Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Spirits Soaring: Consider Aerial Release of Cremated Remains

Like most who coincidentally learn of the service (I saw the truck in a parking lot,) I was curious to visit the website of this business...and then, I was curious to meet its founder, Greg.


...a simple mission with a huge impact:

“to help you gain closure in your life by releasing your Angel's-Ashes from our aircraft over a location that is dear to you or your loved one. Our aerial ash release service is the perfect way to memorialize a loved one and celebrate their free spirit. Our aerial releases are controlled and conducted with the utmost respect and dignity for your loved one.”

What draws people to Angel's-Ashes?

Greg has heard their stories, which have a common thread. “Sometimes, people don’t know what to do with the ashes of a loved one. Years can pass and still, there are the ashes…” They may be in the original box from the crematory or in an urn but, sitting on a shelf, in a closet, something feels unfinished.
And one day, it happens for someone:
"I saw your truck and it was meant to be!"
[author photo]

What draws Greg to offer Angel's-Ashes services?

Greg has been a pilot since serving in the U.S. Air Force. He crews with an airline, volunteers with the student motivational program, Wright Flight, and has flown regional and Grand Canyon tours, Civil Air Patrol, law enforcement support, and he's even towed a few banners! “I was just 15 at my first loss--my mom, Edwina; it was pretty tough. Every loss is personal and unique, and everybody handles loss differently. But no matter how you cope, it can be isolating.” Greg mentioned the commonly used funeral poem, 'I’m Not There (Do Not Stand at My Grave'). “I feel blessed to offer my flying skills to truly facilitate ‘ashes to ashes, dust to dust.’ When cremated remains are released aerially, it’s a powerful metaphor for releasing the spirit.”

Is It Expensive?

An aerial release can be arranged for about $300; that’s less than the price of a basic urn.“This is a passion over profit endeavor,” comments Greg. “It takes a lot of time.” His work includes meeting with a family to learn about the deceased and the places special to them. Cremated remains are received (in person or by shipment,) and then Greg plans the flight and conducts the release.

Where and How are Cremated Remains Released?

Greg had the privilege to serve one Arizona family who loved the open desert and mountain trails. A plan and date was made for aerial release over their extensive private property. “While normal flight is at an altitude of least 2,000 feet, I was able to fly lower because it was private property. A gathering of fifty friends and family watched as the essence of their dear one was united forever, with the desert. Aerial releases are unique and individualized. What was her favorite view? Which canyon did he love to hike? “I’ve done releases of the mixed cremated remains of a husband and wife who died within a week of each other, and an owner and his cherished pet.”
[Source: Angel's Ashes]

Greg continued, “Airspace is free and cremated remains are sterile. A release doesn’t have to be witnessed. It’s a very simple process. My airplane’s cockpit has a custom-designed and fitted special panel, with a pipe that is connected to a secure valve. When the valve is open, the cremated remains are sucked out from their container. There is no blow-back-- which could happen if they were simply poured from an open window. As I 'trail' the release, a soft dispersal of the powder-like ashes occurs. If desired, I provide a family with a keepsake certificate."

Why the dash between Angel's-Ashes?

Meeting Greg reminded me of the expression, “still waters run deep.” He has a steady peace about him; the kind that comes from hard-won self awareness. I asked Greg what words have inspired and guided him and his response was immediate: “The book, Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl, and the quote, “It's not what happens to you in life that matters; what matters is how you deal with it!” (this quote is attributed to author, Terry Riley.) Greg acknowledged, “Everyone meets forks in the road; what choice you make each time, is significant.” He continued,
“I’ve been around the world 30 times and never saw a hearse with a luggage rack.”
"The ‘dash’ in my company name signifies what each person does with their unique life--you only get one! How do you help and impact other people? You’re probably familiar with that famous eulogy poem by Linda Ellis, The Dash. Angel's-Ashes enables each sunset to become an ongoing memorial.”

Choices:  Life, Death, Eternity

[Author photo]
Aerial release isn’t for every family. Some want to visit a niche or grave. Some want to wear cremated remains in a locket or house a lovely urn at home. Many families picking up ashes from the funeral home, have shared plans for a scattering trip to cottage, home state, and favorite spots in between. Likewise, some cremated remains can be retained and the rest released. All the more reason to have those important conversations!  

To learn more about aerial release, visit www.angels-ashes.com or use search term: aerial release of cremated remains.

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

Anticipatory Grief: Digging a Grave

I was on a quiet morning walk when the words of an oncoming Bluetoothed walker reached me:
"This may sound strange, but I started digging her grave in the backyard."
Pretty sure I was not overhearing a murder plot, I guessed that a dear pet was reaching her final days. While I have only once created a backyard grave, I am well acquainted with anticipatory grief.

The grief forum website WYG, what's your grief.com hosted a contributor, Litsa, who shared her experience with anticipatory grief. She explains why we jump-the-gun to begin grief's painful journey:
"Here is the thing about grief – though we think of it as something that happens after a death, it often begins long before death arrives.  It can start as soon as we become aware that death is a likelihood.   Once death is on the horizon, even just as a possibility, it is natural that we begin to grieve."
So, if I could, I'd console that walker with an assurance of normality. No matter how much you strive to be in the present moment with your dying loved one (pet or person,) this is a natural reaction; in fact, you may have experienced it during a loved one's short term illness or their serious surgery:  "what if they die?!"

Are you Experiencing Anticipatory Grief?

Harriet Hodgson, author of Smiling Through Your Tears: Anticipating Grief, explained some of the intense dynamics of "AG"in her post at The Caregiver Space. Imagine waking up each morning on a roller coaster:
  • Your thoughts jump around
  • You face an unstoppable force
  • Suspense and fear are part of your life
  • You feel sorrow and hope at the same time

Anticipatory Grief is Not a Shortcut

I used to think that anticipatory grief gave you a "head start" and would make the post-death grieving shorter, easier. But this proved to be a naive notion. It depends...
Grief is such an individual experience-- individualized by your nature and needs, and the relationship you share. For some, anticipatory grief lengthens the miles on this difficult road. For others, it includes intense advocacy and exhausting caregiving so that after the death, the living "rest in peace," as well...for awhile.

How can we be supportive to a friend's anticipatory grief?  

"Blue Birds" Suzy St. John
  • Express the reminder:  "This is normal!"
  • Be a good listener. Take a moment to sit together--perhaps with a cup of tea.
  • Avoid giving advice but if you've had a truly parallel experience, share a thought or two.
  • Encourage self care; this can be a time swamped with caregiving.
  • Simply ask: "How can I help?"

Bucket full of Love=Bucket List Opportunities

Litsa notes:  "Consider how you and your loved one will want to spend that time together.  Though what we want may not always be possible, do your best to spend your remaining time together in a way you and your loved one find meaningful."

In my post, Final Conversations, I encouraged conversations of gratitude, affirmation, and life celebration. Ask questions that will spur stories, laughter, hugs. Bucket List opportunities don't have to involve parachutes or plane tickets! Quality time together is priceless, but ask your loved one if there are destinations, social occasions, or adventures they long to enjoy. 

Ask your friend how you might help with wish fulfillment.  Your role could involve driving, research and reservations, or a respite visit. Respite visits are of tremendous value:  family can step away and the ill person may find relief in visiting with a neutral person. 

My final message to readers who want to support a friend during anticipatory grief:  Be patient.

Thank you for caring!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

Gifts for Someone Grieving: Priceless Privacy and Peace

When I read the tweet from my blogging colleague, Kelly, about her 2016 list of gift ideas for a Highly Sensitive Person, my first reaction was to imagine the themes of comfort they would offer. And isn't comfort exactly what we try to offer to a grieving person? I retweeted that tweet to followers of @condolencecoach and they were pleased.

It is the month of Christmas and Hanukkah:  where do you stand with your gifting ideas? Specifically, are you struggling over the paradox of feeling festive but caring, during a friend's grief journey? I wrote about this in my post, Condolence During Holidays. My key message was/is:  Condolence is condolence. Don't try to squeeze condolence and holiday cheer onto one postage stamp. Likewise, don't imagine a grieving person is taking a "timeout" from pain.

Caring sympathy is not about distraction.

Your sensitivity to another person's journey of sadness should be active during gift selection. In happier times, you easily chose the latest and greatest gadget or device, the funniest toy or video, the loveliest jewelry or garment. Now, sensitivity dictates that you acknowledge this person and family's slurry of emotions, the barrage of tasks and uncertainties they are struggling through. Yes, it's complicated. It's called compassion.

Caring gifts deliver c-a-r-e! 

And so I refer my readers to Kelly's 2016-17 Gift Guide for Highly Sensitive People & Introverts. She introduces the Guide as:
"presents for people who are overwhelmed by social and environment stimuli, are empathic, sensitive to beauty, and cherish privacy and peacefulness." 
Early in grief (and the definition of time is up to the individual!) this description may easily fit someone facing the death of a significant person.

Kelly's blog has rich and varied content about what it means to be a Highly Sensitive Person (HSP). In her introduction to the phrase, "Highly Sensitive Person," we learn of a unique trait for sensitivity. I propose that there are also times of life when sensitivity spikes...grief is an excellent example. So why not use this tremendous insight in the art of condolence and sympathetic companionship?

Please click on this link to explore a remarkable collection of gift ideas. The 2016/17 Gift Guide for Highly Sensitive People includes book selections for kids and teens.

Thank you, Kelly! And thank you, readers, for caring! 

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Plaques and Pavers: Memorializing Love Beyond a Grave Marker

A bench plaque at a community park
 in Tucson, Arizona. Author image
You've seen them and you may have walked on them:  memorial plaques and paver bricks are extremely popular tributes! Typically, their purchase is a contribution to the community or a nonprofit organization. Yes, many plaques and pavers can be celebratory, philanthropic, and even not of a memorial nature, but with greater frequency, sending funeral flowers is not an option.

For example, when a "viewing" (a funeral home visitation with the body in a casket) does not occur, there may or may not be an appropriate occasion for flowers. Charitable memorial designations are common, but the marriage of a memorial tribute with a lasting presence (beyond a cemetery grave marker) is comforting, practical, and often renders great benefit to others.

I recently met Jeanne when she was in Tucson to scatter her sister's ashes in the mountains. Her sister, Suzanne, had been a long time Tucsonian and member of the Sabino Canyon Volunteer Naturalists.
Suzanne contributed countless hours educating classroom groups about desert animals and ecology. Jeanne told me that Suzanne had lived other places, but loved the desert. During her illness, the family had arranged for Suzanne to be named on a plaque of Sabino Canyon supporters. It was a special day, shortly before her death, when Suzanne stood beside the tile which declares her work as "A Guide to Scenic Splendor."
The plaque honoring supporters. Author image

Suzanne's heart lives on in the desert. Author image

The Naturalist group also sponsors a memorial garden where rustic, inscribed stones bear the names of deceased volunteers (pictured below.) For many, having a place to visit and feel close to their departed loved one, is important--and it doesn't need to be a cemetery! In fact, there is comfort in knowing that a modest donation for the purchase of a plaque or paver, continued a mission or project that gave meaning to the loved one's life.  Jeanne and her family beamed with a peaceful joy in the presence of Suzanne's legacy.

How can you memorialize a loved one in a similar way?
If there is a charitable designation made, don't just stuff a check in an envelope. Call the organization and ask about their enduring opportunities. Consider exploring:
  • the hospice that assisted the family; they may have a patio of inscribed pavers.
  • a service organization that the family supports; they may have benches or furnishings that can be "named."
  • a comment of caring once expressed by the deceased; "I love birds" could point to a memorial gift with the Audubon Society, or your local bird and wildlife conservation nonprofit may invite funding for fixtures in a local sancuary. Ask! 
Some view memorial plaques and pavers as a final gift.
The beauty of the gesture is that its legacy is shared by so many, for many years to come.

This may also be a way to mark an anniversary of death.
Don't feel that you have to immediately identify and arrange a plaque or paver. There is so much going on in the weeks and months after a death. Why not consider this for an anniversary year?

Thank you for caring! 

Tuesday, October 18, 2016

My Visit to a Pet Cemetery: A Path to The Rainbow Bridge

Have you been to a pet cemetery? 

Perhaps, like me, you used their associated service of a pet crematory. This is my story of saying goodbye to Chloe.

Once passionate about her toys, our 16 year old mini dachshund was now blind, deaf, and weighted down with fatty tumors. Preferring sleep, refusing food and her favorite treats for over 2 days, we understood Chloe was asking us to let her go. 
A zen-like peace reigns in this place
This section, pictured below, is dedicated to "little creatures."

After a peaceful process at the veterinary clinic, we took Chloe's body to The Pet Cemetery of Tucson, where burial and cremation services are offered in a beautiful desert setting. Just walking through the gate imparts their stated purpose:
"To provide services that acknowledge and honor the lives and memories of beloved animals, including a sacred final resting place."

All creatures, all loved

Tributes are personal, sometimes whimsical

A wonderful bench for a cat lover

We were invited to ring this copper bell,
giving Chloe her angel wings.

On the drive home from the crematory.we shared memories. 

It was so quiet when we got home, I put on music,
and set Chloe's collar by her bowl.
A beautiful sunset reminded me:  all will be well...in time.

A few days later, we brought Chloe's ashes home.
Of course, she road on my lap.

Chloe is back with Joey, at The Rainbow Bridge.
If you have never read the poem, The Rainbow Bridge, please click on the link above. It is powerful...and comforting. Pet owners and pet care professionals ritually share this poem with each other, when there has been a death.

A death in the family

The Condolence Coach encourages readers to remember that 99.9% of all pets are considered to be a member of the family. Even if that is hard for you to understand, please accept and affirm that. Be a good listener.  You do not have to offer explanations for the death or comfort solutions. Please do not say, "why don't you get another pet?" A bereaved pet owner may come to a point where they consider that option, but it is for them to discern.

Please read my other posts about pet loss:
Our Pet Losses Make Us Wiser

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, August 9, 2016

6 Tips for Writing Condolence to a Relative

[Source: Kruno Kartus]
I have a strong suspicion that many readers have not considered writing a condolence note to a relative. Do you recognize these 6 excuses?
  1. We see each other a lot.
  2. I just saw them at the service.
  3. We call, text, or Facebook each other.
  4. Writing seems so formal.
  5. I'd rather give a hug than a letter.
  6. They'll find out I'm not a writer.

When Grandma died in the airport

[Source: Adrian van Leen]
I do write condolences to relatives, and readers of my book remember the story of Grandma's death in an airport restroom. Awful, right? Now imagine how frightened, panicked, and devastated her family felt. Grandpop and my father waited in the terminal while my mother accompanied her mother to the ladies room. "I don't feel well. I need to sit down," moaned Grandma as she sunk to the floor. Being a practical woman, she unpinned her 'corset money' from an undergarment, which she earned from bead and crochet crafts, and handed it to her daughter. My mother felt so powerless to render comfort other than her presence. And by the time an EMT team arrived, Grandma had succumbed to the heart attack.

Yes, I wrote a note to my mother! It's in the book. For losses spanning human, pet, job and other difficult life circumstance, I  have written condolences to my father, siblings, sisters-and-mother-in-law, aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Relatives are people, too

The reasons for writing a condolence are universal. You are striving to lend support and a few moments of comfort. You have many advantages in being a relative:  you likely have one or several special memories--including photos, to share; in fact, your relationship and likely interactions with the deceased are unique, increasing the likelihood of a unique memory! Did your uncle recognize an interest or talent and give you a nurturing gift? Did you pet-sit for your sister's cat and discover something special in its golden-eyed gaze? Did your brother-in-law help you move after a divorce? These memories can be shared, thanks and appreciation can be expressed. Did you watch your aging mother-in-law make--and lose--friend after friend?

[Source: Adrian van Leen]
The comfort that your note delivers does not--should not--be wrapped in complex, philosophical or religious explanations. You are 'off the hook' to take away pain, map out the future, or give wise advice. Just be sincere. Now, more than ever, real handwritten, hold-in-the-hand condolences are treasures. They are re-read during quiet and lonely times; they are shared with others; they provide what the digital age cannot.

6 Tips for writing to a relative

Let me caution you:  if you think that buying a lovely card and writing "so sorry for your loss, she will be missed" is adequate, please click on the links peppered throughout this post for a quick, comprehensive review of condolence writing. You don't need to use all 6 tips at once. Think about the deceased and the recipient, then listen to your heart.
  1. Acknowledge the loss and express sympathy:  "I am so sorry this day has come; Terry's death leaves an empty space."
  2. Acknowledge the relationship:  "Your sister, Mary, knew she could count on you." 
  3. Share a classic, well known memory:  "Bailey's greeting at the door always made me smile." 
  4. Share a personal/unique memory:  "Uncle Rick saw my creative side and gave me a set of pastel crayons." (Never break a confidence, or share cruel or embarrassing memories.) 
  5. Offer encouragement and/or help:  "I know you're facing a big job to ready the house for sale, so remember: my truck and my time are at your service." 
  6. Express gratitude for the recipient or deceased:  "You were so supportive to Elsa, especially when she couldn't feed herself; it taught me a lot about compassion."

Which relative should I write to?

Who is the next-of-kin? Who do you have a connection to? If you are closer to your cousin than to your aunt who just lost her husband, it's okay to write to your cousin; he or she will probably share the note.

Should I write to more than one relative?

You certainly can, but don't feel pressured to blow through a 12-pack of note cards. While considering which relative to write to, your heart will put checkmarks by those you want to express sympathy to. Attending a visitation or service allows you to touch base with many people, which can 'winnow' the roster of notes. Review your memories and your emotional, heartfelt responses; if you feel the impulse, writing two or three simple and caring notes is lovely.

When should I write?

We write condolence notes even when we attend services. If you can be present for gatherings, consider delaying your note until after; you will return to your desk ready to share feelings and observations with enriched awareness of:
  • the scope of a family and community's shared affection
  • life details you did not know such as quiet achievements and talents, branch of military service, significant dates
  • qualities of your note's recipient
Thank you for caring!