Friday, November 2, 2018

All Souls: Always With Us. A Poetic Reminder

Author photo
I was recently introduced to May Sarton's evocative poems, and found Siobhan's blog to read All Souls in its complete form...
It could be said that a thousand poets, a thousand balladeers, and some of the greatest literary writers concur:
Love and grief are an inescapable and bittersweet pair.
Sarton's poem, titled for the day of alms giving and prayer on behalf of the dead, describes how losing a loved one will be a lifelong experience. We will "Remember and forget, forget, remember."

But rather than feel condemned to sorrow and longing, Sarton, like many other writers, describes the gift of memories and the softening of their edges, over time. A regret or lingering resentment becomes like the faint shadow from an old stain, and one may "feel new-cherished, new-forgiven."

Therefore, in grief, be patient with yourself and others. Accept the mystery and the gift of this inescapable twining. Perhaps you will agree:
"'Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all."  
Alfred Lord Tennyson

All Souls - May Sarton 

Did someone say that there would be an end,
An end, Oh, an end, to love and mourning?
Such voices speak when sleep and waking blend,
The cold bleak voices of the early morning
When all the birds are dumb in dark November—
Remember and forget, forget, remember.

After the false night, warm true voices, wake!
Voice of the dead that touches the cold living,
Through the pale sunlight once more gravely speak.
Tell me again, while the last leaves are falling:
“Dear child, what has been once so interwoven
Cannot be raveled, nor the gift ungiven.”

Now the dead move through all of us still glowing,
Mother and child, lover and lover mated,
Are wound and bound together and enflowing.
What has been plaited cannot be unplaited—
Only the strands grow richer with each loss
And memory makes kings and queens of us.

Dark into light, light into darkness, spin.
When all the birds have flown to some real haven,
We who find shelter in the warmth within,
Listen, and feel new-cherished, new-forgiven,
As the lost human voices speak through us and blend
Our complex love, our mourning without end.

Care for yourself, care for each other. Thank you for caring!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Remember Who You Are: Condolence Poetry

Loss can trigger self doubt

On a personal level, the people in our daily circles:  spouse, children, parents, friends and co-workers contribute to our dreams and our dramas. This is normal. Interactions at the breakfast table or coffee shop, over the phone or while sharing a commute help us grow roots and branches.

And when a root or branch is severed by loss, a part of us seems suddenly missing. It hurts and it's confusing; it demands change and pushes us into the unknown. This upset to our equilibrium often triggers self doubt.

Overcoming inertia

While it can be a very good thing to momentarily apply the childhood street-crossing lesson, "STOP and LOOK BOTH WAYS BEFORE CROSSING," isolating yourself with a loss should not become a habit. Sometimes, I find that visiting a fresh inspirational thought: a paragraph or poem or song--can motivate me past self doubt or inertia. Today, I offer readers a poem.


Soon it will be noon
And what have
You done?
The pool water
is smooth, you
Did not disturb
The grass is high.
You sleep and it
Grows higher.
Would you like
A tall cool drink
On the veranda?
A lime garnish,
Sweat on the glass?
If you do,
Put on your shoes
And remember
Who you are.

Martin Ringwood, a Michigan poet

Source: Heather, OpenPhoto Gallery

Care for ourselves, care for each other. Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Stuck On You: After Death, Is it Devotion or Baggage?

I am always seeing metaphors. 

When a mammoth pine topples in the forest, it retains its anchoring grip on elements of the environment. Rocks and soil pack the lattice of roots that now face skyward. It will take decades and decades of weather and rot before a letting-go.

Author photo

Author photo

How long should grief take?

The Condolence Coach has skewered some psychological models that want a quick exit to mourning. In What's the Big Hurry? Stop pushing the bereaved I highlighted the heavy burden of expectation placed on a grieving person. It seems to me, in a world that celebrates the "individual," we must acknowledge "different strokes for different folks...even when it is socially awkward.

Wearing your late husband's flannel shirt or pursuing regular paranormally-channelled conversations with your dead child are choices. Unusual comforts in grief should not be judged more severely than the spectrum of comforts we each choose just to make it from sunrise to sunset: shopping, tattoos, exercise or extreme sports, alcohol, drugs...

Devotion or baggage?

Devotion delivers comfort but I would suggest that baggage delivers stress. If an ongoing bond with a deceased person engenders feelings of gratitude, warmth or inspiration--human growth and awareness of our interconnectedness are nurtured. 

If an ongoing bond with a deceased person engenders feelings of powerlessness, obsession, guilt, anxiety, or the burden of unfinished business--harm is inflicted and human growth is stymied. This grieving person is stuck.

Helping someone get unstuck

Source: Michael Jastremski
As you observe how the scales of positive or negative seem to tip, remember that giving advice is tricky. In fact, the Condolence Coach wants you to avoid giving advice and instead, ask for advice! In essence, you are asking the stuck person to tap into their own inner wisdom.

This nugget from the writers of point out:
"Once we stop taking guidance from all of those outside sources who tell us what we should do, we are free to explore what we want to do, what we’re meant to do, and what we’re truly capable of."
 An important component of your help is to stay in the present: focusing on the present circumstances and emotions of someone who seems "stuck."
  • How are you today? 
  • What are you doing to care for yourself, today?
  • How did thinking about [person/stuck situation/behavior] make you feel?
  • Is there another way to consider that [stuck situation] so it feels better?
  • If I was feeling the way you are now, what would you tell me to help me move forward? 

If you're the one who is stuck

Michelle Maros, Creative Director of  Peaceful Mind Peaceful Lifedescribes 5 Gentle Reminders for When You're Feeling Stuck. She reminds us that this time in life has a purpose, but to find it and move forward requires some reflection:
"Often times when we are feeling stuck, it’s a sign that there’s an action we could be taking (or that our soul is begging us to take), but for some reason we just aren’t. Usually it’s because we are afraid. And that’s okay. It’s okay to feel fearful, but it’s important to recognize that this fear is what is bringing you this feeling of “stuckness.” If this resonates with you, ask yourself what small, gentle action you can take to move yourself forward."

Author photo
"Small, gentle action" is a beautiful way to proceed. In the grieving process, you--or a person you are helping, could make a once-daily choice from a checklist such as this:

  • Sort belongings of the deceased into groups:  donations, legacy gifts to friends and family, discards, returns to lenders or businesses (such as medical supplies), and even a group for shredding-destroying old records or extremely private, confidential material (use caution before an estate is settled--consult an accountant or attorney.)
  • Take action on one item or one group described above:  start with an item that will warm your heart or the heart of the recipient.
  • Do one experience or action that you "used to" enjoy:  jot a poem your journal; sit down at your piano; walk in a park, museum or gallery; pick wild raspberries; go out for coffee or an ice cream cone; get a massage, facial or manicure.
  • Do one experience or action that satisfies a dream:  rent an RV and go somewhere; refresh an area of your home; adopt a shelter dog or cat...or learn how to volunteer at the shelter!

 As Michelle points out, you may, at first, feel that your "efforts aren't working," but she encourages that positive outcomes--even 'magic' are the result of patience and positive action.

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, April 3, 2018

It’s a Baby Not a Bump: Being Sensitive to Infant Death

Infant Memorials

Before I retired from funeral service, I met with and provided support to thousands of grieving families but there is one thing I didn’t do more than a few times:  assist in planning a memorial for an infant. I believe the problem lies in an institutional mindset that miscarriage, preterm and newborn infant death is a medical event. It is an appalling emotional disconnect. Sure, expectant mothers utilize the expertise of medical staff and remarkable technologies but this is human life, not automobile repair.

Block O Love
Sarah Klockars-Clauser
The words of Fawn Briggs in her guest post on the forum, WantedChosenPlanned, express the personhood of an in utero infant. In I Miss Her So Much, Fawn emphasizes the joy of a relationship that begins from the moment of pregnancy realization.
“I had been up late unable to sleep and my sweet baby girl Phoenix Quinn had been so active.  I was having contractions so when my husband got up for work I asked him to stay home with me because I thought we would be meeting our baby early.”

I have learned so much by blogging and teaching as The Condolence Coach, and encourage readers to increase their sensitivity and skill in responding to different types of loss. One size does not fit all.

Death of a Child: age is irrelevant!

My lessons about what a parent feels at the death of a child began with book research; I met women who had faced tragedies and found unique peer support in organizations such as Parents of Murdered Children and Compassionate Friends. The urge to express sympathy is a beautiful part of being human but it is full of pitfalls. Saying “I know how you feel” is just one of them. Offering a rationalization--”at least you got to hold her”-- about the baby or child’s age as a formula to determine degree or duration of grief, is another one. Sheryl will never forget the knock on her front door and the message delivered by a uniformed police officer; losing her son in a car accident propelled her into Grief 101. She has never graduated from that ‘class’ but Sheryl and her husband did progress from simply receiving the support of other Compassionate Friends parents to being chapter leaders in their community.

Don't Hide the Life

I learned from Sheryl how important it is to recognize the person:  use the baby or child’s name and do not hesitate to talk about him or her.
 “Don’t try to protect the bereaved from their own feelings. My child’s memory will be with me forever and my emotions will be what they will.”
This concept is exactly what prompted me to reblog an essay by Alexis Marie Chute, 5 Lessons Little Kids Teach Us About Loss. A life is a life--even when the loved one is no longer present. She wrote:
“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.”

Grief: Feel it, Don't Fix it

When I discovered and began writing about Angels Above Baby Gowns, a home-based volunteer organization supporting parents whose infant has died, I interviewed many women with infant loss stories. Through facebook, they learned how to donate a wedding gown or...they may have been fortunate to deliver in a hospital with neonatal bereavement support. I accompanied the Angels Above Baby Gowns team as they made a delivery of preciously crafted memorial gowns to a birthing center.
Author photo
We met registered nurse and bereavement counselor, Roxanne, who, for over a decade, has extended herself, often at personal expense, to make every baby’s life significant. Roxanne reminded us that 50% of all pregnancies are lost in the first three months. "One is too many," she lamented.

When a baby does not survive, Roxanne initiates steps to support the grieving parents:  a simple tag is placed on the door of the mother's room to remind staff and visitors of the bereavement.
She creates a decorative certificate called a Record of Birth, honoring the birth no matter the survival outcome. And, if culturally appropriate, she will take inked impressions of the infant's hands and feet.
Angels Above Baby Gowns are frequently used during the farewell period. At this hospital, parents are invited to bathe, dress, and cradle their baby. Roxanne explained:
"This is something you can't fix. There is no timeline and we don't rush a family. After dressing a baby in a beautiful gown or wrap, we take photos. A 'bereavement gown' provides tremendous comfort to parents and later, that gown will be a special keepsake--even bearing the scent of their child. Gowns for boys are uniquely accessorized such as having a tiny bow tie. 
Even though they are in shock, parents love every keepsake."

If you have personally experienced the death of an infant--or know parents who have, stay true to the wisdom you or they have earned, and gently teach others how to support families like yours because we all need to remember:  it’s a baby, not a bump. Remember, too, that in many cases, expectant grandparents also grieve this baby! My post, When Grandparents Grieve has had nearly 10,000 views!

Read more posts about baby gowns:

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 27, 2018

Grief Is Exhausting: Nourishing a Friend's Energy

Grief is exhausting

One of the most common statements about the grief journey is how "it wipes you out."  I love how The Grief Toolbox contributor Gman8361 gets right to the point in How to Deal with the Exhaustion of Grief:  
"Losing a loved one is like being hit by a bus. It immobilizes us. The shock waves are immense, and roll over us again and again, relentless and debilitating. Some days, we can barely lift our heads. Chronic fatigue, even exhaustion, is a common and natural experience for those in heavy grief."

Face it:  your grieving friend needs massive transfusions of your love, patience, and help.  The kind of help you may offer should tune into their life and circumstances.
  • Do kids need carpooling?
  • Does a home landscape need periodic care?
  • How about spending some time with their family pet? (it knows the sh#!t has hit the fan)
  • Would a grocery run ease stress?
Traditionally, neighbors brought casseroles--prepared foods-- to a grieving family, and that is still a lovely thing to do. 

I have gotten into the habit of packing a few extra snacks when I join friends for a hike, and these simple energy balls are well received. Loaded with nutrition and energy boosting natural sugars like dried fruit and locally sourced honey, they comfort and satisfy. Don't like raisins? Use another dried fruit like chopped dates. Easy to make, easy to store: share a zipper bag of this snack with a grieving friend, soon.

Deborah’s Energy Balls

In a large bowl, mix ingredients in the order listed, reserving the coconut for finishing.

2 cups rolled oats
1/2 cup chia seeds
1/2 to 3/4 cup ground flax seed or 'meal'
1 cup dark raisins
1 tsp sea salt
1 cup almond butter
1 cup honey, locally sourced*
finely flaked, unsweetened coconut, for rolling

This creates a firm mixture but try to blend all ingredients. To make the balls, spoon up dough, shaping into balls, then roll in a bowl of fine coconut. Place on parchment lined sheet. Baking is unnecessary. Freeze to firm, then package in zipper bags and continue to store, frozen. To serve, allow some thawing.

*honey from your local bees and blossoms may boost  your immune system.  DO NOT give honey, whether raw or pasteurized or contained in a recipe such as this, to children under the age of 12 months.

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 13, 2018

When Dad Dies: Helping Teens and Young Adults Grieve and Grow

les livres
 Sarah Klockars-Clauser
Considering the dozens--even hundreds of books you've lugged in your school bookbag or backpack over the years, there was always one missing.

There is no handbook for life. 

We learn as we go:  by example and by experience. This is the story of a young college student suddenly faced with the death of her dad. She wasn't given a handbook for that significant journey, either. But eleven years after the death, Michelle calls the grieving process "one of my greatest teachers."

What I Wish I'd Known Before An Unexpected Loss

by Michelle Maros   
Reblogged from Peaceful Mind Peaceful text and story photos property of the author.

Happy Sunday my friends!
This week’s blog feels like a bit of a doozy, but to be honest, it’s a topic that I feel like I’ve been yearning to write about for close to 10 years. Perhaps for catharsis, or for inspiration, we will see. Truthfully, the impetus and inspiration for the blog this week came from a popular television show, as odd as that might sound! I am a super fan of the show This Is Us. I find it very relatable, cathartic, and thought provoking.
For those of you who don’t watch the show, the most recent episodes dealt with a very tragic and unexpected loss of one of the main characters.The loss of this character felt devastating, and while watching I kept wondering what I would do if in that situation. How would I deal? Can you imagine one day having someone in your life and then the next day not? Unimaginable loss.
After a moment, I realized that I didn’t have to imagine too hard. I brought myself back to my own reality. That story is my story. I have been there in my own way, and it took me a minute to own that I, too, am a person who has experienced tragic, unexpected loss. But I also know that I am not alone. It happens to people every day. Likely many of us have experienced an unexpected loss, a tragedy, an injustice, a sadness…and it is brutal.
I’ll share a bit about my own story and then I’ll delve into what I know now and what I wish I’d known then.
When I was 21 and just about to go back to college for my senior year, my mom and I booked a girls trip to California. Upon arrival after a five hour flight across the country, I turned on my phone to find dozens of concerning text messages regarding the wellbeing of my dad. I will never forget returning a call from my step-dad in a chipper tone to let him know we had arrived, only for him to respond with a very stoic, “I need to speak to your mother.” I will never forget the knowingness in my gut that something was very wrong, that was shortly confirmed by my mom’s expression on the phone. No words had been spoken, but I knew. My dad has unexpectedly passed in his sleep.
I will never forget the feeling of still sitting on an airplane on the tarmac at LAX trying to come to terms with the news and also trying to figure out how on earth would we be able to get home. We luckily were able

On the flight back to Florida after we received the news.

to find a flight back east that day, however, I’ll also never forget the five hour flight back (pre-wifi days), where I had to sit with myself in silence and in shock and contemplate what had just happened to my life.
My dad was a huge part of my life, we had our issues of course, but he was one of my favorite people. 
It feels like there is nothing that can prepare you for events such as these, but I’ve learned so much stemming from that day close to 11 years ago, on loss, grief, acceptance, growth, rage, and a whole slew of emotions. I’ve been a witness to its process. It’s probably been my biggest teacher.
So when I watched this TV show recently, and witnessed this loss again, it took me back to that moment on the plane, and it got me thinking. Tragedy is everywhere, and it feels insurmountable when it’s happening. Losses can rock us to our core, bring us to our knees, and immediately change the courses of our lives. There’s no way around it.
So I asked myself, what would I have wished I had known before life took it’s turn?
This is what I came up with:
Life is fragile. It sounds cliche but when it happens to you, you know that in any moment life can go upside down. Though much easier to do in retrospect, try to take in and savor the moments of your life that are unfolding right now.

Me and my dad (circa 1987)

Life is a gift. This really puts a lot into perspective for me. I find the pettiness and shallowness of ordinary life falls away when I remember that it is a blessing to be alive, especially with loved ones surrounding me.
Life is messy. It’s silly to expect every day to be rainbows and butterflies. The bad isn’t necessarily bad. It’s preparation. Take each hit and learn from it, you never know the value it will bring you in the future.
Life has purpose. Every moment is brought to us for a reason. We are living our own unique lives on purpose. Our stories are precious and our paths are unchartered.
Life is unpredictable. We just don’t know when life will swoop us up and change our course, so be present, be gracious, be passionate, and be grateful. Life is ever changing, this moment never stays the same.
After writing all this down, I then thought it might be nice to give you a little bonus! 
It’s great to have the lessons before, but it’s also really helpful to know the biggest lessons learned after too.
There are no rules to heartbreak. You don’t have to follow anyone’s mold of how to cope. Allow yourself to feel in your own time, space, and pace.
The new normal is uncomfortable. When managing a loss it’s very uncomfortable because there is something in your life that is missing, that can’t return. It’s a new normal. Be gentle with yourself and you slowly acquaint yourself with life as it is now.
Reflect back, but don’t live there. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve relived moments with my dad. Sometimes it feels very torturous, sometimes cathartic. Allow yourself to take in the memories, but try not to live there. Hold close to what has happened, but be present in the now.
Don’t compare yourself to anyone else’s journey. There are times that I have downplayed my own heartbreak because in my mind it wasn’t “tragic enough.” Whatever that means. If you’re going through something that’s difficult for you, it’s exactly that. Difficult for you. It doesn’t matter the degree of difficulty. Comparison in heartbreak is a game that no one wins.
Allow yourself to feel. After my dad died I was really an emotional mess. I was young and going through a lot and had a lot of emotions. Sometimes I would get down on myself for “not being over it yet.” I vividly remember someone close to me saying that I get a whole year after he died to just cope. That brought me a sense of relief in the moment, but when that year passed I thought to myself, “Does this mean I all of a sudden have to act as if I’m okay”? The truth is the feelings are always just below the surface, even now, and I no longer try to push them away. When they come, I feel them, but I don’t let them consume me.
Get help as often as needed. Having a trusted team of support is crucial. I would not be a functioning human if it wasn’t for my family, my counselors, my therapists, my coaches, and my true friends. And I have no problem being vulnerable enough to ask for their help, when I need it. Even now. This also goes for outside the times of crisis, but especially true in these circumstances.

The last birthday that I was able to celebrate with my dad (2006).

Cultivate a new relationship on your own terms. It wouldn’t be a Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life blog without a little bit of woo. One of the most comforting aspects of losing a loved one is the ability to cultivate a relationship even after they’ve passed. I still talk to my dad, I ask for signs from him. We have a new relationship now, and it’s absolutely perfect. He is my cheerleader on the other side, and he helps me in so many ways. So if you’ve lost someone, you can miss their physicality, but remember you can still have them in spirit.
Phew! I told you this one would be a doozy! I really hope that any of you who have experienced a loss or something of this nature finds some sort of comfort from this blog. Please remember that this is all my own personal experience and not meant to be an all-encompassing “how-to” but simply my take on it all.
Michelle Maros,
Peaceful Mind Peaceful Life

Do you crave a few moments of gentle reading? 

The Condolence Coach confesses... I was tired of reflexively clicking on one or two news sites only to scroll through a sea of stories about humans behaving badly! With a simple keyword search, I discovered the antidote to trashy news. Read more gentle wisdom to "make your everyday life an inspired life" at  Peaceful Mind Peaceful

To learn more about supporting a grieving teen:
Condolence to Teens

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