Category

Seasonal

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?

5 Ways to Spread Awareness and Hope in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

By | Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

If you are currently battling breast cancer, if you know someone who is battling breast cancer, if you know and love a breast cancer survivor, or if you’ve lost a loved one to the disease, we stand with you in the fight to see an end to breast cancer.

According to current statistics, it is expected that, in 2018, more than 40,000 deaths will be linked to breast cancer. Moreover, one in every eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime as will one in every 1,000 men. In our collective struggle, as men and women, we can join forces in a number of ways.

1. Participate in Wellness Programs & Lifestyle Changes

When possible, men and women should participate in a wellness program and take part in all the tests required to monitor current health status. According to the Mayo Clinic, studies show that some lifestyle changes contribute to a marked decrease in breast cancer risk.

For example, here are a few suggested changes:

  • Limit alcoholic beverages
  • Quit smoking
  • Control weight
  • Stay physically active

2. Get Involved & Spread Awareness

Firstly, it’s important to remember that the possibilities to get involved in the fight against breast cancer are as limitless as your imagination. There are some established ways of participating in spreading awareness for breast cancer: donate, participate in a Race for the Cure, become an advisor/volunteer for a breast cancer program, host a fundraiser, or wear pink to spread awareness.

However, your original ideas are welcome too, so don’t be afraid to bring them to the table. For example, one woman started a nonprofit that provides unique hospital gowns for women battling illness. Another woman began writing encouraging letters to fellow breast cancer patients, and also started her own nonprofit that has sent over 60,000 handwritten cards and letters to 152 patient centers. The point is, don’t limit your own impact. Think outside the box and find the most meaningful way for you to become involved.

3. Share Inspirational Stories of Hope

The women and men who have battled and are battling this disease are a great source of hope. Read their stories and allow them to change you. Ultimately, no matter the story of your own life, we can find inspiration, hope, and encouragement in the stories of others.  Let’s be loving, compassionate, and above all, changed. And be sure to share the stories that impact you the most with others through social media. That way, you can inspire and raise awareness for breast cancer at the same time.

4. Find a Support Group

If you have recently been diagnosed with breast cancer, you are not alone. Consider joining a support group consisting of others who are currently battling the disease. In them, you may find much-needed encouragement and inspiration.

5. Get Connected to Grief Resources

Finally, if you have recently lost a loved one to breast cancer, your road to healing is just beginning. Emotions may be raw, and that’s okay. It’s normal to feel grief, anger, pain, frustration. Author, educator, and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, puts it this way: “From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of people I have counseled over the years, 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.” Facing the pain of grief is hard. But in the end, it is the only way through the journey of grief.

We all need support and encouragement on the journey through grief. Consider talking with a friend, making an appointment with a grief counselor, or finding others who are going through a similar situation. You may even be able to find local support groups for those who have lost a loved one to cancer. You can also visit Dr. Wolfelt’s website, the Center for Loss & Life Transition, to learn from his experience helping people walk through the journey of grief toward healing.

Honoring our Veterans on Independence Day

By | Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal, Veterans

This Fourth of July, many will gather for swim parties, burger grilling, and firework displays. We do these things because we want to reflect the American spirit on the day that commemorates the formation of our country. But the holiday also offers us a chance to honor the veterans who have made extraordinary sacrifices in service to this country. To better understand how Independence Day relates to our veterans, we must first examine the history of the holiday.

The Backdrop

The historical event that the holiday is based on, the creation of the Declaration of Independence, occurred during the Revolutionary War. While the Declaration of Independence formally announced the separation from Britain, the seeds of revolution grew over a period of 10 years. Years earlier, in 1765, Britain passed the Stamp Act, which was a direct tax on any material printed by the American colonists. The actual cost of the tax was less disturbing to Americans than the precedent that it established; Britain felt free to impose a level of control upon the colonies that the founding fathers were uncomfortable with.

No Taxation without Representation

The colonists resisted the tax, and Britain responded by imposing more taxes. Over the next few years, a pattern began to form: the colonists rebelled against legislation that they found unfair, Britain responded by tightening the screws, the colonists protested more vehemently, and the laws continued to get stricter and stricter.

In 1973, Boston passed the Tea Act. The colonists responded by hurling East India Company tea into the Boston harbor in the event that came to be known as the Boston Tea Party. This act put an even greater strain on the relationship between Britain and the colonies, and full-scale war was soon to follow.

On April 19, 1775, Paul Revere completed his famous ride, warning the American soldiers of the arrival of the British. Hoping to gain military supplies, British soldiers headed for Concord, only to be stopped at Lexington by American gunfire. After a brief skirmish, the colonists retreated, and British troops pressed on to Concord. But at Concord, the colonists gained the upper hand, and the British retreated to Boston. This victory for the colonists marked the beginning of the Revolutionary War.

The Declaration of Independence

On June 11, 1776, a little more than a year after shots were fired at Lexington and Concord, a committee at the Second Continental Congress selected Thomas Jefferson to write the first draft of the document that would come to be known as The Declaration of Independence. The committee chose young Jefferson over several already legendary American figures: Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman, and Robert R. Livingston.

After several changes to the first draft, America released the final document on July 4, 1776. The declaration officially marked America’s break from Britain and claimed independence for the 13 colonies. Independence Day commemorates the creation of this document, which outlines American values.

Contemporary Relevance

The Declaration of Independence is inseparable from the context of the Revolutionary War. For this reason, we link the holiday not only to America, but more specifically to American soldiers. The main principles of the document–life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness–are what the American soldiers of the 18th century gave their lives for. Many veterans have since served our country with the same commitment.

Independence Day provides us with an opportunity to remember those who have given so much for their country. The veterans who have served in the spirit of preserving life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness have made great sacrifices, and we need to take the time to express our gratitude.

Acknowledging Your Service

If you or a loved one are a veteran, we’d like to say a special thank you. We are thankful for your service and sacrifice. Also, we’d like to highlight an important issue that you need to be aware of: veterans’ burial benefits. It’s important that you are well-informed on the benefits that you are eligible for, as well as the restrictions and limitations that may apply.

Get answers to frequently asked questions, such as:

  • What are my burial benefits as a veteran?
  • Will the VA pay for my funeral?
  • What type of reimbursement or allowance does the VA provide for funeral expenses?
  • What benefits will my family members receive?
  • How do I ensure that my family receives my veterans’ benefits?
  • What happens if my non-veteran spouse or child dies first?
  • Does the VA cover the cost of transportation to a national or state cemetery?

For more information, visit this page.

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

 

Dealing With Grief on Father’s Day

By | AfterCare, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

Father’s Day is almost here, and if you have recently lost a father or child, Father’s Day can be a particularly painful day of the year. Fathers fill an irreplaceable role in our lives. If you had a good father, then this time can be sorrowful and maybe even bittersweet as you remember good times. If you had a more difficult relationship with your father, Father’s Day can bring up painful memories. Or, if your father was absent physically or emotionally, Father’s Day can bring out feelings of loneliness and sadness.

And on the other side, if you are a father who has lost a beloved child, Father’s Day can amplify your feelings of loss. You may even be struggling with guilt and how you could have prevented your child’s death. What you are feeling is normal. Everyone feels a wide range of emotions when they lose someone they love. Sometimes the pain of what might have been is the most difficult to overcome.

If you find yourself dreading the third Sunday in June, consider applying a few of the suggestions below to help you turn Father’s Day into an opportunity to honor your loved one’s memory in a special way.

Find an activity to do in memory of your loved one

Consider doing something that your father or child enjoyed. Watch a favorite movie, listen to a favorite song, or go to a favorite location. Remembrance is an important part of the grieving process. Paradoxically, it’s important to move backward in order to eventually move forward. By remembering, you forge a path forward in the work of grieving. Finding a way to pay tribute to your loved one can help you find meaning in the day. Father’s Day will still be difficult, but by engaging in a meaningful activity, you can give the day special significance.

Make time for solitude

Carve out time for peace and quiet. Don’t force your thoughts or emotions; just observe them, letting them come and go as they will. If you need to use this time to reflect on your loved one’s life, then do so. If you’d rather use it as a moment to breathe and relax without having to think of anything that could be emotionally stressful, then let yourself enjoy a moment of peace. We all need moments of peace in the struggle, so don’t begrudge yourself a few moments alone.

Talk to family or friends about how you are feeling

During painful times, it’s important to surround yourself with people who will support you. More than likely, Father’s Day is going to elicit some strong emotions within you, so consider making time to talk with a family member or close friend so that you can get a few things off your chest. If you don’t have anybody that you can talk to, consider joining a grief support group. Go online and search for groups in your area. Having somebody to listen and offer sympathy for your loss is enormously beneficial for your grief journey.

Write about your experience

For some, it’s easier to write than to talk because the practice allows you time to get your thoughts together before expressing them vocally. If that’s you, pour out your feelings on paper or in front of a computer. You may feel that your feelings are too raw or personal to share in conversation, so writing is a good alternative. If you do decide to write, be honest about everything you’re feeling. In the end, you may want to keep your thoughts private and write only for the therapeutic value of expressing yourself. But if you feel up to it, you may want to consider sharing your writing with people who are close to you. Don’t worry about “bringing other people down.” Those who care about you want to know how you’re feeling.

For those who have lost a father

Focus on what your father meant to you and what you learned from him. What is your father’s legacy? Why was he special to you? If your memories are more painful, you may try to focus on forgiveness. List all of your painful thoughts, and then, one by one, go through the list and release your father from blame and resentment. Remember, forgiveness is for you. Even if the individual is deceased, you may need to work toward forgiveness for your own health and wellness.

For those who have lost a child

Focus on what your child brought to your life and how their presence impacted you. Tell them how you feel about them, what you miss about them, what your hopes and dreams were for them. If you are struggling with feelings of guilt or anger, that’s okay. Maybe you could have done something different, maybe you couldn’t have – what really matters is how you are going to honor and remember your child now that they are gone.

If you are a blogger or on social media, you may choose to post your thoughts about your experience and raise awareness about how Father’s Day can be painful for some. Your post could serve as an encouragement to others who have lost a father or child.  Whatever you choose to do, expressing your feelings will help you reflect on and process your current experience.

Honor other fathers in your life

Do you have a mentor or a surrogate father in your life? Maybe it’s an uncle, grandfather, spiritual leader, coach, teacher, or family friend who stepped in and became like a father to you when you needed one. Even something as simple as sending a thank you card or an email on Father’s Day can bring comfort to you and honor the person who has been there for you when you just needed a dad. Try thinking of all the “fathers” who have been there for you over the years, and send each one a personal thank you note sharing how much you appreciated their love, support, and words of wisdom.

Honoring our Fallen Soldiers on Memorial Day

By | AfterCare, Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

Memorial Day is just around the corner. You might use the holiday as an opportunity to grab a hot dog, plop down in a lawn chair, and settle in for a relaxing three-day weekend. Almost everybody is familiar with the holiday’s contemporary rituals, but many Americans have very little knowledge of the history of Memorial Day.

Background

There is considerable disagreement as to the true birthplace of the Memorial Day.  Of course, humans have used ceremony to honor those who have died in battle for hundreds, possibly thousands, of years. However, some people trace the roots of the American holiday back to 1868, when Major Gen. John A. Logan designated May 30th as Decoration Day, a day on which the graves of Civil War soldiers would be commemorated.

Other stories place the holiday’s origins in Charleston, S.C., or Waterloo, N.Y., or Columbus, GA around a similar time.  It’s safe to say that in the aftermath of the Civil War, which caused more American deaths than any other armed conflict, many people in various places were looking for ways to honor those who died in combat. But it wasn’t until 1971, more than a century later, that Memorial Day became an official holiday that was marked by the last Monday of May.

Honoring the Fallen

Now, Memorial Day represents the threshold of summer. To bring in the new season, we participate in cook-outs and kick back by the pool. While it’s perfectly fine to usher in the new season and take the opportunity to celebrate our country, we should also remember those who have given their lives in service and reflect on their sacrifices.

It’s always important to take a few moments of silence. However, this year, you may decide that you want to do a little bit more. If so, there are plenty of opportunities to make this Memorial Day special by remembering those who have given their lives in service to their country. Below are some ideas for paying your respects to the lives of deceased service members on this important day. One of the best ways to honor those who have died is to serve the living in their name. Partnering with the organizations below will serve as a beautiful tribute to the servicemen and women who have passed away.

Donate to Help Grieving Families

Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors (TAPS) provides care for families that are grieving in the aftermath of the loss of a veteran or active duty member of the armed forces. They provide around-the-clock support and resources to grieving family members. Through their Good Grief camps and Survivor’s Seminars, TAPS helps loved ones process their grief and gives them the tools that they need to make it through a difficult time. Widows and widowers, parents, siblings, and children have all benefited from the extraordinary work that TAPS does. Consider donating to this organization to make a difference in the life of someone who is grieving.

Donate to Help Children who Have a Parent in Service

Children of Fallen Patriots is dedicated to looking after the children of soldiers who have died in service. They provide college scholarships and educational counseling. Their works ensures that children receive the educational opportunities they need to thrive. Donating to this organization is a great way to honor the memory of veterans who have died during military service and to ensure that their loved ones receive the proper care and attention.

Provide Yard Care

For more than 10 years, Project Evergreen has provided lawn services to disabled war veterans and to the families of soldiers who are currently deployed. They mow, trim, and fertilize lawns. Snow and ice removal services are also available. You can sign up to volunteer in any state. By taking some time out of your day to work up a little sweat, you could be an enormous help to veterans and their families.

Donate to Help Injured Veterans

Wounded Warrior Project provides free aid in the form of mental and physical health services, benefits advice and career counseling to veterans who were wounded post 9/11. Through free programs and events, they offer a helping hand and work to increase veterans’ quality of life after injury. They also offer support to the concerned families of wounded veterans and offer programs to help them as they walk through a difficult period of life with their loved ones. Start a fundraiser or donate personally to ensure that this charity continues to do great work.

Send a Care Package

Operation Gratitude sends care packages to veterans and service members. You can write a personal “thank you” letter to accompany the food and gifts that you send their way. You can also sign up to volunteer at the Forward Operating Base in Chatsworth, CA. Care packages are gifts of encouragement that remind veterans that we haven’t forgotten the sacrifices that they’ve made.

Other Volunteer and Donation Opportunities

There are many other ways to say thank you to the soldiers who have given so much for their country. You may want to do some research into other charities. Alternatively, if you know of another organization that honors veterans and accepts contributions, consider donating to it. Use this time as an opportunity to do a little something for those who have done so much for us. Let this Memorial Day be the catalyst for action.