After a Loss; Honoring Our Losses and Celebrating Life

After a Loss; Honoring Our Losses and Celebrating Life (PDF)

2022 • 32 Pages • 1.34 MB • English
Posted July 01, 2022 • Submitted by Superman

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Summary of After a Loss; Honoring Our Losses and Celebrating Life

After a Loss: Honoring Our Losses and Celebrating Life An e-book offering tools and resources for coping with grief, funeral etiquette, and ensuring that our own end-of-life wishes are respected. Table of Contents Introduction ............................................................................................. 3 Part One: Honoring Loss ...................................................................... 4 Chapter One: A Creative Approach ............................................. 5 Chapter Two: Loss at the Holidays ...............................................7 Chapter Three: Using Grief to Motivate Action .......................9 Chapter Four: Social Media and Public Mourning ................ 10 Chapter Five: Gone From My Sight: A Hospice Nurse Offers Compassionate Advice ...................................................... 11 Chapter Six: Tips for writing a meaningful condolence letter ............................................................................12 Chapter Seven: How Do We Tell the Kids? ...............................14 Part Two: Celebrating Life ..................................................................16 Chapter Eight: What to Expect at a Funeral or Memorial ....17 Chapter Nine: Should I Go to the Funeral? (Yes.) ..................18 Chapter Ten: What If I’m Asked to Speak? ...............................19 Chapter Eleven: Funeral Procession Etiquette ........................21 Chapter Twelve: Should Children Go to Funerals? ...............22 Chapter Thirteen: Sending Flowers...........................................24 Chapter Fourteen: Scattering Ashes .........................................26 Part Three: Practical Details ..............................................................28 Part Four: Ensuring Our Wishes Are Followed ............................29 Getting Started ...............................................................................30 Conclusion ..............................................................................................31 2 Introduction After the loss of a family member, friend, co-worker, or acquaintance, grief can strike in different forms. Emotions are naturally raw. No one can—or should—dictate how another person should act or feel. Many find comfort in rituals like funerals and memorial services, which offer a chance to gather and celebrate a loved one’s life. On these occasions it’s often difficult to know exactly how to offer sympathy—or accept it gracefully. But given thought and preparation, a funeral can become a wonderfully healing experience. Serving the public since 1906, Phaneuf recognizes that every relationship is as unique as every life. People grieve and remember in their own way, at their own pace. However, in our experience, specific issues and questions about funerals and memorials frequently arise. This e-book provides some tools for navigating a suddenly-changed landscape, whether personal, emotional, social, or logistical. We hope you will find these insights useful and welcome your questions and comments. 3 The phone rings. The text pings. You read the obituary notice. The impact is immediate and devastating. Someone close to you has died and emotion floods in. Or it doesn’t and you feel worse because it hasn’t. Some people turn outward, seeking comfort with family and loved ones or immersing themselves in the painful but necessary tasks that need to be done. Others take a more contemplative approach, reflecting on the sweetness of shared experiences and fond memories to ease the pain of loss. Inspired by the courage, resilience, and caring shown by the families we’ve had the privilege to serve over the years, here are some suggestions for working through grief. PART ONE: Honoring Loss 4 Chapter One: A Creative Approach When we think of coping strategies after a loss, we may rely on the tried and true: sharing with friends and family, seeking out counseling, or trusting in the healing power of time. Other inner resources may go overlooked. By tapping into the power of our own creativity, we can often wrest meaning and beauty from sadness. Here are five positive and effective ways to address grief through creative pursuits. 1. Goodbye Letter You may not have had the opportunity to say goodbye, or regret missed opportunities for conversations. If you are having a hard time letting go, if you have thoughts or memories that you wish you could have shared—you can still act on those feelings. Write a letter to your lost loved one telling them everything that you wish you could have said in life. This can be a second chance to put aside past grievances or resolve feelings of guilt. Consider sharing how you are feeling and what you will most remember. What aspect of your relationship are you most thankful for? Writing can be immensely therapeutic; setting your thoughts and feelings on paper may release them from continuing to trouble your mind. 5 2. Build a Playlist Think about the songs that your loved one enjoyed or alternately find the melodies that remind you of them. Once you have a handful, throw them into a playlist. Keep adding to the playlist as new songs come along and whenever you feel particularly sad or find yourself missing them, tune into this reservoir of solace. Music is a powerful tool and can carry you through an overwhelming tide of emotions. 3. Make a Memory Album or Collage Do you have a pile of loose photos or a few treasured snapshots? You don’t have to be a scrapbook artist to put together a meaningful album. Magazine photos can supply inspiration for a poster or collage. Ripping strips of colored construction or tissue paper, then gluing them in layers, adds a vibrant frame. Play with shapes—the finished product isn’t even as important as the act of creating. The visual results may surprise you! 4. Be Alone With Your Thoughts Most of us run through life; we are so busy with our crowded schedules that we hardly ever take the time to stop and think. In times of grief, introspection is particularly important. So make yourself a priority. Mute the phone and set aside fifteen minutes to simply sit—or take a walk—and think. It can be about your lost loved one, it can be about the day you are having or going to have, or it can simply be a personal check-in. How are you feeling? Sad? Angry? Stressed? No guilt! Honesty is the priority. Finding pain points and addressing them is a healthy and effective way of resolving grief. Consider how airplane flight attendants remind adults that, in case of emergency, they should secure their own oxygen masks before tending to children. Setting aside a few moments to take stock of yourself isn’t selfish—it’s essential! If you can keep an emotional balance, you will be much better prepared to support others who might be suffering with you. 5. Talk With the One You’re Missing Maybe the simplest outlet of all is talking out loud to the one you’ve lost. Many times it is their presence we miss the most, their voice and their opinions. If you are wishing you could have more time to talk, just go ahead and make your own time! Start talking and you might find yourself anticipating how they would respond. Take comfort in knowing that your active remembrance honors their memory. Whenever you need to talk, they are there, waiting to listen. 6 Chapter Two: Loss at the Holidays The holidays can be a difficult time if you are dealing with the loss of a loved one. Many people find that this is the time when memories and emotions come out unbidden and it may be difficult to cope. There is no question that a holiday, especially if it is your first holiday without this person, can be painful. Yet it can be a time of healing when families and friends come together. It is also the season when it’s socially acceptable to get nostalgic, shed a tear, or reminisce. In that spirit, here are five ways to help you not only “get through” but enjoy your holiday season. 1. Acknowledge How You Feel Whether to yourself or to others around you, don’t be shy about expressing your feelings. If you are overwhelmed and need some time, take that time; if you want to talk to somebody, take the opportunity to do that too. If, on the other hand, you would rather not talk, that is also perfectly fine. Remember, there is no wrong way to feel; your grief is your own. 7 2. Let Others Grieve in Their Own Way The rule above also applies to others. Not everyone will express grief the same way; the best thing you can do is allow everyone to deal with the loss on their own terms. Pushing for a solution or getting upset rarely helps the situation. You can control how you feel and act. Choosing patience and compassion when dealing with others respects their needs as well. 3. Discuss Plans Don’t assume that everything will remain the same around holiday time. It may be that some people in your family would prefer to change locations or alter your home’s usual holiday set-up. Or it may be that everything does run in the usual track and that stability provides a sense of comfort. Whatever the end result, make sure to communicate with everyone who will be spending the holiday with you—it can be a way to avoid discomfort and unnecessary pain. 4. Create a New Tradition Some families may find it helpful to create something out of their grief—for example, maybe you would like to spend a few hours volunteering during the holiday as a way to commemorate your loved one, or you may wish to include a memory trove where everyone shares their favorite memory of the deceased. Whatever you decide, this new tradition can be a way to celebrate life while bringing you closer to your loved ones. 5. Make a Remembrance Gesture Especially if you are working through a recent loss, some kind of gesture to remember your loved one may be particularly healing and meaningful. Consider lighting a candle, holding a moment of silence or creating a little memorial area with pictures and relevant personal items. This can either be a way to start a conversation or, alternately, a way to remember quietly. Whatever you decide to do, always make it a top priority to take care of yourself and your loved ones as much as possible. Share your pain and help each other through it however works best. 8 Chapter Three: Using Grief to Motivate Action Death is never a happy thought. We fear our own and loved ones’ mortality, yet death is an inevitability that none of us can escape. In recent years, there has been a movement to re-frame death in our minds — to make discussing it less of a taboo. While we may fear or dread death, one thing is clear—our lives, relationships, and existence have more meaning because they are not infinite, because we will one day perish. By bringing home how life can change in an instant, death can also inspire us to take positive action. 1. We Are All Alike In a time when racial tensions plague our country and hate brings about terrible acts of terror, it is vitally important to remember that we are all the same. Our humanity binds us beyond all else. Our mortality unites us irrevocably. Before passing judgment on a neighbor or someone whose culture or religion you disagree with, consider this very pertinent fact: we are more alike than we are different. Let’s promote compassion, and ensure that all people can make the most of this precious life. 2. We Can Use Some Perspective It’s easy to get hung up on the little things. Did everyone see when you got that piece of toilet paper stuck to your leg? Did someone take “your” parking spot? Did you make the right decision in leaving that job? We are plagued by similar thoughts day in and day out, yet in the larger scheme of things they all pale in comparison to the big picture: the well-being of your family, your friends, your spouse. Since we do not have an infinite amount of time to enjoy the pleasures and poignancy of life, we can make more of a point to let go of minor annoyances. 3. We Need a Push All of us have put aside a big decision or avoided taking a chance, thinking that we will have time to do so later. “Later” always comes sooner than expected. A death in our circle jolts us into remembering that life is short. By taking action, we can use this shock as a springboard to push through embarrassment or fear and make needed changes in our lives. Australian nurse Bronnie Ware spent years working in palliative care, tending to people at the end of their lives. In her book The Top Five Regrets of the Dying, she recounts that most patients regretted working too hard, neglecting close relationships, or not honoring their dreams. If this sounds familiar, what steps can you take to change your situation? Make a plan and get started! 9 Chapter Four: Social Media and Public Mourning When asked, most people would probably laud technology as having made their lives better. Tasks can be accomplished faster; entertainment and information are ubiquitous, and we have never been more connected to friends and family. When it comes to grief and loss, however, technology can create awkward and uncomfortable situations, calling into question who is “responsible” for announcing a death via social media. What’s the most graceful way to handle this delicate situation? Posting for Upworthy, Taya Johnson relives her traumatizing experience with social media following the death of her husband. Vividly painting the range of feelings with which she was dealing, Ms. Johnson pleads to her readers to wait and let the closest family of the deceased make the decision to share the sad news in order to avoid creating even more stress and panic for a grieving family. Her message is poignant and relevant; social media has become the ultimate sharing outlet for everyone, young and old. However, when taking to social media too soon may hurt feelings or damage relationships, self-restraint is in order. Even if you were extremely close to the deceased, it’s appropriate to let spouses or immediate family take the lead and make an announcement before contributing your thoughts and feelings. 10 Before posting, consider whether you are in a position to do so. Ms. Johnson asks a series of great questions, most notably: who are you to the deceased? Is it your place to share that a death has occurred? And how may your post affect others’ relationships and the grieving process? A tendency to be conservative when answering these types of questions will certainly serve you, and your friends and family, well. If you are struggling with your grief and need a place to share or relieve it before a death has been “officially” announced by those most closely affected, consider instead talking to family members or friends, finding a support group, or simply writing out your feelings and thoughts. In many ways, these outlets will yield far better results than a social media post. Also, they will not run the risk of hurting feelings or creating negative situations. Remember, what you do on social media may have an effect larger than you intend, especially where death and grieving is concerned. Take a look at Ms. Johnson’s impassioned plea and the next time you pull out your phone or tablet to share your grief or offer condolences, wait. Chapter Five: Gone From My Sight: A Hospice Nurse Offers Compassionate Advice Many of us are uncomfortable talking about death; it can certainly be a scary topic, especially if you or someone you know is facing a terminal illness. Yet there is a measure of comfort that can be found in understanding what’s to come, in facing the fear head-on and exploring our feelings. What’s more, knowing what to expect in practical terms can empower us to make better decisions for ourselves and loved ones. What are the different stages of illness? What happens to a body once life has left it? How can we face the grief of losing someone? A sense of context doesn’t prevent death or erase grief but it can be a tool to better manage our fear. These topics and more are covered in Barbara Karnes’ excellent treatise on death and dying— “Gone from My Sight, the Dying Experience.” A hospice nurse by trade, Karnes published this small blue pamphlet in 1985 and it has been an essential tool for hospice patients and their families since then. Still in print, “Gone from My Sight” can be purchased inexpensively on Amazon. This short little booklet is simple, direct, and full of emotional and informational value. The truth is that even if we venture into talking about death, we rarely get too literal with our conversation. We may explore hypotheticals, think about how we may react or feel, but not consider the intimate, potentially awkward or confusing events associated with 11 terminal illness. We won’t wonder, for example, how breathing slows or hitches as someone is dying; we may not know what to do if our loved one suddenly refuses to eat, or how to interpret their gestures should speaking become difficult. The truth is no matter how much we talk about it, we won’t be prepared—after all, how can someone ever be prepared for such a monumental loss? This book offers indispensable knowledge and a possible path toward peace of mind when that moment comes. As a result, we’ve recommended Karnes’ wise words to families and patients for over thirty years. Chapter Six: Tips for writing a meaningful condolence letter There’s no question that in this age of technology, writing letters is a lost art. That’s a shame when it comes to death and dying, because a personal letter is a great comfort to the bereaved. Take for example, this famous condolence letter from President Abraham Lincoln to Lydia Bixby, who had lost five sons in the Civil War: Executive Mansion, Washington, 21st November, 1864. Dear Madam, I have been shown in the files of the War Department a statement of the Adjutant General of Massachusetts, that you are the mother of five sons who have died gloriously on the field of battle. I feel how weak and fruitless must be any word of mine which should attempt to beguile you from the grief of a loss so overwhelming. But I cannot refrain from tendering you the consolation that may be found in the thanks of the republic they died to save. I pray that our Heavenly Father may assuage the anguish of your bereavement, and leave you only the cherished memory of the loved and lost, and the solemn pride that must be yours, to have laid so costly a sacrifice upon the altar of Freedom. Yours, very sincerely and respectfully, A. Lincoln 12 With the advent of email and other technological advances, letters are far less common than they used to be. But when someone dies, the best way to convey condolences is through a personal letter. While there are times a condolence email is appropriate — when the bereaved is a casual acquaintance, or if you’re traveling on business — in most cases, to truly convey your feelings to a friend or family member who has suffered a loss, a letter – or note tucked into a card – is much preferred. In fact, Emily Post suggests that an email can precede a phone call or written condolence, but should be followed up with a hand-written note. A hand-written condolence letter is a personal way of acknowledging someone’s grief and offering comfort in a heart-felt way. Old-fashioned? Maybe. But taking a few extra minutes to compose a personal sympathy note will pay tribute to the deceased and provide treasured words of comfort to the bereaved. Here are some guidelines for writing a condolence letter but the most important thing to remember is to write from the heart: Say what you truly feel. 1. Send the letter promptly. Write and mail the letter within about two weeks following the loss. 2. Use your own voice. There’s no need for fancy prose to express simple, genuine sympathy. 3. Don’t dwell on the deceased’s illness or circumstances of death. Don’t suggest that the death is a blessing or that it was “for the best.” 4. If you have to send an email, you can find some example of email condolences here. 5. The components of a condolence letter: • Address – if you are unsure to whom you should send the letter, Emily Post has some suggestions. • Acknowledge the loss of the person by name. • Share a favorite memory or special qualities of the deceased. • Offer specific help, if needed, such as babysitting, cooking, or a ride to church. • Finish with a thoughtful message, such as “You are in my thoughts.” It can be hard for some people to express themselves in writing. Fortunately, you don’t have to write like Abraham Lincoln. And if you’re stuck for words, technology can come in handy: You can find some examples of condolence messages on the Internet – such as these from Hallmark. Use them for inspiration and the right words will come to you! 13 Chapter Seven: How Do We Tell the Kids? Talking to children about a death in the family can be one of the toughest things to do, especially if this is the first time that the topic has come up. Death is a difficult concept for a child to comprehend, and the questions that they may ask can be challenging to answer. Here are a few tips to keep in mind when talking to children about death. • Be honest and open. Try not to oversimplify, without dwelling on frightening details. • Express your sympathy to the child. Let him or her know that you also feel the loss of the family member, and that things will take time before they go back to normal. It is best to share with them the reality that things will change, but will work out in time. • Be supportive to the child’s grieving process. Everyone grieves in different ways, and has his or her own coping mechanism. Be supportive and be there or give space to the child as needed. A child’s age and maturity level can dictate how you should talk to a child about death. A 3-5 year old may take things very literally, so you may want to avoid phrases like “went to sleep” when referring to death. At this age, children typically take everything said as fact 14 rather than metaphor. It’s best to explain that the person has died, and that it is final, so they can begin to accept it, too. Slightly older children (6 to 8 or 9 year olds) may ask a lot of questions to see how the “logic” fits with what they currently know. In this age range, you may need to start giving more details on how the death came about. Clear, factual explanations are best. For example, if someone passed due to a heart attack, you might want to say something such as, “A vein to the heart was blocked, so Grandfather’s heart stopped beating.” As children reach 10, they become more logical and may realize that death can affect them, too. For example, if a child of this age hears of a fatal accident, they might start to think about how they too could die in a car accident. It’s important to deal with their emotions, whether they are fear or grief. Comfort the child and share emotions with them. Children in this age group may need reassurance that they are safe as well as being provided with support and comfort in the grieving process. Regardless of the age of the child, try and to provide them with only the level of information about death that they can comprehend. Each child will handle death differently, so it’s important to do whatever it takes to help the child understand and be comforted. 15

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