Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday, I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another. To follow, please leave your email address.

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Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Grieving For Society

The Call to be Creative

When I was swimming in the minestrone of grief, one of the realities that helped me cope was the sameness of life outside my house. Everyday I could mindlessly commute to work, do my job, come home, watch TV, and sleep.

Then 9/11 happened, a few months after my wife died, and my grief was swept into the larger grief of the world. I had no sanctuary from death. Because I didn’t have cable, even TV was no longer a refuge because of its unrelenting coverage of the terror and destruction.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Hiking Through Grief

When men grieve, they often need to do something physical to help them along. Some men build things. I go hiking for a week in Yosemite.

My goal each day is to reach a scenic viewpoint, but I also want to find a place along the way where I connect to something solid and real.

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

Grief Dinners

What if you threw a potluck dinner for friends, and everyone who came was grieving? Cool, right!

Well, cool if you had lost someone, because there is little support in society for those who are grieving. Otherwise, you might look for an excuse.

An organization called “The Dinner Party” invites people who are grieving to potluck dinners. Gatherings have been hosted in cities across the country. Currently there are 140+ tables in more than 60 cities, with a few smaller towns in the mix.

Wednesday, March 1, 2017

Being Real

Book: A Widow’s Awakening, Maryanne Pope

It’s unsettling to read about people in anguish who are coming apart at the seams. At the same time, it’s also a story of the human spirit as the person faces one of the hardest experiences that she will ever have to face — the death of someone she loved more than life. After reading Maryanne’s book, I feel that we could sit down and immediately begin sharing heart-to-heart.

Her particular hell: she is in her early 30s, married for four years to John, a policeman in Canada. Because there is no safety barrier, he falls through a false ceiling while investigating a break-in, hits his head and dies. She does not have the chance to say goodbye.

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Delayed Grief

There are good reasons for not dealing with grief. The children have to be assembled and taken to school. We have to go to work. We have to go shopping, cook meals, and wash the dishes.

We have to do the laundry. Pets have to be walked. There is yard work to be done. Bills to be paid. Cars repaired. And somehow we have to find enough time to sleep. We don’t have time left to grieve.

Grief doesn’t give us that option.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Blessings of Grief

Even In This

It took me a while to wrap my head around this one. And before someone starts yelling, let me be clear. I am not saying that grief is a blessing that we need to experience. No one needs to die in order for us to understand anything.

When someone we love dies, we lose so much that it can feel like nothing is left. As the weeks and months go on, we are left with a new understanding of life and of ourselves. We approach each day differently because we know how quickly everything can change.

Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Breast Cancer, Never Give Up

At a benefit for breast cancer in East Peoria, world-famous Sylvia McNair sang music from Broadway and opera. Between songs she spoke of her battle with cancer and how crucial her community of close friends had been to her recovery. 
She did not lecture about the disease, nor did she tell us how we had to fight the beast of breast cancer. She simply talked about her struggles and shared what enabled her to get through the chemotherapy, surgery, doubt, and despair. She did not hide from how hard the battle was, or how scared she had been when she thought she was going to die.

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

Hospice and Parents

It was hard watching dad in his chair, tucked under a blanket, eyes closed, mumbling, “Help me,” and not know what kind of help he wanted. He hadn’t talked much in the last week. Was he thirsty? Hungry? Uncomfortable? Perhaps he was afraid of dying?

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

When Everything Is Not Okay

Book: Everything is Not Okay is an audio book by Megan Devine that invites the newly bereaved to enter their grief and see where it leads them.

Devine notes that everyone has an opinion about how people should grieve, even those who have never lost someone. Ignore them, she says. No one can tell you how you need to grieve; only you can determine that. We also have our own guilt trips to deal with, the “shoulds” that we pile on ourselves. Getting beyond the shoulds and oughts is one of the first tasks that grievers face so that we can hear what we actually need.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Grief: What You Can Say and Do

What we can do for those who are grieving is a matter of compassion, of kindness that comes from concern for the wellbeing of the other person. Whatever you say or do, do it with compassion, with kindness that goes beyond politeness. Let your heart respond to the person who is grieving.

Be honest. Your inclination is to want to find the right words that will take the pain away. You won’t. The pain is going to be there no matter what you say. This frees you up to be honest with the person who is grieving. You can say things like, “Look, I don’t know what to say, but I care about you.” or “Grief really makes me uneasy, but I want to help. I don’t want you to feel alone in this.”

You can say, “I’m sorry for your loss.” This bridges the gap between us. It acknowledges my grief and it tells me that you care.

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Grief's Coloring Book

My wife is dead. An unknown heart problem in her 40s. The shock of her sudden death has sent me digging through crayons trying to identify my emotions.

Blue Denim holds my cold, clenched fists of anger. Royal Purple radiates the bruise that oozes under my skin. I like green, so I draw each green crayon across the paper, but none calm me like being in Yosemite. Shamrock is too bright. Granny Smith Apple too warm. Forest Green comes close — grainy and gray like grief.

Wednesday, January 4, 2017

After the Holidays

The holidays are finally over. We partied too much. Ate too much. Watched too much TV. We’re exhausted. And if we’re grieving, we no longer have to pretend that we’re happy. A new and unstructured year stretches out before us like a big lump of dough. What will we do with it? More to the point, do we have the energy to cross the boundaries?

Rather than compile a list of things I SHOULD do to better myself (the Resolution Conundrum), I want to make a list of what I WANT to do, what will expand my heart with compassion for others. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

New Year of Grief

The first New Year’s after a loved one dies, the future looks like a rocky coast.

There is no celebrating. No late night dancing. No sparklers or blowing of horns. No party.

We don’t know what to do now. What direction to head. Because our loved one is not here, no matter what amazing things happened this year, like a job promotion or a new car, death deflates everything positive. We do not look forward to what is coming because most of our dreams disappeared with the one who died.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Holiday Black and Blues

The holiday season began with Thanksgiving. We took a deep breath and stepped on the roller coaster ride that will zip us through an unending gauntlet of paper-wrapped, bow-tied, fancy-dan celebrations and parties. We will change out one holiday as the next one begins. Depending on your background, your formal observances could include Hanukkah, Advent, the Winter Solstice, Christmas, Kwanzaa, and New Year’s. (Diwali came earlier this year.) In addition, there are all our seasonal gatherings with family and friends.
For those of us who lost loved ones this year, the holidays will be a nightmare.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Winter's Light

When the year’s shadows are heaviest, when nights become long and cold, when feelings of self-doubt, despair, and death draw near, we light candles to push back the darkness that surrounds us.

The light of stars, the bonfires, and the flames of candles remind us of people we’ve loved, dreams we’ve followed over the years, and the guidance of wise teachers. They call us to reclaim what stirs our passions, what brings us energy and meaning. They challenge us to care for those among us for whom the light has grown dim.

The flickering of the flames draws us out of our normal preoccupations to focus on this moment.