Bing Crosby may not sing “White Christmas” this year, but you will get through it

Posted on Dec 12, 2015 in General Grief, Holidays

Bing Crosby

There is a beginning, middle and an end to every day. And that includes Christmas.

Christmas day is one of those days of the year when many of us don’t care what we do as long as we are not alone. The day has that much power. Whether we are religious or secular “Joy to the World” is the theme of the season. And we often feel we have failed others or ourselves if we don’t feel the joy.

That said the consumer market does nothing to help keep our expectations in check.

Christmas commercials of happy actors with beautiful faces and bodies, beautiful white teeth and beautiful smiles run through dry white snow, shop, gaze into each others’ eyes – or sit around a white clothed table overflowing with food… and they are happy!

But let’s be realistic. These people are acting to sell you something!

Reality: the not uncommon grin-and-bear-it holiday

Yes, some families share a pleasant holiday year after year after year. And they are blessed.

Then there are those who pile together year after year after year for a “grin-and-bear” Christmas. By this I mean they gather and pretend there is no other place they would rather be—while counting the hours until they can hug and say goodbye.

A client of mine recently emailed me to say that “the person who dreamed up ‘this is the most wonderful time of the year’ should be punched!”

Bottom line I beg you to consider that I am being honest rather than cynical. Things can go right and things can go wrong, and in certain families holidays are consistently tedious.

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What to do for the Holidays: Throw Everything You Own onto the Floor

Posted on Dec 1, 2015 in General Grief, Holidays


Holidays are often difficult, but they can be unbearable when you are coping with the absence of a loved one. You have likely been told (or read) that it is healthy to start a few new holiday traditions of your own as you rebuild your life after loss.

That said you may think I am stretching the idea with what I am about to propose—but don’t automatically dismiss what will take your mind away from the worst of it and help you face the coming new year.

Tackle a hard-to-face job by making it part of a larger one

I doubt that sorting your deceased loved one’s belongings is on your holiday to-do list.  But if you are 9-12 months post-loss, I suggest you roll the small but difficult task into a larger project. So what is the larger project? Declutter your entire home.

Don’t stop reading yet. The December project I am proposing will

  • help you shift your focus away from the holidays;
  • provide those less fortunate with holiday gifts (Goodwill, etc); and
  • move you into the grey weather of January/February feeling lighter and more organized.

Author and grief counselor Francis Weller says “to work thru grief you must engage it, sit with it, and mull it over.” Unfortunately you know this all too well. So why not engage, sit with and mull over what your house or apartment holds as part of your overall process.

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Talking to your Children & Grandchildren about the Paris Attacks

Posted on Nov 22, 2015 in General Grief, Uncategorized


Children often hold vs. share their thoughts and feelings. So adults shouldn’t assume their children aren’t thinking about Paris because they’re not talking about it.

It is critical to set aside family time after any tragedy. The more time together, the greater chance of having a meaningful conversation.

Psychologist Paul Coleman and author of Finding Peace When Your Heart Is in Pieces, was interviewed often this week about how to talk with children about the Paris tragedy. He says it is naive to expect a blanket statement such as “Don’t worry – nothing to will ever happen to you” to be helpful.

What is possible vs. what is probable
Psychologist Michael Yapko agrees with Coleman about how best to confront anxiety over future uncertainty: consider the difference between what is possible and what is probable.

How do you explain this concept to a young child?

You might say, “It is possible something like Paris could happen but it isn’t likely.” Nothing has happened in our community like this before, and it isn’t likely that it ever will. But if there is an emergency this is what you should do.”

Continue from there to give them a plan: who should they listen to; who do they call if they have a phone, etc. Creating a plan is engaging and will give them a sense of power.

What I have suggested above is only part of longer conversations that need to take place.

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Memory Bears

Posted on Nov 14, 2015 in General Grief, Holidays


A meaningful holiday gift for your family members

Many years ago I saw a picture of a calico memory bear in a magazine and thought it was a wonderful way to turn the clothing of deceased loved one into a cherished keepsake.

I was facilitating a lot of support groups at the time so I presented the idea at a spousal loss group: I would find someone to sew if they brought in the fabrics. The next week group members brought in bags of their husbands’ and wives’ clothing. With the Simplicity Pattern in hand, I met the woman who’d agreed to sew for us—and a few weeks later she called to say the bears were ready.

Tears came into my eyes as I walked into her workroom and saw the long line of tall patterned button-eyed black nosed bears sitting on the work counter. The seamstress was crying as well, saying she had gotten to know each person as she put their bear together. She also said that even though all of the clothing had been washed, the scent of the person who had worn the clothes remained.

Needless to say our next support group meeting was an emotional one. No one was prepared for how beautiful the bears were—or how special.

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Inspiration from the Zen Hospice Project

Posted on Oct 24, 2015 in Caregiving, Facing One's Own Death, General Grief



One of the straight men who cared for dying gay men

Frank Ostaseski founded the San Francisco Zen Hospice Project in 1987 during the AIDS Crisis. It was a time when much of the medical community was afraid of its patients, and families disowned their sons and brothers. Thankfully Frank was one of the straight men who created space and cared for the dying gay men.

Years later I was happy to see that Ostaseski was the keynote speaker for a Santa Clara University conference I was attending. Even though his appearance was the first since suffering a serious heart attack, his presence was strong and solid. When he finished I wanted to hear more, and registered for his annual Cultivating Presence retreat in Marin County, California. The week was a mix of workshop and silent retreat. On the last day Frank, a practicing Buddhist, introduced his Five Precepts for living, caring and healing. I think you will enjoy reading them.

Ostaseski’s Five Precepts

Part of you is here and part of you might have drifted away to the middle of nowhere… where there is no time… and there is no place… in the middle of nowhere. Nowhere is such a fine place to be because nowhere else can be so free. Later you may have to be somewhere, sometime, but not now. Now nowhere is fine.

This is a place you can visit often if you like. It is a place of healing.  Healing is different than curing. Healing comes from within—out.

And as you move forward there are five things you can do to keep the cycle of healing going.

  1. Accept everything and push away nothing.
    In welcoming everything you don’t have to like what’s arising. It’s actually not your job to approve or disapprove. It’s your task to trust, to listen, and to pay attention to your changing experience. When you do this at the deepest level, you are cultivating a kind of fearlessness. Since you are always entering new territory with no idea of how your journey will turn out, why not open to the mystery. And risk and forgive—constantly.
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A grandmother asks her grandson to make her casket

Posted on Sep 21, 2015 in General Grief

An Undertaking from Dark Rye on Vimeo.

This is a lovely intimate video: a young man talks about who his grandmother is and what she has meant to him – while he makes her casket. “The doing of it was all about our relationship. I am kind of a creation of her through my mother, and this casket is a creation of mine. I want to be a worthy diplomatic of her DNA.”

“What was a theoretical need is getting now… a lot more real.” Michael Yates

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Lord, Allow Harper Lee to Die in Peace

Posted on Aug 12, 2015 in General Grief

Photo: TCM Film Article

Photo: TCM Film Article

There are two ways to be fooled. One is to believe what isn’t true; the other is to refuse to believe what is true.Søren Kierkegaard

The debate over Harper Lee’s recently published Go Set a Watchman novel continues. HarperCollins reports it is the fastest selling book in their company’s history, yet one bookstore has said it will accept refunds from buyer’s who agree the unedited manuscript should never have been published.

For those who are not informed because they had better things to do: Quick Synopsis of Mockingbird and Watchman

If you haven’t followed the literary debate, Harper Lee is the author of the classic To Kill a Mockingbird, published in 1960. The book later became an award-winning movie starring Gregory Peck as Atticus, a rural Southern lawyer who defends a black man against unjust charges of rape.

Atticus’s daughter, Scout, is nine years old in Mockingbird, and lives through vicious attacks on the family because of her father’s decision to defend the black man. Watchman opens with a 26 year old Scout taking a train south to visit Atticus, now 72 years old. Much to her surprise, Scout soon learns her father has always been a bigot. The revelation shatters her image of her father and the book moves on from there.

The loss of respect for Harper Lee and her wishes

The first level of debate over the 60 year old manuscript started in February of this year. Was it an unedited first draft or a sequel to To Kill a Mockingbird? And why did Harper Lee give permission for it to be published? None of the questions are likely to be resolved by Harper Lee.

Lee is an 89 years old woman who has suffered a stroke and is blind and deaf. She lives in assisted living. And when healthy she never wavered: she refused to publish another book! Those who know Lee doubt she is even aware of the press release written over her signature. Newsweek’s headline was “Friends Say Harper Lee Was Manipulated.”

Suffice to say “follow the money” and you will find out just how Go Set a Watchman came to your local bookstore.

(This betrayal reminds me of a similar circumstance: Mother Teresa’s wrote about the absence of any sense of God in the final 50 years of her life. The letters were understood to be confidential, and she requested they be destroyed. The Catholic Church ignored her wishes and decided the letters belonged to them, and not Mother Teresa – thus the book Mother Teresa: Come Be My Light: the Private Writings of the Saint of Calcutta was published.)

Will the real Atticus please stand up!

If the debate had not shifted to whether Atticus was really the Mockingbird hero or the Watchman bigot, I would not have one day blurted out “Why can’t Atticus be a hero and a bigot?”

Within minutes memories of my family’s relationship with race surfaced.

The only living creatures of color in my hometown were the crows

No Blacks lived in my hometown.

My family said a black family moved into town one afternoon, and a group of men visited after sundown urging them to leave by morning. And they did. I wouldn’t surprise me if money changed hands. Bryan was a wonderful white utopia that somehow managed to accept one Hispanic family. But the upshot was we were white and we were going to stay white.

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