Are You Mad as Hell or Just Sulking?

Posted on Jun 22, 2016 in General Grief, Uncategorized


We have just experienced the largest mass shooting in the history of this country and are now exploring the back story of how the assassin came to be mentally unbalanced enough to commit a mass murder.

We crave the back story to make sense of it.

But everyone has a back story. And the back story of a mass murderer is always one of psychological imbalance.

OK, we need to focus on mental health, but we can’t ever control for violence if a person is willing to die to kill. What we can control is the type of weapon the mass murderer uses and how many are killed.

This isn’t rocket science, but every clarion call leads to Congress shooting down a ban on assault weapons.

Is Congress filled with cowards?

The back story of a typical congressional member is his/her need to raise incredible sums of money to get reelected. The NRA provides campaign funding. As a result many in Congress put their job security ahead of their constituent’s lives. To narrow it down a bit more: many in Congress sacrifice our lives for their livelihoods. To drill down even deeper: as a body, the US Congress arms criminals, terrorists and the mentally ill with assault weapons.

OK, we need to focus on election reform, but we can’t control for the intoxicating lure of special interest money. What we can control is who stays in Congress and who doesn’t.

This isn’t rocket science, but every clarion call to remove members who stand in the way of gun control dies because of voter apathy.

Who holds the real power over Congress?


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Help! Someone Died! – What To Say?

Posted on Jun 11, 2016 in Fresh Grief, General Grief


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

Here are some suggested “Do’s” and “Don’ts” for speaking to, and being around, the bereaved family.  Don’t be overwhelmed by the length of the list and don’t let what you read paralyze you to the point of being speechless. My goal is arm you with a bit of knowledge so you feel more comfortable.

Hopefully you will accept that

  • words can’t comfort the bereaved, but your presence can;
  • the less said, the better; and
  • saying something wrong is better than saying nothing at all.

List of comments that will be appreciated.

  • “I am so sorry for your loss.” (This can precede and follow most of the following.)
  • “I wish I had the right words, but I don’t. Just know that I care.”
  • “I don’t know what to say. I wish I had the right words to comfort you.”
  • “You and your loved ones (family) are in my thoughts and prayers.
  • “Your (parent, sibling, child) was always so nice to me. One of my favorite memories is …”
  • “She/he will be missed by so many people.”
  • “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”
  • “I can’t imagine how tough this must be for you.”
  • “We all need help at times. I will call next week to find out how I can help you.”
  • “You can count on me in the coming months.”
  • “I’m your friend—and I’m here for you.”

Follow any of the above with “I care about you.” You matter to me,” or  “I love you” when it is appropriate.

A list of comments best left unsaid

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Help! Someone Died! 2

Posted on Jun 4, 2016 in Fresh Grief, General Grief


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

What to do upon hearing of a death? (continued)

Our last blog post was too long for a quick read so we split it up. Here is the second installment.  If you haven’t read the first installment  of What to do upon hearing of a death? or want to refresh your memory,  click here.

What food is best to take to the bereaved family immediately following a death?

There are likely to be a lot of people visiting  and/or staying with the bereaved immediately after a family death, and people have to eat!

Often the family ends up with too many casseroles and not enough staples. Keep in mind that practical and tasty is often better than a gourmet spread. It is also a good idea to include freezer wrap or a freezer container for cooked food so it can be easily frozen and brought out a few days later.   If you are using your own kitchen/dinnerware, be sure to put your name on the bottom.

The following is a variety of suggestions.  Remember you are trying to help, not impress.

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Help! Someone Died!

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?

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

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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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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