Sunday, April 12, 2020

Journaling through Grief Writing Prompt: Easter

A true reminder of what Easter means.
"...Behold, I make all things new." ~Revelations 21:4-5

Focus for Today: Easter is a time of renewal and new life. Days are longer, air is fresher, and the earth is once again coming to life. What a wonderful time to plant a memory garden! Select a special area in the yard and dedicate it to your loved one. (If you live in an apartment, use a planter box.) Plant your loved one's favorite flowers, vegetables, or herbs. Nurture it and watch how it grows. Don't be surprised to see how much it nurtures you in turn! Focus today on God's wonderful creations.

Friday, April 10, 2020

With Easter in Mind

When we grieve, we grow in understanding and appreciation from the deep experience of the mystery of God’s action in us. The certainty of our loss lies beyond normal comprehension. Therefore, we must expect our healing and acceptance to be in conflict with the suppression of our tragic reality, but this very deep experience will continue to allow us to grow in the breadth and depth of our faith. The grieving process is a time of recollection and memories and becomes a perfect setting for a period of spiritual renewal. It allows us the time to rediscover the great gifts of God’s work by focusing on the meaning of life as it relates to our purpose on earth. If we really believe in the death and resurrection of Christ, then we should find joy in our suffering.

Each of us can relate to this Easter season as it illustrates an aspect of passage from death to life with Christ. Our experience of loss makes it easier for us to understand the specific aspect of Christ’s triumph over death, it means that we too will rise. There is a need for a continuing awareness of our loss. This awareness definitely helps so the quiet moments of our grief are not lost. This awareness teaches us to prepare our hearts to give to Christ.

After Christ’s death, we recall his two disciples on a walk from Jerusalem to Emmaus for a spiritual interpretation of the risen Christ. So too, after we lose a loved one, our spiritual journey should begin, expressing the profound pain of our loss but concluding with a note of confidence in God. Christ’s death and also the death of our loved one reveals the marvelous capacity for insight into our faith. Our faith is based on Easter. The love of our separated spouse, child or parent is more visible now than ever before in our life. Our faith urges us to show understanding of our loss for while we have sorrow now, our loved one will rejoice in heaven.
With Easter in Mind was penned by Thomas Kelly for 
Catholic Cemeteries, Spring 2006.

Friday, April 3, 2020

How to Talk to Children About the Coronavirus Pandemic

This article appears in our Spring, 2020 New Horizons newsletter. 
As the coronavirus spreads across North America and our daily lives are transformed, we all must be aware of the need for good mental-health care. Obviously, it's a stressful time. Families are confined to their homes. School is canceled. Many businesses are closed. Workers are being laid off en masse, causing financial distress. And then there is the illness itself, COVID-19. Will we or someone we love become critically ill or even die? We are all naturally worried about the "what ifs" and "what nexts."

The youngest among us are not immune to all of this stress. They sense it in the adults around them, and they see it on social media and other sources of information. Their own day-to-day routines have been completely disrupted.

When it comes to painful, complex realities, it can be difficult to know how much we should share with children. Many people have an instinct to protect kids. But as someone who has worked with and advocated for grieving children for many decades, I've learned that what they really need is honesty combined with steadfast care.

Here are a few foundational dos and don'ts.

Follow the child's lead.
Pay attention to what the child seems curious or worried about. For younger children, these concerns may manifest through their play rather than directly. You don't need to volunteer a lot of information. Instead, invite them to ask questions. And try saying just a little at a time. Children are often satisfied with short answers and small "doses" of information. When they want to know more, they'll let you know, especially if you are someone who is always straight with them.

Talk openly and honestly to children about what is happening.
It's important to be honest with children about difficult circumstances. In fact, I often say that children can cope with what they know, but they can't cope with what they don't know. Be factual. Talk to them about social distancing and that it's necessary to keep people safe. Explain to them that it's mostly elderly people who are at risk of getting really sick or dying. If finances are an issue, it's good to talk to them about that oo. If someone in your family has been affected by the virus, keep the child updated. And if your family finances are being stressed, as they are for so many people right now, try not to overburden your children with this challenge. It's OK to let them know about the need to curtail unnecessary spending, for example, but also keep in mind that financial issues are grown-up issues. We must be careful not to make children over-worry about this or feel responsible. 

Use developmentally appropriate language.
Use simple, concrete language when you talk to children about the pandemic. It's OK to use the words "coronavirus" and "pandemic," because children are hearing those terms, but you will need to explain them in ways they will understand.

Share your feelings.
As I said, we are all naturally worried about and disoriented over the pandemic. Circumstances are changing rapidly from day to day, and the future is unknown. Children who spend time with you will pick up on your anxiety, so it's essential to tell them what you're worried about. If you don't they are likely to imagine even worse scenarios-or think that they are somehow to blame or at risk. And it's also important that you practice good self-care to manage ay severe anxiety you yourself may be having. If your anxiety levels are too high, theirs will be, too.

Understand magical thinking.
Young children are susceptible to what's called "magical thinking." They may believe that their thoughts and behaviors can cause bad things to happen. If they didn't want to talk to Grandma the last time they saw her, for example, and she gets sick, they may secretly believe they caused or contributed to her sickness. So be attuned to any feelings of guilt or shame the children in your care may be hiding, and explain clearly to them that none of this is their fault.

Be patient, kind, and reassuring.
Most of all what children need is reassurance that they are being cared for and that their family and others they care about are safe.

Routines help children feel safe, so if their daily routine has been turned upside-down, it's important to create a new routine. Even if you're stuck at home, you can still have breakfast together at a certain time and follow a daily schedule. Keeping evening rituals consistent is also essential. And while all of this is going on, try extra hard to be patient and kind. I know it's extremely challenging to manage children patiently when school and activities are not there to help share the "it takes a village" burden, but keep in mind that your children will likely have strong memories of this strange interlude in their lives, as will you. You just need to be caring, consistent and honest.

It's also important to emphasize to children that lots and lots of grown-up doctors, scientists, and government workers across the world are working to solve the problem. It is our responsibility, not children's. We are working hard on treatments and vaccines as well as ways to help families who need help. We will get through this.

And I hope you will take advantage of any extra time you have during the quarantine to use for cuddles, hugs, and play. Physical closeness and care go a long way in helping children feel safe and loved.
How to Talk to Children About the Coronavirus Pandemic was penned by
Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. for Center for Loss 
and appeared on their website March 19, 2020. 

Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Putting it into Words

The value of journaling in the grieving process
One of Linda Cherek's ideas on how to use journaling as part
of the grieving process is to create a special place to write.
Photo courtesy of, a royality-free photo site.

On July 24, 1999, my dad died following an accidental fall that resulted in traumatic brain injury. He was 86 years old, with penetrating blue eyes, a handshake that scared any potential boyfriend, and a gentle and caring heart.

My mother, siblings and I sat at his bedside as he began the journey into life eternal. The moments of his last breath can best be described in the words of a dear friend on the death of her husband: "It was as delicate as the flutter of the wings of a butterfly."

While his death was peaceful, it felt sudden, harsh and unexpected. He had been part of my life for nearly 50 years. Questions ran through my mind. How could I acknowledge the influence he had on my life? What would it be like for my mother to be alone after 62 years of marriage? Why him, why now, why my dad?

I asked myself many of the same questions when our daughter, Kristen, died six years ago at the age of 19. How much of my experience of loss from Kristen's death would resurface?

I felt exhausted, empty and numb from nine days of anticipating and waiting for Dad's last breath. I knew it was normal for grieving people to feel helpless and out of control. These feeling were all too familiar.

So I turned to journaling, as I had after Kristen's death. Writing on a regular basis, using words to express feelings, gives us time for reflection. It provides a clear picture of time, helping to document the past where my grief and loss began, the present where the perception of loss associated with my dad's death was currently, and the future, where I wanted to be physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually in the next month, year, two years, etc. Journaling helped me acknowledge my feelings, hopes and dreams and lead me on the journey toward healing. Journaling helped my personal history unfold once again.

"Journaling is a way to recognize and name our losses-                                                          to get on paper what is within our heart, mind and soul." 

Often, we have grief and loss issues that have never been acknowledged, expressed or understood as such-moving away from our childhood home, leaving a best friend, divorce, changing schools, graduation, loss of a job or retirement. Often death will be a trigger event, and these older losses will resurface. Through writing, we can express our ideas and feelings about the death and these other losses in our lives, and look inward to identify and consider our strengths, areas for growth and coping mechanisms.

Journaling is a way to recognize and name our losses-to get on paper what is within our heart, mind and soul. It is writing down what it is like to be us, right now-what we feel and think about this death and its impact on our life. Journaling allows us to explore who we are now and where we want to go in the future. It is a respectful and nonjudgemental way to test the waters of change, feelings, disappointments, longing, wishes and hopes.

Writing out our losses is a method of therapy. The word "therapy" comes from the Greek work therapei, which means attention of the kind one gives the sacred. The way our life was connected with that of our loved one is a sacred story of the unique journey we walked. Keeping a journal is one valuable way to honor that journey.

Getting Started

Linda Cherek offers the following ideas on how to use journaling as part of the grieving process.
  • Find writing materials that appeal to you-a bound book, a spiral notebook, or loose sheets.
  • Create a special place to write. Make it comfortable and inviting.
  • Set aside a time to write. Julia Cameron in The Artist's Way suggests getting up a half hour earlier each day (while your brain is still free from the cares of the day ahead) and write three pages-whatever comes into your head.
  • Don't worry about punctuation, spelling or grammar. If you can't think of anything to write, just write, "I can't think of anything to write" over and over. Often, your inner most feelings will emerge. Your journal listens without judgement. 
  • Consider some questions to focus your writing. Are there unresolved problems or questions about your relationship with the loved one who died? What has the experience of their death been like for you? What am I going to do without their physical presence? What do I want to remember? What have I learned about myself?
  • Consider writing a letter to your loved one-what has it been like since their death, or what you want your life to be like in the years ahead.
Funeral Home Note: Please join us next Wednesday when Certified Funeral Director Apprentice and Office Manager, Victoria Shea, holds her first Facebook Live discussion on Journaling Through Grief. Additional details regarding her discussion can be found on the Funeral Home's Facebook page. 
Putting it into words: The value of journaling in the grieving process was penned by Linda Cherek, R.N., CCm, MSW, LCSW and appeared in Blessed Are They Who Mourn, a Publication of Catholic Cemeteries Bereavement Ministry for the Diocese of Cleveland. It appeared in their January 2000 newsletter. 

Wednesday, March 25, 2020

Journaling Through Grief

Let the words flow through the pen.
Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash-found via a Google Search
The grieving process fills us with many different feelings. They dash in and out, some linger for a time, some grip us tightly and some become a part of us. As we grieve, we carry them around with us and often we are overwhelmed. We wonder, "What do I do with these feelings?" We may wish that we could find someone to share each feeling wit us, as well as each story and memory. However, this solution is not always possible.

One of the ways we can identify and express our feelings is through creating and using a personal journal. The purpose of journal writing is to afford ourselves the time to attend to our grief by expressing the feelings we so often keep inside. Our journal may house our innermost thoughts and provide a health release from these emotions. It provides a safe place to express ourselves. It acts as a reflector of what we are experiencing and can give us the stimulation and support which many of us seek from other people.

"While our inner world is chaotic, journaling helps to add structure to our outer world by assisting us in clarifying our thoughts and feelings."

Writing is an effective way of identifying our feelings while sharing them with a "fully accepted friend." This allows us to release our powerful emotions. We can use it as our companion on the long journey of grief, bringing to it our own unique feelings and experiences. While our inner world is chaotic, journaling helps to add structure to our outer world by assisting us in clarifying our thoughts and feelings. 

You may choose to make your own journal or purchasing one at most bookstores. There are also several geared specifically for the grieving person and offer daily guides to journaling. When journaling, you may simply jot down feelings, or you may wish to write a narrative. Some have found it helpful to write daily letters to their loved one or to their God or Higher Power. In addition to your feelings, you may want to include drawings of your own or illustrations from magazines and articles. Helpful or inspirational quotations you hear or read may also be incorporated into your journal.

Over time, you may find that journaling has been very therapeutic in helping you move through your grieving process. Remember, it is your unique journal. You bring to it who you are.

Journaling Through Grief was penned by Tensie Holland, LSW, CT and appeared in the Spring, 2019 newsletter "About Grief" A Publication of Hospice of the Western Reserve. 

Friday, January 17, 2020

The Grieving Person's Bill of Rights

Griever's Bill of Rights Poster-created by Brittany Bilyeu of
It is important to remember that each and everyone grieves the loss of a loved one in their own way and time. Grief is not something that has a time schedule or a time frame. 

And that's okay.  

Today, we wanted to share with all of you Dr. Alan Wolfelt's Grieving Person's Bill of Rights, as a way to help those who grieve to know what their rights are. But also, so that other family members and friends of someone who is grieving, can understand as well. 

1 You have the right to experience your own unique grief. 
No one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, do not allow them to tell you what you should or should not be feeling. 

2. You have the right to talk about your grief.
Talking about your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about your grief.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.
Confusion, disorientation, fear, guilt and relief are just a few of the emotions you might feel as part of your grief journey. Others may try to tell you that feeling angry, for example, is wrong. Don't take these judgemental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without conditions. 

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits. 
Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don't allow others to push you into doing things you don't feel ready to do. 

5. You have the right to experience grief "attacks." 
Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening but is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out. 

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.
The funeral ritual does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It helps provide you with the support of caring people. More importantly, the funeral is a way for you to mourn. If others tell you that rituals such as these are silly or unnecessary, don't listen. 

7. You have the right to search for meaning.
You may find yourself asking, "Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?" Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for cliched responses. Comments like, "It was God's will" or "Think of what you have to be thankful for" are not helpful and you do not have to accept them.

8. You have the right to treasure your memories. 
Memories are one of the best legacies you can have after the death of someone loved. Instead of ignoring your memories, find others with whom you can share them.

9. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.
Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient and tolerant with yourself and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. Neither you nor those around you must forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.  

Friday, January 10, 2020

Anger as a Part of Grief

In memory of Pierre Gareau
~By Fran├žois Milhomme
When we normally think of grief, we readily associate it with feelings of sadness, loneliness, even feelings of guilt.

Yet grief involved many reactions: thoughts, behaviors, physical reactions as well as feelings. And anger is one of those feelings. We may be angry with everyone who comes close. Anita was like that. When her husband died, she found she was angry with everyone-her children for calling too much or not enough, her friends for perceived slights, almost anyone who, as she said it, moved into her sight. 

Others may focus that anger, directing it to one person, or a small group of people. 

Fred, for example, was angry at his sisters-in-law. When his wife lay dying, they would still sneak her cigarettes. Lori was furious at her son's doctors, convinced that earlier diagnosis or more effective treatments might have saved her son's life. 

And, though it may be hard to admit it, we may even be angry with the person who died. Fred realized that. Though he called his wife a saint, he hated the fact that she continued to smoke, long after earlier scares and dire warnings. He knew deep down that he held some anger towards her.

Sometimes the anger is cosmic. We are angry with God for what has happened. 

"...The problem with anger is not that it is not natural but that it may interfere with support just when we need it most..."
Often times anger turns inward. We become angry with ourselves-blaming ourselves for our actions, for the loss. That anger becomes expressed as guilt. 

In fact, anger can come out in many ways. We may be sullen and withdrawn or snap at others around us. We may focus the anger at one person, a few individuals, or sometimes with just about everyone we meet. Karen, for example, would become furious with anyone who simply wished her a good day - complaining of the insensitivity and failure to acknowledge her loss and her pain. 

The problem with anger, even though it is a natural reaction, is that it may interfere with support just when we need it most. Our anger may drive others away. Unwilling to face our fury, they avoid us. And this fuels the anger, creating a dangerous destructive cycle where we become increasingly isolated. 

The first step is dealing with anger is that we need to analyze it. What are we really angry at? Is our anger appropriate to what actually occurred? How did we handle that anger? How is it affecting our health and relationships? Are there more appropriate ways to express that anger?

One key to dealing with anger is understanding that it is a normal reaction, exploring the sources of anger, and then finding appropriate ways to channel that anger so that it does not negatively affect our own health or relationships. In some cases, anger can be channelled into worthwhile legal or social action. For example, persons who have had loved ones die due to drunk driving may channel their anger into groups such as Mothers Against Drunk Driving. Others use their spirituality or other activities as ways to deal with anger. Each of us needs to find our own way.

One client shared with me that after her child died, she would have "moments of sheer fury." She learned over time to go outside and shout at the sky. "I guess people passing and neighbors thought I was crazy. But the sky seemed to take my fury a lot better than my husband and kids." 

Anger as a Part of Grief was penned by Kenneth J. Doka for the June 2002 issue of Journeys: A Newsletter to Help in Bereavement for the Hospice Foundation of America.