Tuesday, September 16, 2014

The 5-Step Good Life: Make Condolence Notes a Habit


American psychologist, Martin Seligman, coached that there are 5 components of a "good life." 

Using the acronym, PERMA    [Source]  he theorized that we can control our sense of well being with the following habits:

1. Positive Emotion

Positive emotion — every night before sleep, write down 3 things that went well, and why

2. Engagement
Engagement — rather than taking shortcuts, apply your best skills, ("highest strengths") to any task

3. Relationships
Relationships — connect with people--the levels of intimacy will vary, but avoid isolation

4. Meaning
Meaning — find where you belong, to serve something bigger than your own agenda

5. Achievement
Achievement — determination is the key to any endeavor

The best part of this theory is the discovery about habits. Seligman laughingly gives the example of the pleasure in eating ice cream-- before you know it, it's gone, and another carton soon winds up in your freezer!

Because positive emotions feel so good, their origins can easily become habits. 

The general idea of "habit" can be daunting or delightful.

Your morning coffee enticed you out of a warm bed, but knowing you must "put in your time" on the treadmill elicits a groan.Writing condolence notes will always take some time. They require an investment of heartfelt focus.

These are the sources of positive emotions by regularly writing notes:

  • Perhaps you had a conversation with the bereaved during the illness that resulted in death, or at the funeral service. Listening is an act of kindness, a comforting acknowledgement of your friend and their concerns. This connection adds value to the note you will write.
  • Your note is like a gift that arrives unexpectedly in the mail. Its recipient can sit down for a few minutes to read, and feel bathed in a aura of caring. 
  • More times than I can count, I am eventually told how much my note was appreciated. People use expressions like, "I'll keep it forever," "I've read it so many times," "I showed it to my mother." 

Share these thoughts with a friend, and thanks for caring!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Please Don't Ask Me How My Son Died

2014 National Military Survivor Seminar
Readers may remember my introduction to 


I explained the compassionate condolence policy enacted by President Barack Obama in 2011. In POTUS Does It And So Should You we explored the importance of reversing a long standing Department of Defense dictum of not sending condolence to families if their deployed soldier committed suicide. 

But the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors is dedicated to caring for the families of fallen heroes who died under any circumstance:

"They all thought their loved one would return home from a military assignment. Instead, their worst nightmare came true... We welcome into TAPS anyone who is grieving the death of someone who died in the military - so our families have experienced loss in a variety of ways - from combat, suicide, terrorism, homicide, negligence, accidents, and illness. Our survivors include mothers and fathers, husbands and wives, sons and daughters, brothers and sisters, fiances and other relatives of those who have died." TAPS.org
This remarkable poem was first published on the TAPS Blog, on August 6, 2014.  Written by Karen Mojecki, mother and survivor of a beloved son serving in the United States Army, it raises awareness like nothing the Condolence Coach could write.

Please Don't Ask Me How My Son Died

Please don't ask me how my son died
His mode of death is not germane
He died while serving and defending….
Our way of life and liberty
He was upholding Army values

Of honor…commitment…integrity…

Your question rewinds my journey
To the "knock" on my front door
Two officers wearing uniforms
Were waiting on our porch
Their message was not wanted
They spoke those dreaded words

This son I had once sheltered…
I was not able to protect...
It hurts for me to think about
His pain, his wounds, his death
The grief begins again anew,
When someone asks me how he died

I do not want to name the projectile
That was the cause of his demise
Or how the medics tried to save him
Before he breathed his last -- and died
Perhaps others can recount those facts
I find them too horrid to describe

So please don't ask me how he died….
And replay that moment once again
Understand this painful journey
With compassion in your heart
Those final minutes were just a fraction
Of a unique and greater life

If you want to know about my son
His traits, his values, his loves
Then listen as I remember
And help me to celebrate
The life of this exceptional man
And exactly how he lived!

2014 Good Grief Camp for young survivors
Karen's request that we "not ask" about death circumstances is excellent advice. Being supportive is simple: just be present to the bereaved. If you are around when a thought or story or tears flow, just be there. Truly, that is enough. 

I know a military mom who lost her son, and whenever I've been in her company, she talks with pride about all the people his life crossed paths with, and how much he was loved. She has had those "circumstance" conversations--with the military, with the medical examiner, with her surviving children. That's enough for her lifetime, don't you think?

This is strong validation for the use of good memories and pleasant stories in our condolence notes. 

Refresh your thoughts on these condolence writing topics:

Keys to Comfort Explained  (sharing a memory )

Share this post with a friend, and thanks for caring!

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Angels Above Baby Gowns: Someday I'll Meet My Brothers

Readers of The Condolence Coach may remember my introductory post, Angels Above Baby Gowns: Soothing a Terrible Loss. This organization uses donated wedding dresses to sew burial gowns for infants.
I wanted to learn more about the women who gave their wedding dresses in support of parents whose baby didn't come home from the hospital...

Someday I'll Meet My Brothers...
Part 1. 

"As she was dying, I told my mother:  I can't wait for you to see the boys!"

Carol Amundsen Noe and Teri Joseph
August, 2014
Remembering the final August days they shared, Teri Joseph's voice thickens with emotion. "I was born 40 years ago (in September)--a triplet! When my brothers, Russell and Frederick, and I left our crowded but happy womb, we each weighed two pounds."

Teri laments that in the NICU (Neonatal Intensive Care Unit) of the 1970's, parents were not permitted to enter the Unit to touch, hold, feed, or change the diapers of their delicate newborn. Skilled nurses assumed all care responsibility. But when the babies were 5 days old, Carol and John Noe were told that the boys had died. Baby daughter, Teri, after awhile, made it home. 

"Russell and Frederick were buried in diapers."

Their whisper-quiet departure--sterile from birth to burial, flooded Teri's heart when she discovered the Facebook page for a Garden City, Michigan organization called:

Angels Above Baby Gowns

"I had sold my wedding dress at a garage sale, but now I was settling my mother's estate and here was her lovely gown, still in amazing condition. During her engagement, she had traveled to Rome to witness her brother's ordination as a priest. So her dress was a real Italian creation in satin." Teri slipped the dress into a Priority Mail envelope and mailed it from her home in Arizona.
Teri and her mother, Carol
Christmas, 2012
"My mother was a very strong woman of Norwegian heritage. She developed epilepsy in her youth, so she took the bus everywhere. My dad died when I was 14, and mom raised four kids (I have an older brother and two younger siblings) alone! More health crises occurred in her later years, but she never cried or felt sorry for herself.
We buried Mom next to Russell and Frederick, and I know she would love for her wedding dress to become beautiful burial gowns for babies."

Someday I'll Meet My Brothers...
Part 2.

On Christmas Day, an 11 year old girl does not want her Mommy to be in the hospital.

But that is where Melanie Steelman's mother was in 1990. Happily expectant with twins, Julie's preterm labor could not be stopped and she delivered Aaron and Benjamin at 23 weeks.

"I had been rushed to my Grandma's house. She told me mom was very sick and that my baby brothers had died. I felt awful. Today, 20-some years later, it still makes me cry because we loved them, we named them, but my brothers just disappeared from our lives."

Her parents had chosen to donate their sons' bodies to science. No pictures were taken, and though the family attended a hospital memorial service later on, the closure of a service became a closed subject. "We never talked about Aaron and Benjamin again."

But Melanie believes that bad memories can be healed with good memories. 

Melanie Steelman with Michael
and daughters Kaitlyn (L) and Ashlynn (R)
When girlfriends posted on Facebook about ANGELS ABOVE BABY GOWNS, Melanie was inspired by the dedication of founder, Dawn Lafferty, "Everybody's time is precious-- Dawn amazes me!" 
Melanie was inspired to donate her own wedding gown. She also become a Downriver Pick-Up Point for area dress donors. "I get at least one donor email each day!" [See Angels Above Baby Gowns' Facebook page for details.]  With Dawn's help, Melanie explained the reason for the gowns to her daughters: "sometimes the babies just don't get to come home." They have cheerfully joined their mom to collect beverage cans for a DOLLAR CHALLENGE fundraiser.

"My mother would have loved using the gowns with camo bow ties for the boys." 

Melanie continued, "hospitals are doing more supportive things for grieving parents, like offering these sweet handmade burial gowns, taking baby photos and creating mementos. I know my two daughters won't want my dress when their day comes. This is how a heart can heal."

LEARN MORE!  This link provides resources for parents grieving the death of a baby.

The Condolence Coach was inspired to write about Angels Above Baby Gowns by a woman who lost two grandchildren by miscarriage.  When Grandparents Grieve
Readers may also wish to visit this post about baby and children's death:  Two Too Many: Gone But Never Forgotten
When siblings experience the death of a baby brother or sister, these posts may provide good condolence guidance:  Grieving Children, Part 1,  and  Grieving Children, Part 2.
This post is a good review of responding to any child's death: 5 Things to Say When Death Strikes the Young

Keep the conversation going--share this post, and Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

3 Adopted Bucket Lists: Do's and Don'ts

This spring, I read a story about a young woman who decided to finish her Grandma's bucket list. 


Does this happen often? I wondered. 

Increasingly so! 

Embracing the bucket lists of others provides 'instant life purpose' and a unique form of tribute. Some orphaned bucket lists 'trend' on social media and are fulfilled many times over.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Joy's Warrior Dragon: Courage Befriends a Widow


"She was a brilliant green color with shining scales."

Marv and Joy Johnson
This is how Joy Johnson begins to describe a friendship that began during her late husband's hospice care.* 
The red helmeted, riding dragon first appeared during those final days when, at Marv's insistence, Joy would leave for lunch. Marv wanted quiet time, alone, in their senior village apartment but, Joy said, "I always worried that upon returning, I would open the door and find my sweet and very ill husband, dead."

 "All at once, this dragon was there beside me.** 

I knew instinctively that her name was Courage."

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Sympathy Cards: From Walgreens to Target to T.J. Maxx, I Survey the Racks PLUS A BONUS TIP

 Death is not an 'occasion' but it is a good reason to buy a card.

Large Sympathy rack at Walgreens

Walgreens has expanded its map of U.S. locations, maximizing the convenience of an on-the-fly card purchase. They place the' LOUD & BRIGHT' racks at the start. Keep going. You will not find a Condolence Coach-approved card in this zone.

Gift cards for the store have been attached to most of the big card racks. Gift cards do not belong in a condolence note.

Don't overlook endcaps
I encourage readers to adopt the Boy Scout motto:  "Be prepared!", by choosing one of the cost effective packages of blank cards hanging on an endcap display. The Hallmark options, around $5.99 for a pack of 20, include blank, embossed, subdued...choose a style that is calming.  
Peaceful waters for peaceful wishes

Target is "cutting edge" in the card universe.

With two solid aisles of product