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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Spousal Loss, the 2nd Year:
Same Sky, Different Vista

Posted on Jul 12, 2015 in General Grief, Spousal/Partner Loss


For behind all things lies something vaster; everything is but a path, a portal, or a window opening on something more than itself.Antoine de Saint-Exupery, Wind, Sand, and Stars

Shifting from “what was” to “what will be”

Stroebe and Schut define grieving as a process of “oscillating between stepping back into yearning for the past, and stepping forward to construct a future.” Dominique Browning refers to this as a time of alternating between “holding on and hiding, and holding on and seeking.”

In any case, it involves a kind of rocking movement, similar to how you would free your car when one of your tires sinks deep into mud or snow. As you shift gears from reverse into forward, rocking back and forth, back and forth, back and forth, you finally gain traction and are out of the hole—only to realize you that you have little idea of where you are going. However, the lack of a destination is often less uncomfortable than the fear that you are leaving your loved one behind.

Who are you to become

A woman in class once commented, “There was a time when I couldn’t imagine feeling alive again, and now I freak out when I realize I haven’t thought of my partner for a couple of days.” This response is not unusual; some people say they prefer the pain of grief over the uneasiness and apprehension that comes from starting over.

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Sibling Loss:
My Cherished Sister Donna

Posted on Jun 24, 2015 in Sibling Loss

Sibling Loss - Sisters

“Grief is the most available untapped emotional resource for personal transformation”

Guest contributor: Lyn Prashant, PhD FT

My beloved sister Donna was a gentle, loving, caring soul. She was my trusted confidant, my witness, my cheerleader, and my best friend. She died September 6, 2002, at age 49.

Donna was born three-and-a-half years after me, and from that time on she was there for me, and I for her. We were giddy and vulnerable with each other. I remember walking down the street with her, holding her hand, thinking about how lucky I was to have her as my very own sister. Our commitment and sense of knowing one another was astounding. A glance into her eyes affirmed: “She was both my sister and my best friend.”

When Donna was 36, she received the diagnosis of breast cancer. I had already lost my young husband to cancer, so the words sent shock waves through me again. Since the death of my husband, Mark, in 1984, I had embarked on a path of healing that involved “making peace with my own grief.” Stephen Levine, author of Who Dies? states, “we can be available to others in their grief to the extent that we know our own.”  This was certainly a stunning way for me to assess how well I had transformed my grief over the loss of my husband.

“Be Responsible TO me… NOT for me.”

I remember feelings of disbelief at the sound and meaning of the doctor’s words, the physical sensation of numbness and my inability to think clearly. Later, when we went to have lunch, Donna looked into my eyes and asked: “Lyn, as my older sister, can you be my advocate? Please understand, I do not need you to be in charge of me. I need you to hear me and give me feedback.”

She then added, “What I really need is for you to be responsible TO me…NOT for me.”

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