This Christmas season, with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting lives, Dr. Wolfelt shares a poignant message of hope and healing despite the unique challenges this year has forced upon us. With compassion and kindness, Dr. Wolfelt shares grieving tips and suggestions that will help you make it through. Click below to hear his message and may you find hope and healing this holiday season.
Sometimes, words aren’t enough to fully express what you feel or say what you mean. In the times when words are inadequate, participating in healing rituals and actions plays a key role in helping you grieve well and express what can’t be said. One healing action you might consider – either for yourself or your entire family – is creating a memory capsule.
What is a Memory Capsule?
Similar to a time capsule, a memory capsule is a container that holds precious mementos, photos, notes, and other memorabilia associated with a loved one. Once the capsule is complete, you hide it away until a specified time. Then, either alone or together with family, you open the capsule, remembering the person you love and sharing those cherished memories with each other.
But why should you consider a memory capsule? Remembrance is a key part of grieving well and creating a memory capsule is one way you can remember, reminisce, and embrace your loved one’s life. It will allow you to gather some of your most treasured items and put them in one place. You can go back to the capsule as often as you wish, or you can wait a specified amount of time. Regardless of what you decide, when you open the box, tender memories will flood you with love and help you lovingly remember and grieve for the person you’ve lost.
How to Create a Memory Capsule
With a few simple steps, you can create both a memory capsule and a meaningful activity for your family.
1. Determine where you’ll store the capsule.
First, you must decide where you will be storing the capsule. Whether you decide to store it indoors or outdoors will affect what kind of container you use and what types of items you place inside. So, before you can really begin, you need to determine how you plan to store your memory capsule. Also, select a person to take charge of the capsule. This person will be responsible for storing the container and bringing it out of storage at the appropriate time.
2. Choose your container.
Once you’ve determined where you plan to store your capsule, it’s time to select the type of container you intend to use. If you are planning to keep the memory capsule indoors, then you could select a box, a plastic container, a jar, or some other container that is easily storable.
However, if you plan to keep the capsule outside or you intend to bury it, there are a few things to consider. For outdoor safekeeping, find a container that is non-biodegradable, like something made of metal. Water, dirt, pressure, and critters won’t be friendly to your capsule so make sure that it’s strong, weather-proof, and watertight.
If you are making this a family activity, discuss together what kind of container you’d like to use.
3. Decide what to include.
Next, it’s time to decorate your container (if you wish) and gather your memories. Since this activity is meant to be part of a healing ritual, you might write a note expressing what you miss about them. Record a favorite memory. Gather photos, drawings, trinkets, clothing, or other cherished items. Find the items that are meaningful to you and place them in the container. With kids, have them write a note or create a drawing for the capsule. You could even write a note to your future self, saying what you’re feeling now and where you hope to be when the capsule is opened.
If you are planning to store your capsule outdoors, consider using good paper and permanent ink. Try not to use paper clips, staples, or rubber bands because they will rust or break with age. Consider placing photos and other paper items into plastic sleeves to further protect them.
WARNING: Make sure you don’t include flammable materials or anything else that may cause damage, such as liquids, food products, matches, or lighters.
4. Set a date.
Typically, capsules are left closed for several years, but you can do whatever works best for your family. For example, if you are putting together a memory capsule for a lost loved one’s birthday or at Christmas or Thanksgiving, you can open it the following year or several years down the road. The most important thing is to select a time frame and make sure that everyone participating knows what the time frame is. That way, each person can tailor their offerings to meet the time frame, if that’s needed.
5. Seal your container and store it.
Once everyone has had a chance to add their personal contributions to the memory capsule, all that’s left is sealing the container and storing it away until your agreed upon date. If you’ve made the memory capsule a family activity, make sure to gather everyone together (or use a video call) to make sure everyone is included in the sealing. You can even write a “Do not open until” date on the outside. For extra protection, seal the container with tape or a lock.
Before you disperse, give each other hugs and best wishes. This activity is not only about healing from your loss but about finding support in each other as you all mourn the loss of someone you love.
Continuing Your Grief Journey
Now, all you have to do is wait until the agreed upon date and do the work of grief. While creating a memory capsule will help you participate in a healing ritual and remember your loved one, it’s not a “one-and-done” kind of thing. As you grieve, you will need to continue to talk about your loss, participate in healing rituals (like journaling, attending a funeral or memorial, lighting candles, praying, etc.), and face the grief you feel.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says this about grief: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of thousands of grieving people I have companioned over the years, I have learned that we cannot go around the pain that is the wilderness of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes shuffling along the less strenuous side paths, sometimes plowing directly into the black center.” So, as you confront your emotions head on, you will begin to actually deal with them and find a way to move toward healing and eventually reconciliation.
Just remember, you’re not alone on the journey. Lean on your loved ones. Talk to your family and/or friends. While they may not always understand what you’re thinking or feeling, they love you and can be a source of support through the grief journey ahead. Take your time – there’s no rush. You are never going to “get over” the loss of someone you love, but you can learn how to move forward and find renewed purpose and meaning in life. It may seem impossible right now, but as you do the work of grief, it will happen, little by little. Best of luck on your journey!
While social media lets us communicate with each other quickly and efficiently, it’s also a place where people seem to forget the social etiquette that governs our face to face interactions day in and day out. People often type things they would never say in a group of friends or at a family gathering, and those thoughtless words often hurt others, especially when it concerns the death of a loved one. But we can do better.
Below, we will discuss 10 Dos and Don’ts for discussing death and loss on social media platforms and how you can be a positive contributor to friends and family going through the loss of a loved one.
1. DO Wait for the Family to Post First
Always, always, always wait for close family members to announce the death before you post ANYTHING on social media about a death. If you aren’t a close family member (parent, spouse, sibling), it’s not your place to make the announcement unless you’ve been asked to do so. By waiting, you show your respect to the family and give them time to alert all family members personally about the death. Otherwise, some family members might hear about the death through social media.
Additionally, discussing the death online before the family does may add extra grief and stress to the family. They may not have planned to announce anything on social media at all, and now, you’ve forced them into a situation where they may receive many comments, private messages, phone calls, emails, and questions. This adds unnecessary complications to an already emotionally distressing time. And if the family never posts online, show your support by refraining from posting anything yourself or by at least waiting until the funeral has already taken place.
2. DO Get the Facts Right
If the family has made the death announcement, and you decide to post on social media, make sure that whatever information you share is correct, not hearsay or gossip. For example, you may have heard that the death was suicide-related, but that’s actually false. Not only is this mistake mortifying, it’s also traumatic for any family or friends who may believe your post.
Before sharing any facts, ask yourself two questions: 1) Did I receive my information from a close family member and know that it’s true? and 2) Am I the person to share this information or is there someone else more appropriate? If you aren’t sure, err on the side of caution and don’t post anything you can’t verify.
3. DO Consider the Best Way to Offer Condolences
It’s natural to offer condolences after a loss, but carefully consider how you go about offering your condolences. Consider your relationship to the deceased and to any immediate family members. Also, consider how you received the news of the death.
If you received the news on social media, offer condolences on a social media platform or an online memorial page. If you received a phone call or text, respond in kind. However, if you learned about the death online but would like to talk to someone, consider waiting to call. The family is dealing with the stress of planning a funeral and the emotional toll of losing a loved one. If every person called, it would be overwhelming in the first days following a loss. Instead, write a letter, send a text message, or private message to offer your condolences and then follow-up with a phone call at a later time, when things have calmed down a bit.
A final note – consider whether your condolences will bring comfort or further pain. If you have a poor, strained, or even volatile relationship with the grieving family, hold off on any contact. Put the family’s needs above your own desire to offer condolences and either say nothing or wait until emotions have settled.
4. DO Check Your Settings
As with anything on social media, be mindful of your audience. This is especially true when discussing death because it can be a very sensitive topic, especially if the cause of death is still under investigation or due to tragic or difficult circumstances. Before posting, carefully consider who all may see your post. Is there anyone you should block from being able to see it, like children or employers? Adjust your settings as needed or simply re-think whether your post is necessary at all.
5. DO Stop, Re-read, and Think Before You Post
As with anything you write, it’s always good practice to stop, read it again, and think before you hit send or post. By pausing, you give yourself a moment to look at what you’ve written with new eyes. Are you feeling very emotional and saying something you will regret later? How will any grieving friends or family feel after reading your message? Have you shared information that’s best kept private? Always use your best judgment before putting your words out into the world.
6. DON’T Be Nosy
We are all naturally curious people. Often, we simply want to know what happened, especially with an unexpected death. But ultimately, the family’s need for privacy is more important than any sense of curiosity. You can certainly hunt around on different social platforms or use a search browser to find whatever information you can, but refrain from asking the family questions or sharing anything you find online. Whatever the family wants others to know, they will share in person or on social media, and that should be enough.
7. DON’T Use Clichés or Platitudes
Too often we just don’t know what to say in the face of death, and that’s okay. For example, instead of saying, “They’re in a better place” or “I’m sure they wouldn’t want you to be sad,” find ways to offer genuine care and sympathy. For instance, “I’m so sorry this has happened” or “My heart hurts for you; I’m so sorry” would be better options. Strive to be tasteful and kind in your comments, offering the family encouragement and support.
For more help with phrases NOT to say to a grieving person, read 6 Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person and 6 MORE Things You Should Never Say to a Grieving Person.
8. DON’T Share Too Many Personal Details in Your Comments/Posts
This goes back to taking the lead from the family. If you know some details about the death that the family hasn’t shared, keep them to yourself (unless it involves a crime). If the family prefers not to discuss certain details online, honor their wishes by limiting the information you share. You definitely don’t want to infringe on the family’s privacy or try to pry sensitive and possibly painful details out of the family.
9. DON’T Constantly Tag the Deceased Person
While your intentions may be good, constantly tagging a lost loved one in online posts could be difficult for others to see. While sharing an image or a post or a video that reminded you of the person who has died might bring you a moment of peace, it could be harmful or disrespectful to the family as they grieve. It’s not that you can never tag the person – simply keep it to a minimum and be respectful and sensitive in your wording. After all, the image will still mean something special to you and remind you of the person you loved even if you never post it. For other ideas on how to keep a loved one’s memory alive, click here.
10. DON’T Make it About You
When you offer condolences online, try not to bring up your own personal hurts. Instead, keep the focus on your friend or family members. You may feel tempted to engage in “troubles talk” to find common ground with the other person so that you can, in some way, share the loss. But by talking about your own troubles, you turn the focus to your pain, not theirs. While you may have suffered a similar loss, it’s not the same. Different people, different relationships, different dynamics, different grief. Focus on offering words of support and encouragement. If they ask about your own loss, then feel free to share, but let them open that door.
Sometimes Offline is Better
While social media is great in so many ways, it’s not the place to work out your grief. If you have specific questions about the death or want to make a deeper connection with a member of the deceased’s family, take time in real life to do that. Some topics and discussions are just better and more appropriate in person or in private (whether that’s an email, a letter, or a phone call).
But no matter what you decide to do, remember that the family is going through a tough time. They need your support, your kindness, your encouragement, and your grace. Look for ways to offer your sympathy. Offer your gifts and talents as a resource. The family is embarking on the beginning of a journey through grief, and they need all of their kind and caring friends along the way.
Have you ever thought one thing and then found out it was completely wrong? It’s safe to say this has happened to everyone. We often get our understanding of grief from other people, television, or even society, and sometimes, it’s not entirely accurate. So today, let’s remove the cobwebs from your understanding of grief and talk about a few myths.
Myth #1: Grief is a burden.
It’s hard to argue with your emotions, but in many cases, they don’t tell you the full story. While grief may feel like a burden when you’re going through it, the emotions you’re feeling are actually healthy and a good sign.
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, puts it this way: “Love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. People sometimes say that grief is the price we pay for the joy of having loved. This also means that grief is not a universal experience. 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.”
So, grief is not a burden. It’s the natural result of having loved deeply and wholly – something we all seek and need to live full lives.
Myth #2: Grief goes away. / Time heals all wounds.
As nice as it would be to say that time will heal your wounds and that your grief will one day go away, it’s simply not true. But take heart! At the beginning of the grief journey, your grief feelings are front and center. However, as you do the work of grief and incorporate the loss into the story of your life, your feelings of grief will decrease in intensity.
Grieving isn’t about “getting over” the loss; it’s about finding a way to move forward. There will be moments, even years down the road, when tears will come to your eyes, and that’s okay. Your feelings of love for that person will never go away, so there will always be a part of you that misses them and grieves their absence.
Myth #3: Grief and mourning are the same thing.
Though both grief and mourning are associated with the death of a loved one, there’s a difference between them. Grief refers to your internal thoughts and feelings. Mourning, on the other hand, is a shared, social response to loss. In other words, we mourn by taking our internal grief and turning it into actions.
The funeral is an excellent example. At a funeral service, you come together with other mourners to offer support, share stories, mark the significance of a life, and find personalized ways to honor your loved one’s memory. As human beings, when we don’t find ways to outwardly express (mourn) what we feel on the inside (grief), complications can occur, often resulting in a longer period of intense grief. Finding a way to express what you feel is an important and necessary part of grieving well.
Myth #4: There’s a set time frame for grief.
You may have a well-meaning friend or family member who’s encouraging you to “get over it” because “enough time has passed.” In truth, there’s no set time frame for grief. It takes the time it takes. Ultimately, the journey toward reconciliation – learning how to move forward – often depends on the type of loss and the depth of the relationship.
As long as you are actively doing the work of grief – engaging with your emotions, talking through your loss, and finding ways to honor your loved one’s memory – you will find your way to reconciliation.
Myth #5: Grief is the same, regardless of the loss you experience.
In some ways, it’s easier to relate to someone who has gone through a similar loss, but to say that the grief is the same is untrue. Even if two women have each lost a husband, they are individual people with unique personalities and ways of coping. While both women lost a spouse, they will deal with the loss differently based on their unique personalities, their background, their support group, and even the type of relationship they shared with their spouse. When you take all of these factors into account, there is no way that grief can be the same from person to person even if the type of loss falls into the same category.
People may experience similar emotions – sadness, anger, relief, regret, guilt – but even the expression of these emotions varies from person to person. Every grief journey is individualized and should be handled with kindness and compassion.
Myth #6: Moving forward with your life means forgetting your loss.
While the ultimate goal of the grief journey is to find a way to move forward, this doesn’t mean you will forget about the person you love. They are forever a part of you, and you were shaped in some way by your relationship with them. Moving forward is about finding continued meaning and purpose in life following your loss.
Rest assured – learning to live again won’t make you forget your loved one. In fact, living through loss gives you an even greater appreciation for the time you shared and a desire to cherish the time you have left with living loved ones.
Myth #7: There are five stages of grief.
More than likely, you’ve heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This theory puts a nice tidy ribbon on a fairly complex human experience, but unfortunately, it’s been taken wildly out of context. Kubler-Ross’s research was focused on the grief stages that patients go through following a terminal diagnosis. Over time, her research on a very specific form of grief has been taken far beyond its original intention.
That said, grief isn’t quite so simple. Your emotions may be all over the place and come in no particular order. While it would be nice to have a formula for grief, it simply doesn’t exist. You feel what you feel when you feel it, and all you can do is work through it when it comes.
Myth #8: There’s a right way to grieve.
We’ve already established that every grief journey is different because every person and relationship is different. The same principle holds true for how you express your grief. For some, crying is the way to go. For others, it’s writing, walking, running, painting, or using a punching bag. There’s no “right” way to respond to loss. If you need to cry, cry. If you never cry, that’s okay, too. Simply find what helps you release the emotions you feel inside – whatever that looks like.
Also, though it may be a temptation, don’t try to “be strong” for those around you. There may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, but as soon as you can, find a safe place to release what you’re feeling and embrace it. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “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.” So, face what you feel and grieve in the way that is most beneficial for you.
Myth #9: It’s wrong to feel certain emotions after a loss.
Perhaps it’s an innate response, but there are certain emotions that you may feel an aversion to following a loss. Mainly, anger, guilt, regret, or relief. However, if you’ve felt these emotions, rest assured that you’re not alone, and these are completely normal reactions to loss.
You may feel angry that your loved one didn’t take better care of themselves. You may feel guilty about the final words you spoke to them. Regret may fill you because you didn’t call or visit more often. You may feel relieved because an illness or difficult relationship are over. Depending on your relationship to the person who has died, any of these are natural reactions to loss. So, don’t beat yourself up over what you feel. Take time to work through it and give yourself some grace for the journey.
Myth #10: Grief is reserved for the passing of a loved one.
While we most often associate grief with the death of a loved one, this is not always the case. You can feel grief about a variety of things. Loss of a relationship. Loss of a pet. The loss of independence, a home, a job, or your health. Each one of these situations – and so many more – can bring out feelings of grief and loss. And just as with the loss of a person, you must work through your emotions and find a way to move forward with meaning and purpose.
Well, that’s it! Did you learn something you didn’t know before? Hopefully, debunking these myths has given you a rounder and clearer vision of what grief is and why it’s such an important aspect of human nature. While grief is hard, it’s the clearest indicator that you loved someone or something deeply, and love is a beautiful thing.
Grief can be exhausting – mentally, physically, and emotionally. And Christmas, even though it’s often a joyful and festive season, has its share of stresses, especially during times of grief when it’s a battle to do the normal everyday tasks. So, what can you do this season to reduce your Christmas stress while you process your grief?
Before we move into a few tips, remember that whatever you’re feeling is normal. You’ve lost someone you love, and it’s hard. You may feel a wide range of emotions, including sadness, shock, denial, guilt, anger, or even relief. No matter what you’re feeling, these emotional responses are normal and natural. All you need to focus on is taking care of yourself through the holiday season so that you have the energy you need to process what you feel and begin the journey toward healing.
Tips for Reducing Your Christmas Stress
Your feelings may tell you to skip Christmas altogether this year, but before you make any big decisions, take some time to evaluate what changes you can make to keep things simple while also taking your loved ones’ needs into account.
For example, you may decide not to attend your work party, but instead, you go out to lunch with your closest office friends. Or, instead of getting individual gifts for everyone, you get gift cards instead. There are little changes you can make that will make your life easier while also ensuring that your family and friends still get to enjoy your presence during the holidays.
Here are a few tips for reducing your holiday stress:
Keep Things Simple
You may normally go all out for Christmas, but this year, give yourself permission to take it easy. With a few adjustments, you can take a task or event from stressful to simple.
- If the stores are too crowded and holiday shopping is stressing you out, do your shopping online or cut back on the number of gifts this year. Or, after talking to your family, consider skipping gifts altogether this year and picking up next year.
- If signing and sending holiday cards is too much, skip it this year. People will understand.
- While putting up all the Christmas decorations usually brings a sense of joy, the thought may be stressful this year. Consider minimizing (or even skipping) the decorations if it seems like too much.
The Christmas season is often filled to the brim with events, parties, get-togethers, recitals, concerts, family gatherings, and more. You may not have the energy to go to everything, and that’s okay. Choose the most important events and pass on the rest.
As you prioritize events, make sure to talk to your family about your plans so they know when to expect you and when not to. This way, they can let you know what’s important for them – maybe a child’s recital – and you can plan ahead for the events you will attend. Plus, communicating your plans to family and taking their requests into account will help soothe any ruffled feathers and keep things relaxed.
If you’re like many of us, you learned early that it’s good to be independent and self-reliant. And while these two things are not inherently bad, we can sometimes take them a little too far, refusing help when we actually need it. So, this Christmas, don’t be afraid to accept a little help. Let people support you through this time of grief. Accept casseroles, offers to run errands, and assistance with household chores. It will only make things less stressful and easier for you.
Grief takes a toll on us, and it’s important to find ways to take care of ourselves. That means getting enough sleep, eating healthy foods, pampering yourself every so often, and not overdoing it. At Christmas, self-care may be splurging on a gift for yourself, going to the golf range or the day spa, or simply spending quiet time alone to journal, meditate, listen to music, or take long walks. No matter what it is that helps you relax and feel cared for, take time to do that this holiday season.
Express Your Feelings
You may be tempted to push down your feelings and power through the holidays but try to resist the temptation. Instead, build opportunities for reflection into your holiday season. Make time to express yourself. This could mean journaling, painting, talking with friends or family, or attending a grief support group. There will be times when your grief shows up unexpectedly, and that’s okay. People will understand if you’re teary. But by intentionally taking time to address your emotions, you can better confront and reflect on what you feel on your own time and on your own terms.
Honor Your Loved One’s Memory
This year, you’re missing someone special. Rather than ignoring their absence, consider finding a special way to honor their memory. Avoiding the elephant in the room – your grief and loss – may lead to feelings of stress. By openly honoring a loved one, you will have the freedom to include your loved one’s memory in the festivities without reservation.
Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Save a seat for them at the table
- Create a remembrance item
- Serve their favorite dish
- Play their favorite Christmas tunes
- Pull out the family photos and reminisce
- Visit the graveside and leave a wreath, poinsettia, or memento
- Continue one of their favorite traditions or incorporate a new one in their honor
While remembering your loved one may bring moments of sadness, there will be joy in finding ways to make them a special part of the season.
Let this Year be Different
If you’re someone who wants everything just-so, one big way to reduce your holiday stress is to let things be different this year. Let go of the need for a perfect tree, perfectly wrapped gifts, and the perfectly prepared meal. Give yourself a little grace and some room to breathe. Christmas is different this year; it’s harder. Do what you can to keep things simple.
Now, it’s important to acknowledge that no two people are alike. Some of these suggestions will resonate with you and some won’t. That’s just fine. If having the perfectly trimmed Christmas tree helps you relax, then go all out. If shopping provides a release of tension, do it. You know yourself best, so implement the ideas that work best for who you are.
Just remember – it’s okay to let yourself feel however you feel this Christmas. You don’t have to force yourself to be cheerful, and you don’t have to stop yourself from feeling happy if you enjoy the season. It doesn’t mean that you don’t love or miss the person who is gone; it means that you are human. We are complex beings, and our lives are filled with moments of joy mixed with moments of grief, sometimes both at once! Take time this Christmas season to step back, take care of yourself, and enjoy time with the people you love the most. If you do, you will create sweet memories to cherish in the years to come.
After losing a loved one, the holidays can be very difficult for both kids and adults. You and your family may not feel up to all of the Christmas cheer and seasonal festivities, and that’s okay. You need to figure out what’s right for you this year and do that. But no matter what you decide to do, if you have kids who are grieving, consider how you can help them remember the person they love this season through remembrance activities and express what they may be feeling.
Just like you, kids need to be able to express what they feel, and oftentimes, they need a little help. Because they are still developing, they may not always be able to name their feelings as precisely as an adult. That’s why it’s so helpful to provide them with activities and exercises that will help them express what’s on the inside. And who knows? Something you begin this year may become a beloved holiday tradition for years to come.
Here are a few kid-friendly holiday remembrance ideas to get you started:
Put out a Memory Stocking
With a memory stocking or box, the whole family can write down memories or thoughts, share words of love and remembrance, or draw pictures of a favorite memory and then place them in the stocking/box. Then, at some point during the holidays, you can all sit down together and read the notes and spend time honoring your loved one’s memory. Whether you hang an extra stocking, place a memory box in a special place, or dedicate a miniature Christmas tree to notes and photos, the kids can get involved and express what they are thinking, feeling, and missing about the person who has died.
Light a Candle
Candles have long been used to as a symbol for remembrance. Keeping the light burning signifies that the memory of a loved one still shines bright. This Christmas season, consider lighting a candle in honor of the person you’ve lost. You can place the candle in a special place and take turns lighting the candle through the season. This way, everyone has a chance to actively remember the person who has died.
Visit the Graveside
Permanent memorials – like grave markers and plaques – give mourners a place to go to feel close to a loved one who has died. Consider whether a trip to the grave might be appropriate for your family. You can bring a wreath, a poinsettia, notes, drawings, or another meaningful item to leave behind as a token of your love.
If your loved one selected cremation and they were not buried, visit the place where their ashes were released or a place that is particularly meaningful to you. It doesn’t really matter where you go, so long as it’s a place where you feel a sense of closeness and kinship to the person who has died.
Release a Balloon
For this simple idea, all you need are biodegradable balloons and a sharpie. Blow up the balloons, have each person write a special message on their balloon, and then, release them to the sky. This practice is actually more meaningful than you might think, and it’s an easy way to get everyone involved. But remember – get biodegradable balloons that are friendly to the environment.
Enjoy Your Loved One’s Holiday Favorites
Whether it’s watching their favorite Christmas movie, making their signature dish, listening to their Christmas tunes, or driving around to see the best Christmas lights, take time to enjoy some of your loved one’s favorite traditions. Depending on where you are in the grief journey, this may be difficult, so consider what’s best for your family right now.
Just remember – not everyone grieves the same way. While watching that favorite movie might be painful for you, it could be just what your child needs to feel close to the person you’ve lost. Sit down with your kids and decide together which holiday favorites to keep and which to pass on this year.
Create a Holiday Memorial Keepsake
Another option is to sit down with your kids and create a holiday memorial keepsake together. This could be an ornament that they can pull out each year. Or a holiday throw pillow made from your loved one’s clothing. Or a scrapbook filled with holiday memories from years past. No matter what makes sense for your family, you can create a keepsake to bring out every year as a remembrance token. Over time, it will become a sweet piece of your holiday tradition and remind you of the person you love.
Look at Photos Together
Human beings are often very visual beings, and we associate memories with images and items. Sometime this Christmas season, take time to sit down with your little ones and go through family photos. Tell them the stories behind the photos.
Through this activity, you express your own feelings and memories while also helping your children build a more complete picture of the person who has died. Because a child may not have had time to develop a long-term, deep relationship with the person who has died, they will rely on your memories (to a degree) to help them process their own feelings.
Make a Memory Chain
For this activity, cut long, narrow strips of paper in your favorite holiday colors. Then, sit down with your kids to write on the paper. You could write so many things:
- Favorite holiday memories
- What you feel right now
- Things you miss about your lost loved one
- How you felt about your loved one
Then, you can create an interlinking chain to put on the tree, in a doorway, or across the fireplace mantel.
You can do all or none of these remembrance ideas. These are simply suggestions to get you started. No matter what you decide is right for you and your family this year, look for ways to strike the balance between the joy of the season and your feelings of grief. This year isn’t going to look like all the others – that’s for certain – but it can still be sweet and memorable. Don’t pretend that nothing has changed. It has. Instead, find ways to acknowledge that life is different while still allowing your family to find a little joy in the Christmas season.
More and more, people across the globe are cultivating a social media presence. Some put more effort into it than others, but for many of us, social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram are a normal part of life. But what happens to these online profiles when someone dies? Today, let’s talk about the ins and outs of creating a memorial page on Facebook and Instagram.
The Importance of Digital Estate Planning
You may associate estate planning with a will or power of attorney, but digital estate planning is an important, often overlooked part of estate planning. It’s just as valuable to provide instructions for online accounts, digital assets, and social media profiles as it is to write down your wishes for physical holdings. To learn more about digital estate planning, take a moment to read Managing your Digital Estate and How to Make Digital Estate Planning Simple.
Now, let’s move on to Facebook and Instagram.
Facebook Memorial Page
Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Facebook
With Facebook, you have two options after death: delete the account or create a memorial page. Thankfully, Facebook has clear-cut instructions on how to do both of these things.
The most common reason to turn a Facebook page into a memorial is to create a place where family, friends, co-workers, and even acquaintances can process grief together and offer condolences to surviving family members. People can post memories, offer words of encouragement and sympathy, share photos, and more. Let’s start by going over a few pieces of key information!
Was a Legacy Contact chosen?
With Facebook, estate planning means designating a Legacy Contact. In other words, you tell Facebook who should manage your account after your death (often a spouse, close friend, or family member). The Legacy Contact can monitor your profile by deleting or memorializing the account, accepting friend requests, pinning tribute posts, updating profile and cover photos, and more. However, a Legacy Contact cannot log in to the account to view private messages or remove past posts, photos, or friends.
Currently, you can only add a Facebook friend as a Legacy Contact. When you select a Legacy Contact, Facebook gives you the option to notify that person right away, which is recommended so that person is in the know about your wishes. To learn how to add a Legacy Contact, go to How Do I Add, Change, or Remove a Legacy Contact?
On the other hand, if you’ve been added as a Legacy Contact to someone’s account and aren’t sure how to manage a memorialized Facebook page, go to How Do I Manage a Memorialized Profile on Facebook? for some helpful tips.
What if there is no designated Legacy Contact?
That’s okay. Family members can simply reach out to Facebook directly with a request to memorialize the account. However, memorialized accounts with no Legacy Contact can’t be changed in any way. To request that an account without a Legacy Contact be memorialized, go to the Memorialization Request.
What happens when you memorialize a Facebook page?
Memorialization locks the account and prevents anyone from logging in. While a Legacy Contact can’t log in to the account anymore, they can still make decisions on basic functions, like viewing posts, removing tags, updating profile and cover images, etc.
Additionally, a memorialized account will no longer appear in “search” results. However, any existing friends can still view the page and share photos, memories, and wall messages. The word “Remembering” will appear next to the deceased person’s name on their profile.
For a full list of links to helpful information, go to All You Need to Know about Facebook Memorialized Accounts.
Option 2: Deleting a Facebook Account
Alternatively, you can choose to have an account deleted instead. Keep in mind, if/when Facebook learns of a death, their policy is to memorialize the account if no instructions were left behind (i.e. no Legacy Contact and no request to delete the account).
If you are completing your own digital estate planning and want your account permanently deleted after your passing, go to Settings. Click Manage Account. Scroll down until you see Request that your account be deleted after you pass away and follow the prompts.
If you would like to delete the Facebook account of a deceased family member, you can reach out to Facebook directly. To learn more about the process and the required documentation, click here. Once you have your documentation gathered together, you can use the Special Request Form to begin the process of deleting the account. Please be aware, Facebook cannot provide you with login information for someone else’s account even after a death has occurred, but they can either delete or memorialize the account.
That’s it for Facebook – let’s move on to Instagram.
Instagram Memorial Page
While Instagram has been working on its memorial options for a while, the COVID-19 pandemic accelerated their efforts. Now, similar to Facebook, you can either memorialize or delete an Instagram account.
Option 1: Creating a Memorial Page on Instagram
While Instagram now offers the ability to memorialize accounts, they do not currently allow you to designate a digital heir (Facebook calls this person a Legacy Contact). However, with the proper documentation, you can memorialize a loved one’s Instagram account after their death.
What are the key features of a memorialized Instagram account?
With a memorialized account:
- The account locks and no one can log in.
- The word “Remembering” appears on the person’s profile.
- Any posts the deceased shared prior to death will stay visible.
- You can no longer make changes to photos, videos, comments, privacy settings, or the current profile picture. Also, followers and the pages the deceased was following cannot be changed.
How do you memorialize an Instagram account?
The first step is to put in a request. When Instagram receives a valid request (regardless of whom that request is from), they will memorialize the account. To ensure that the request is valid, you must provide proof of death, such as an obituary or a news article. Just like Facebook, Instagram will not give out login information.
With a validated request, Instagram will memorialize the account. To submit a request to memorialize an account, go to the Request to Memorialize and fill it out.
Option 2: Removing an Instagram Account
The second option is to remove/delete the account. To entirely remove an account from Instagram, the requester must provide evidence that they are an immediate family member of the deceased.
Accepted forms of proof that you are an immediate family member are:
- The deceased person’s birth certificate
- The deceased person’s death certificate
- Proof of authority under local law that you represent the deceased person
To request the removal of an Instagram account, you must complete the Removal Request and submit the required documentation.
Thankfully, both Facebook and Instagram have made the process simple and clear. Now that you know more about how to memorialize or delete accounts, take some time to carefully consider the best way to move forward. Every person is different, so decide what’s best for you and your family and do that. It may mean memorializing a lost loved one’s account so that friends and family can share memories and photos. It may mean removing the account entirely because it’s too painful to manage. There’s no right or wrong answer – just what makes the most sense for your needs.
You are likely familiar with feelings of grief, but did you know that there are different forms of grief? Of course, the experience of grief is different from person to person, but sometimes “normal grief” can take a turn and become something a little different. The four most common variations are disenfranchised grief, complicated grief, compounded grief, and anticipatory grief. Today, let’s unpack disenfranchised grief and the impact it has on grieving people the world over.
First, What is Normal Grief?
Before we dive into disenfranchised grief, it’s important that you understand what normal grief is. In short, grief is your natural human response to the loss of someone or something you love. The emotions of grief vary greatly – sadness, anger, guilt, relief, shock – but they are all normal responses to loss. As much as you may prefer not to feel or deal with these types of emotions, they are actually a healthy part of the grieving process.
Grief is often accompanied by age-old rituals that bring people together to grieve. We hold hands, offer words of support and love, send cards and flowers, make donations, and deliver hot meals to the grieving family. We stand together to support those who are grieving and give them emotional and physical support as they mourn. But what if your grief was unacknowledged, no one stopped to listen to you, and there were no sympathetic words?
Enter Disenfranchised Grief
First coined by Dr. Kenneth Doka, “disenfranchised grief” is complicated, but put in the simplest terms, it is grief that cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned, or publicly mourned. Often, the grief is minimized or not understood (either by yourself or society in general or even within a family, friend group, or culture). This element of misunderstanding only further complicates the issue.
When your feelings of grief aren’t acknowledged or are minimized, you may begin to feel that your grief is inappropriate, invalid, or unacceptable in some way. And naturally, when you feel that your emotions are shameful, you are less likely to share what you’re feeling but will instead internalize it. Disenfranchised grief is often lonely, private, and you may feel that there must be something wrong with you for feeling this way.
On top of that, disenfranchised grief isn’t black and white; it’s very subjective. Two people may experience the exact same loss, but for one, the loss is openly acknowledged and mourned while for the other, it is minimized. Though they experienced the same loss, for one of them, it was disenfranchised.
To help you get a better grip on this concept, disenfranchised grief typically falls into three buckets. At times, a loss may fall into more than one bucket.
# 1 – The Relationship is Unrecognized
The first bucket is that your relationship to the person who has died is unrecognized. Perhaps the relationship was private or estranged or you are grieving someone you didn’t personally know. In this situation, your loss may not be recognized or understood by others. In some cases, your relationship to the deceased may even be a source of contention and pain to close family members.
With these factors in place, you may feel unable to mourn in the usual way and could end up internalizing the pain because you have no external outlet. When a relationship isn’t recognized, you may not be viewed as a griever so people don’t see or understand the depth of your feeling. A few examples of this are the death of an ex-spouse, estranged relative or friend, celebrity, public figure, or a relationship you kept private.
#2 – The Loss is Unacknowledged or Deemed Less Significant
By far, many forms of disenfranchised grief fall into this bucket. When a loss is unacknowledged (as is the case with many miscarriages) or is deemed less significant (like the loss of a pet), then it falls into disenfranchised grief. Oftentimes, these losses don’t fall into a group’s accepted definition of grief.
Also, disenfranchised grief is fairly subjective. Society may accept your loss as worthy of grief, but your family may not. When your grief is found unacceptable by someone, or even uncomfortable, it may hinder your ability to grieve well and openly, which could cause deep and lasting distress. Some examples of when a loss is unacknowledged or deemed less significant are:
- Miscarriage (or stillbirth, infertility, or a traumatic birth experience)
- Job loss
- Pet loss
- Death of an adult sibling, step-child or step-sibling, or an unmarried partner
- Grieving the loss of a foster family member
- Loss of possessions or home (i.e. in a fire, natural disaster, etc.)
- Death of a co-worker
- Death of a celebrity
- Deterioration of one’s health
Often, the loss is something people don’t know how to talk about, so it’s generally unacknowledged or avoided (miscarriage is a perfect example) unless you find someone who has gone through the same type of loss. Other times, the loss surrounds something that people don’t think is as significant as other forms of loss. For instance, “Why are you grieving the loss of your stuff when people died in that natural disaster?” Yes, it’s the loss of material possessions, but it’s still a loss of comfort, peace, memories, and perhaps of home and livelihood. That’s significant and valid. Feeling grief over the loss of possessions doesn’t mean you don’t mourn the loss of the people – you can feel both at the same time.
#3 – Stigma Surrounds the Loss
The final bucket relates to losses that are surrounded by stigma in some way, often stemming from the method of death. You feel unable to fully grieve because of the circumstances of the loss. A few examples include suicide, drug overdose, AIDS, murder, or the driver in a drunk driving incident. It could also be grieving someone who is incarcerated, missing, dealing with a mental illness, or who has run away.
The loss could also be stigmatized because the relationship before the loss was not recognized. For example, the death of an ex-spouse could be doubly disenfranchised because the relationship is unrecognized and may also be stigmatized, especially if things are still unresolved between the two parties and their families.
Overall, disenfranchised grief means that what you’re feeling isn’t accepted by someone you deem important. This could be society as a whole, family, friends, or even yourself. After all, you can convince yourself that you have no right to grieve this loss. Unfortunately, that attitude won’t stop the feelings or help you work through them. You may feel judged or criticized by others for your grief, making you feel alone, embarrassed or ashamed. So, what can you do?
Three Suggestions to Help You Move Toward Healing
First of all, if you are going through disenfranchised grief right now, you’re not alone and your grief is valid. You have nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Grief is a natural response to the losses in our lives – no matter what form that loss takes. Now, let’s talk about three suggestions for moving toward healing as you work through your disenfranchised grief.
Validate the Loss Within Yourself
While it’s helpful to have others validate your feelings, it’s not necessary to move toward healing. The most important thing is for you to realize – within yourself – that your feelings of grief are real and legitimate. It’s okay if the people around you don’t fully understand. The most important person to validate your loss is you. Work toward acknowledging that you feel what you feel and it’s all part of the grief journey.
An important note – the grief that children feel is often overlooked or unacknowledged, so take extra effort to listen, validate their feelings, and offer support to the children in your life who are grieving.
Find Supportive People
As you work toward fully realizing and accepting that your loss is valid and worth grieving, find supportive people to talk to and do life with. You need people who won’t minimize your feelings but will accept and support you wherever you are on the grief journey. You might start with an understanding close friend or family member. Additionally, consider sitting down with a support group or a therapist. Sometimes, you just need to talk with people who understand what you’re feeling and can help you identify it. Once you’ve named your emotions, you can better communicate your feelings to the other people in your life.
If you’ve been dealing with disenfranchised grief for a while, then you might strongly consider talking with a grief counselor or therapist. They can help you understand your feelings, realize that it’s okay to grieve, offer a safe place to express yourself, and provide resources that will help you move toward healing.
Participate in Healing Rituals
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, often says “When words are inadequate, have a ritual.” Normally, when we lose a person we love, we have a funeral or memorial service to honor and remember them. However, with disenfranchised grief, you may not have the opportunity to attend a funeral. And if you’ve lost something else, a funeral isn’t feasible. However, the principle remains the same – you can participate in healing rituals to help you engage with your feelings and begin to release them in a healthy way.
While there may not be an official ritual available, you can create your own. Box up your ex’s belongings to symbolize that the relationship is over. Write a letter to say all the things you left unsaid. Light a candle or plant a tree in memory of the person. Make a collage of photos. If you’ve lost your home, write down memories you cherish from that time of your life and reminisce. Hold your own memorial. Create a memory box or book with mementos and reminders. Visit the final resting place. Use your creativity to process through your feelings. And the list goes on. Find a ritual that speaks to your needs and do it.
Processing grief is hard work, but it’s so important to your quality of life moving forward. Unaddressed grief can lead to many debilitating concerns, including depression and mood swings. Instead of listening to those who might try to minimize your grief, take time to listen to your feelings, surround yourself with supportive people, and find a way to participate in healing rituals. Whatever grief you’re feeling, no matter what kind of loss you’ve been through, it’s real, it’s legitimate, and you have a right to grieve and find hope for the future.
Planning for end-of-life wishes and walking through grief can both be very difficult seasons in life. But you don’t have to walk through them alone. Others have gone before us who aren’t afraid to discuss their ups and downs through the journey. In these 5 powerful TED talks, each speaker shares part of their own personal journey with grief and the lessons they learned and wisdom they gained as a result. As they bare their hearts and share their stories, may you find comfort and peace but also the inspiration to grow in the way you think, feel, and process grief and death.
5 Powerful TED Talks About Grief and End-of-Life Wishes
The Gift and Power of Emotional Courage (Susan David)
When faced with loss and the difficult seasons of life, our emotions can sometimes feel like a hindrance rather than a help. In her powerful presentation, Susan David discusses the value of emotions while also emphasizing the importance of resilience and emotional dexterity. In this deeply moving, at times humorous, talk, she discusses the passing of her father and how that event catapulted her into learning how to recognize and acknowledge emotions while also working toward accepting and processing them in a healthy way.
We Don’t “Move On” from Grief – We Move Forward with It (Nora McInerny)
Following the loss of a loved one, many of us may have heard the words, “It’s time to move on.” While the person may have had good intentions, these words aren’t necessarily helpful. In this TED talk, Nora McInerny shares her own personal grief story and candidly discusses what we often think and what we’d like to say when other people say the wrong thing during times of grief. In her own words, she encourages her listeners to remember that “A grieving person is going to laugh again and smile again. They’re going to move forward. But that doesn’t mean that they’ve moved on.”
The Journey through Loss and Grief (Jason Rosenthal)
Losing a loved one is never easy. In this brutally honest, at times sweetly funny, and yet heart-wrenching story, Jason Rosenthal discusses the difficulties of caring for a dying loved one through hospice. Before she died, Jason’s wife, Amy, wrote a widely read article giving her husband permission to move on and find happiness. In this talk, given just one year after her death, Jason shares candid insights into the process of grieving and offers heartfelt wisdom for anyone experiencing life-changing grief.
What Makes Life Worth Living in the Face of Death (Lucy Kalanithi)
Even in the face of death, life is precious and worth living. That’s what Lucy Kalanithi and her husband, Paul, found as they faced his terminal diagnosis. In her dually-focused talk, Lucy shares about her end-of-life journey with Paul while also advocating for people to pursue medical care that best fits their personal values. In the end, she says that both she and Paul learned that, “Engaging in the full range of experience — living and dying, love and loss — is what we get to do. Being human doesn’t happen despite suffering — it happens within it.”
Talk About Your Death while You’re Still Healthy (Michelle Knox)
In general, we avoid talking about death and all the trappings that come with it. But is that really the best approach? In this straightforward yet heartfelt talk, Australian Michelle Knox explores a topic most of us avidly avoid: death. She asks us to reflect on our core values and intentionally share them with our loved ones. That way, when we are gone, our surviving family members can make informed decisions without fearing that they have failed to honor our legacy.
DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.
Losing a loved one can cause our entire world to start spinning. For some of us, the spinning doesn’t completely stop for a while. One loss may take a year to process while another loss may take ten years before the person feels ready to move forward. Both of these scenarios are normal – they are just different. As we deal with our whirling emotions, we need a way to bring ourselves back to reality. In other words, we need something that will ground us and give us peace at the same time. One way we can accomplish this is by visiting a loved one’s final resting place.
4 Ways Visiting a Loved One’s Grave Can Help You Grieve
Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief expert, author, and counselor, says, “I have learned that we cannot go around the pain of our grief. Instead, we must learn to embrace and express it. This is hard but absolutely necessary work.” So, how does visiting the graveside help us do the work of grief?
Provides a place of connection
For some, a loved one’s final resting place is a cemetery. For others, particularly those whose loved one was cremated, a final resting place may be a body of water, a park, or some other special place. No matter where that place may be, going there may help you feel more connected to the person you love. Knowing that you are where they are, or you are in a place special to them, brings a sense of connectedness and closeness that may be less achievable in other places.
Provides a time for solitude, contemplation, or prayer
After losing a loved one, you may be feeling a lot of emotions. Sometimes, it’s beneficial to sit in quiet and take time to think or to pray. If you are someone who journals, take a notebook to the cemetery with you and simply write out what you’re thinking and feeling. Being so close to your loved one may help you sincerely express what’s in your heart and on your mind.
Provides an opportunity to talk to your loved one
What wouldn’t we give for just one more conversation with a loved one? While you may not hear their answers, you can still talk to a lost loved one. You’ve seen it in movies and on TV – it’s a real thing. People want to feel a sense of connection. They want to talk to the person they’ve lost. What do they do? They go to the cemetery and have the conversation they need to have. It’s normal, natural, and a meaningful way to grieve. So, if you want to have that conversation, go do it. You’ll feel better.
Provides a comforting tradition
For many people, visiting a loved one’s grave becomes part of a comforting tradition. They bring flowers or mementoes on special days, like birthdays or holidays. They spend time talking to their loved one, updating them on the grandkids, the new house, or whatever else they want. At first, the tradition may be sad, but over time, visiting the grave becomes a joyful and peace-filled ritual that brings comfort and keeps a loved one’s memory alive and strong.
What Can You Do at the Graveside?
You can tailor your visit to your own and your family’s needs. There’s really no wrong way to go about this. However, to give you a start, here are a few thoughts to consider.
- Bring a bouquet of flowers to leave
- Place a favorite photo at the grave
- Decorate the grave (i.e. for Christmas or a birthday)
- Walk and/or kneel and pray or meditate
- Talk to your loved one, sharing your plans for the future or reflecting on the past
- If you came with family members or friends, share memories
- If there’s a bench nearby, sit down and eat a picnic lunch or simply take in your surroundings
A Few Etiquette Tips
No matter what you decide to do, make sure to act respectfully at the cemetery. A few tips:
- Familiarize yourself with any posted cemetery rules
- Leash your pets (and clean up after them)
- Drive slowly and be alert
- Respect the graves of others
- Be respectful of funeral services and other mourners
- Clean up after yourself and others
As you grieve the loss of a loved one, consider the power of connection and reflection a visit to your loved one’s final resting place can bring. If nothing else, give it a try at least once to see if it works for you. If it doesn’t, it doesn’t, but at least you’ll know. As you look for what’s right for you on your grief journey, may you find peace and comfort as you grieve your loved one and find a way to move forward.