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 OpentoHope.com 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:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Upm9LnuCBUM


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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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