Your First Christmas Without . . . . . . . . . . .

Christmas is just around the corner and it is usually a time for family celebrations and gatherings. If this is your first Christmas without a loved one who died earlier this year it can be a confusing, challenging, and emotional time.

What to do?

Well, the best thing to do as far as I can see is to talk about it as a family – to face it head on especially emotionally. Recognize and honor the fact out loud that our loved one won’t be around the tree, table, or celebration in their customary way. There will be an obvious hole or empty place in the festivities and family traditions. Then simply have an open conversation about how to include them and all of the above issues in this your first Christmas without them.

Yes even having the conversation may bring up emotions and memories and that is perfect, let them come up and allow the emotions to help you create a loving way to have your deceased love one – dad, mom, child, or friend – somehow “be” in the celebration.

Will you buy them a gift?

Will you set a place at the table for them?

Will you have their picture on the mantle?

Will you mention their name and speak of past Christmas memories?

Will you put out a stocking for them? Or,

Will you hold their memory in your heart and do none of the above?

Feel free to be creative in answering these sorts of questions and plan your new and “different” Christmas celebration in a way that works for most if not all of the folks in your family. Make sure everyone has a chance to contribute their feelings and their thoughts to the discussion, the more contributions the more magical the results. Sometimes the craziest ideas really do work so give them space too, refrain from dismissing any of them too quickly.

Avoid at all cost not talking about your late loved one, this denial will make your holiday celebrations awkward and tight. No matter what ideas you come up with the important thing is to talk about it, be as open as you can as you chat about what to do and how to remember them. Let the emotions flow if they come up, remember sadness and grief are signs of our enduring love for our deceased love.

Finding ways to include your deceased loved one in this first Christmas holiday celebration without them will serve their memory and your entire family. It could be the best Christmas present ever. Tyus Bowser Authentic Jersey

What? You must be Kidding. The Shock of Sudden and Unexpected Death

The telephone rings.

There is a knock at the door.

You discover a loved one dead.

There is no warning, no prep time, no time to pre-grieve, no time for anything but stunned silence.  There is simply shock and disbelief.  It happens in a moment, a timeless instant that seems never ending.  Life as you have known it comes to an abrupt end and there is absolutely nothing you or anyone else can do about it.

Death, an unexpected, sudden, death.

There is a crushing, unalterable truth that your loved one has died while at the same time your mind is racing madly to find a way out of the unbelievable back to the normal you knew only moments ago.  There must be a mistake, there must be a way out of the silent scream, and there must be something other than the stark reality that my loved one is dead.  There must be.

No matter how the news is delivered or who delivers it, it seems to go this way.

Shocked.

Confused.

Stunned.

Clobbered.

Lost.

Panicked.

It is so sudden, so unexpected that you can barely breath.  There seems to be only two initial reactions – an overwhelming, unstoppable flood of emotions or a numbing nothingness.  Then the denial, the questioning, the demanding an answer, the anger and rage, the need for meaning comes roaring in to your mind.  All of this is going on along with life and the need for order, decisions, arrangements, and calls to make to friends and family, boss to talk to, paperwork, lawyers, funeral directors, never mind keeping the family life running.  All of this with no warning at all – from normalcy to all out chaos in the uttering of a few words.  Life has changed and there is no way to turn the clock back.

I will always remember the call I received on May the 5th, 1988.  It was a Thursday night.  It was around 10:30 pm.  Roy, my late sister’s husband was on the telephone and all he could say was, “Jody’s gone.”  His mom took over and explained what had happened.  I asked if anyone had called my folks to which she answered “No.”  I said good-bye and stood in stunned silence, phone in hand.

Something clicked on and I went into this kid of automatic business like mode.  I drove to my folks’ home.  I guess it was near midnight.  As I pushed the doorbell I had a moment’s panic – what the hell was I supposed to say to the mother and father who had just lost their daughter to a sudden and unexpected death?  I quickly clicked back into autopilot.

I survived the emotions of it all by being rational and just getting things done.  I survived the awkward moments by smiling and nodding. I labored on hoping for life to get back to normal.

It never did.

What was most difficult was the emotional silence of it all.  The pat phrases, though I understand why they are spoken.  The expectation that we get back to everyday life.

The suddenness of Jody’s death, how unexpected and untimely it was, the sheer shock of it was what stunned me the most though.  No time to say good-bye, no time for a last hug, no chance to say one more I love you, no opportunity share fond memories, no time to get ready, no time to prepare family and friends, no time to carve out a quiet moment to remember.  From a standstill to a sprint in not time flat.

It was gut wrenching!

All there is to do is to end the silence of it all.  To find an attentive ear and a strong shoulder to let the rawness of it out.  To remember your loved one and speak of them when you are drawn to.  To feel the theft of their life by an unexpected robber – death.  To accept that there is nothing you could have done to prevent it.  To accept that it may never make any sense at all.

To accept it over time not all of a sudden. Tobias Harris Authentic Jersey

The Pink Elephant in Hospice is Alive and Well – The Gender Gap

 

 

I placed a post on The Real Double D’s of Life – Death and Dying Conference the other day and got some interesting results in the way of larger numbers.  I looked further into who had responded and was again reminded of the significant gender gap in the ‘business’ of death and dying.

Of the over 5,200 of those engaged with the post 96% were female!  Only 4% were men. More than half the women, 56.3%, were between the ages of 35 and 55 with the largest segment being women between the ages of 45 to 55.

Over and over again I am shown the huge gender gap that exists in this very important facet of our community services.  I am not sure why it is this way, and I don’t think the whys are important at this point.  To me what is important is twofold:

1)   Are the boys, young men, and mature men getting the grief and loss services in the ‘language’ they understand? Are they getting support in an environment that works for them?

2)   How does the hospice movement address this gap? From the service delivery side?  From attracting male volunteers?

Now, the good news in all this is we all know exactly whom to talk with about death and dying – our target audience is clear.  As social entrepreneurs this is great information and enables us to connect with the very people who are interested in my topic.  Yeah!

Being a man though, the deeper issue is the ‘language’ of grief – are we speaking to boys and men in a language that they understand, and in an environment that works for them.  Or have we assumed that men and women, boys and girls grieve the same way.

Lets check and see. Brett Maher Womens Jersey

The Rainbow of Death – A Chat with my friend Allison

Allison tell me something about the guy and your relationship

“I always knew he wasn’t the man I wanted to have a long-term relationship with.” She said.  “Yet for some weird reason there was something about unprotected sex with him that I let be acceptable.  I wasn’t on the pill, so I would always nudge him to remember a condom.  He didn’t.  Next thing I knew, really to no one’s surprise, my period was late.”

So what went through your mind when you realized your period was late?

“I started to ask myself the big questions: If I am pregnant, what am I going to do?  Could I have a child right now?  Do I want a child right now?  Could I carry a child to term then put it up for adoption?  What about having an abortion?” Allison went on with the story.

“Three weeks into lateness I bought a home pregnancy test.   Positive.

Three days later I went to the doctor to be tested just to be extra sure.  Positive.

I was definitely pregnant,” she said soberly and carried on.

“When I told the baby’s father, his instant reaction was he didn’t want it.  And he was adamant. It was in that moment that I knew no matter what decision I made about the baby I was alone on this journey.  Despite the mental fear, I started to get excited.  Internally, bodily, and emotionally I realized I wanted the baby.”

So what did you do next I asked as I was genuinely curious.

Allison continued, “Though I was terrified I decided to tell my parents.  I knew they loved being grandparents to my nephew, but my situation was so different than my married brother’s.  I had no idea how they would react.  I remember it was a Wednesday night.  I got them both on the phone at the same time and asked, ‘So, how would you like to be grandparents again?’  Thankfully all I felt radiating through the phone was pure love, joy, excitement and a willingness to support me however they could.  I was so relieved!”

So what happened to change your mind was my next question.

“A week or so later I noticed things inside me started to shift.  The reality of keeping the baby set in – the financial, emotional, and spiritual implications of raising a child alone brought me back down to earth pretty quickly.  But how could I have an abortion?  Could I consciously choose to terminate a pregnancy?   What would people say and think if they found out?   I’m not 18 anymore, I’m a grown up so I should be able to do this.   How would I live with myself if I terminated my pregnancy?  What the hell am I supposed to do?  All these questions raced through my head I felt scared, confused and really didn’t know what to do.”

She sat quietly as if remembering the exact moment and then carried on.

“I went back to my doctor and asked her about my options.  We talked about abortion and parenting and she asked me some really good questions about how I envisioned my life and my child’s life.  I sought counsel from an energy healer who I have been with for the last six years.  I also got first-hand accounts from a friend who has been through a pregnancy termination.

After gathering all this information I found myself laying awake many nights for hours, tossing and turning, staring up at the ceiling, meditating and praying, dreaming and trusting the right decision would come through at the perfect moment.  Finally one night, eight weeks into the pregnancy, the inner battle subsided and I came to terms with my decision, the decision I always knew I was going to make.  In that moment of clarity I emailed the clinic to request an appointment for the abortion – two days later the confirmation arrived.”  A few tears trickled down her face as she sat still in the memory of her decision.

Once you made the decision what was it like for you?

“I was scared, not just about what it would be like after the pregnancy was terminated, but that people would find out I was pregnant.  What would they say? What would they think of me?  What would I tell them after the pregnancy was terminated?  I didn’t want people to know I was pregnant then have to turn around and tell them there was no more baby. I struggled with who to tell and how much of the truth I wanted to share.  I was awash with understanding the intimate nature of my decision to terminate the pregnancy, and wanting to be open about what was going on.  It was hard.  In the end, I decided to tell only my immediate family and a few of my closest friends.” Allison related with a big sigh.

Tell me about the day of the abortion.

“Well, I woke up early, showered and put on my most comforting clothes – the bottoms of a set of scrubs that belonged to my Pépère, my grandfather, as they reminded me he was always with me, a man-sized t-shirt of the softest cotton that felt like a big protective hug, and my Zumba hoodie because it just felt good.  My friend picked me up and we drove to the clinic.”

Allison’s voice cracked a little as she continued, “I was greeted by the medical staff with respect and felt as comfortable as I could be in an uncomfortable situation.  I looked around the waiting room at the other women – some with girl friends and some with their boyfriends – my heart went out to the women and couples who were agonizing over their decision knowing there was no chance for a do-over.  My girl friend and I talked about everyday things, as we normally would any other time, sometimes laughing too loudly, sometimes getting lost in our own thoughts, sometimes locking eyes with a deep knowing, understanding and compassion. I joked with the ultrasound technician about the cruelty of making a pregnant woman fast for so long. I shared with the counselor how my grieving had already begun

“My turn arrived.  I was taken to a second waiting room, instructed to change, and given some Ativan to help me relax.  The TV was on the infomercial channel.  I sat staring, breathing, riding the waves of emotion that were coursing through my heart.  I talked to the unborn child inside me – Little Man as I had affectionately named him.  I prayed for strength and courage to make it through with ease and grace.”

She sat still for a moment remembering the events as if it just happened yesterday.

“A second nurse arrived and took me to the procedure room.   She was petite with long blonde hair.  I remember her loving, compassionate, tender energy.  As she put the intravenous needle in my arm we made small talk about how long she’d been a nurse and why she chose to continue to work in the clinic. I wish I remembered her answer.

“The doctor came in; more drugs into my IV; start the machines; mask on my face; breath deeply; big twinge; bigger and deeper breaths; then it was done.

Empty.  Baby was gone.  Instantly I started to cry.

They said I did great and wondered if I was in any pain.  None physically I said and in less than five minutes I was sitting in a recovery room, a heating pad on my abdomen, sipping Canada Dry, and eating cookies. “

Allison took a deep breath and carried on.  “My friend came in.  We cried together.

The recovery nurse gave me my package of post-care instructions and a prescription for antibiotics, and we were on our way home.  On the way out I stopped – I was taken aback as I glanced around the waiting room – there wasn’t an empty seat to be found.  I was shocked at how widespread the decision to have an abortion really was. “

Allison spoke about her recovery.

“The physical healing process was smooth and effortless.  I feel lucky.  I walked a little bit everyday, even if it was only from one end of my apartment to the other.  I ate healthy food to maintain my energy.   I rested a lot.  Though I still felt like I was living in a foggy dream, my life slowly got back to normal – the minutes, days, weeks, and months have passed by.  The absence of the baby in my belly makes it all feel like some kind of dream,“ she reflected.

“My greatest struggle has been to remember the whole event and honor the grief that has, at times, been paralyzing.   I mourn the loss of my dream of starting my own family that I always thought would make me somehow feel more complete.  The grief shifted from being solely about the baby and the abortion, to the loss of all the aspects of being a mom; breastfeeding, decorating a nursery, sleepless nights, and all those newborn sounds and smells, to the loss of the dream, “

Allison noticeably upset continued, “The emptiness in my uterus and the ache in my heart has been unbearable at times.   There are still periods of extreme heartache, supreme anger, rage at the baby’s father, emptiness that seems to have no end, guilt for killing my baby, and frustration that I still find myself dipping back into this pit of darkness. “

Before I could ask she spoke, “Thankfully, to the depth I felt darkness and despair, I have developed a greater capacity to feel love and joy, what a gift!  I also have a deeper understanding of myself, and my values.  There is a lot more love flowing through my heart for myself and others that I never knew existed before.   The love and joy continues to pour through me in my relationships with friends, family, coworkers, and with complete strangers walking down the street.”  Allison beamed,  “I laugh harder, I love more deeply, I have more gratitude for the simple things.  I feel more peaceful and I live with greater clarity.”

In wrapping up her story she shared, “While this experience has been the most difficult of my life, the wins have been profound.  I have realized there are many people who love me and who will support me.  I have learned that it’s up to me to ask for support – it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength that I choose to be authentic and vulnerable, and let the depth of all of my emotions be felt and seen by myself and others.  I would never have planned this whole journey, yet in my heart I am grateful for the lessons that have changed my life forever.”

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Brad Miller Authentic Jersey

Play, Draw, Cuddle – Some Helpful Hints for Children Grieving

When I was young, eleven years old, I think, my Grandpa Joe died.  I knew he was in the hospital and wasn’t really well yet that was all I knew until one day my folks told me Grandpa was no longer with us and we would be going to the funeral on the weekend.

My experience at the funeral home and at the funeral was really confusing to me.  I had lots of questions such as:

Why is Grandpa so white?

Why is he dressed in a suit?

Where is he going?

Why is his skin so cold?

What is he in a box for?

Why is he going in the ground?

Is he OK?

All these questions for the most part went unanswered.  Adults tried to reassure me and yet their unwillingness to answer my questions did exactly the opposite.  Just because I was a kid didn’t mean I couldn’t understand.  I sure felt a lot and I just needed someone to talk with me about what I was feeling and why I was confused; an adult to talk with me openly and truthfully in a way I could understand.

This handbook will give you hints about kids and death in short easy to read points, much the way you could talk with children about death.  You will notice I don’t mince words, I write shorter sentences and in language children would use.  I talk with the children in their world, their language so they can understand and make sense of their feelings, what they see and what they hear – to ensure all the messages are congruent.

As adults it is our responsibility to teach children, our own and others, how to deal with the loss of a loved one.  Showing them how to be open, honest and loving while experiencing a painful loss will help children learn about both the joy and the pain that results from loving family and friends deeply.  It will help them embrace fully both life and death.

It is also important to understand the different levels of development our kids grow through.  This mini handbook will deal with two categories; teenagers and younger children.  There are many wonderful books on grief and children.  This section provides a brief look at the basic and important factors to understand when being with your kids as they grieve.

General Guidelines

Trust you heart, your own intuition and feeling senses.  From this perspective encourage the truth to be told gently yet truthfully.  Children are great at sensing when adults are being over-protective and when adults are denying the truth themselves.

Do your best use appropriate words such as death, dead, and died.  Trying to soften the impact by using words like grandpa is resting will only confuse the child.  Help the child learn that not talking about it will not make it go away.

Find a creative way to let the children know that grief is a process or a journey.  Use examples that children can understand to help them see that they can get through the feelings.  Let them know it is fine to express their feelings, as it is also fine for you to express yours.

An example of a storm that starts with clouds, then gets dark, then it rains and perhaps there is thunder and lightening, then it stops, the clouds go away and the sunshine returns will help the child link what you are saying to something they already know starts and stops.

Younger children are not able to process the intensity of adult emotions through their bodies so they do it in bits and pieces.  They may be sad for a moment and then run off happily playing.  It is fine that they do this and let them know that having fun and playing does not mean they don’t miss or care about their loved one.  Kids also move around a lot more than adults so don’t take their activeness as a sign of disrespect, some times children just need to move.

As with an adult, children need someone to talk to about death.  Keep their conversations with you confidential unless of course the child’s safety is at risk or they are behaving in unusual and abnormal ways.

Watch for the quiet child who seems all right and yet isn’t expressive at all.  They may need support too even though their grief isn’t as obvious as it is with a child who is much more extroverted.

Common Myths About Children and Grief

Children don’t feel the same way adults do when grieving.  Well of course they don’t every person grieves in their own unique way given their developmental level, background, family of origin and culture.  It is normal and healthy that we each express of grief in our own ‘style’.

I must protect my child from the pain of the loss. This myth gets tied in with thoughts like they are too young; they wouldn’t understand; I might upset them if I talk about it; taking part in the funeral would upset them too much; I won’t know the right thing to say; they don’t want to talk about it anyway.  All these thoughts are not helpful.  Kids know and understand a lot more than we adults give them credit for.  Children feel deeply too and need to be taught how to express their emotions in a healthy way.  By talking about the loss, whether you say the right thing or not, you are acknowledging the child’s grief too.  Excluding them from the funeral or ceremonies will often times be even more upsetting for the children, they know when upset is present and when it is being hidden.

Don’t say death, died or dying its too harsh. Use words like gone away, went to heaven, or is resting.  All these terms adults use to soften the blow will actually confuse the kids.  Grandpa is gone will likely be followed by a question like ‘Where?”  Mother’s gone to a better place could be questioned like this; “Can we got there too?”  It is much more helpful to tell it like it is.  “Grandpa is dead.” is a much better approach.  It is real and this is what the child needs to learn to handle with you loving support and directness.  Refrain from going over board though and telling the children all the facts all at once, this can be very overwhelming for any one especially a young child.

Talking about, looking at or touching the body is not right.  Quite to the contrary, it is very normal for children to push and poke and touch.  Teach them how to do this respectfully, let them feel the body.  They will notice the person is not really there.  It will help them know that death is real and also help them say good-bye.

Some Helpful Hints

Children are going to go through lots of emotions and different phases as they grieve and mourn the loss.  They may go through a phase where they are full of sadness, hopelessness and despair.  They may really deny the death and protest it hoping if they do things will go back to normal.  The child may have challenges concentrating both at home and at school.

Ultimately the child will begin to put their life back together without the loved one she or he just lost; as they do this they are beginning to accept the death.  They will need to find their own way to have the death make sense to them in their understanding of life.

Helping your child to move through these stages or phase of their own unique journey of grief will prepare them well for the ups and downs of life and also give them confidence that they can get through losses no matter how painful they may be.

What you can do to support your child is help them tell their story of the death as it is for them.  Teach them new words and phrase to help them understand and accept the loss.  Let them know that their feelings are okay and help them express them in a healthy way.  Show them by example.

Know also that it may take many repetitions to help the child understand what has happened.  They too may need to repeat the story often to ‘get it’.  They may also say things that sound weird to you as an adult; things that they just blurt out like “It is all my fault.”  They may not really believe it and may change it moments later as they explore their feelings and emotions.

Help your children to remember the loved one they lost by cherishing keepsakes, having little ceremonies, telling stories or drawing pictures.  Help them to finish any leftover business with their loved one; Saying good-bye; Telling their loved one how much they will miss them; or, saying I love you.

Watch for areas of confusion, things your child doesn’t understand and then simply help them straighten out the misunderstanding.  Help them with their emotions.  Listen to them and support them through the expression of their feelings and emotions.  Teach them how to express and understand the more challenging emotions like guilt and anger.

Importantly, don’t wait until the family has experienced a loss to explain death and dying to your child.  At times of loss emotions are already overwhelming for everyone including the children.  So make time when family life is ‘normal’ to have conversation with them about death, loss, love and life.  By having these chats you normalize life and death; love and loss with your kids.  You will actually build you relationship with your kids by having these talks, letting them know that your family can have the difficult conversations and grow from them.  Remember you can also contact you local hospice society for support.

I was in Burlington, Ontario at the Bay Centre Funeral Homes giving a talk on Embrace Your Death in the fall of 2011.  It was a fun evening full of great information, wonderful conversations and many new acquaintances. One such new friendship was with Jane George author of Playing With the Angels, Stories of Possibilities for Grieving Children.  She approached me after my talk with a warm smile and wonderful hug.  She offered me a copy of her book as a gift for my uplifting talk about death and grief.  We chatted briefly and off she went.

I read through her book the next day and was taken with her approach to grief for kids.  It is an amazing book and really does address the children where they are – at their level mentally, spiritually, and emotionally.  It feels as if she were a child as she wrote the book.  It speaks directly to children in a way that they will understand.  The book addresses lovingly all the kinds of things adults might say to make children feel better that in fact only confuse the issue.  It talks about all the emotional things that could go on for kids.

Being written to children in this unique and loving way truly supports a healthy approach to the grief our children go through.  I encourage you to get a copy of this wonderful book; it is very helpful!  It also supports much of what I have written in this small but important section of children and grief.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Jordan Howard Jersey

Practice Dying? – Lots of Different Deaths to Explore

We need to re-train ourselves to live with death and the process of death in deeper and healthier ways that include all the hidden opportunities death affords. This is hard to practice when dying only comes around occasionally in our families. However, there are other times that occur regularly in life that we can use to practice dealing with the inevitable loss of a loved one and for that matter our own future death.

Here are some other types of ‘death’ that we can practice with in order to learn some closure skills that will stand us in good stead.

Fired from a job                                    End of a relationship

Completion of a project                        End of a day

Depletion of your bank account            Sale of a car

Death of a dream                                    Death of an age or era

Loss of mobility                                    Loss of a faculty (sight, hearing etc)

When thinking of death we tend to focus on a person’s death or loss of the body.  Agreed, this is the big one, and yet we can prepare for this by understanding that these other ‘deaths’ are similar experiences.  Something existed and now it no longer does.  Lets take a look at some of the other ‘deaths’ listed above and see how we can use them to practice acceptance, closure, and letting go.

Death or the ending of a relationship is a great comparison as many if not all of us have ended a loving relationship at one time or another.  If you were the one who was left it can feel devastating for quite a time after.  The roller coaster ride of emotions can be very similar to the emotional ride death of a loved one brings.  This is particularly true of relationships that have been long standing.

You will notice immediately after the breakup, that your emotions can get easily triggered when you see your ex-partner, or when you visit the home of a friend that was once a friend of the couple.  You may notice the loss when you walk by a favorite restaurant or a special occasion comes and goes.  You may notice also the bargain basement feelings of trying to get him or her back, perhaps even denial – “Oh they’ll come to their senses and we’ll get back together.”  This mini-death mimics quite closely those emotion we feel around a loved one dying.

We can use the ending of an important relationship to practice the skills of acknowledging the loss, accepting the benefits, saying good-bye well, and being real with our deepest feelings.  We can also practice the use of ceremony or ritual to mark in a healthy way the end of this important piece of our lives.  Notice how you reacted when ending a relationship.  What did you do well?  What could you improve upon?  What skills, tools and techniques did you learn that you could use when facing the death of a loved one or other life endings?  When you practice this process you will build yourself a death toolbox that you can draw on when needed.

Death, or the ending of a job can be equally tough on people especially when the job loss was unexpected or sudden.  Many of the same emotions as crop up when ending a relationship will come up as you move through the process of job loss or job change.  You will feel denial, bargaining, and anger, sadness, and often confusion occurring regularly and sometimes forcefully as you move from employed to unemployed.  Even if the job change was planned as in the case of retirement, there will still be a journey through grief as you adjust to the changes, the different environment, the loss of personal worth, and your business relationships.

You may notice that even when you find another job you are still carrying mental and emotional baggage from the exit of your previous job.  You may find yourself wishing you were back in your old position and remembering enviously times of ‘better’ days.  On the other side of the coin you may carry the emotional and mental baggage with relief, “whew glad that’s over” yet you are still lugging it along as you compare one job to the other.

At some point it’s done and you are in your new position with no hangover from the previous one.  So again notice how you approach this death.  What did you do well that supported that change? What did you do that didn’t really work that well?  What pitfalls did you fall into and get stuck in for a while?  Add the tools that worked for you to your Death Toolbox and do some research on where you may have gotten stuck or lost.

Here is a really simple one!

Each day is born as we awaken to the new morning.  Each day dies into the darkness of night as we fall asleep.  Death and rebirth each and every day!  A time to say good-bye to what is no longer and a time to greet that, which is new.  What a wonderful practice!  Do you have a way to begin each day aside from simply getting out of bed?  Do you have a way to close each day so it doesn’t unwillingly force itself into tomorrow?  Do you have tools to notice what you did well that day and celebrate those wins?  Do you have ways to let go of what you didn’t do so well and forgive yourself?

Add these simple easy-to-practice skills and tools to your Death Toolbox and help yourself prepare for the unavoidable deaths that will come your way in life.

Look at all the different types of death that remain on the list and discover how you can ‘practice’ with these deaths all of the skills that you can then transfer and use when the death of a loved one comes knocking on your door.

Hey, even in sex there is birth and death! Birth of sexual play begins with the urge, the horny feeling.  It comes alive and blossoms into lovemaking and at the end of the sexual encounter there is a “petit mort” (little death) in the form of an orgasm.  The sexual play has died.

So, notice in your life these opportunities to let go appreciatively of things that have ended and embrace those which are new.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Vincent Trocheck Womens Jersey

Things not to Say at a Funeral!

Most of us are not well practiced at talking with people who have lost a loved one. It is a skill set not well taught. In fact our collective unwillingness to talk about death retards our ability to develop loving and supportive communication skills.  Typically we fumble and bumble our way through these awkward times.

Our natural inclination is to want to help out and make those grieving feel better.  Out of our love for them we want their pain to stop.  Many times our hearts are in the right place our minds and mouths though are somewhere else.

In chatting with people who have experienced many comments at end of life ceremonies I have put together a list of phrases that just don’t work.  The phrases were all well intended and yet how they impacted the one grieving was far from the original aim.

Review the phrases and especially the reframed phrases that may convey more clearly what you really intended. 

The phrase – “I know how you feel.”

Intention

The underlying intention is to let the person grieving know that they are not alone and that you have experienced grief too.  The speaker is using this phrase to build understanding and common ground so the one mourning doesn’t feel alone in their grief.  They may also be implying that it is okay if you share more of your grief with me if you wish.  The intentions are loving and honorable.

Impact

However the phrasing is poor and results in negative reactions from the very one you are trying to console.  “No you don’t know how I feel!” is a common response and the truth is they are right we cannot know how they feel at all.  We can assume we do because we may have gone through our own loss of a loved one.  Yet, our grief journey was uniquely our own unlike anyone else’s, so theirs will be uniquely their own too – similar in many ways and yet so personally different.

Reframed Phrase

How would you let someone know that you care, have empathy for what they are going through and want to support them?  Here are several sentences that would do just that.

“I have no idea what it must be like for you.  I lost my husband so I have some experience with grief.  I am really willing to offer you an ear or a shoulder if you need it.”

This approach lets the one grieving know several things without laying any judgments or trips.  It acknowledges that the person you are consoling has their own process, that you have had a loss too so you know something about grief, and that you are ready and willing to be there for them at their request.

“I am guessing this is a challenging time for you and I want you to know that I lost my daughter last year so I have some idea about what it could be like for you.  I’d be happy to join you for a coffee and talk about it all if you would like that kind of support.”

This approach lets the grieving friend or family member know that you have some idea about grief and you are there for them if they were to call.  It is important to remember that the person you are speaking with is not broken and doesn’t need to be fixed.  You are letting them know you are willing to support them by listening and understanding.

The Phrase – This too will pass.

Intention

The person speaking this phrase is really intending to let you know that the storm of grief will come and go and ultimate the intensity will diminish and life will stabilize.

Impact

In the moment to the one grieving it feels like this endless, bottomless well of grief.  It doesn’t feel like it will pass at all and to be frank hearing someone say that is more upsetting than supportive.  It tends to create reactivity and distance.

Reframed Phrase

How are you doing?

This simple question opens the door for the one you are supporting.  It doesn’t tell them anything about how they should feel or what they should do.  It gives them the chance to speak and be heard.

The phrase – If you need anything, just call.

Intention

The reason people say this is to offer a helping hand, to lighten the burden.  Sometimes the person speaking is offering energetic support and doesn’t realize how important hands on support can be to a person experiencing grief.

Impact

If the one grieving does take the risk and ask for help, honor your word and when and where possible do give of your time and effort.  There is nothing worse for someone living through grief to reach out for help and then be ‘let down.’   The impact when you do help is untold thanks and relief.

Reframed Phrase

I would be happy to offer you an evening or two of baby-sitting so you can have some personal space.

Make your offer of help specific and straightforward.  Some people experiencing grief feel totally overwhelmed by all of life’s details and can even begin to sift through all the ways they do need help, so they don’t reach out.  Keeping your offer of support clear, concise and doable is supportive.

The Phrase – At least you have other children.

Intention

The intention here is to make the woman experiencing the loss feel better and to appreciate the fact she does have other children to love and care for.

Impact

A death is a death no matter how you slice it.  To attempt to make a woman who has lost an unborn baby feel better does not work at all.  It denies her already existing love and relationship with the child growing in her body.  It is offensive to her and cause even more pain and upset.

Reframed Phrase

Tell me more about how you are doing.

The sentence opens up the opportunity for the woman suffering the loss to talk with you.  Listening to her and understanding her grief is helpful and much more supportive than trying to make her feel better.  Giving her the space to talk with you about how she is really doing is a gift.

The Phrase – They are in a much better place.

Intention

When some one uses this phrase they are setting out to ease the worry of those surviving a loved ones’ death; to reassure them that their family member or friend is alright.

Impact

The one(s) grieving would likely have a reaction something like, “How do you know?”  or  “No, here is a much better place!” There are many other reactions to this sentence but you get the drift, it doesn’t work because we just don’t know that to be true.  We may believe it to be true and that is different.  Typically when we try to make someone feel better by offering them a belief we create reactivity in the one we are attempting to help.

Reframed Phrase

Tell me a bit more about how you miss your partner.

Instead of getting them to feel better this sentence sets out to help them express how they are really feeling.  By approaching it this was and encouraging them to express their feelings you are actually being much more helpful.

The Phrase – Do you really think it is good for your kids to be here?

Intention

People care for children and sometimes they may worry about how children will handle big changes like a move or death.  Many people do not understand about how children grieve and think they need to protect them from death and grief.

Impact

It tends to separate children from the family process of grief and in doing so delays their natural grief journey.  It may also cause children to become frightened of death and to see it as something to be fearful of.

Reframed Phrase

How are the children doing?

Asking from a place of being curious will be very helpful to the person you are talking with.  It will open the door for them to speak openly about their children and how the kids are doing with it all.

 

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Ronde Barber Womens Jersey

Do Men Grieve Differently than women? – Hell Yes!

It is very obvious that men and women are different physically, less obvious are the differences spiritually and emotionally.  David Deida has written extensively about these fundamental differences in two of his book, Dear Lover and Way of the Superior Man.  It is important to recognize that we all have both masculine and feminine energy in us so none of us will be all one way or the other.  We will each be a unique blend with our own preferences when it comes to grieving.

It is also important to know that there are commonalities amongst men grieving that are generally speaking different from women.  I will explore what it often looks like for men, what men tend to do with grief, and how to support a man grieving.

Know that these different tendencies arise for many reasons, cultural upbringing, differences in male and female brains both functionally and anatomically being two of the major contributors.  It is important to recognize that each man has his own unique grief journey.  Though we can draw some general conclusion regarding common themes of masculine grief each man will have his own grief signature.

What to Look for in Men

Though men may express ‘typical’ signs of grief such as, hopelessness, sadness, crying, or depressed moods they do so much less than women.  More typically you will find men displaying symptoms that are rare in women.

Irritable.  Whether he is your partner, friend, coworker, son or father the grieving man may have a feeling of underlying irritability.  You may sense this in his demeanor or in the way he talks.  He may feel ‘chippy’ or resentful over reacting to small upsets.

Anger.  Sometimes a man will direct his anger at what he feels was the cause of the death.  Other times he will direct the anger inwards or simply be angry at everything in general.

Withdrawal.  Men will from time to time pull back from social outings.  They may also feel numb and distant as they withdraw emotionally as well.

Intellectualizing.  Some men may spend a fair bit of time mulling over life with their deceased loved one.  Others may think about death in general.

Substance Misuse.  Some men may turn to alcohol or drugs in an attempt to manage their feelings and to get some ‘relief’ from the emotions of grief.

The fact that the more typical symptoms are not as present and these more masculine ways are may lead to conflict both internally and in relationship.  In his relationship his female partner may misunderstand his grief and try to get him to grieve more like her.  Internally, the man may fell like he is not grieving the right way.

Though most men grieve for shorter periods than do their female counterparts there is no exact time frame for male grief.  The grief journey will vary widely from man to man, some being short periods perhaps two months and other grieving for several years.

What Men Tend to Do

Most men tend to be problem solvers and Mr. Fixit, they want to get the tasks done; so they approach grief in a similar manner.  Men also tend to control their emotions and rely on their own inner strengths.  What this means is that men will likely not respond to doing their ‘grief work.’  As an example at a training program for hospice volunteers I recently attended there we 17 women and 3 men.  The facilitator was female and all the guest presenters were women.  A quick tour of hospice web sites shows the same bias staff and volunteer teams are predominantly women.

Clearly men handle their grief by doing their ‘grief work’ differently.  Action, thinking and fixing will be the more typical male responses to grief.  It is important to recognize that the more female approaches to grief are necessary as well. So a man needs to find balance between coping emotionally and coping by restoring lie to order.

When men don’t find healthy ways to express their grief in a way that works for them, you may notice men being:

Excessively silent

Overly busy at work or with chores

Explosively angry

Misusing drugs or alcohol

 

When men feel unseen or misunderstood in their grief they tend to keep it all a secret.  They may appear complete with their grief but don’t be fooled.

Handy Tips for Men

Give yourself permission to grieve your own way.  Each man will have his own way of expressing his grief that he may have expected.  His way of grieving may surprise others too.  As long as there is no harm being done to himself or those around him allowing his authentic expression of grief will help the healing process.

Get together with your good men friends.  It is healing also for men to get together and support each other either informally or in a support group.  Being with other men who have gone through a similar loss is especially helpful.  This could be the source of his strongest support.

Pay attention to your actions.  Two areas to pay attention to are the expression of anger and the use of alcohol or drugs.  Refrain from using anger as a weapon to hurt others with, find healthy ways to express it.  Notice a man’s coping tools and be aware of excessive use of alcohol or drugs that may be used to mask the uncomfortable emotions common with grief.

Ask for help.  Men seeking support can be seen as weak or a failure.  Notice harmful or self-damaging behavior and reach out for professional support to help get through the tough times.

Join a men’s support group.  If you notice you are struggling with grief find a men’s support group and join it.

How to Support a Grieving Man

Simply be there and just listen.  Sometimes just sitting with a man, being present and quiet is the best support you can offer.  When a man is emotionally full adding words to his universe may not be helpful.  Letting him know you are there for him and willing to help is important.  Avoid problem-solving and providing advice.

Let him express his grief in his way.  Follow his lead and create space for him to grieve in his way, which is likely, much different than yours.  When dancing only one partner can lead if you want to avoid damaging your partner’s toes, grief is a dance too!  Let him lead.

Take good care of you.  Grief can be intense and fatiguing, make sure you get good rest and take care of yourself.  A tired you is of no help.

Be prepared to ask for help if needed.  Generally speaking most men will get through the grief process without the need for outside support.  Some men will need help, know when to ask for it. Bradley McDougald Authentic Jersey

Miscarriage, Abortion, and Infertility – The Private Deaths We Usually Do Not Speak About

I have been thinking about death of loved ones, unborn loves and was moved to explore this unique loss that women experience viscerally and most often privately.  I realized almost immediately how uniquely personal the relationship is between a women and her yet to be born child.  I then began to understand how intimate the death of the unborn child must be.  As I looked further into this gender specific loss I sensed a need to make this type of ‘private’ death more understood and honored by all of us.

I identified three distinct deaths of a yet to be born loved one; abortion; miscarriage; and infertility.  The first two are a death of an unborn, yet physical body.  The third is the loss of the dream, the urge, the bodily desire of birthing a child. Here are some statistics I discovered as I was doing research for this piece.

In Canada in 2004 there were 337,072 births along with the births were 96,815 abortions and 55,280 miscarriages.  These numbers surprised me.  I had no idea about this mostly private world of women and their in the body deaths. Two hundred and sixty four abortions each day in Canada, one hundred and fifty one miscarriages seemed significant to me.

I am not making a judgment here.  I am recognizing that no matter what the cause of unborn deaths is, they are in fact a death and a loss to the woman and those close to her.  It is another type of death wrapped in silence and taboo. 

The unborn baby was birthed in the body of the woman and also died inside her, a very private affair.  This invisible, unseen birth and death brings with it a different type of grief and bereavement particularly for the mothers.  An example – the woman is dealing with not only the effects of conception but also the grief of the loss of her unborn child.

A second unique issue is the lack of a body and a funeral.  In the case of a death of a loved one we have lots of structure and process to mark the life and the death of the one who died.  Most often with a miscarriage there is not a noticeable body nor is there a formal funeral or ceremony.  As a result people are uncertain how to respond and what to say.  Often they choose to stay silent and the woman who has suffered the loss of her child is bound to grieve alone or perhaps only with her partner.

In the case of a miscarriage the grief is complicated for many reasons unique to this type of loss.  Here are some of losses common to miscarriage:

The loss of the opportunity to be a mother

The loss of trust in her body

The loss of a full and joyous pregnancy

The loss of the unborn child

 

There are very real feeling that arise – shame, guilt, and embarrassment some of unique ones.  These feelings and emotions are complicated by the fact that the woman’s body is going through significant hormonal changes on top of the emotional impact of the loss.

The woman may feel she has let her partner down.  She may be feeling the pain of not knowing the sex of the child, or seeing its body.  The mother may be confused about why she feels so much grief about a child she has never seen.

Coupled with these issues is the lack of answers and the inability to understand why.  The medical system is often unable to provide answers to the miscarriage.  When they do speak to the woman it can often be in medically insensitive language that can sound like; the pregnancy terminated; or the tissue was passed.  Often times they may refer to the miscarriage as a minor medical occurrence.

Women can feel pressured by others and often times by themselves, to try again quickly, often not taking the time to allow the grief from their miscarriage to pass. This can have consequences such as partnership stress and/or post-natal depression. Women are often looking for answers to ‘why’ and, although there are reasons, they do not usually find out what they are.  Miscarriage grief is not so much about finding the answer they yearn for, as learning how to live without one.

There are also no pictures and few memories that we can hold dear as we remember the unborn loved one. Unlike other deaths the woman’s relationship with her child was ‘internal’ and short.  Others may not understand the depth of love that the mother had for her child and minimize the loss.

Then there is the long list of ‘what if’s’ many women go through.  What if I had more rest and not worked so hard?  What if I had eaten more nutritional food?  What if I were in better physical shape before I got pregnant?

In the case of abortion, though there is a degree of choice involved, women may still suffer grief.  Similar to miscarriage it is difficult to talk about especially given it was a considered choice.  Women may be afraid to talk about it, may feel great shame about their abortion, and may not even realize how it is affecting them. Many women are afraid to talk about their abortion to their doctor or counselor. Some women state that they are “okay” or that “it was the best decision they could have made for that time in their life.”  All this outward behavior may be masking a deeper sense of grief.

Women struggling with abortion related grief might experience some or all of these symptoms:

1)    A general sense of depression and anxiety

2)    A numbing of emotions and feelings

3)    A non-specific feeling of loss

4)    Anger and resentment

5)    Sudden and unexplained periods of crying

6)    A change in relationship with partner

7)    A lack of desire for, or an inability to sleep

8)    Addictive tendencies for food, alcohol or drugs

 

Be aware of these signals, pay attention to them and ask for support if you are experiencing several of these symptoms.  Getting help and support from a therapist or hospice worker would be a great step to take if you recognize some of these signs.

In the case of infertility it is challenging for others to ‘really’ understand the grief a woman may be going through.  Pro-creation is a basic and primal function common in human beings. It is normal to have strong feelings about sex, pregnancy and birth. Many women have an innate mothering instinct that sometimes can be beyond reason and control. Even the thought of having a child is like a birth of sorts.  It is a natural part of living and no shame or embarrassment should be attached to how we feel after the loss of a baby at whatever stage it occurs.

For women who are infertile and have tried fertility processes and are still unable to conceive the grief can be deep and consuming.  Many of the signs and symptoms of grief explained above apply here too.  Others, friends and family, may have difficulty relating to the loss and the depth of her grief.  Some women have always desperately wanted to experience pregnancy and childbirth.  For them the grieving process may be intense and prolonged.

Even if the woman chooses adoption the issue of infertility and its associated grief do not go away.  The door is never fully closed on the grief or loss inherent in infertility.  When her adoptive child reaches childbearing age, the issue may come up again.  When grandchildren are born, she may look at the child and wonder, “Whom does this child look like? Certainly not me!”

No matter which of these three private and ‘invisible’ deaths a woman experiences her grief is real and needs to be expressed, received, and honored.  So go ahead and talk about it.   You can be proud of your pregnancies, no matter how “successful” they were.  A hurt heart is a sign of your capacity to love deeply!

One thing that can really help women through this ‘private grief’ is to know other women who have been through the same thing.  There is no reason for you to be alone in your grief.

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Chris Paul Jersey

What is Wrong with Me? – Am I Depressed?

After giving birth, some mothers may fall into a period of postpartum depression resulting from a change of body chemistry caused by birth.  Though there are significant differences between birth and death, understand that there can be a bout of depression following the loss of a loved one.  It is important to be aware of this potential health care issue.

Here are some signs and signals to keep a look out for as you moving along your own journey of grief.  It is also supportive to watch out for these same signs in your family and close friends who have suffered a loss.  The ten or so items I mention here are by no means an inclusive list they are the more common ones.

If you have a number of these signs and they occur regularly it would be a good idea to make a visit to your family doctor or therapist and get some professional advice and an informed opinion.

1) Sleep  You are sleeping more than normal and have trouble getting out of bed or you are not sleeping much at all and are getting fatigued.

2) Aches, pains and illness  You may find your body is more achy and painful than usual.  You may be having more colds or illnesses than you normally do.

3) Excessive use of drugs or alcohol  In order to get some relief from your feelings, or in order to hid your deeper emotions you may resort to the excessive use of alcohol that is very common with people suffering from depression. You may choose illicit or prescription drugs to help numb the emotions that so often accompany grief.

4) Weight change  You may find that your weight drops noticeably as your appetite vanishes or you may use food to suppress your feelings and emotions and gain a noticeable amount of weight.

5) Work  You could find that you are regularly absent from work or late, you might also notice you are not as productive as you were before the loss.   You may have trouble concentrating.  The opposite is also possible, over working and over achieving as a way to keep you busy and distracted.

6) General lack of motivation  You may notice that you just are not motivated to do anything, even hobbies that you once loved.  It might even show up in a lack of sex drive or no sexual appetite at all.

7) Anxiousness  You may experience a level of anxiousness you haven’t experienced before.  This anxiousness may not have a basis to it and may even turn into a type of panic.

8)Emotions  You may have a low-grade sense of irritability and edginess that from time to time shows up as anger.  Anger is often an outward sign of fear or hurt.

9) Thoughts of death or suicide  You could experiences thoughts of taking your own life and become preoccupied with thoughts of death, both yours, and others.

I was once asked what the opposite of depression was.  I had to ponder it deeply and avoid my initial reaction to blurt out the word joy.  As I looked at the question more fully it came to me that the opposite of depression is expression.

Some of us who are depressed often times feel flat, lifeless, and dead in a way.  When we look more deeply we notice a caldron of emotions lying just underneath the surface of our flatness.  Sometimes dropping into the sea of emotions and expressing them can be a healing and also freeing event – an event that may also help lift the depression.

 

Much Love

Stephen Garrett Danny Shelton Authentic Jersey