Friday, May 22, 2020

The Covid-19 Condolence Note

Begin at the beginning

Every death and every grief is a tough ration of reality. Normalcy is suspended. Extra duties pile on and most have unique challenges; still, survivors move forward. They find comfort and support in the strata of life relationships and, with time and revision, 'normal' bears resemblance to the well known.

If there is one topic all of humanity agrees on, it is that the Covid-19 pandemic has assaulted the concept of 'normal.' All patterns-- how we tend the sick, vigil the dying, gather to mourn and weave our memories into shared legacy--are torn. We are left to begin at the beginning. 
Celebrating a person's life should never be about the cause of their death.
You may feel the pandemic has taken much from you--casual freedoms, livelihood, leisure enjoyments; DO NOT let it take your memories of this wonderful person!

Beyond the Top 5 Keys for a Great Condolence Note

Now, more than ever, you need to step up with written condolence. Final embraces, funeral hugs and food-filled wakes have been put on hold (many irretrievable!) Since you may not be able to reach out with arms, reach out with words! Giving survivors something to hold and spend time with not only fills in gaps, but provides a lifeline of hope.

Years ago, I designed a bookmark to promote my eBook, but I wanted it to be useful beyond marking your place. I reviewed my writings and distilled the reams of Condolence Coaching to this:
Notice the suggestion that you only need 2 or 3 Keys for your note. Easy, right? It's a good start. And while we absolutely want to deliver good memories, acknowledging the difficult circumstances which likely surrounded loved ones' proximity to the care and death, can be done gently.

Phrasing Special Sympathies for the Hardships of Today

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In addition to selecting one of the Top 5 Keys for your condolence, give your note a sensitivity boost if one of these circumstances occurred:
  • If survivor(s) were not able to to be at the dying person's bedside:
    • "Trust that the love you have long-shared, surrounded ____ when you could not be at his/her bedside."
  • If funeral arrangements were hasty, severely abbreviated, or a gathering was delayed to a future "safer" date:
    • "Although we couldn't gather as hoped, my heart and thoughts were with you."
    • "Although we couldn't gather right away, I look forward to being with you someday soon."
  • Acknowledging the lack of hugs, etc. when they are most acutely needed:
    • "When I heard the news, I just wanted to give you a big hug. Please know that within these words is a "raincheck" for that hug!"
Remember that, if you do not have a mailing address for the family, you can always send your card or note c/o the funeral home or mortuary that handled the final disposition. Just write "Please forward" on the envelope. 

Thank you for caring!

Monday, May 18, 2020

Listen! A Gift Received, A Gift Given

Everyone and every thing exists to be acknowledged, seen, and heard.

"The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes."  ~Marcel Proust
I would add to Proust's words, we must 'have new ears', too.

Thus, on an early Spring walk, while crossing a busy boulevard, I was saddened to see a large roadrunner had been killed by a vehicle. It's form was intact, a deflated silhouette. I moved quickly on to avoid a similar fate. Later that afternoon, while sitting on my patio, an unusual visitor lit onto a nearby chimney top. It was a roadrunner, smaller, perhaps a female.

Greater Roadrunner
Photo used with permission:
This is a bird that "prefers sprinting to flying", electing flight primarily to enter and exit its elevated nest or escape a predator. My rooftop sighting was very unusual. As I watched, the bird began calling-- a "sharp barking" that broadcast out in the direction of the lethal boulevard. While the Cornell Ornithology Lab notes this call is used near the nest site, I suddenly knew that it was calling to its missing mate. Roadrunners mate for life--a span of 7 to 8 years. The calling and visual scanning went on for a few minutes. How do creatures know when their mate or clan member is gone for good? They must just carry on with the tasks of living.

Being present

Perhaps some readers are howling about my anthropomorphising (giving human qualities to non-humans,) and I won't go into my beliefs, here and now. My heart was touched and, for the purpose of this blog post, I want to illustrate how important it is to be a listener.
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“Listening is about being present, not just about being quiet,”reminds journalist Krista Tippett. As the listener, I was suffused with sympathy for the roadrunner calling from the roof. As you encounter another person's tragedy or sadness, be present, listen.

Start a healing conversation

In my post, Was it a Peaceful Death? Opening the Door to Healing Conversation, I coached the value of not shying away from an encounter with a grieving person. I encouraged questions such as:
  • I was sorry to hear about _____. 
  • How are you today? 
  • Was it a peaceful death? 
  • What memory of him/her are you holding close right now?
  • What memory makes you smile? 

I am not suggesting you conduct an interview! One question can open up an opportunity to listen. Are you sensing that another question is useful at this moment? My intuition launched the story of these birds. You can explore the power of listening to your gut feelings here: The Physics of Intuitive Compassion: Albert Einstein had it right!

If listening to one response is enough, simply say: 
Thank you for telling me; take care of yourself.

There is always something to hear...someone, some thing grateful to be heard

The gravel verge bears a walker:
I hear chewing of shredded wheat.
Birds call from dawn to sundown:
tedious mourning dove blues, 
cactus wren's grinding starter,
darting quail high notes: Uh-huh-Uh-huh,
Hey-you! alert - the thrasher arrives.
Our homes hum tones tiny to tremendous; 
stretched and still in darkness,
I seek their source, finding some
in the pestling of brain, bones, molars.
Attending too, to unfulfilled utterances:
hesitations, head dips, hand flutters,
the staccato of unsettled eyes and breath:
these voiceless notes of soul speak
of love or loss or the deep water strokes
of living without answers. 

Listen! (c)2020 Deborah Chappa

Thank you for caring!

Friday, April 24, 2020

Trusting Your Choices

When my friend Melinda shared this poemand paired it with her spirited watercolor, I immediately asked to use it here. My question to readers is:
Where are you on life's river, today?
Is the current choppy, swift, exhausting you with unrelenting demands? Or did today bring a gentle stretch, enticing you to drop the oar and dive into the cool, sparkling water? Whether your life metaphor runs a river, climbs a mountain, daubs on canvas, or taps out the infinite digits of Pi, tune into the moment. And while you're there, tune into yourself!

Decisions and choices fill each day. Sometimes, analysis is necessary, but often, asking yourself which way to go, works just fine. Should you "hop onto the bank" for a timeout? Trust your choices.

River Rafting Memories 
by Melinda Rogers 

Think I’ll hop onto the bank, 
Watch my raft float away. 
There go all my troubles. 
It’s been another perfect day. 

The water is calm, 
So glassy and peaceful. 
While I live in this dream, 
I’ll smile . . . be gleeful. 

Talk to me about today, 
As the current flows along. 
Kindly remind me if you may, 
Of precious days forgotten song. 

I savor this moment. 
My senses are alive. 
The magic of the water, 
My memories do revive. 

Water crashes the rocks below. 
I dip my oars into the blue. 
Churning waves that I now row, 
Bring me back to you. 

Now I am at peace, 
For the rapid is at it’s end. 
Do I ever feel relief? 
What may be around the bend? 

My memory meanders. 
It tends to forget. 
I’ll just keep on rowing, 
Nothing to regret. 

Think I’ll hop onto the bank, 
Watch my raft float away. 
There go all my troubles. 
It’s been another perfect day.


River Rafting Memories
A watercolor by Melinda Rogers

Read more about intuition: The Physics of Intuitive Compassion: Albert Einstein had it right!

Thank you for caring!

Friday, April 17, 2020

Virtual Funerals in the Time of Covid-19

When I worked in funeral service, the biggest tech challenge from day to day was getting a family's photo slideshow to play on our chapel's big screen monitor. Sometimes they hadn't properly closed their program before removing a flash drive, or the photos were stuck in a document folder. Our business maintained national music performance licenses, so we didn't have to worry about all the copyrighted songs families were downloading to their slideshows.
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Years ago, I frowned at a story about a mortuary's drive-by casket viewing feature. Today, funeral home staff are being called to interface with social media in ways that demand new skills and tremendous empathy. I admire their fortitude.

Some of us have already participated in a virtual funeral. I urge readers to explore the following article because knowing the terrain, can reduce stress if you later find yourself navigating there.

The Condolence Coach asks you to remember these 3 unchanging condolence principles:

  1. Written words of sympathy matter greatly; send a card with a personal note to the family or c/o the funeral home. An emailed condolence is okay, too.
  2. Share a favorite and uplifting memory, but if it's your turn to talk during a streaming virtual funeral, be brief.
  3. Express gratitude for the life of the deceased and especially thank the family for hosting the opportunity to "gather."

The Virtual Funeral

CNNhealth: Funerals go virtual in the pandemic. Here's how to plan one with meaning and honor the dead

Remember the Caregivers!

Whether you dub them "heroes" is your choice, but remember to:
  • thank caregivers
  • acknowledge their own emotional journey and, 
  • consider inviting them to a virtual funeral or later memorial gathering.
Read more about Condolence to Caregivers

Thank you for caring!

Monday, March 23, 2020

Coping with Covid-19 Stress: Finding Pleasure and Peace in Slow

Jackrabbit on trail
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While hiking under a gently warming Arizona sun last summer, I was on the verge of a panic attack. I was used to avoiding the occasional free ranging cattle and their plops. I was also used to scanning the surroundings for snakes. But, discovering that a resting, coiled snake may resemble a dry manure mound, was startling.

My usual panoply of sensory pleasures--wide sky, bird calls and blooms--with the addition of now-suspicious plops, became a Code Red cacophony. At my usual swift stride, I called back to my hiking buddy, “I’m feeling overwhelmed by everything I need to watch out for!” His simple reply changed my life: Why don’t you slow down?

Crisis Intervention

Slow down. This message permeates health and wellness media with calls to be mindful, focused, conscious, present, aware, tuned in, receptive, centered, grounded. Now, Covid-19 prevention is mandating us to slow down, too. During a crisis, the sense of vulnerability heightens and our tolerance for mental chaos may fluctuate. This is highly characteristic of the grief journeyIndividual thresholds for ‘chaos’ vary, like a strong radio signal that turns to static. If you’re feeling mental static, it’s time to turn off the “breaking news” and tune in to yourself. Slow down.

Cloud gazing
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I utilize a variety of methods to get grounded. Is the setting day or night, sunny or cloudy, private or public? Develop some methods that empower you with choice and comfort. Simple “meditation” can be sitting with eyes closed and focusing on breath. Get on the floor or a yoga mat and stretch, roll, breathe. I also highly recommend cloud gazing (best done with formations, not full-sky gray.) Relax and watch them drift, change shape. Brief, light tapping on oneself (also known as the Emotional Freedom Technique,) may be calming and done anywhere, with subtlety. Can you step outside for a walk or play a soothing tune? If traveling, find the airport terminal art gallery before takeoff or, read a short, enjoyable text.

Blue Skipper on leaf
Photo used with permission
Jim Hunter, Fairbanks, AK

Savor the Slow

As a writer, I value words for many reasons; language is amazing! Does my sentence need a dandelion or dahlia? Most of us enjoy reading, but I have discovered the calming pleasure of reading word... by...word. Taking that brief text, prayer, proverb or affirmation, I read one word at a time. Try this: Savor that word! Let its shape and sound and nuance roll around in your mind like a peppermint on the tongue. Then, read the next word, and so on. I am usually a happy, limp noodle after only one sentence!

It is important to remember that slowing down is not just for Code Red situations. In The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle advises that a steady practice of being mindful during all daily activities will strengthen mindfulness during difficult moments. I hope you, too, can discover the pleasure and peace of ‘slow.’

Read other posts about mindfulness: 

Thank you for caring!

Tuesday, February 25, 2020

My Turn to Grieve

I am known to many as the one who is easy with matters of dying and death. I can discuss ways to make the end of life sacred, the paperwork of death, funeral options and military honors. I do this with the conversational tone you would use to discuss the price of organic veggies, local car repair shops, or summer travel plans. For over ten years, I’ve been known as the Condolence Coach by a world of readers, but I am long overdue for a new post, and here’s why.

Last fall, when my mother entered hospice, my zeal to discuss death’s details and grief journeys, withered. In truth, it cowered in the corner, shunning all but the most necessary social contact. Sharing the life-altering news became my daily ‘small talk.’ A dog walking neighbor might comment on last night’s wind and I replied: “my mother is in hospice.” Meeting another shopper at the grocer’s card rack, I offered, “my mother is in hospice but I think she’ll make her 90th birthday.” To my relief, people were kind.

Perhaps it’s not accurate to say I lost my 'zeal,' when the real loss was ‘innocence.’ While my experience and knowledge as a hospice volunteer and funeral professional deepened insight and compassion, it was always ‘someone else’s loved one.’ Detachment preserved the innocence of my heart. Now, this was my heartache.

Sadness Selfie

Across the country, heavily sedated with the standard hospice cocktail of morphine and lorazepam, Mother wasn’t taking birthday phone calls. I quelled the panic of her slipping away by reaching out psychically. I imagined her approval and laughter as I played dress-up with the pink paisley poncho she had sewn for me fifty years ago. Digging through my jewelry box, I ringed its neckline with lapel pins she’d given: quirky cat, pine cone, straw dolls, and artsy swirl. Like the young bride seeking her mirrored reflection on the morning after deflowering, I sought mine and took a selfie, seeking to preserve the transforming mystery of my profound sadness. 

Until I was called to serve at my mother’s deathbed, my vigil occurred thousands of miles to the west with intense meditations, journaling, tears, and talks with my husband. I began to trust the truth of a message I’d texted when she was still able to communicate: 
“You are a fabulous woman:  
and will always be so, with or without a body.”
Photo used with permission,
Jim Hunter, Fairbanks, AK

Sacred Grieving

I began reading Grieving- the Sacred Art, Hope in the Land of Loss by Lisa Irish. Long believing death is not a medical event but a sacred one, I embraced the idea of sacred grief. Initially stunned by what Irish calls “a swirl of painful and overwhelming emotions,” I felt validated by her words, accepting that my moments of disorientation were sacramental emotions. Irish promised that if I did not identify grief as ‘the problem’ it would become ‘the solution’ and offer me hidden gifts. 

The first gift was an opportunity to vigil at my mother’s bedside. Though I was not new to this process, the intimate ministry of care for someone I adored was as riveting as it was taxing. ‘Profound’ remains one of the few useful words for this time.
Photo used with permission,
Jim Hunter, Fairbanks, AK

In the months since my mother’s death, I have received more of grief’s gifts: peace, wisdom, and gratitude. Glimpses of siblings’ grief have proven that we all walk personal paths through loss. My long held advocacy of the value of condolence notes, was affirmed. After I shared the news of my mother’s death--along with the narrative obituary I’d composed, the arrival of sympathy cards and supportive emails became an invaluable balm. I shared most of them with my family, thus multiplying their comforting impact. As the Condolence Coach, I reversed my rigid opposition to electronic condolence; for expediency and privacy, it has a place.

Sacred grieving deepened my spirituality. I celebrate my mother’s legacy of preferences and mannerisms. I believe her soul remains within reach through love. I find that memories should be curated-- as enduring or disposable. I strive to avoid regrets-- those shoulda, coulda, woulda’s-- which only sour the sweet gift of recollections.

Am I done grieving? Deadlines and calendar pages have no place in this sacred experience. I have--and will have--days of longing for my mother. 

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In 2014, I reblogged Elaine Stillwell's article, An Emergency Kit For a Bad Day . She stressed the importance of self-care, and the value of being prepared for the unexpected "black days" that can arise after a loss. My emergency kit also includes outdoor exercise, meditation moments, gratitude for a birdsong greeting, the surprise of a heart rock in the trail, and volunteering in my community. These are the stepping stones for my inner peace, one day at a time.

Thank you for caring!