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, 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

Another life has ended and I’m digging through the crayon box trying to find my emotions.

Royal Purple radiates the bruise that spreads under my skin. Blue Denim holds the cold fists of anger. The bower where I find rest is green, but not Shamrock Green or Granny Smith Apple. Too bright, too warm. Forest Green is grainy and gray like sorrow.

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.

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Slow Me Down

I come to this season wanting to soak up its atmosphere. I come to be moved and surprised in simple, yet subtle, ways.

But I have to be patient and wait for the Spirit to reveal, in its own time, what it will reveal. I cannot force insights to come. I cannot entice wisdom to descend. I have to trust and be receptive of gifts that I don’t anticipate and which I may not think I need. I have to be open to the unknown. This is a time of active waiting, and I confess that I do not wait well.

Slow me down that I may listen. Slow me down that I may hear. Slow me down that I may be present to this moment and to the people here.                                     

Wednesday, December 14, 2016

Listening For Spirits

Sometimes we hear the voice of a family member who has died, or we feel their presence. Is it real?

Out of the blue, I think to send something to a friend in another state. When it arrives three days later, it’s exactly what she needed. How did I know? Is something going on beyond coincidence?

We are more connected to each other than we think, to both the living and the dead.

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Home For the Holidays

Finding a place to survive when your world has been torn apart.

It doesn’t matter whether it’s Christmas, Hanukkah, the Winter Solstice or another observance that you celebrate at this time of year, our memories of being HOME for it are probably similar.

The idea of going HOME for the holidays fills us with warm images, of sleigh bells and dreidels, of lattes and latkes, of Hallmark moments complete with snow, ice skating, and houses with glowing lights. Although if we live in a warmer climate, Santa might wear shorts, and Christmas lights are strung in palm not pine trees.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Silence of the Holidays

Holidays used to be Holy Days when time was set aside for looking at our lives, figuring out what we didn’t like about them, gathering spiritual guidance, and adjusting our habits so that we would head in the direction that we wanted. Instead of facing our trauma, we have morphed the observances into an excuse to indulge in excess.

If we lost someone this year, we don’t want celebration. We want mindfulness.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

Boxes of Grief

My friends didn’t know what to say. They’d never lost anyone close. My wife died young, and no one taught my generation about grief’s landscape. No one knew to tell me that life was over as I had known it, or that I would be thrown into a land cratered by death for more than a year.

Yet everyone had a Box of Imagined Grief, with odds and ends tossed in for what they thought sorrow was like. Whenever I came over, they dug around in their box, took something pithy out, and handed it to me to comfort my grief. Then they expected the dinner party to go on as planned. As you might guess, this wasn’t what I needed.