Volume 13, Issue #2
Featured Articles It’s Not About the Destination by Nan Zastrow
Men & Grief ... by Daniel R. Duggan
Singing their Song by Elaine Stillwell
When I’m Gone by Jill Kottmeier
Grief at the Grocery Store by Illissa Ducoat
One Man’s Journey... by Kristi Hugstad
Grieving is Hard by Lisa Ingrassia
Like Father Like Son by Richard Belford
Spark Joy by Elaine Stillwell
My Second Chance by Missy Marshall
How do you Honor...by Michelle Jarvie
Grow Where You Are Planted by Nan Zastrow
‘A Person’s A Person. . . by Rose Mary Saraiva
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 email@example.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! firstname.lastname@example.org
Contributors On April 16, 1993, Chad Zastrow, the son of Gary and Nan Zastrow died as the result of suicide. Ten weeks later Chad’s fiancée took her life. This double tragedy inspired the Zastrows to create a ministry of hope. They formed a non-profit organization called Roots© and Wings. Through workshops, seminars, group presentations and other methods, Nan and Gary create community awareness about grief experiences. Additionally, they host an annual Spring Seminar and Holiday workshop. They also facilitate a Sudden Death Learning Series. Nan is the author of a book, Blessed Are They That Mourn, and over thirty Editor’s Journal Articles in Wings and other publications.
Ilissa Ducoat 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. Lisa is also a Huffington Post blogger.
Rev. Daniel R. Duggan, BCC, ACPE Supervisor of Alexandria, VA, has listened to and helped the grieving for more than 43 years as an ordained Presbyterian minister and a board certified chaplain. He currently serves as director of chaplaincy at Goodwin House Bailey’s Crossroads, and director of Clinical Pastoral Education at Goodwin House Incorporated, Falls Church, VA. His article uses excerpts from his book, Men, Grief, and Solitude—A Different Perspective.
Lisa Ingrassia is the Director of Events at Zenith Marketing Group, an insurance brokerage firm. She is passionate about sharing her father’s journey with cancer and bringing attention the difficult path a caregiver must take. She has written guest articles for the National Foundation of Swallowing Disorders, The Mighty and Her View From Home. Lisa is also a Huffington Post blogger. You can follow Lisa’s grief journey on Facebook: facebook.com/ lisamingrassia
Elaine Stillwell is wife, mother, grandmother, educator, author and speaker, Elaine E. Stillwell, M.A., M.S., shares her gifts of hope and inspiration with the bereaved, simply telling what she has learned to cope and survive following the deaths of her two eldest children, twenty-one-year old Denis and nineteen-year old Peggy, in the same 1986 automobile accident. In addition to being Founder (1987) and Chapter Leader of The Compassionate Friends of Rockville Centre, Long Island, New York, (along with her husband Joe), she is also a Charter Member of Bereaved Parents/USA since 1995. Jill Kottmeier-First and foremost I am a mom to two amazing teenagers, and a nurse. My passion in my profession is perinatal bereavement, specifically working as the bereavement coordinator for Women’s & Children’s Services. This has led to many incredible connections in my life. Personally I have dealt with a lot of grief in loss in my life which led me to start sharing through written word. I have a love for nature, healing, yoga, and life. I pride myself in giving to others, living a life of love, and finding miracles in every day life. Michelle Jarvie is an author and educator from Minneapolis, MN. She writes about the loss of her husband, James, to a motor vehicle collision in 2008, and how to find new patterns from broken pieces in the kaleidoscope of life. Connect with her online and check out her recently published book, Then & Now: Changed Perspectives of a Young Widow, at http:// michellejarvie.com. Kristi Hugstad’s mission is to reach out to those wrestling with grief and addiction, and offer the opportunity to find a safe place to confront their pain and fears, address them, change them, and ultimately move through them to a new perspective and new life. As a thought leader on grief, she is an author, speaker, certified Grief Recovery Specialist, and host of The Grief Girl radio show and podcast.
Fun Fact: She’s obsessed with her Boston Terrier Diesel and loves the color blue. Missy Marshall. I started out a career as an Assistant tree Farmer persuing a degree in the sciences. Half way through my journey, I lost my first husband to a car accident. I continued my education, changing my majors to Psychology and writing. I then lost my 2 best friends within 3 years of each other. Shortly after, I had to overcome a stroke, an auto accident as well as deal with my loss of my loved ones. After being forced into early retirement, due to medical issues, I decided to become a freelance writer and photographer. This helps me express my grief in positive ways. I also have a son, also a Freelance photographer. Both of them encouraged me to never give up. Richard Lawrence Belford is an Inspirational Writer, a father of two daughters and the eldest of three sons who grew up in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He has been on a twenty-year creative journey that’s been fueled by his genuine desire to provide faith, comfort and hope to those in grief. This creative journey has not only allowed Richard to become a well published Inspirational Writer, but has also afforded him the privilege of sharing his universally heartfelt sentiments with others, sentiments that celebrate life, provide comfort, inspire faith and honor the memory of those dear to our hearts. Rose Mary Saraiva was and is still living in Fall River, MA. Employed by the Office of Faith Formation in the Diocese of Fall River, serving as Events Coordinator & Bereavement Minister. Grief Support Group Facilitator; Rainbows for All Children Facilitator; TAPS Certified Facilitator; Certification in Thanatology; and Suicide Prevention Training. Author of Living with Grief – a personal journey blog through my grief experience and author of Miranda and the Butterfly Gate, a children’s book. Contributor to The Anchor, a diocesan newspaper and A Praça, and international magazine for Portuguese communities around the globe.
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It’s not about the destination… it’s about the side trips along the way
By Nan Zastrow “It’s not about the destination; it’s about the journey.” We’ve all heard the quote;” and most everyone can recite it. We can even recite stories of other people whose journeys have changed tragedy to triumph, failure to success, unawareness to awareness, sadness to joy…and so on. However, sometimes, an unplanned side-trip leaves a mark on your life that uncovers greater meaning and depth than the intended journey. Grief is its own journey. It’s a remarkable pilgrimage that can begin with sadness and end with triumph, success, or joy depending upon the willingness to step off the beaten path and experience the sidetrips along the way. Most grievers expect their journey to be brief. It doesn’t require any particular planning, and grief simply fades away after a few weeks of intense emotion and reflection about those who passed. The immediate outcome a griever desires is a quick return to a happier place where stress, disappointment, uncertainty, bitterness, and unresolved sadness disappear. However, if we happen upon that fork in the road, which one do we choose? “Getting over it” becomes a griever’s mantra and single focused destination after the death of a significant loved one. The griever fails to find any reasonable explanation for the need to linger or focus on the experiences along the way. This journey may be an inconvenience or an intrusion on an enjoyable life, and getting back to normal becomes the goal. If we rush too quickly to recover, we are likely going to miss some of the most rewarding experiences, the profound teachings of life and death, and a period of transition and change in ourselves that can prepare us for our own sacred journey. Far from a grievers’ thoughts are any early inklings of this being a life-changing event, self-analysis of a life lived, or the beginning of something deeper and more personal. These become the side-trips. Though unexpected they Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 4
have the power to transform lives. We become fascinated with “connections”, awed by life stories and the events that alter lives, and obsessed with redirecting our own lives towards a well-planned legacy. It’s not that we, my husband, Gary, and me, needed a side trip to awaken our emotions and redirect our destination. We’ve already taken that side-trip. But what amazes me is the repetitiveness and confirmation that the path we chose still serves a purpose. And so it was with a recent trip we planned out East by way of Philadelphia, Boston, New York and Canada. Together, we spent countless hours planning the miles to travel per day, points of interest, places to stay, and places to eat. In fact we had a very detailed itinerary that promised all the highlights we wished to see. In one final pass of the planned itinerary, we chose to add a never heard of place (at least not to us). Alexandria Bay wasn’t listed in the travel books as a destination to visit. It intrigued us because of its romantic story about a Castle that was being refurbished on an island named Heart. The Castle of Secrets on Heart Island was built by a millionaire in 1904 and boasted stories of secret hiding places, tunnels, and ghosts. Sounded a little bit romantic and exciting, all at the same time! Alexandria Bay, New York is connected by the Thousand Islands Bridge to Ontario, Canada. Therefore, this side-trip wasn’t too far out of our way. Online we read about the castle and its history of loss and broken hearts. George C. Boldt, millionaire proprietor of the world famous Waldorfs Astoria Hotel began construction on the luxurious castle to display his love for his wife Louise, until she died suddenly. He couldn’t imagine his dream castle without the love of his life. So he ordered construction to halt; and Mr. Boldt left the island never to return. The castle stood, unfinished, as a monument of his love. Visitors walk the hallways and stairways of the castle today and can visualize his dreams. Today the castle is being completed as a historical site. Our side-trip to Boldt Castle in Alexandria Bay reminded us that the side trip can turn out to be a positive experience if you allow yourself to travel
where the journey takes you. Rather than fighting the urge to get it over with, or judging your choice, or devaluing your experience, you have the opportunity to let this become something greater. Sometimes the least anticipated adventure turns out to be an experience that gives deeper insight to personal growth. The story surrounding the Boldt legacy was such a reminder of the unexpectedness of life. You can have “everything” and a life crisis can leave you stripped to nothing that adds value and purpose to living. At that point, moving forward is governed strictly by choice. You can walk away or use the experience to build something greater and stronger than imagined. It’s your choice and affects all your days and nights going forward. Getting to that peaceful destination then requires a new kind of focus. Sometimes painful memories and overwhelming questions burdened with uncertainty cause stress. When Gary and I began our journey through grief, we were truly uninformed. The death of our son, by suicide, was our first significant grief experience and was masked with taboo. Not only did we feel that people didn’t know how to relate to us, we were at a loss of how to live in a world of overwhelming sadness. We hesitated to ask for help and support. The model we were raised with was to struggle through it on your own. Our first spoken choice was that we wouldn’t let this destroy our lives or our marriage. And that commitment gave us the strength to seek resources to understand grief. We chose various side trips along the way. We chose to put ourselves in uncomfortable situations at grief seminars and other learning events because we needed to face the good grief and the bad grief until we knew the difference. We chose to talk about our loss and the ugliness of death by suicide because we needed to accept ourselves that it was just death by another name. We needed to know that our son was not defined by how he died, but rather by the values and character he built while he lived. We chose to make it our passion to help others with grief because we understood the helplessness of being misunderstood.
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The trip of your lifetime is about the choices you make, experimenting with side-trips along the way, the mysteries and discoveries, the stories and the memories, and the wisdom from your experience that makes you who you are today. After all, there is only one final destination—going home. And this involves being proud of your life with few regrets. The legacy you leave is the spirit you developed from each and every side-trip. It’s the lasting flicker of life that shines in your honor for generations to come.
In grief, there is no shortcut. Grief work—getting in honest touch with your feelings and exposing them, is exhausting. One day, we felt like we were going to be okay. We could handle this. The next day, we might come crashing down with a lightning bolt grief burst. We scheduled “timeouts”, days away from grieving, to allow our fortitude to recharge. After months and years of relentless searching and trial and error, the vision of our destination came into sight. And so did the accomplishments, the personal growth, and the awareness that life—even with all its mysteries—still had bright possibilities in store. Living life to the fullest is about a continuous journey—whether or not it is complicated by grief. We constantly evolve and reach for the distant star. If we allow ourselves to become complacent and obsessed with any obstacle along the way, we find the obstacles become bigger and the lessons harder to live with. Death and loss are just two of those obstacles along the way.
When life is going well and we are happy, a destination seems less important. We live in the present moment. We enjoy the experience. So perhaps the bigger goal is to make peace with our past disappointments, our losses, and our grief so that we can discover what we can take away from the ongoing experience. Seek out the adventures. Let the path lead you to where you are meant to be. Pause at unplanned stops. Explore the ride. Beware of the obstacles and work through the roadblocks. Appreciate the pleasant moments. And, delight in the discoveries. Your most notable side-trip in life that defines who you are might have been unplanned, but highly worth the experience. “For a long time it had seemed to me that life was about to begin—real life. But there was always some obstacle in the way, something to be gotten through first, some unfinished business, time still to be served or a debt to be paid. Then life would begin. At last it dawned on me that these obstacles were my life. This perspective has helped me to see there is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So treasure every moment that you have and remember that time waits for no one. Happiness is a journey—not a destination. (Alfred D’Souza)
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Men and Grief: A Different Way Of Healing In nearly 43 years of working with those who grieve, I have observed differences between men and women in their coping styles. The traditional grief theory I had been taught – that healing results from people identifying their feelings and sharing them – did not fit many men. Men grieve. Men cry. Men have feelings. And men heal. They just have a different way that is often not seen or understood by others. The first step for many men in their grief work is to go into their solitude. Solitude is the place within oneself where memories are recalled, feelings are felt, and conversations are held with whom we need to talk to. There, men get in touch with themselves, including their pain, and begin to work through their pain. Solitude not only teaches men to deal with their pain but it also reminds them to move beyond their inner solitude and relate to those beyond them. Interestingly, men talk about their losses and grief. But not through naming feelings. Men often use storytelling. Storytelling is a vehicle to express feelings without naming the feelings. If one listens to such a story, one can feel the feelings ‘dripping off of the words’. The storytelling is doing the work of healing. When the story is done, the man is often done ‘sharing’ his feelings. The listener has to be OK with that. In doing so, the listener is honoring the man’s feelings and grief. The listener is a witness to the story. In being with men who are dealing with a loss ask, “How are you doing?” vs. “How are you feeling?” Often men don’t have many words for feelings. Give them space to go into their caves, their solitude. Assist and create ways for men to “do” things in their grief work. Provide openers for storytelling. Ask, “What happened?” or “Where were you when you heard?” etc. Once a story is being shared, one needs to avoid interrupting by asking about feeling or more details. If one interrupts it may interrupt the train of thought and the man may not be able to get back to what he was feeling.
By Daniel R. Duggan
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In honor of the 30 year anniversary death date of Denis and Peggy, eprinted from the April, 2005 Grief Digest Issue.
Singing Their Song
By Elaine Stillwell After my two eldest children, 21-year-old Denis and 19-year-old Peggy, were killed in an automobile accident, I didn’t have a clue how I could keep their memories alive. As I was sorting through their possessions and personal effects quite soon after their deaths, I realized that I did not want them forgotten from people’s memories. While I was throwing away their student I.D. cards, drivers’ licenses, library cards, social security cards, credit cards, and the like, I had the terrible gut feeling that I was erasing them from the world, and that was certainly the last thing I wanted to do. My heart wanted everyone to remember them forever. But the nagging question in my heart was, “How?” It was not something I knew how to do right away or even had the energy to put a plan in place. I believe the inspiration came not from my head, but from my heart, that sacred center where divine guidance is always available. As time passed, I just seemed to “blend into” the melody that was right for me.
Adagio, slowly One day I ran across a poignant saying by an anonymous author, which spoke to my heart, “If their
song is to continue, then we must do the singing.” A light bulb seemed to click on in my head as I realized it was up to me to “sing my children’s song.” I was the keeper of the memories. All of a sudden I discovered that without any planning, training, or organized strategy, I had been doing just that ever since Peggy and Denis died. Call it basic instinct or a “mother’s heart,” but I had been “sharing my children with the world” (as I call it) in simple, loving ways. Maybe you will recognize some that you are doing or perhaps you might discover some special new ways to keep your loved one’s memory from being erased.
A tempo, normal time Talk About Them. I was good at this. No matter where I was, grocery checkout, bank queue, library desk, waiting room, or with dear friends or complete strangers, I told the world about my children. I didn’t even know at the time that “talking” was an important first step in healing. I emptied my heart and soul to both the patient, listening ears and the uncomfortable non-welcoming ears around me. It was gentle, healing therapy. I was on fire, passionately spreading the word about Peggy and Denis.
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If people looked weirdly at me, I didn’t even notice. I was the “self-appointed” messenger and I was doing my job with gusto. Saying their names felt good as I kept telling my sacred story.
everyone how much these children meant to me. I kept repeating the refrain, “I love Peggy and Denis.”
I was beginning to hum the melody.
Six weeks later I sat and composed an acknowledgement card, thanking all the people who came to the wakes and funerals or who had sent food, flowers, mass cards or had done errands for us. I spent hours designing the card and had it printed in our local printing shop. Folded like a birthday card, the front cover had the “thank you” with a picture of “the inseparable duo,” Peggy and Denis, as little children, and the inside of the card contained recent pictures of Peggy and Denis with musings of each—Peggy on the left side and Denis on the right side. On the back of the card was the information about the Scholarship Fund that had been set up in their memory at the University of Dayton. It was very comforting to know that all the people who reached out to console us now had a lasting memento of Peggy and Denis. Here I was “singing their song” with a backup chorus, making sure they were not erased from memory
Dolce, gently, sweetly Share Linking Objects. Gifting friends and relatives with something special that belonged to my children was another way of helping people remember Peggy and Denis. They were both college students at the time of their deaths, and I made sure that their roommates and friends received something that Peggy and Denis had treasured. Whether it was a favorite sweater, book, record, outfit, poster, piece of sports equipment, jewelry, trophy, stuffed animal or picture. It was the same with relatives as I sent boxes of lacrosse and football gear to younger cousins, specific pieces of jewelry and the pick of their clothing and youthful treasures to others. Of course, my husband and I and our remaining child, Annie, had first choice, carefully choosing items that would keep us close to Peggy and Denis forever, like their school rings, favorite books and pictures, diplomas, yearbooks, Denis’ swimming medals, lifeguard hat and whistle, guitar, and backgammon set, and Peggy’s big ear rings, sorority sweatshirt, 4H projects, and flute. How could we part with Denis’ Ziggy doll imprinted with the phrase, “I is a brain”? As we gifted friends with other items Peggy and Denis owned, like a brand new 10-speed bicycle to a young fellow who was in need of one, a set of classic story books (Denis’ First Communion present) to a lovely family with three young children who would enjoy them, and Denis’ prized record collection to a former student of mine, an aspiring rock musician, we knew our children would be remembered. Although it hurt to part with their favorite possessions, it gave our hearts a lift to know that every time these articles were used, Peggy and Denis would be remembered. The lyrics were getting catchy in my song.
Pianissimo, softly, quietly Write About Them. I can remember writing my heart out with the tears streaming down my face at three o’clock in the morning, preparing eulogies for each of their funerals, which were four days apart. Although I was exhausted, overwhelmed and in shock, I needed to tell the world how much I loved each of these precious children, so I wrote the eulogies that I shared at their funerals. Where do we get the strength to do such things? I don’t know. All I know is that I needed to tell
Legato, smooth, even style
Portamento, a smooth, uninterrupted glide in passing from one tone to another Little did I know that my writing would be one of the main ways that people would remember my children. Whenever I discovered something that helped my heart, I wrote about it—basically to share what I had learned with others who were trying to have a meaningful life again. Many of my articles were published in various magazines across the country. All of a sudden I was invited to write a monthly column for the bereaved in a now-defunct national magazine. After that, I enjoyed writing a couple of crafts books for grieving children, Sweet Memories and A Forever Angel. These books could help youngsters “open up” to their parents and talk about the loved one who had died as they made special projects to remember that person. Then the children could gift others with the things they made to remember their special person. Continuing my writing adventure, I wrote a number of pamphlets, of which Stepping Stones for the Bereaved and Healing After Your Child’s Death were the most popular. Just sharing these ideas again and again made people feel they actually knew Peggy and Denis. Do you know what that did for my heart? My children would not be erased. My singing was gliding smoothly from one song to the next.
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Crescendo, gradually increasing in volume Another thrill for me “singing my children’s song” came about when I was invited to be a columnist for Grief Digest when it made its debut in 2003. I was now writing with all the wonderful grief experts, Darcie Sims, Earl Grollman, Alan Wolfelt, Doug Manning and Andrea Gambill, who had given me the gift of hope on my grief journey! I was deeply honored and overjoyed to join the ranks of these nationally known bereavement writers who helped me create my “new normal.” I had to pinch myself to make sure I wasn’t dreaming. As my singing got louder, I just threw my hands up in the air and exclaimed, “Lord, what’s next?
Allegro, rapid tempo Quick as a wink, a dream came true for me! ACTA Publications in Chicago invited me to offer an outline and first chapter for a book to be entitled, The Death of a Child. My heart was overjoyed to be considered for such a grand project and one so dear to my heart. How great to have another opportunity to “sing Peggy’s and Denis’ song,” but this happened a few weeks after 9/11, and I was so busy helping the World Trade Center families here on Long Island (20 miles from NYC) that I couldn’t imagine finding time to write a book. I explained my predicament to the publisher and he solved the problem instantly. He said he would call me back in three months. True to his word, he called me back in January, and the rest is history. My outline and first chapter were accepted, a contract was signed, and I began writing my heart out “singing my children’s song.” If you can believe, the first copy of The Death of a Child, hot off the press, was delivered to my doorstep on Christmas Eve 2003, the most exciting, joyful Christmas present I ever received. I felt the heavenly choir singing Peggy’s and Denis’ song with me.
Allegretto, a quick tempo, but slower than allegro Educate the World About Grief. I didn’t realize how much my talking and writing, “sharing my children with the world,” helped so many grieving families and those folks who were trying to understand the pain and struggles of losing a loved one. This led to speaking engagements, radio and TV appearances, participation in seminars, conferences, videos and documentaries to help the bereaved. You see the more we “sing our loved one’s song,” the more we educate the world about loss and the more we help eradicate the myths that grieving folks have to endure from the civilians (the people who have never experienced grief). We give ourselves permission to grieve, and we teach the world what
helps bereaved persons. Once we learn what we need, then it is up to us to educate others, but this takes time. You can’t do it until you learn the ups and downs of grief and then find the strength to explain it to others. As your singing speeds up, you might be invited to be Keynote Speaker, as I was, at various bereavement conferences across the country!
Fortisimo, very loudly Find Your Voice. Let’s face it, we all sing differently: soft, loud, with perfect pitch or off-key, as baritone, tenor, alto or soprano. We might be soloist, part of a quartet or choir member. Maybe we just enjoy whistling or humming along with the music. “If their song is to continue, then we must do the singing.” We have to find that special way that will allow us to sing our loved one’s song loud and clear. It could be by volunteering at our neighborhood school, delivering meals on wheels, sponsoring a canine pet, taking the handicapped on a day’s outing, working to improve the environment, teaching flower arranging at the old folks home, sponsoring scholarships for college, camp, music, art education, dance or sports clinics; funding special hospital equipment or library book collections, or being a hospital or nursing home volunteer. We all answer a special need from the sacred center of our heart that connects us with our loved one. We might wish to establish a charitable foundation which services many requests for help, to fund equipment for local sports teams, to sponsor special concerts, speakers or lecture series in our community, to participate in youth, scouting, senior citizen or religious education programs. We might devote our time to working with a bereavement support group, give our energies to further the work of Cancer Care, Heart Fund, MADD, Organ Donation, Suicide Prevention, Make a Wish Foundation, or local Hot Line; or we might wish to work ardently for improving “killer roads,” a faulty court system, or melanoma awareness. Knowing you are doing something to keep your loved one’s memory alive keeps you passionately busy, allows you to tell your sacred story, adds joy to your heart, brings an array of beautiful, loving people into your life, and rewards you with a meaningful life again. Your loud voice will echo in many hearts making sure your loved one is never erased from memory.
Vivace, lively manner So practice those scales, rehearse those notes, and get busy singing your loved one’s song! It’s never too late to lead the chorus.
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Celebrating 30 Years of Singing Their Song Peggy O’Connor–8/23/66 to 8/2/86 Denis O’Connor 2-4-65 to 8/6/86
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When I’m Gone Close your eyes and open your spirit and you will feel me beside you… Guiding you every step of the way. I don’t want you to ever forget that even though I am gone from sight, our love is not, I am just a conversation away, so talk to me…tell me your joys and your sorrows, I still want to be a part of it all.
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When I’m gone and the minutes turn into hours, and the hours turn into days, the heaviness inside your heart may seem too much to bear. I know you will long to hear my voice, see my face, sit beside me, tell me you love me, hear my laugh, or just have those simple conversations we once had. I know that it probably hurts more than anything else ever has, and you feel like you just cannot go on. I am sorry I had to go. What I want you to understand is that even though all of that physical stuff is gone from sight, our love will never cease to exist. The love that we share is what will carry you through. Our ties, our bond, and our love cannot be severed. Love is the most powerful force on Earth and transcends all…even death. Life will be different when I’m gone; you won’t like it and you may want to fight it. You will want to scream out loud in agony, but when you pick yourself back up off the floor, like I expect you to, remember our love. Let our love emanate through your body. I am there, our love is there; I am just gone from sight. I have high expectations of you now that I am gone. When every cell in your being wants to give up and wallow because the sadness and pain is unbearable, I want you to take some time and allow yourself that, but then I need you to put two feet on the ground for me. When you cannot do it for yourself, do it for me. I no longer have that privilege. You are going to want the world to stop turning, and you will want to holler at all of the people continuing their lives while you are stuck in this vast array of darkness; but when it is dark, I want you to wake up and watch the sun rise. I know that awakening from your slumber may be one of the hardest tasks because the reality of me gone is excruciating. Each day, when you feel like you cannot put one foot in front of the other, watch the sun slowly come up through the clouds and know that I am still there with you. When night falls and the sorrow rears its ugly head, go outside and look up at the stars and the moon and realize the intricacies of the universe and speak to me; I am there. With the change of every season, think of me and find a way to honor my spirit. As the spring showers start falling and the birds start singing, take a moment to take it all in and appreciate the beauty. During the summer enjoy the warmth of the sun on your face, the flowers, and the insanely beautiful summer storms and rainbows. I will be in each one of these things. As fall begins to come around the corner…enjoy the crisp air, and as you watch the leaves fall from the trees, realize that this death will soon give way to a rebirth of life. When the snow starts falling for the first time, go outside and be mesmerized and let the snowflakes fall on your tongue…enjoy each breathtaking moment. When find yourself traveling the world, dip your toes into the ocean, feel my spirit there beside you. I am everywhere you are. We are always connected, you just need to find a way to keep that connection…it may be through a butterfly, or a song, a rainbow, or a beautiful sunset, or some crazy thing we did together, but it is there, and it will always be there. You now have the opportunity to expand your heart into something you didn’t know existed; I have no doubt in your ability to do so. Most importantly I need you all to live your lives with strength and love. I want you all to live boldly, with passion and determination. I expect you to love with everything inside of your soul, unapologetically. Love is all we have to give of ourselves, and love is what is going to carry you through this unbearable pain. So when I am gone, love big, love fully with every piece of your heart, and don’t leave anything left unsaid. Speak my name often. Close your eyes and open your spirit and you will feel me beside you…guiding you every step of the way. I don’t want you to ever forget that even though I am gone from sight, our love is not, I am just a conversation away, so talk to me…tell me your joys and your sorrows, I still want to be a part of it all. When I am gone, and you are feeling lonely for my presence, read this quote over and over until you don’t feel quite as lonely, and remember I will always love you! “Goodbyes are only for those who love with their eyes. For those who love with their heart and soul there is no separation!” ~Rumi Much love, Jill Kottmeier Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 13
Grief at the
Grocery Store By Ilissa Jae Ducoat, LPC, FT
Theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;re still there, the birds that roost in the open spaces of the letters in the grocery store sign. Only a handful of times has a natural smile bloomed onto my face in the past three months. It unfolded very carefully, though without hesitation. The delicate petals of some pretty pink flower unfurled to reveal a reminiscent peace that my body had forgotten about. I hadnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t noticed them at all the last few times I tried to come here. I had forgotten the solace they used to bring, on my menial trips before my world shattered and left me splintered. As a child, I was excited to look for them and see if they were sitting there, waiting for me. I would always count them and for some reason, that silly thing would bring me joy. Bonus points for watching them come back and alight upon the second to last letter, like a twittering character of punctuation that was supposed to be there.
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The excitement waned as I grew taller, busier, less mindful of things and more mindful of my to-do lists. Here and there I would notice and smile, and then go back to running through numbers and schedules in my head of who is supposed to be where and whether or not I had checked if we needed orange juice again. It was mostly a chore, a bore, to do these things. Walk the aisles and fill my cart with the items we needed to keep us going for the week. If somebody wasn’t feeling well, or had a rough week, I would make sure the ingredients for their favorite meal or a special treat came home with me that day. If we entertained for a celebration or a holiday, I would select the things I needed to make it as meaningful as I could.
Groceries? I’m so sick of everyone telling me how I should be feeling, or not feeling. I’m weary of the careful little dance people do, screaming with discomfort because they don’t know what to do for me when they see me. These birds today, they opened something in me. A tiny bud has fought its way up through the soil, and awoken in the sunlight. Even if I push my cart and cry when I go inside, my sobs cannot take this moment from me. I had peace.
I had never realized until you weren’t with me, that this was another way I loved you.
I may go home and collapse into an exhausted heap of brokenness. I may not.
I hadn’t realized the birds and everything else comfortable and safe disappeared when I left the house since you’ve been gone.
Grief has been like that, an unpredictable, demanding, spoiled little child that wants what it wants when it wants it.
The thought of grocery shopping sends me into panic, or floods me with tears and longing. I haven’t been here much in the past three months.
It cannot take away my birds and the sliver of peace I had. What unfurled inside me today was a quiet, almost unrecognizable petal of hope.
The first time I tried, I was overwhelmed by how much of you was there, in a place I never would have associated with you. Daily meals, special dinners, your favorite snacks, even times I’d been here with you, they all leapt out from behind boxes of cereal or pasta.
I don’t know how long it will last, or how infrequently it will come for me. I may not feel peace or hope for many months.
I left a cart full of things as I succumbed to a guerilla warfare style attack of emotion, without ever having made it to the milk. I had wondered, what was wrong with me, that I couldn’t even shop for my own food? Why hadn’t anyone warned me that grocery shopping would make me feel crazy? Make me feel like something was terribly, horribly, wrong with me, that I would never get through this? Nobody told me that every day tasks would be crippling, and not even the obvious ones.
But I will remember this moment, with the little nesting birds, punctuating my day. Ending a thought, giving me pause. I reject the ideas of moving on and acceptance and embrace accommodating this tremendous loss into my life, at my own pace. Keys in hand, list in my pocket, you in my heart. Oh, and tissues. I’m out of tissues?
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Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 17
One Man’s Journey from a Nervous Breakdown
By Kristi Hugstad
For many years I worked with my friend Mark in the fitness industry. Mark was the epitome of good health: he exercised daily, ate a ridiculously healthy diet, and did everything by the book to stay in tip-top condition. But Mark was always a little neurotic, and it seemed harmless on the outside – so much so that we’d joke about it. His neuroses started as a young child: he’d pull out his hair, eyebrows, or eyelashes. He said he was searching for something concrete – something he could count on. It served as a punishment or penance of some sort, he figured. Like many kids, Mark sought his father’s approval. Mark wasn’t sure what his father thought of him because he never talked about his feelings. At 26, he decided to write his dad a detailed letter telling him how much he loved him and how he enjoyed the time they spent together. When his dad received it, he immediately called his son and told him the letter meant the world to him. It was what Mark had been searching for all his life: his father’s approval. Two weeks later his father shot and killed himself. “I had put my doubts and fears behind me, and I was truly growing up. I was in my senior year of college with my whole future before me. And then my dad took his life. I had no answer for this,” Mark said. “I began to unravel.” Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 18
Although he was devastated, the approval Mark had received from his father before his tragic death empowered him to move forward – or so he thought. Mark ended up spending the next 20 years sublimating his grief and trying to be the man he thought his dad wanted him to be. For a while he showed up at work every day and went through the motions. Then he began to feel guilty about his father’s death. Mark wondered whether his dad would have stuck around if he’d been a better son, and as his speculating increased, his anxiety worsened. He hit rock bottom when he spent three isolated weeks at home with bronchitis. He thought he was dying, and his fixations and anxiety were bringing on so many physical symptoms that he was visiting the doctor every day. Mark didn’t realize it, but he was having a nervous breakdown. Whatever this was, he thought, he didn’t think he would survive it. Though not a clinical diagnosis, a nervous breakdown describes the point of exhaustion reached after a prolonged period of anxiety, depression, and stress. It leads to a sense of feeling overwhelmed and helpless – of not being able to cope with life – and to utter exhaustion. The symptoms of a nervous breakdown mirror those of depression and the warning signs of suicide. This is where neuroplasticity comes in to save the day: it’s the amazing potential of the brain to recognize itself by creating new neural pathways to adapt as needed. Mark recognized that he needed to break his pattern of self-inflicted negativity. He attended a seminar on mind control and learned how to focus on positive self-talk and stop looping his neurotic thoughts. He found a new question: What is it that I want to do? This question opened the door for Mark to investigate many different options in his life. He transformed his fear into excitement, realizing he has a choice about how to interpret his life experiences. He now understood that every day he can choose how he thinks. “I learned that we all think in words, and that those words – those stories – directly affect the chemical reactions in our
brains. And those reactions, in turn, affect all of our behavior to the negative or the positive. The choice was up to me,” Mark explained. After all those years of depression and anxiety, Mark learned to face his grief, embrace it, and be joyful again. He now channels his stress and boundless energy to make positive changes in his life and the lives of those around him. His anxiety that used to be a glaring red light that filled him with fear has instead become a green light that signals him to go forward. He continues exercising and eating healthy, but also incorporates relaxing, meditating, and setting boundaries into his daily routine. Positive and optimistic people tend to live healthier lifestyles. There are many paths to embrace that optimism, and Mark’s path shows that you can achieve it by changing your thinking. Mark took his grief and turned it into an opportunity to know himself better and to face the challenges of life with a renewed spirit and optimism. Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 19
By Lisa Ingrassia
Grieving is hard! Y Please don’t make it harder for me!
On January 17, 2016 at 1:30 AM I watched my father enter the gates of heaven after a 7 year battle with Stage 4 base of the tongue cancer. While his death was “beautiful” his battle was horrific. My father, my best friend, my hero, suffered endlessly. Although he was “cancer free” when he passed, the severe radiation treatments he bravely endured destroyed his body. He spent the last 3 years of his life chocking on what little saliva he had left. Many times it would enter his lungs and give him aspiration pneumonia. He would have horrible pain fits screaming in pain. The last year of his life he was housebound and the last 4 months of his life he was on hospice. My father died with my mother kissing his forehead and my sister and I holding each of his hands. He told us our entire lives, and throughout the night of his passing, to remember he will always love us and he loves us more. I thought my father’s battle with cancer was one of the most difficult things I’ve ever had to endure, but I was wrong. Losing my father is by far the most difficult moment in my life. No matter how hard you try, you cannot prepare yourself for the gravity of death, for losing a parent who was not just a parent but your best friend,
your hero and your biggest fan in life. Growing up my father had a saying, “If it’s not fatal we don’t care.” As a kid, I never understood what that meant. As a woman who just recently lost her Dad I get it! As the days go on the pain gets deeper and I miss my Dad more. The numbness is wearing off, and I am slowly realizing my father is gone and despite all the signs he’s throwing my way, he’s no longer on this earth. Since my father’s death I’ve found the most beautiful fluffy white feathers in the oddest places, even falling right from my ceiling. I’ve woken up to beautiful glowing lights. Lights will start flickering when I walk by and I’ve had the most vivid dreams of him. As I’m writing this, I can smell cigarette smoke. My Dad was not a smoker and neither am I, but my grandparents were, and I’ve been smelling smoke since the night he passed. My heart is still shattered and I still miss my father terribly. A question I’ve asked myself since January 17th is, “Why are people so afraid of those that are grieving?” We ALL grieve, yet for so many it’s the giant white elephant in the room. I’m learning you have some friends and family who
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are in it for the long haul, they are your glue, and they hold you up while you are falling apart. These are the people who are there no matter what, they are angels on earth and I’m forever grateful for them. Then you have some people who hound you during the first few days. When my father took his last breath, I lost my voice. I couldn’t speak nor did I want to. I felt broken and shattered and needed to somehow process what had just happened. Sometimes you have this small group of people stalk you and as soon as the dirt is tossed on the coffin, they vanish. I’m sure their intentions are good. Perhaps they are fearful that we will harm ourselves or vanish, but for as much as a social person I am, when my Dad passed, I became very private. I needed to be alone. I needed to mourn alone. Something as simple as speaking became impossible. Each time I would try to say something I would sob. For me, my father was gone and my world stopped rotating that night. Lastly, you have some people who you really thought were friends, some are even family members, who are afraid to acknowledge the death of your loved one. People who you spent special occasions with, people who MET your loved one, and yet it’s like they don’t even know they died. I mean didn’t you see the obituary? I even posted it to Facebook! I want to ask them, “Do you think that by not acknowledging the death of my beloved father you’re helping me heal?” While we don’t want a pity party a simple “sorry for the loss of your Dad” would really mean a lot. I mean this is the man who raised me and to be quite honest I’m lost right now and my heart is shattered in about 10 million pieces. So by you not mentioning my Dad really just shows that you lack empathy and are really quite ignorant. I know what some people are thinking, if you’ve never lost someone you don’t understand. I don’t completely agree. If you’re an adult you should have some simple empathy. But as I grieve I’m seeing so many lack this emotion. As the days go on, the immediate family begins to learn how to live again with a huge gaping hole in our hearts. Slowly, we begin to go through our deceased loved ones belongings and my goodness does it hurt. It’s like you’re in pain all the time. You’re sad all the time. And no one WANTS to be sad. But you wake up each morning, open your eyes and remember a significant part of your life is gone. You learn how to cope, how to survive without this person. Prior to losing my Dad I never once thought, “What do you do with a deceased person’s hairbrush?” Then one afternoon in January after my father passed, I was standing in his bathroom smelling his hairbrush. I mean like taking big whiffs because it was HIM and his dry skin on that brush. I wear my father’s wedding band around my neck and put his sweatshirt on when I’m feeling sad. I keep his eyeglasses on my night stand and a mason jar of all the white feathers that have crossed my path since he passed. When I’m really sad, a white feather always manages to appear out of thin air. On one particular day a feather came floating right from my ceiling. I can feel my father’s presence all around me and yet I’m still so sad. My mother, his wife of 44 years, looks lost all the time. My parents were always together and she was his caregiver for the past 7 years. On numerous occasions my father would say, “I’m alive because of your mother, never forget that.” My parents shared a love that was a once in a lifetime kind of love. My parents knew everything about one another. They were soulmates. My father left beautiful love notes throughout the house for my mother, many that we are still finding. Watching my mother grieve and try to survive without my father is heartbreaking and frightening. If you have a family member or a friend grieving, let me offer some advice. We need you in the months following the burial. We want you to ask about our deceased loved ones. I promise you we will not explode at the mention of their name, as a matter of a fact we WANT to remember them. Honoring my Dad is a priority to me; his dying wish was for his grandbabies to always remember him. So please do not forget my Dad. And now for helping the surviving spouse... call them, send cards, show them you CARE. The immediate family is in a complete fog during the first few days; while we appreciate all the love and support at the time of the death, please remember it’s the spouse who has to go back to the home where this deceased once lived. It’s the spouse who has to sort through the belongings, it’s the spouse who is sleeping in the bed where the deceased once slept, and it’s the spouse who is staring at that empty chair every day. Each phone call, text and card we receive is like a big blanket of love wrapped around us. To our little army of supporters, THANK YOU a million times. To our little army of supporters who call and send cards on our firsts without my Dad, THANK YOU. We all grieve, but with the love and support of others, it shows us that somehow we will survive this and we are not alone.
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On Sunday, May, 22nd, I lost one of the most important and influential people in my life, my father. Although I have, and will always miss him, I was fortunate enough to have worked by his side in a
family owned business for fifteen-years. They were easily the most rewarding and memorable years of my life, in which he taught me many things, but showed me so much more. It was during this time that we became extremely close; both my daughters were born; I bought my first home and experienced the loss of a grandparent, his father. We also met a variety of very interesting people along the way from many walks of life, which allowed me to witness his interactions with others in amazement, as there was never a time that he didnâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t treat everyone no matter who they were, the very same way, he himself would like to be treated. He was truly inspiring and I could not have had a better role model. So, Dad this is for you, not only for all youâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve taught me, but also for what I have become. I hope it makes you proud.
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(Lawrence Earl James Belford June 18, 1936 â&#x20AC;&#x201D; May 22, 2016)
Like Father, Like Son I have followed in your footsteps, you have taught me many things, shown me many more. Like, what it was to be a caring son, takes to be a devoted father, means to be a loving grandfather. I will never forget all you taught me, always treasure what you have shown me. In life, it is less important what you are, than what you become. If I can become, as caring a son, devoted a father, loving a grandfather, It will be your legacy I keep. ÂŠ2000 Richard Lawrence Belford
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Spark Joy By Elaine E. Stillwell, M.A, M.S, Rockville Centre, NY
Little did I think Joy would enter my life again after burying my two oldest children, 19-year-old Peggy and 21-year-old Denis, following a freak car accident while they were on summer vacation from college. Peggy died instantly and we thought Denis would make it, but he died the day after we buried Peggy, and we began our preparations for a second funeral in one week. My remaining child Annie left for college as a freshman 3 weeks later, so our home was very empty. Deafening silence haunted us. Thank God, my husband Joe was my rock and my “blotter” as he wiped away my tears. I thought he got cheated out of a bubbly bride since we were married only two years at the time and often joked that the honeymoon would begin when all three children were away at college. It wasn’t funny anymore. In an instant our life had changed forever. We were full of questions? Could we have a meaningful life again? Would we ever smile and feel joy again? Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 24
Now years later, after recently reading The LifeChanging Magic of Tidying Up, and its sequel Spark Joy, two New York Times #1 Best Selling guides to decluttering your home by Japanese cleaning guru Marie Kondo which take readers step-by-step through her revolutionary method for simplifying, organizing, and storing, I wondered if this category-by-category system would work for grieving folks enabling them to reshape their lives as they attempted to build their New Normal. While grieving, we seem to take inventory of what we are doing with our lives, sorting out what is worth doing and what now seems trivial or a waste of time after losing our child or a loved one. Exploring a variety of categories, many discover they want to spend more time with their families, be a better parent to remaining children, evaluate friendships deciding whether to rekindle or dismantle, skip meaningless meetings and functions, change jobs, connect with a higher power, schedule some “alone” time for thinking things out, and find a way to keep their child or loved one connected and remembered. Basically, they are trying to discover what is worth saving that will ignite joy in their life. For tidying up, Kondo’s books direct us to begin the project with clothing, gathering all of it in one room on the floor, and then to pick up each piece, one at a time, look at it, and ask ourselves, “Does this bring me joy?” Then we are instructed to keep it if it sparks joy in our heart, or to get rid of it if it did not register on our joy meter. Our heart tells us right away. We can’t fool ourselves. The unique magic of a “tidy heart” helps us clear unwanted clutter to make space for joy, and ultimately discover the calm, motivated mindset it can inspire for our healing. So let’s explore a few possible categories, taking one category at a time, examine what we feel, and discover what brings joy and what we can discard. Look in your address book. Put a star next to folks who have been there for you, not putting demands on you, not telling you to hurry up and get over it, not trying “to fix” your grief, just willing to listen to your story and to give you the gift of their presence. Look at each name and say, “Do you bring me joy?” Now, you will have a list of dear friends eager for your call and you will have eliminated those who could cause you more pain. You have bypassed those who are hard to deal with, those who are aloof to your heartache,
those who don’t understand or are noticeably absent, and you can feel the joy of those who are there for you. Decluttering your address book can be a powerful guide to finding those loving people who will walk with you giving you the support team that you need to climb the mountain of grief facing you. Take a peek at your calendar. See what events you really want to attend. Cross off those that take too much energy right now, add to your grief, are too painful to attend, or in which you have little interest at the present time. Try to add dates that will bring a smile, include places and people who will bring you comfort, select events that you can actually look forward to attending, and will gently get you out of the house giving you something to look forward to. It could simply be a walk around the block enjoying spring blossoms, winter snow scene or autumn’s falling leaves; or dinner with friends or coffee with a neighbor. It doesn’t have to be a big deal, just something that rings a joyful button. Putting a date on the calendar gives meaning to a day. It provides a chance for you to take back control of your life by enabling you to make some daily decisions, hopefully to add joy to the life you are rebuilding. Check with your higher power. Give some time to asking yourself which fork in the road you will pursue. Pray for strength and guidance. Prayer is reaching, and every act of prayer stretches the soul. Feel the Divine presence with you and within you wherever you go and the joy of knowing you are safe and secure. Be open to divine ideas and creative ways to use them. In a peaceful inner space, be nourished and supplied with all that you need to return to the outer world. Realize that it is not courage, but the choices you make that will bring you a joyful heart. Don’t rush, take your time. Grief has no set timetable as some think and demand. The rule of thumb is to do what helps your heart, nobody else’s, just yours. Only when you function well can you be of service to family members and friends, so take good care of yourself. It is not selfish. It is the way grief works. Ask yourself, “Will this action bring me joy?” If not, try something else. Do look in your closet and select those clothes that bring you to life. Give yourself a chance to feel pretty or handsome, to face the world with renewed vigor and purpose. Like Marie Kondo advises, “Ask yourself, does this item bring me joy?” Find ones that lift your spirits,
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make you feel alive and ready to face the world to tell them about your child or loved one. Make them proud of you for getting out from under the covers and taking positive steps forward. Empower yourself with vibrant colors and the determination to spread joy. Discard those items that pull you down or make you feel blue or scroungy. Choose to wear some clothes that belonged to your child or loved one and feel their loving presence and the memories they inspire. Clean out your closet and feel the joy from the outfits you have selected to keep. Call a thrift store for those that don’t pass the joy test. Count your blessings. Prosperity is the flow of blessings in your life. Try not to be overwhelmed about bills, finances, decisions to be made, or feeling empty and lonely. Be patient with yourself. Rather than affirming what’s lacking, bless all you have and use it wisely. Take time to make two lists, one naming your blessings and the other listing those things that hamper your progress or get you upset. If you have been keeping a journal, just reading those pages over will give you all the information you need. Then rearrange your Blessing List in the order of those giving you the most joy. Use that knowledge when you are having a bad day (better than two Tylenol). Dwell on the positive and live in the present. Savor the joy that you have created and be grateful to know those things to avoid as you work hard to cope and survive and have a meaningful life again. Marie Kondo challenges you to ask yourself whether each object you have is achieving a purpose. Is it propelling you forward or holding you back? The mess is often about unhappiness, and that the right kind of “tidying up” can be a kind of psychotherapy for the home as well as for the people in it. The strength is in its simplicity. Can this method transfer our cluttered heart into a space of serenity and inspiration? As one reader claims, “Thanks to Ms. Kondo, I can kiss my old socks goodbye.” Another happy reader shares, “To show you how serious my respect for Ms. Kondo is: if I ever get a tattoo, it will say, Spark Joy!” Are you ready to Spark Joy? Try it, you’ll like it.
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at love after the loss of my first love By Missy Marshall In the midst of heartache, I struggled everyday to keep a smile on my face. It had been 30 years since my first love had died, and I still could not get through the day without crying. “Why?” I would ask myself, slumped over the bathroom sink, in the morning getting ready for work. “Why am I still dealing with this heartache?” I would then pull myself together and go to work, and go about my day, moving forward until again, something reminded me of him and I’d grieve again. In all of my 48 years, I was never able to fit in. Everyone was always so cold, and different than I was around where I had grown up. I spent most of my time outside in the beautiful land, with the plants and animals in the backwoods of southern Michigan. The last 30 years had become so lonely, even though I had surrounded myself with many friends and animals. Nothing could replace the love I had lost so many years ago. One evening, while making my spaghetti dinner, I realized that I had no pasta. I meant to pick it up on my way home from work. I said to myself, “I am not doing anything else and it is a lovely evening. I will run to town.” I got into my Ford Ranger, cranked up the country music, and away I went. While on my way to the local market, I was in a rush, to simply get back home to taste a plateful of spaghetti. I got to the curve, the curve I had drove hundreds of times. I went to smoothly take that curve while the music was taking me into a world of my own. Suddenly there was a man looking right at me in his green sports car. I thought I had never seen this man before. He looked at me as we passed, and I felt as if he was looking through me like he knew me. As it had turned out, this man was a son of my parent’s friends. I had also worked with him when we were teenagers. In the past several years since I had come back into town, he had tried to date me but I kept telling him no. I was not ready because of my broken heart. When we passed on the curve and looked into each other’s eyes, I knew that we connected. I called him that night. Something about him that day, the way he looked at me, made me realize, that when one part of your life ends, another part of it begins. We have now been married 15 years. My advice? If you lose a love, keep going. Enrich your life with beautiful things. Don’t give up on love. It will find you again. Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 27
HOW DO YOU HONOR A Dead Personâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s Birthday? By Michelle D. Jarvie, Author of Then & Now: Changed Perspectives of a Young Widow http://michellejarvie.com
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He would’ve been 36 today. Even after six and a half years, anniversaries of any kind are difficult. When we love people, we memorize dates that are important, that honor them or our relationship. After they die, those dates become hurdles, often lined with “I should” statements. I’ve found anticipation is often worse than the actual day, I’ve been thinking all week about what I should/want/need to do for James today. I could: • make his favorite foods: cheesy potatoes, Parmesan chicken, brownies • play and sing Garth Brooks’ “The Dance” on my piano, as I did at his funeral (And now, I’m glad I didn’t know the way it all would end, the way it all would go. Our lives are better left to chance. I could’ve missed the pain, but I’d have had to miss the dance.) • share the scrapbook I made of our life together with a close friend • write him a letter • call one of his family members and share stories about him • visit his grave under the snow, tracing my fingers over every letter and telling him about my life now • drive up north to the place we got married, releasing balloons over Lake Superior • use his camera to take pictures of beautiful things still in nature • act like he would to every person I meet, with open-mindedness, calmness, and kindness • tell the people alive in my life now how much they mean to me I like this list, and have done - or tried to do - all of these things. But this year something is different. Perhaps it’s because I’m 36 weeks pregnant and keep thinking about how much he wanted to be a dad. I remember telling him how much the world needed more people like him, and how he’d always respond: “I appreciate that, honey, but I am who I am because of what I’ve been through.” (Example: On our first date, I asked him to tell me about something that forever changed who he was. I know, great starter question, right? He responded so thoughtfully, sharing about his parents’ divorce when he was five years old and the many types of pain that followed. “I think it would be easy to be bitter about it all,” he said, “but I’m pretty sure it’s why I have so much empathy today.”) Right now, at 7:50 AM, I’m imagining his energy around me. I can almost feel him wrapping his arms over my shoulders and telling me what would make him happiest: • watch me relish brownies like he did • listen to me play my favorite songs on the piano - rather than the one that makes me cry • make a new page in my scrapbook about my continuing adventures • write a letter to my unborn daughter about what makes me who I am • send my new book about grief to his family and others who could use it • not visit his grave, because he’s not there • reminisce about the events that made us laugh while exploring the north shore (his red neck accent, playing in the snow up to our waists, coming off Valium when he dislocated his shoulder ice-skating, getting lost in Wisconsin on our way home...) • take pictures with his camera of whatever makes me smile • behave with love as myself and to myself, recognizing he fell in love with a woman he didn’t want to change • tell everyone who is or has been a part of my life how much they mean to me (after all, physics - and the dragonfly story - tells us that nothing in the universe is ever gone/destroyed; it just changes form) All these tweaks to my originals sound real, James-like, and purposeful. I now know what I want to do today. I will forever be grateful that I knew him, that he loved me, and that I can still honor him in so many ways. Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 29
Reprinted from April, 2005, Grief Digest Magazine
Grow Where You Are Planted The Quest for Meaning After Loss By Nan Zastrow, wings, inc.
A friend had offered me a variety of perennial plants she was removing from her meticulous garden, and I greedily accepted, because I know that perennial plants bloom under adverse conditions in most any environment. Many of the varieties were new to me and I struggled with identifying them by their Latin names (which she knew very well) compared to the common names I knew. Additionally, I was mentally storing information about their preferred habitat: shade or sun. Laden with buckets of wilting plants, I hurried home wanting to put their thirsty roots into rich black dirt. Confused by pail after pail of plants that right now all looked the same, I tried to sort them according to my mental record “needs sun, needs shade.” Finally, overwhelmed, I plunked them all in the holes I had prepared. In the heat of the morning sun, I stammered, “Grow where you are planted!” The old proverb rebounded and flashed a hidden memory before me. When I was struggling with my grief, someone gave me a picture of a girl with a sprinkling can, watering flowers, and the proverb, “Grow Where You Are Planted” boldly written beneath it. I hung it on my bulletin board for inspiration for years to come. Looking back, today, I believe that I took that proverb to heart and used my life experience to grow in the troubled soil I was given. How does one grow when life itself has wilted and lost its meaning and purpose? After loss, this is probably the greatest challenge of all. Unfortunately, it’s a challenge that each person must manage alone. Growth and freedom from grief begins with soul searching, values identification and renewing our attitudes. Our lives have come to a halt. Sometimes we are doing what we are doing because we don’t feel we have any options. Or we may be harvesting a sorry attitude because of the circumstances life has handed us. It’s easy
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to get caught in the trap of feeling sorry for one’s self. However, we all have the power to find personal growth and happiness in our lives—again. Sometimes, happiness begins with just a few minutes a day. And when each minute expands to an hour or even a day of peace, our spirits are reaching new potential and personal self-growth. Eventually, we can uncover the meaning, purpose and happiness we desperately seek.
Do Some Soul Searching
When we soul search, we reach inside to understand what our culture and family traditions have taught us. Then, we determine how it applies to us today, and what is important for us to keep and what needs to be changed in order to live comfortably in today’s world without betraying our heritage.
Change the Rules
The rules for grieving have changed, folks. We no longer wear black garments to symbolize death (now, black is a fashion statement). Widows aren’t expected to dress drably and have restrictions for attending social events. Black wreaths aren’t hung on doors anymore, nor do we wear black armbands. In fact, the rules have changed so much that workers are expected to return to work in three days—and be productive! The very act of grieving has been cut short for social convenience! On the other hand, there is a clearer trend for funeral services to truly become a celebration of a life lived. Dirges have been replaced with heart and soul music. We applaud the deceased for his or her contribution to family, community and friends. We hang pictures telling stories about life events. We bring personal items to the funeral including achievement trophies, symbols of hobbies, interests and creativity and evidence of hard physical work. We sing! We tell stories. We even laugh! Twelve years ago when our son Chad took his own life, I returned to work sullen, broken and empty. True support wasn’t readily available. Suicide was considered taboo, and people tended to judge the survivors as pitiful. The rules were: Don’t talk about the incident; it might give others ideas. Check your family history; the “crazy” gene may run rampant. Punish yourself for not “seeing” there was a problem. Now, education about suicide is evolving and more people are becoming aware of the signs, the preventions, the human factors of tolerance in pain and the inconsistencies of the final act. I can celebrate Chad’s life as an individual and an inspiration. An inspiration? Yes. Not because of what he did, but because of who he was before the act and what I have become as a result of my grief.
Choose to Learn
Grief often leaves us helpless. Our lives shut down, and we may turn away from new experiences or things we once enjoyed. Instinctively, we are born as creatures striving to learn, develop and survive. Feeding the mind feeds the soul and knowledge gives us power to heal. There are ways to reach inside and store new experiences, thoughts and untold wisdom that allow us to “grow” through our grief. Taking a class, listening to a lecture, trying a new sport or exercise, discussing something deep or personal with a trusted friend, expressing our feelings through music or words, and researching the conditions of life in a good book give us thoughts to ponder. A woman in one of our support groups described her life after her spouse’s death. He was her companion and her access to the outside world. He drove the car and chauffeured her wherever she went. When he died, she felt helpless, lonely and isolated. With a little encouragement, she decided to do the unthinkable. She drove alone on her first solo trip to Milwaukee (busy city some four hours away from home). She beamed from ear to ear with her personal accomplishment.
Remove the “someday” syndrome. We often live under the assumption that “someday” I will do this. (Someday, when the kids are through with college, we’ll spend some money on ourselves.) Or we put conditions on choices by specifying “when”: When I win the lottery, I’ll go for a great vacation.” I do recognize that money is often a Grief Digest Magazine, Volume 13, Issue #2 31
barrier to many of our desires. Therein is the defining question, “Do I really need this—or do I just want this?” Which becomes a critical deciding factor. Most things that bring us happiness are not purchased. What brings us true joy is most often the result of something we are doing for others. A friend had a good paying job and was allowed the luxury of spending her earnings for personal items she liked. It wasn’t that she was “selfish” because she certainly bought things for the family, and she didn’t need to be frugal. When she suddenly lost her job, she decided to take an early retirement. Her cash flow quickly went dry. She began “babysitting” for her grandchildren at no charge. I noticed a great sense of inner joy—different than previously. She explained that she found her family appreciated the “gift” of her time more than the purchased gifts she could give them.
Honor the Past, but Leave Some Behind
The slogan, “Honoring the Past and Rebuilding the Future” states the ministry of our Wings organization. The stories of life and death, the memories stored and the recollection of good times should be shared, recorded and celebrated. I remember when Chad was confirmed and again when he was graduated. I followed a tradition much to his chagrin. At each party, I dragged out framed pictures of the growing years and photo albums for our guests to chuckle over. Don’t save the experience for funerals— make anytime a good time to remember. Honor the stories of the past, but don’t hesitate to leave the traumas of the past behind. You can’t change what has happened, and you risk becoming exhausted and bitter if you hold onto the pain. Rebuild your future with loving stories and memories that heal the spirit and give meaning to your loved one’s life.
Renew your Attitude
Accept a challenge. Grief, illness, and personal loss qualify as the greatest contenders for first prize in defeating attitudes. Get an “I Can Do This” attitude. When our attitudes are tainted by life’s events, it’s easy to feel “helpless” in the face of adversity. It’s also makes us feel very deserving of another person’s sympathy. The real cure for an attitude slump is the final reality that no one can change what has happened to you. No one can take away the pain except you. Accept the challenge, and you will persevere. When Chad died, I admit I needed all the sympathy I could get. My first reaction was, why did God let this happen to me? What did I do to deserve this? My
reality check came atop a thirty-foot pole about a year after Chad died. Our consulting work-group took part in the “leadership challenge” offered by our company. The ultimate challenge ended with climbing a thirtyfoot pole with belay ropes attached to the harnesses we wore. Each person did this individually and went as far up the pole as they felt comfortable with, and then one step beyond to meet the challenge. I was determined to make it to the top and jump! When my shaking heavy legs finally supported my not-thin-enough frame on the 12” platform, I realized I hadn’t met the final challenge yet. I had to jump into vacant air with only the ropes to support me. As I gazed out over the tops of the trees, one thought came to mind, “I can do this—Chad—for you.” And I did! (To read the whole story, visit “Articles” at my website: www.wingsgrief.org). Making the choice gave me a great sense of accomplishment, and it made me realize that I had the power to overcome, or grief could destroy the rest of my life.
Find One Thing That Makes You Happy—and Grab It
Spend a few moments everyday doing something that makes you happy, even if it is a small moment like a walk in the garden, a phone call to a friend, or a warm cup of coffee with a good book. When you create your mood for the day with comfort and pleasantries, it’s easier to find happiness in the day.
Think about things you did in the past that made you happy. Was it a job (not the title)? Was it a trip or doing a special activity? Was it volunteering at a church, a civic event, a hospital, or sporting event? Was it learning something new? Was it meeting new people and learning about their lives? Look at the clues and determine possible new choices or ways to revitalize forgotten past experiences. When Chad died, I took up writing again. As a young adult, I had written poems and short stories, but I always said I had nothing to write about. Oh, the wealth of feelings and stories I now have to share. I found volunteering made me feel useful. I learned how to golf (poorly for sure), gained more knowledge on personal computer software, and tried faux painting and new recipes. We are planted in life with diverse elements, elements that can be either friend or foe. It is our choice how to use those elements to help us grow. Many of the plants in my garden have survived incredible odds. It is my wish that I continue to learn from them by blooming where I am planted.
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Bereaved parents know the excruciating pain of losing a child. Elaine Stillwell, mother of two children killed in a car accident, offers this collection of life-giving lessons gathered over years of experience as a grief minister. Chapters include: Creating a New Normal Baring the Soul Riding the Roller Coaster of Grief Cherishing the Seasons Rescuing Forgotten Mourners Singing Their Song $9.95, paperback ISBN: 0-87946-260-4
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‘A person’s a person no matter how small...’** Grief is so very difficult, and grief that refuses to be recognized, is the hardest to deal and cope with. The other day I noticed that one of my classmates was visibly upset. I watched as she would occasionally get up and leave our class, always with tears brimming in her eyes. Each time this occurred something would tug at my heart.
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Here was a young woman in pain, her grief so deep so profound. Here was a mother who had lost not one but two children, in such a short time. What was even more difficult for her was that she did not have an opportunity to hold these children, they were both miscarriages. Yet her grief is as real as mine, and I believe, even more so. Too often those who have lost a child through miscarriages, stillbirths and in infancy are treated as if their grief should be non-existent or diminished in some way. As a mom who has lost a child, I cannot even imagine not having had the opportunity to hold my child, let alone not being given the opportunity to meet them or getting to know them. I have met too many moms who have not forgotten, who remember there due dates, and have named their child. The love they have for their child is no different than mine. Any woman, who has carried a child in pregnancy, knows the bond that begins long before their child makes their debut into this world. For most moms, we begin to talk to our unborn child; we begin to dream of what they may accomplish, what they can become, and what they will add to our lives. This child is a part of us, and we a part of this child, we cherish every movement and kick; we look forward to sonograms, and doctors visits. So much anticipation, so much fear and joy, and so much hope. That unborn babe is life itself, we begin to nurture this precious life long before the delivery date. Recently, there was some commotion about pictures taken of a families’ stillborn child. I can honestly say that it is the pictures of my daughter that I cherish most, and I fortunately have many years of photos. For others this is not the case. Yes, it may seem odd to so many of you, but for many of these parents, it is there one cherishable memento of their little angel. My husband and his family have a picture of their little brother, Rui, who lost his battle with illness at the age of 10 months. At a time when photos were rare, someone offered to take a photo of him at his funeral, the only photo his parents have of this child. When photos come out, as they often do at family gatherings, this picture always brings wonderful memories of a life too short. Grief is grief, whether we have so many precious years with our loved one, or profound memorable moments; love is love. And for so many of us who are moms, the love of mother and child, is the strongest love of all. It is unconditional, our hearts are poured out for the love of our children, and we cherish every nuance, every heart beat. Whether you have had just hopes and dreams, hours or days, or have shared some memorable years; the spark of life, the fulfillment of dreams, the realization of love, is a loss that cannot be measured. When we do not understand what is happening, or have not experienced a loss ourselves, we need to step back and realize that grief is very real in so many instances. Loss needs to be acknowledged, we must be willing to accept that others will hurt, that pain is real, regardless of what we or society deems as an appropriate grievable loss. Our role should be to LISTEN, to hold their hand, to simply say ‘I’m sorry,’ and to allow them to work through their grief in whatever way works best for them. We are not ‘cookie cutter’ people; we are each and every one of us, unique. And it is this very uniqueness that makes us all the more wonderful, all the more vulnerable to all life hands us, and that gives us the courage to get up and face each new day with a renewed sense of hope. Love crosses boundaries that no man or woman can or could ever understand. Yet love is one emotion that can bring us so much joy and sorrow at the same time. But to not know love, for me is a greater loss than any other I can even begin to fathom. We hurt because we love, but we also begin to heal because we LOVE! To all parents who have loved a precious child, who have held them in their arms, or simply in their heart; know that they now hold you dear, and that they continue to send you love, and you will always be their mom and dad. **Title quote by Doctor Seuss (March 2, 1904 - September 24, 1991) From Horton Hears A Who! This article (or parts of this article) previously appeared in LIVING WITH GRIEF (rmsaraiva.blogspot.com), December 19, 2011
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When men experience a loss, their ďŹ rst step may be to move inward into their solitude, where they can express themselves, confront what has happened, deal with feelings, and begin to sort out their next steps. Typically, this process helps them to eventually move beyond their solitude and into relationship again with the signiďŹ cant people in their lives. Available through the Centering Corporation, www.centering.org or call: 1-866-218-0101 Daniel R. Duggan
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