Archive for Grief

Dead Thoughts, Part 3

Arlington Cemetery

I understand the tradition of having the body at the funeral. I also understand how an “open casket” that cradles that body might help in the grieving process.

However, I personally don’t want mine there (not that I’ll have a vote when the final decision is made). As a professional minister, I would also never encourage anyone to include the body.

Several years ago, I asked Facebook friends about whether or not the deceased’s body should “attend” the funeral. Joy Wheland Cole (whose husband was a pastor) responded with,

After kissing my cold, embalmed parents and realizing they weren’t there, I decided cremation was much more helpful in realizing the finality of the death. My husband was cremated and I truly found more comfort in seeing the urn than seeing my parents’ embalmed bodies!!

Cole’s response invites a key question: what will bring the living comfort? I would add:

  • What were the wishes of the deceased?
  • Do any religious or family traditions influence the decision?
  • If a family has conflicts about having/not having the body present, are they avoiding other issues? For example, what if tension between the deceased’s second spouse and the stepchildren isn’t about the body (safer to debate) but about old hurts or a new inheritance (things complicated to be honest about)?

Whatever the living decide about the dead, it’s far better if there were open discussions about dying and death beforehand. That’s easier to suggest than accomplish. Many avoid talking about death, treating it like the plague, an embarrassment, an inconvenience, or only happening to others. Even we modern remain strangely superstitious about mortality. If we mention death, won’t death happen? Or if I encourage discussion about having or not having the beloved’s body present, will my family dismiss me as morbid or inappropriate? Read More →

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9 Things to Ask a Griever Instead of: How Are You Doing?

I'm fine

How are you doing?

That simple query is likely near the top of the list of questions grievers would rather not answer. In the grief support groups I’ve led over the years, participants often mention how much those four words irk them.

If polite, they give a neutral answer, knowing the person asking has no clue about the roiling, unpredictable feelings the death of a loved one has created. If not so polite, grievers may ignore the one asking, and/or turn away, and/or reply with blunt words they may (or may not!) later regret.

Hey, I’m guilty of asking the question. Professionally, I can probably get away with it. The group members, as they seek healing and a better understanding of grief, permit me to ask some of the most predictable questions. In the group, I attempt to create a safe space so that they can give—or not give—answers. Additionally, each person knows everyone else in the room has experienced one or more life-changing deaths.

However, most of a griever’s day is not spent with a supportive group. It’s with family gatherings, at the supermarket, in the place of worship, on the sidewalk in front of your home . . . and here comes the friend or neighbor asking: Read More →

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Grief, Unseen

Physical Therapy

I kept my questions casual when first talking with her.

Let’s say her name is Anne, which is not true. And let’s also say, to protect the proverbial innocent, that Anne’s friend’s name is Bryn. Both are in their early twenties. I met them because they were part of the physical therapy staff where I went for an irksome left knee. Anne and Bryn were friendly and efficient; they comfortably joked with patients, shared words of encouragement.

During a particular session, Anne was the one reminding me which exercise came next. She brought me the special flexible ball to help stretch my lower body, and later set the timer for how long I should be moving my limbs back and forth, side to side. I usually bantered with Anne (or Bryn), though sometimes I silently, steadily plowed through the required series of exercises.

When finished with a routine, I asked Anne the question that led to the question.

“Didn’t Bryn tell me that she started working here because you recommended her for the job?”

Anne grinned. “Right. She graduated from college and wasn’t sure what to do next.”

“How’d you two meet?” Read More →

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