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Have the Talk of a Lifetime

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Creating a Life After Loss

I spent many hours in my mother’s empty house the winter after she died. Several times a week my husband David would offer to watch the children for the afternoon, hand me a travel mug of hot tea, and wave me out the door. Ten minutes later, I’d be walking through the rooms somewhat aimlessly, poking into boxes of her possessions and immersing myself in the enigma of a woman who’d spent her life creating beauty through her paintings, woodcarvings, quilts and wall hangings. I grieved openly in the unaccustomed silence, my shoulders shaking with sobs, tears freely flowing down my cheeks. Catharsis complete, I’d wipe my eyes, sit down at her table, and begin to write.

The Ultimate Gift

I never imagined on that day in January when I felt lethargic and had a purplish hue to my feet that the emergency room doctor would utter the most terrifying words, “You have congestive heart failure.” There was no way that could be true. I had always been healthy – non-smoker, moderate alcohol consumption, physical fitness nut, proper diet. But there I was, at age 53, taking my first ambulance ride and it was to a heart hospital.

Five Questions to Consider on Your Grief Healing Journey

In the presence of grief, it is common to feel as if whatever came before our new experience of loss holds no place or value in the now. But it is during the grieving process that tapping into our inner wisdom and what we already know is most needed. That is why I explore these five questions with grief support clients at the beginning of our work together.

In recent decades, as we have become increasingly disconnected from nature, scientists have been studying how our bodies and minds respond when we return to nature. Their findings can help us better understand the many ways in which we can use nature to help us cope with stress in the short-term and live more balanced lives in the longer-term.  You might be surprised at the powerful, myriad benefits nature offers us.

Remembering A Life recently sat down with Barry Koch and Jason Zamer, founders of TGBeyond, to talk about the role virtual memorials have played during the past year when traditional gatherings have been limited due to social distancing and gathering restrictions. Their entrance into the virtual memorial space came at a time when families were looking for alternatives and, for one of the founders, also fulfilled a very personal need to remember a life.

Writing Poetry to Express Loss and Process Grief

After a week-long death vigil, my sister died at her home in San Francisco; the next day I flew home to Milwaukee. When I look back now on that flight I realize I was the person other people pretend not to see on an airplane: uncontrolled tears periodically fell from my eyes. Exhausted, I kept tripping over my own feet and dropping things – boarding pass, water bottle, purse, carry-on. My hair was unkempt, my clothing not particularly clean. In other words I was a mess and looking at me made other people uncomfortable. On a plane full of people I was alone – but grateful for that aloneness after a week of ever-present people and the presence of death.   After take-off, I took out my journal with the intention of releasing my sorrow in prose, but instead this poem dropped onto the blank page before me...

The Physiology of Grief

In 2007, I met Jane at a senior center where I was giving a presentation on the role emotions play in influencing our overall health, energy and resilience. To illustrate my point, I cited emerging scientific evidence supporting the phenomenon known as “broken heart syndrome;" in broken heart syndrome, heart health and functioning are compromised due to the stress of the loss of a loved one or other profound loss. The syndrome is common among older adults, especially after the death of a loved one. After my presentation, Jane approached me to share this story:

Over this past year, I’ve witnessed extensive frustration amongst bereaved persons who struggle with making the “right choice” in planning funeral services for their loved ones in these difficult times. Beginning in March, I advised grievers to try to reframe their thinking from finding “the right choice” into making the “right choice for you,” while including technological means of adapting to restrictions. By May, when it became clear that this public health crisis was not going to be resolved within a few months, I also began encouraging grievers to think instead about making the “right choice for now” and then the “right choice for later.”   Additionally, I always tell grieving families that regardless of the service they planned during this year – a private burial, a small funeral with virtual attendees, or no service at all – it is never too late to hold a memorial service for their loved one, regardless of whether or not they already held a funeral.

Love and loss are inextricably linked phenomena. Without one, we do not truly experience the other. In this year of mourning, we must remember and hold fast to love – both the love we shared with those who have died, as well as the love we give to and receive from those who bring joy to our lives.

Children learn about life and loss through fiction. It’s a safe place for them to identify with a character and see the decisions that character makes, along with the consequences. It’s where they can vicariously feel loss and examine those emotions. More importantly, they bond with the person with whom they are sharing the story.