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Grief Digest

Volume 13, Issue #1


INFORMATION Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #1 1


credits “A picture is worth a thousand words” is more than just a quotation. We are proud to present the illustrations (credited below) which add such beauty and elegance to the wonderful words of our contributors. We are so grateful for the abundant talent that has been given to this magazine, and we know that their amazing gifts will bless and enrich many lives.

Magazine design and layout by Janet Roberts, Centering Corporation. Reprint Policy: We love it when you like our material well enough to pass it on to others, but we’d really appreciate your letting them know where you found it. There is no charge to reprint material from Grief Digest, but we do require that you include the words, “Reprinted with permission from Grief Digest, Centering Corporation, Omaha, Nebraska, 866-218-0101.” Also, please don’t change anything in the copy you are reprinting. Thank you for your continued support and your cooperation.

Grief Digest is a Centering Corporation Resource The Centering Corporation was founded in 1977 by Joy and Dr. Marvin Johnson, National Presenters. We started out with nine little coloring books for hospitalized children and a couple of workshops for nurses. Today we have thousands of grief resources for children and adults, My Friends Emotion Dolls, a Memory Bag for children and five videos.


To order contact: Grief Digest Magazine, 7230 Maple St, Omaha, NE 68134 Phone: 1-866-218-0101 Fax: 402-553-0507 Email: editor@griefdigestmagazine.com Annually/Quarterly Magazine – Code: 3PEC $19.95


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Featured Articles The Mitten by Sarah Long

Page 3

Does Grief Hurt? by Mike Goodwin

Page 4-6

My Analog Dissonance by Ilissa Ducoat

Page 8-9

Creating the Happiness you Seek by Harriet Hodgson

Page 12-13

Three and Me by Trish Miller

Page 14-16

We Called her Meme by Nancy Worley

Page 18-19

Good Grief by Marjorie Faes Page 20-21 Hope After Loss by Pam Sengstock

Page 22-23

The River by Mark Ogden Page 24-25 Decoration Day(s) by Paul Moon

Page 26-27

www.freegriefbooks.org www.griefdigestmagazine.com www.centering.org

Note from the Editor What gives this magazine its heart and soul are the contributions of the people who know the path of pain. Your stories and experiences and insights bring hope and encouragement to others who may be just beginning their journey into the world of grief. We encourage you to write and share. Write from your heart about what you know because you’ve been there! We like to keep the stories about 1200 words (but we are flexible), and we prefer that you use first person (I, me) rather than (“you should…”) etc. Send your contributions via email (preferred) or snail mail (acceptable) to Janet at editor@griefdigestmagazine.com or mail to 7230 Maple St, Omaha, NE 68134. We’ll ask you to read and sign our writers’ guidelines (our permission to print) and we’ll need a recent photo of you and a one- or two-paragraph bio about you. If your material is published, you’ll receive complimentary copies of that issue, and we offer you a full page in that issue to promote whatever resource you’d like to share with our readers. Happy writing! editor@griefdigestmagazine.com


Mike Goodwin A retired Concord, CA police Sergeant, Mike currently is a full time Criminal Justice assistant professor at Solano Community College located in Fairfield, CA. He is a volunteer for the North Bay Hospice and Bereavement Center helping to facilitate “ 8 week Journey Through Grief Classes” and helping to facilitate a bi-weekly veteran’s grief group that he also participants in as a Air Force veteran. Ilissa Ducoat Ilissa is a licensed professional counselor and a Fellow in Thanatology. She is also a mommy, wife, daughter, friend, niece, aunt, and writer. Ilissa experienced a series of personal losses that helped carve out the path she’s taking toward helping others through their grief journey. In addition to her career as a therapist with Alliance Counseling Center in Hellertown, PA, Ilissa uses her writing to create a more comfortable space for grieving and mental health challenges in our society. Through validation, connection, and education, she believes we can improve how we support each other, and won’t get off her soapbox until we’re there. Ilissa digs a fire pit and a good classic rock cover band. Harriet Hodgson Harriet Hodgson is the author of thousands of articles and 35 books, including eight grief resources. Her latest one is Happy Again! Your New and Meaningful Life After Loss. Visit www. harriethodgson.com for more information about this busy author, grandmother, and caregiver. Patricia (Trish) Miller At age 76, Trish decided that her journey through the trauma of childhood rape might help other women and men her age. In 2013, a short memoir, Fresh Breezes Blow was published by Createspace. com on Amazon.com. In 2014, another book, Are You Holding A Grudge? was published. She has volunteered at the Children’s Grief Center in Albuquerque twice a month as an adult cofacilitator since 2009. Nancy Worley Nancy is a published writer who had a great Mom, four living siblings, and two outstanding children. She is happily retired and living in Duluth, Georgia.

Marjorie L. Faes Marjorie Faes is a freelance writer with a variety of interests. She has written for Bas Bleu, Church Educator, Five, SHARE (cancer support), Spirit of Change, Stroke Connection, The Buffalo News, The Family Digest, Today’s Caregiver, Western New York Family and the National Aphasia Association. Marjorie and her husband reside in East Amherst, New York. Paul Moon Paul Moon is the Bereavement Coordinator at Alacare Home Health & Hospice based in Birmingham, Alabama. He is married to Esther, and their children are Samantha, Christopher and Andrew. Paul studied mental health counseling and adult education, and has worked in the field of hospice for several years. His new book, Lost?, for children, has just been published by Centering Corporation. Mark Ogden Mark Ogden B.Th. Mark has twelve children from his twenty three year marriage to his wife Amanda. Amanda died in January of 2014. Mark lives in central Saskatchewan where he drives truck on short haul in order to care and provide for his family. Writing has been a very helpful way to understand and learn from the loss of his wife. Sarah Long Sarah Ann Long is Executive Director Emerita, North Suburban Library System in Illinois.

Pam Sengstock Pam is a Bereavement Coordinator and Volunteer Coordinator for Compassus Hospice in Green Bay, WI. She has had a passion for Hospice since the death of her mother many years ago. She lives in Green Bay with her husband and has 3 beautiful daughters.

The Mittens By Sarah Long

Last year about this time, you wanted to give me a present. I pushed your wheelchair to Macy’s. We walked around and I choose a few things. I really didn’t need anything, but I knew a gift was important to you. Maybe you didn’t notice, but I paid for the items I liked and you approved. One was a pair of very nice black mittens with fur around the cuffs. I didn’t need mittens, but I liked these. They were warm and lightweight. They looked like “lady mittens” like everything else at Macy’s In the intervening months I learned to love these mittens. I choose them over the other black mittens I already owned. They reminded me of you and wearing them made me feel special It’s been a little over a year since you left. Only now am I finding the strength to toss the sympathy cards. Yesterday I changed the title of your car from you to me. The day before I weeded the many many greeting cards you had sent There were too many to keep, and most of them were simply signed, “Love, Don” But in their number they shouted, “I love you!” At your funeral, someone said, “No one will ever love you the way Don loved you.” Upon reflection, the comment was very apt. No one will ever love me the way you loved me. Today I lost the mittens. But it’s OK. Our love was special and cannot be duplicated. Now I must love myself and move on.

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Does Grief Hurt? That and Other Odd Questions By Mike Goodwin

Does grief hurt? That’s an excellent question that those persons who have never experienced what I refer to as “crushing, gut-busting, overwhelming, debilitating grief,” might legitimately ask. Why not? It isn’t much different than asking if the impending needle that a nurse is about to poke in your arm is going to hurt. I think most people would like to anticipate future pain in any form. That way you can begin working on the remedies for the pain far ahead of the actual event. It makes sense to me-if I lived on an alien planet! Of course grief hurts! It’s like the lyrics in the 1982 song “Bad to the Bone.” I broke a thousand hearts Before I met you I’ll break a thousand more, baby Before I am through I wanna be yours pretty baby Yours and yours alone I’m here to tell ya honey That I’m bad to the bone Bad to the bone

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Grief is bad to the bone. My son Joshua died March 2nd, 2008 in a traffic accident, and if I could make sense out of his death then I wouldn’t be writing this. Why do I write? I write to heal. I write to remember. I write so I won’t fall into a deep slumber that I can’t recover from. I’ve learned that there are many faces and facets of grief. There is the face you wear-the griever. Then there is the face others wear who know you are grieving. In addition, there is the face that grievers wear when they know that others around them don’t know what face to wear when they are in your presence. That’s probably the most complicated face. Grief hurts not only you but everyone who loves you and everyone who knows you-even strangers who you have just met. Grief has tentacles that are far-reaching and they stick to everything and everyone associated with the grief. Grief is sadness multiplied exponentially to the millionth degree. I don’t know exactly how large that is, I just know it is beyond my comprehension. Does grief hurt? Sometimes I guess it depends on who the griever is. Take for instance me. If you asked me the day Joshua died if grief hurts then, on an intellectual level, I would have said yes. On an emotional level, I wouldn’t have been able to give you an answer because I couldn’t speak. But, if you asked another person then the answer might be completely different. The answer might be in their eyes. They might display that vacant stare that you see sometimes in meth addicts when the drug is caressing their brain. They are here but somewhere else at the same time. Grief is incomprehensible to those of us who think, and realistically so, that we will not lose a child before we die. It can be just as incomprehensible to those who lose loved ones when they were convinced, and counted on the fact, they would die first and wouldn’t have to experience the pain they have blocked out of their consciousness because it is just too difficult to imagine. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had a course such as Grief-101? In fact, it could be online and wouldn’t require a lot of energy on our part. The chapters might look something like this: 1. Death chapter 2. Initial Grief chapter 3. More Grief chapter 4. A lot more grief chapter 5. Too much grief chapter I think you get the picture. Books, articles and poems all have their places in the grief journey but none of them are a panacea for your individual grief. I have read several books, many articles and a few poems and I have garnered something from each but my grief is still here. Does grief hurt? Yes, it does, but my pain has finally gone through several wash cycles and come out cleaner. I don’t have the same number of bricks weighing down my chest now. The tears come less often but not necessarily less intensely. I can walk through a day and not think once of Joshua. I haven’t forgotten him, but I have placed him in a secret place known only to me and when I want to talk to him, I just lift him out of that place. It is becoming easier to lift him out because he weighs less now. Grief for me now is like an unfinished painting. There are brush strokes yet to be applied, and I don’t know what the finished painting will look like. It is a symphony in my head with a cacophony of notes and a confusing cadence. It is simple and complicated at the same time. It is inexplicable. Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #1 7

Continued. . .

And let us not forget those persons who are in our lives still. They grieve for your loss and for you, but I think it is unrealistic to expect them to understand and comprehend your loss. Each person’s grief is unique and each person responds differently. If your friends, or even loved ones, seem at a loss for words it’s because they probably are. They are more than likely scared. Scared that what happened to you could happen to them. They might feel that you are contagious somehow and just being around you is bad karma. Give them a break-they are human. They don’t mean to hurt or seem uncaring. It comes with the knowledge that they are truly powerless to change anything about the situation. Powerlessness is scary! It took me several years to understand that dynamic. Grief sends out flirtatious signals. It beckons others to come close so they can hurt, so they can feel uncomfortable and scared too. Sometimes it is hiding behind a door just waiting for you to walk by so it can jump out and scare the life out of you. As humans we don’t gravitate to pain and uncomfortableness. We generally retreat from those emotions. If I had any advice for a person who doesn’t know what to say to a grieving person, it would be this: Don’t try to fix them because grief isn’t fixable. It isn’t a problem, it is a way of life now for that person. It’s eternal. There isn’t a pill or potion that will make it better. Be patient, be kind and just be there-in the moment- with your heart ready to reach out if a grieving hand reaches out for you. There is no cure for grief so, despite how you might want desperately to heal the person who is grieving, realize that there is probably nothing you can say or do that will truly lessen the pain of the loss. Silence and a nod might be all that is required and, I can tell you from experience, those two actions can be powerful and cathartic. There were times that all I wanted was someone to listen to me spill my guts and not say anything to me-just be there. If there is any grace in the pain of grief, then I believe it comes in the form of an awakening and cleansing of the spirit. A transformation of the soul and the knowledge that you are not alone and that you have something to give to others who are grieving. That you have the strength to venture, unarmed, into the darkness that is part of grief - and listen. Listen with your heart and mind to the stories of others who are in pain. To take their pain and make a portion of their pain part of you. The one truth that I now know, unequivocally, is that grief is painful and no one can take that journey and survive unchanged. Acknowledging that it is painful and will always hurt is the first step in healing and learning to live with the pain and the memories. I am still on that journey.

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www.alliancecounselingctr.com Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #1 9

My Analog Dissonance

By Ilissa Ducoat

Just in time. Just in time, he said, or else we would never have had the chance to say goodbye. Just in time, she said, or else watching the suffering would have been too painful.

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Just in time, I think, in time, in time, it won’t hurt so much and I won’t feel as if I am dead, too. The flowers arrive early, as does my family and a group of friends. The funeral directors and reader I’d selected were on time. We started late, because I didn’t want to go through with any of it, even though putting it off would have nothing to do with the dead body lying in that pristine wooden box. Time has a funny existence. It is absolutely measurable with a clock or stopwatch. We count down the seconds to the New Year, or to a cosmic launch. We cross off days until due dates and weddings, or retirements. We can record to the millisecond how long something takes. It is precise, correct, noble, undoubted. We come to trust the rhythmic ticks sounding from the wall. We breathe with them, fall asleep to them, expect them to do their job and be orderly little keepers of all things structurally sound. It is one of the few things that is inarguable, solid, dependable, and universal. Take away the timepiece, and it is one of the most relative, subjective, undetermined, personal experiences a person shall have, especially in terms of death. There’s little time left, her time is up, his time ran out, their time has expired, time heals all wounds, give it time, take your time, all things in time, and each moment we have left defies the fundamental laws of precision. Each moment after recording the time of death, it’s an open-ended fog of waiting for the second hand to move. Sometimes we wait for hours for one tick, and sometimes an hour has gone by and we don’t know where we’ve driven or what we’ve done. It took forever to start, and after I spoke for 15 days, I blinked and the service was over. Driving to the grounds, roses and dirt and some more talking, and a hand on my arm to take me to eat somewhere and reminisce about the body that we’re leaving in that hole over there. It took a moment to recognize that my sense of time had lapsed for the morning. I excused myself. It wasn’t until I heard heels clicking on tile floors that reminded me of the time before all of this happened around me, when second hands did their jobs and the hours were endless because they kept revolving around their center dial, offering new minutes and hours with every little tick. Endless time, a commodity and a curse. A blessing and a bastard. With you, now without you. I put the face of my wristwatch across my knuckles and punch the bathroom wall. The face shattered and the hands stopped. I shook the sting from my hand and rubbed it until I was ready to go back to the bread plates and salad forks. I placed my watch back on my wrist where it faithfully sat to tell me precisely what time it was every day. At some point I’ll probably want a new one. I’m sure in time the sting won’t sting. I know I need to live the rest of this life without you. For now I’ll wear my broken watch and glance at it when I miss the hell out of you. A voice calls from across the room and tells me it’s time to eat. Yeah? My watch is broken. Oh, and I miss you. Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #1 11

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Creating the

Happiness You Seek By Harriet Hodgson

Happiness is a hot topic these days, and many books and articles have been written about it. Under the US Constitutions we have the right to pursue happiness, but this feeling isn’t a chase. True happiness comes from within. In 2007, after my daughter, father-in-law, brother, and former son-in-law died, I didn’t think I would be happy again. I was wrong. To help myself, I thought about the proactive steps I could take. Three years later, I was living a new and happy life. Kari Moore, in her book, 18 Rules of Happiness, says the first rule of happiness is to “stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I felt sorry for myself in 2007, realized my error, and turned away from it. Creating happiness takes honesty, and you may have to give up on some ideas, such as money buying happiness. Solutions like this may work short-term, but not long-term.

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Can you be happy after experiencing crushing sadness? Yes. Chances are you’re more resilient than you realize. Here are some of the steps I took to create happiness. Celebrate little things. This makes you more aware of details, such as a baby’s smile, or sun breaking through dark clouds. A phone call from a friend can lift your spirits. I’ve been a freelancer for 37 years and am so glad I can work at home. Life’s little things can turn out to be big things. Let yourself laugh. My daughter offered to help out at the church rummage sale. Volunteers didn’t know how to price some new bras. “Charge 25 cents a cup,” my daughter declared. Everyone burst out laughing and this story still makes me smile. Give yourself permission to laugh and laugh as often as possible. Spend time with caring people. Negative people drag you down and positive people lift you up. I joined the local chapter of The Compassionate Friends (TCF) and am buoyed to be in the company of people who understand my grief. To learn about the chapter nearest you contact the TCF national office. Monitor your thoughts. In The Mayo Clinic Guide to Stress-Free Living, author Amit Sood, MD asks readers to think of five people they are grateful for each morning. Keep doing this. Before you know it, you will have identified dozens of helpful people. “We can choose our thoughts,” Dr. Sood explains, and this sparks happiness. Practice self-care. Eat right and try to stay physically active. A 15-minute walk can lift your spirits. Quiet time is part of my day because writers need this time. Sometimes I meditate, other times I pray, and other times I close my eyes, and let my thoughts wander. Nature also fills my soul and I appreciate each season. Use linking objects. A linking object is something that belonged to a deceased loved one and makes you remember that person. You may wear your mother’s necklace, for example, or your father’s shirt. Linking objects can remind you of happy times and this is comforting. Create “Action Memorials.” Therese A. Rando, PhD, author of How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies, says identifying with a loved one helps you keep that person close. This led me to create “Action Memorials” for the family members who died in 2007. My daughter had a marvelous sense of humor, for example, so I make laughter part of each day. You may create similar memorials in memory of a loved one. Keep a happiness jar. This idea comes from author Elizabeth Gilbert. Find a large jar, a small pad of paper, and pencil or pen. At the end of the day, note a happy moment on paper, and put it in the jar. (You may have several papers for one day.) When the year ends, dump out the papers, read them, and start another jar. Because I’m my disabled husband’s caregiver, I keep two jars, one for happiness, and one for caregiving. Listen to your heart song. Often I turn to a book titled Soulwork by Bettyclare Moffatt. She thinks each person needs to listen to their heart song [the soul] and live their life accordingly. “Perhaps all that is required is an opening, opening, ever-opening heart in order to do the work of the soul and in the rhythm of the everyday world,” she writes. Watch for the growth openings in your life. Finally, remember that love lasts forever and is always with you. Love can lead you forward on the recovery path.

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He climbed out on the ledge, and held his hand out to his cousin, whose hand was shaking with fear.

By Trish Miller

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and Me

There were three of us and me, all adults who had lived long. divorce, alcoholic parents, death of a dear, old cat, disowning, not speaking to one another, the death of a sister, and deeper and deeper. Then, the overwhelming, heart-rending, stay-awake-at-night horror story; a ten-year old boy, who worked at the local Catholic school, scrubbing floors, shining them with chalk and kerosene to pay his way, who knew something was going to happen at his school in December 1958. He told his Mom something would happen at 3 p.m. He didn’t want to go to school. His Mom made him go. His cousin also had a premonition of something happening. His job was to take care of his cousin. The fire started. He was on the 2nd floor. He crawled down the hallway to his cousin’s room through the smoke where the Nun told his cousin to stay under the desk.

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He talked his cousin into coming with him to the 2nd story window. He got a chair and broke the window, told his cousin to come on. He climbed out on the ledge, and held his hand out to his cousin, whose hand was shaking with fear. Just as their fingers touched, like Michelangelo’s picture, the floor collapsed beneath his cousin. He dropped to the pavement outside, injuring his foot; his face bleeding. No one saw him or paid attention. He went to the local parish, sat there, and made an obscene gesture to the cruxifix. He never went back. He walked home observing fire engines, and frantic people rushing toward the school. He told his family what had happened. They wanted to know where his cousin was. He told them what happened. Much later, he was forced to go to the coroner’s office to identify his cousin - only his watch was recognizable. He was ten years old. Unfathomable, and unresolved grief! What was I thinking? a book discussion based on a grief book; had read the book; was/am so profoundly affected by it; thoughts and ideas helped me so much, so I volunteered; I’ll do it. Never done one, didn’t know how to do one, asked the author, no response, looked up on the Internet how to conduct a book discussion, sent out questions.

Reflecting, I was anxious, didn’t know what I was doing, impulsive, naïve, and who knows what? A fractured pattern in me, maybe, but which one. maybe childish impulse, naiveté, always wanting to help others. Didn’t think to surround myself with white light, or wrap my insides with blue velvet. The unfamomable grief --his darkness, his anguish, his sadness, his grief seeped into my heart, mind, soul and body.

Driving home, I wept. later, eating dinner, I was quiet, very little conversation with my daughter. At night, I couldn’t sleep. The images from his story kept revolving in my brain. My body ached all night; daylight brought more aches, then fatigue, coughing, unknown illness for two weeks. Some call it empathy or compassion fatigue. Whatever it is/was, I’ve learned about the fractured pattern in me that needs protecting. Now, no more not protecting myself; every day I wrap myself in blue velvet, and surround myself with white Light. The darkness has not seeped in again. Thank You, God.

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Breaking the Silence is a mental illness awareness curriculum and teaches mental illness is nothing to be ashamed about. http://compassionatetouchnetwork.org/Breaking_the_Silence_New_ Mexico/Why_BTS_NM/index.html The Children’s Grief Center of New Mexico provides free, open and ongoing peer support for young people ages 5 - 25 who’ve experienced a significant death. Optional groups are offered for their caregivers. To learn more about this work and how you can help, please visit www. childrensgrief.org.


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We Called Her Meme Getting from Grief to Gratitude

By Nancy Worley I needed time alone to work with my thoughts when my mom died. What I did not need was advice. I wanted no company. Getting through and beyond the loss of a beloved is heart breaking and tedious. Healing within must take place on many levels. I came up with a series of simple steps that moved me from stifling grief to gratitude.

A Buy a blank journal to capture death artifacts.

I included the newspaper clipping announcing her death, which named survivors. I saved a thank-you note I wrote to a eulogist who spoke and danced. He said they had agreed he’d dance at her grave. So he did and we laughed. I pressed petals of roses and seeds, now fading into shades of sepia, which I slipped from her casket blanket. Her name was Roselyn. We called her Meme.

A Make a folder of bereavement cards to reread from time to time.

My favorite phrases from these…. Gentle warmth still lingers. The music echoes on in sweet refrains. “This world is not conclusion, a sequel stands beyond.” (Emily Dickinson). Helen Keller said, “What we once enjoyed and deeply loved, we can never lose for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.” Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #1 20

A Prepare a lengthy list of lessons learned from the deceased.

My list included: “You have to suffer to be beautiful. Pretty is as pretty does. Pinch every penny because money is scarce. Keep the body clothed at all time and the knees together.” Some of these are archaic, and some are funny. She giggled silently with her finger beside her nose, body shaking with merriment. She gave me that giggle and it serves me well. I am grateful.

A Review this list to decide which replays to keep and which to delete.

Making these decisions on a conscious level is life enhancing. We need not be psychology majors to know when a message playing in our heads is good or bad for us.

A Frame a photo that holds the deceased close to your heart.

I chose a gilded frame with roses. My daughter and I are kneeling graveside. Named for my Mom, she has her right hand resting lightly on my left shoulder. As I look now at this photo, I see not death but two female phoenixes, gifts of hers to the world.

A Cook her favorite foods.

When Meme was too old to Christmas shop for her brood, she gathered the recipes we grew up enjoying. On her Smith Corona with carbon ribbon, she pecked away. Making no corrections, I made copies for each child and grandchild. Now at family gatherings we enjoy her Buttermilk Chess Pie or Welsh Rarebit. My daughter recently had a pie party and served Mississippi Pecan Pie.

A Write a letter to the deceased.

On a barely conscious level, the mind is chattering about things left unsaid to the dear departed. This letter tool delivers self-definition and completion when we draft words to the beloved. We are moving the mind from memories of loss to acceptance and gratitude.

A Draw a floor plan of the childhood home.

When I create my sketch, I am instantly at her bedroom fireplace on a cold January day before my twelfth birthday. I am upset with a secret. Bright red bloodstains are there in my white cotton panties. I cannot speak about this so I hug my knees so that she can see. “Don’t be upset, everybody does this, you are OK.” She pinned cotton padding inside my panties. As I excavate this memory, I release the need to blame her for what at the time seemed appalling lack of information.

A Cry.

Allow the emotions to flow. Visit www.dailystrength.org and find suggested treatments for coping: crying, prayer, psychotherapy, grief counseling groups, writing, support from friends and family, meditation.

A Write down your dreams upon awakening.

After writing the above purge list including perfectionism, excessive cleanliness, (Meme would not pee on a road trip because the bathrooms were dirty), isolationism, control and caretaking issues, stuffing feelings, I had a dream I call “The Elevator:”. I enter a small shaft. I rise to the top, climb out and stand on the top of the shaft, seeing nothing but unlimited possibility. My psyche shows me room for gratitude, being, and even soaring. Getting to gratitude is a trip we all can make and grief is a stop we sometimes must make along the way. Give yourself permission to complete the journey. Meme died November 7, 1998, at the age of 93 ½.

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Good Grief …lessons I’ve learned from grieving By Marjorie L. Faes “Fountain of sorrow, fountain of light, You’ve known that hollow sound of your own steps in flight You’ve had to hide sometimes, but now you’re all right.” Lyrics from “Fountain of Sorrow” by Jackson Browne

-5 Surrender to surreal. Expect the unexpected. The mind/body connection. Time heals. Compassion 101.

For many years, I lead a fairly charmed life as far as death goes. Then, in 2013 my father died. He was 88, I was 51. He passed away peacefully at home surrounded by family. It was, overall, a good death. Shortly after my father’s death, many people said “Well, that was a pretty good run”. I used to say that too when an elderly person died. Now, I know better. Because as nice as those words are meant to be, when I heard them they irritated me. Why? Because they seem to imply that I shouldn’t be devastated because he’d lived a long life. Of course, I get it. I get this isn’t the tragedy of losing him, at say 30. But, the head knows one thing, the heart another.

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This “aha moment”, a surprising lesson in semantics, marked the beginning of many lessons I was to learn about grieving. No one can ever be prepared for the heartache and grief that follows the death of a loved one. But, sometimes, a little insight on what you may encounter can be helpful. The following are five heartfelt lessons I’ve learned along the way. 1) Surrender to surreal. Immediately after the news of my father’s death, my life became, in a word, surreal. Even though his death was expected, I still couldn’t believe it when the end came. As the black hearse pulled into the driveway of my childhood home, I felt like I was watching a scene from a bad movie, one I couldn’t turn off. The subsequent phone calls and funeral arrangements became a blur. My grief was a raw open wound. I didn’t know how I’d ever get through it or when it would end. The pain did lessen, but it took months. 2) Expect the unexpected. Oh, the surprises you may get as other express their grief. It’s like there’s a weird “Murphy’s Law of Grieving” as some of the people you expect to be there for you aren’t, and some who you don’t expect to be, are. Until the time comes, you won’t know who is who. It’s a real eye opener. But some surprises are lovely. I was deeply moved by kind words and sentiments from former friends and acquaintances of my father, especially those I never knew. If there’s an immediate plus side to grieving, this is it. You never know who will come out of the woodwork to express their sorrow and share in your grief. 3) The mind/body connection. When you are ill, doctors tell you to listen to your body. The same is true when you are grieving. At first, my daily routine was completely out of whack, I had to make myself remember to drink, eat and sleep. But I did eventually listen to my body. Grieving is hard enough without getting physically sick as well. When I did finally start to eat, drink and sleep more routinely, I knew, on some basic level, that I was on my way to healing. And the first time a good friend made me laugh really hard, I knew I had turned some sort of corner in the grieving process not just physically but emotionally as well. 4) Time heals. A cliché that’s partly true. Time doesn’t heal all wounds but it does take the sting away. The loss is always there. There will never be a time when I don’t miss my father when I think of him or talk about him. There will always be a hole in my heart that no one but him can fill. But, as time goes by, the rawness becomes less and less. Some days I can speak of my grief openly and some days I can’t. It’s an odd thing with time, though. The more it goes by, the more I accept his death but I miss him more as it’s longer since I’ve last seen him. 5) Compassion 101. The death of a loved one brings on a crash course in grief. Since my father’s death I’ve experienced a range of new and painful emotions. I’ve had overwhelming sadness and cried a river of tears. I’ve felt the fear of not knowing if and when the pain will subside. I’ve been surprised at how my grief can surface at unexpected times. Now that I know these things, I can’t pretend I don’t. I can no longer look the other way when I see someone else’s grief. But I can sympathize and show compassion. It’s one of the finest lessons I’ve learned from the grieving process. In the end, we’re all on this journey of life together. So, let’s be kind and compassionate to one another especially during times of grief. Photo of Marjorie and father, Robert F. West

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Hope after Loss By Pam Sengstock

Through the last few months you have been processing the loss of your loved ones in many ways. In the daily activities you shared, in the smells that remind you of your loved one, even in public when you catch a glimpse of the families still together and you are alone. You have more than likely gone from a state of shock and numbness to raw emotion that you felt would never stop. It is in looking back that you can see the progress you have made. The mornings may not seem as surreal with your initial thought being “it is real, they really are gone. It may have gotten to where when you wake you need not remind yourself but there is awareness. As you go about your day the small reminders that used to shake you to your core are now painful as you notice, but you no longer feel the need to break down, to cry or scream or in some way react. In the evenings as you end your day the feeling of loneliness at your loss may not weigh as heavily on you as it did. At first there may have been the need to drop into bed and once you did your sleep may have been disrupted from thoughts or dreams of your loved one. Now there may be a true sense of rest, and the night may not be totally restful but there are times when you wake in the morning having realized you slept through the whole night. This my friend is the grieving process. Although the steps are small it is progress nonetheless. For this we are grateful.

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Take note that for having come this far gives you a unique insight into how strong you have become, how precious life is and how valuable those we love are. It takes courage and strength to go on in your daily activities when you feel your heart is breaking, your body is exhausted and your thoughts are cloudy. You have done it. It may not have been ideal at all times but you have kept going, and sustained. You have withstood in the face of something you didn’t know you could. For this we are grateful. Hopefully you have in the process heard the birds chirp just a little louder. You’ve noticed the sun shining through your window in a way you haven’t before. The things that used to irritate you don’t really seem as bothersome anymore, for you have experienced and made it through much worse. The quote “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” has become more of a reality. For this we are grateful. Maybe just maybe you have had the ability to look at those you love and find the importance in those relationships. You know first hand how short life can be, how much you will miss them when you or they are gone. You learn to tell them and show them that. You know those words and touches will be the memories they hold when they too have to experience the loss of someone they love. For this we are grateful. So where do you go from here? Could this mean there is hope and growth for the future? It is not as easy as that, because there will be days where you feel you have taken two steps forward and one step back. That is normal and expected. But for the small changes there is hope. How can this horrible thing bring about positive change? In some ways it does. As you go through the many emotional cognitive and spiritual changes, you will find true meaning in not only the value of your loved ones life but the value of your own. For widows and widowers there may be a sense of empowerment that comes from tackling things you are forced to do now that your spouse is no longer there to do. There may be a sense of confidence that comes from doing things independently. This will come and go as all processes of grief do, but eventually you may take pride in your ability to do it. For a child who has lost a parent, there may be some sense of relief, particularly if they have been in the caregiver role for a long time. Please know that this is not a negative thing. It is very normal you are not alone in this feeling. As you face the future without parental presence, you will raise your own children or grandchildren cherishing the values you parents instilled in you. It may become more important to pass on traditions or lessons that at this time in your life you value as a part of your past, and theirs. You will also have the ability to create your own traditions and lessons that you find important, knowing how much those things may mean to your children and grandchildren. For siblings who have experienced the loss of a brother or sister there will be reflections on your past and your future. There will be shared memories of your childhood as well as reflections on your own mortality. This again is very normal and although painful, can help to reinforce the values you want to pass on to those you love. In all cases, the death of a loved one is painful and confusing. There are times when it seems like nothing is going to make this experience okay. But as you make your way through please know that there is progress, there is hope and there is growth. It serves as a pivotal point in your life where it can clarify values and create an appreciation for those who are still with us and an appreciation for what we as loving beings are capable of. Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #1 25

The River Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 12, Issue #4 26

By Mark Ogden


often get thoughts pop into my head about wife. It’s almost as if she were here saying “remember when ...”. This used to throw me into such a place of despair and depression, but now it automatically brings a small smile to the corner of my lips and then a twinge of sadness but the smile will remain. I’m not saying I force this smile upon myself, it happens naturally now. Of course I still cry and even break down and crash sometimes, but now a smile is the first thing that appears. This entire time of becoming and then walking as a widower is a time of self-awareness. Learning who I am in so many ways. Learning my strengths and my weaknesses. But it’s also a time of learning how to cope and even how to survive. This isn’t something that can be actively accomplished, a person can’t make this happen. But, I think it does take an action to cause it to grow. I’ve needed to be alert to what was happening to me. I’ve always tried to process my feelings and understand them, and I believe that has been a help to me here. I guess, it’s like life in general. You have some control of your life, but at the same time there is so much where we have no control. Like canoeing down an unknown river. There are places of calm where we can maneuver around, explore and spend some time enjoying and even resting. But there are other places where the shore disappears and the walls of canyons loom over us and begin to come closer together. The water moves faster and we are not able to control our own movements any longer. Being out of control is a scary place to be. Being afraid of what’s around the corner, not knowing what will happen to us when we broach that corner. And will we survive whatever is around that corner. You know that no one survives the river forever. And those of us who have been widowed have seen those who chose to travel this river together with us succumb to the waters and disappear. Some day, we know we will also. At times I have fought this river, afraid of going further. Though I am able to fight the current enough to not go forward I have rarely had the strength to go back up the river to the places I have been at before. It takes so much strength to do so. But with anguish and fear, self-determination and will I can keep from going forward and having to deal with what happens to be ahead for me.

At other times, I have given myself over to the river, feeling no more strength to hold myself from the unknown or perceived scariness of what is ahead. At these times I have felt so overwhelmed and burdened that I was not even able to lift my head to see my surroundings. To notice the awesome power of the river or the contrasting beauty of the water and land. Many times losing track of those others that were with me in this journey. Maybe I would be aware of them calling to me, but even the strength to respond was not there. But, even so, the water would keep moving me forward. I have tried to keep my head up no matter where I have been on this river. As I said before I have always tried to process my feelings and understand them. I like pictures of nature and scenery, and what I have noticed about pictures of a river is the beauty of it in all its shapes and places. Whether it’s a calm, wide river or a narrow craggy canyon or even a waterfall. The beauty can always make me stop and marvel. This river is not a place to enjoy, though at times it can be enjoyable. It’s also not healthy to be afraid of this river, though it does often produce fear. There is no sense in getting angry at the river. The river just simply is a river. It doesn’t conspire against us. There is no reasoning with it or trying to make it change it’s mind. It can only do what rivers do. That is to flow. May we all find peace to perceive and marvel at the power and beauty of our surroundings, but if at the moment you are unable, then remember the river will carry you forward anyhow.

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Decoration Day(s)? Paul J. Moon, PhD

If I asked you to mark off next Sunday on your calendar so we can go and beautify the gravesites of a deceased kin or friend, how might you respond? Yet such practice was common in pockets of our society not too long ago. In fact, this custom is upheld in certain parts of the country today. It is called Decoration Day. J. C. Ryle, a bishop of Liverpool (England), once observed that “in the midst of life we are in death.” All living human beings are irreversibly dying. Regardless of semantics, political correctness or rationalization, the inarguable truth is that death lurks around every corner and it will darken all our doorsteps in due time. Additionally, mortals seem beset with a nagging tendency to conveniently forget and repress the constant death potential. Folks have said to me, “We can’t live that way (always thinking of dying),” while others admit it is only proper to live daily with such a disposition, as a selfevident fact is how humankind is delimited by a fatal end. How do you see it, dear reader? An honest proposal Since death loiters in the lot of our everyday, the idea of decoration day, every day would not be an altogether foreign notion. This is my proposal here. It is not for abstract discussion, but rather a nudging towards practical actions that will fulfill the proposed encouragement. In southern regions of the United States, there arose a tradition known as decoration day. It is an appointed time where people gather at the gravesite of their deceased person to tidy up the area and tend to the grounds. This practice was of necessity in the past before the advent of the business of cemetery companies that now (for a fee) will keep the grounds manicured. Thus, when some of us visit the burial plot in our modern era, we no longer take an array of gardening tools in hand. But it was not always this way. Decoration day involved manual labor. There was pruning to be done, along with rearranging, planting, uprooting, sweeping, and winnowing. Most likely, we would sweat under the heat of the sun and maybe have our perspiration mingle with tears. Sweat and tears on decoration day make good sense, but so may laughter and sentimental humor. In many ways, decoration day was no different than other days during the year as it consisted of people exercising varying responses, recollections, ideas, and deeds that result in both personal and group experience. Does this not describe our everyday affairs?

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Postponement not required Each day can be decoration day. We need not postpone it until after someone has died. It is a ‘living decoration day’ that is encouraged here. Consider how much richer and more fruitful the activity can be with living persons. For instance, as traditional decoration day entails an intentional time of gathering, the waking hours of each day can be more deliberately spent with others we cherish knowing that such face to face unions will not be a permanent fixture on this earth. The storying and conversations with one another during living decoration days can serve to create new (perhaps deliberately new) memories, instead of only being able to reminisce on past accounts during traditional decoration days. I ask: Might you and I begin to look upon daily engagement with important persons as acts of decorating (tenderly adorning) the relationships we possess with them? Another aspect of traditional decoration day is to clear the gravesite of debris to make it orderly and less cluttered. During living decoration days, how might this apply? No doubt, our living connections with those we care about have relational real estate (grounds) that can be improved (cleared of debris) to make it more peaceable and less cluttered of barriers (hang-ups, misunderstandings, grudges). There is only so much that can be rectified in a relationship with someone once that person dies. We may put forth grand efforts in cleaning up the physical gravesite and surroundings, but it will not reach the places in our hearts where mending must occur. But, during living decoration days, there is real and mutual opportunity for needful mending with others, as they are yet alive and we can glean some feedback from them. Granted, not all elements of our relationships may be remedied, but some issues can be addressed to make the relationship less, shall we say, dysfunctional. But how will this help? Well, one way it can help is, when that person dies (or we die), there will be that much less ‘unfinished business’ to tidy up concerning relational matters. Is this not a worthy aim to strive for now while we still have one another? Practicing living decoration days can assist in this way. Another thing that can occur during traditional decoration day is a more clear realization of our own settled day of death. Yes, this is a benefit of visiting cemeteries and confronting gravesites, as the very ground upon which we walk there house real persons who once were as alive as we are now. In certain circles, it is still thought wise to think deeply (and frequently) of our temporal and fleeting life; how our biological clock is ever winding down; how birthdays and deathdays lock hands. It may be that while dusting off the grave marker of a deceased loved one, you catch yourself envisioning your own name and dates on that silent stone. To be sure, this is meant to be a point of existential sobriety; such a perspective of visiting the gravesite is not only of gloom, but also a stimulus to make the most of the time we are given. There is more. Living decoration days can also be used to prepare for the eventual end. How so? Some of our intentional get-togethers with important others can cover necessary dialogues on end-of-life wishes.

How do you wish to die? What do you think might happen if you don’t tend to specific end-of-life items now? Whom do you wish to make certain decisions for you when you cannot yourself? What do you wish your funeral to include and exclude? What do you wish certain persons in your life to know, as well as remember, about you? What are you doing now towards leaving behind memories of you that others can cherish? Admittedly, these projective conversations may not be appealing, just like traditional decoration day is something some of us annually disregard. Yet the emphasis here goes beyond what we may desire to do and rather pinpoints what we need to try and get done before the end. It is sensible to prepare the best we can, right? Is it sensible to deny or defy what cannot be avoided? When we, or others in our lives, die, there is no more conversation to be had, and the possibility of exchanging or communicating life wishes is cut off and becomes a non-negotiable situation. But living decoration days can be adopted to help us prepare for what we cannot dodge. What now? I recognize my proposal may be a hard sell. Then how about starting with once a year? Surely one in 365 days can be marked for decoration day, no? And, it doesn’t even have to be the whole day. But be not surprised if, once the day begins, you find yourself lost in the activities and strangely feeling the weight of meaningfulness and comradery with others in the midst of sharing the contents of willing hearts that are decorated with sweat and tears. Although no promise is made, it is hoped your courageous decision to adopt decoration day, whether once a year or every day, will turn current anxieties and sorrows into a more bearable burden as you walk the road of life together with others you are better getting to know. May our yearly decoration day happily grow into daily, living decoration days.

How do you wish to be kept alive?

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