Archive for March, 2013

The Love We Shared

Friday, March 22nd, 2013

Question: I am a new funeral director and I was wondering if you have any advice you can give me on how to relate to older people. My grandparents passed away when I was young and my parents are still living. How do I connect to a generation that  is foreign to me?

Answer:

Great question! By connecting to your families– as I have stated in other articles — a funeral becomes much more meaningful to them. To your families this funeral is all about them. It is about the loved one they have lost. Your families are trying to remember the connections they had to their loved ones. They want that relationship and that person’s life to have meant something that goes beyond death. There are a few ways to go about establishing rapport with your families that show them you care.

Talk about the loved one:  Before you conduct any business matters ask the family to tell you about the loved one they have just lost. What is their greatest memory? What is something they will always remember about their loved one? Were they a hunter? Did they enjoy the outdoors? Perhaps this person made beautiful quilts or knit. Listen to what the family has to say and then pick out nuggets of information and suggest you incorporate what you have learned into the service. For example, if the loved one was loved to fish the family could bring in some fishing poles or put a picture of that person fishing on the cover of the funeral program.

Ask the family before proceeding: As you are going through the funeral planning ask the family before proceeding to the next phase if they are comfortable talking about this section of the funeral arrangements. For example, many people do not want to go into the casket selection room. Mentally it is too hard on them to have had their husband/wife/parent living the night before and today they are putting them in a casket. Asking shows consideration for their loss. It shows that you care. If they are not comfortable show them a picture in a book or suggest you pick one out for them. Perhaps they would like to come back the next day to make a selection, or suggest cremation.

Share stories that relate: Share your stories that relate to their stories. If you had a friend who died who loved to fish you could share that story. However, be aware that it is not helpful for you to talk about your own personal problems to the family. Remember, this is first and foremost about them, not about you.

Touch the families: It is okay to shake hands, give hugs, and pats on the back. People know then that you care. When you greet people it is an okay to gently and briefly touch them. Some older men feel most comfortable with a handshake. Women are okay with hugs from other ladies and handshakes from the men. It is a judgment call. The most important thing is if you are comfortable with it they will know you mean it.

I would suggest you visit some seniors at senior living places. Many people are lonely and would love the company. You can get to know about their lives and what interests people in that age category. You might surprise yourself and find out how much you enjoy the visit too!

Ignoring a death

Friday, March 15th, 2013

Question:  I received a note from one of my families. This is not the first time I have talked to a family and heard this complaint. Do you have any insight into this situation? The family wrote:

“We have a strange question, especially when there should be more important things on our minds’ (and there are), but it is something that has upset me and my family quite a bit.  While we received many beautiful letters and cards of sympathy when my mother died, there were many people that we are close to that either haven’t sent a card or even called to acknowledge her death.

For example, my husband’s parents, who were very friendly with my parents (we spent holidays, birthdays, functions with the grandchildren together), did not call or send a card to my father until one month later.  The few times I had talked to my mother-in-law after my mom passed, she would mention that she had to get to the store to get a card, and actually said to me twice, “Better Late than Never.”  I have to tell you, I am so hurt by this behavior. (more…)

Moving on After the Loss of a Spouse

Friday, March 8th, 2013

How to expand your horizons after a loss but still integrate the memory of our loved one is a common theme. Your question is an excellent one. A normal process through our grief journey is how to integrate the loss into our lives. One of the symbols of your past is yours and your spouse’s wedding rings. Changing how you display them is one way to help you transition to the future. The key is to pick something that feels “right” to you. There are many options and I suggest you be creative! I have outlined some suggestions below that might “fit” you.

  1. Change where you wear the rings. A simple solution would be to move the rings from the hand that symbolizes marriage to the other hand. Some people have also chosen to place the rings on a necklace and wear them around his/her neck.
  1. Transform your wedding rings. If you chose to transform your wedding rings this is where you can be especially creative. Many people have taken the stones out of the rings and placed them in new settings or made them into a new pair of earrings for example. Another option is to add more gems to your settings.                                                        For example one woman said: “My husband died this year, and I had a nice gold chain, took the diamond that was in his Masonic ring, and suspended it in the center of his wedding ring, all held together in the suspension with small diamonds encrusted in a slide. It is lovely, and I wear it all the time. Sometimes I find myself even bringing it to my mouth, and unconsciously kissing it. But, my left hand ring finger is empty.”
  1. Position the rings in a place of respect. If you choose not to wear the rings, you could make a place of honor for them. An idea might be to make a shadow box that you hang on the wall that will hold the rings. The shadow box then can be placed in the house somewhere that will bring comfort to you as you view your creation. This is also a nice way to pass a keepsake onto children.
  1. Some people choose to wear their wedding ring for the rest of their lives on their left hand, especially those that are older, and have made up their mind that they will not ever want to marry again. Feel comfortable to do that, if this is your choice.  There are no rules about what you “must” do.
  1. We have been told by those that want to take off their wedding rings as a symbol of “moving on” that they have chosen to give them to their children now, rather than wait for their own passing. If you have no children, perhaps a niece or nephew might be the perfect recipient.
  1. If you want, you can put your wedding rings in your jewelry box, and keep them there until you decide what you do want to do with them. There is no need to rush to a decision.
  1. Give yourself permission to take your rings off, if that is what you feel like doing. Sometimes, it is a simple as listening to your intuition to know what is the thing to do that “feels” like the perfect solution for moving to a new emotional plateau.

If you have come to a place in your grief journey where you are truly ready to move forward, keep in mind to choose something that is right for you and that also symbolizes you are moving on from your loss. Symbols, such as wedding rings, are powerful. Potential mates will respect that you are honoring the past while being ready to accept new people and new love into your life.

But above all else, be creative, and do what pleases you!

Myths and Facts of Children’s Grief

Friday, March 1st, 2013

Many families struggle with how to deal with children and their attendance at funerals.  How do children grieve.  What should kids do and not do when their is a death?

Children grieve at all ages.  Even infants will grieve.  Kids just show grief differently than adults. Also, as children mature the way they show grief changes as well.  Therefore, it can be very easy to feel confused about kids and grief. Just remember that children will learn about grief and how to cope with grief by watching adults.  To clear some of the Myths from the Facts about children and the grieving process, below is a compiled list of concepts to note.

Myth: Young children do not grieve and infants don’t grieve at all.

Fact:

  • Kids, even infants, do grieve.
  •  It is important for kids to grieve and express their emotions.
  •  A grab bag of emotions may be displayed in the child, even ones you may not think are emotions connected with grieving.
  • Many factors affect the grieving of a child – including the family situation, stability, health and mood of the child before the loss.
  • Children’s feelings need to be recognized as they grieve. Ignoring children’s questions, or behavior will not make their pain go away.

Myth: Children do not grieve as deeply as adults

Fact:

  • Children do not react the same as adults when they know someone has died but that does not mean children aren’t seriously affected by the loss.
  • A death can cause a huge fear of abandonment in a child.
  • Children need a safe environment with many hugs, loves and permission to express their feelings.
  • Suppressed grief can lead to emotional and behavioral problems, so encourage them to feel and to talk and/or draw pictures of their emotions.
  • Suppressed grief can bring physical and emotional problems later in life.

Myth: Kids are lucky because they are too young to understand death.

Fact:

  • Remember children lack life experiences to draw on to make the death easier to understand. They know death by TV, which is not real vs. death in their life right this moment.
  • Kids have limited “tools” to express their grief. Adults know feelings and how to communicate them better than children.
  • Death is new to children.

Myth: Children should be protected from the pain of death and retain their innocence.

Fact:

  • Death is part of a child’s life, especially in many TV shows, movies, and video games. However they need to learn death is permanent and it doesn’t solve problems.
  • Children do experience death through the loss of pets, family members, friends and people at school. If you do not talk about the loss they will think you are hiding something from them.
  • Kids will use their own imaginations to fill in gaps about the death if they are not talked to about the loss. Their imaginations might be scarier than real life.
  • Kids who aren’t included in the grieving and burying rituals loose the opportunity to learn and be part of family events. Children learn from adults how to act, behave and express emotions.
  • Children who are not included in the death process can develop anxiety and may get resentful. Kids are very aware of their surroundings and of the feelings of those around them, especially adults they care about.

Myth: Children can forget the death easily and grieve quickly.

Fact:

  • Children are like adults. They grieve on their own time. The death becomes part of their lives and how they perceive the loss changes with time.
  • Grieving is important for children to experience. This could take different amounts of time depending on the child.
  • Keeping a connection with the loved one is important even if it is symbolic.
  • Children grieve differently depending on age and other factors.
  • Remember, children may not look like they are grieving the way adults do, but rest assured they are assimilating the event, and learning new things about loss every day.

 

How to help children when your family pet has died

Friday, March 1st, 2013

The time your pet dies is a difficult time. Perhaps your grieving had been started if your pet had a terminal illness. Maybe you came home one night and found your special pal curled up in his bed, and he just had not awakened from sleep. Whether the death was sudden or slow, grief is inevitable – and necessary.

When grief can be expressed, healing can begin. In addition, healing takes a shorter time when your feelings can be voiced. Children often do not know how to express their grief and many times show it differently then adults. Adults can be confused when a child does not show the same signs of grief as an adult. Children grieve in ways that often are not understood by adults. Be accepting and understanding and be aware children may not seem unhappy and yet still be grieving. Remember:

  • Death is part of a child’s life-especially with TV and video games. However, they learn that death is permanent as they get older.
  • Children do experience death through losing pets, family members, friends and people at school. If you do not talk about the loss children might think you are hiding something from them.
  • Kids will use their own imaginations to fill in gaps about death if they have no way to talk about or express their loss. Their imaginations might be more scary than real life.
  • Kids who are not included loose the opportunity to learn and be part of family events. Children learn from adults how to act, behave and express emotions.
  • Children who are not included in the death process can develop anxiety and may get resentful.
  • Kids are very aware of their surroundings.

Death brings opportunities to work through grief for children and adults. There are many acceptable ways to get feelings “out”. Here are some ideas to help you get your grief process started.

Talk to others:  Cry and laugh and remember with warmness all the happy times. Be sure to discuss your feelings of loss yourself, and have your children do the same. When talking honestly with children be careful of your wording. For example, if you had to euthanize your pet, never use the terms “put to sleep” or “gone away”. Children can become afraid to sleep at night, or worry that you will do the same to them as you did to your pet if they become sick.

Celebrate the Life of the Pet: Find closure by having a funeral or memorial service. Have your children help plan the service.  If your pet has been cremated consider where you will put the ashes. There are many options available now that include a home memorial garden, a pet cemetery, or organization like Eternal Reefs where the ashes of the pet help make a reef out in the ocean.

Memorialization: Having visual memories of a pet can help children and adults through their grieving process. Creating or displaying the memorial can help get feelings expressed.  Activities for your children can include making a picture, writing a poem or story, or creating a scrapbook of your pet. Perhaps you could frame a special photo or a paw print of your pet. In the spring and summer planting a flower or buying a little garden statue for the yard or house is a healing way to grieve.

Make a Donation: Giving to others while grieving seems to help people during this difficult time. Make a donation to the animal shelter, or give a scholarship to the veterinary clinic for someone else that might not be able to afford services there for their pet. After you have had time to grieve and want to have the presence of an animal around, consider donating your time with animals. Many humane shelters need people to walk dogs, to foster animals and to help in the adoption process.

Getting a New Pet:  After the loss of a pet, some people want to get a new one right away in hopes it will help ease their pain. This is not recommended since it does not give you time to grieve and heal. A new pet can never be a replacement for the pet you lost.