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, 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 do what needs to be done?

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.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Finding the Thanks

Thanksgiving is brutal on those who grieve because it demands that we be grateful for what we have. But in the beginning of grief, all we can see is what we’ve lost.

The traditional things to be grateful for on this day are food, shelter, and community.

If you haven’t recovered your interest in food, and cooking traditional holiday dishes seems wrong because of death, then this item is out. Most of us interpret shelter as home, and if someone crucial is missing this year, then “home” is gone. Community means the people we gather with, usually family but also friends. This year we are painfully aware of who isn’t here.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

Sex is Not an Emotion

What do widowers want when they begin dating? 
My essay at the Good Men Project. 

I am grateful for Sarah Marty-Schlipf and Wendy Fontaine's insights.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Finding Our Compass Points

When someone we love dies, the world we knew ceases to exist. The future is scrambled, and we no longer know what direction to head. The center no longer holds.

I’ve carried a quote by Thomas Merton with me since high school. I was riding my bike from Minnesota across Wisconsin, wanted something to read, and found Merton’s slim book Thoughts in Solitude in a convenience store:

Wednesday, November 2, 2016

Contacting the Spirits

All Souls Day

Today we honor those who have shown up at crucial times in our lives and helped us survive. Its roots are thousands of years old in a time when people tried to ward off Death and wandering, malevolent spirits that took family and friends away, often without warning or reason. While modern medicine has subdued some of these spirits, we still fear the long-leggedy beasties and things that go bump in the night. Too many people we love die unexpectedly, and too many die young.

We are scared of death. We want to know what happens to us when we die.