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7 Funeral Rituals from Jesus’ Time that Still Exist Today

By Seasonal

As millions around the world celebrate Easter this weekend, marking the miraculous resurrection of Jesus Christ, it’s intriguing to look at the funeral rituals surrounding his death and the Jewish culture in which he lived. Since the beginning of time, humanity has participated in the funeral – remembering and honoring the lives of loved ones. So, what are some similarities that exist between the ancient Jewish customs of Jesus’ day and those we commonly observe today?

7 Funeral Rituals from Jesus’ Time that Still Exist Today

Because humans are humans no matter when they live, it makes sense that some things are universal across time and culture. Just as we all love, we all grieve and need to take time to care for and honor the dead. So, let’s discuss a few rituals from Jesus’ day that continue to survive the test of time.

1. Preparation of the Body

The first ritual that remains to this day is that every person who has died must be prepared for burial. Today, that typically means washing and possibly embalming. In Jesus’ day, the body was washed and anointed with expensive perfumes, like nard, myrrh, and aloes. Then, the body was wrapped in a shroud, the face covered with a special cloth, and the hands and feet tied with strips of cloth. You can see this practice illustrated in the Bible for Jesus (John 19:38-42; Luke 24: 10-12), Lazarus (John 11:43-44), and Tabitha (Acts 9:37).

2. Visitation/Viewing

In Jesus’ day, a person was typically buried within hours of their death. This was mainly because the hot climate hastened decay, and back then, they didn’t have access to the preservation chemicals we do today. So, very quickly after a death, family, friends, and neighbors came to comfort the family and say their goodbyes. Gathering together was even easier because families often lived in the same town and were not usually spread out like we are today.

For example, Mark 5:21-42 outlines the story of Jairus, whose daughter had died. We know the death was recent for two reasons: 1) When Jairus reached Jesus, he asked Jesus to heal her, implying he believed she was alive, and 2) When the two arrived at Jairus’ home after hearing of his daughter’s death, there were people at his home, already crying over her death. They had come to see her one last time and to mourn with Jairus. Today, we still take part in this ritual, though we now call it a visitation or a viewing, and it no longer takes place in the family’s home but often at a funeral home.

3. Procession

After the living had an opportunity to say their goodbyes, the person who died was carried on a pallet or litter to the grave. The body was carried by loved ones, a sign of affection and love. As they made their way to the grave or tomb, women would wail and throw dust in their hair and a crowd of friends, extended family, and neighbors would accompany the procession to the tomb. Just as ancient mourners did, we have our version of a funeral procession. We have pallbearers who carry the casket to the vehicle, and then together, we travel to the graveside as a symbol of solidarity and support for the grieving family. You see an example of a first-century funeral procession described in Luke 7:12.

4. Eulogy

After arriving at the grave or tomb, there is evidence to suggest that a eulogy took place. Some ancient tombs in Israel were found to include a circle of benches or a row of seats just outside the tomb. This archaeological evidence, as well as the ancient Jewish custom of “hesped,” make it likely that some type of remembrance took place, whether at the gravesite itself or at another designated time. Like our eulogies today, they would have spoken words of appreciation and love while offering sympathy and kindness to the bereaved family.

5. Permanent Placement

In Jesus’ day, it was a common practice to bury people in tombs. Many families owned a family tomb, where they would lay many of their loved ones to rest over time. You can see this practice described in Matthew 27:57-60 when Joseph of Arimathea lays Jesus’ body in his family tomb. Also, you can see it in the life of Abraham when he purchased a place to bury his wife, Sarah, in Genesis 23, which became a family tomb for future generations.

In Jewish tradition, the body was laid in the tomb, wrapped in cloth and spices. After roughly a year, the family would return to the tomb. They collected the bones and placed them in an ossuary (a small funerary box). They would then place that box in the back of the tomb with other boxes of its kind. In this way, they made room for future generations of family to rest in the same space.

Today, permanent placement is still important; we just do it differently. Now, we often bury our loved ones in cemeteries or scatter their ashes at a special place.

6. A Gathering

Just as important as caring for the dead is caring for the living. After a loved one dies, we need the support of those around us. They help us as we walk down the road of grief. In Jesus’ day, there was often a brief meal following the burial (called the “meal of condolence”), which was prepared by neighbors. For the next seven days, the immediate family remained at home for a period of mourning (Genesis 50:10).

During this time, people visit to offer their support and words of condolence to the grieving family. Today, we do something much the same when we gather following a funeral or memorial service to share a meal, exchange stories about the person who had died, take comfort in each other’s presence, and offer encouragement and words of condolence.

7. Paying Last Respects

As you can see, we still observe many of the same customs as mourners did in the first century. Funeral traditions like these help us mark the significance of a life and begin to heal as individuals and communities. As human beings, we understand today, just as we understood in Jesus’ day, that life is precious and worth celebrating.

Balancing Grief and Joy During the Holidays

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

No matter what time of the year it is, grief is hard. It involves so many emotions, like sadness, anger, guilt, or relief. The Christmas holiday adds its own complexity to an already full emotional plate. It may feel like you are so filled with grief that you have no room for joy. So, how do you find the balance between grieving a loss and finding joy in the here and now?

Grief is a continual ebb and flow, intense one moment and gentle the next. It’s becoming increasingly understood that there’s no right or wrong way to grieve, and it takes time to process loss. At Christmas, there will be many reminders of your loss, and you may feel them keenly. That’s okay. That’s normal. While society may tell us that we should always be happy, it’s an unrealistic way to view life and the human heart. Instead of focusing on how to “be happy” this holiday season, let’s instead look at a few tips that may help you find the balance between moments of grief and moments of joy.

Find a special way to honor your loved one

This year, though you may be missing the physical presence of someone dearly loved, you can still bring their spirit to life by finding a special way to honor their memory. You might set a seat of honor for them at the table or create a remembrance item. You could make their favorite dish, bring out a collage of favorite photos, or reminisce about some of your most cherished memories. If Christmas was your loved one’s favorite season, 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.

Don’t ignore what you feel

Because we don’t want to cause others distress, especially at Christmas, many of us may be tempted to ignore our own feelings. While there may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, it’s always best to let yourself feel what you feel. Take time to journal, paint, talk, or somehow express what’s going on inside. According to nationally recognized grief author, educator, and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, it’s best to “Find a place to be quiet and alone with your thoughts and feelings. In these moments of solitude, learn to check in with yourself about the death. Look your grief in the face and say hello to it.” Only by allowing ourselves to face the pain can we begin to move forward.

Don’t be afraid to say no

At Christmas, it can be easy to fill up the calendar with events. There are family get-togethers, school events, church events, community events, and so much more that may pull at your time and attention. Pay attention to how you feel, and don’t be afraid to say no. Do the things that will bring you the most joy or satisfaction and let everything else slide this year. By carefully planning how you will spend your time, you can ensure that your days are a healthy mix of activities. There’s no need to do everything, but do make sure that you participate in a few things that will bring you delight.

Take care of yourself

Take time this Christmas season to look after yourself. That may mean going to a spa for the day, getting a pedicure, taking a hike, or simply sitting down to read or watch a TV show. Grief is exhausting, and with all the extra demands on our time during the holiday season, it’s important to take time to rest and relax. Prioritize what’s most important to you and your family, and make those specific things happen. If shopping is stressful, give gift cards this year. If you can’t bring yourself to send the annual Christmas cards, don’t be afraid to skip a year. As you take care of yourself, you will find the strength you need to find joy in the sweet moments.

Accept that things are going to be different

When grieving a loss, some may drop all traditions as pointless and painful. Others may try to make sure nothing changes at all. No matter what your inclination, look for middle ground. Things will be different this year, and while it’s not a difference you wanted, there is joy to be found in making new memories and establishing new traditions. Focusing on the flaws of the season will only make you unhappy. If we try to force everything to be the same, we will be inevitably be disappointed. Instead, accept that things are going to be different and make the best of it.

Connect with those you love

The holidays are about spending time with people you love. In the midst of sorrow, we need time to both laugh and cry. It’s not healthy to maintain a constant attitude of grief. While it may feel disloyal at first, experiencing moments of joy while walking through grief is natural and normal. There’s no need to feel guilty. By connecting with those we love, and who love us, we have the opportunity to laugh and cry. We can share our dearest memories, cry over the pain we feel, and then find joy in the fact that we are still surrounded by people who love us.

Look for joy

This holiday season, don’t be afraid to feel joy. Feeling moments of happiness or delight doesn’t mean that you’ve forgotten your loved one. They simply mean that you are human. You are made to feel a multitude of emotions at the same time. Laughter and tears. Joy and sorrow. We are complex beings, and our grief is strong some moments and subtle the next. By allowing yourself to feel both emotions, you can find the balance and truly grasp what it means to live well even in the middle of your grief journey. Life is full of irretrievable moments – don’t miss out on one this holiday season. Embrace it, cherish it, and find the balance.

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

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

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

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

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

12 Activities to Help Ease Senior Holiday Grief

1. Have a Gift-wrapping Party

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

2. Sing Carols or Other Christmas Songs

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

3. Bake Christmas Treats

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

4. Decorate Together

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

5. Create Christmas Crafts

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

6. Watch Christmas Movies

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

7. Attend a Local Christmas Play

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

8. Take a Drive to Look at Christmas Lights

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

9. Host a Christmas Party

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

10. Go Out for a Shopping Day

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

11. Ask about Christmases Past

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

12. Give Back to the Community

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

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

8 Ways to Honor a Loved One’s Life on Halloween

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

It’s the Halloween season, and people all over are decorating their homes, buying candy, and making costumes. But for you, this year might be different. Grief may be taking a toll on you emotionally, physically, and mentally. The holiday may be especially difficult for those whose lost loved one truly enjoyed Halloween and called it their favorite holiday.

Rather than hiding for the holiday and wishing it away, why not give it a meaningful twist and take time to honor and remember your loved one’s life, especially if they valued the Halloween holiday? You can fill the holiday with meaningful and positive actions that will help you make it through the day (and possibly bring some joy to others). Think about what your loved one enjoyed most about Halloween – it can be a small yet meaningful aspect – and focus in on that idea, inviting others to join you in making the most of the day and honoring your loved one.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, says, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” One way you can begin to work through your grief is by allowing yourself to feel the pain and expressing your emotions through purposeful, meaningful, and positive symbolic actions.

If you aren’t sure where to get started, take a look at these 8 ideas for honoring a loved one on Halloween. If none of these work for you, that’s okay. You can brainstorm your own ideas that are more fitting for your loved one’s life and memory.

1. Make a Costume

Costumes are a big part of Halloween. If your loved one enjoyed the holiday, you might consider creating a costume that would make them smile. For instance, if they loved Disney princesses, make a costume based on their favorite one. No matter what they loved – Marvel movies, John Wayne, the color red, or cats – think of a way to incorporate it into a costume in their honor.

2. Visit Your Loved One’s Grave

If Halloween was special to your loved one, you might consider taking time to visit their final resting place. Depending on the cemetery’s regulations, you could leave flowers, candy, or even a few seasonal decorations. While there, you can tell your loved one how much you miss them and share your holiday plans.

3. Plan a Halloween Gathering

If the person you are grieving loved a good Halloween party, you might put on a fun celebration or attend a costume party in his or her honor. You could ask some friends over – new ones and old ones – and have an unforgettable Halloween bash. Put together some of your loved one’s favorite treats and add a few of your own. Then, simply enjoy the time of friendship and fun. Afterward, you can write a letter to your loved one or visit a place where you feel close to them and tell them all about it.

4. Participate in a Halloween-Themed Run

If your loved one enjoyed Halloween and also loved participating in runs from 5k’s to marathons, then taking part in a Halloween-themed run might be the perfect fit. You can dress up as your loved one’s favorite character or wear an armband or t-shirt that says, “In Memory Of” and join in the Halloween festivities.

5. Take Part in a Traditional Halloween Activity

Depending on what your loved one liked about Halloween, you might join in on some of the traditional fun to honor their memory. For instance, you may take the family out to go for a hayride, wander through a corn maze, carve a pumpkin, or enter the scary depths of a haunted house. Or, you could stay close to home and give candy to trick-or-treaters. Alternatively, you could take part in a fall festival in your community. Sometimes, choosing to honor a loved one means carrying on old traditions in their memory, even as you enjoy the things they did and make new memories along the way.

6. Bake a Favorite Fall Recipe

If your loved one was a baker, you can honor their memory by whipping up the family’s favorite fall recipe. Whether it’s moist pumpkin bread, ginger snap cookies, pumpkin pie, or candied apples, you and your family can enjoy a tasty fall treat and remember the good times that you had with your loved one.

7. Watch a Scary Movie

Some people love a good scary movie and make a tradition out of watching their favorite flicks every Halloween season. If that was your loved one, grab some popcorn and treats, invite your friends over, and relive all the nail-biting moments that you and your loved one enjoyed together. This is a great time to share memories about your loved one. It also allows you to continue a tradition that he or she really enjoyed.

8. Volunteer at a Halloween-Themed Event

If your loved one was someone who loved Halloween and/or the fall season and also loved helping others, you might choose to volunteer at a children’s Halloween event, pumpkin patch, or fall festival in your community. Getting involved is a great way to honor a loved one’s memory, meet new people, and grow through new experiences.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Ultimately, what matters most is that you feel good about what you did to remember your loved one. Just because they are gone doesn’t mean you can’t still love and celebrate them for years to come.

However, if Halloween is a more difficult holiday for you and you would like to learn about a few ways you can grieve well during the Halloween season, click here to read Grieving Well During the Halloween Season.

10 Ways to Reinvent Valentine’s Day

By Grief/Loss, Seasonal

The only cure for grief is action.” – George Henry Lewes

Grief is hard every day, but it is especially hard on those days throughout the year that we think of as “special.” Valentine’s Day is one of them. The stores are stocked with chocolate and Hallmark cards, and everywhere you look, people are discussing their plans for the day. But for you, Valentine’s Day is a source of pain and tears.

If that’s the case, consider finding a way to reinvent Valentine’s Day. While the day specifically celebrates love, it isn’t relegated to only romantic love. The things and people we love go beyond just romantic relationships. This year, by focusing on bringing joy to others, you will make Valentine’s Day easier on yourself. Who knows, your actions may even help you process your grief. After all, as nationally-respected grief educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings. To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys.”

10 Ways to Reinvent Valentine’s Day

1. Invite friends over for dinner

Celebrate the love of good friends. We all have friends who stick with us through thick and thin, especially during times of grief. So, plan a meal or go out for dinner with some of your closest people, and celebrate what you’ve meant to each other. You could even bring Valentine’s Day into the mix by giving each other sweet treats.

2. Plan a night out with others who have experienced a similar loss

When we experience a loss, finding a support group is incredibly important. One way to seek support is through getting to know others who have experienced a similar type of loss. Instead of staying at home alone, go out with others who are struggling, and together, focus on what’s good in life. An attitude of gratitude is valuable to everyone both mentally and emotionally, so look for the good!

3. Allow your children to pick an activity

If both you and your children are grieving this Valentine’s Day, ask them what they’d like to do for the day. It’s important to give children opportunities for healthy fun even in the midst of sorrow. They may want to go to dinner, the zoo, or a movie. Make sure to manage their expectations by letting them know what kind of budget you have. For example, we can go play putt-putt or eat dinner out, but not both.

4. Attend a group activity

Another opportunity to fill the evening is to attend a group activity – either with friends or with the intention of meeting new people. You could attend a club of some kind (book club, writing club, chess club, etc.), take part in a support group or a prayer group, go to or host a painting party, or see what’s going on in your local community.

5. Participate in random acts of kindness

Perhaps it would do your heart good to focus on others for the day. Random acts of kindness benefit you just as much as the other person. Some ideas to start you off: go ahead and give to the street performer or the homeless person; donate gently used items; leave a larger tip for the barista or server; bring in breakfast for your co-workers; give someone a compliment; or just smile at people. A simple smile brings a large measure of joy.

6. Volunteer

For some people, taking part in an activity is the most helpful course of action. If that’s the case for you, consider volunteering your time on Valentine’s Day. By focusing on others, you take the spotlight off your feelings of grief. Is there a local organization that you regularly volunteer with or one that you’ve been curious about? This is a great time to give it a try.

7. Send a card or flowers to someone

Even if you are grieving, you can offer a kind gesture to others. Rather than looking to receive a card and/or flowers and chocolate this year, choose someone to give to instead. Perhaps an elderly person living alone or in a care facility, a friend or loved one spending the holiday in the hospital, or someone who is also grieving the loss of a loved one.

8. Treat yourself

Grief is hard work. That’s why Valentine’s Day might be a good day to treat yourself to a little pampering. Go to a spa. Get a manicure or pedicure. Schedule time with a massage therapist. Or if these options just aren’t you, treat yourself to a favorite dessert or a hot beverage you rarely consume, get a new haircut, or buy a new pair of shoes. There are so many ways to care for your own needs.

9. Enjoy some animal therapy

If you love our four-legged friends, spend time receiving love and affection from them on Valentine’s Day. Check out what’s available in your area. For some, an equine therapy program is appealing. For others, a program that allows you to take dogs for walks, pet and play with cats, or just help out around the shelter is best. And, if you’re able, you could adopt a furry friend and give it a forever home.

10. Travel somewhere

A final way to reinvent the holiday is to inject a bit of excitement into it. Rather than sitting at home, plan a trip for yourself to a new place. Invite friends or go on your own. A change of scenery will be a nice change of pace and give you some relief from the difficult work of grief.

This Valentine’s Day, find a new way to view the day. Give to others. Pamper yourself. Spend time with friends and family or with animals. Or go on an adventure! No matter what you choose, the day doesn’t have to be gloomy and sad. Even if the loss of your loved one is still close to the surface, it’s okay to find little ways to experience joy in life. While your life will never be the same, it can be beautiful.

10 Remembrance Activities for Your Holiday Season

By Christmas, Grief/Loss, Seasonal

The holiday season is often particularly difficult for those who have recently lost someone or for those whose loss may not be recent but is still fresh and closely felt. Because the holidays center around spending time with family, the season might stir up some unpleasant emotions: grief, loneliness, anger, anxiety, sadness. One way to combat these emotions is to take time to remember your loved one and find ways to include their memory in your holiday activities. If you aren’t sure where to start, here are some holiday remembrance activities you can incorporate. Many can be done alone, while for others, you might consider inviting your children, friends, or other family members to join you.

1. Create a remembrance ornament

You can create any type of ornament you wish for this project. You could keep it simple by selecting an ornament from the store and adding a favorite photo to it. Alternatively, you could use papier-mâché, wood, pine cones, or other materials to create your own. Another option – one that would work well with kids – is to use clear, premade, round ornaments and then fill them up with items. You could use ribbons to represent the different emotions each person may be feeling. Or, you could use buttons, glitter, beads, sand, seashells, rocks, seeds, etcetera, or perhaps something that was special to your loved one. The possibilities are numerous.

2. Attend a remembrance event at a local church or funeral home

Churches and funeral homes often host remembrance events around the holidays. They are very much aware of the need to remember those we love and feel close to them, especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. Because of that, you will likely be able to find a remembrance event happening in your town or a neighboring town. If you’d like to attend, consider taking the whole family or close friends. By inviting others into your grief, you let them know you value them and want a deeper friendship with them.

3. Make your own necktie wreath or quilt

If you’ve lost a loved one who owned an abundance of ties, you could make a necktie wreath or quilt during the holiday season. For both projects, you can select the ties you want to use as you see fit. You could select ties to follow a holiday theme, use the ties that were most loved, or follow a color scheme. Also, with the necktie quilt, the ties will make a centerpiece. You will need to select material from the fabric store to pair with your centerpiece. You could go with a holiday theme or simply select colors that are meaningful to you or to your lost loved one.

4. Design a personalized puzzle and assemble it

With the online services available today, almost anything can be made. In this case, you can select a favorite photo of your loved one, upload it to an image publishing service (i.e. Shutterfly, Snapfish), and order a puzzle of that photo. Once the puzzle arrives, you can sit down and put it together on your own or with family or friends. This is a way to do something tangible, and while you assemble the puzzle, you can think about or talk about your loved one and your memories.

5. Decorate a special memory tree

If you set up a Christmas tree in your home, you might consider putting up a memory tree as well. You can decorate this tree in the way that best suits you, perhaps adding a photo of the one you love. You can put your loved one’s favorite ornaments on it or you could theme it after their favorite color, movie, book, etc. Another option is to keep a pile of small pieces of paper nearby with writing utensils. When others see the memory tree, they could pick up a piece of paper and write down a special memory they have of your loved one. Alternatively, the paper could have prompts like, “I wish…” or “I remember when…” and so on. This exercise allows you and others to outwardly express what you feel inside. Also, it’s a great way to allow children to share what may be on their hearts.

6. Cook your loved one’s favorite holiday dish

Food is a part of the holiday package, and we all have our favorite dishes. As a way to bring your loved one’s memory into the festivities, you can take time to prepare some of their favorite holiday meals. This is an activity you can easily invite children, family, or friends to join. Alternatively, if you know others who are also grieving, you could get a group together and each cook the favored dish of your loved ones. Then, after everything is ready, you can sit down as a group and share a time of remembrance.

7. Watch your loved one’s favorite holiday movie

Most of us have a favorite movie to watch during the holiday season, and most likely, your loved one was the same. In some cases, it may not even be a holiday movie but just one that they liked to watch in December. Call a few friends and invite them over for an evening to enjoy watching what brought delight to your loved one, and either before or after the movie, share a few words about how much you appreciate their coming to remember your loved one with you.

8. Assemble a memory capsule

You’ve likely heard about time capsules – people decades ago put items and notes into a sealed container and oftentimes bury it, setting a date to open it again. This activity is similar, except it’s a memory capsule. Find an appropriate receptacle, and then start placing special things in it. A note to your future self about where you hope you will be in your grief journey when you open the capsule. A letter written by your loved one. Special trinkets. Photos. For children, it may be adding a treasured toy or drawing a picture. After everything is together, set a date to open the capsule and anticipate the day.

9. Craft a memory chain

For this activity, cut strips of red and green paper (or whatever color you prefer) into rectangles (roughly 8 inches long and 1 inch high). Then, on each piece, write a memory of your loved one, share how you’re feeling, talk about what you missed about your loved one, what you valued. Once you’ve written on the strips, form them into interlocking loops and create a paper chain that you can use as garland for the tree or mantle or drape over a doorway. This one is also a great activity for children, though adults will benefit as well. During times of grief, we all need to take time to express how we feel, especially when the world around us seems more merry and joyful.

10. Ask the kids what they want to do

Children are full of fun and unexpected ideas. If you have children, and you are all grieving a loss, ask them what they’d like to do to remember. They may think of something that hasn’t even occurred to you. Plus, it’s a way to invite them to use their creativity and express their own feelings, which can sometimes be difficult for children since they are still learning to navigate their emotional lives.

This list barely scratches the surface of all the activities you could take part in during the holiday season. The most important thing is to choose the activities that are most meaningful to you and to make sure not to overload yourself. It’s a busy time of year and those who are grieving still need to take time to care for themselves amidst the fullness of the season.

Gratitude & Your Grief Journey

By Grief/Loss, Thanksgiving

During times of grief, we often turn our focus inward. While this tendency is natural, it may also lead to feelings of isolation and intense, singular focus on the loss we have suffered. Cultivating a lifestyle of gratitude can help us better process the losses in our lives by moving our eyes beyond our pain, allowing us to see the good things in life that still remain.

Piglet noticed that even though he had a Very Small Heart, it could hold a rather large amount of Gratitude.  A.A. Milne, Winnie-the-Pooh

Let’s Start With a Definition

To begin with, what is gratitude? The Harvard Medical School describes it this way: gratitude is “a thankful appreciation for what an individual receives, whether tangible or intangible. With gratitude, people acknowledge the goodness in their lives … As a result, gratitude also helps people connect to something larger than themselves as individuals – whether to other people, nature, or a higher power.” 

In so many ways, we get caught up in our own troubles, our own grief. We can easily sink into the mentality that there’s nothing going right in our lives. But an attitude of gratitude helps us turn our eyes outward and see the positives in life.

What Are the Benefits of Gratitude?

Gratitude affirms that life is good and worth living.

In his book Thanks! How the new science of gratitude can make you happier, Dr. Robert Emmons shares the two stages of gratitude. In the first stage, we acknowledge the good in our lives. In essence, we “say yes to life. We affirm that all things taken together, life is good and has elements that make it worth living.” Gratitude helps us look beyond the pain we feel to see the bigger picture – that good things still exist in our present and will in our future.

Gratitude is not only the greatest of virtues, but the parent of all others. – Marcus Tullius Cicero

Gratitude helps us recognize sources of goodness.

In the second stage of gratitude, we recognize that many sources of good in our lives exist outside us. We realize that it is to others that we are grateful, not ourselves. In grief, we tend to isolate and keep our emotions locked inside, perhaps a bit afraid of what people will think. However, as we focus on the person or people to whom we are grateful, we look outside the bubble we’ve built and invite people into our grief journey.

Gratitude increases positive emotions and overall well-being.

By thanking those around us, we focus on the good things in our lives. And, as you might guess, dwelling on the positives naturally boosts our positive emotions. And if we are more satisfied, hopeful, and optimistic, then our overall well-being is improved.

The highest tribute to the dead is not grief but gratitude. – Thornton Wilder

Gratitude strengthens and fosters relationships.

We’ve all had that friend who takes and takes and is never grateful. Do you want to stay in a relationship with that kind of person? Usually not. A little gratitude goes a long way in strengthening and fostering relationships. During times of grief, our relationships are all the more important because we don’t have to walk alone.

Gratitude improves sleep.

In a study published in Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, it was found that by writing in a gratitude journal for 15 minutes every evening before bed, participants experienced longer and better sleep. When we are grieving, sleep is often elusive. Grief is hard and physically taxing, which is why our sleeping hours are so important. Perhaps a gratitude journal will work for you and improve your rest.

Feeling gratitude and not expressing it is like wrapping a present and not giving it. – William Arthur Ward

Gratitude positively affects both physical and mental health.

Dr. Robert Emmons, who has conducted studies focused on the relationship between gratitude and health, states that “those who kept gratitude journals…exercised more regularly, reported fewer physical symptoms, felt better about their lives as a whole and were more optimistic….” In addition to Dr. Emmons’ findings, gratitude also contributes to decreased levels of depression, envy, anxiety, and stress. In time of grief, it’s important to balance the emotions we feel – whether positive or negative – and gratitude can help us find that balance.

Gratitude fosters resilience in the face of difficulty.

Resilience is the ability to successfully adapt and cope after facing adversity, trauma, or tragedy, and is often associated with mental strength. People are not born resilient. The trait is cultivated and learned through life’s circumstances. One way we can build resilience in the face of grief is to express gratitude. Realizing that we can be thankful – even at the worst of times – builds resilience. In turn, we will have the mental strength needed to process grief and move toward reconciling with the losses we feel.

What’s Next?

There are many ways to incorporate a lifestyle of gratitude into your everyday routine. A few simple options are:

  • Write thank you notes regularly
  • If you don’t have the time to write or are grateful to a stranger, thank someone mentally
  • Pray or meditate a few minutes each day, acknowledging the day’s good things
  • Keep a gratitude journal, where you regularly record what you’re grateful for
  • Express your gratitude to someone verbally

These ideas are only to get you started. Find the way that works best for you to cultivate a daily attitude of gratitude.

12 Tips for Loving the Grieving During the Christmas Season

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

It’s Christmas time. Twinkling lights are going up, parties are being planned, and cookies and treats galore are baking in ovens across the nation. But even as happy tidings are shared between neighbors, we can’t forget that many of our neighbors, friends, and family members are hurting deeply. Grief is not relegated to certain parts of the year. But how can we be sensitive to the emotional needs of those around us who are hurting during this festive time?

As nationally renowned grief expert, author, and counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it, “…it is important to recognize that helping a grieving friend will not be an easy task. You may have to give more concern, time and love than you ever knew you had. But this effort will be more than worth it. By ‘walking with’ your friend in grief, you are giving one of life’s most precious gifts – yourself.”

Consider these 12 tips for how to interact with your grieving friends or loved ones this Christmas.

1. Recognize and accept that your loved one is hurting, and they are going to experience grief during the holiday season.

We may want our grieving loved one to “enjoy” the holiday season, but we need to make sure that we aren’t pushing too hard. What you consider enjoyment and what your grieving friend considers enjoyment will look completely different. They are going to experience a myriad of emotions throughout the holidays. Let them experience these emotions, and be a safe person to talk to about them. Above all, don’t try to avoid people who are grieving. They are already hurting; let’s not add our own discomfort to the load they are carrying.

2. Encourage your grieving loved one to set healthy boundaries, and be prepared to support and abide by those boundaries.

The person who is grieving will have limited energy, so it’s important that they figure out what will work for them during this busy season. No, they shouldn’t entirely shut out all things Christmas, but they should limit what they do, depending on their needs. If you are close to someone who is grieving, encourage them to set boundaries, and then, be prepared to support those boundaries, abide by them, and if necessary, help your grieving loved one fight to keep them.

3. Give your grieving loved one plenty of notice about an event or gathering.

More often than not, someone who is grieving needs time to work up the energy to go out to an event or gathering. Make sure you them give plenty of notice so they can mentally and emotionally prepare. Also remember! You are encouraging them to put down healthy boundaries for the holidays. Don’t be offended or hurt if they decide not to come to your party.

4. Look for ways to honor the memory of a lost loved one.

You can do any number of truly special and unique things to honor a lost loved one. Buy or make a special gift. Sit down with your grieving friend and share memories or stories of the lost loved one. Join your grieving friend for a special trip to the gravesite. Donate to the lost loved one’s favorite charity. Find out if a local funeral home or church is facilitating a remembrance service and invite your grieving loved one.

5. Don’t force your grieving loved one into all the old traditions. Come up with a new tradition together.

Depending on who has died, the old traditions may be too painful. If it’s appropriate, sit down with your grieving loved one and talk about which traditions to keep this year and which ones to put aside. You might consider coming up with a brand-new tradition that will breathe some fresh air into the season.

6. Invite your grieving loved one to take part in a Christmas service project.

When we grieve, we can sometimes become so focused on the strong emotions we are feeling that we forget to come up for air. It’s a good practice to focus on others so that we can let our minds rest from the grief for a while. Invite your grieving friend to volunteer at a soup kitchen, to make blankets for the homeless, or to participate in another opportunity available through the church or community.

7. Be ready to help when your loved one needs it. Make room for them and ensure that they don’t feel like an inconvenience.

When someone is grieving, they often want to be alone and not be an inconvenience to those around them. Make sure that your grieving loved one knows that you have time for them and want them to be a part of your Christmas season. Practically speaking, be available, be inclusive, and be ready to offer help and support.

8. Encourage your loved one to take care of themselves.

In times of grief, people often feel overwhelmed, tired, and emotionally spent, and because of this, it’s important to take care of ourselves even while we grieve. Invite your grieving friend for a walk. Ask your grieving mother if she’d like a cup of hot cocoa or tea. If you have a grieving friend or family member visiting you for the holidays, turn down the covers of the guest bed, and let them know it’s ready if they’d like to take a nap. If you know their favorite foods, prepare something just for them and take it to their home, staying for a short visit. Show them that it’s okay to enjoy the simple pleasures even if their loved one is gone.

9. Don’t offer advice. Listen. Always give your loved one choices, force nothing.

It’s important that we allow people to grieve at their own pace and to be mindful of the words we say. Make sure that you don’t make assumptions about their grief. Try not to make comparisons to how you have mourned a loss in the past. Make sure to give them choices – if you force them into something, it likely won’t end well. More than anything, they need you to listen, to be present, and in many cases, to be silent.

10. Look for practical ways to offer help.

The holidays often mean lots of planning and preparation. For someone who is grieving, the things that once brought great joy may now feel pointless or like they are too much work. So, look for ways that you can help. Offer to help put up the Christmas tree or wrap presents. Ask them if they’d like to come to your home for a baking extravaganza (or perhaps they’d rather you come to theirs). If they need to shop for gifts, offer to go with them, or if they have a list, to pick up what they need. You may have some other great ideas for personal and meaningful ways to practically help your grieving loved one.

11. Send a thoughtful holiday card.

For many, Christmas time means sending cards with holiday cheer to friends and family. Though the practice has dwindled somewhat in recent years, it’s a valuable way to tangibly show that you care about someone and are thinking of them. Consider putting some extra time and thought into what you might say in a meaningful card, words that will comfort and bring hope.

12. Follow up after the holidays to see how they are doing.

We aren’t always the best about following through on things, but in this case, let’s try to put extra effort in. It’s important for a grieving person to know that your love and concern aren’t just temporary but are true and sincere. Make sure to reach out and offer your support all through the year.

A Christmas Playlist for the Grieving Heart

By Christmas, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

The Christmas season can be especially difficult for those who are grieving. Many Christmas songs are lighthearted, happy, and discuss themes of romantic love, family, or joyfulness. But maybe you don’t feel very happy this Christmas…maybe this is the hardest Christmas you’ve ever faced. For that reason, this list of songs has been compiled. This Christmas Playlist is meant to help you to grieve during this Christmas season. Just because the culture says you should be light and joyful does not mean you have to put on a cheerful face and pretend you aren’t hurting. Be where you are, but also try to look for ways to enjoy Christmas on your own terms and in your own way.

Most of us enjoy music. It helps us get in touch with our emotions. Music can bring us great joy, motivate us, challenge us, and bring tears to our eyes. This Christmas season, don’t be afraid to listen to music that helps you embrace your sadness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-renowned grief expert, reminds us, “As you approach the holidays, remember: grief is both a necessity and a privilege. It comes as a result of giving and receiving love. Don’t let anyone take your grief away. Love yourself. Be patient with yourself. And allow yourself to be surrounded by loving, caring people.”

The songs included in this Christmas Playlist are diverse. Some are meant to help you embrace your sadness, some are meant to remind you of the good things still in your life, and some are meant to help you embrace the meaning of Christmas and the joys of your former Christmases. The list is not comprehensive – feel free to add songs that speak to your heart personally and remove songs that aren’t meaningful for you.

This Christmas is yours. Consider honestly what you truly need. Then, do what is best for you, unapologetically.

  • Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas (Sam Smith)

Faithful friends who are dear to us
Gather near to us once more

First published in 1943, this song brought great comfort to many American soldiers who spent Christmas overseas on the battlefield. The song’s slow tempo and heartfelt words convey a sense of nostalgia. The listener is encouraged to remember past Christmases and look forward to future ones, but it does not negate the difficulty of the present Christmas.

  • Silent Night (Bing Crosby)

Silent night, holy night, wondrous star, lend thy light;
With the angels let us sing,
Alleluia to our King.

Silent Night is one of the most popular Christmas carols of all time and has been translated into over 300 languages. The song is familiar, comforting, and most importantly, calls us to look beyond our circumstances and remember why we have the season of Christmas.

  • Do You Hear What I Hear? (Carrie Underwood)

The Child, the Child, sleeping in the night
He will bring us goodness and light

Originally released just after Thanksgiving in 1962, this song was written as a response to the Cuban Missile Crisis. Tension spread across the United States, and many had mixed emotions during the Christmas season. Of all the lines, the ones that bring the most comfort are, “Pray for peace, people everywhere! Listen to what I say, the Child, the Child sleeping in the night, He will bring us goodness and light.” May you receive peace, goodness, and light this Christmas season.

  • Thankful (Josh Groban)

And on this day we hope for
What we still can’t see

First released on Josh Groban’s Christmas album, Noel, the lyrics do not carry a heavy Christmas theme. Instead, they focus on the fact that, even though we may be grieving, there is so much to be thankful for. Sit and let the soothing music flow over you and ponder what you can be thankful for during this time of sadness.

  • Where Are You, Christmas? (Faith Hill)

My world is changing
I’m rearranging
Does that mean Christmas changes too

This song tackles the ever-changing aspect of our lives, and as our world changes, so does the way we celebrate the holidays. As we deal with loss (no matter what kind of loss it may be), we have to find our “new normal,” and what life is going to look like for us now.

  • My Grown-up Christmas List (Kelly Clarkson)

But heaven only knows
That packages and bows
Can never heal
A hurting human soul

At its heart, this song is about the wish deep within us that the difficult things in life would disappear. As children, we asked our parents and Santa Claus for bikes, dolls, games, and candy, but as grown-ups, we see the pain in the world and ask for very different things. This song perfectly expresses the desire that every person would receive peace, hope, and love.

  • I Pray on Christmas (Harry Connick, Jr.)

I pray on Christmas
That God will lead the way
And I pray on Christmas
He’ll get me through another day

This jazz-inspired Christmas song from Harry Connick, Jr., incorporates elements of gospel music. In his crooning style, Harry conveys the message that God will hear us, be with us, and get us through Christmas day. While still expressing the need we have to lean on others during hard times, the song is uplifting and soulful.

  • Merry Christmas, Darling (The Carpenters)

But I can dream and in my dreams
I’m Christmas-ing with you

Released in 1970 by a brother-sister duo, known as The Carpenters, the lyrics were originally written in 1946, and then, put to music by Richard Carpenter. While the lyrics were written with deployed soldiers in mind, the words apply to anyone who is missing a loved one during the Christmas season. As you grieve this season, it’s okay to miss your loved one and to wish that they were still near.

  • River (Sarah McLachlan)

I wish I had a river I could skate away on
I wish I had a river so long I would teach my feet to fly

This song is real. In the opening lyrics, it reveals that Christmas time is coming, but all she really wants to do is skate away from her troubles and her grief. If you are grieving this Christmas, you may feel this way too.

You can check out our playlist on YouTube and make this your Christmas playlist. Allow the music to flow over you and bring your grief to the surface. Christmas won’t be the same this year. And it’s okay to be sad about it. Accept your emotions as they come and allow the music to give them a voice. This exercise will be one more step toward healing and figuring out what life looks like now.

How Family Interviews Can Make Your Thanksgiving Memorable

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal, Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is about reflection, remembrance, gratitude, and time spent with loved ones. Too often, we take our time on earth for granted, and before we are ready, a loved one is gone. While we are always aware that death will come one day to those we love, we aren’t prepared for that difficult day. But what if you could preserve the memory of your lost loved one, the stories of their life, the tone of their voice, and their beloved quirks of habit?

If the idea appeals to you, sit down with your living loved ones for an oral history interview. But what is an oral history interview, you may ask? Essentially, it entails intentionally spending time with someone, asking questions and recording answers. You may also see this practice called a family history interview or a life interview.

Why Should I Do This?

First and foremost, it’s a tangible way to show someone you love them. By sitting down with someone, spending one-on-one time with them, asking questions and sharing conversation, you add value to your and your loved one’s lives. You make them feel loved, appreciated, and that they are important to you. Also, think about what you could learn from your loved one’s successes, or even more importantly, from their mistakes? Did you know that your loved one used to go swing dancing every Saturday night as a young person? Did you know how they felt when their first child or grandchild was born?

People are simple and yet complex. So much of our lives take place internally. By asking questions, you can begin to know your loved one even more intimately and learn things about them that you may never have known.

Secondly, it’s a practical way to preserve family history for future generations, to discover the stories that bind our families together. In today’s world, so many people are interested in where they came from, what their ancestors were like, and what kind of life they lived. New websites pop up every day related to genealogy and family history. Do you want future generations to know something about your loved one? Take the time necessary to preserve your family’s story.

Thirdly, when the day comes that your loved one is gone, hopefully after a long and fulfilling life, you can take the information you’ve gathered and create a meaningful funeral service. Additionally, if you video your interviews, you will have priceless footage to use in the creation of a special tribute video that will be meaningful for the funeral service but also for future generations of family.

senior mom with her middle-aged daugther, smiling and hugging, wearing light pink blouses.

Who Should I Interview?

Whoever you want (but make sure to ask for permission first). You can interview your mom, dad, grandparents, aunts, uncles, a next door neighbor, or anyone else. You could even go down to an assisted living establishment and ask permission to interview some of the residents. Your interest in their lives might just make their day.

How Do I Do This?

  1. Determine what questions you will ask.

The first step is to decide what questions you want to ask. Thankfully, resources exist online that share in-depth, open-ended questions that you can ask your loved one. There are tips on interview etiquette, how to set goals for your interviews, and how to help everyone be at ease and enjoy the time together.

  1. Select a documentation medium.

The second step is to decide what medium you want to use to record your interviews. Some options are:

  • Handwrite everything in a special journal
  • Type everything on a computer
  • Use an audio recording app or other equipment
  • Film the interviews using a phone or other equipment
  • A mixture of these options or something else that’s easy for you
  1. Spend quality time with your loved one.

Lastly, go spend time with your loved one. Start this Thanksgiving Day! If you need more time (and you probably will), talk to them and decide what day and time is best for a chat, whether in person or over the phone. Let the conversation flow naturally. Don’t get hung up on trying to get all your questions answered at once. Just be there and absorb. Remember, you won’t get everything recorded in one sitting. Take time, and have fun!

Yes, Thanksgiving is a time when families come together, enjoy each other’s company, and share laughter and memories. This year, what better way to show your thankfulness for your loved ones than by intentionally getting to know more about their lives?