someone you love slip away a little at a time, such as with Alzheimer’s disease or cancer, can bring about feelings of helplessness, anxiety, and stress.

Husband and wife hugging, offering each other comfort during a time of loss

5 Strategies for Coping with Anticipatory Grief

If you are dealing with anticipatory grief, these five coping strategies can help you process your complex emotions and gain peace even in a difficult situation.

1. Practice Mindfulness

Anticipatory grief can be overwhelming and all-consuming. Practicing mindfulness can help you stay present and grounded. Take a few moments each day to focus on your breath and observe your thoughts and feelings without judgment.

You may reflect on the things you are grateful for learning from the person you love. What valuable lessons have they taught you? What values have they passed on that you will carry with you after they are gone? Feel free to share these thoughts with the person you love, if you can. It will mean more to them than you know!

Two people sitting across from each other, each cupping a coffee mug in their hands; aerial view

2. Connect with Others

Anticipatory grief can feel isolating because the loss has not yet occurred. That is why reaching out to friends, family members, and mental health professionals who understand what you’re going through is so important. Understanding and acknowledging anticipatory grief can help you cope with the impending loss and find meaning and peace during a difficult time. Join a support group or seek out a therapist who can provide guidance and support throughout this journey and beyond.

Self-care; man sleeping on couch

3. Take Care of Yourself

Grief of any kind can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Take care of yourself by getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in activities that bring you joy.

If you are a primary caregiver for a terminally ill loved one, practicing self-care is crucial to your well-being. Feelings of frustration and burnout can make anticipatory grief even more challenging because you might feel guilty for getting angry or losing patience.

Ensure that you are not neglecting your needs as you care for another individual. You might take a walk to clear your mind, take a nap if you are exhausted, and follow routines that keep you grounded and centered.

Woman sitting at home, writing in a journal, expressing her thoughts

4. Express Your Feelings

It’s essential to allow yourself to feel your emotions and express them in healthy ways. Write in a journal, create art, or talk to a trusted friend about your thoughts and feelings.

Emotions can hold power over us if they go unacknowledged and unexpressed. But when you name an emotion, it loses some of its power. Even if your emotions are not what you want them to be, take the time to understand them and find a way to express them.

Mature man and woman talking with professional about estate planning or funeral planning

5. Focus on What You Can Control

Anticipatory grief can feel overwhelming because it involves so many unknowns. Focusing on what you can control rather than what you can’t control is helpful.

Preparing for a loss in practical ways may help bring a sense of control. You may want to focus on estate planning, funeral planning, and even writing the obituary in advance.

Gather a team of experts around you to help you. Your team might include an estate planning attorney, a funeral planning specialist from the funeral home, hospice nurses, caregivers, and an accountant who can assist with tax issues and questions.

The more prepared you are for a loss, the more you will be able to be in the moment with your loved one in their last days and weeks.

Woman under an umbrella, standing near a lake

Anticipatory grief can be a challenging and emotional experience. However, these five strategies can help you cope and navigate this difficult time with grace and strength. Remember that grief is a natural part of the human experience, and it’s okay to seek help and support when you need it. With time and patience, you will find a way to honor the memory of your loved one and move forward with peace and healing.

Woman wearing an orange shirt as she frosts a cake

Remembering Loved Ones Through Baking

By Grief/Loss

Some things are universal, across every culture and background. Having an emotional connection between memory and food is one of those things. As human beings, we connect with others through food. Shared meals, holiday traditions, beloved family recipes, and special treats all strengthen bonds and bring families together over the years. That’s one reason why baking can be a meaningful (and tasty) way to remember a loved one. Let’s look at a few other reasons why baking can help you grieve and honor a loved one’s memory.

A man and a woman baking together, with ingredients laid out on counter

Baking unlocks memories

According to scientific research, of the six senses, the one most connected to memory is the sense of smell. So, when you bake Grandma’s famous Christmas cookies or Dad’s favorite casserole, the smells are going to unlock cherished memories and bring you comfort.

Baking is therapeutic

After the loss of a loved one, you may feel like your life is spinning and you’ve lost control. For some people, loss of control can increase feelings of anxiety. Because baking is predictable – certain ingredients mixed together create a delectable treat – it can bring a sense of peace and calm. You can’t control every factor of your life right now, but you can control the outcome of Aunt Susan’s tried-and-true banana-nut bread.

Woman pulling a baking sheet out of the oven in a bright kitchen, natural light

Baking reduces stress

Similarly, baking can reduce your stress levels, too. The repetition of steps can calm you down. And the smells bring comfort and relaxation. Plus, knowing that your efforts will result in something delightful to eat (or share with others) brings a sense of accomplishment. And if you are feeling particularly stressed, you can take it out on the bread dough you’re kneading!

Baking provides creative opportunities to honor loved ones

While you may follow a specific recipe, baking also gives you room to express a certain amount of creativity. If you want to honor a loved one’s memory, you could make cupcakes in their favorite color or flavor. Or, you could decorate them with a special theme, like butterflies, sports team colors, or fishing. Alternatively, you can mix-and-match. Perhaps you prefer buttercream frosting, but your grandmother just loved chocolate ganache. Make your favorite cake and ice it with chocolate ganache in her memory.

Woman wearing an orange shirt as she frosts a cake

Baking minimizes the fear of forgetting a loved one

Have you ever feared that you might forget a loved one’s face, their voice, their smell? By actively engaging with the things they loved – like their favorite baked goods – you can keep that memory alive. Not only will the sweet smells activate your memory, so will the look, taste, and feel of whatever you make. Together, your senses will help you travel back in time and keep your loved one’s memory alive.

Baking brings a sense of closeness to your loved one

There will be times when you desperately miss your lost loved one. In those times, you can remember them through baking their favorite things. If it’s the holidays, bring out Mom’s family-famous reindeer cookies. If it’s her birthday, bake her favorite cake. As you enjoy each fragrant bite, take time to reflect on your memories and cherish the time you had together.

Father and young daughter baking together, smiling and having a good time

Baking brings people together

Most of the time, baked goods are meant to be shared. Because of this, baked goods are an excellent birthday or holiday gift, especially when they have special meaning. So, you might choose to bake your loved one’s favorite pumpkin bread to share with family or friends, and when you do, you might say, “This was my son’s favorite.” As you invite others into your grief journey, you allow them to come alongside you to offer support and love. We need both when we’re grieving the death of someone dearly loved.

However, Don’t Stress About It

Maybe baking sounds like a good idea, but you aren’t so sure about putting it into practice.

Just remember:

Keep It Simple

If you want to bake something special in memory of your loved one, keep it simple. If it’s the holidays and you decide you want to bake ALL of the family Christmas cookies, that can get overwhelming fast. Instead, choose one or two that mean the most. The more complicated you make it, the less likely you are to actually do it.

Woman pulling cupcakes out of the oven, focus on cupcakes

If Baking Isn’t Your Thing, That’s Just Fine

And let’s be honest, not everyone enjoys baking. If that’s you, don’t worry. There are other ways to use food to honor and remember a loved one. Pick up their favorite store-bought pastries. Get a meal at their favorite restaurant. Order their signature drink at the coffee shop. You can still benefit from the smell, taste, and feel of meaningful foods if you didn’t make them yourself.

No matter what works best for you and your family, food is closely tied to our memories of the people we love. As you mourn the loss of someone you love, rest on your precious memories and allow them to help you grieve.

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