When Sorrow Walked With Me

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On April 6, 2018 the Humboldt Broncos tragedy changed Canada. That seems like a broad statement, but it’s true. In fact, people from around the globe send their commitment to the fundraising project – one effort by one woman provided a response. Parents, brothers, sisters, extended family, neighbours, friends and strangers connected. Even people who didn’t know those who lost their life or those who were injured, wanted to reach out. Social media proved to be a great way to connect, to show love and compassion. Why was all of this important? Was it to help? Perhaps to share their pain? Maybe to enter into the sorrow with the families? As the quote suggests, through sorrow and sharing it with others, we learn. We learn about love, trust and sharing in new ways of living with grief. We learn that being vulnerable allows others to come into our pain . . . and that is healing, even in small ways.

I, for one, could not watch a news broadcast without tearing. As a hockey famly, we were eager to put a hockey stick on our front porch to pay tribute, to remember and to remind others. There’s something else in the picture of the hockey stick beside our front door and that is the clear circle that a crock made on the floor. When I look at this image I see what was and what had been through the winter – a dusty, messy porch floor. When I moved the crock to make room to take the picture, I saw the clean circle, and choose not to sweep,  clean or erase before taking the picture. What do you take from the image? Is there a before and after for you? There usually is in most life tragedies. Life can be messy . . . and grief can be painful  . . . and emotional pain can be hard to live with.

And so we connect in whatever way is helpful to share our pain, to take us through an agonizing time. Maybe we can help others and ourselves to make it a little easier. Perhaps we draw on our faith or understanding to strength us until we find the words.

Jot down some notes in your grief journal. Write whatever comes into your mind. Try not to edit or fix. Leave it for a while and when you come back to it, it may be just the answer to give you peace. 

 

 

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How to level out the hills and valleys of grief

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You’ve read the phrase ‘Grieving is a process. Grieving is not an event’, in previous posts. It often helps to apply these phrases to life events. Major decisions, regardless of age or status can cause grief. They can generate changes in one’s life that have a domino effect – something changes which causes another change and so on. It can continue until it feels like being on a roller coaster.

Age can often bring this to happen in people’s life. Perhaps sickness, and then a change of residence, which might bring another change of location where more assistance is available. Sometimes this is almost too much to accept. Added to this is the automatic response of continuous downsizing, which again cause a huge grief response.

It is helpful to recognize and define what’s going on in your life. Grief comes naturally when we give ourselves permission. It is not always easy to define what is happening, we only know we feel caught in a constant downward shift of loss. It helps if we can trust ourselves to walk in this new state into which we are thrust. Consider our friends and acquaintances and decide which are in a position to help. Draw on family resources when appropriate. Read devotional material that brings you onto holy ground. You can probably add more resources as you journal through this difficult time.

Take a few moments and write some of your thoughts in your favourite place, so you can come and add to them at another time.

 

 

When Grief Hits home

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Dear readers: Thank you for your comments. I read each one and appreciate you taking the time to put your thoughts together.

As one who has been involved in grief since our two-year-old daughter died in the early 70s, I have been interested in different definitions. Clearly looking for one that fit for my experience. Some have not been helpful. Some have set me back, while others have made sense and have been the greatest assistance toward understanding and healing.

The one that I teach at grief seminars is “Grief is the normal and natural emotional reaction to loss or change of any kind.” This one definitely made sense to me over the years. Realizing that grief is neither a pathological order or a personality problem is also helpful. While reading mega websites on grief, this definition is so familiar, and just feels right: “Grief is the conflicting feelings caused by the end of or change in a familiar pattern of behavior” (Grief Recovery Method). Check out their website – a tried and true grief resource.

Think on this and put pen to paper to jot down your feelings. It may be difficult to give grief any credit. You might ask how I can be thankful for the sorrow and sadness I feel? How can I ever acknowledge that the gifts of grief are to be appreciated? And is there such a feeling as ‘letting self down into grief’? There is! And one can grow in faith, knowledge and relationship. It is definately a learning curve, as well as an emotional rollorcoaster.

 

Accumulative Grief Weights Heavy

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Grief is itself a medicine.  ~William Cowper, Charity.

No, grief is not an illness, but it can become a condition. It is not an illness that you can take a pill, but it is a medicine that is healing. A medicine for the heart and soul and yes, even the physical body. The heart we know, and even the physical we are well acquainted. But what about the soul as we consider the will, intellect and emotion. You’ve heard people say, “God rest his soul”. What a gift in the form of grief as we live day-to-day.

You have most likely come to this site because you have a broken heart, or you know someone who is grieving. This is probably the result of the death of a significant person, or an identified loss of another nature in life. We can develop skills that correspond with or reflect emotion, attitude and feelings in a healthy way. This is heart language too. All too easy logic, the language of the mind, will attempt to rule. However, it is important to understand the process as well.

Grief we are experiencing at this time can be increased and intensified by unresolved grief from the past. Christmas can often trigger this as we see the empty chair at the table or experience another crisis. Sometimes we think we are dealing only with the most immediate grief when in fact these feelings are reminding us of people and situations where grief still lies unresolved. It is not always easy to identify accumulative grief – sometimes the image of grapes help. Grief can give you a heavy heart which makes the dull and dreary days of winter seem worse. Some people find February in the northern hemisphere trigger their depression because of lack of sun, grief can become severe.

Begin or continue to work on your grieving process – it may also free up depression, migraines, and stress related conditions. Pray, eat well and delight in your relationships.

Journal your thoughts – you might make important discoveries about your health. 

 

My thoughts for today,

The Rev. Dr. D.

The Positive Side of Return

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Yesterday my friend said, “I could never go back to our old home. It would just hurt so much. I didn’t want to move.” This is probably the absolute truth for her. While for another person, the trip back to previous properties might be the healing balm. For some, it hurts so much to go back. Maybe it’s because down deep we wish we were still there, that life had not moved on and the predictable upcoming season would not unfold. Perhaps the newly generated pain reinforces the always present love. For some, it is only possible to return in the good memories. And for them, it is the right thing to do. However one does it, it takes courage to return.

My friend, Sheila says, “I had no idea how painful it would be to go through the LTC memorial service tonight. Some parts were meaningful and others not so, but to be in a place where I had been with Carl so often, feeling his absence, was so so hard. A man from his dining room table sat beside me, not remembering me and likely not Carl either, but comforting and a little less alone to have him there. I left a carnation for Carl and brought one home “from him”. Cried a lot. Just part of the journey I guess, but a hard part.”

Thank you Sheila Ball for your Facebook post. When grief is still very fresh, it obviously gives strength to return to a place that opens the pain again, trusting that it’s all part of the healing process. Thus in this opening, grief provides healing and a nudge to go forward in life, walking on a new path, making new footprints.

Take a few moments and jot down some places in your memory or to a location to which you have returned. How was that for you? Perhaps healing just to be able to do it. Perhaps healing to be able to say no and know the reasons why.

 

Grieving a Pet’s Death

Grieving a pet’s death has many similarities to grieving a beloved person. We planned a trip across Canada knowing if we took our 23-year-old-cat, she might not make it back home due to aging issues. We had four choices: cancel our 60th wedding anniversary trip, leave Stormy with a relative, friend or in a kennel, put her to rest before we left, or take her with us. Knowing the last choice would change our activity somewhat, we chose to create a space in the back of our van for her litter box, water, kibble and of course her favourite food, ‘Temptation Treats’. Not to forget her favourite space on my husband’s lap.

I suppose you could call this a driving distraction, but it was comforting for both her and for him.

Since we had anticipated Stormy’s death over the last year, anticipatory Grief during the trip was present, especially in the last couple of weeks as we saw her getting weaker. No, it didn’t spoil our trip. A surprise blessing in the 8000 miles of driving, (sometimes 4 or 5 hours a day), was the special time to hold and care for her. She was happy to stay in the travel trailer and sleep as we stopped to visit with friends and relatives along the way. Her health became a daily conversation as people asked for her and visited her in the trailer or on a lawn. As it took five days to travel through northern B.C. (times two – there and back), I am thankful she slept most of the way through those mountains. I cannot imagine having to think about her death on a mountaintop, as beautiful as they were.

Stormy had a good death – loved and held through . . . to . . and during the end of her life. When she got busy in the dying process, it only took her a day and a half. We buried her in a friend’s garden where chipmunks, neighbour’s cats and a variety of birds, including morning (mourning) doves played.

Two water fountains and a statue of St. Francis frame this special area.

Will it be difficult to leave her here? Yes and no. Over the years, I’ve seen many family members travel from around the world to a loved one’s funeral and cemetery service, and then leave to go home – maybe never to return, yet knowing that all is well. So it is with us.

My grandnephew said, “I’m glad Stormy got to see the Yukon, touch the grass and breathe the air.” A friend said, “You were able to spent more intimate time with Stormy on the trip, while confined to the car through travelling, than you might have been able to take at home.” My niece said, “What an honour – how wonderful to die loved.” One of our adult children said, “I’m just happy Stormy is with you guys, and you are all in a place of peace.”

Isn’t that what grief is all about? Going through the experience the best way you can to eventually end up ‘in a place of peace.”

By the way, Stormy is one of the animals staged in my ‘Come to the Farm” series of children’s stories. Two of them star her in Stormy the Watch-Cat and Stormy’s Mouse. She makes an appearance in Where will Jenny build her Nest? and How will Hetty Hide Her Eggs? plus a few other stories. Stormy will live on in our hearts and our memories as well as through children’s experience as they learn about her life through story.

 Jot down a few thoughts if you are grieving your pet’s death.

Helpful Review of Grief Material

After I write grief material, I find it helpful to read strong positive reviews. This is not to get a pat on the back, it’s to learn what has been helpful. It shows if the resource has met a need in a reader’s heart and mind. And it also shows that which we hope will be important, has proved its purpose. Thanks, Paul.

The following review is written by the Rev. Dr. Paul Miller, Ministry Support: Waterloo Presbytery of the United Church of Canada:

 

Good Grief People. By Alan Anderson, Glynis M. Belec, Barbara Heagy, Donna Mann, Ruth Smith Meyer and Carolyn Wilker, 2017

Review by Rev. Dr. Paul Miller

Death, and the experience of loss and grief that it brings, is both universal and intensely personal. Good Grief People captures that two-fold aspect of grief beautifully and profoundly.

The authors include writers, an editor, a minister, a counsellor, but they all have this in common: each has been touched very personally by grief.

Three things stood out for me as I read this book.

First, grief is not an event, but a journey. Many of us have been taught that there are “five stages of grief.” But this book illustrates that it is not a straightforward progression, but a road with many twists and turns that takes a lifetime to travel.

Second, grief is a shared journey. I was moved by how the authors, and in many cases, those who were dying, invited others to take the journey with them. Family, friends, church communities were all given permission to participate in the process of death and grieving. This is in contrast to the death-denying ways of our wider culture.

Third, honesty is crucial. There are no empty platitudes in this book, no sugar-coated euphemisms. There is no attempt to hide from the truth. The authors advocate facing the reality of death openly, and finding comfort and hope through honesty.

The book is helpfully organized to show that there are different kinds of dying, and different kinds of grieving. There is death over time, from cancer, ALS, dementia, heart failure. There is death that strikes suddenly – accidents, suicide, murder, and that special trauma, the death of children. The book gives space to miscarriage – a form of grief that is often the most confusing and frightening to those who experience it.

Good Grief People is unabashedly Christian in its approach. The authors are people of faith, and the resources of faith are critical to their journey towards healing. But faith is interwoven into the narratives unself-consciously and with great authenticity.

The book has some excellent practical counsel on how to approach situations of death and grief as a friend, family member, or helping professional. It includes quotations from well-known authors, personal testimonies, and a lists of “What to say” and “What NOT to say” to those who are grieving.

The subtitle of the book clearly states its purpose: “Easing the sting of death by recognizing and respecting the individuality or grief and the reality of hope.” I would warmly recommend it to anyone who is taking the journey of grief.

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Jot a few notes to help follow the above information and apply it to your life.

 

Donna Mann can be found at donnamann.org

Missing You!

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Losing you is like losing me

Whole pieces of me are gone . . . I know not where

I’m not sure who I am

or if I can ever be who I was.

I was your wife, your confidant, your comforter,

your encourager, your lover . . . 

It is as if my heart is gone.

It beats and I function but . . . 

I wonder why sometimes.

When I’ve finished work or made a difficult trip

There is noone to call and say, “I’m O.K.”

or

“I’m on my way home.”

There is noone to tell me I look great

when I get dressed.

Noone to look for when I am playing the piano at church

No distinctive laugh to listen for when I’m in a 

crowd or entering a church function

Noone to touch when I wake up during the night

Noone to wait supper for.

Noone to fill this aching void I feel 

in the pit of my stomach.

Will this ever change?

Submitted by Muriel Lush: ‘in memory of my husband’ (2008)

 

 

What do I remember about John?

The book Good Grief People continues to meet the needs of those who read it. Check out Amazon or donna mann.org

Did you walk up the street past the funeral home or a church and see black cars parked along the curb? Did you say, “I wonder who’s funeral that is.” Or maybe you walked by a cemetery and saw a small group standing with a few persons seated in front. In most cases you walk on completing your errand or keeping your appointment.

Maybe you saw an obituary in the morning newspaper, or perhaps someone phoned to tell you that John Doe’s celebration of life will be held at a particular place at 2:00. You think of former years when you and John attended the same school. An afternoon where both of your famlies showed up at the same reunion is part of a vague memory from those days. You might say, I haven’t seen him for years. And yet, you remember winning a two-legged race with him at the Sunday School picnic. And there was that time you cleaned the school auditorium with him, after the graduating ceremony.

Maybe I should go. I might see some other school friends. There will be lots of stories. It’ll be good to be reminded of John. Now that I think more about it, we did have some good times together. But I don’t want people to think I’m only there for the lunch.

As you go about your day’s work, you think more about John. Strange how small pieces of memory about him begin to give you forgotten moments. And those precious memories almost forgotten can be a gift for unresolved grief that might not have anything to do with John, but more about you.

Jot down a few notes in your journal about services you wanted to attend.

So I Soldier On

Every once in a while I read words that ring so true, I’m sure they were written for my loved one. In this case, not so, but for the author’s special friend. With permission I am publishing this poem written by a writing colleague. I trust you will find yourself in her words. 

Tribute to a friend

 by Mardel Wyborn

 

I miss you.

I miss your smile.

I miss your advice.

I miss laughing with you.

 

I loved you

  and I loved your crazy way

  of dealing with pain.

I loved your kids.

 

At times I came close to hating you.

You did your own thing

  and didn’t include me.

You chose men I disliked.

You avoided me when you were in

  relationships that were harmful to you.

 

And then something would happen.

I needed you..

  and you were always there.

We coped with loss together.

We celebrated life

  and then you died..

  before your time

and I was lost.

A part of my life was gone

  and I couldn’t get it back.

 

But then I think of you

  and your resilience

And I know you wouldn’t want me

  to quit living

  just because you are no longer here..

 

So I soldier on

  with a smile on my face

knowing that by doing so

I only make you proud.

 

And instead of crying,

  I smile.