Someone Died! – Part 2

Posted on May 28, 2016 in Fresh Grief, General Grief


(Excerpt from book due to be published in late 2016)

What to do upon hearing of the death?

Someone has died. They were a friend, fellow worker, neighbor, someone from your community or place of worship. You knew the deceased or you didn’t know them at all, but you are close to one of their family members. The question is: how are you going to be present for the bereaved?

John Bowlby, the British psychologist and pioneer in the field of loss said, “The loss of a loved one is the most intensely painful experience any human can suffer, and not only is it painful to experience, but also painful to witness, if only because we’re so impotent to help.”

Death is not contagious nor is grief, but many of us can’t cope with being around death. In general we don’t practice feeling helpless—enough–to understand there is value in feeling impotent. That said each time you confront and overrule the desire to flee you build the emotional muscle necessary to accept what you can’t control or fix in your own life.

I often listen to grief support group members express their surprise, disappointment and  anger over how many of the friends they thought would be there for them, weren’t—and how people they didn’t expect to showed up, did, and continued to support them in their mourning.

With that in mind don’t be the friend who runs.

If you are honest, you know what to do, first

In your heart of hearts, you know what to do when a friend, extended family member or fellow employee has died—or one of their loved ones has passed away.

  • If you were close to the deceased or their survivor, you know to call them immediately and offer concrete help.
  • At the very least you know to find out the date, time and venue of the visitation, funeral or memorial service—and show up.
  • If 1 & 2 aren’t possible, you know to write a note to the bereaved explaining why you weren’t available.
  • And lastly, you know the worst thing you can do is nothing.

The bereaved and emotional shock

The mind cannot easily grasp that a person can be alive yesterday and dead today, even if there has been a prolonged illness.  Shock is common and it serves to prevent emotional flooding and overwhelm. As a result the bereaved usually remain functional and emotionally stable in the weeks following the death. This doesn’t mean they don’t need help. The number of calls and decisions that must be made immediately after a death is overwhelming.

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Someone Died!
What Do I Do? – Part 1

Posted on May 7, 2016 in General Grief


(Excerpt from book due to be published in late 2016)

As a child I said the following prayer with whoever was putting me to bed:

Now I lay me down to sleep,
I pray the Lord my soul to keep.
If I should die before I wake,
I pray the Lord my soul to take.

The prayer was followed by a kiss on my forehead. Having turned my body and soul over to God, my parent would turn out my bedroom light and leave the room.

The common prayer came into being when childhood mortality was high, and it was likely more for the parents’ peace of mind than the child’s. With the advent of penicillin death due to infection plummeted.

But we rural kids continued to witness the life cycle in various ways.

Crops were sown in spring, harvested in summer and mowed flat in the fall. In winter the dead fields lay fallow under snow and ice.

Livestock died.

People died from farm accidents, stubborn infection and disease.

And when someone died, everyone rallied to support the family.

Death was a community affair

Eunice from Burkhardt’s grocery had the only phone close to our house, and it was usually Eunice who would knock on our door to tell us someone died. Within hours our kitchen would fill with people preparing food to take to the family for the two evenings of visitation.

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Entering into a New Relationship after the Death of a Life Partner

Posted on Apr 15, 2016 in Spousal/Partner Loss

Partner Loss

This post was originally featured on the newsletter.

How many photos are too many?

One of the most charming questions I ever received in one of my second year spousal loss classes came from a middle-aged man named Sam. He said, “If I were to invite a woman over to dinner, how many framed pictures of my deceased wife would be too many?”

His question was a good one. Sam, like most people who have lost a mate, had increased the number of framed photos around his house so he could feel his late wife’s presence. I answered his question with one of my own: “If you went into a widow’s home, how many photos of her deceased spouse would it take for you to feel uncomfortable?” He laughed and said it was time to dismantle the shrine. He went on to say that he was going to invite a woman over to his home for dinner because he missed having a meaningful conversation with the opposite sex.

The void created by “not belonging to another”

Social connections are key to emotional health. They remind us of our value. Research supports that those of us who are socially connected are healthier, have fewer stress-related problems, and recover from trauma and illness faster. Yet many widows and widowers are reticent to seek a new partner because the quality of the relationship – long term- is uncertain. Occasionally, a class member is brave enough to express his or her apprehension by saying, “What happens if I remarry and find I’m unhappier than I am living alone?” It’s a good question and a valid concern.

However, I recently sent a questionnaire to 90 widows and widowers I have worked with over the years. Of the 60 percent who responded, more than half are happily remarried or in a committed relationship. Many reported that their current relationship was more loving and rewarding than the one they had with their deceased mate.

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A Mother Says Hello to Her Stillborn Son

Posted on Mar 13, 2016 in Child Loss, Fresh Grief, General Grief

Hello Stillborn

I did not read the 2011 Salon article “My Stillborn’s Life After Death” until recently. Initially I wondered if the author, Elizabeth Heineman, had written a macabre spoof on the funeral industry.

She hadn’t.

It is a true story about a “straight-talking-why-not” funeral director who went off-script and made a difference in this young couple’s experience of burying their infant son, Thor. It is a sweet and redeeming story.

To the chaplains reading this blog post: you not only work with couples who enter the hospital with a dream and leave with a nightmare, you also work within a network of support providers who might be better at what they do, if they read this.

So pass this excerpt on. OK?


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Two Sides of the Mess of Grieving

Posted on Feb 20, 2016 in Fresh Grief, General Grief

A new book, Grief is a Mess, is a short illustrated book for those

  • who don’t know much about grief even if they think they do; and those
  • who are in the middle of learning more about it than they ever wanted to know.

The book is particularly valuable considering what I have gleaned from my clients after years of grief counseling. Allow me to explain.


I am good at offering condolences when your 95 year old parent dies, but when a young parent, spouse, sibling or child dies, I often head for the sidelines—after I write a note of condolence, attend the service and drop off some food.

Why do I do this?

The truth: “I forget to remember you because I don’t know what to do with you!”

Actually I don’t forget or when I see you I wouldn’t hide behind a rack of clothes in Macy’s, move to another grocery aisle at Whole Foods, or pretend I don’t see you when in a crowd. “You have to understand, I just can’t say ‘I haven’t called or emailed because I don’t know what to do with you.’”

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Silent Suffering

Posted on Jan 30, 2016 in Suicide, Uncategorized


The Ohio Columbus Dispatch spent nine months examining the suicide crisis that has arisen in part by a broken mental healthcare system.  I was unaware that the incidence of every disease has declined in this country except for mental illness.

Suicide claims more people age 15-24 than you realize. 

The newspaper’s fifteen-minute video invites us to pay attention to the subject of depression.  We don’t want to hear about it—but we need to.

In a recent five-minute radio spot on NPR’s Here and Now program, Dr. Lisa Dixon, Professor of Psychiatry and Center for Innovations at Columbia University Medical Center, says there are more than 2 million schizophrenics in the US.  Her program (OnTrack NY) is showing success where others are failing. What is she doing differently? One thing: Her program allows the individual to take an active part in mapping out their medical/counseling protocol rather than simply being handed a prescription.

Mental illness seems to be a priority only when it affects our own family

But mental illness IS affecting your family. Young people aren’t just killing themselves—they are killing innocent people like you—as well. Maybe this fact, and the plain ol’ fear that comes with it, will drive funding for mental illness to match that of other diseases.

What can you do to help?

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10 Seconds of Silence for Those Who Loved You into Being

Posted on Jan 16, 2016 in Holidays, Uncategorized

It is January 2016.


Another year begins.


The world didn’t end on Jan 1, 2000 as many predicted.


That was 15 years ago and we now face a level of real risk few would ever have anticipated on Jan 1, 2000. Today our world is more complicated, the problems more convoluted. 

So how does one feel good about the new year? I suggest you click on the 1997 video below and hear Fred Rogers ask for 10 seconds of silence to honor those who loved you into being.

If you remember Fred Rogers, the people you honor have likely died. They may not have been your parents. But for most of us there was a person, maybe even a neighbor, who loved us into a being capable of acting on behalf of the greater good this coming year.

YouTube Video Link:


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