Tuesday, July 7, 2015

No Addiction Required: 12-Step Wisdom for Condolence

Rev. Dr. Andrea Travers is a survivor; surrendered at birth to foster care, until a grandmother discovered and took responsibility for raising her. "As a loner, I turned to spirituality and a relationship with a higher power at a young age," she explains. And when her birth mother reclaimed her, Dr. Travers' life included the chaos of an alcoholic home life. But she views it all with compassion, recognizing that life experiences can forge strength and, in the company of good choices, wisdom.

Before I address condolence writing, let's follow the path Dr. Travers created, to illuminate an important point: We write condolence because we care. 

Compassion literally means 'to suffer together.'

The interactive website 12wisdomsteps.com supports the realization that 'we live in a world of common unity.'  In other words, we share basic needs, which appear around the pictured mandala. Those needs (called Unifying Principles,) serve to "re-label" the 12 Steps.

Unifying Principles of the 12 Steps of A.A. in the Wisdom Traditions. (Travers)
Follow the link of each principle to Dr. Travers' explanation and interpretation across the world's wisdom traditions:

  1. Honesty  
  2. Hope
  3. Faith
  4. Courage
  5. Integrity
  6. Willingness
  7. Humility
  8. Love
  9. Justice
  10. Perseverance
  11. Spirituality
  12. Service
Once you are grounded in the 12 Steps (or Travers' Unifying Principles) life--and how you live it, changes. It is like wearing a pair of glasses that filter out the low-energy reactions of anger, blame, doubt, deceit, fear, pessimism, and isolation. 

No addiction required

[Source]
The beauty of the Unifying Principles is that you don't need to be in recovery or attending 12-Step meetings, to enjoy them. What they will bring to your condolence writing is remarkable:  an inspired, non-judgmental encouragement to someone suffering in grief.


Unifying Principles in Condolence

  1. Honesty:  Admitting and accepting that we are powerless when a death occurs is an act of honesty. As mortals, death is inevitable, though sometimes circumstances are tragic and painful. Saying 'I'm so sorry" and '"I'm so sad" are a good start.
  2. Hope:  For many, early grief is excruciating and the horizon appears like a black wall. Never minimize someone's grief or apply a platitude about happy endings. But you can suggest "one day, you will breathe easier."
  3. Faith:  A common warning to people who lose a spouse is 'don't rush into big changes or serious decisions.' Unless competency is an issue, I believe a grieving person can connect with inner wisdom and make sound decisions. Be the voice that doesn't promulgate fear; support the widowed person's right to steer their own ship: '"I have always trusted you; it's time to trust yourself."  
  4. Courage:  It is easy to stand in the herd of funeral sympathizers, give yourself credit for showing up, and be done with the interruption. The Tao reminds us that the quality of our actions affect others. Choose the truly compassionate path: write a condolence note. Was there a song, a photo, a story shared in the eulogy that you can comment on?
  5. Integrity:  A condolence note is not about you; it is a gift of care and must never be hurtful, critical, or cruel. Before your pen touches paper, clear your mind of negative feelings--your issues--release them to your journal or a counselor. Now you are ready to compose a non-judgmental, comforting note: "The loss of [name] must be very hard. I know I didn't come by often, but I am deeply grateful for the many ways you made his life better..."
  6. Willingness: Consider spending some goodwill today. It is too easy to stay in your comfort zone, taking care of your own needs until there's nothing leftover. Pick up the phone and extend an invitation to lunch, transportation, help with chores. Do this cheerfully.
  7. Humility:  From time to time, I observe a situation that prompts me to whisper: 'there, but for the grace of God, go I.' I remember with awe countless mercies and acts of generosity that carried me across critical life turning points (Thank you, Dad...) This principle is a wonderful reminder to express appreciation for the life of the deceased AND those who loved and cared for them. Express this with a few detailed observations or memories. 
  8. Love:  Kindness. Kindness. Kindness. Just as no day should be without it, no condolence note should be sealed without your earnest wish for peace in the heart of the bereaved. One footnote here:  in my years of funeral service, I occasionally met survivors who could not afford their loved one's final arrangements, however simple. If you are able, consider a contribution toward expenses.
  9. Justice:  As a friend or acquaintance to someone who grieves, you are standing on a sidewalk, looking into a window. You may know some of the story or witnessed their tears (or lack of,) but you do not truly know what they are experiencing. Tread gently on that sidewalk; don't keep score--don't judge. Consider helpful, fuss-free gestures:  show up with a casserole or tray of cookies, shovel snow, plant a flat of flowers... 
  10. Perseverance:  In grief, there are good days and bad days which often occur unpredictably. One reason the Condolence Coach suggests not rushing a note is that the appearance of one--out of the blue, after funeral-driven attention wanes--is a boost and a balm. Yours can be the note which says: "I woke up to the rain and wondered how you are holding up? I remember the mountain of details when my mom died. Can I lend a hand? My cell is ###"
  11. Spirituality:  Praying for someone who is grieving, is a unique gift. In response to our powerlessness [see principle 1] it can be comforting to 'let go and let God.' I do not want readers to evangelize their belief system in condolence notes, but if you pray for the grieving, it is nice to let them know. "Do you know that feeling when the wind is at your back? Well, I want you to know that I am praying for you; hoping you know you're not alone. Take good care of yourself."
  12. Service:  When Jesus told his followers, "You are the light of the world," he expressed a truth about all people:  we are here to serve each other. Sometimes the work is fun, but sometimes we must take a deep breath and extend ourselves to others. This is compassion. It is your highest calling. The good news is that, with practice, condolence notes become easier to write. Keep reading this blog (if you are new to it, catch up on the 100+ archived posts) and you will discover your 'light'.
I want to express my appreciation to Rev. Dr. Travers for her outstanding work and wisdom-rich website!

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Words for when there are No Words: Peek In the Book

When I wrote and copyrighted my book in 1999, I wanted to share my beliefs about the value of written condolence. I had been writing notes for years and always received appreciative replies. My "mission and message" contained a set of tools I called:

 KEY COMFORTS

Formatted as a list of Keys for building a condolence note, I composed many sample condolence notes, and highlighted the use of Keys in each note. Readers may find those sample notes to be lengthy; In hindsight, I do too.  I have never dictated letter length: word count is a concept best left in the realm of college essays and magazine articles. To effectively use Key Comforts, you will learn that many are highly specific and easily misused. Only a few (two or three) should be chosen, and the content you compose will flow to a natural length. For example, the most-often-used Keys:
# 2  Sharing a well-known memory,
#3  Sharing a personal memory, and
#4  Sharing a humorous memory
invite story telling. What is your style?  A long and winding tale is very different from a snapshot! It is your choice:  be yourself and use your voice.  As promised, here is a peek in the book...

Preface


I was in a difficult relationship when Grandma died in 1981. She had telephoned me in Colorado, a couple months earlier, to say she and Grandpop were embarking on a big adventure to travel cross country and visit scattered grand kids. I squelched the inner desire to connect with my grandmother, who creatively nurtured me through childhood. But my outward reaction was one of panic. How could I have my beloved grandparents come to visit, when I was feeling a great deal of uncertainty about everything in my life?  Ultimately, I urged them to pass me by, citing high altitude health risks. It was a painful sacrifice.

While returning to their Florida home, after a visit with my parents in Michigan, Grandma died in the Detroit Metropolitan Airport. My boyfriend took the telephone call, speaking quietly with my mother. Guilt and confusion muddied my deep grief. Unable to fly to Florida for Grandma’s burial, I sent flowers, only to later learn the wire service couldn’t get the timing of delivery right, and abandoned the order.
My first encounter with an unexpected death was cruel. I found solace by composing a simple note to my mother who surely needed comfort, too.  For, it was in her arms, on the cold floor of a women’s restroom, she had said goodbye to her mother.

Dear Mom,

You are not alone in coping with the baffling timing of Grandma’s death. [sharing the loss] Adult travels placed great length between my visits with Grandma and Grandpop. But Grandma followed me with letters of love and encouragement. I have no doubt she did the same for others. Her sweetly typed letters - and signature sign-off, “I’ll close now with all of our love and kisses to you,” were as pleasant for her as they were comforting to us.[sharing a well-known memory]

I was glad to hear of the pastor’s gentle question to Grandpop, “What has happened here?” One sensitive question allowed him to express his sorrow. I trust that his return to Florida will place him in the doting care of Al as well as his many friends at the Seniors’ Cultural Center.[sharing an observation of commiseration]

Mom, I feel helpless to offer you much consolation. But I want to thank you and Dad for regularly bringing Grandma and Grandpop into our lives. I will cherish those memories.[gratitude for the deceased’s life]

Chapter 1 The Written Word Still Weighs In

Responding to news of a death (human or beloved pet), loss of a job or relationship, or whatever you know was meaningful to another, is never easy. In our busy world, good intentions get shuffled. Tough tasks, particularly condolence writing, can get passed over. And if you find the prospect of cleaning out the garage more approachable, you are not alone. It is not a cold heart paralyzing your pen but a reverence for the impact of what has occurred. How can you possibly put your feelings into words? How can you find the right words when you feel awkward, or uncertain of circumstances?

Throughout these pages you will find suggestions on better ways and better words to let survivors know you care. The better words do not cajole survivors to forget or get-over, replace or find distractions, nor even counsel acceptance through a religious-based platitude. Though well-intentioned, these words are powerless. However, a key to comforting is a true admission of your powerlessness. In this way, your condolence will touch the grieving heart.

[Source]

Why do we write?

Readers may enjoy visiting some of my early thoughts about why a condolence note matters:

Beyond I'm Sorry

FAQs

Miss Manners Votes for Old Fashioned Condolence

Some Keys to Comfort Explained

Grief and Health: The healing powers of condolence

Thank you for caring!

Friday, June 19, 2015

Greatest Generation Dads: Remembering Their Legacies

[Source]
Legacies are often unwittingly fashioned through life choices and actions. Most families recognize the importance of preserving the stories of their heritage. Moment by moment, for generations, photographers were engaged, or personal-use cameras set up to record that piece of history. In my years of funeral service, visitations and memorial gatherings were enriched by the poster board collages on display. Their assembly was often a therapeutic task: browsing photo albums to select images which could tell the life story--one legacy moment at a time.

The exodus of a great generation

Men and women born in the first third of the 20th century did not spend much time contemplating their legacies. They worked hard--often with their hands and backs, and often under the duress of worldwide upheaval:  the Great Depression, World War II, Booms and Busts and yes, Bubbles. The goodbyes are coming fast: about 600 World War II veterans die each day. 
[Source]

As the Condolence Coach, I encourage everyone to observe, remember, and share. The result--when stories are retold, provides tremendous comfort and insight to persons who grieve. Father's Day nears, and I decided to gather legacy stories of "great generation" Dads. Listening for  legacies will be helpful when the time comes to write a condolence note.

Some legacies hold admiration for a character quality 

[Source]
“The memory of my dad’s love for my mother, is a legacy I cherish,” Lyn shared. Though that love was evidenced throughout her life, Lyn remembers her father, Ellis, during his home hospice care: “Even when he was sick and in bed, he wanted to be sitting up, out of the bed, ready to greet his wife when she came home.”  The memory is bittersweet for Lyn, long-divorced, but she believes in the ‘gold standard’ for all marriages.

“Daddy was a giving person,” Libby shared, and described how he was never too busy to be helpful, playful or community involved. “Chores were set aside to play a board game or croquet; to ferry me to piano lessons and recitals,” she continued. “I admired him greatly; he’d think nothing of hosting a crab feast in our yard for a big crowd of the Penn Daw Fire Dept. Auxiliary.”

Some legacies are rooted in wonderful experiences

Larry shared, “The legacies my father, Joseph, passed on to me and my seven siblings were not tangible things—like a pocket watch or money—but much more valuable: an all-encompassing value system. I grew up during the Depression, and my dad was busy keeping bread on the table, but found time to nurture our imaginations, our skills, our characters, and our spirits. To me, these legacies never tarnish, never depreciate, never decay throughout life.”

[Source]
“When I was a boy, I was my dad’s “tag-along” buddy,” remembered Ray. “We’d go to places like the VFW Post, the Knights of Columbus Hall, the barbershop, and bricklaying side jobs at the homes of his friends. I enjoyed being a part of ‘Alfie’s’ world, listening to conversations while having some pop and chips. Dad’s legacy was showing me how to be a good buddy.”  Friendship and helping go together, in Ray’s view: “When I help a friend cut down a dead tree or fix a plumbing problem, I know my dad is smiling down on me.”

Old-fashioned, practical advice is a common legacy 

 “My dad was one to share a few pearls of wisdom,” Christine chuckled. “My favorites are:
1. Honesty is the best policy.
2. Don't leave for tomorrow what you can do today.
3. If you don't have to stand---sit. If you don't have to sit---lie down.”

Bev grew up in a family business where everyone was involved. “My parents gave me so many life tips, like:  
Take pride in your work and, finish what you start.
If you can't pay for it with one week’s pay you can't afford it (except for a house and a car.)
Try to accept others for who they are and remember, we are all different."

There are legacies that read like an eHow page

[Source]
Christine continued: “My dad, who was raised on a sugar beet farm, told us that the WHOLE apple is good, and sure enough he would eat the whole thing. And now, I do too.” She recently learned that the apple seeds are very nutritious. “People give me surprised looks, and I explain,’that’s what my dad taught me.’”  
Beverly, just shy of 60, has never been in an accident, thanks to her dad’s bald instruction: “Drive like everyone is out to kill you.”

Combing legacies for condolence cues

These most-prized legacies are weightless yet fill the heart. In writing a condolence note when a friend has lost a father (in this example,) recognize something you perceive to be a legacy. It may be an first-hand observation of the man, or a quality of character adopted by the child.
Here are some suggestions:

“I could sit for hours listening to your Dad's stories about ____. He will be greatly missed.”
“Your father’s carpentry tools will never grow rusty. Like him, you’re ready to help …”
"Your dad greeted everyone at the church door with a cheery ‘_______’’”
“I remember watching you work on that Camaro, with your Pop …"
"Your father inspired me to volunteer at _____ by his work with ______, "

For more insights about writing a condolence for the death of a greatest generation mother or father, read:

Death Over 85
Curb Your Enthusiasm? Not in my condolence!

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

"You Didn't Waste Any Time" and other reactions

"You didn't waste any time," was my mother's emailed response. I'd sent a photo while on a run in a beautiful canyon-n-cacti recreation area...a place I'd just begun to call home after a 2,000 mile drive.

My packed SUV included the company of Ava, our Maine Coon mix,
who tested all possible perch surfaces during the drive: crate, center console, driver's lap, and lastly, a crevice beneath the cargo area requiring a complicated extraction at the end of each day.


After 5 days of that, why would I waste any time, once the apartment key was on my ring? I woke before dawn (the light of which starts at the top of the mountains and drops down their sides), assessed the desert chill and ran for the saguaro 'forest', waiting nearby.


An often-used accusation

While my mother's expression was loving, "you didn't waste any time" has been blurted out countless times when a bereaved person makes unexpected choices. My friend, "Trina", had mourned her husband during his terminal illness. While a caregiver observes the body's weakening, the dwindling and cessation of interests and activities, there may be a detachment.


In their 2011 book, The Caregiver's Tao Te Ching, William and Nancy Martin apply the 81 meditations of the Tao to the complicated and often unpredictable journey of giving care. Readers may have seen numerous topics turned into books with an overlay of Tao. The Martins identify these commonalities:
"Caregiving and the Tao...each ask that we show up and have a direct experience of life as it is unfolding in this moment...each seems unpredictable...each contains paradoxes that our desires and opinions cannot resolve..."
Interpreting meditation 66, "Remain Behind," the Martins advises caregivers: "help them but do not control them...the river of the Tao runs through them, stay out of the way and let that river do its work."  In doing so, peace and acceptance arrive like the flutter of a gentle breeze.

Baffling Outsiders

The caregiving experience is profound and life changing, and if that "gentle breeze" is adopted as lifestyle, choices and decisions may indeed baffle outsiders. 

When death finally took Trina's husband, she sent the gathered friends and family home, arranged for "Richard's" cremation, "and I went to bed for a week." She followed that unscripted week by opening the newspaper's community events calendar and "began filling my days."

Should Trina have been cleaning closets and crying in counseling? SHOULD is a problem word, and readers of this blog recently recalled the cruelty of Victorian era proscripts for appropriate mourning
'Getting back into life' (a catchy jingle for an adult diaper brand) after a loved one's death is a Catch-22. Outsiders grow weary of coddling mourners yet they are also shocked by quick recoveries.

Re-attachment and remarriage

Three years after the fact, Sharlene's voice still carries stress as she describes her father, Edward's adjustment to widowhood: "within six months he was remarried." Edward is very typical. The San Diego Widowhood Project correlated "greater psychological well being" with a new meaningful relationship.
"By 25 months after the spouse's death 61% of men and 19% of women were either remarried or involved in a new romance."
This phenomenon relentlessly draws negative conclusions, whether about the competency of the widow or the motives of a new partner. Sharlene's family was so disturbed by the haste of the impending nuptuals, they had the woman (also a widow) investigated. There was no persuading Edward to slow down. Extravagant purchases and lifestyle changes were being made, but Sharlene's family was powerless to intervene. "We had to let it go. We had to restore our relationships with my Dad, for everyone's sake, especially the grandkids."

Powerlessness

Just as you are powerless to change the facts of someone else's grief, you are powerless to coach them to recovery (unless asked!) The Condolence Coach addresses this reality in Chapter 1, Page 1 of Words for when there are No Words: Writing a Memorable Condolence Note

It is so important to audit every sentence of condolence writing for "gremlin power plays."
You cannot fix, advise, persuade, condemn, cajole, or shame a grieving person onto the path you believe they should take. Even if you have experienced an identical loss, your expertise is not required. Share it in a support group, offer an opinion if asked, but remember it is only an opinion formed by your own circumstances. IT IS NOT AN ABSOLUTE TRUTH.

Trina reserved a portion of Richard's ashes and has taken them on all of her travels; he has joined the sea and soil of many countries. Readers may be interested to know that the U.S. National Park Service allows, by permit, the scattering of ashes from cremated human remains. There are usually no fees, but the "special use permit" should be obtained from the desired park.
She honored one son's wishes that there be a 'permanent place to visit his father,' by purchasing a double niche in a mausoleum of his hometown, where a custom designed urn is displayed. "It's a little strange to see my name on a plaque," Trina said with a smile because, in the words of Robert Frost, she has "miles to go before I sleep."

Life "unfolded" for Edward and Trina at a unique pace, with outcomes that met their needs. The Condolence Coach encourages readers to gently observe and support the flow of another person's river.

Read other posts about the time it takes to grieve:
The Myths About Grief and Getting Over It
and
Climbing Out of Deep Space: through and beyond grief

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Prehistoric and Ancient Condolence: It's Written In Stone!

I love petroglyphs! 

Image A: petroglyph

Wikipedia reminds me that technically, I also love petrographs so, let's do some quick terminology housekeeping:
      • petroglyph (Image A) was made by "incising, picking, carving and abrading a rock surface."
    Image B: petrograph
  • petrograph (Image B) also known as a pictograph, is an image "drawn or painted on a rock surface."
Logging takes and timecodes
GBNP ranger explaining cave art
I encountered these prehistoric global practices (note: none yet found in Antarctica) on a video shoot at Great Basin National Park (GBNP) in Baker, Nevada.
  There are "seventeen known rock art sites" within this park.

Jack LeSieur, member, American Rock Art Research Association.
Upper Pictograph Cave, GBNP. "Under the red pictograph spots, you can see the figure
 of an anthropomorph, bearing the horns of a shaman."
Jack LeSieur. "Detail of one of the couples "holding hands."

Every message requires effort

When I view prehistoric art, I am in awe of the planning and extensive physical effort required to create the message. While many rock art sites are in "protected" areas such as caves, rock shelters or beneath overhangs, many messages were crafted on exposed surfaces, and often at surprising heights!

JoAnn Blalack, GBNP writer, explains: "The two colors used to create pictographs within Great Basin National Park were shades of red (the most common color) and black. The various shades of red were almost always made from iron oxide hematite (ocher) while the black colors came from charcoal. In order to make the paint, the mineral was ground into a fine powder and mixed with a binder. The type of binder varied from place to place depending upon availability. Types of binder included animal and vegetable oils, blood, and whites of eggs. Applying the paint to the rock surface was done in several ways, including using frayed twigs, small bundles of stiff grass, pointed sticks, and fingers."

"The main method used when making petroglyphs was pecking. This was done by either using a hammer stone, which created rough outlines with a shallow design, or the use of a stone chisel along with the hammer stone to create finer, more controlled lines. Scratching a design on the rock surface was also used."

Consider the labor of making paint, gathering tools, and undertaking a sometimes-precarious task that did not provide crucial daily sustenance. What impels a person in a hunting-gathering (and sometimes, cultivating) society to express himself?

Caring to connect

"The only person who knows the full meaning behind the drawings (if there is a meaning) is the artist himself." JoAnn Blalack

Jack LeSieur's captions suggest to me that creators of rock art are explaining their beliefs, relationships, and favorite experiences. Might the "horned shaman" tell the story of a significant ceremony or attempt to heal? Could the "couple holding hands" be in memory of a friend or mate who died? Rock art featuring action scenes such as a hunt, animals, individuals or groups of people are recording memories--one of the most important elements of a condolence note!

Longtime Wyoming journalist, Bill Sniffin celebrates what he calls a "treasure trove"in his reflection, A Prehistoric Land of Beasts Rock Art, Mysterious Places.

"Early man arrived here 13,000 years ago. Most experts think these were Asian people who crossed the Bering Strait on a land and ice bridge. From the time man arrived in our space known as Wyoming people have wanted to record their personal stories. Long before writing was developed, ancient people recorded tales of their daily lives on Wyoming’s rock walls.

"Perhaps these were holy sites where people would study in hope of receiving a vision to guide their way into their uncertain futures. Wyoming is full of these wonderful places, which can inspire both awe and mystery to present-day visitors. The ancient tribes of hunter-gatherers traditionally recorded their stories by scrawling messages on rock walls and creating eerie rock monuments. Were these sites created or built to honor some long-forgotten god or celestial celebration?"

Telling it like it is

Dr. Aaron M. Wright
Dr. Aaron Wright, a Research Associate with Archaeology Southwest, has conducted archaeological fieldwork in many parts of the United States. Recently speaking in Tucson, Arizona, Dr. Wright described surveys of rock art at South Mountain, south of Phoenix. He referred to it as:
 "a meaningful social practice, a dialectic between people and the larger social body." 
South Mountain rock art--predominantly pecked--used symbols and life forms associated with daily existence and the ponderings of forces like water, fire, and the cosmos. Very little of this area's rock art suggested the work of shamans; in fact, the artists were villagers-- tutored in the collection of tools (native rock cannot score itself!), panel selection, and pecking method. They were just 'telling it like it is.'
Humans are motivated (driven!) to leave a permanent record of existence and awareness. From pictograph to pen to pixel--we cherish our musings and our memories. But when it comes to memorialization and tribute, one ancient society stands out.

God's Words

The literal Egyptian origin of the term, hieroglyphs  (/ˈhaɪər.ɵɡlɪf/ hyr-o-glifEgyptianmdw·w-nṯr,is "god's words". Although I wonder if the author's use of a singular form is in error, since ancient Egyptians had many gods, I was thrilled to make this discovery.

When you write a memorable condolence note,
your comforting words channels a divine power. 

The idea of expressing words of a language in writing, is a hallmark of ancient Egypt. And the Great Pyramids of Egypt--tombs of royalty, were inscribed with prayers, assurances, and respect.

























In Why the Ancient Egyptians Built Pyramids: a matter of religion, Alan Winston outlines reasons these tremendous structures were devised and built. He goes on to describe hieroglyphs in the Pyramid of Unas, the last king of the 5th Dynasty. [Note: the ancient Egyptians believed that a human soul was made up of five parts: the Ren, the Ba, the Ka, the Sheut, and the Ib. Unification was necessary for the afterlife (available to royals, only!)]

"In the burial chamber, the texts describe two funeral rituals. They begin with a ritual of offerings, always inscribed on the north wall of the burial chamber. The priests would repeat this spell each day in the mortuary temple attached to the pyramid, which would therefore continue to provide the king's ba with the necessities of daily life. The second ritual was for resurrection, intended to release the king's ba from its attachment to the body so that it could rejoin its ka and enjoy life once again. It begins by assuring the king that 'you have not gone away dead: you have gone away alive,' and then encourages him to "go and follow your sun...and be beside the god, and leave your house to your son of your begetting". It ends by reassuring the king that 'you shall not perish, you shall not end: your identity will remain among the people even as it comes to be among the gods.'" 

"your identity will remain among the people"

Isn't this why we share memories when we gather at funerals? The legacy of a loved one:  a skill, a smile, a special place in the heart--remains among the people he or she touched. The Condolence Coach assures you that a written condolence, when cradling a tribute, a memory, a caring connection, becomes a treasure to the recipient.

Thank you for caring!















Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Climbing Out of Deep Space: through and beyond grief

My friend, artist Suzy St. John recently posted some new images on her blog. The group is titled:

Throwback to High School Ceramics:  Pinch Pot Figures


Suzy shared her thoughts about them:
"The pinch pot was and still is my favorite work of art. I was a high school student and it came from those angst ridden feelings most teenagers experience. I still relate to that piece!"

Each pot creates a very deep well of space. 

Is it a place to hide and feel safe? Is it a dark place--where you may feel lost? I think that space (like silence) is something that many in western culture are uncomfortable with. Like the figures, we are more at ease outside, surrounded by active people, stuff, sounds, structures. did you notice my use of the term 'active people'?  I recently wrote about our culture's unease with people during their grief and re-adjustment. In Stop Pushing the Bereaved, I suggested that after a death, taking a break from life's typical vibrancy is a sane response to a sudden deep well of space. 

Caregiving during a loved one's end of life "fills the pot" of each day. 

When caregiving ends, the tasks that fill the pot abate. But you are different. You do not bounce back like a rubber band released. Honoring the changes is an important step. 

The Compassionate Friends, an international support network for parents who have lost a child, share a message with newly bereaved moms and dads. Finding The New Me, explains that grief is work that takes time. It is not a straight line on a map. 
"You will learn coping skills from other bereaved parents who, like you, never thought they'd survive." 

Coping skills develop over time.

Learning what feels okay, how to manage when it doesn't feel okay, and how to tackle a new (scary) experience, involve trial and error, courage and cowering, agony and the flutter of recognition that you managed to do something you had dreaded. In this last pinch pot image, Suzy's figures are experimenting:
  • Will my grip on this edge hold?
  • Can I lift my leg that high?
  • Do I have the strength to support my partner?
  • Is it okay to enjoy this moment?

Pinch Pot Figures by Suzy St. John
Used with permission

Do you know someone climbing out of deep space? 

The Condolence Coach suggests the following ideas to encourage or assist them:
  • Be lavish with confidence boosters. Whenever an opportunity arises, offer positive reinforcement. It doesn't have to be a big deal, but spot something and express: 
    • You do that so well... 
    • You were so patient when... 
    • Would you show me how to... 
    • You have a remarkable... 
    • Thanks for telling me about... 
  • Turn off your urge to criticize or advise. Even if your friend describes stresses or struggles, you are most valuable as a listener, acknowledging the matter with simple phrases: 
    • What a bummer... 
    • That stuff is confusing... 
    • You'll find a way... 
    • That's not easy to talk about, thank you for trusting me... 
    • Would a hug help? 
  • Keep talking about the deceased loved one. Freely bring up stories, anecdotes, admiring comments. You are not causing pain! The loved one will always live in the heart and memory. 
  • Give your friend the gift of judgement-free time. 
  • Take time off for yourself, too. 
  • Let intuition guide you on when to be present and encouraging. Remember, your friend's grief work and healing are not your "mission". It's not "all up to you."
For some fresh reflections and insights on grief and time, read:
Thank you for caring!