Tuesday, November 28, 2017

5 Lessons Little Kids Teach Us About Loss: Guest post by Alexis Marie Chute

Once again, Grief Digest Magazine, produced by Centering Corporation has inspired me with an excellent article. 

What are your views and concerns about how children view death? 

  • Do you feel youngsters should be protected from sad events? 
  • Do you hire a babysitter when you have to attend a funeral or memorial service?
  • Do you tell the kids you "have somewhere to go" instead of explaining the occasion? 
That's how it went in my childhood; my siblings and I did not visit a grandmother's deathbed or attend her funeral; when an uncle died in a farm tractor accident, my dad travelled alone to attend his brother's services and comfort surviving family. 

These are very common responses, but Alexis Marie Chute tells a different story. When her newborn survived only one day, her whole family faced the loss. Here is her story...

Alexis Marie Chute

 5 Lessons Little Kids Teach Us About Loss

by Alexis Marie Chute

I think it’s safe to say that our society does not prepare us for the death of a loved one, either in how to experience it when it is happening or in how to grieve afterward. We are taught to shelter the living from death as if it is an unfortunate reality, better ignored than embraced. Grieving individuals, and those that support them, often struggle for a vocabulary to talk about the loss and the resulting feelings. Instead we have a vernacular ripe with cliche that leaves mourners wanting and isolated, instead of comforted and encouraged.

I experienced all of this when I lost my son, Zachary, from a cardiac tumor at birth in 2010. He was minutes old. He died in my arms. That day was a stake in the road for me; I ceased to be my old naive self and began – what is called in grief literature – my “new normal.” As I look back on myself, I recognize that much of the trauma of Zachary’s death came from my childlike desire that we all will live forever and that everything will be okay. My parents did not talk to me about loss when I was little. I wish they had.

My husband, Aaron, and I have been honest with our living children about Zachary, what happened to him, how it affected us, and how we still miss him today. That discussion has opened the door for my children to think about death. Some of their responses have taught me valuable lessons.

1. Talk about the dead.

This sounds like something out of the Sixth Sense movie or the perfect set-up for being labeled the weirdo at the party. It shouldn’t be. Children are not predisposed (unless we teach them) to the negative societal taboos around loss. My seven and four-year-old kids bring up Zachary all the time. If someone dies, they mention Zach. If I am asked how many kids I have and I say, “Three,” I am immediately corrected. “No, Mom. You have four kids!” they say proudly. Sometimes I worry how others will respond to this behavior from my children, but then I give my head a shake. Talking about those we love, even if they have passed, should be the most normal thing in the world.

2. Accept death as a natural and beautiful part of life.

We have a cultural obsession with youth and beauty. This is one area, among many, where the cult of celebrity sets us up for heartache. We do not have public and prolific guidance to help us accept death as inseparable from life. I believe life and death are yin-yang, two equal parts of one complete whole. In contrast, our society has erected opposing notions of life and death as one being good and the other bad.

Children, however, when spoken to about death as a part of life, do not fear it as a scary monster to avoid, but integrate it into the fabric of their understanding. There are many natural parallels that children more innately connect with on this topic. The seasons are one example. Leaves fall from the trees each autumn and we have winter. Then new life grows again in the spring. A seed that is buried in the ground, just when we’ve nearly forgotten about it, sprouts and blossoms into a flower. In a short span of time a great grandparent passes and a new sibling birthed. This is all natural, cyclical, and connected.

3. Think about death and strive for personal understanding.

My older children used to go to a day-home while I worked. One day the woman who ran the home took a step closer to me than normal and in a hushed voice said, “I just wanted you to know, your kids were playing make-believe today and they said the baby-doll died. I made sure to tell them that they shouldn’t play like that.” Instead of being concerned, I was proud that my kids were working out their own personal understanding of our experience and what death means to them! They were doing that in the only way they knew how - through play. When I talked to them about it, I affirmed their actions and encouraged them to make-believe however they wanted. They were not distracting themselves or repressing their feelings on loss, like so many adults do, only to rack up steep therapy bills just to re-open their hearts in this expressive way.

4. Loss is a family matter, not only a solo experience.

The bonds between family are not severed because of loss. That is what my children have taught me. When my kids talk about Zachary, he “is” their brother, not past tense. We talk about how Zach lives on in our hearts. If we are discussing loneliness, my kids pipe up and say, “You are never alone because Zachary is right here,” as they point to their chests. I know they do process the loss in an individual way, we all do, but in mourning and celebrating Zach’s life, it is a family matter.

My daughter, Hannah, my seven-year-old, will draw a portrait of our family and, without prompting, include Zach in the picture. That is her solo action, but she immediately shows Aaron and me the drawing, and then hangs it from the fridge with magnets. As a family, on the anniversary of Zach’s birth, and death, we take the day off from work and school and bake a cake, go swimming, plant a tree, and just generally cuddle-up and spend quality time together. I believe because of this, the kids do not feel they carry their grief, or the weight of death, all on their own. It is a shared experience and therefore shared support and love.

5. Speaking of love… It never dies.

My kids often say, “I love my whole family! I love Mommy and Daddy, and Hannah, and Eden, and Luca, AND Zachary!” They talk about loving their unseen brother. They talk about missing him and wishing he was alive and with us. In these moments, I take a deep breath, pause from busyness, and feel my own love for Zachary and the throb of ache in missing him and the life I had hoped we would share together. Yes, my child died and that is my personal tragedy, but the love I have for him can never be taken from me. Though society uses phrases like “move on,” I choose to take the lead from my kids. Zachary is a part of us and we love him – present tense, and that is okay.
Expecting Sunshine, A Memoir by Alexis Marie Chute

In her memoir Expecting Sunshine, A Journey of Grief, Healing, and Pregnancy After LossAlexis shared her journey--from pregnancy and the discovery of Zachary's in-utero condition, to the family's decision to always love him as son and brother: present tense!
Click here to learn more about the book

Alexis Marie Chute is the author of the award-winning memoir Expecting Sunshine: A Journey of Grief, Healing and Pregnancy After Loss, available on Amazon and wherever books are sold. Alexis Marie is a writer, artist, filmmaker, public speaker, and bereavement expert. Learn more about her book and documentary, Expecting Sunshine: The Truth About Pregnancy After Loss, at www.ExpectingSunshine.com. She is a healthy-grief advocate educating others on how to heal in creative and authentic ways. You can also connect with Alexis Marie Chute on Facebook, LinkedIn Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Tumblr, and YouTube.

 Visit Alexis' bereavement blog:  www.WantedChosenPlanned.com

Condolence Coach Photo
The Condolence Coach did a 5-part series on how to understand and respond to a family facing miscarriage, stillbirth, and infant death:
  1. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Soothing a Terrible Loss
  2. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Someday I'll Meet My Brothers
  3. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Delivery at a Birthing Center
  4. Angels Above Baby Gowns: A Time to Tear and a Time to Mend
  5. Angels Above Baby Gowns: Heartbeats and Lightening Bolts
And remember that the grieving family includes grandparents:

"Punk Bird" by Suzy St.John
A widely celebrated project for kids is the creation of a memory box. Here's how to introduce the idea:  Grieving Children and the Memory Box Condolence Gift

In this season of giving thanks, I say to all readers:

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Physics of Intuitive Compassion: Albert Einstein had it right!

I never thought I'd have much in common with a physicist. 

[Source: René Mérou]
Aren't their brains wired for deep dives into time, space, and matter? For most people, time is a digital display pushing us to the next task; space is a gap in clutter; and matter is about our 'stuff.'

After reading this quote, embedded in a Holiday Mathis horoscope , I wanted to know more about the goofy-haired mathematician who's name has become synonymous with genius:
"The intuitive mind is a sacred gift and the rational mind is a faithful servant. We have created a society that honors the servant and has forgotten the gift."
[Author, Bob Samples interpreted Albert Einstein's regard for qualities of higher consciousness in his 1976 book, "The Metaphoric Mind: A Celebration of Creative Consciousness.” ]

Does everyone have intuition?

Yes, but engaging it is like using different muscles to talk or sing.  If you rarely sing (or have been told you can't!) you may feel awkward or incapable. Einstein said: "It’s not that I’m so smart, it’s just that I stay with problems longer." [Source]  Intuition requires that you stay with the issue! Take a gentle, deep breath and tune into an inner voice or prompt. If you can, be quiet and still for a few moments and ponder a person or situation; you may feel:
  • a flutter in your heart
  • a sense of calm--or--excitement--or danger
  • a sense of being pulled forward--or--pushed back
  • a muting of voice or stilling of reaction
[[Source: Miroslav Vajdić]
It's been called listening to your heart, a gut feeling, instinct, divine guidance. Albert Einstein suggested it is a sacred gift. He also described it as a powerful, personal tool. 
"Intuition is the father of new knowledge...Intuition, not intellect, is the ‘open sesame’ of yourself." [Source]

Are there benefits to honoring and engaging the intuitive mind?

Absolutely. Intuition can save your life, steer your life, and deepen your experience of life. I've enjoyed all of these. It takes practice...it is a practice in the true sense of the word. You can strengthen your reception like wiggling a television antennae. Professor Einstein reminded us, "Not everything that can be counted counts, and not everything that counts can be counted." [Source] It's okay if you used to think of intuition as woo-woo nonsense or a carnival act; new awareness is part of the fun of living. 

As a young student, Albert Einstein came to a liberating insight about honoring and engaging a higher knowing:
Albert Einstein, age 14 [Source]
"The basic laws of the universe are simple, but because our senses are limited, we can’t grasp them. [emphasis mine] There is a pattern in creation. If we look at this tree outside whose roots search beneath the pavement for water, or a flower which sends its sweet smell to the pollinating bees, or even our own selves and the inner forces that drive us to act, we can see that we all dance to a mysterious tune, [emphasis mine] and the piper who plays this melody from an inscrutable distance—whatever name we give him—Creative Force, or God—escapes all book knowledge."  [Source]

What is intuitive compassion and how can it help with condolences?

The Condolence Coach has addressed compassion in other posts; in fact, search my keywords "labels" list and you'll find nearly fifty references. Think of  intuitive compassion as allowing your inner tree roots to seek out pools of sensitivity. You can go beyond the obvious "I'm sorry, we'll all miss her" and share unique observations and impressions. Spend time with your intuition, browse my posts and build your skills. You might start with Compassion and Condolence: Finding the Words to Walk Together.

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

ALS or INSPIRATION: What Makes Kay's Star Shine?

I met Kay today, and I'd like you to meet her, too. She's a fellow blogger, a retired high school math and computer science teacher with Midwestern roots. She raised two kids and now enjoys two grandkids.

Kay's Facebook blog, Kay's Shining Starsreveals a brilliant mind, sharp wit, attention to detail and a bedrock attitude about rolling with whatever life hands you. For Kay, life literally rolls.

She spends a good part of her day in a power chair with everything at her fingertips...except that Kay no longer has the use of her limbs. No sweat; Kay is a problem solver:
"For the past year+ I've gotten along by duct taping a long stylus to a ball cap. I look like a giant bug as I use my "stinger" to peck out texts and fully utilize my iPad, in spite of my non functioning fingers."


Every so often, when a pity party or the mirage of an insurmountable problem infects my attitude, I know the best antidote is a dose of inspiration. Sometimes I find it in a book or a walk in the mountains, but in human form, inspiration can also be breathtaking. Kay inspires with a universe of love. It is a calming pulse, as smooth as her complexion, which draws people in, like hummingbirds to nectar. She knows her limits and yet freely rides beyond time and place on that pulse of love.
"It is highly unlikely that I will get the chance to visit my hometown again. But I visit it often in my dreams, and I like to daydream of a bike ride about town visiting my favorite landmarks and recalling precious memories. I can't go home home, but home comes to me. Here are my hometown Shining Stars who continue to show up to offer support every Walk to Defeat ALS. Love you guys." 
Readers of my series on living beyond disabilities, discovered what Kay views as one mission of her blog:  "It's all about awareness."  The Coach believes it is also important to recognize the humanity of those who inspire; they have the right to express a spectrum of emotions. This is exactly what I (and her hundreds of followers) love about Kay's Shining Stars:  she tells it like it is! But don't expect to read something dismal:  Kay may be living with an incurable disease but she is not spending her days 'dying'! She maintains hundreds of friendships-- those 'Shining Stars'-- each brightening in Kay's universe of love.

  With permission, I am reblogging one of Kay's awesome posts:

I am a Low Talker

Maybe you remember the episode of Seinfeld with the "low talker" who no one can understand and it ends with Jerry wearing the "puffy shirt" to an important event. Very funny. But now that I am a low AND slow talker communication issues are a real challenge and not so funny.
I really miss being in the thick of a robust, entertaining conversation, Interjecting interesting, witty or annoying tidbits to keep the conversation rolling or telling my own usually enhanced story. Now I've become more or less an observer. By the time my oh so witty comment can be formed by the muscles of my tongue and mouth, the conversation has moved on. This was super frustrating when it first started happening, but now I'm getting better at sitting back and soaking it all in. This is actually a skill that most of us should practice more frequently as you learn so much this way.
But I'm much better in quiet one on one situations.
Kay wears her brilliant humor

Here are some tips for talking with people like me. By the way, it is almost always well meaning strangers who make these errors.
Listen carefully, stand close, and make eye contact. 
Repeating things is very hard and takes so much energy. You will likely have to do some lip reading. I've stopped repeating things when people say, hmm or what, which happens all the time now. And guess what, mostly the listener does grasp the gist of what I tried to say or it really wasn't important enough to repeat anyway.
Do not asśume that my ślow voice means I'm mentally challenged. 
It makes me craźy when you address my caregiver or talk to me aś you would a small child.
Please use your normal voice, volume and vocabulary.
I do realize the woman at the hospital was just trying to be helpful last week when she said in a sing song voice, "Do you want some juice, sweetie?" Before I could reply, no just ice, she repeated loudly and slowly, "Do. You . Want. Some. Juice. Sweetie?" Now I'm just sounding ungrateful, and I'm really not, but part of me wants to SCREAM when this happens. "NO I DONT WANT YOUR STUPID EFFING JUICE CUP. I WANT TO WALK. I WANT TO RUN. I WANT TO RIDE MY BIKE. I WANT TO HUG MY CHILDREN. I WANT TO SIP A FINE WINE. I WANT TO LEISURELY ENJOY A MEAL. I WANT SOME SHRED OF PRIVACY. I WANT MY LIFE BACK. BUT WHAT I REALLY REALLY DONT WANT IS THAT STUPID JUICE CUP!!!"
But I said nothing, drank the juice and whispered thank you to the nice lady.
At least no one has tried to put me in a puffy shirt, but this happens a lot these days.

Thank you, Kay, for letting us laugh as we grow in awareness!

To refresh your awareness with other inspiring people, readers may wish to visit my posts:
Part 1 Debunking Stereotypes
Part 2 Getting By or Growing Great
Part 3 Enjoy Your Journey

To read more about supporting someone with a terminal illness:
Ask the Coach: What to Write to a Friend with Terminal Illness

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Grow Up! The Condolence Basics You Need Now. Part 1

Grow Up! 

How many times did you hear that before you were 25? Are you still hearing it in your 30's or 40's? If so, someone is trying to persuade you toward mature choices. "Grow up!" is a verbal face slap, taking you by the figurative shoulders for a shake and command: it's time to think of somebody other than yourself.  "But I do think of others!"  you protest. The Condolence Coach agrees and believes you are trying, but...

If you're stalled on the playground plateau of just playing nicely, mastering condolence skills will launch you off the swings and onto solid grown-up ground.

[Author photo]
This post reaches into the Condolence Note Coach archives to quickly deliver the basics you need now. Clicking on the post link will flesh out the concept, but if you need a 5 minute crash course, here it is.

1. Beyond 'I'm Sorry'  You can't change the circumstances facing your friend, co-worker, neighbor, cousin or client...but there is an additional way to communicate sympathy long after the loss:  a memorable condolence note.  

2. FAQ's  It is never too late to send a note. Never. The death remains a fact in your [friend or] co-worker's life and, in a year's time, the stream of sympathies has likely dried up. Your note will be a gift. Don't Rush Your Condolence Note  Waiting can enhance the note you will write…as you have opportunities to gather a little information, view photos, hear stories.

3. To Have Another Birthday is a Privilege  We are powerless over the loss and subsequent pain, but saying "I'm sorry" and applying a sincere hug or handshake is an act you DO have power over. You have the power to express that you care.

4. In A Better Place  It is never appropriate for you to offer a platitude such as "she's in a better place." But if the grieving express this to you, a lovely reply might be:  "I'm glad that is a comfort to you."

5. Death Doesn't Take a Holiday  Can sympathy be commingled with seasonal greetings during holidays and other special days? It can’t.  Should traditional messages be set aside? Yes.

6. Condolence After a Suicide  Survivors of suicide [family of the deceased] have great need of compassionate, non-judgmental words. Acknowledge a normal life, once lived: share a memory or tell a kind story.

7.  When Children Die
A good condolence acknowledges the pain and offers to listen. The note says that you are praying for comfort, but does not tell the recipient to. You pen a sweet memory and hope to hear some of theirs. Grow in awareness and sensitivity: do some reading about the grief experiences of parents.

8When a Pet Dies  DO NOT ask when they will get another pet. Period. 

9. Supporting Grieving Teens  Journaling or writing poetry is one of the most widely suggested tools for teens to process grief. Consider a “condolence gift” of a blank book or journal. Write a question on the first page, like: "How did you feel when you heard the news?"

 10.  Supporting Someone with a Terminal Illness  Remember this: until you are dead, you are alive.  Recognize the life, the day-by-day simple moments of the person you write to. Embrace the opportunity to say thank you, to ask for a story, to appreciate a sunrise, a funny pet, a song.

So, did you notice that writing condolence is about supporting survivors? The Coach invites you to read The Mourners Bill of Rights   One of the grown-up skills you are adopting is COMPASSION. Living compassionately, daily, is a standout characteristic. You will be astonished by how it changes you!

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Keli-Ann Shares: What I Learned About Losing a Step-Child

When I read Keli-Ann Pye-Beshara's article, What I Learned About Losing a Step-Child in Grief Digest Magazine, I knew this was a new and helpful perspective on grief, and wanted to share it with readers of The Condolence Note Coach.

According to Smart Stepfamilies.com, over 40% of married couples in the United States are blended families; children from a previous relationship now share at least some of their time with a new household. Here are details from a 2011 Pew Research Center report:
  • 42% of adults have a steprelationship--either a stepparent, a step or half sibling, or a stepchild. This translates to 95.5 million adults. (When you add the more than 5 million stepchildren in the US, the total is over 100 million Americans have a steprelationship.)
  • 13% of adults are stepparents (29-30 million); 15% of men are stepdads (16.5 million) and 12% of women are stepmoms (14 million). NOTE: This is only of stepmothers (married or cohabiting) of children under the age of 18 and does not include stepmothers of adult stepchildren. Adding those women could double the estimate to 22-36 million. The same could be said of stepdads.  
A lot of issues arise in blended families. Some which are rarely addressed include dynamics of death, grief, and the attitudes of others. We may privately wonder about the bond, the love and the loss. Should a "step" relation's death hurt as much? Here is Keli-Ann's personal story...

What I Learned About Losing a Step-Child

Source:  Keli Ann Pye-Beshara
The title of this article by Paula Stephens “What I Wish More People Understood About Losing a Child” quickly caught my attention on my friend, Lisa Payne’s Facebook page the other day. With the article, Lisa posted “I haven’t lost a child. I know people who have. While I felt the article was well-written and insightful, I do not know if it accurately depicts the feelings of those who have suffered this type of loss…”

Unfortunately, I know this type of loss…from a different angle. The perspective I am about to share with you is from a unique position – the step-parent.

My tendency is to begin with “My husband, Besh, lost his son in 2012 due to a motorbike accident” but what I’d really like to say, for the purpose of this article, is:
 “I lost my 30-year-old step-son, Carl Beshara, in 2012.”

Since that awful day in September I have been on the wildest roller coaster ride of my life. I know I will never be able to completely get over the shock and Besh will never be the same again. The “new normal” as they call it…and that’s the closest description there is.

I wasn’t fond of the term “step-parent” 

...from the minute I married into my two “kids”, Carl (21) and Tiffany (17) – flashbacks to Disney movies with evil step-mothers or something. I had always said I wanted kids who were already born, could take care of themselves and we could hang around, have a drink and a laugh. And that’s exactly what I got. These kids were already cool independent people who didn’t need a step-mother and I wasn’t looking to be a mother either so it was a perfect match!

So for almost 10 years, these 2 kids became a big part of my life equation without me even realizing what had developed along the way.

Then when we got the call late one Saturday night on Labor Day weekend, I automatically and instinctively went into support mode for Besh and Tiffany. I just needed to make sure they were okay. That was all I could concentrate on and that was my sole purpose through all this. It helped me survive the shock, I realize now.

As I said to Lisa on Facebook:
“The hardest part is to just be with someone while they’re falling apart without trying to make them better.”
I hadn’t noticed that in this process I had put my own feelings of loss on the back burner. This was the ‘for better or for worse’ situation at its finest. I needed to be strong. How could I be a wreck on a day where Besh was feeling good? I just couldn’t do it to him…or me. Those happy moments are so precious after a life shock that we have to let them happen as long as they can…before reality and sadness hits again.

That being said, I still had/have my moments of tears and Besh has said many times, “It’s okay for you to be sad too.” And I know it’s true but it’s still difficult sometimes. I have cried and do cry, but it would usually be while I was talking about Besh and Tiffany’s loss. Their loss makes me the saddest – even more than my own.

The awareness of my unique position came to me awhile after Carl passed away when my longtime friend, Carolyn, asked me one day how Besh was doing and out of my mouth fired:
 “What about how I’m doing?” 
I shocked myself! Her eyes filled up with tears because she realized she hadn’t even asked about me all this time. We both cried and I talked about how hard it is to juggle all these things at once – being strong, holding the space, hoping with all my heart that Besh is going to survive this and practically praying for Tiffany to find her happiness and live a good life…and experiencing my personal loss.

Sometimes I felt guilty talking about my grief even when the time was right. I thought ‘How can you talk about your pain when it wasn’t even your son?’ It was a self-imposed comparative dialogue in my head that I just couldn’t shake.

2 ½ years later, having done a lot of inner work and accepting that Besh and Tiffany are okay and they will survive, I’m finding I can feel and talk about my own pain a little more, with less guilt and hesitation. I believe that if they can survive this then I certainly can too.

What I have also learned through this process is that the grief of a step-parent is under-acknowledged and has to wait its turn sometimes. It’s just the way it is and it makes sense.

Supporting a grieving step-parent...takeaways from Keli-Ann

So, my advice for those of you who know a step-parent who has lost one of their kids: 

  • From time to time, ask them how they are doing
  • Just let them cry and spill when they break down in front of you.
  • Stay with them knowing there is nothing you can do to make them feel better, but just asking them how they are doing acknowledges their loss too. 
  • And that helps to mend the wound.

Wow. Thank you, Keli-Ann!

Source: Severin Koller, OpenPhoto
Keli-Ann Pye-Beshara is a blogger and professional visual artist in Holyrood, Newfoundland. Please follow the links to discover Keli-Ann's talents, insights and interests!

Paintings & prints: www.kapb.ca
Piece of Pye newsletter: 

 To all my readers, thank you for caring!

Tuesday, April 4, 2017

Don't Be Shocked: It's Okay to Not Attend the Funeral

There are many reasons that people do not attend a funeral.

Let's run through some reasons, all of which, I have professionally witnessed:
  • Away on vacation
  • About to take vacation, which is nonrefundable
  • Moving (this happened to me!)
  • Bad weather
  • Lack of travel means or funds
  • Poor health
  • Too many deaths in close succession
  • Not speaking to surviving family members
  • Myriad fractured-relationship issues
The Condolence Coach says of any and all reasons:  IT'S OKAY. A funeral should be a magnet for care and respect, NOT an arena to revisit wounds or iron out strife.
Author photo

How do you say "I'm not coming"?

I'd advise diplomacy. You do not need to release a rant, or whine with guilt.

If you have positive feelings but conflicting circumstances
  • Express your sincere sadness over the death.
  • Express your regret at being unable to be at the funeral, but suggest a visit at a later date.
  • Under the crush of details and sadness, the responsible person may agree that "later" sounds peaceful. In truth, "later" visits and condolence notes fill a void.
  • In the interim, spend some time reflecting on the deceased:  do you have unique photos, keepsakes, or memories to share?
  • Set a reminder, if necessary, to make that future visit happen.
If you have positive feelings but prohibitive circumstances:
  • Again, your sincere sadness over the death should be expressed, as well as your regret to not attend the funeral.
  • Since "later" may not be an option, you must do more than send flowers or sign your name to a card. While those emotions are peaking, begin jotting down memories, browse through a photo album and pull one or two images. Think about the deceased: what made them unique? Did they have an influence on you? How would you characterize their legacy? Your condolence note may turn into a long-winded letter but it will be special!
  • If you are physically unable to write, dictate to someone who can, or consider a recording. Yes, a phone call is an option but as my readers know, it lacks a permanence only possible with hold-in-your-hand notes and pictures.
If you have negative feelings
  • You--and they--don't belong at the funeral. It doesn't matter if your distaste is for the deceased or survivors--please stay away.
  • I am not judging your feelings; no doubt you have suffered angst and/or anger. The fractured relationship is probably not a secret, and I can assure you that the deceased's family may have had a whispered, anxious conversation about whether you would show up.
  • It happens: funeral home staff are asked to watch for, and bar, an unwanted visitor; sometimes an arrangement is made for a private viewing by the "difficult" family member, while family leaves for dinner.
  • Please remember that a funeral (we're using that term to cover all associated pre-and-post gatherings) is a tradition designed to render comfort. Accept your limitation in this regard.
Author photo

Beyond negative feelings: 

Now that you've read the 'DON'TS' surrounding negative feelings and funerals, here is the 'DO': 
  • Listen to your heart. If you notice a caring thought or endearing memory pushing through your negative feelings, jot it down. When you feel able, visit that thought or memory again and go a little deeper. jot down a little more. 
  • Maybe you have a snapshot somewhere, showing a good time once shared; put it with your notes.
  • It's not time--it may never be time, for you to write a condolence note to someone else, but as an act of compassion to yourself, you could be the recipient of the condolence.
  • You can also write a note to the deceased! I explain the why and how in my post, Dear Frank, I'm Sorry You Died: Writing to the deceased, . This may be an excellent tool for you to express your feelings, the highs and lows. This is not a letter that will ever be read, but it can provide important catharsis.

Boundaries and Freedom

American psychologist and co-founder of the Humanistic Psychology movement, Dr. Clark Moustakas, noted that we gain freedom through exercising boundaries. He pioneered self-acceptance over self-condemnation, and wrote: 
"Accept everything about yourself--and I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end. No apologies and no regrets."
Thank you for caring!