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

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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No “White Christmas”

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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Throw Everything 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 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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