Thursday, March 25, 2010

Really? Is This Common?

Am I the only one who didn't know about this?

Twice in the past few days I have been told about someone falling into a grave. Both incidents took place shortly before the burial. One person walked onto the green turf-sheet that was covering the hole. Right in front of everyone. The other was a floral assistant setting up arrangements who just fell on in. (Her co-workers pulled her out just before the hearse pulled up!)

I'm not surprised that it happens. That, I understand. What gets me is that it appears to be occurring frequently, yet escaped my attention. Even while immersing myself in research about grief and dying for the past two years!

Here's your assignment. Ask around, if possible. Have you, or anyone you know, seen this happen? Report your findings here. This could be a real eye-opener.

I wonder what else is happening under my nose. The mind reels......

Monday, March 22, 2010

Permission to Whine?

It happened again. It happens a lot. EFE, or Extended Family Envy. I've never written about it because, A- It doesn't apply to the book, really, and B- I hate whining. Whine I will, though, so don't say I didn't warn you.

My family went to a morning hockey game yesterday, then to lunch. Seated next to us was a happy extended family. Several attractive generations in pushed-together tables, cooing over the babies and laughing. A lot.

For whatever reason, it got to me.. Why do THEY get to have parents and grandparents? Why do THEY get to support each other, share their lives, and pass down cousin-clothes along with the family traditions? What I'm really asking is why did MY parents have to check out so early?

I know, I know. Poor me. Sad old orphan.

I usually keep it under control. I may steal a guilty glance at these long livers, but then I let it go. Usually. Sometimes it sneaks past the filter. It gets to me when I least expect it, or when I most expect it. You see, Easter's coming. That dreaded time of year when I'm faced with several generations of shiny pink Southern females in coordinated dresses. And bags. And hats. They pose for pictures before brunch. I hate them, love them, begrudge and envy them.

What right do I have to complain, though? I had wonderful parents who loved me. I have a husband and children now. I'm pretty sure they love me. I am grateful, I tell myself as we order our lunch. Maybe it's because we lost the hockey game. It's just.....look at them! They're at their giant table, hugging and congratulating, confiding and cheek-kissing. Is it wrong to hope they have a skeleton in the closet? An absent son in rehab or a granddaughter in juvie? Nah, not this bunch. They look solid, educated. I bet they all have a standing Sunday dinner together and seldom whine.


(I have to thank/blame Michelle Neff Hernandez for this little outburst. She admitted to some "bitter widow" thinking as she observed happy families in the park recently. It struck a chord with me. She's amazing. Take a look.)

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Funeral Stress- A Don't

Whether you are planning a memorial service, funeral, graveside ceremony or wake, do me a favor and let yourself off the hook. Seriously, right now. Let go of the expectations you have placed upon yourself to honor your loved one perfectly. I'll let you in on a hard-earned truth here- no matter how meticulously you plan an end-of-life service, it will not be flawless. The sooner you accept this, the better off you will be.

An imperfect farewell does not mean you didn't do a magnificent job. You will still certainly offer a beautiful goodbye to this person you so deeply loved. You will still give those who attend, the chance to learn a little more about him or her and pay their respects. It's not a pass/fail proposition. Remember there can be beauty in the unexpected.

The imperfections might be the most healing parts of a service, or at least provide some much-needed comic relief. Before I give you an example, I have to tell you this really happened. I was there. As much as it seems like an SNL skit, it's actually the truth. When my great-uncle Bill (not his real name) died, his wife Beulah (also an alias) planned his service with care. A devout evangelical, it was important to her that certain hymns and scripture be included. However, when the sound system malfunctioned, Beulah's plans were threatened. Her daughter stood waiting at the altar, unable to sing the song Beulah had chosen. "I'm sorry, Mama, I don't think this will work", she said to her mother in the front pew. To this, Beulah replied over the feedback, "You will not win, Satan! We will have His word!" There was silence in the chapel. My cousin and I were to the side, scheduled to sing later in the service. We looked at each other, eyes wide, as if to say, "Am I imagining this?" Suddenly, more feedback. Beulah then snapped to her feet, fist in the air, screaming at the top of her mighty lungs, "I KNEW you were going to try and ruin this for me! Evil will not triumph! Satan, you cannot defeat ME!!!! YOU WILL NOT WIN!!!!" Her one-sided conversation with the devil went on, but so did the service. My uncle's life was honored and our family spent the rest of the day together, sharing stories about this wonderful man.

Apparently my family's not the first to sit in stunned silence during such a time. Georgette Jones told me how unsettling she found the first words spoken at the funeral for her mother, the beloved Tammy Wynette. "Ladies and gentleman", the preacher said, "Tammy Wynette has left the building." Georgette remembers, "My sister Jackie and I just shook our heads. We were so embarrassed."

This is not to say it doesn't matter what happens at your loved one's funeral. Of course you want it to go well, and to include the aspects of their life they held most dear. It can be very moving to listen to the deceased's favorite hymn, hear old war stories from their Army buddies, or have their grandchildren give the eulogy. If you can reassemble your loved one's old band, by all means, have them play! But if you're like most people, you are doing well to remember to brush your teeth when you wake up. (That's assuming you've gotten any sleep in the first place.)

You may very well be in the most vulnerable condition of your life. Why take on the pressure to organize an event that would rival a State Dinner? Would you plan a formal wedding in less than a week? Of course not. Trust me, no one would ask that of you now. So why ask it of yourself? Go easy on yourself and embrace that whatever happens will be good enough. More than good enough.

If you have people there to help, consider delegating tasks to them. Food, music, flowers, etc., can be assigned more easily than meetings with clergy or funeral directors. Also, if leaving the house is too taxing for you right now, ask if these meetings can be held in your home. All they can do is say no, and they just might say yes!

Once you remove the expectation of perfection, you might find the activity of planning to be less stressful. It can even be a tremendous comfort to do this for the person you have lost. It doesn't have to be your final goodbye. You can take all the time you need to do that.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

What's this? More than 1,000 hits?

Thank you, everybody. Somehow this blog has enjoyed over 1,000 visits.

I'd like to say how much I appreciate your trust in telling me your stories of loss, devastation and healing. I am always convinced that your remarks will reach the person who needs to learn from your experience. That's just how it seems to work.

That's why I'm writing this book.

Friday, March 12, 2010

And a Good Friday to you too!

Today was, you might say, not bad. Not bad at all.

I got a "please call me" email from Mr. T, AND another email from an agent I recently queried.

Mr. T wanted to talk about my social networking progress and let me know the book is still on the table, so to speak. The agent requested my proposal.

You might think I'd be meeting friends for a martini right about now, but no. Instead, I'm spending some time writing. I only stopped to bring you up to date. Honest! There's not even a drop of vermouth in the house.

Doesn't mean I'm not smiling......

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

The Hard Made Harder

Last night I got word that the husband of a childhood friend had been killed in a car accident.

Angie's husband was on his way home from work, and was hit head-on. No warning. No hope. No goodbye.

I was silent, shocked. Why does it always take awhile to sink in? I mean, what can you say? What can anyone really do?

I can't tell you how many people have told me they had no answer for that oft-asked question, "What can I do for you?" After all, death can't be undone. The book shares many ways to reach out, ideas for helping the bereaved, but nothing can bring your loved one back.

As we struggle for ways to make it easier, though, we can probably all agree there are circumstances that make it even harder.

When someone dies unexpectedly, when a young father or aging wife is left with no life insurance, when there are questions as to how the death occurred, it piles practical problems on top of emotional devastation. Not helpful.

Don't misunderstand me- pain is pain. I'm not suggesting there should be extra Grief Points for those who deal with complicated endings, but there might be an opportunity to learn something here.

Do you have a will? Is it updated? Is it crystal clear on matters of property, child custody, and disposal of your remains? Do you have life insurance to protect (at least financially) your family? Have you notified those close to you of your wishes to be, say, an organ donor, cremated, or buried on your favorite Aunt Sally's farm?

So many of us don't consider the possibility of an untimely death. I get that. But consider the consequences and prepare for it anyway. Just in case.

While you're at it, say those things you'd regret if you didn't get the chance. Mend those fences. Kiss goodbye, and say "I love you" before you leave the house.

And say a prayer for Angie.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Just a Dream?

Some people believe you can communicate with the dead through psychics, ouija boards, tarot cards, and dreams. The appeal is obvious. Who wouldn't want to ask one more question, apologize for that last argument, run through a field, tell them you love them, or perhaps even ask how they died?

This longing is mentioned by most people I have interviewed. It can be where we get stuck in our grief, unable to move ahead with our lives. What if? Why? How? The unknown can be a roadblock like no other. Or is it the answer?

After all, the unknown includes everything in the first sentence, right? Take dreams, for instance. Psychic and author Sylvia Browne says, "The world of dreams opens up ways for us to release negative thoughts, to program positive ones, to reach loved ones who have passed and even to be precognitive." If this is true, then maybe our dreams of loved ones have actually been our loved ones reaching out to us. A comforting thought, if the dreams are loving. Not so much for the nightmares.

If you've read previous posts here then you can probably guess where I stand. Welcome comfort wherever you can find it. There's no wrong way to grieve. Your pain is unique, and so is your recovery.

How about you? Do you believe we can communicate with those who have passed? Have you experienced a dream so real or prophetic you are convinced it was more than a dream?

When someone dies, (other than attending the service), I do this for the family-